Four days of Naples
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The Four days of Naples (Italian: Quattro giornate di Napoli) refers to the popular uprising in the Italian city of Naples between 27 and 30 September 1943 against the German forces occupying the city during World War II, immediately before the arrival of the first Allied forces in Naples on 1 October. The attacks by the townsfolk and the Italian Resistance on the occupying forces, despite limited arms and planning, disrupted German plans for mass deportations, large scale destruction and potentially resistance to Allied forces approaching the city and, for these actions, the city was awarded the Gold Medal of Military Valor.
From 1940–43, Naples suffered heavy Allied bombing raids which caused much damage and heavy losses among the civilian population. It has been calculated that 20,000 of its inhabitants fell victim to these indiscriminate attacks: over 3,000 died in the raid of 4 August 1943 alone, while around 600 were killed and 3,000 injured by the explosion of the ship Caterina Costa in port on 28 March. The city's artistic and cultural heritage also suffered damage, such as the partial destruction of the Chiesa di Santa Chiara on 4 December 1942. With the Allied advance in southern Italy, anti-Fascists in the Naples area (including Fausto Nicolini, Claudio Ferri and Adolfo Omodeo) began to establish closer contacts with the Allied commanders, and requested Naples' liberation.
From 8 September 1943, the day in which the Cassibile armistice came into force, the Italian Army forces in the area (without orders, as were most of the units at the time) drifted toward Naples. Things there were already difficult thanks to the unceasing bombing raids and the imbalance in forces (20,000 Germans faced only 5,000 Italians in the whole of Campania). The situation in Naples soon turned into chaos, with many higher officials (unable to take the initiative or even directly collaborating with the Nazis) deserting the city, followed by the Italian troops. Those escaping included Riccardo Pentimalli and Ettore Del Tetto, the generals entrusted with military responsibility for Naples, who fled in civilian clothing. Del Tetto's last actions before fleeing had been to hand the city over to the German army and to publish a decree banning assemblies and authorising the military to fire on those who flouted that ban. Even so, sporadic but bloody attempts at resistance arose throughout the Zanzur Barracks, as far as the Carabinieri barracks at Pastrengo and at the 21st "Centro di Avvistamento" (Early Detection Post) of Castel dell'Ovo.
In the days following the armistice, the episodes of intolerance and armed resistance toward the German occupiers in Naples intensified, more or less organized, including the 1 September student demonstration in Piazza del Plebiscito and the first meeting of the Liceo Sannazaro at Vomero.
On 9 September, some citizens met with German troops at Palazzo dei Telefoni, managing to escape, and in Via Santa Brigida. This latter episode involved a Carabiniere, who opened fire to defend a shop from German soldiers attempting to loot it.
On 10 September, between Piazza del Plebiscito and the gardens below, the first bloody clash occurred, with the Neapolitans succeeding in blocking the path of some German motor vehicles; in these fights, three German sailors and three German soldiers died. The occupiers managed to free some of those imprisoned by the rioters, thanks to an injunction by an Italian official, who summoned his countrymen to surrender some of their hostages and all their weapons. The retaliation for the Piazza del Plebiscito clashes came quickly: the Germans set fire to the National Library and opened fire on the crowd that gathered there.
On 12 September, numerous soldiers were killed on the streets of Naples , while about 4,000 Italian soldiers and civilians were deported for forced labor. An announcement of the prefect on 22 September decreed compulsory labor for all men from 18–33 years of age and set their forced deportation to work camps in northern Italy and Germany. The population refused to cooperate and rose up.
State of siegeEdit
The same day, Colonel Walter Schöll assumed command of the military occupiers in the city, declaring a curfew and a state of siege, with orders to execute all those responsible for hostile actions against German troops, and up to 100 Neapolitans for every German killed.
The following proclamations appeared on the walls of the city on 13 September:
With immediate action from today, I assume the absolute control with full powers of the city of Naples and the surrounding areas.
- Every single citizen who behaves calmly will enjoy my protection. On the other hand, anyone who openly or surreptitiously acts against the German armed forces will be executed. Moreover, the home of the miscreant and its immediate surroundings will be destroyed and reduced to ruins. Every German soldier wounded or murdered will be avenged a hundred times.
- I order a curfew from 8 pm to 6 am. Only in case of alarm will it be allowed to use the road in order to reach the nearest shelter.
- A state of siege is proclaimed.
- Within 24 hours all weapons and ammunition of any kind, including shotguns, hand grenades, etc., must be surrendered. Anyone who, after that period, is found in possession of a weapon will be immediately executed. The delivery of weapons and ammunition shall be made to the German military patrols.
- People must keep calm and act reasonably.
The orders were followed by the shooting of eight prisoners of war in via Cesario Console, while a tank opened fire against students who were beginning to gather in the nearby University and several Italian sailors in front of the stock market.
A young sailor was executed on the stairs of the headquarters, while thousands of people were forced to attend by German troops. On the same day, 500 people were also forcibly deported to Teverola, near Caserta, and forced to watch the execution of 14 policemen, who had offered armed resistance to the occupying forces.
The seeds of rebellionEdit
Following the indiscriminate executions, the looting, the mopping up of the civilian population, poverty and the destruction of war spurred spontaneous rebellion in the city, without external organization .
On 22 September, the inhabitants of the Vomero quarter managed to capture ammunition from an Italian artillery battery, while on 25 September 250 rifles were stolen from a school, and on 27 September the insurgents captured some weapons and ammunition depots.
In the meantime, new repressive measures issued by Colonel Schöll on 23 September ordered the evacuation (within 20 hours on the same day) of the entire coastal area up to a distance of 300 meters (328 yd) from the sea: approximately 240,000 people would be thus forced to abandon their homes to allow the creation of a "military security zone" that seemed a prelude to the destruction of the port. Almost simultaneously, a manifesto from the city's prefect called for compulsory work from all males between the ages of 18 and 30, in practice a forced deportation to labor camps in Germany. However, only 150 Neapolitans out of the planned 30,000 responded to the call, which led Schöll to send soldiers into the city to round up and immediately execute defaulting citizens.
In response to this, starting from 26 September, an unarmed crowd poured into the roads against the Nazi roundups, freeing young people from deportation. The rioters were joined by some former Italian soldiers who had kept themselves hidden so far.
The four daysEdit
On 27 September, large parties of German troops captured about 8,000 Neapolitans, while 400-500 armed rioters began armed attacks against them.
One of the first outbreaks of fighting occurred in the Vomero quarter, where a group of armed men stopped a German car and killed the German NCO driver. During the day, fierce fighting followed in different areas of the city between the insurgents and German soldiers. The Germans had begun evacuation operations, spurred by news (later proved to be false) of an imminent Allied landing at Bagnoli.
An Italian lieutenant—Enzo Stimolo—led a group of 200 insurgents in assaulting a weapons depot in Castel Sant'Elmo, which was captured in the evening, not without bloodshed, after German reinforcements came from the Villa Floridiana and the Campo Sportivo del Littorio areas.
At the same time, a group of citizens moved to the Bosco di Capodimonte, where, according to some rumors that were circulating in the city, the Germans were executing prisoners. A plan was devised to prevent a group of German engineers from setting mines at the Ponte della Sanità to cut off the city's center. This was accomplished the following day by a squad of sailors.
In the evening, the insurgents also attacked and plundered the weapons stores in the barracks at Via Foria and Via San Giovanni a Carbonara.
On 28 September, the fighting increased after more Neapolitan citizens joined the riot. In the Materdei district, a German patrol, which had taken shelter in a civil building, was surrounded and kept under siege for hours, until the arrival of reinforcements. By the end, three Neapolitans had lost their lives in the battle.
At Porta Capuana, a group of 40 men—armed with rifles and machine guns—set up some kind of roadblock, killing six enemy soldiers and capturing four, while other fighting broke out in other parts at the Maschio Angioino, at Vasto and at Monteoliveto.
The Germans launched other raids, this time in the Vomero, amassing numerous prisoners inside the Campo Sportivo del Littorio, prompting an assault on the sports field by a party led by Enzo Stimolo, and the freeing of the prisoners the following day.
On the third day of the riot, the streets of Naples witnessed fierce clashes. As no connection could be established with national anti-fascist organizations such as the Fronte Nazionale (an offshoot of the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale), the insurrection was still without central direction, operations being in the hands of local leaders.
In Giuseppe Mazzini Square, a substantial German party reinforced by tanks attacked 50 rebels, killing 12 and injuring more than 15 of them. The workers' quarter of Ponticelli suffered a heavy artillery bombardment, after which German units committed several indiscriminate massacres among the population. Other fighting took place near the Capodichino Airport and Piazza Ottocalli, in which three Italian airmen were killed.
In the same hours, at the German headquarters at Corso Vittorio Emanuele (which was repeatedly attacked by insurgents), negotiations were started between Schöll and Stimolo for returning the Campo Sportivo prisoners in exchange for the free retreat of the Germans from Naples.
While the German troops had already begun the evacuation of the city before the arrival of Anglo-American forces from Nocera Inferiore, Antonio Tarsia in Curia—a high school teacher—proclaimed himself head of the rebels and assumed full civil and military powers. Among other things, he issued provisions regarding the precise opening hours for shops and citizens' discipline.
The fighting did not cease, and the German guns in the Capodimonte heights shelled the area between Port'Alba and Piazza Mazzini for the whole day. Other fighting occurred in the area of Porta Capuana.
The fleeing Germans left behind them fires and massacres, including the burning of the State Archives of Naples, which caused great loss of historical information and documents. A few days later there was an explosion at the Palazzo delle Poste, Naples, attributed to German explosives.
Liberation of NaplesEdit
At 09:30 on 1 October, armoured patrols of the King's Dragoon Guards was the first allied unit to reach Naples followed by the Royal Scots Greys reinforced by troops of the 82nd Airborne Division. At the end of the day, the German commander-in-chief in Italy—Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring—considered the retreat successfully concluded.
Statistics for the four days of Naples vary: according to some authors, 168 rioters and 159 unarmed citizens were killed; according to the post-war Ministerial Commission for the recognition of partisan victims, casualties amounted to 155, while the registers of the Poggioreale cemetery listed 562 deaths.
In contrast to other resistance episodes in Italy after the 8 September armistice, which also involved Italian fascists, most of the fighting occurred between Italians and Germans. The revolt actually prevented the Germans from organizing a resistance in Naples against the Allied offensive or, as Adolf Hitler himself had ordered, from turning the city into ruins before the German retreat.
A few months later, on 22 December, the generals Riccardo Pentimalli and Ettore Del Tetto, who had abandoned the city to the Germans after the 8 September events, were sentenced by the High Court of Justice to 20 years in military prison for their active collaboration with the Germans. Domenico Tilena—head of the fascist provincial section during the riots—was sentenced to six years and eight months.
In popular cultureEdit
Notes and referencesEdit
- de Blasio Wilhelm, Maria (1988). The Other Italy - The Italian Resistance in World War II. New York: Norton, p. 45.
- Fifth Army History, Volume 1. Historical Section, Headquarters Fifth Army. p. 47.
- The Repubblica Sociale Italiana, a German-supported puppet state, was declared on 23 September 1943.
- Later their conviction was reduced
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