ITALIA Living History Group
The “Italia” re-enactment group, formed in 1996, re-enacts
the ground units of the X MAS Flottilla and “Divisione Decima”,
especially the “Barbarigo” Bn., one of the first units that
fought against the Allies at the Anzio beachhead. It also fought against
the Yugoslav Tito's partisans in Northeastern Italy and in the final battles
south of the Po River.
We regularly attend the most important Italian public shows and the Beltring
War and Peace show; we also organize battlefield studies and offer historical
service for audiovisual productions.
Our membership has now risen to 20 members, and we have close ties with
the X MAS Veterans Association.
One of our Re-Enacting events:
The last offensive: between Bologna and
the Senio river, 1945-2002
Imola, April 6-7 2002
Living History is a relatively new hobby in Italy, in particular First
and Second World War re-enacting. Many Medieval and Napoleonic re-enacting
clubs, as a matter of fact, have a well established reputation even outside
the borders of Italy. Second World War enthusiasts, on the other hand,
had to carve a place for themselves amidst military vehicle collectors
and rally organizers. Add the innate individualist temperament of the
Italian people to this situation and you will not have a bright situation!
Fortunately, this situation is beginning to change; some military vehicle
rally organizer is starting to give various opportunities to the re-enacting
One of these opportunities was the rally at Imola, near Bologna, that
included battle re-enactment.
After the vehicle’s concentration in Bagnara di Romagna the 80+
vehicle column started to move in a misty Saturday morning toward Cotignola
for the first re-enactment.
The sight of several Fallschirmjager BMW R75 combinations, a Daimler Scout
Car and three English Bren Carrier complete with Airborne troops, an American
M 4 “Sherman” and M 8 “Greyhound”, various GMC
trucks and a DUKW, an Italian FIAT “Coloniale” staff car,
a large and beautiful TM 40 medium artillery tractor complete with a towed
105/28 howitzer, a finely restored and quite rare AB 41/43 armored car
and scores of other wheeled vehicles displayed quite a show to the eyes
of the freshly woken “civilians” along the road!
A touching episode occurred during a break of the march, when a elderly
woman approached the TM 40, that had on board 8 members of my group, all
of them with the grigioverde and red insignia of the “Barbarigo”
Bn. of the X MAS Flotilla.
The woman told us that she remembered to have seen soldiers with those
uniforms when she was young, and asked what units we were portraying.
We told her we portrayed marine infantry from the “Barbarigo”
of the X MAS: she acknowledged and quickly (for an 80 year old…)
The members of my group watched me with a puzzled expression: maybe she
had relatives that fought with the partisans during WW2 and we opened
old, sad memories of the civil war in Italy?
But, after several minutes, a stream of people, old and young, poured
out of the old lady’s house. The family of the 80 year old nonna
(grandmother) offered us cake, coffee and, just in case, red wine (at
9 A.M. !).
She explained, to our amazement, that she came from Northeastern Italy,
where, between 1944 and 1946, Yugoslav partisans tortured and killed thousands
of Italian civilians. She remembered that Italian soldiers, dressed in
the same uniforms we were wearing, fought hard, suffering heavy casualties,
in defense of the valley where she was born and lived at the time, saving
the farmers and their families from certain violence, rape and death (most
probably they were marò of the “Fulmine” Bn. or the
“Barbarigo” Bn. itself, that fought in Northeastern Italy
during late 1944, repulsing the hordes of the IX Korpus led by the infamous
After this touching moment the column moved and we reached Cotignola,
a small city cut in two by the Senio River.
The Senio was one of the last natural barriers against the Allied advance
into the Po plain (April 1945), and every village was fiercely contested.
Finally the Axis units started to withdraw, abandoning Cotignola. The
withdrawal movement went unnoticed by the British Army units, which continued
to pound the village for three days AFTER that all enemy forces had left
More than 200 civilians were killed by the continuous Allied artillery
fire, until the village Priest managed to cross the river and persuaded
a British officer to order to cease firing.
We re-enacted this scene under a drizzling rain, which didn’t stop
nearly 2,000 people from coming to see the show.
The military vehicles parade and re-enactor show was also well attended
in Bagnara di Romagna, the next stop. The town Mayor and some Regional
Authorities gave a speech and opened a War Museum.
The re-enactment of the Allied penetration of the Axis defensive front
was held nearby: re-enacted English units menaced directly the divisional
command post of a Panzer Division.
The “battle” involved the M4 Sherman, 3 Bren carriers, about
50 English gentlemen and, on the “other side of the hill”,
the TM 40 with the 105/28, 15 Fallschirmjager and Heer troops and 12 “Decumani”.
The same “Order of battle” was protagonist of another battle
re-enactment on the banks of the river Senio, where the “Barbarigo”,
“Lupo” and “N.P.” Bns of the “Divisione
Decima” made their last stand in the final battle on the Italian
The re-enacted battles were the sad note of the Imola show: some glitches
of the organization resulted in “battles” that were funny,
but absolutely unrealistic, and lasted several dozens milliseconds. We
hope that these mistakes were just “teething troubles”, and
that the next time will be better!
Bologna, May 20-21 2002
Anyway, let's skip to another Show. This one took place in Bologna and
has been organized by the Ansaloni family.
The Ansaloni are the owners of the camp area, which accommodated a crowded
militaria fair. They also run an interesting Military History Museum and
own an extensive collection of WWII militaria and military vehicles of
both World Wars which were on display, including pieces such as the Lancia
3RO heavy truck, AEC Matador, M4 Sherman, M3 Halftrack, DUKW…
A noteworthy guest was an Agusta A 129 "Mangusta" (Mongoose)
attack helicopter of the Italian Army, complete with TOW ATGMs and 2.75
inch FFAR rocket pods, that actually carried out several tactical take
offs and “strafings” to the joy of the many people that attended
A German re-enacting group “invaded” the Ansaloni show with
a Panzerjager 38 (t) Hetzer (actually a former Swiss Army G-13 tank destroyer)
and an original and rarely seen Panzerjager RSO, Raupenschlepper Ost,
a fully tracked tractor/supply vehicle armed with a partially restored
PAK 40 7.5cm anti-tank gun.
A mixed Fallschirmjager/Heer/Waffen-SS Kampfgruppe shared the camp area
with the “Italia” Decima MAS re-enacting group, several Napoleon
era and WWI re-enactors and a small but accurate section of the European
Historical Reenactor Society (CERS), that staged a noteworthy medieval/renaissance
display, complete with blank firing artillery and painstakingly reconstructed
Militaria dealers were very satisfied by the volume of the exchanges.
Thanks to the Associazione Culturale Decima Mas, represented by Karl Voltolini,
son of a X MAS Marò, we WW2 enthusiasts had the opportunity to
talk with several Decima MAS veterans: Commander Sergio Nesi from the
Mezzi d’Assalto di Superficie (Surface Attack Crafts), Sergente
A.U. Emilio Maluta from the “Lupo” Bn., A.U. Franco Minelli
from “Sagittario” Bn. , Ausiliaria Fiamma Morini from the
SAF (Servizio Ausiliario Femminile - Women Auxiliary Corps) of the X MAS:
we express our gratitude to them and all the other veterans for what they
have done for Italy’s Honor.
The battle re-enactment suffered somewhat because of heavy rain that
thundered down several times during the two days of the show, and of the
early departure of quite a number of “Allied” re-enactors,
that left far too few opponents for the strong German/RSI forces!
At the end of the show a crown of flowers was laid in memory of all the
soldiers fallen in the field of honor, with a triple salvo fired by the
muzzle-loading guns of a re-enacted Garibaldini unit.
Two excerpts explaining us the feelings
and field conditions of the “Decumani” during the last battle
before the Po:
From one of Lieutnant Attilio Bonvicini’s last letters, written
a day before his fatal wound.
Officer in the Regio Esercito, heavily wounded in the Albanian campaign,
volunteer in the Decima (1944).
Fronte del Senio, 27 gennaio 1945
“…if I had to speak of us from the “Lupo”, I
won’t call us heroes, I’ll spend a word too great. I’ll
say that here, on the Senio’s banks, Italian soldiers are fighting.
They are few, they are alone, but alone they fill a void that’s
than their sacrifice”.
From Lieutnant Gandini’s book, “La caduta di Varsavia”
(The fall of Warsaw), concerning the Artillery Group “Colleoni”,
“…The ground began to tremble under the bombing…for
two hours, hundreds of low-flying bombers continued to scorch the terrain,
mile after mile, from the Via Emilia to Alfonsine. Death rode between
the fields, seeking us….we ran for the artillery batteries: in the
gun positions everything was turned over, full of earth and shrapnel,
cartridge cases and shells everywhere, also a gun damaged.
Field telephone lines were severed. Two wounded lay waiting propped against
a house’s wall. Some marò passed by with loaded stretchers,
saying that the other Battery had casualties. Gabriele, his uniform torn
and the face black like coal, was filing with anger the damaged bolt of
a field gun, cigarette butt between his lips.
The gunners were crawling around on their knees, cursing, searching for
the shell fuses amidst the grass…
The attack came with a distant and heavy grumbling of collapsing rock,
so we opened fire over the barrages, firing blind, and the gun barrels
recoiled, howling and setting free our strained nerves. It was the last
storm of the war in Italy.
All the German Batteries and Groups were firing along the Santerno, and
on the Allied side was a gun every ten yards; all the world was there,
shell fragments pierced gun shields and walls, tore apart trees, felled
men, a train crash noise, everyone shouted, no one understood and everyone
understood, the hours went by emptying ammo bins, the first aid post worked,
all the Saints worked…, the evening came and we were still firing,
the night came and we were still firing, then the fuses were no more,
and we kept firing, shells without fuses, just like that! Just for firing!
That’s it! Shells without fuses, sent downrange, Christ, fire! Then
the shells were finished, and we really stopped firing.
It was around midnight and in the dark, slowly, the Wehrmacht’s
last men withdrew, machineguns on their shoulders, ammo belts around their
necks. We still had some field guns far away, methodically firing their
last shells. The rounds went off at regular intervals, like they were
announcing the Heir to the throne’s birth…”