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In 1943 the German troops enter Mesola – they probably expect an allied landing between Porto Garibaldi and  Volano – because they think it is the ideal location to cross the river through the Po di Goro and then take the route to Venice: the Po Delta, the marshes, the man-made canal of the reclamation are already a perfect natural barrage to stop the opposing army.

In Mesola there are two German battalions. The school is turned into barracks and the operating unit is located on the second floor of the Estense Castle, the former Carabinieri barracks are turned into a prison where arrested suspects and partisans are locked up before being moved to the  prison in Codigoro. Normally the prisoners leave the building, escorted by the fascists and then brought into the Castle where they are interrogated.

The German army decides to reinforce the defensive line between Bologna and Comacchio (“the Gengis Khan line”): the most imposing barrage is made in Mesola, along the old Romea road, where a first group of bunkers is built along the natural barrage of the Canal Bianco and, slightly up north, along the Po di Goro. Other bunkers are built in the pinewoods of Motte del Fondo and Ribaldesa to stop transit through the Romea road.

The new allied strategy makes all this work useless, because the “Gengis Khan line” is far from the battlefield (The second allied landing took place in Anzio, in the south).

Between April 22 and 23, 1945, after a terrible unfolding of events the Germans desperately try to escape by crossing the Po river at all costs, pressed by the arrival of the allied troops. Many inhabitants of Mesola and Bosco Mesola still remember the hectic withdrawal of the Germans, as Walter Feggi recalls,  “Commander Pietro” protagonist of the Resistance activities in the lower Ferrara area: on April 23 a member of my unit told me that near Ponte Chiaviconi many armed withdrawing Germans were rushing through the area crossed by the Romea road. It was necessary to be careful and pay attention to the rear-guard and the snipers covering the retreat. The fleeing Germans pressed by the advancing allied troops shot for hours. The sound of firing could be heard along the whole area crossed by the canals hindering the German withdrawal. In the skies over the area between Ariano Ferrarese and Massenzatica, groups of planes swooped down frequently and crossing each other in order to press the escaping enemies. Germans were targeted along the valley drains...

 

The Mesola bunkers

The Po Delta morphology – with its marshes, the large river arms and the wide man-made canals – is considered ideal by the Germans, arrived in the area in 1943, to partially build there a Bologna – Comacchio defensive line, the so-called “ Gengis Khan line”. The destruction of bridges and the construction of fortified positions would have stopped any possible breakthrough. From the winter of 1943 defensive facilities are built in Codigoro, sea barrage walls are created in the current Lidi di Comacchio area, while the biggest barrage is in Mesola, along the old Romea road.

In the spring of 1944 the construction of a network of bunkers is completed. Thanks to the relentless work of local labour, fifty or so young people in their twenties who worked with any weather condition, for at least twelve hours a day, as recalls a Mesola witness, recruited through the job center of the Germans that constantly monitor the state of advancement of the work. The shovel and wheelbarrow were our working tools – he continues – first we dag, then poured the concrete and then put the reinforcing bars…

Those youngsters, earning 500 Liras per month and recruited by a München-based company in Bayern, Todt, (a road building company turned into a bunker building company for military purposes) did not have any choice, as recalls another witness: either you worked for Todt or you ended up working in Germany or, even worse, on the front.

The first batch of bunkers is built in Mesola, along the natural barrage of the Canal Bianco (also defended by some outdoor armed outposts) and, slightly up north, along the Po di Goro arm; then other bunkers were built in Motte del Fondo and Ribaldesa to stop the transit from the south to the north along the Romea road. 25 were built, 20 of them are still visible today, while 5 were destroyed to create some industrial parks. Other bunkers were built in Rivà, along the Venetian side. Originally they had been designed as underground camouflaged bunkers it then came out to be impossible for soil-related reasons.

In the meantime something unexpected happened: the second allied landing takes place in Anzio, in the south, and the allied advance on the ground and break through the Gothic Line on the Apennines in the summer of 1945.

The bunkers were not equipped with weapons because they were needed on the different frontlines and the defensive line is far from the battlefield. The Germans leave Mesola because of the quick advance of the allied troops but blow up the bridges on the Canal Bianco.

At the end of the war the families who had lost everything used the bunkers. This use of the bunkers went on until the sixties. 

 

Texts by the Institute of Contemporary History of Ferrara

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