At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Liberation of Fornovo di Taro

How Brazilian soldiers hastened Nazi capitulation


The moment at which General Otto Fretter-Pico (second left) formally surrendered to Brazilian forces in Fornovo di Taro
The moment at which General Otto Fretter-Pico (second left)
formally surrendered to Brazilian forces in Fornovo di Taro
The town of Fornovo di Taro in Emilia-Romagna acquired a significant place in Italian military history for a second time on this day in 1945 when it was liberated from Nazi occupation by soldiers from the Brazilian Expeditionary Force fighting with the Allies.

Under the command of General João Baptista Mascarenhas de Morais, the Brazilians marched into Fornovo, which is situated about 13km (8 miles) south-west of Parma on the east bank of the Taro river, at the conclusion of the four-day Battle of Collecchio.

It was in Fornovo that the 148th Infantry Division of the German army under the leadership of General Otto Fretter-Pico offered their surrender, along with soldiers from the 90th Panzergrenadier Division and the 1st Bersaglieri and 4th Mountain Divisions of the Fascist National Republican Army.

In total, 14,779 German and Italian troops laid down their arms after Fretter-Pico concluded that, with the Brazilians surrounding the town, aided by two American tank divisions and one company of Italian partisans, there was no hope of escape.

Although the total capitulation of the German and Fascist armies in Italy was not officially announced until May 2 in Turin, the surrender in Fornovo effectively brought the war in the peninsula to an end.

Italian citizens hailed the Brazilians as heroes
Italian citizens hailed the Brazilians as heroes
It represented a successful conclusion to an eight-month campaign in Italy by the Brazilian Expeditionary Force, which numbered 25,700 army and air force personnel, representing the only independent South American country to send ground troops to fight overseas during the whole of the Second World War.

Brazil, traditionally isolationist, had initially remained neutral in the global conflict, although it allowed the United States to set up bases on Brazilian soil.  But, in 1942, Brazil’s decision to sever diplomatic relations with the Axis countries of Germany, Japan and Italy prompted Germany to send submarines to the south Atlantic to attack Brazilian merchant ships.

During the month of July 1942, 13 Brazilian ships were sunk, at a cost of more than 100 lives, mainly crew members.  The country’s leaders still refused to be drawn into the conflict but the attacks continued and in the space of just two days in August, a single German U-boat sank five ships, causing more than 600 deaths, many of them civilians travelling on passenger vessels.

Faced with rioting on the streets as German businesses in the capital Rio de Janeiro were attacked, Brazil’s president, Getúlio Vargas, had no option but declare war on Germany and its allies.

It took two years to convert Brazil’s obsolete army into a force that was anywhere near equipped to fight effectively in Europe but in July 1944 the first 5,000 Brazilian troops disembarked in Naples.  Others arrived later.

The tunic badge
Such had been the scepticism in Brazil about any of their countrymen ever seeing action, they acquired the nickname ‘the smoking snakes’ – so called because Brazilians would joke with one another, using an expression with a similar meaning to 'pigs might fly' in the English language, that it was more likely that ‘a snake would smoke a pipe’ than the BEF would go to the front and fight.  They wore a badge on their tunics depicting a smoking snake.

Yet between September 1944 and the German surrender they achieved success in 17 battles across the north of Italy. Deployed to replace the French and US troops that had been diverted to help in the Allied invasion of German-occupied France, they attracted praise in particular for the part they played in the battles for Monte Castello and Castelnuovo in the Northern Apennines, as well as in the Battle of Collecchio.

Although the Italian Front was not as important as the Eastern Front in bringing the Nazis to their knees, the hastening of the German defeat in the peninsula, coming at the same time as the Red Army captured Berlin and news spread of the death of Adolf Hitler, helped bring the Second World War to a quicker end than might otherwise have been the case. The Fascist leader Benito Mussolini had been executed by Italian partisans only 24 hours before Fornovo witnessed its historic moment.

Overall, the Brazilian Expeditionary Force suffered 443 losses over the eight months but against that took 20,573 Axis prisoners.

For Fornovo, the battle fought in the surrounding countryside prompted historians to recall that the town had witnessed a major military confrontation once before in its history as the site of the Battle of Fornovo, fought between the Italian Holy League and the French forces of Charles VIII at the start of the Italian Wars in July 1495.

Parma's baptistry
Parma's baptistry
Travel tip:

Fornovo and Collecchio are within a short distance of Parma, one of the most attractive cities of the Emilia-Romagna region. The home of prosciutto di parma, parmigiano reggiano and Sangiovese wine, it is a food-lover’s paradise but also a city with a rich cultural heritage, the home of composers Giuseppe Verdi and Niccolò Paganini, the conductor Arturo Toscanini, the film director Bernardo Bertolucci, the writer Giovanni Guareschi and a host of painters, headed by Francesco Mazzola, better known as Il Parmigiano.  The city has much fine architecture, too, including a striking Romanesque cathedral and neighbouring baptistry, several other churches and palaces and notable modern buildings such as the Niccolò Paganini Auditorium, designed by Renzo Piano.

Find the best hotels in Parma with TripAdvisor

Piazza San Prospero in Reggio Emilia
Piazza San Prospero in Reggio Emilia
Travel tip:

Reggio Emilia, the next city on from Parma along the route of the Via Emilia – the Roman road that linked Piacenza, south-east of Milan, with the Adriatic resort of Rimini – lacks the cultural wealth of Parma and tends to be given little attention as a result. Yet it is an attractive city, neat and well organised, retaining its historical centre, which has a hexagonal layout based on its old walls, but with a modern and forward-thinking attitude.  There are many fine restaurants, elegant squares and interesting palaces and churches, and its roll call of famous citizens ranges from the poet Ludovico Ariosto to the former prime minister Romano Prodi and the football coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Reggio-Emilia Hotels from Hotels.com


More reading:



How Mussolini was captured and killed by Italian partisans

Annual celebration of Festa della Liberazione

The moment Italy entered the Second World War


Also on this day:


1987: The birth of tennis champion Sara Errani



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