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Post The Search for RSI Graves
Created by John Eipper on 04/17/13 1:52 AM

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The Search for RSI Graves (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 04/17/13 1:52 am)

To answer John E's questions on my post of 16 April, yes: we search for the RSI dead with picks, shovels and a metal detector, but so far we've had no success in finding the forgotten graves. Too many people do not want to speak, and those who do speak are very old and do not remember well.  Also, the woods have changed in the intervening years.  Furthermore, perhaps some are also giving false indications, to take the last revenge on the dead enemy.

In a village near one mass grave they have built apartments, while in Savona at the far end of the local cemetery there was a large space for the burial of horses. In the so-called radiant days of the end of April 1945, many fascists were dumped there and most probably also the partisan who saved some very young fascists from being massacred at Cadibona. Soon afterwards, the Administration built a structure on that space, in which the partisans who died during the civil war were placed.

Of course when a skeleton is found, it is necessary to inform Authorities for the proper legal and medical procedures, also informing the possible heirs, if the body is recognized. Generally, however, many "nice" partisans took everything from the corpses, so that in the case of exhumation nobody could identify them and give a proper Christian burial.

If we have success in our search, I will send a full report. Otherwise I will confirm another failure.

I hope that the detailed books on the RSI and the Women Auxiliaries, published by the Istituto Storico Repupplica Sociale Italiana, might be of interest to WAISers.

JE comments: When Eugenio Battaglia has the chance, I'd like to know about the women auxiliaries in the RSI ranks.  I know nothing about this fascinating topic.

The subject of forgotten war graves throughout Europe has inspired a number of WAIS responses.  Next up:  Nigel Jones.

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  • Women Auxiliaries in the RSI (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 04/19/13 4:29 AM)
    In response to John Eipper's question of 17 April, the period of the RSI 1943-'45 was the best and at the same time the worst for Italy.

    Never before and certainly never since have so many young people left everything in order to go and fight for their country. I say this about not only the young men who joined the RSI and among them the Women Auxiliaries, but also some who joined the partisans did so in good faith and willingness to fight for their country, but on the other side. I do not refer here to the communists, as they were fighting for the Soviet Union and Stalin.

    As for the Auxiliaries, nothing bad can be in any way found about them, while their fate was horrible. It is clear that the current political correctness has led to their being relegated to obscurity.

    As soon as the RSI was installed in September 1943, thousands of young ladies wrote to various Military Installations, in order to be enlisted to continue the war when too many men, including the King and Badoglio, had disappeared. Many wanted to take the place of their beloved husbands, brothers, fathers already fallen or take prisoner.

    The director of the newspaper La Stampa, the non-fascist Concetto Pettinato, on January 13 1944, wrote an article in favor of women soldiers. Please note that many non-fascists joined the RSI as reaction to the unconditional surrender of the King and Badoglio.  Mussolini and the secretary of the Republican Fascist Party PFR Pavolini (an intriguing Florentine of the Renaissance ideal--artist, writer. organizer and warrior with a Jewish artist lover, Doris Duranti) contacted Piera Gatteschi Fondelli, a 41 year-old woman who participated in the March on Rome in 1922 with a few other girls, and who had remained always within the fascist organizations, in order to nominate her as general in command of the SAF Servizio Ausiliario Femminile. On April 18, 1944, the Government declared the constitution of the SAF.

    The young ladies, officially from 18 to 35 years old, but many as young as 16, found a way to get a dispensation in order to join. They were called the nuns of Mussolini.  During the war they could not smoke or use cosmetics, including lipstick, and to their chagrin they were not issued arms. Finally, no romantic relations were allowed. They had to take a training course before being sent to the various locations to help the fighting armies and civilians.

    The total of the official SAF Auxiliaries was 4413 women, divided into 5 courses. However also the X MAS of Junio Valerio Borghese had his Auxiliaries. Some of them used weapons to fight against the Allies, and also the Brigate Nere had their Auxiliaries. In reality, there were plenty of young ladies willing to join and fight. Probably the total number of ladies who passed the strict entrance to the Auxiliary world was around 6000.

    Giorgio Pisanò, former RSI soldier and then senator in the Italian Democratic Republic, in his monumental works Storia della Guerra Civile in three huge volumes and Gli Ultimi in Grigio Verde (the RSI Armed Forces) in four huge volumes indicates the auxiliaries who were killed (SAF, X MAS and Brigate Nere) as 300, but names and details are provided for only about 200. Of this 200, 50 were killed before the April 25 1945, and 150 after the April 25, 1945 surrender.

    The loss of the SAF Auxiliaries was 35 before April 25 and 88 afterward.

    The ordeal that they suffered was terrible. In one case a couple of Auxiliaries were following a group of RSI soldiers, and the lieutenant, in order to save their lives, ordered to them to say that they were prostitutes following the soldiers. But they refused and proudly stated they were Auxiliaries, so after terrible treatment they were killed.

    Generally they were raped, then with their hair cut and the heads covered with red paint, they were brought around the towns half or completely naked and then killed--some of them by pushing a hand grenade inside their vaginas.

    As a child I remember seeing a couple of these women in the hands of the partisans with their hair cut and the red paint, but my mother took me away before I could see anything more. I do not even know if they were Auxiliaries or relatives of Fascists. In my home town an Auxiliary who survived in the spring of 1945 was killed in 1947 by a gunshot, a much better end than too many others.

    The historian Luciano Garibaldi has written a book Le soldatesse di Mussolini, an extremely interesting account, as he wrote the book with the General Piera Gatteschi, who survived. In addition to the works of Pisanò there are the three books by Nino Arena, RSI Forze Armate della RS. Of course there are many other books on the RSI with information about the Auxiliaries.

    JE comments:  A most sobering story of sacrifice.  It is especially tragic that women warriors who choose the losing side are often subjected to horrific sexual abuse.  My thanks to Eugenio Battaglia for making us aware of this little-known aspect of WWII.

    I'd also like to know more about Junio Valerio Borghese, the patrician unrepentant Fascist who according to Wikipedia, developed the concept of the "human torpedo"--small submarines guided to their targets by divers, who attach the explosives to a ship's hull and then escape.

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    • Junio Valerio Borghese (Paul Preston, -UK 04/19/13 8:01 PM)
      In response to JE's question (see Eugenio Battaglia, 19 April), Borghese wrote memoirs (Borghese, Junio Valerio, Decima Flottiglia MAS. Dalle origini all'armistizio (Milano: Garzanti, 1950), and there is a collection of material about his exploits--Junio Valerio Borghese e la Decima Flottiglia MAS (Milano: Mursia, 1995). There is also a very good Wikipedia entry:


      JE comments: My thanks to Paul Preston for the references. X MAS to the Anglophone has a very different connotation from Decima [X; 10th] Flottiglia Mezzi D'Asalto (elite naval assault/sabotage battalion).

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      • Junio Valerio Borghese, X MAS and the Human Torpedo (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 04/20/13 5:00 PM)
        With reference to John Eipper's kind question about Borghese, I see that Paul Preston (19 April) has already given some very good reading recommendations. Therefore, I will concentrate only on a few things.

        The Human Torpedo or in Italian SLC (siluro a lenta corsa), due to its slow speed, was also called "maiale" (pig), because once during testing the operator shouted to the other operator: "Stop the pig!" And so from then on the torpedo became forever known by this name.

        The SLC was devised by Teseo Tesei with the help of Elios Toschi. The inventor was killed during a war operation with a SLC in port at La Valletta. Just a curiosity, until 1934 Italian was the official language of Malta, and the majority Nationalist Party wanted a union with Italy, but the UK abolished the Italian language, making the Maltese dialect (or language) official. The UK later deported pro-Italian leaders such as Enrico Mizzi to Uganda.

        Comandante Borghese was the captain of the submarine Scirè, on board of which were the SLC which penetrated the ports of Alexandria and Gibraltar, sinking or badly damaging British battleships and commercial ships. In Gibraltar one SLC was lost, but the British recovered it and from it they built the Chariot.

        The SLC had one warhead of 1.40 meters with an explosive of 260 Kg (but also 220 and 300).

        Borghese in 1970 was "involved" in the "golpe" of December 7, 1970. In this bizarre coup, according to the various versions, a lot of people were involved, from the US Ambassador, to the Freemasons, the Mafia, etc. At a certain point someone called and said, "go home and forget about this," and that was the end of it. Another version stated that it began to rain, and as people may be willing to risk their lives but not a cold, everybody went home.

        Involving a great man like Junio Valerio Borghese in something like this fiasco is extremely stupid; in fact there is a book that completely destroys these foolish theories: Affondate Borghese by Angelo Faccia, which also advances some doubts about the death of Borghese.

        In the year 1970 in Italy everybody was speaking about "golpes." Once during a transportation strike I asked a fellow with a car for a lift, and we ended up speaking about politics.  He boasted that he knew that pretty soon there would be a golpe in Italy. Just crazy.

        Beside the activity of Borghese at sea, he was very effective with his Army called X° Flottiglia Mas, from September 8, 1943. With the so-called "armistice" (but really an unconditional surrender or even more precisely, as B.L. Montgomery wrote, "the King and Badoglio believed that it was the moment to spring to the aid of the victor"), most of the Italian army dissolved. But from the X° nobody run away.

        On September 12 the German Navy Commander Max Berninghaus arrived, and during a meeting with Borghese a six-point Alliance Treaty was signed:

        1) The X° Flottiglia Mas is a complex unit of the Italian Navy with complete autonomy

        2) It is allied with the German Armies

        3) Its flag is the Italian flag

        4) Any member of the X° can carry any weapon

        5) It is authorized to recover and equip with the Italian flag and crews all ships in Italian ports; their operational use is according to the German Navy Headquarters

        6) Commander Borghese is the Chief of X°

        Many thousands of volunteers arrived to the X°, including the crew of the Navy ships who instead of going to surrender at Malta went to Spain.  Contrary to what the politically correct interpretations say, the battleship Roma was also going to Spain and not to Malta when it was sunk by Germans planes. Many Italians who had emigrated to France also joined the X°.

        The men in the X° were all volunteers. Both officers and crew had the same food and uniforms, and the death penalty for robbery and cowardice.

        Borghese was accused of collusion with the enemy and antifascism. and therefore arrested on January 13, 1944, but his position was cleared and he was freed few days later.

        The X° was very effective in fighting against the Allies, both at sea and on land from Anzio until the end. Special care was taken to be present in the so-called Military Regions Administered by Germans in the North and East. Regiments of the X° sacrificed themselves to defend the Eastern boundaries; at Fiume and in the Islands of Cherso and Lussino they fought until May 3 to the last man.

        After the surrender Borghese remained in some kind of hiding in Milano, even if he was found by Socialist leaders who were interested to have him with them.  Later on May 9, 1945 an emissary arrived from the "government" of the King, Carlo Resio with James Angleton of the OSS, who convinced him to follow them to Rome to avoid the communist partisans. Borghese was put in jail and then on trial: He was freed by amnesty on February 17, 1949.

        He died at Cadiz on August 26, 1974 and he is buried in Rome in Santa Maria Maggiore.

        JE comments:  All very interesting.  Submarine inventors seem to have very bad luck when testing their creations (besides Tesei, see for example, H. L. Hunley).

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        • Hazards of Weapons Testing: A Rogue Torpedo in a Scottish Loch (John Heelan, -UK 04/21/13 5:15 PM)
          JE commented on 21 April: "Submarine inventors seem to have very bad luck when testing their creations (besides Tesei, see for example, H. L. Hunley)."

          A naval friend was in charge of testing a prototype torpedo on a Scottish loch some decades ago. The test was ended by the torpedo's gyro steering "going rogue," making the weapon (with a dummy warhead thankfully) surface, race speedily across the loch, up the shallow beach into the trees, where it demolished a couple of trees. Any trees in mid-ocean would be definitely at risk!

          Testing complex (and non-complex) systems is always exciting, because the design faults come to light quite quickly. Sometimes there are extraneous factors that also act as a good but unplanned test. One project with which I was involved was a warship-borne computer, rugged enough to keep on working if the ship hit a sandbank at speed. The US Navy were dry-land testing some units when a strong earthquake (1984?) rocked the building badly, causing the machines to topple over.

          Worried, the operators stood them upright again when the tremors subsided and switched them on. Lo and behold, they worked perfectly! So we were able to claim to the US Navy that not only were the rugged machines proof against bad navigation but also earthquakes, although the value of the latter at sea was recognised by all as somewhat limited!

          JE comments: Yes, but earthquakes at sea do generate tsunamis. Never a good thing.

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    • Those who Fought for the RSI and Those who Fought for Britain (John Heelan, -UK 04/19/13 8:16 PM)
      Eugenio Battaglia suggested, in reference to the Italian soldiers who fought for the RSI, that "never before and certainly never since have so many young people left everything in order to go and fight for their country."

      Perhaps he should review the 750,000 mainly young British people who volunteered in 1914 to fight for their country in WWI, often decimating rural villages and small towns. The majority were slaughtered needlessly, leaving almost a generational gap in the British population.

      JE comments: I think Eugenio Battaglia was referring only to Italian history, but in any case John Heelan's point is well taken.  Just imagine, in a little more than a year we'll begin the centennial period of the Great War.

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