I was born on the 26th of November 1923.  My mother was a school teacher.  My father was the director of the “dazio.  This was a govt. body which raised taxes on wine and other commerce.  I married in 47.  When I participated in the attack of the houses in Albinea, when I commanded the squadron, I was only 21.  I have two children; a son who was born in 48, and a daughter who was born in

Have you always lived here in Reggio Emilia?


Were your family particularly politically minded?

We were never involved in politics.  My father was a family man: he was always politically in the centre.  Likewise, I fought with the English but was never involved in politics.  After the war, since I had become something of a hero, everyone wanted me to get involved in politics, but I refused.  I took up work straight away in 45, in a firm called Galinari, which was the largest wine company in Europe, with 52 vinicultural establishments in Italy (warehouses, distribution).  I was employed selling fizzy wine. In 1950, the boss, Mr Galinari, said that he would make me the head of the railway transportation dept.  I was delighted, despite the fact that I had never seen a railway wagon!  [more about his career, but I don’t expect you want this].

Were you, therefore, still at school when the war started?


And on the 8th of September?

I was already working.

Do you remember how you received the news?

I was delighted as I thought that the war was over.

Were most people in Reggio Emilia pleased?

Yes, of course.  Most people had sons who were off fighting the war.  The 8th of September was very important for the subsequent war because a lot of the soldiers who disbanded went up into the mountains and formed the basis of the first partisan groups.

Did you, on the 8th of Sept, ever imagine that you would either end up as a soldier in the Fascist Army or fight with the partisans?

Yes.  Because of my character, I had always been a bit of a rebel reacting against what I could see around me. We were surrounded by Germans. My family had evacuated to Albinea, and the SS were billeted to most of the big houses.

Why had your family already evacuated?

Because Reggio was being bombed heavily by the Allies.  Already in January 43, because the allies were trying to bomb the factory of “Le Reggiane [?] which made aircraft.

Did your parents leave Reggio because you were under air attack?


And your feeling of antipathy against the Germans arose from what?

From everything.  From their arrogance, from everything they had done in Europe

So, even as a young boy, was it your instinct to be against the Germans?

Yes, because they had invaded Polandfor their arrogance.

So, you were never approving of the fact that the Italians went to war on the side of the Germans?

No, on the contrary.

Let me tell you something;:  When the Germans broke Mussolini out of the Gran Sasso, they used a type of aircraft called a “Stork.  This was the same craft which I was taken to hospital in after the raid, when I was injured.

When the Republic of Salo’ was constituted, the civil war began.

In November ‘43, when the Germans and the fascists were here, there was a radio announcement (you weren’t allowed to affix notices to walls at the time) calling us up.  If you didn’t present yourself, you would be shot.  I presented myself and was sent to Florence.  I was tall and so was put into the Grenadiers.

Did you ever consider not presenting yourself.

You must remember that we were risking death and reprisals against our family if we didn’t.

In Florence, there were no mattresses on the beds; there was no uniformI befriended an officer who said that after one month, we would be sent to Cassino.  I said to myself straight away, “I am definitedly not going to the front line.  So I hatched plans to desert.  I had a cousin in Florence and I left some plain clothes at his/her house.  We weren’t allowed out of the barracks at all.  But this officer trusted me and entrusted me with the job of going to get his lunch in the trattoria every day.  In Jan 44, [so perhaps it was Jan 44, not 43 that he refers to earlier] Reggio was being bombed, and my wife was taking refuge under this building [that we are in now].  I decided not to complete my task, and instead went to my cousins’ house and changed; went to the station and came to Reggio.  Except that the station here had been bombed, so the train stopped a few Kms from the town.  It was night, and curfew.  In the morning, I came here and stayed (my parents were in Albinea).  Then, three months later, (March 44) during which time I had remained in hiding, a new announcement called the “bando Graziani was issued.

My father, being director of the “dazio sent my to his “daziere [tax man] in a village in the hills called Fabrico.  I was hidden by him and fed amply.  My father came up and told me about the amnesty.  I didn’t want to risk the safety of my family, so I presented myself again here in a barracks in Reggio.  After a week, we were surrounded by Germans, they loaded us into lorries, they took us to the station where there were convoys of cattle wagons, into which we were loaded.  They left us locked, sealed, with a piece of bread and a little water to bake in the sun until we moved at night time. Then, they took us to Germany.

In Germany, three divisions had been created, the Monte Rosa, which was a division of Alpini, the Italia division, which was a division of Riflemen, and the Littorio division, which was a division of  infantry, etc.  I was put in the.

So, when you joined again, you were not put in to the same division.

No, not at all.

They didn’t know that you had already signed up previously?

No, not at all.  Too organised.  In Gemrany, I was put in the Italia Division.  We were put in Lager. The Germans were not like the Italians: they were super-organised.  That’s why they were superior to the Italian Army.  The conditions were conditions of war.  There were bunkers, real bombs, real ammo.

In German uniform?

No, Italian.  The instructors, however, were German.  Fearsome men.  It was in a way a lucky break for me because I had a military training which was truly formidable.

What sort of training?

They made us crawl for miles on their stomachs and elbows; they trained us in throwing hand grenades – real ones – shooting with real bullets; attacks on bunkers.  Since I was a champion of light athletics – I was fast and strong.  There were often competitions which I would win.  The prizes were bread, cigarettes (I didn’t smoke, so I could barter them).  Then, at a certain point, a corporal came to tell us that they were searching for vounteer officers [“graduati] ie. sergeants, corporals to send to another camp, Musingen, where the Monte Rosa Divisionwas training.  The Monte Rosa were short of officers and Mussolini was due to go and inspect them before they went back to Italy, along with Graziani.  I was a simple soldier, not an officer.  So, I spoke to the corporal: I had some money and tried to buy myself an officer’s rank.  He agreed; I was lined up with the other troops, I was picked out and loaded into a lorry to be taken to Musingen.  I was dressed up as an Alpino and given all the mountain kit.  Mussolini, Graziani and Kesselring inspected us and after two days,  we were then led off on foot towards the station to join the convoy to return to Italy.

Why did you want to join the Monte Rosa?

Because I wanted to get back to Italy naturally, and I knew they were due to go back.  In my mind, I had already hatched the plan to desert as soon as I was back in Italy.  Because they were sending us to Italy in order to send us straight to the front line.  Mussolini was keen to prove that his army was fit to fight alongside the Germans on the front.  Besides which, while I was there with the other soldiers, I had perceived who was likely to and suitable to follow me.  I didn’t want to desert on my own.

Was the only time you saw Mussolini at the inspection?

Yes.  Except for at Piazzale Loreto.

Then, we arrived at Genova.  We were taken to a big park with tents erected.  I had spoken to my fellow soldiers who wanted to come with me and established that one of them had a cousin who was a customs inspector at the port.  So, he and me went to speak to the cousin and told him we wanted to flee.  He said it was a very dangerous enterprise and that we would be shot if we were caught.  But he said there was a group of partisans in the hills on Monte Ontola (between Genova and Piacenza – we didn’t know what partisans were at that time!)  How do we get there? We asked.  He said that there was a bus from Prate Ligure.  We spoke to the others and explained the risks: the cousin had told us that along the bus route there were various checkpoints run by the Decima Mas.  WE took our  decision, took our guns and ammo – there were 5 of us – and we went to Prate Ligure.  We didn’t arouse suspicion as we were in uniform.  The bus was full.  Buses in those days ran on wood  [“gasogeno].  We got onto the roof.  One man asked us where we were going.  We said we were going to take the air in the hills.  He said, “you know there are partisans up there? They will kill  you straight away.  It was indeed hugely risky thing to do, but there was, for me, no alternative and I have always been an optimist.  We get to a check point with machine guns etc.  An officer shouted to us, asking us where we were going, what the Hell we were doing.  I responded in a similarly forceful tone: We are Alpini, we’ve just got back from Germany and need some air.  The Decima Mas guy said we were mad, that there wree partisans up in the hills I said, “So what?  My thinking was that my boldness would throw them off the scent.  We started up again.  I was approached by a gentleman who had worked out what we were doing.  He said that we should hand over our weapons to him when we had got beyond the last check point, and he would put us in contact with the partisan band in the area, run by his nephew.

This is what we did.  When we stopped, two men came to meet us and took us to a trattoria: I can still remember what I ate: maccheroncini with mushrooms.  I was unconscionably hungry!  At night, they called us into a room with armed, bearded, scary men.  They gave us back our weapons and we started walking.  We walked for 4 hours up Monte Antola where they had huts which were built to dry chestnuts in.  They gave us 2 blankets each.  On the ground there were dried leaves for us to lie on.  This is when “Gordon was born. My intention was always to move on and join the partisans here in the Emiliana.  These guys in Liguria were a Garibaldi brigade with political commissars; they had done the war in Spain, been to Moscowthey were indoctrinated.

James would like to clarify the role of the commissars.

The political commissars had been sent there by the communist party.  They wanted to give these partisans a left-wing imprint.

Why would a military partisan leader accept these communist commissars?

Because they were anyway of the same leaning.

So why did you need a commissar if the leader was already a communist?

Because the commissars were better schooled in those doctrines; more culturally prepared.  The military leader was therefore supported by the commissar.  I am only talking about the Garibaldi Brigades here; there were also the Justice and Liberty [“Giustizia e Liberta’] Brigades, and others, who were Catholic, or of the Action Party

Were the commissars first partisans, who later became politicised, or did the political schooling come first?

The political experience came first.  Then, they joined the partisans.  For example, they were men who had fought in Spain; they were considerably older than us: around 35.  Thye were the first guys to go up into the mountains, and founded the partisan bands.

Were they sent up to the mountains by the communist party?

It happened automatically: for example, if I was one of those commissars, I had been to Spain; I had also perhaps been to Moscow.  On the 8th of September, I would have fled to the mountains

If these men are older and clever, why aren’t they the leaders?

Because after the 8th of September, there were also military officers who had left prison and gone into the mountains.  The two roles were always distinct: that of the political commissar and the military leader.  That is the way it was organised.

The role of the commissar was to indoctrinate the other partisans?

Yes, they went with the purpose of imbuing them with their politics, with a view to influencing the political situation after the war – something which did indeed happen, with Togliatti  However, these communist bands were also the most blood-thirsty.  When we went up to Monte Antola, there were 9 Dutchmen in a hut.  These men had been fighting with the German Army.  At a certain point, the Black Brigades had come up to a place near where we were and about 10 partisans had been killed in an ambush.  The partisans had then taken these 9 Dutchmen to the same place (where the ambush had occurred) and killed them all in reprisal.  I witnessed this and had the same feeling of intolerance that I bore towards the Germans.  I spoke with my friends: we decided to ask the partisan leader to issue us with some sort of pass so we could travel saftely to the Emiliana region.  SO, we handed in our weapons (all 5 of us).

What was the Brigade called?

I can’t remember.

Anyway, we embarked on our journey.  We had no maps, no foodthe only good thing we had was our boots.  Just think: we were in Liguria, and we had to get as far as Emilia.  Also, we had to keep to the high ground, as far as possible from any habitation. Except in the evenings, when we would approach an isolated house and beg a crust.  Then, at night, we would have to find a hut to shelter us.  No blankets, nothing.  At a certain point, we reached the Parmesan Appennines.  That was about 10 days into our journey.  We ran into some very rough looking partians who took us to their chief.  We showed him our pass.  They looked at our boots.  “Take them off, they said.  We refused.  They let us go on our way.  After a couple of Kms, we heard whistling and there were the partisans again, who threatened us with guns and took one of my friends’ boots (the only ones that fit them), exchanging them with their pieces of leather bound by string.  We had to cross some important mountain passes which were patrolled by the fascists.  At one point, we had to cross a makeshift bridge, of the type which only one person should be on at once.  While we were crossing it (one by one) we saw a Fascist convoy coming up the mountain.  So we all went for it at once, which gave us the terrifying impression (because of the wobbling of the bridge) that we were running backwards!   Anyway, we made it and threw ourselves on the ground on the other side, and we were not seen.  Finally, we got to a place called Vetto, in the Reggiano Appennines.  This must have been August.  We had spent a brief month in Ligura.  At Vetto, I went to see the “daziere who welcomed us into his home.  I asked him if he had any connection with the local partisans. I spoke to my mates and everyone decided that now was the time each to go their separate way.  I knew that I needed to go into hiding to avoid risk to others.  A guide led me to the headquarters of the Reggiano partisans, which at that time was near there.
I was straight away pounced on by the political commissar.  His name was Eros.  He gave me a really hard time: why did you fight with the RSI?  He wanted to understand my motivations.  The head of the Reggiano partisans, who had been a colonel in the Alpini, called Berti (“Monti).

Can we go back a bit? To “Gordon; why “Gordon?

Because of Flash Gordon.

I began to talk to colonel Berti (“Monti), who immediately understood my potential [!] and asked me if I wanted to stay there at the headquarters, and work in the information office.  After a week, I was already second-in-command at the information office.  This was the headquarters of the partisan forces in Reggio [I think – will need to check]

Are we at the beginning of September now?


How were orders passed on from “Monti?

By staffette.  There were no phones or radios?

Was Monti’s authority questioned?

No, He was a man with experience of  war, he had good character, charisma, control, ability.

Now, let’s get to the creation of “Gordon and the “Black Owls.  Here, in the mountains, there were missions of English sent to provide a link between the Allied command and the Partisans.  They had radio links and they organised for drops to be made. We lived through them.

SOE, not OSS?


How many agents would constitute a mission?

Typically, 5:  The head, a radio operator, an intelligence officer,  [interrupted] [see Glauco Monducci’s book].  They had their headquarters in Fiesole.  In Dec. 44, they dropped Mike Lees and his men.

Do you remember Alexander’s proclamation of November?

Yes; that was a traumatic moment for us.  The CLN criticised this proclamation.  Evidently, the English thought about it and realised that there was no-where for us to go: we could hardly all disband and turn up in the valleys all of a sudden.  So they realised that they needed to support us.

What was morale like when you joined them in September?  Between your joining and Lees turning up?  Were arms drops still coming in?

Morale was below zero.  Between July and August, the Germans had carried out a terrible rastrellamento, and so the partisans had been forced to retreat ever higher.  They had had to blow up arms deposits so that the Germans wouldn’t find them.

The arms drops resumed after the rastrellamento, but not in the same measure.

Lees took up headquarters at Secchio, [near Villa Minosso] with his group of men.  He made contact with the headquarters and asked Monti to give him names of men who might be suitable to join a commando unit that he intended to form.  This commando unit would then protect his mission and to attack the German supply lines, sabotage etc.   I was recommended to Lees; I went to meet him; he asked me for my background.  He realised that I had had a good training and was satisfied.  He told me to get on a horse, ride around and find the 40 best men I could – I was attached to the information office, so I knew who were the most distinguished partisans.  Incidentally, I had never ridden a horse before in my life!  In 10 days, I covered the whole area and chose my 40 men.  The detachments’ commanders were very resistant because I was taking away their best men. I took them to Secchio, made them wash, the issued them with camouflage, new and sophisticated arms (bren guns, sten guns, silencers, grenades) red berets.  Lees asked me to choose a name and  I chose the name “Gufo Nero for us.  [Black Owl].

Did you have a letter from Lees?

No, from Monti.  I went around to the various detachments, found the best men and told them to find their way to Secchio.  This they did.

How did you wash?

We used pumps and springs which had previously been used by farmers for their animals.

The headquarters seems quite well-equipped, or not?

Mike lees slept in the priest’s house.  We used another house of the priest to eat in

Then we had an order to destroy the railway line which ran from Verona to Modena with supplies for the Gothic Line.  This was a very risky operation.  I realised that the only way we could get down to the railway line was if we disguised ourselves as Germans.  We found a Fiat 1100 which still worked and had been taken from the Fascists.  One of my 40 men was an Austrian deserter who had been in the Hermann Goering division of paratroopers.  He was a crazy guy.  A blond – albino – man.  I had another German guy.  WE had had a fake German number plate made.  The Austrian was driving, with nothing on his head to hide his hair.  Then there was the other German, then me – I was the least credible.  We had a loaded gun and we went down into the plain.  We had to cross an area which was thick with Germans and was consequently very dangerous.   Everything hinged on our driver.  There were some germans working on the electricity cables, and we even had the courage to stop, get out of the car, salute and ask for directions!

The English had given us a new type of explosive – a plastic explosive.  I had done a course of three days to learn how to use it.  We had these special devises which you buried in the plastic and laid across the line to detonate when run over by the train.  Each device/bomb [?] weighed 35 kgs.  We went and found some GAP people in the valley.  These people were hostile towards us because we were encroaching on their territory.  I was carrying a letter which exonerated me from any responsibility and imputed the English, to protect against reprisals in case I was caught.  I showed it to these men. We stayed with them for a day, then we asked them to give us a staffetta.  We needed a guide as it was dark when we went out, and this was an area veined with irrigation ditches.

Were you still in German uniform?

Yes; we had no other clothes.

After 100 metres, we ran into some Gappists and fortunately, the staffetta gave us the password or we would have been dead.  We were told that the train didn’t pass every day, or with any regularity.  So we lay down behind some hay: waited and waited.  Just as I was getting up to remove the device, we heard the train whistle and about half an hour later, we heard the sound of the train.  The explosion blew away our hay rick.  Half of the train was derailed and rolled down the embankment, but the rear carriage had armed guards on it, who threw out flares and started firing madly.  We managed to escape.  The following morning, we heard shouts and screams and feared the worst.  But instead, the Germans were simply rounding people up to try to right the train.  Later, some American bomber planes finished the job of destroying the train and lines.
How did you escape?

On foot; always on foot.

Did this whole operation happen in one night?

Yes, of course.  Started at dusk and finished at dawn.

Do you remember your emotions before this operation?

I was very tense.  For a start, I had never performed an operation using explosives.  I didn’t know whether the train would pass – or when it would.  I didn’t know what the Germans would do as a consequence.

Then, we regained our vehicle – [sorry, found our car] – and drove it back to the partisans who had captured it from the Germans.  We walked back up to the headquarters and were greeted with great acclaim.  News was transferred to Florence, and the next day, I was given a fold-away machine gun like those used by the paratroopers in recognition of my success.  Lees congratulated me; the BBC had talked of this action.  It was a very significant act of sabotage as it was the only rail link to the Gothic line and was never repaired.

How did you manage to get back?  You had to pass Germans, presumably?

We  went up by day: by night it would have been more dangerous as we wouldn’t have been able to see where the road blocks were.  We had our uniform, and we managed to fool the Germans in the same way as we had done on the way down.

At what point did you ditch the car?

Up, in the hills/mountains, in a partisan area.

The attack on the houses in Albinea was designed to coincide with the final attack on the Gothic line.  It was the command centre for all the armed forces; they had all the maps and plans there, and there was a direct radio link with Berlin.

Was it the headquarters of theGerman 10th and 14th Army, or just one in particular

It was the 51st headquarters of the German command.  [sic].

[Discussion of book called Hot Heads by Charles Foley, which talks of the attack]

During the assault on the headquarters, between the two villas, there was a Scottish paratrooper, Kilpatrick, who played the bagpipes throughout.

I find it very stressful remembering this time.  I remember it in every detail: those types of attackwell, if you haven’t taken part in one, you cannot believe it.

[We need to turn to book for description of attack, as interview ends here.]