I met these men in Forli and we then toured around the mountains to the south, resvisiting old sites where they had once fought as Partisans.  Jader Miserocchi had a particularly fascinating story to tell.

INTERVIEW WITH 8TH GARIBALDI BRIGADE PARTISANS

There was one case of rape by New Zealanders round here.  The Poles did not commit atrocities as far as we know.  They did, however, burn the 4 or 5 houses that we had been staying in as a sign of protest, because we were considered communists and they were monarchists.  They were commanded by General Anders.  The poles were here for 6 months – all the time that the front was stuck here – and they gave us a hard time, for example if we tried to have any sort of party, they would come and wreck it.

[James suggests that they behaved badly because of their anger about the division of Poland, but the ANPI guys say that they already behaved badly before Poland was divided.]

You see, there is another factor here: that the Polish troops were used as the colonial troops were, i.e. they were sent into the most difficult situations, always in the vanguard.  At Cassino, they were given the right to sack for 48 hours after it was taken.  When a town was liberated, they felt they had the right to behave in this way.

Is there a specific incident that James might refer to of Polish abuse of position?

Yes, there is the incident at Sarsina, of the burning of the houses, that I told you about.

Did the partisans have control of Sarsina?

Yes, it was liberated by the partisans.  At the end of Sept/beg. Oct 44.

After that, there were no Germans, no fascists?

That’s right.  They were in Mercato Seraceno, they were in the lower areas, but not in Sarsina.  Sarsina was free, and there were Partisan groups.  The English were in Bagno di Romagna.  The partisans moved from Sarsina to Mercato Seraceno and the English met them there.  It was the Essex regiment with  Indian and Polish troops.  The Indians were very well-behaved.  As we moved out of Sarsina, the Poles came in and burned the houses.

Now I’d (Leo Matteucci) like to tell you about what the local civilian population went through here in the province of Forli’ there were 6,795 partisans (this also included the province of Rimini at the time – there was a pop. of around 480,000).

92 % of Rimini’s houses were destroyed in the bombings of 1944, in the battle of Rimini which lasted 14 days.

Remember that there was no support at all for the partisans: no clothes, lodging, hospitalsso it was down to the ordinary people to look after us.  Our winning weapon was the help which these people gave us.  And they paid with the life of over 400 victims.  Resistance was provided not only by people with guns, but with the whole population.  The people with the guns were in the vanguard.  We had people who helped us, but the fascists never did.

Were there any fascist spies? Allies

Yes, a few, but not many.

What was the motivation for the locals – knowing the dangers they were involving themselves in?

The end of the war was the primary motive.  The war had, by then, become unbearable.  Secondly, the abuses of power and arrogance that the fascists and the Germans brought to bear.   Also, many sons of the local people had joined the partisans, with the sisters helping their brothers by becoming staffette.

[discussion about women partisans takes place while looking at book about same which James now has]

Can we start the individual interviews with Mr Jader Miserocchi?  Jader?

My father was prisoner of war in Poland, Czechoslovakia?

I was born on 11.11.23.  In Ravenna.  My father was a dock worker in Ravenna port.  There were four of us, all boys, I was no. 2.

Was your childhood happy? Contented?

Until my father died, we were fine; comfortably off. My father died in 1938 in an accident at work.  We all went to school; I had to stop when he died.  My older brother managed to finish his studies and qualify as a geometra.  (surveyor).  I was then due to return to school to finish mine when war broke out.  But we put the other two through their studies.  The third brother was mayor of Ravenna.

Were you called up?

Yes, in 1942, I joined the air force.

As what?

At Ferrara airport as a simple airman.  On the ground.  But when I joined up, everyone was ready to be transferred to Libya – everyone in my squadron.  I refused to go; I wouldn’t put on my uniform, I struck my officer and I was arrested.

Why? Because it was Africa?

Because it was the front line, it was Africa, it was the war.  I didn’t want to do it.  So they arrested me, and in the military hospital in Bologna (where I had been transferred when I was arrested) I came upon a colonel doctor who had been on the front with my father.

Why the military hospital?

Because I claimed illness.  I showed him a photo of my father who was in this doctor’s regiment.   I told him that my father had served 9 years as a soldier and I was not even going to do one.  I asked for his help, but I made it clear that if he didn’t help me, I would end up in Gaeta.  So he declared me unfit for service.

[Moving on to Mr Guardigli who has to leave soon]

25.9.25. A young man.  Because I was so young, I didn’t get called up at the start of the war, only later on.  I was only called up for the new army in December 43.

I was born in 43, an only son.  When I was called up, I was still at school.  I had to give it up.  My family was anti-fascist.  My father was put in prison because he was anti-fascist.  He was in and out of gaol.  Every now and then, when an important fascist figure passed through town, he was put away.  He didn’t have a tessera, so it was hard for him to get a job.  He was a builder by trade.  My mother had to work too, to make ends meet.  She sewed, did what she could.  Luckily, there were only the three of us.

Do you remember when war broke out.

Yes, I was 15.  As a school boy, I was obliged to demonstrate in favour of the war.

Do you have a memory of how your school mates took the news?

Yes, unfortunately, I had to follow the fascist line because one could not do otherwise.  If you were a student, you had to; if you were working on your own, you could perhaps avoid group demonstrations.

And do you remember what you were doing on the 8th of September?

Yes, already on the night of the 8th, me and some friends went to steal weapons from the barracks of the military air force [sic?] in Forli’.  Weapons which had come from France.  They were St Etienne guns from France.  We hid them in the cemetery, in empty tombs.

Some people thought that the 8th of September marked the end of the war; did you realise that there was still much to fight for?

It is hard to say what we thought.  The news was, for us, like a coin, which can be seen from both sides.

But you set about collecting weapons, so you must have had a reason for doing this?

It wasn’t necessarily us who instigated this, but our parents who said we should go.

On the 8th of September, we were known as rebels, not yet as partisans.  The Germans called us “banditi.  We were very young, and without clear ideas.  It was a very hard choice for an 18-year-old to go either with the republicans or the partisans.  If I hadn’t had my parents behind me, I would have found it very hard to choose.  I remember when my school mates came in their Black Brigades uniform to look for me because I hadn’t turned up to enlist.

From autumn to December 1943, I had no troubles.  I had to enlist before the 10th of January.  People who were destined for the army had the earliest call-up date.

What do you mean “were destined for the army.  When did they decide you should be in the army?

We had already had medical examinations, when we hit 18.  As a result of this, we were designated army, air force, navy.

So, from the 10th of January, we were considered deserters.  We had to present ourselves at the barracks in Forli’, at the recruiting station there.  If we deserted, we would be shot.  They shot 5 men here; on 24th March 44; two of them were brothers.

Who shot them?

The fascists, not the Germans.  The black brigades.  The Italians.  The GNR.

[this man leaves now]

[Matteucci talking now] There were five children in my family, three boys and then two girls.  I was the youngest boy.  I was born on 25.6.25.  My father was a persecuted anti-fascist.  He was originally a republican; a builder and a voluntary fireman.  Because he was a volunteer fireman, the fascists spared him.  This in 1921, 22, 23.  One night, the squadristi came to look for him (between 21 and 24, the fascists killed 65 people in the province of Forli’).  When they came he barricaded himself in his flat, gun in hand.  They left.  Perhaps they didn’t want to risk their lives.

What was his crime?

Nothing.  Just to have different opinions from them.  Furthermore, in those years, over and above the 65 murders, these squadre used to commit all sorts of acts of vandalism.  Like burning co-operatives, unions, poor folks’ houses.  My mother, too, was an anti-fascist.  Not because of ideology but because in the block of flats where we lived, there also lived a young man called Giovanni Arfelli.    He was sitting in a bar one evening and these squadristi just came and shot him.  So, my choice to be anti-fascist was inevitable: I grew up with that background.  My father never had a tessera.  Once I had finished my fifth year at school, so when I was 11,  I went out to work.  We were very poor in those days.  Also, because my father was an anti-fascist, with no tessera, I wouldn’t have been able to continue with my schooling.  Of course you could get a tessera even if your parents didn’t have one, but at 11, you would go with what your parents wanted.

So, by the 1930s, were the squadristi so active?

No, because in 1923, when the king handed power over to the fascists, they instituted the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale.  The party’s police force, negating the need for squadristi.  Therefore, there was no longer any need for squadristi, but things hadn’t calmed down: on the contrary, instead of the violence being a party-led thing, it was now state-led.

When you went around town as a teenager, did you feel afraid?  Day to day?

No, because I was only a small boy.

But when you were older?

Yes, yes.  Now let me finish telling you about the Milizia.  Since we were not at war at the time, this Security Militia served to quash the aspirations of the populus.  Furthermore, in 1926, the Tribunale Speciale Fascista [Specialised Fascist Tribunal] was instituted; presided over by a main judge with two[?] others also present.  Anyone who passed before the tribunale was either sent to prison or sent to exile on one of the islands.

Was this area particularly fascist?

No.  Romagna was always anti-fascist.  Perhaps because Mussolini was born here.  He had, after all, started off as a socialist, then he got rich

Let’s get back to the point now: during the war, my older brother [Matteucci] was called up – he was born in 1918.  He was sent to Africa. He was injured at Tobruk and had his leg amputated.  My mother became then even more anti-fascist.  This is my story before the 8th of September.

What did your parents make of your brother joining up?

He was obliged.  If he hadn’t he would have been shot.  That is what happened.  Going back to the 8th of September, I hope I am not blowing my own trumpet if I say that the first partisan cell was founded here in FOrli’.  One the morning of the 9th, in Cusercoli, the first partisan band was formed.

What were you doing when you heard about the armistice?

I was at home, and I heard a neighbour shouting “the war is over, the war is over.  Near my house, there was that barracks where the 5 young men I told you about earlier had been shot.  The young men just ran out.  They left their uniforms and arms behind and the women gave them ordinary clothes. They just knocked on people’s doors.

After the 8th of September, the story is to a certain extent the same for everyone – either you were on one side or the other.  And at this point, I’d like to point out that the choice was just as hard whether you went on one side or the other.  Not everyone who went with the Republic was a criminal.  A lot of people who went with the Republic did it out of fear or hunger.

[move to car]

92 people were killed by the fascists within the walls of Forli’.

Were they known partisans/

NO, mostly Hostages, some partisans.  A priest who had helped an English pilot who had dropped down.

Are the young of Forli’ aware of what happened?

No, not entirely, owing to 40 years of DC rule.

Did some of your school friends end up with the fascists?

Only one of my friends [Matteucci].  Lots of mine [Miserocchi].  Mis.: I was arrested by my ex-school mates on 12.11.43.  45 days of prison; 9 days of interrogation, day and night; 8 days without eating, and every two hourse a beating.  Interrogations.  I was in a big room, 6 x 5 metres.  No furniture at all.  Next door, there was a bathroom with a basin with a tap running constantly and therefore the floor permanently covered with water.  I had no way of keeping dry, so one day I took a shutter off its hinges to lie on.  I was beaten even more for doing that.

Why were you arrested?

They caught me in a partisan action In Ravenna.  Unfortunately, I was caught in a flood light.  The other guys managed to get away. We were performing an act of disturbance against the Republican soldiers: throwing Italian grenades at officers from an officers’ training school while they were on their way back to their barracks.

[to Miserocchi now] can we go back to when you were in prison and you came across the doctor.

Yes, well, I bribed him, in a way: I said there was no way I would go to the front, and he said: You are all of the same race: You are fromRomagna, you are all Reds, but he gave me a certificate to allow me to go home.  The official reason was (I said “write whatever you like) he said I had a varicose problem and I was not fit.

You were very determined

Yes, I was; and my arrest was important to me because it made me realise that if I wanted to see the end of the war, I had to avoid losing control like I had done [when he struck his officer].  Once I had got out of prison, I was determined, still, but much more rational.

So, you went home?

Yes, I did , but here lies another tale.  On the last day that I had been in prison, I had written a declaration saying that I was a communist, an anti-fascist and that I would never adhere to the Republic of Salo’.  I was condemned to death by the fascists. They informed my family that the next day, I would be arrested and shot and hanged in the square in Ravenna as an example.  [fairly indistinct because of car noise]  I was arrested and taken, not to a prison but to a fascist barracks.  Someone called Zanella came, 26-27- year-old from Faenza.  He was well-known as the torturer in the casa del fascio.  I told him I knew exactly who he had killed and read off a list of names.  He was shocked.  I said “what happens to me will happen to you.  We know all your movements.

Was this true:

Yes, and he took fright.  He felt he was in a critical position.  He started driving me round Ravenna and took me to 3 places where he had already killed other men.

Why to those places?

Maybe because he intended to shoot me too in one of these places.  I said to him, “here you killed so-and so; here you killed so-and-so; here you killed so-and-so  and he became more and more concerned.  I said “now, where are you taking me?  In the end, he slowed the car down hoping that I would try to escape and then the soldiers would shoot me.  Of course, I wouldn’t fall for that, so after driving round some more, he took me to Ravenna gaol.  I stayed there about a month.  Every morning, he came to see me, together with my mother.

So Zanelli had the authority not to shoot you?

Yes, he he was a member of the provincial fascist directorate {?not clear]He was at the top of this organisation, and one of the interrogators/torturers of the partisans.

James wants to clarify one thing: at what point did Z decide not to shoot you?

I told Z that he would be committing a crime because, as a civilian, I had a right to a trial.

And he had the authority to decide not to shoot you?

Everyone just did (8:3:26:00)

You were very brave to write that declaration: you must have known you were signing your death warrant?

There was no other way out for me: I was too ill to carry on in there.  I had a very high temperature.  I could not continue with the torture.

Yes, but you could have agreed to go with the fascists?

No; never.

Were you frightened?

Not really: I just couldn’t stand the situation any longer.

What happened to you between getting out of hospital in Bologna and your arrest?

In those 14 months, I worked as whatever I could.  [can’t hear because of car]

Was it hard to find work?

No, there was plenty of work because all the men were away.

What were your politics at the time?

I was always anti-fascist and I have always been open about it.  My father was too; also he was very devoted to his family.

BY the end of 1943, had you allied yourself with a political party?

Yes

I entered as a young man into the Italian Communist party of the time.  When I was 18.

That was deeply illegal, presumably?

Yes, yes.

Were there clandestine meetings?

Yes.

When did you decide to fight on (after the RSI had been founded).

On the 8th of September, it was inevitable.

Because of the quantity of Germans all around?

The occupation had already begun.  Already, from the 25th of July, it had begun, and already we were considered traitors by the Germans.  Also, the Germans had taken away my documents on 14th September, 43: the first house they searched was mine.  They destroyed all my books, all my personal possessions

Why?

Perhaps because my neighbour was a spy.

[Some interruption or other: car noise doing my ears in]

[8 Brigata 6 is interview in office in town in hills – I assume you don’t want this.  8 Brigata 7 is when we went into hills with the 3 guys.]

[Still with Miserocchi, after a pause and interruptions]

I continued to insist on a trial.  This Zanella took fright and started militating for me to be tried.  One morning, two days before Christmas, they took me to the police station in Ravenna and interrogated me.  The Questore was there, and a judge.  They asked, “what do you want of us?  You have confessed that you are a communist, so you have condemned yourself.  I contended that Badoglio’s was the legitimate government, not the fascist govt.  It was not a crime to say what I thought; I was following the law of the govt. of the South, not that of Muss.  Just then, the siren sounded and they bombed Ravenna.  So the questore pronounced in great haste that I was to join up or go to work with the Todt. In the meantime, you will be constantly watched, turning up at the questura at 7 in the morning and 7 in the evening.  So, the day after, I took the road to the mountains.

How did you know where to go?

Through the organisation of the party and the local resistance.  In Ravenna, all the draft-dodgers, anti-fascists.  I was sent up here too.

What, the communists in Ravenna were sending people up?

Not only communists: the CLN.

Did you travel up on your own? Did you know where to go?

No, no: there were several of us, with a staffetta who accompanied us.

So, how were you physically?

I had recovered from when I was in prison in Ravenna:  I had been wee looked after by all the political prisoners who were in prison: they got food and remedies to me.  Because they were all 40-or-50-year olds who knew the insides of prison very well, and they treated me like their son.  I was known to some of them; and news spreads quickly in prison.

When your school friend arrested you: did you ever say anything to him?

No, no.  Only when one of the guys arrested me and he shot another young man who died from loss of blood.  When I met him at the liberation of Ravenna, I denounced him and he was tried.  That was the end of it.

So, you came out of prison when, exactly?

Christmas 43.

When you got up to the mountains, was there already a partisan organisation?

Yes.

When did you name yourselves the 8th Brigade?

In March 44: before that, there were two Brigades known as the first and second.  Then they were merged into the 8th.

Why the 8th?

Because there were already several numbered Brigades under the unified command of Emilia Romagna  (CUMER).

You were a Garibaldi Brigade because you were communists?

No.  There was a priest among is; catholics, republicans.  Garibaldi with reference to Italian History.  In Spain, too, there were Garibaldi brigades.

Were you mostly communist?

Yes, definitely.  [Matteucci] : let me explain something: the partisan brigades were formed by men who had fought in Spain who were communists and had been in prison because they had been fighting in the Spanish civil war.  Young men aged 18 or 19, like us, had no idea of the meaning of the word “party.  Their choices were made after the war.  Mostly – Mr Miserocchi was an exception in that he had already joined the clandestine communist party.

Did you have a commissar?

Yes.

And he influenced you in the sense that after the war, you veered towards communism?

Yes, but not everyone became communist.  We dreamed of equality.  Also, communist was the antithesis of fascism.

Were you aware of the Allies’ suspicion of communists?

Yes: we realised particularly when they arrived.

But before, were you aware?

No.

Did you,  however, understand why they were reluctant to make arms drops to you?

Yes, we did understand.  [Matteucci:]There is a detail I’d like to tell you.  On the morning of the liberation of Forli’, the commanders of the allies arrived.  They installed themselves in the town hall.  The “town major [?] refused to accept the nomination of the mayor who had been chosen by the CLN on the grounds that he was a communist.  The CLN insisted.  They did, in the end.  They had to.

When did the 8th Brigade make their fist contact with the Allies?

In Sept/Oct 43.  End of Sept.   No.  44.

Until then, where did you get your arms from?

We took them from the Germans and fascists.  Also, Bruno Vailatti would broadcast messages to the Allies.

So you already had this contact? When was he first dropped in?

In March.  But he had already been here, and gone south.  Then they dropped him back here and he broke his leg. There were also the prisoners of war who were officers.  They saw how serious our operation was, so they put in a word of recommendation for us with the govt at Bari.

So when did you get your first arms drops?

In April 44.  At the end of 43, there were already radio links.

What is Bruno’s story?

He was in Bologna, studying.  He had some friends here, at Santa Sofia, so he came to stay with them on the 8th of Sept.  There, he made contact with the English officers, with the partisan band, which was already in formation, then he left, crossed the lines, went to Bari, trained, and was then dropped back here as a liaison officer.

So, when exactly was he dropped back?  In April?

Yes [hesitant].  After the battle of/for Biserno.

Was he alone?

He had a radio-telegraphist and radio equipment.

And you were pleased to be getting more organised?

Yes.  [Mateucci]  another thing to explain is that the English generals realised how important our organisation was.  Up to the Marche, there were partisan organisations, but they were autonomous brigades with only a certain degree of efficiency.  Where as here, we had a military structure.

What was the first commander called?

Libero.  The guy who we had to fire because he behaved badly.  Then there was Pietro Mauri, who was a veteran of the Spanish Civil War.  Pietro Reali (Bernardo) was the commissar.

When did Mr Mis. Become a battalion commander?

After the April rastrellamento, during the re-organisation of the brigade in May, first I was commander of the first zone, where we were involved in recruitment of new partisans.  Here I was with Bruno Vailatti, who was a military instructor.

Why did you re-organise? Who instigated it?

After the rastrellamento, the old organisation had been thrown in the air: many men were injured or dead, arrested…So we formed new groups.

Who led the re-organisation?

Often, we tried people out; for example someone would be put in charge and if he wasn’t up to it, he would be replaced.

But who would make the decisions?

The commander of the brigade, or the political commissars.  Also, there were some ex-army officers who were responsible for organisations.

Was there a battalion attached to the headquarters?

Yes, and then there were mobile battalions.  They had a zone of action.

Did these zones change?

No, each battalion stuck to its zone, after the changes.

Which was your battalion (mr mis.)

It was the zone of Rio Sarso [?] Near Sarsina.  It was the 2nd battalion.

[break in recording.  Some missing.]

Mr Matteucci, how did you come to join the anti-fascist movement?

As I said this morning, I was from a profoundly anti-fascist family.  One of my brothers had already joined the army, gone to Africa, been injured and had his leg amputated.  The other, instead, had been a soldier, but on the 8th of September, he disbanded and came home and went straight up into the hills.  He had been a soldier near Pavia.  Because he was dodging his draft, he had to go into hiding straight away.  My father took to Cusercoli, then he went up above Santa Sofia.  On 13th Oct, there was the first battle between the partisans and the Germans.  He was involved.  The group then dispersed.  My brother came back home and made contact with the CLN.  Then it was known as the GAP.  One night, we went out together:  there was a store of German munitions in a street.  We went and took 2 crates of machine-gun cartridges.

Was this easy?

No, of course not.

It’s just that you talk about it as if you were going shopping!

A crate of ammunition weighed 60 Kg.  A friend of ours used to steal them by going in with an empty sack on his shoulder, then, if he was stopped, he would just say that it was full  of acorns.  Then, in July 44, I was captured by the Germans.

So, until July 44, you were here in forli’ – doing what?

Collaborating.  Working with t he GAPists.  But I was not one of those who had been called up: let me explain.  When I had my medical to join the army, I was assigned to the navy.  On the 8th of Sept, the navy staff were not called up [because the navy went over to the allies.]  The germans took me on the 19th of July.  We were taken (19 of us) to the prov. of Arezzo to Bibbiena [check spelling] as Todt labour to help with the construction of the Gothic Line.  After 2 days, we were taken to the elementary school of Serravalle, near the Hermitage of Camaldoli.  They shut us in the school.  Nearly every day, someone would disappear, so I decided that I must work out how to escape as well.  The occasion presented itself easily: every morning, a contadino would come into the school bearing a large basket of veg. which he would take to the kitchens, together with his son.  One morning, his son wasn’t with him.  In the meantime, the sentry had changed, so I had the impromptu idea that I would grab the other handle of the basket when this contadino came out of the kitchen.  No-one said anything.

Let me tell you what I learned from this episode.  While I was walking back to Romagna, walking with no food, hidden all the time, I approached a poor peasants’ house.  There was an old lady in the barn.  She seemed old to me at the time; like a benevolent witch.  Perhaps she was actually younger than I am now!  I asked her if there was anything eat.  She said, “Are you one of those serpents?  I said, “if you mean the men in black shirts, then no, I am on the other side.  “Very well then, come in.  She showed me in and took a piece of pig fat from the ceiling beam.  Remember that pigs are killed in mid-winter around here, so this piece of fat was about 6 months old: all yellow and rancid.  She cut a slice off and cut it into cubes and fried them with an egg and gave it to me on a plate with a slice of bread.  Believe you me: it was a delicious lunch.  I tried to give her some money, but she was offended and said, “don’t ever let anyone tell you that the poor ask for money for their bread.  Just think: she shared her bread and her misery with me and risked her life for me.  It is generosity like this that allowed us to fight on for 14 months.

We’d like to know a bit about the GAP.

Let me explain: there was the GAP and the SAP. The 8th brigade operated in the hills and mountains.  The 29th GAP Brigade operated between the hill and the plain.  The SAP (Squadre Armate Patriottiche) operated in the cities, in factories, sabotage, espionage.  In Forli’, we had a small group of republicans called the Gruppo Mazzini who operated in the hills above Cesena, but they never did anything.  Then there was the battalion commanded by Corbari (who was one of the 4 men hanged in the square here – see photo and books) who ran a sort of autonomous partisan brigade.

[Miserocchi wants to go home, so over to him]  Shortly after the reorganisation of the 8th brigade in april, there was the Allied offensive.  Were you aware of that?

Yes.

And did you take heart?

Yes, we thought they would arrive straight away.  Then, the other disappointment was that they got stuck just short of here.

Could you hear the firing getting closer and closer?

Yes, we could hear them from both sides. The shells came from first one side then the other.  Also, we had first the Allies bombing us, then the Germans.  This was the worst period: when the front line was stuck here.  From 9 november, when Forli’ was liberated, until april we were in a sort of no-man’s land  This was the worst period for us.

In the summer of 44, what were you doing?

On the Savio valley: Sarsina to Bagno di Romagna (our operating zone), we blocked all supplies going up to the Gothic line.  We mined the roads.  We blew up some bridges, we blocked an alpine artillery company who were going up to the line.  By these actions, we managed to block almost an entire regiment for 3 days between minefields and natural obstructions with us firing at us by night and the RAF came and bombed them by day.

Who planned this action

We, of the second battalion, along with Bruno Vailatti.  He mined all the roads.  Then he sent word to the allies to bomb them.  [Matteucci]  The partisans’ action did not for the most part take place on the front lines, but in small individual acts of disturbance or sabotage, or the elimination of certain fascists. We would sometimes receive orders for these from the allies over the radio.

And day to day life?

Bad.  A disaster.  Scarce food.  The peasants didn’t have much to give us.  The summers were OK, but the winters Here, there is no shelter in the mountains.  There were 1,400 of us: where were we to go.  We made makeshift sheltersThere were caves which had already been built by the contadiniAfter the bombardment of Faenza, the populus took refuge there, along with the partisans.

Were there ever any other rastrellamenti?

Yes.  I suffered 3 rastrellamenti.  After April’s one, which was huge, there were another 3 which were more localised.  The main encounters we had were during rastrellamenti.  While our headquarters were at Pieve di Rivoschio, we had suffered 3 rastrellamenti..

3?  And you didn’t move on?

We countered the first attack, then while the Germans were re-organising themselves, we moved.  This was in May. Then,  they then went into Pieve di Rivoschio and massacred several people, incl. the priest.  They found him in the cemetery where there were some arms hidden.
Then, on the 2nd July we had a 2nd rastrellamento.  We changed our tactics: we blocked the Germans, we didn’t give them a chance to re-organise; we didn’t retreat; we attacked them on their flanks and they were forced to retreat.

You had had warning of the rastrellamento?

Yes.

How many of them were there?

300 or 400.  A regiment.

What did you do with the corpses?

They came back and took them away.

By this time, you were well-armed?

Yes.  And we had a uniform: our uniform. Then, in October, the English gave us a uniform.

Red scarves?

No, not red scarves.  By June, we were conscious that Red was visible from far off.   First, we had a red star, but the CLN made us get rid of that. We had a tricolour rosette.  In April/May/June we already had a few uniforms dropped by the Allies: trousers, jackets and boots.  Boots were the scarcest and most important thing.  The first drop was in april, then more came in the following months.  By then, we were quite well-equipped. And re-supplied.  This permitted us to undertake important actions against the Germans.

In the 3rd Rastrellamento, Bruno Vailatti had mined all the road leading up; a whole regiment fell.

This is not the rastrellamento that we spoke about before?

No, another one.  In July/August.

So, you had great successes?

Yes, very great.  In fact, the second battalion is described in books as the “glorious second battalion.

So, you had information that the fascists were coming up to “rastrellare?

Yes, yes.  When a German unit was due to move, the people (who always supported the partisans and never the fascists) gave signals.  One of the most important signals was to hang white sheets out of their windows.  Even if it was raining! When we saw white sheets, we knew the troops were moving.  One of the code words which was passed from house to house was “la volpe [the fox].  When we heard “la volpe, we knew that there was movement.

Where were the white sheets hung out?

Everywhere: in all the valleys.  There was one specific house which could beseen from very far off: if the sheet was hanging in the left-hand window, it meant that all was calm; if it was in the right-hand one, there was danger.  It was the mobile phone of the time.

How often were you moving your camp in the mountains?

Every night.

And your base?

No, we stayed in that base for 3 months: June, July, august. We moved when we needed to undertake an action, but then we returned to the original base.  In Pieve di Rivoschio.  From there, we controlled the whole area.

How often would you meet with the commander of the whole brigade?

Once or twice a week, if necessary.  Otherwise, contact was maintained via staffette.  Or Pietro would come to me; or we would write letters to eachother.  These are extant, in our archives, and in the 2 books about the 8th brigade [which they gave us?].

When was Sarsina liberated?

The allies arrived at the end of October.

Did the 8th brigade then reunite to take Forli’?

Here lies a very bad story for you English.  We fought believing we truly were allies.  Instead the English, for various reasons – one political, since we were communists, for the most part; and the second was that Forli’ was the Duce’s city, so they wanted to liberate it themselves – had other plans.  From Meldola, the allies sent us  on the attack to liberate Forli’.  The 2nd battalion was the first to open hostilities.  We fought hard and fierce, and when we got to the airport, and the allies saw that we would make it as far as forli’, we were stopped.  We were threatened with air bombardment if we didn’t retreat and let the allies go first.

How was this signalled to you?

The English officers told our commander, Pietro Tabarri, who was in Meldola.  He straight away sent staffette to warn us.  We had to retreat.  We were very disillusioned. The SAP inside forli, commanded by Luciano Lama, were told what had happened, and then they staged an uprising.  So it was the SAP who liberated Forli’, and we at least had this satisfaction.

[Matteucci]:  In the city, there were already many partisans who had taken refuge there.  In the hospital, in the stove factory. At 2 in the morning of the 9th of November, the order was given to stage an insurrection.  The Germans, in their retreat, blew up the tower in the main square.  By morning, the city was liberated.  The first allies arrived in the morning in a tank.  They encountered an Italian who let off a volley of machine-gun fire into the air in celebration.  The tank put down its shutters and retreated, thinking that the city had not yet been cleared of Germans.  The allies didn’t come back until 11 o’clock.

These episodes sometimes get translated into history books as instances when the people of Forli’ didn’t receive the English very well.  This is not the case: we respected thembut that morning, the morning of the liberation, we were resentful and angry, after such a bitter battle behind and around the airport.  The Germans were inside the sanatorium shooting, and outside their Panzer were advancing towards us.

On the 9th of November, we went back to Meldola.  We stayed there for 3 or 4 days. There were long discussions with the allied command, who ordered us to surrender our weapons.  We were furious and stormed back up to Santa Sofia, without leaving our weapons.  Instead of going up to Santa Sofia, I, together with a group of partisans from Ravenna, crossed no-mans-land and reached the periphery of Ravenna.  I found myself in San Pietro in Campiano, half way between Ravenna and Forli’, fighting alongside the Essex regiment again.  The same regiment I had been fighting with at Sarsina.  They were enthusiastic in welcoming me to fight alongside them.

When you were fighting with the Essex regiment earlier, to take forli, did the orders come from them, or from you or from both of you.

From both of us.

And there was no conflict in that?

No.  Everything was fine with the Essex Regiment. The only problems we had were with the Poles.

So, if you had had to do it, you would have been happy to continue fighting alongside the English, under their command?

Yes, certainly.  In Ravenna, we did that.  Instead, here at Forli’, on the 30th of November, the Brigade was dissolved.  Here, in the main square, there was a large crowd gathered, with all the English commanders present, and the Brigade was dissolved.  We handed over our weapons. The mood was very festive.

Why the change of heart?

Because at that point, the war was over.  At the end of the day, we were collaborators.  Now it was time to begin reconstruction.  Forli’ had been destroyed: 2,000 houses and 130 bridges flattened.  There was no firewood.  There was no food.  The roads were potholed.

For myself [Mr Miserocchi], I went to Ravenna, to continue to fight.  I fought with the 28th Garibaldi Brigade, commanded by Boldrini.  They, together with the PPA [Popski’s Private Army], freed Ravenna. 4.12.44.  Then, they [Ravenna’s partisans of the 28th Brigade] were subsumed as part of the new Italian Army and had a section of the front line, from Sant’alberto to the sea.

What precisely was the name of your unit?

28th Garibladi brigade of Ravenna?

What was your rank?

I was inserted as an ex-officer of the 8th brigade.  I had the great honour of commanding the first platoon which crossed the river and entered Ravenna.

So you didn’t have a precise rank?

No, I still had my rank from here.

What was your rank?

Captain.  I was a liaison between the Essex Regiment and Popski’s Private Army and the Partisan commanders.  I spent nights in no-mans land patrolling with members of the partisans and the PPA and the Essex?

Do you remember crossing the Po?

No, because I was in hospital at the time.

Did you go through the Argenta Gap?

No.  I got as far as the edge of the valley.

Why were you in hospital?

Double pleurisy which I was carrying around with me from April 44.  Fever every day.  I was totally destroyed.  Still today, I suffer the consequences [!]

Where were you at the end of the war?

In hospital in Ravenna.

Were you too ill to feel anything at the end of the war?

No, no.  I knew that sometime within the next few days there was due to be an insurrection.  In fact, the day before [the insurrection] I had gone home.  On the 25th of April, I went out on my motorbike.  I got as far as Padova and went to see my brother.  There was a great celebration.  We went as far as Venice.

Did you see the debris left behind by the Germans?

Actually, I went as far as Trento, with a friend.  At Trento, I was scared.  In amongst the Germans who were retreating, there were still some who would have been happy to shoot at the odd Italian, and I was in my partisan uniform.

And do you remember how you felt when you heard the announcement that the war was over.  Or were you too ill?

NO, I didn’t notice my illness.

Do you remember the moment Where you knew it was all over?

Yes, of course.  I was shaving and the radio announced the insurrection.  I sliced a chunk out of my face!

You were out of hospital by now?

Yes, I was at home.

[Matteucci] People sometimes ask, “in the end, what did the partisans really do?  The allies were there We know, that without the allies, we would have been fairly useless.  But the partisans, from Rome northwards, all the cities that the allies arrived at to liberate had already been liberated by the partisans.  This has to tell you something.  In fact, at Genova, where an insurrection occurred a day before Milan’s, General Meinhold signed an unconditional surrender to the partisans.  The allies were only at La Spezia at the time.

Do you remember where you were when you heard the news that Mussolini had been killed?

Yes.  The whole population was very relieved. [Matteucci:] But it was a very cowardly and ignominious retreat, disguised as a German.  We have received criticism for hanging them the way we did in Piazzale Loreto, but that is exactly where and what they did to us.  We had to hang them up high: they started on the ground but the crush to see the bodies was too great, so they had to be raised.  They had to be suspended by their feet because they had already been dead for 2 days, and so their necks would not have held.