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Cervia 1944: the arrival of war in the Ravenna area

The seaside city that at the beginning of the war had simply hosted in its summer holiday homes the soldiers injured on the Russian and Balkan fronts, when the regime falls, during the summer of 1943, stages in its main square the first anti-fascist rallies.

The communist lawyer Alfredo Giunchi and the republican professor Aldo Spallicci, together with other socialists, held the first meetings in front of the Roma Café, whose regular customers were dissidents.

Therefore, when the re-born fascists of the Italian Socialist Republic get back to power in the city the first fights with the members of the liberation movement take place. On March 20, 1944, a fascist act of retaliation targeted on purpose the Roma Café: during a mad shooting against the innocent customers four people died and two were seriously wounded. Moreover, three days after that dreadful killing, the fascists murdered the two young Fantini cousins, who were travelling from the countryside to the city to join the victims’ funeral.  

During the Summer of 1944, even though the Germans had limited fishing activities and forced to leave over 600 people living near the coast in order to build reinforced concrete defence outposts, Cervia hosted 1,500 refugees coming from other areas. The salt works and the pinewood became the ideal location to hide in isolated sheds the most active militants, the first weapons and underground printed materials.

The local partisan movement attacked several times the German road columns and railway convoys on the Ravenna - Rimini route that was used to supply the front of the Gothic line, until the dawn of October22, when the Allied units of the Canadian 27 lancers division, led by the partisans, entered the city and finally liberated it almost without any fights.

The Nazi occupants withdrew northbound, towards Classe, only after scattering landmines and other blasting devices all over the beaches, cutting 3,000 pines, breaking the salt works dams and flooding the Felici Valley. The day before leaving Cervia they also destroyed the shortest pier of the port and the two historic city gates respectively located towards Ravenna and Cesenatico.

After the liberation the partisans of the “Settimio Garavini” detached partisan fighting unit kept on fighting next to the allied troops reinforcing the mutual trust and cooperation relationship with the allied units that later led to the successful liberation of Ravenna.

 

The Bailey bridge

During the autumn of 1944 the main obstacles preventing the allied troops located in the Romagna area from liberating the Po plain region were the several canals and rivers, leading to the sea, over flooded by exceptional rainfall.

In order to allow the progress of the armoured vehicles and to protect the allied infantry troops it was necessary to rebuild bridges previously destroyed either by the Germans or the air raids.

The use of so-called “Bailey bridges”, named after their inventor, the British engineer Donald Bailey, was crucial because they were extremely strong.

The portable, pre-fabricated truss bridges could be easily and quick assembled and disassembled by only six people and could carry up to 30 tons. During November 1944, in the Romagna area, because of bad weather condition and heavy soil devastation, 23 Bailey bridges were assembled; some of them were kept and used for several years.

They were a long lasting mark of the war and in particular of the key role played by weather and environmental factors. Also the long Avenue, later named after Nullo Baldini, the initiator of the Ravenna cooperative movement is a proof of that. It was previously called the “via Dux” because Mussolini wanted to build it in 1938 to connect the built-up area of Milano Marittima to the main Adriatic road.

At the end of October 1944, in the area between the pinewood and the summer holiday camps, the withdrawing German snipers held the last fights against the Canadian soldiers and the local partisans, killing both soldiers and innocent civilians. However, at the end of the month they had to withdraw beyond Savio river. A Wehermacht cemetery was created between 1945 and on the northern side of this avenue, close to the sea, to bury their victims.

 

Texts by the Historical Institute of Resistance and Contemporary Age of Ravenna and its Province 

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