Italian Memories. 2nd Act
In losing the election during the Grand Council of Facism (the agenda of Mr. Grandi on July 24, 1943) Mussolini was arrested by order of the King of Italy on July 25, 1943 and subsequently transported first to the island of Ponza in July 1943, then to the island of Maddalena between 7-27 of August 1943, and finally to Campo Imperatore on Mt. Gran Sasso. Freed by German paratroopers that were led by SS Captain Otto Skorzeny on September 12, 1943, and now at the mercy of Hitler’s will, he established the Italian Social Republic in the territories of northern Italy which started at the Gothic Line and included north Italy except for Venezia Giulia and Venezia Tridentina. This area was placed under the direct control of the Third Reich.
Since the beginning (first 600 days) of the Social republic, the “state capital” was located in Salo and was chosen for strategic reasons: that being, far from the front, there were no military targets in the area and the village (Salo) was connected to the main roads with Germany. The ministry buildings were scattered along the shore of Lake Garda and Mussolini lived in Villa Feltrinelli in Gargnano village, staying from October 10, 1943 to April 18, 1945.
The villa was strongly defended from the air and ground: behind the villa a shelter had been constructed and on the roof were anti-aircraft batteries; and on the ground were thirty SS soldiers under the command of Captain Kisnat guarding Mussolini. Villa Feltrinelli was home to all the family of Mussolini, his mistress, Claretta Petacci, lived in Villa Fiordaliso Gardone, a few kilometers away.
Mussolini rarely left Villa Feltrinelli and only went to Villa Ursulines (today named Palazzo Feltrinelli), not far from the dock where he had his headquarters.
After breaking the Green Line II (the second line of the Gothic Line defense) which took place beginning April 14, 1945 in the neighboring hills of Castel d’Aiano (Mt SPE), Rocca di Roffeno (Monte della Croce) and Torre Jussi, the 10th Mountain Division soldiers (first Alpine Division of the U.S. Army) advanced to the Po valley crossing the Po river April 23, 1945, and reached the outskirts of Villafranca April 25 and the shores of lake Garda on April 28, 1945.
From the record of the 10th Mountain Division, 85th Regiment, an assault force consisting of Company K commanded by Captain Cooper, and a heavy machine gun platoon from Company M commanded by Lieutenant Bogin, crossed Lake Garda in 12 DUKW’s (amphibious vehicles) landing in Gargnano April 30, 1945. By 8:15 Villa Feltrinelli, Gargnano and Palazzo Feltrinelli were occupied without any resistance.
In Villa Feltrinelli, hundreds of valuable objects were discovered including gifts to the Duce from leaders of the Axis nations,Hitler and Hirohito; a Stradivarius violin, swords, uniforms and medals. Between May 1 and May 7, the soldiers of Company K were placed to guard the Villa and took turns sleeping in the big four-post bed of Duce or adjacent room.
It goes without saying that a common practice for all conquering armies is that the objects found in Villa Feltrinelli were considered “spoils of war” by the American soldiers who garrisoned the Villa during those seven days of May, 1943. Many of the valuable objects were mailed home to the U.S.
A wise Citation states, "Time is a gentleman."
Time has healed many wounds and memories of the war but such a tragic past cannot help but elicit a few remaining, unpleasant feelings that is part of Italian history.
We should follow in the example of 10th Mountain Division veterans and their descendants who, every three years return to Italy; to the foxholes and battlefields where they fought, renewing memories and friendships of so long ago, and warning the younger generation so that, “history does not repeat itself.”
In September, 2012, Bob Yank of Company K, 85th Regiment, 10th Mountain Division passed away. He wished to give some of his “spoils of war” to Val Rios, Past President of 10th Mtn. Div. Descendants who was considered a dear friend and who honored the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division. Mr. Rios, while retaining ownership, wishes to have these “spoils of war” returned to Italy.
Beginning May, 2013, these objects from Villa Feltrinelli will be exhibited at a location recognized as an official museum of 10th Mtn. Div. Descendants, the museum at Iola, Italy.