Today I want to tell you a story.
It’s a story of suffering, courage, and freedom. It’s about the liberation of Florence from the nazis, that started on August 11, 1944.
On August 3, while the insurrectional forces were organizing a strategy to face off the nazi occupation, they were surprised by a strategic move from the german headquarters, aimed to block every activity in the city. After noon, the following nazi regulation was hitting the streets of Florence:
Firenze, August 3 1944, hour 2:00pm.
For the security of the population we order:
1) starting from now on, it is forbidden to anyone to leave home and walk in the streets or piazzas of Florence city;
2) all the windows, even those of the cellars, as the entrances of the churches and the doorways must remain closed night and day;
3) we recommend the population to stay in the cellars, and where these are not available to go in the churches or in big buildings;
4) german patrols are instructed to shoot against people coming on the streets or looking out the windows.
Florence City’s Commander.
Without water and electric current, the streets disseminated of corpses (both of nazis and italians), german patrols and armored cars wandered in an (apparently) desert city, shooting on anyone eventually in the streets or anything moving from ajar windows.
With the allied troops far from the city, the partisans then attempted to save the bridges, already mined by the nazis.
On the evening of August 3, two teams of braves tried to cut the wires connecting the mines placed at Ponte alla Vittoria to the blow up station. Sighted by the germans, a violent firefight followed, resulting in one of the partisans’ chiefs killed and one partisan injured: the crews were forced to fall back.
At Ponte alla Carraia another company fought to avoid further destructions. The germans were defending the bridge with four machine guns and some vedettes. When the germans started to fall back, it was evident that they were preparing to blow up the bridge. At that moment, a platoon of the above company began attacking two of the four mentioned machine guns, but the german reacted with tenacity and while retreating they blew up the mines and the bridge exploded. After some hours of firefight the patriots suffered the loss of another partisan, and four were injured.
On the night of August 3, all the five bridges exploded (Ponte San Niccolò, Ponte alle Grazie, Ponte Santa Trinita, Ponte alla Carraia, Ponte alla Vittoria). It all started at 10:00pm with fearful explosions. Two hours later another huge explosion occurred, and then other explosions continued until 4:00-5.00am, provoking columns of smoke spreading from the bridges’ ruins.
Only the Ponte Vecchio was saved. Some thought that the nazis didn’t want to sacrifice such an artwork. Some others argued that even if collapsed, it would have been possible to cross the river, because of the huge amount of ruins it would have produced in the water.
Shortly after 5:00am, from Porta Romana the first allied patrol entered in the city, with people starting to spill into the streets to greet the arrival of the allies. The most part of the troops arrived after several hours though, on August 4. The brigade Sinigaglia, the division Arno and the brigade Lanciotto were enthusiastically welcomed in the district Oltrarno della Colonna. The allies allowed the partisans to keep their weapons; the partisans then started a roundup to search for the snipers and germans that were shooting even on the armless people, to terrify the population and slowing the allies’ progression, particularly in the districts of San Frediano, Conventino and San Niccolò.
Meanwhile, the nazis were still on the right side of the Arno. The military base of the CTLN (Comitato Toscano di Liberazione Nazionale, Tuscan Comitate of National Liberation) was installed in the locals of the society Larderello, in Piazza Strozzi n. 2.
At first, the command of the third zone in via Roma n. 4 (which was in the centre of the city) leaded by the Partito d’Azione, acted as the connection centre. To be able to follow both the germans and allied movements, a standpoint was settled on the Cupola del Duomo, including a deputy commander, a political commissar, and a chief from the first commander’s core.
On August 4, only a few people attempted to leave home, but the following day, missing water and food, women and boys started to queue in front of the water nozzles and the doorways with available wells, as well as in front of the bakeries and the few peddlers selling fruit and vegetables.
On August 6, a german bulletin from the nazis command allowed women and boys to leave home in determined hours of the day to supply with water and food. But the lack of electric current, gas and manpower, forced the backers to distribute flour instead of bread, or even directly grain and maize, being the mills destroyed or in disuse.
From the proclamation of the emergency, physicians and red cross personnel had been allowed to circulate freely. Exploiting this possibility, the documents service of the partisan’s command started to produce false medical IDs.
Thanks to the audacity of the partisan Enrico Fischer from the Partito d’Azione, heading the third company of the third zone of the city, it was possibile since August 4 to establish communications between the patriots settled on the right side of the Arno, and the allied command in the Oltrarno.
Indeed Fischer succeeded, shortly after the bridges’ explosion (though the nazis were still occupying a part of Palazzo Vecchio), in going through the Corridoio Vasariano, from the Uffizi to the other side of the river at Palazzo Pitti.
Helped by some municipal guards, he managed to draw a telephone wire along the corridor, linking the opposite riverside with a partisan guardhouse established in Palazzo Vecchio.
Then, with a direct link connecting the military command (in Palazzo Strozzi), the CTLN (in via Condotta) and the partisans in Palazzo Vecchio, was possible to inform the allies about all the operations occurring on the right side of the Arno, including the conditions of the germans and their intentions.
In the occupied zone, the population conditions were becoming even more tragic: there was almost no food and only a small ration of flour was available for the population (never higher than 100 grams per person). As an example, on August 9 only 65 grams of flour per person was distributed.
More than food, the very few water available was selled at extremely high prices.
Furthermore, it was impossible to cure the sicks or to bury the deads, there was a torrid August temperature, and the inability to remove the garbage from the streets.
The allies informed the CTLN, using the above cited telephone line passing through Ponte Vecchio, that they would have cross the river with two columns, upstream and downstream of the city, to avoid further destructions. Also, they assured that they would have not bombarded the city’s centre.
The military command, after having transferred the standpoint from the Cupola del Duomo to the tower of Palazzo Vecchio, so to be nearer to the telephone unit, was continuously informing the allied command about the dislocation of german troops and their artilleries.
Finally, the nazis knew that the time to escape was arrived.
On the afternoon of August 8 the military command, considering imminent the escape of the nazis, issued the state of alarm to their own action teams, prompting them to be ready for the insurrection.
The escape of the germans began on the night between August 10 and 11. Consequently it also started the insurrection, as planned by the allied military command and the CTLN, announced by the ring of the Martinella (a bell of the tower of Palazzo Vecchio) at 6:45am. Shortly after, the bell of Bargello rang too. The patriots were instructed to attack the german rearguards.
At the same time, the CTLN put up this poster in the streets:
The National Liberation Committee, has assumed starting from today, August 11 hour 7:00am, all the powers of temporary government that are due to it, as representative body of tuscan people and for delegation of the democratic government of freed Italy. The strengths of CTLN have occupied the city since today morning and, standing in defense of the city itself, fight against the germans, the fascists and the snipers.
All the citizens must contribute with all their strenghts to the liberation of the city, giving all the moral and material help to our courageous patriots. The heavier sufferings of the population are near to the end with our victory. We greet the victorious allied armies and we prepare to welcome them, with the fraternity that we feel for all the comrades in arms fighting for the same cause. Let’s conquer the right to be free people, fighting and dying for the freedom.
The Tuscan Comitate of National Liberation.
The insurrection had begun.
About at 7:00am, the CTLN left the refuge in via Condotta and entered in Palazzo Medici Riccardi, surrounded by the crackling of machine guns and artillery’s strikes.
People started to leave their homes.
In a semi desert via Cavour there was an applause and some shy invocation from about ten people “Viva il Comitato di Liberazione” (Hurrah the Comitate of Liberation). At the same time, it was settled in Palazzo Medici Riccardi also the military command. The battle of Florence lasted from August 11 to September 1.
There were 205 killed in action, 400 injured, 18 missing, from August 3 to September 2. Overall, in the province of Florence, there were 1530 partisans deported or executed by firing squad.
And then Florence was free.
We can’t forget. We don’t forget. We won’t forget.
Carlo Francovich, La resistenza a Firenze, La Nuova Italia, 1961