Showing posts with label 1495. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1495. Show all posts

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.

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.

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:

1675: The birth of painter Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini

1987: The birth of tennis champion Sara Errani


28 May 2016

The Last Supper goes back on display

Leonardo’s masterpiece put on show again at last

Photo of Leonardo's The Last Supper
Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, as it appears on the wall
 of the refectory of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
After more than 20 years of careful restoration, the world famous wall painting by Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper, was put back on display for visitors on this day in 1999.

The masterpiece, which shows the different expressions on the faces of the disciples at the moment Jesus says the words, ‘One of you will betray me’, was finally back where it belonged on the wall of the refectory of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.

Commissioned by Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, Leonardo began work on The Last Supper (known as Il Cenacolo in Italian) in 1495 and he completed it four years later. He felt traditional fresco painting techniques would not adequately capture the intensity he wanted so he experimented by painting on to dry plaster on the wall of the refectory.

But his new method was not as durable as the traditional one and the painting deteriorated quickly. By as early as 1556, the painting was described by one commentator as ‘ruined’.

Over the ensuing years it suffered from poor restoration techniques, blatant vandalism by French soldiers, having a doorway cut into it to provide a shortcut for the monks, and wartime bomb damage. Sadly, by 1978 only a small part of Leonardo’s original work remained.

A restoration project was mounted to reverse the damage and the refectory was sealed and converted to provide a climate-controlled environment for the painting.

Using the latest techniques, the restoration team slowly removed everything that had been added after Leonardo completed the painting in 1498. Then the areas that couldn’t be repaired were repainted in subdued colours so that they could be distinguished from the original painting.

After more than 20 years of restoration, which was four times longer than it took Leonardo to paint it originally, The Last Supper was again revealed for visitors to marvel at on 28 May, 1999.

The refectory has since remained a protected environment and the number of visitors inside at any one time is carefully restricted.

Photo of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
The Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, where
Leonardo painted The Last Supper between 1495 and 1499
Travel tip:

Santa Maria delle Grazie is a church and Dominican convent in Milan. It is necessary to book in advance to see Leonardo’s masterpiece on the wall of the refectory. Entrance is limited to 25 people at a time for a maximum stay of 15 minutes. For more details visit 

Travel tip:

A portrait of a man in red chalk in the Royal Library, Biblioteca Reale, in Turin is widely accepted to be a self portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, drawn when he was about 60 years of age. The library, on the ground floor of the Royal Palace in Piazzetta Reale, was founded in 1840 to hold the many rare manuscripts collected by members of the House of Savoy over the years.

(Photo of Church exterior by MarkusMark CC BY-SA 3.0)