Author(s): Ken Fenton
What happened in northern Italy over the years from 1941 to 1945 affected the lives of thousands of New Zealand and Australian servicemen, caught up in the maelstrom of events that were taking place in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations. Ken Fenton has been able to draw on many recollections of Anzac ex-servicemen, along with his personal knowledge of northern Italy during World War 2, as a young soldier with the 2nd NZ Division. His two volumes give a detailed insight into the varied fortunes of those initially imprisoned, and into how escapers from among them later coped with the exigencies of war-torn Italy. They were confronted by many difficult situations resulting from the actions of the warring regimes. Before the Italian Armistice of September 1943, thousands of Aussies and Kiwis were held in the prisoner of war camps of northern Italy, particularly in the notorious Campo 57 at Gruppignano. There the physical and mental states of those incarcerated were under considerable threat. Some Anzacs were fortunate to be transferred to the farm work camps around Vercelli in the northwest, or around and beyond Torviscosa to the northeast. This is a book that is both macro and micro. It looks into some of the higher policies and decisions that affected both Anzacs and Italian civilians It is also contains many accounts by both servicemen and civilians who speak naturally and candidly about the situations in which they found themselves, accounts which have not been modified to any extent. In doing so, it extends our historical records and enables many who have been relatively silent over the years. to have their views heard. After the Armistice many escaped from the farm work camps and existed in northern Italy for long periods before being able to cross the alps to Switzerland, or to British hands in Yugoslavia; or at war's end, to be liberated as a result of combined actions of the British 8th Army and the US 5th Army against mainly German forces. Escapers often depended on the assistance given by Italian civilians who themselves often struggled to exist in deteriorating situations where irregular bands roamed the countryside, such as along the northern frontiers. In the north east, Carnia was especially hard hit by the arrival of Hitler's mercenaries, the Cossack Army. The plight of the civilian population often became intertwined with that of the military, and the stories about Kiwis and Aussies have often been told against such a backdrop. The general purpose of this book of two volumes is to bring together and describe the mostly individual or small-group activities of a quite significant number of Australian and New Zealand soldiers, filling in many of the gaps left by official war histories. For the most part it is not about units of the 2NZEF or AIF, but rather about a quite remarkable generation of young men who performed with great fortitude under circumstances mostly beyond their control. These were the lost legions of Anzacs in whose ranks we find men like John Peck AIF, Frank Gardner 2NZEF, Frank Jocumsen AIF, David Russell 2NZEF, Arch Scott 2NZEF, Peter Macgeorge and Bert Townsend AIF, Bill Grainger 2NZEF, Jack Banton 2NZEF and many others whose names appear on the roll of more than 300 named in the Index of Servicemen at the rear of Volume 2. Among them were some who suffered greatly while in the hands of the Fascist State. The fighting regiments, battalions and companies of the 2NZEF and AIF were well represented in northern Italy, - by 1945 many were with 2 NZ Division at Trieste and Gorizia; Prior to that, individual escapers operated along the frontiers, or as early as 1941, were in the prison camps of the north. The parent units of these men included: 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 NZ Infantry Battalions, , 18,19 & 20 NZ Armoured Regiments, NZ Divisional Cavalry Regiment, 7 NZ Field Company , 8 NZ Field Company, 4, 5, 6 NZ Field Regiments, 7 NZ Anti Tank Regiment; 2/7, 2/12, 2/15, 2/17,2/21, 2/24, 2/28, 2/43, 2/48 Aust Infantry Battalions, 2/3 Aust Light Anti- Aircraft Regiment , the 2/3, 2/7, &2/13 Field Companies, the 2/1, 2/10, & 2/15 Aust Field Regiments, 2/3 Aust Anti-Tank Regiment. This book describes the repressive measures taken by the German High Command of Field Marshal Kesselring in order to deal with insurgents of one kind or another. The measures taken invariably involved the civil population and even the smallest of hamlets might not escape retribution. These were extremely harsh measures and were claimed to have a legal basis under the provisions of some codes of military law of that era. Original German operation orders are provided as examples. Italian families made immense sacrifices in many ways. They fed manpower to their Fascist Government's war machine for operations in Russia, the Balkans and the Mediterranean; and produced manpower for the Fascist Socialist Republic of northern Italy, and also for the insurgents of the Resistance. Ordinary Italian families had to suffer not only the German occupation of their towns and countryside, but also the sometimes ill-advised actions by partisans and action squads during the civil war. Particularly in the central and eastern border regions of the North, they had to cope too with Allied air attacks on cities, towns , roads and bridges. There is some discussion about how the Italians explained this calamity to themselves and to succeeding generations. The Italian Resistance movement had occupied the centre stage immediately post-war. However, as the decades have passed by, the guerrilla side of its activities has become subject to a more critical examination and debate by those seeking a balanced assessment.
Born 1924.Served in the 2nd New Zealand Division, Italy WW2 in combat engineers. Graduate of Armed Forces Staff College Norfolk Virginia 1968. Graduate in Civil Engineering University of Canterbury. Majored in Italian language and Literature, Victoria University of Wellington.
CHAPTER SEVEN MORE FIGHTING IN THE PIEMONTE: The Problem of Finding Compatible Partisan Band -- Air Drops of Weapons -- An Overview of the Biella Province -- How the Resistance commenced around and beyond Vercelli -- The Partisan Leaders in the Biellese -- Anzacs with Partisan Bands in Biellese and Valsesia -- The Activities of the 'Piave' Detachment -- Fears and Tensions in the Biellese -- Financing the Communist Party and its Biellese bands -- Kidnapping for Ransom or Prisoner Exchange -- Pay Parades Partisan Style -- The Faces of War in the Biellese -- The 'Nino Bixio' and its Offshoot " Caralli " -- The Fighting Women of the Partisans -- Surviving Under Uncertain Conditions -- With the 'Della Tezza' Detachment , 110th Brigade, 12th Division -- The January-February 1945 Rastrellamenti -- The 'Cherokee' Mission -- The 'Ferret' Mission of 18 December 1944 -- The Anzacs Say Goodbye to the Partisans in 1945 -- Time Chart Piemonte -- CHAPTER EIGHT THE NAZIS TOOK FRIULI-VENEZIA GIULIA & BEYOND: The Adriatic Littoral and Alpine Foreland -- The Impact of the Schutzstaffel ( SS) -- Three Kinds of War -- The Ground Forces of the Italian Socialist Republic (RSI) -- Resistance in the North East -- Nazi-Fascist Attacks on the Collio -- Nazi-Fascist Attacks on Carnia -- How Partisans Operated Among The Populace -- The Church Bells were Tolling -- The Problems of the Allied Missions sent in to Assist --More About Rastrellamenti and Places of Interrogation -- The Special Police Inspectorate for Venezia Giulia -- The Caserma Piave at Palmanova -- The Gappisti Attack on the Via Spalato Gaol -- Italian Communist Party Came to Arrangements with Yugoslavs -- The Porzus Tragedy -- Partisan Casualties in the North East -- Historical Views of the Resistance -- CHAPTER NINE THEN CAME THE COSSACKS TO FRIULI AND CARNIA: The Cossacks -- Operation 'Ataman'- The Arrival of the First Wave -- Resistance in the North -- The Partisan "Free Zone" at Ampezzo - the Republic of Carnia -- The Second Period of the Cossack Occupation -- Operation Waldlaufer -- The Winter of 1944 -- The Priest Did His Best -- The Grand Ataman Arrived -- Customs of the Cossacks -- Living Together -- Attacking the Vital Rail Route to Austria -- The End of a Dream -- CHAPTER TEN TRIESTE-THE PRICE OF LIBERATION: Preludes to 'Liberation' in North Eastern Italy -- Dramatic Surrenders -- Beaten by a Nose and More -- Governing Trieste -- The CLN in Trieste was up against the Odds -- Two Uprisings -- New Zealanders reach Trieste and the Frontier -- The Escape of the Trieste CLN -- The Fates of Surrendering Germans -- The 42 Day Occupation of Trieste by Yugoslav Army -- Pushing Eastwards to the Morgan Line of Interim Demarcation -- The Morgan Line -- Episodes During Tense Situations -- Getting to Know the Italians and Yugoslavs -- Foibe -- Who were the Victims? -- Foibe, Concealed or Forgotten? -- Why the Yugoslav Retribution was not Stopped -- Farewell Trieste