Showing posts with label Alpini. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alpini. Show all posts

11 September 2018

Manrico Ducceschi - partisan

Brave freedom fighter whose death is unsolved mystery

Manrico Ducceschi operated under the codename Pippo as he fought as an Italian partisan
Manrico Ducceschi operated under the codename
Pippo as he fought as an Italian partisan
Manrico ‘Pippo’ Ducceschi, who led one of the most successful brigades of Italian partisans fighting against the Fascists and the Nazis in the Second World War, was born on this day in 1920 in Capua, a town in Campania about 25km (16 miles) north of Naples.

Ducceschi’s battalion, known as the XI Zona Patrioti, are credited with killing 140 enemy soldiers and capturing more than 8,000. They operated essentially in the western Tuscan Apennines, between the Garfagnana area north of Lucca, the Valdinievole southwest of Pistoia, and the Pistoiese mountains.

He operated under the name of Pippo in honour of his hero, the patriot and revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini.

Ducceschi's success in partisan operations led to him being placed at the top of the Germans' ‘most wanted’ list. Even his relatives were forced to go into hiding.

After the war, he was honoured by the Allies for the help he provided in the Italian campaign but oddly his deeds were never recognised by the post-war Italian government, nor even by his own comrades in the National Association of Italian Partisans (Anpi).

Moreover, he died in mysterious circumstances in 1948 when he was found hanged in his house in Lucca. His family refused to accept the official verdict of suicide delivered by magistrates investigating his death, believing he was murdered, although a new inquiry opened in the 1970s could not find any evidence to contradict the original verdict.

Manrico Ducceschi's battalion is credited with killing more than 140 enemy soldiers
Manrico Ducceschi's battalion is credited with
killing more than 140 enemy soldiers
Although born in Capua after his mother went into premature labour while travelling, Ducceschi was brought up in Pistoia, where the family lived. He went to high school there and after attending a liceo classico in Lucca he enrolled to study literature and philosophy at the University of Florence, although the outbreak of war meant he never graduated.

He was serving with the Alpini Corps of the Italian Army in Tarquinia in Lazio when Italy formally surrendered to the Allies on September 8, 1943, but managed to evade capture by the Germans and made his way back to Pistoia - a distance of 250km (155 miles) - mainly on foot.

There he became involved with resistance groups. His organisational skills and training with the Alpini saw him quickly assume leadership roles and by March 1944 he was head of the XI Zona Patrioti. Many of his fellow freedom fighters were political activists but Ducceschi insisted that his group was not aligned with any particular party.

In addition to regular engagements with the enemy, the group scored a major success when they intercepted, at the Abetone Pass in the mountains above Pistoia, a Rear Admiral of the Japanese navy. They seized documents that proved highly useful for the subsequent war operations of the Allies in the Pacific.

This led to closer ties with the Allies, who supplied them with uniforms and equipment, and entrusted them with a 40km (25 miles) stretch of the Gothic Line, the line of German defensive positions from the Tuscan coast to the Adriatic for control of which the Allies fought between October 1944 and the following spring. Ducceschi’s partisans participated in the liberation of Modena, Reggio Emilia, Parma, Piacenza and Lodi, and were among the first soldiers to arrive in Milan on April 25, 1945.

The terrain around the Abetone Pass. north of Pistoia, where Duccesci's brigade made a noteworthy capture
The terrain around the Abetone Pass. north of Pistoia,
where Duccesci's brigade made a noteworthy capture
At the end of the war, Ducceschi was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for military valour by the Allies, but had no recognition either from the partisan organisations or from the Italian State.

Family members have since offered a number of hypotheses as to why this might have been and why they believed his death in 1948 was not suicide, but rather a murder made to look like one, with several potential suspects.

These include fellow partisans who opposed his continuing co-operation with the Americans after the war, mainly because he supplied them with information about their political activities. The Americans were concerned about the growth of the Italian Communist Party and Ducceschi, having helped achieve the fall of one dictator in Benito Mussolini, feared an Italy run by the Communists would simply be another dictatorship.

Others they believed had a motive to kill him were those who he discovered to be secretly selling impounded weapons to foreign regimes, including the newly formed state of Israel. They included Franco Corelli, a former partisan colleague and a neighbour in Lucca, who he also suspected of having romantic designs on his wife, Renata.

The inquiry into Ducceschi’s death discovered that Corelli visited him at his home in Lucca shortly before his body was discovered, as did his former right-hand man in XI Zona Patrioti, Giuliano Brancolini.  Both men left Italy before the investigation into the death was concluded, Corelli fleeing to Brazil.

At the time of his death, Renata and the couple’s baby daughter, Roberta, were staying at the family’s holiday home in the mountains. When Ducceschi failed to join them at an appointed time, his father, Fernando, went to the house in Lucca and discovered his body.

In his testimony, Fernando said he heard footsteps on the stairs in the house soon after he found his son’s body. He also claimed that his son’s clothes were soiled in a way that suggested his body had been dragged from somewhere else. Yet the investigation, conducted jointly by Italian, British and American authorities, still reached a verdict of suicide.

The octagonal Baptistry of San Giovanni in Corte in
Pistoia's Piazza del Duomo
Travel tip:

Pistoia, where Manrico Ducceschi grew up, is a pretty medieval walled city in Tuscany, about 40km (25 miles) northwest of Florence. The city developed a reputation for intrigue in the 13th century and assassinations in the narrow alleyways were common, using a tiny dagger called the pistole, made by the city’s ironworkers, who also specialised in manufacturing surgical instruments. At the centre of the town is the Piazza del Duomo, where the Cathedral of San Zeno, which has a silver altar, adjoins the octagonal Battistero di San Giovanni in Corte baptistery. On the same square is the 11th century Palazzo dei Vescovi.

The Piazza dell'Antifeatro, on the site of a former  amphitheatre, is part of the charm of Lucca
The Piazza dell'Antifeatro, on the site of a former
amphitheatre, is part of the charm of Lucca
Travel tip:

Lucca, where Ducceschi settled at the end of the Second World War, is situated in western Tuscany, just 20km (12 miles) from Pisa, and 80km (50 miles) from Florence. Its majestic Renaissance walls are still intact, providing a complete 4.2km (2.6 miles) circuit of the city popular with walkers and cyclists.  The city has many charming cobbled streets and a number of beautiful squares, plus a wealth of churches, museums and galleries and a notable musical tradition, being the home of composers Alfredo Catalani, Luigi Boccherini and the opera giant, Giacomo Puccini.

More reading:

How trade union leader Teresa Noce led a secret partisan unit in France

Mysterious death of partisan who helped capture Mussolini

Alcide de Gasperi - prime minister who rebuilt Italy

Also on this day:

1555: The birth of naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi

1871: The birth of adventurer Scipione Borghese


2 March 2017

Vittorio Pozzo - double World Cup winner

Manager led Azzurri to victory in 1934 and 1938

Vittorio Pozzo is Italy's most  successful manager
Vittorio Pozzo is Italy's most
successful manager
Vittorio Pozzo, the most successful manager in the history of Italy's national football team, was born on this day in 1886 in Turin.

Under Pozzo's guidance, the Azzurri won the FIFA World Cups of 1934 and 1938 as well as the Olympic football tournament in 1936. He also led them to the Central European International Cup, the forerunner of the European championships, in 1931 and 1935. No other coach in football history has won the World Cup twice.

Pozzo managed some outstanding players, such as Internazionale's Giuseppe Meazza and the Juventus defender Pietro Rava, but his reputation was tarnished by the success of his team coinciding with the Fascist regime's tight grip on power. Italy's success on the football field was exploited ruthlessly as a propaganda vehicle.

While not a Fascist himself, Pozzo upset many opponents of Mussolini across Europe at the 1938 World Cup in France when his players gave the so-called 'Roman' salute - the extended right-arm salute adopted by the Fascists - during the playing of the Italian anthem.

At Italy's opening match against Norway, the salute was greeted with boos and hisses, generated by Italian supporters in the crowd who had fled their home country to escape Fascism.  Some of the Italian players dropped their arms but Pozzo ordered them to resume the salute, which further antagonised the crowd.

Pozzo holds aloft the Jules Rimet Trophy surrounded by the Italian team after their 1934 triumph on home soil
Pozzo holds aloft the Jules Rimet Trophy surrounded by
the Italian team after their 1934 triumph on home soil
Afterwards, Pozzo said he insisted on the salute only out of respect for protocol, claiming that neither he nor his players had given consideration to political issues.  He explained that he gave the order to resume the salute because he did not want his players to be cowed by intimidation, fearing their confidence would suffer.

Nonetheless, the incident cast a shadow over the remainder of his career and some commentators feel the appreciation of his achievements was diminished as a result.

Pozzo was born in Turin, where family had moved from the small town of Ponderano in the province of Biella, some 75km (47 miles) north-west of the city in the foothills of the Alps.

He attended the Liceo Cavour, where he studied the classics and languages.  He became proficient in English, French and German, in which he expanded his knowledge by studying in England, France and Switzerland.

At the same time, Pozzo took the opportunity to immerse himself in football, for which he had a passion.  While in Manchester, he became friends with two prominent players, the Manchester United half-back, Charlie Roberts, and the Derby County forward, Steve Bloomer.

The 1934 World Cup final took place in the Stadio Nazionale del PNF - the national stadium of the Fascist party
The 1934 World Cup final took place in the Stadio Nazionale
del PNF - the national stadium of the Fascist party
In Switzerland he played as a professional, spending the 1905-06 season with Grasshoppers of Zurich, and on returning to Italy was one of the founding members of FC Torino.  He retired as a player in 1911 but stayed at the club as technical director, while simultaneously pursuing a business career as a manager with the tyre manufacturer Pirelli.

He became involved with the national team for the first time in 1912, when an Italian team - the first in a competitive event - went to the Olympics in Stockholm, but he resigned after defeat to Finland in the first round.  He returned to Pirelli before joining the Alpini - the mountain warfare corps of the Italian army - at the outbreak of the First World War.

He was handed the reins of the national team for a second time in 1921.  He stepped down again in 1924 following a quarter-final defeat to Switzerland at the Olympics in Paris, although his decision was influenced by the need to care for his wife, who was terminally ill.

Appointed as national team coach for a third time in 1929, he had almost immediate success, winning the Central European International Cup, defeating Hungary 5-0 in the final.

Giuseppe Meazza of Internazionale was one of Pozzo's key players
Giuseppe Meazza of Internazionale was
one of Pozzo's key players
The key to Pozzo's winning formula was his clever use of tactics. Most teams still favoured the so-called Cambridge Pyramid formation, consisting of five forwards, three half-backs and just two out-and-out defenders.  Teams were top-heavy with attacking players because the basic philosophy of the game was simply to score more goals than the opposition, with little attention paid to defending.

Pozzo saw things differently.  His military experiences had taught him that even when on the attack it was an unwise general who would leave his base undefended.  Under what he called simply Il Metodo - the Method - he tweaked the 2-3-5 formation, retaining the centre forward and the wingers but pulling the two inside forwards back into midfield, where the half-backs served a dual purpose, supporting the attacking players but dropping back to defend when the opposing team was in possession.

A pragmatist who was always more concerned with winning than entertaining the crowd with expansive football, he was never afraid to leave a player out if his abilities did not suit his tactics. Twice he dropped the team captain, leaving out Adolfo Baloncieri, the Torino star who was country's highest scoring midfield player, in 1930 and, on the eve of 1934 finals, of which Italy were hosts, the Juventus defender Umberto Caligaris.

Thus Pozzo, who became known as il Vecchio Maestro - the Old Master - achieved unprecedented and - so far - unrepeated success.

Pozzo's 2-3-2-3 formation was revolutionary in terms of football tactics
Pozzo's 2-3-2-3 formation was revolutionary
in terms of football tactics
He continued as national manager until the London Olympics of 1948, his last match ending in a 5-3 defeat to Denmark in the quarter-finals. His Azzurri record was 64 wins, 17 draws and 16 defeats.

After declaring his career in management was over, he became a journalist with the Turin newspaper La Stampa, for whom he reported the 1950 World Cup finals.

He returned to his roots in Ponderano on retirement and died there in 1968 at the age of 82, a few months after watching Italy win the 1968 European championships.

Even after his death, some Italians felt his two World Cup wins were devalued by the association with Mussolini's regime. In the 1990s, he was posthumously exonerated, at least in part, when evidence came to light that he had secretly fought with the Italian anti-Fascist resistance during the Second World War.

Biella's Romanesque baptistry in Piazza Duomo
Biella's Romanesque baptistry in Piazza Duomo
Travel tip:

The village of Ponderano sits just outside Biella, an attractive town in the sub-Alpine area of northern Piedmont. Biella is famed for Menabrea beer, for its production of wool and cashmere products and as a centre for hiking and mountain biking holidays.  The Fila sportswear company was founded in Biella in 1911. The town's historic centre is notable for a Romanesque baptistry and the Renaissance church and convent of San Sebastian.  Ponderano has staged an annual youth football tournament, one of the most prestigious in Italy, in Pozzo's honour every year since his death.

Piazza San Carlo is a typically elegant square in the beautiful city centre of Turin
Piazza San Carlo is a typically elegant square
in the beautiful city centre of Turin
Travel tip:

Turin made its name as Italy’s manufacturing powerhouse, spearheaded by the car giant Fiat, although the city itself has elegant echoes of Paris in the tree-lined boulevards put in place during its time as capital of the Kingdom of Savoy. However, the city's economy suffered badly in the face of global competition in the 1980s, when more than 100,000 workers lost their jobs. Modern Turin is doing its best to regenerate. Former industrial sites such as Parco Dora, once a factory district where Fiat, Michelin and carpet manufacturer Paracchi were big employers, have been transformed into public leisure venues with modern facilities for sport and the infrastructure to host major open-air concerts.

Search Tripadvisor for hotels in Turin

More reading:

Giuseppe Meazza - Italy's first superstar

How Marcello Lippi led Italy to 2006 World Cup glory

Paolo Rossi's hat-trick in World Cup classic

Also on this day:

1603: The birth of the Sicilian painter Pietro Novelli

(Picture credit: Baptistry by Alessandro Vecchi via Wikimedia Commons)