28 December 2019

28 December

NEW - Battle of Ortona 


Adriatic port liberated by Canadians at huge cost

Canadian troops fighting with the Allies liberated the Adriatic port of Ortona from the Germans on this day in 1943 after one of the bloodiest battles of the Italian Campaign.  The Battle of Ortona and other confrontations close to the nearby Moro river, which encompassed the whole Christmas period, claimed almost 2,400 lives.  It was characterised by brutal close-quarters fighting and is sometimes known as “the Italian Stalingrad”, partly because of the high number of casualties but also because of the backcloth of destroyed buildings and rubble.  Although the battalions of German paratroopers holding the strategic port were defeated, casualties on the Canadian side were greater, with 1,375 soldiers from the Canadian 1st Infantry Division killed and 964 wounded, against 867 Germans killed.  In addition, more than 1,300 civilians died.  The Canadian deaths amounted to more than a quarter of their entire losses in the whole of the Italian Campaign, which spanned 22 months as Allied forces fought their way up the peninsula.  Ortona, in the Abruzzo region, had some strategic importance as one of the few usable deep water ports on the Adriatic coast. Read more…


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Italy's worst earthquake


Catastrophic tremor of 1908 may have killed up to 200,000

The most destructive earthquake ever to strike Europe brought devastation to the cities of Messina and Reggio Calabria on this day in 1908.  With its epicentre beneath the Strait of Messina, which separates Sicily from the Italian mainland, the quake had a magnitude of 7.1 and caused the ground to shake for between 30 and 40 seconds.  It was enough to cause such catastrophic damage that Messina, on the Sicilian side, and Reggio Calabria, on the mainland side, were almost completely destroyed.  The loss of life was huge because the earthquake happened at 5.21am, when most residents were still in bed.  An unknown number were swept away by the tsunami that struck both cities 10 minutes after the major tremor had stopped, when the sea on both sides of the Strait receded up to 70 metres and then rushed back towards the land, generating three massive waves, each taller than the one that preceded it, up to a height of 12 metres (39 feet).  At least 75,000 people were killed in Messina alone, where 91 per cent of buildings were either destroyed or damaged beyond repair.  The Norman cathedral, which had withstood a series of five quakes in 1783, was reduced this time to a partial shell.  Read more…


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Francesco Tamagno - operatic tenor


19th century star was first to sing Verdi’s Otello

The operatic tenor Francesco Tamagno, most famous for singing the title role at the premiere of Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1887, was born on this day in 1850 in Turin.  Tamagno, whose powerful voice and range put him a category of singers known as heroic tenors by being naturally suited to heroic roles, developed a reputation that enabled him to command high fees around the world and amass a considerable fortune.  During a career that spanned 32 years from his debut in 1873 to his premature death at the age of 54, Tamagno sang in some 55 operas and sacred works in 26 countries.  In addition to his association with Otello, he also was the first Gabriele Adorno in Verdi's 1881 revision of Simon Boccanegra, and appeared in the premiere of Verdi's Italian-language version of Don Carlos when it was staged at La Scala in 1884.  Five other operas in which Tamagno is acknowledged as the creator of leading roles include Carlos Gomes' Maria Tudor, Amilcare Ponchielli's Il figliol prodigo and Marion Delorme, Ruggero Leoncavallo's I Medici and Isidore de Lara's Messaline.  Read more…


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Piero the Unfortunate – Medici ruler


Ill-fated son of Lorenzo the Magnificent

Piero di Lorenzo de’ Medici, later dubbed Piero the Unfortunate or The Fatuous, died on this day in 1503, drowning in the Garigliano river, south of Rome, as he attempted to flee following a military defeat.  The eldest son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Piero was handed power in Florence at the age of 21 following the death of his father.  He was a physically handsome young man who had been educated specifically so that he would be ready to succeed his father as head of the Medici family and de facto ruler of Florence.  Yet he turned out to be a feeble, ill-disciplined character who was not suited to leadership and who earned his unflattering soubriquet on account of his poor judgment in military and political matters, which ultimately led to the Medici family being exiled from Florence.  Piero took over as leader of Florence in 1492. Initially there was calm but the peace between the Italian states for which his father had worked tirelessly to achieve collapsed in 1494 when King Charles VIII of France led an army across the Alps with the intention to march on the Kingdom of Naples, claiming hereditary rights.  Read more…


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Death of Victor Emmanuel III


King loses his life after just 18 months in exile 

Victor Emmanuel III, Italy’s longest reigning King, died on this day in 1947.  The previous year he had abdicated his throne in favour of his son, King Umberto II.  Victor Emmanuel III had been hoping this would strengthen support for the monarchy in advance of the referendum asking the country if they wanted to abolish it.  Earlier in his reign he had been popular with the people and respected for his military success, but opinion changed after the Second World War.  Vittorio Emanuele III di Savoia was born in Naples in 1869. The only child of King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy, he was given the title of Prince of Naples.  He became King of Italy in 1900 after his father was assassinated in Monza.  At the height of his popularity he was nicknamed by the Italians Re soldato (soldier King) and Re vittorioso (victorious King) because of Italy’s success in battle during the First World War. He was also called sciaboletta (little sabre) as he was only five feet (1.53m) tall.  Italy had remained neutral at the start of the First World War but signed treaties to go into the war on the side of France, Britain and Russia in 1915.  Read more…


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