GIANNI ROSSI SERVED IN THE ITALIAN NAVY UNTIL THE ARMISTICE IN SEPTEMBER 1943, THEN JOINED THE PARTISAN BRIGADE ‘STELLA ROSS’ BECOMING THE BAND’S SECOND-IN-COMMAND.
He is writing a book about historical facts, but also, war is made up of people.
People and personal things, therefore he wants to know where you were born
I was born in Marzabotto. I was born in Gardaletto, but in the Comune of Marzabotto.
And your parents were peasant farmers?
No, no, my father was a small businessman.
Ah, a construction business.
And you had brothers, sisters?
A brother and a sister.
Sister one year older, my Brother 5 years younger
And how was life at those times; was it hard, or was your family comfortably off?
No, no, we were pretty well off, but all around us there was misery.
[exchange in English].
In that period, there was misery.
Lack of everything?
Yes in time of fascism
But also lack of food and such things?
Yes, very little, certainly, people were starving.
Your father; what did he think of Mussolini?
My father? My father had always been an anti-fascist.
My father. . . when a fascist leader was due to go past along this road, they would take him and they would, for security, put him in a cell. Yes? Yes, always. We are a family that has always been against fascism,
Did you have family around? Uncles, aunts?
My uncles and aunts? Yes, they were also against fascism.
No, but did you have family in that area? All your family. . .
Yes, my brother and sister were married.
Yes, but did your uncles and aunts also live in Gardaletto?
Yes, yes, one uncle; my father’s brother.
Were politics always important for the family? Was it a politically-orientated family? Were politics discussed?
Yes, a lot.
So you had discussions.
Your house, was it the one next to the food shop?
Yes, facing[?] it.
The nice stone one; facing the bar?
So it was a type of â€œCasa colonica (posh detached house)?
No, no, it was a normal house. My father built it.
Yes, it is beautiful.
Was the bar there in those times?
[Old lady: was the bar there then?]
Yes, there was a small bar next to the house.
Where Angiolina’s is now? That Bar/Alimentari?
Even then?Even there?
And there was a alimenari, and an osteria
What is the difference between osteria and trattoria?
Osteria, you drink.
Did you have a happy childhood?
Yes, we and Angiolino’s family were among the few who did not want for anything.
So you didn’t lack anything?
No, no we were one of the few families who had money, not loads, but
Did you always know the area well; as a child, did you always go and play in the mountains? Did you go up Monte Sole.
Yes of course, I was born there so I knew it.
When we used to go to church: it was not down, it was up at Casalia, next to San Martino.
Next to the cemetery? That church?
You went there to mass?
Yes. We went to mass there on a Sunday.
There was no road, of course, just an ox drove?
A road for peasants’ carts.
Was there no church in Gardaletto?
Later, they built an â€œOratorio[?] at le Murasse [?] but the main church was at Casalia.
For the area? Everyone met there?
Your school was in Gardaletto?
Yes. Next to our house was the elematary school. The middle school was in Vado.
And how did you get to school in Vado?
3 Kms. 6 there and back. There were no coaches. [Old Lady: Then we used to walk, not go everywhere by car.]
Yes, things have changed, not necessarily for the better.
And as a boy, did you always stay I don’t think you had holidays away from home as such? You always stayed in this area?All year?
Yes, yes, in those days we didn’t. . .
You didn’t go to the sea?
I used to go to the sea as a child, as a boy I used to be sent to Cattolica to the holiday camp for wounded veterans of the First World War.
My father was wounded in the war. So the Association for Wounded Veterans had a camp at Cattolica where we went every year.
And where is Cattolica?
Yes, for 3 years.
What was it called?
The Associazione Mutilati. [Sic. May have meant Associazione per i Mutilati.]
For those injured in the war?
For those injured in the Great War.
Riccione is down by the sea? For a holiday?
Yes, for a month.
All the family?
No, only the children.
It was a type of charity? The Associazione was a type of charity? Yes, yes.
Did you father ever talk about the First World War?
My father, yes he was wounded. His nose was opened up. He had 9 bits of shrapnel. His arm. . . The same thing happened to me too!
With a bullet?
With a piece of shrapnel from a shell.
Did he bear the scars? Here and here? You could see it?
Yes, you could see the scars. Here and here.
Did your father have a vision that Fascism was a product of the First World War? Is it down to Fascism?
When did you leave school? How old were you?
Then off to work? For your father?
No, I went to a mechanic’s workshop.
To an office? And where was the office?
So every day?
For 5 months, I went from Gardaletta to Bologna by bicycle, and back every evening. But after 5 months, my father sent me to live with his sister in Borgo Panigale.
Which is nearer Bologna?
Yes. Right next to Bologna.
And what were you doing in the office?
In the office? No, no, at a mechanics. [the confusion arose because â€œofficina is mechanic’s workshop in Italian].
As an apprentice?
So are we at the beginning of the 1930s?
No, no, 1935.
You were born in 1922?
We were talking about this this morning: so many things happened to your generation when you were so young. We can’t imagine it.
It is not like today, when kids go to work at 18, and school is compulsory. Then, people stared as young as 10. In times of war. If you could find it. Many boys around here went, at the age of 10, to be â€œgarzoni – to work for peasant farmers in return for food alone.
And when war broke out here in Italy, you were still working for the mechanic?
A car mechanic?
No, no, a mechanic working with scientific pumps. Water pumps.
At this point of the war, you were still living in Bologna with your aunt, not at Gardaletta?
At this point, from 1935 to 38, I was living with my aunt. In 1938, my father bought a house in Via Battindarno in Bologna. We still own it.
A detached house, with 2 flats.
So your father was pretty well off?
Yes, yes. In 1938, he bought it for 36,000 Lire. [Roddy understood 36 Lire]. It had 800 metres of land.
That would be 18 Euros now.
Did you live there on your own?
No, no, my whole family came down from Gardaletto.
And the house in Gardaletto? Did you sell it?
It was empty. We used it in the summer.
And your father continued to work as a builder?
Yes, until he retired.
Can you remember when war began?Or was it distant from your life.
Yes, I was a soldier.
So did they call you up?
I was in the Navy. Since I was a mechanic If you were a mechanic, you either joined the Navy or the [RAF?]
Did you call you up immediately?
No, no there was compulsory military service.
When were called up?
I was called to the Navy at the start of 1942.
Can you remember how it was when war broke out in June 1940?
Here, war broke out in 1938. [Something about Hitler and the Italians going in with him, but I am afraid I cannot understand him without his teeth in].
In Africa, you mean. Mussolini declared war on England and France in 1940. Can you remember that?
Yes, of course.
What did you think?
We were opposed to those things.
All your family?
Do you remember when Hitler and Mussolini signed the pact? You were against it.
Why were your family against the war, when it was almost easier to go along with
My family were against fascism.
Did the fascists have an impact on your everyday life? Did you see them in the
There were â€œCamicie Nere in their uniform, but there were also civilians in black shirts.
Could you see them in the streets? Were they aggressive? How were they?
There were gangs of them who got to work at night, threatening people who weren’t Fascists.
As an anti-Fascist family, were you frightened of these gangs? Was it dangerous?
No. Not really. But you were constantly taunted.
You had to stay. . .
Were you frightened of being arrested?
Whenever a Fascist leader was due to pass , my father would be put in gaol for security for 1 or two days, until all the processions were over.
To keep him out of the way?
When was this? In 1940?
Always. From the beginning of fascism.
Because they suspected him of being anti-fascist. And your mother, how did she take all this?
She was the same.
Was she put in prison?
Your father was always freed subsequently?
Yes, yes. They only took him in for security, for a day or 2. For example, when Hitler passed through to inaugurate the railway line on his way to Rome in 1936/37, they put him away for 3 days.
Because your father was recognised as an anti-fascist.
You see here, children who wanted to attend school had to be signed down to the Balilla [? Can get this name if you need it] and have have a pass [â€œtessera].
What do you mean?
To go to school, you had to be signed down to the fascist party. My father didn’t ever get one (a tessera). SO when the inspector came to the school, we had to leave. Then they had a meeting with my father and they said â€œyou have to get a Balilla, a Tessera for your son â€œNo, I am not going to get a tessera. I am not an Italian, I am more than an Italian, I am an Italianissimo. I was wounded in the Great War. You are not an Italian. If you expel my son, I will get a private tutor
And did that happen?
No, they kept me on.
During your military service, did you see active service?
Initially, I went to naval school in Venice. Then, after 3 months, I went to La Spezia where I embarked on the battleship Alpino.
It is still afloat. Refurbished. It was bombed when we were at port. Then they sent me to the Engineers’ ship il Quarnaro, at Gaeta.
The ship was bombed by the English? Were you on it?
No, when the alarm sounded, we disembarked: we were at port.
Then to Gaeta?
First to Marina di Massa for a check up in military hospital, then to the engineers’ ship in Gaeta. That is still there too.
Where is Gaeta?
In the Bay of Naples, where there is a military prison.
Then there was the Armistice.
So this is the 8 September 42. Then, after the armistice?
I went home.
After the armistice, what was the procedure? Did they order you to go home, or did everyone . . .?
We were part of the army and we were all disbanded. Then Mussolini formed what became the Fascist squads.
So it was anarchic? Chaotic?
Yes, yes, there was total disbanding. Then the fascist army was formed.
But where did Mussolini form these squads?In the North?
There was already a Fascist army. We were part of the so-called Royal part of the army. There was the king. . . There was also a Fascist army.They were known as â€œi volontari della morte the volunteers of death and they were an army in fascist uniform. There was normal army, commanded by the king
How did you get home?
On foot; if we found a car. . .
There wasn’t any public transport?
You must be joking [implied].
How long did it take you to get home?
Nearly a week.
So you got back before the end of September?
And then we began to organise ourselves against Fascism. Because Mussolini had begun to call up volunteers for his army. Because Mussolini had been imprisoned, and then freed by the Germans.
And he called up people in the regular army?
Yes, yes, he called up everyone?
No, no, not called up: they were looking for me. If you didn’t present yourself, you were considered a deserter. So the conscription of ’24 (because in the navy you were called up a year early) were all deserters. So people hid us.
After the armistice, were you happy that the war was over?
Most Italians were happy. Everyone.
But were you aware that there was trouble ahead?
No. The trouble started once Mussolini re-formed the army. Mussolini was imprisoned by the King. You know that, don’t you?
Was Gardaletto the same when you returned, and Bologna?
Yes. I didn’t go back to Gardaletto; I already lived in Bologna.
When did you start to form the Resistance to the Germans?
After two months, I was at home.
So, November, December?
Yes, yes. We went into the barracks and took the arms that had been abandoned by the army.
Where? There are barracks everywhere, aren’t there?
There are 5 or 6 in Bologna.
And there were arms there?
Yes; rifles and suchlike. We were a group of young men who took them away from Bologna and hid them.
A group of youths?
The moment when you decided to unite and to take the arms; how did?
Everyone who was against them fought them. Everyone who was against fascismThey regrouped. It was not because of [?] fascism. They formed afterwards, because Mussolini was freed and formed the army again.
And they all knew eachother from before?
[a bit missed because of end of tape. Can hear James saying â€œso they said, â€œMussolini’s been released from prison.. Then tape finishes.]
The fear, the need to do something.
90 per cent of the population couldn’t wait for the war to end. The Italian people didn’t want the war.
Your father knew you wanted . . .? He was in agreement?
By George, yes. He financed us too. When we formed the Brigade.. .
The Stella Rossa?
Yes, but red in a manner of saying. We were not red. We were not Communist. It was just a symbol.
How did you meet il Lupo?
We were friends from before. He was a bit older than me, but everyone knew each other.
He lived near Gardaletto?
Yes, 200 metres away.
And how did you meet up with him again in Bologna?
Because he lived in Bologna too. He had also been in the army.
And was Lupo the leader who decided. . .?
Yes, the leader. [?]
You were young men, weren’t you?
And what were your motives? The injustice?
Because we were against the idea of Mussolini and Fascism. We were anti Fascist.
And you wanted to see the end of M?
SO, you went into the barracks to take the guns etc. Then, what happened.
Then we took them up here to our houses in Gardaletto.
To hide them?
Yes. Then we organised ourselves. At the beginning, we were around 20 young men. Then in March of 44 . . . no 43 . . . no 44, they found us and we had to take them up to the woods, to Ermino [?}’s house / a house in Ermino [?] , hidden in caves. There we made a cache.
You were still living in Bologna at this time?
So no action had been started at this time?
This was March of 43 or 44?
No March 44. Then the first encounter happened . We attacked a convoy of Italian Fascists.
Yes, of lorries. The first encounter.
There, on the road, before going down to Gardaletta. [something about a restaurant]. Before turning right for Gardaletta.
Where were you hiding? In the woods?
In the fields.
With guns. We only had rifles. We only got automatic weapons when you sent them to us.
Lots of lorries?
And what happened? Did you kill the drivers?
No; they were full of soldiers.
And were some or all killed?
Some. We don’t know how many.
And you managed to flee?
This is civil war at this stage, isn’t it?
Did it bother you to shoot at other Italians?
Well, put it this way: they didn’t care about us and we didn’t care about them. [Roddy misunderstood â€œbadare (to care about) for â€œballare (to dance), but I love your quote in your synopsis.]
You didn’t think about it; two opposite sides. I love your phrase; what was it again? They were dancing?
No they were shooting [!]
This was the first time you fired a shot* in the war?[*actually, Roddy said â€œdisappeared, but I think Rossi understood the error]
Yes, because in the Navy. . .
How did you feel about it?
Without emotion. I’d had enough of them.
It was cynical: something you had to do?
From that moment, you had become partisans? After the first shot?
From that moment. . .
There’s no going back. Then what?
We began to increase our numbers. Boys who had been called up by the army…the Republican army which Mussolini had formed once again. They avoided conscription and fled. If they were caught, they would have been arrested as deserters.
[gap in tape]
Where were you living? You couldn’t go back to Bologna.
No, we stayed here; I went back to my parents’ place in Gardaletta.
Were you afraid?
Yes. The fascists knew who I was. Later on, they were searched for again; to the extent that my parents spent one night here, one there.
And you were in Gardaletta? How did you flee from them? If the Pro-fascists were looking for you, did you stay in Gardaletta?
No, we were outside Gardaletta.
Outside, in the forest?
No, no; in peasants’ houses.
On Monte Sole?
A bit below it. We were hidden in peasants’ houses. We had money on our heads. We slept in the haylofts.
And peasants gave you food. They were friendly?
Yes. They all collaborated with us.
Did the price on your head make you worry that someone might betray you?
Of course. The fascists sent spies up. To kill us. Policemen, let us say. Pretending to be partisans. They tried to kill us twice. Once by poisoning Lupo’s drink, while we were staying with the peasants. Lupo realised. The other one was up around here [poss. indicating somewhere] . We were warned that he was a spy. The boy was part of the [English acronym?]. He was collaborating with the English. He, too, was a sailor. [?]
How did you suss out the second spy?
The second time, we were warned, by [inaudible].
What did you do to him? Did you kill him?
The second time?
The second time, he didn’t believe us. We had already been warned by that boy who was part of the Intelligence Service.
Yes. The Italian was an ex-sailor. The British spy warned us that there was one person among our ranks who was a spy. The sailor had a girlfriend at Vado, which is how he knew about us. [I think there is something cross-purposed here, for Rossi continues:] this was how our arms were supplied.
What happened to him? The sailor.
Nothing. He warned us via Lupo’s brother that a man was coming up who was a spy.
But what happened to the spy?
Mario didn’t believe that he was a spy, so we kept him among us and took him to sleep beside us. So there was Lupo, him in the middle and me on the other side. We were sleeping in a cave. In the night, in the cave, Lupo had his dagger like this. This guy said â€œI am going outside to do a pee. When he came back in, he pulled his dagger out, threw himself at Lupo and stabbed him here. At this point, I woke up, and he had his hands like this, with his dagger. . .
What was his name?
So what happened?
Well, we had lined the cave with wood, to make it more habitable, and Lupo had stuck his dagger in the wood above him. When the guy came back from a pee, he takes Lupo’s knife and attacks him. He shouts Gianni, Gianni and I wake up to see him at the end of a dagger. Then we manage to pin him down and take his dagger [ God know how; can’t understand his description]. Then we shoot him.
Lupo was cut?
The dagger went from here to here. And I was cut on my head.
When was this?
The beginning of April.
How did the Intelligence Service contact you?
His girlfriend was in Bologna. She was evacuated to Vado. He came to know that we. . .
Was he English or Italian?
Italian. A sailor; an officer in the navy. He worked for British Intelligence. It was he who got us our arms.
Did you suspect him at the beginning?
No, because the girl’s father was a great anti-fascist. When he came up to visit his girlfriend, he already knew that we were organised. . .partisans. This guy got us our weapons etc. Via Radio London, we got messages. . .
Where was your radio? In the mountains? Did you meet the agent through Radio London, or did you know him already?
He got us in contact with Radio London afterwards. We knew him via the girlfriend.
For radio London, which transmitted every evening [indistinct] when they were going to make drops, the words were â€œMario, get ready, Mario, get ready. This would happen for several evenings, so we could prepare the field where the drops would be made. They already knew the area. And when they said â€œthe birds are singing, they came to drop the supplies at 10.00 at night.
Who gave you the radio?
It was a normal radio. Most people had radios.
Were you pleased to have British help?
For the arms, of course we were, by Jove [Bacchus!].
What sort of weapons?
Sten guns. A phenomenal weapon, the Sten gun.
Yes. And English military uniform.
For people to wear. Just for them to have something to wear.
Proper uniform; jackets, trousers.?
Not everyone wore these, did they?
How many were you by this stage?
240/250. after May. At the beginning of may, we had 3 drops, and the 24th of May we launched our first attack [against the Germans].
When was your first contact with the intelligence service?
And what happened in this fight with the Germans?
That was a good fight. Really. 240 Germans killed. Only one of our men wounded. It happened where there is a white house up there. They were coming along this road to root out the partisans [â€œrastrellare]. There was a German anti-aircraft machine above Vado, and a week later they came to look for us.
You were all hidden in the trees?
Where was the anti-aircraft gun hidden?
Above the railway bridge.
And you knew they would come and find you? How did you know?
We had informers. Italians. We called them the â€œstaffette.
In this combat, where were you hidden?
We stayed in the woods, in ditches. . .
How were the partisans organised? Who made the decisions? Was it Lupo, or the British Intelligence Service?
No, not the English. They only made decisions about supplies.
You and Lupo were the 2 heads.
Yes, then there was the company, and the company leaders. It was a military organisation. 33 in each company.
Were there others who wanted to be boss, other than Lupo?
No, Lupo was not disputed.
And that you would be second-in-command.
That’s right. We were there from the beginning.
Can you remember any other attacks on the Germans?
There were lots: attacks on barracks; attacks on anti-aircraft rifles. . .
You captured documents about the Gothic Line. What happened: this was a very important event, wasn’t it?
Yes, it was. We captured information about all the fortifications on the Gothic Line. We went to disarm the Fascist barracks at TolÃ©. Jock (a Scotsman), Herman (S. African) and Steve (New Zealander) with us. They had been prisoners in S. Italy. They were on a train which we stopped and they escaped. This was 2 months before capturing the documents; in June 44.
On the way back from disarming the barracks, we came across an amphibious vehicle, so we hid behind the cemetery. We were on Monte Pastore, taking the secondary road – the main road was guarded by Partisans, so the Germans were avoiding it. There were 3 Germans, a doctor, an officer and the driver. They had all the documents of the fortifications of the Gothic Line. They were all killed. We found the brief-case with the documents in it and we sent them via Switzerland to Britain. The Germans came back and searched and searched, but we had got the peasants to bury the car in a field.
What, you buried it, the whole thing? There must have been lots of you.
There were 5 of us: me, Jock, Herman, and two others from Verona [?] . The best things I did were with the British. You’re a fine lot.
And you called the peasants to come and help?
Yes, they did. They couldn’t come to take part in any action, but they all helped.
Was the peasants’ help entirely voluntary despite the danger it put their families in? Or did you have to exert some pressure?
No, they always helped willingly.
Why did you send the documents to Switzerland, instead of to the front, which was so close?
It was the German Front. Afterwards, the English dropped fliers on all the area to thank for the information received.
Wasn’t this dangerous, if the Germans found them?
No, the Germans knew they [i.e. The documents] had disappeared anyway! That was a real coup.
The more you attacked the Germans, the greater was the risk to the civilians. You knew this, didn’t you?
Yes, everyone knew that for one German killed, 10 Italians would be. But the civilians weren’t worried either. They were sure of their position. They were very brave.
You weren’t ever asked to stop by the civilians?
Never by anyone.
Why was Mario called â€œil Lupo?
It’s a nickname from childhood. No-one knew why. Everyone here in the mountains has a nickname. Nearly everyone.
Giovannino. As a little boy; when I grew up, I was always Gianni. My father was called â€œil Governo
By September, how many were you?
600 are a lot of people: were you worried about trusting all of them?
No, no, we all knew each other.
But when you slept, were you guarded?
There was always a guard at night; like in the army.
What can you remember about 28, 29 September?
The last battle we fought was 29 September, then the front line passed us.
The day of the massacres?
The massacres were on 30th and lasted 3 days.
Did you know that the Germans would come in and kill the civilians?
No, no. [indistinct] 10 civilians for every German killed. They took civilians and put them in their midst as protection.
And where were you at this point?
I was in command at Cadotto, at the feet of Monte Sole.
Lupo was killed by the Germans?
Yes; he was shot 3 times. We went outside the house at Cadotto, and as soon as we got out of the back of the house, they shot. I took the first bullet: here.
The Germans were coming up?
From behind. While Lupo and I were coming down. And Gamberini; another company commander. To fight, naturally.
While I was shooting, I caught another bullet in the arm, and one in the foot.
So you were surrounded by Germans?
Yes, brought there by an ex-partisan spy. At night; about 4 in the morning. The Lupo was in a ditch. He had died in there; we found him later.
And how many Germans were there?
Many. A batallion of SS.
So the SS surrounded you and begun to shoot at the house? Grenades et al?
No, [change of tape]
Lupo was only discovered 6 months later. Because after the shootings, I passed across the front line. We all did. We all thought he was still alive. The allies were at less than a kilometre’s distance. We found the other guy, but not Lupo. The other guy died few metres away from me.
You know that the front was stationary here for 6 months, because the troops were waiting for the Normandy Landings. The British and American troops . . . there was a group of English and Americans. . .stopped the front because of the Normandy Landings.
And you went from Monte Sole to Gardaletto?
No. On the other side. From Monte Sole to San Martino.
So the Allied Lines were very close?
One and a half kms.
This is the 29th/30th September?
I went down on the 2nd October.
Did you see the massacres?
You met the Allies, then what? A bit of hospital, I think?
Yes, I went to hospital, as I was shot in both arms [ shows scars ]. And my foot.
So for these 3 days, were you hidden?
No, I was with other Partisans.
But without a doctor.
Yes, of course. Then I went to an American military hospital. Then, once I was better, I joined the OSS. We would cross over the enemy lines, spend 3 days there and see where the German positions were, then we would come back and tell the Americans. 15 Italo/Americans and 15 Partisans. This was at the end of 44 until April 45. The commander was Lieutenant Alessi, an American. In American uniform.
Did you see any action then?
Yes, yes. Then only in platoons because from Riola to Bologna was no man’s land.
All around here. Our job was to see where their positions [?] were and to mark them down.
And how long were you in hospital?
SO you were still injured at this point?
Yes. Some dirt stayed in my wound and got infected. So they had to clear that.
Can you remember any specific incidents when you were part of the OSS?
Yes. At Riola. An American guy called . . . wrote a book about it. He was there too. I can’t remember the name. [? ? ? Something about mines]
At the end of the war, what did you do?
I started to work. With buses and coaches. Me and 2 others had a company which ran the local buses.
Was it difficult for you to live this civilian life?
The only difficulties I had were with the Communists.
But you managed to lead a normal life, without nightmares.
Yes. The Communists had it in for me and Lupo. They wanted the partisans to be allied to them. But in reality, there were all sorts of political leanings, but very few Communists.