Second World War in Emilia Romagna

The liberation of Rimini, on September 24, 1944 marked the defeat of the Adriatic Sector. But a long, terrible season preceded the Nazi defeat.
Fifty years ago, Italy was hit by a long and very cold winter which caused serious problems, such as hunger, louses and untold suffering.
It was the last winter of World War II, a terrible season: in the middle of Italy, between the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Seas, plenty of soldiers from all over the world fought until they were on their last legs.

Italy was completely destroyed and even its geographical distribution changed. Along the Apennines, a new strip of land made up of stone, mud, water and iron was created, the so-called “Gothic Line”. This was the military frontier along which armies fought up to the spring of 1945.

Half a century later, this line helps us understand how things happened. Let's consider its name. Who chose it? Some people think Hitler chose it to celebrate the war between Goths and Byzantines which took place between the Vth and VIth centuries. However, up to that moment Germans had attributed the lines of the Italian campaign first names: Gustav, from Ortona to Gaeta; Caesar, East of Rome; Albert, from Ancona to Grosseto. This is the main reason why some people think Winston Churchill chose the name to celebrate the ancient Gothic War.

Notwithstanding the origins of its name, this line was very important to retain the highest possible number of soldiers in the Italian Peninsula through a series of strategic operations.
Upon the liberation of Rome - on June 4, 1944, two days before the D-Day landings - two Italies were founded.

Regno del Sud was controlled by Anglo-Americans. It was a destroyed area affected by corruption and poverty and characterized by prostitution, black market and other sharp practices. However, in the areas occupied by Germans, Resistenza began to exercise its effects thanks to the efforts of a social and political elite looking for unification after July 25, 1943.

North was the Italian Social Republic. The area was dominated by a republican fascism which strived to come back to the origins of the Italian State. Here too, some soldiers decided to carry on being allied with their partners of June 10, 1940.
The government of this republic - whose communications were spread through the offices of Salò - tried to organize an armed force again. This caused a lot of people becoming deserters and joining Resistenza.

The civil war involved two groups of Italians: the partisans and the supporters of the Republic. The first ones fought to obtain freedom, democracy and social justice and won. Their enemies supported the Republic but miserably failed.

After the liberation of Rome, the war came to an end. But the Italian campaign went on: even if Wien was never reached (as Churchill hoped), Italians took Germans the Po valley and their industrial production away. It was a compromise. This is the reason why Americans (Fifth Army, headed by Mark Clark) and English (Eight Army, headed by Oliver Leese) started heading north again.

In July 1944, German Captain Kesserling decided to defend the Po valley. He ordered his soldiers to retain enemies along the Albert line while arranging the building of the Gothic Line, where German soldiers flocked within August 21, few days after the liberation of Florence. The Gothic Line developed along the Tyrrhenian Coast, under La Spezia and north of Massa, and cut the Apennines flanking the passes of Futa and Gioco before heading south, reaching Florence, Arezzo and Pesaro, on the Adriatic Sea.

Only in its last 80 kilometres, between the Apennines and the Adriatic Sea, the line crosses some plains; the remaining part of it is mountainous. Fortifications here contributed to make the surrounding area an even more impressive one: 2,500 posts for machine-guns, 500 pieces of ordnance, thirty tanks, communication trenches and shelters.

During the war, even farmhouses, stables, barns and holes were employed. The Adriatic Coast featured different soil conditions. It was not mountainous, but a plain area rich in water and mud.

The Eight Army was situated along the Adriatic Coast, while the Fifth one stood on the Tyrrhenian Coast. The allied forces had net advantages: British had 3,5 men against 1; Americans 5 to 1. Fights began between August 25 and 26, 1944 along the Adriatic Coast. Even the Polish army took part in them.

The surprise attack was successful. Germans were surprised in front of the fortifications but were then able to stop the attack. The allied forces were defeated. The battle did not succed as it had done in the operation plans. Coordination efforts did not work, the army underwent great damage and stopped between the rivers Metauro and Foglia. Many people died in Coriano, a short distance from Rimini and the road to Bologna.

In the meantime, the Fifth Army headed to the passes of Futa and Giogo. Fights were very bloody here. Here some tragic names: Mount Altuzzo, Mount Verruca, Mount Calvi, Coma Signorini, Quota 918.
Not every German army fought with the same energy. The Wermacht too owned troups featuring scarce determination. These gathered Lituans, Mongolians and Muslims from Central Asia.

Italy was divided into two armies: Rsi and Cil. Large numbers of civil people were involved, whose houses and farms were destroyed or turned into shelters for the soldiers.

The liberation of Rimini took place on September 20. It also involved smaller resorts of the hinterland, although some villages, such as Marradi, were still permeated with fear. Once discovered the Indian army would have come here, local inhabitants hid women to prevent them being raped.

Even the army of the Resistenza took place in the fight. The most ferocious fights took place between Modena and the Adriatic Sea. Partisans attacked around Forlì and the province of Bologna. They fought in Mount Pianaccio, Mount Battaglia, Cà Guzzo and other mountains of the Appennines.

It would be very difficult to describe all the events which led to the destruction of the Gothic Line. The allied forces broke it in several points, but did not succed in destroying it. Bologna was a short distance, only twenty kilometres far from it, when war came to an end on October 25.

Germans were very tired but the allied forces stopped shooting at first. The Gothic Line won. After two months of battles more than seventeen thousand Americans and British, ten thousand Germans, thousands Italians and numerous soldiers from all over the world died.

The huge problems suffered by civil people are clearly evidenced by the massacres commissioned by the SS headed by Walter Reder in Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna between August and September 1944. In Sant'Anna di Stazzema, Lucchesia, 560 civil people were massacred; 107 people were killed in Valla on August 19; 53 of them were hung in San Terenzio on August 24; other massacres occurred in Frigido, Bergiola and, between September 29 and October 1, in Marzabotto, where 1,830 people where murdered with utmost cruelty. These were the methods through which the Nazi army granted Wermacht safety.

Winter made conditions worse along the Gothic Line. In December the allied forces performed in liberating Ravenna. By the end of the year, the Wermacht was attacked. While on the Ardenne the last attack was arranged, the Gothic Line was the venue for other battles. Both Germans and the supporters of the Italian Socialist Republic headed to Garfagnana, Lucca and the river Arno. Other troups flocked to Emilia, in the provinces of Parma, Piacenza, Reggio, Modena. A lot of operations against the allied forces were arranged in  order to defeat partisans.

This caused plenty of other deaths and massacres. In the following very cold months war never came to an end. If armies did not act, partisans did it. In March 1945 war moved to Massa, the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Marshes of Comacchio and the Adriatic Sea. In spring 600,000 allied soldiers (including Italians belonging to Cil) and 60,000 partisans were ready to fight.

The Italian front was even less important than it was on the previous year and Germans were still thinking about abandoning it. But the allied forces had to leave the Apennines, capture as many Germans as possible and arrive in Trieste, threatened with the new menace of a cold war. It was necessary to destroy the Gothic Line. This happened on Liberation April.

Today the line is no longer visible, since new houses were built on the slopes of the Apennines. But we suggest you should try not to forget it, in order to remember our pains, virtues and weaknesses.

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