Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Who do we Fight?

The middle of 1943 was a confusing time for the Italians. First came the fall of their dictator Mussolini. That was followed by an outwardly pro-German government, whom was trying to negotiate a peace settlement with the Allies and at the same time showing their dedication to continuing to fight as part of the Axis. Both the Italians and the Germans drew up plans for the eventuality of the Italians dropping out of the war, however the Italian plans were more guidelines in the case of German hostilities, the German plans were much more detailed. In early September the crunch came with the Italians surrendering to the Allies with the Armistice of Cassibile, which was announced on the 8th of September at 18:30 by Allied radio, and confirmed by the Italian government radio broadcasts at 19:42. At 19:50, moments after the Italian broadcast had finished, the German High Command transmitted the code word "Achse" to all commands informing them to take action as detailed in the issued plans.

One such location was Piombino, on the Italian coast. On the 10th of September, about 04:30, the Germans approached by sea. They claimed to be an Italian flotilla that wanted to put in for refueling. The two lead vessels were Torpedoboot Ausland (this was used by the Germans to describe the myriad of small foreign vessels captured across Europe as they overwhelmed their original owners). The two lead boats were TA9 and TA11, these originally had been French La Melpomène class torpedo boats. Each weighed about 800 tons, and had two each of 4 inch guns, 37mm AA guns and a pair of machine guns. TA9 had been the 'Bombarde', and TA11 the 'L'Iphigénie' in French Service. Any mentions of previous service are rare, for example I've only found mention of L'Iphigénie helping escort a convoy to Malta in 1939, for five and a half hours.
La Melpomène class
After being seized by the Germans they were handed over to the Italians, and given Italian two tone camouflage. This was hastily painted over with a third shade of grey when the Germans seized her, although she retained most of her other Italian markings.

At first the Italian naval commander denied them access to the port and the Germans held position off shore. After some five hours the local port commander gave permission for the Germans to enter. As they entered the two ships split up taking up station on either end of the harbour and covering the entire port with their guns. During the rest of the day many more boats entered the port, all German. These began to land armed patrols who roamed about and began to prepare to seize key parts of the city. Thus the tension began to bubble as the citizens began to realise what was about to happen.

Piombino was a steel town with two large steel plants. In the 20's there had been a distinct communist feeling in the city, which had once before come to armed conflict, with the army being used to suppress the revolts. Again, after that fateful morning the workers of the steel plants began to gather and formed the core of a protest to the Italian authorities that they should defend their town. The protests also included the warning, if not outright threat, that if the military didn't act then the civilians would rise in open rebellion. So here you have a large riotous group of people with a distinct whiff of communism, arguing against fascist officers. 
Men from one of the steel plants moving to action in a communist dispute in the early 50's.
The Italian authorities agreed to the demands of the populace and called in tanks, while they were awaiting the arrival of the armour the civilians set about preparing for the defence of their town. As the day passed with no sign of reinforcements the protests began to become agitated and angry, eventually they tried to storm the headquarters of the National Fascist Party looking for weapons, this storming was driven off by troops firing warning shots. However soon after about twenty M15/42 tanks arrived and began to fire directly on the crowd.
During the afternoon, lower level officers began to side with the protesters, these were lead by the commander of the local anti-aircraft battery, this placed stocks of small arms in the hands of the protesters. Slowly junior officers began to change sides, when the two regional commanders who had organised the armoured force arrived on the scene to arrest the rebelling officers. What happened to them isn't recorded, however they didn't succeed, as the Germans were now beginning to land in force and move towards the Italian protests.
At 21:15 someone launched a flare over the harbour, this illuminated the German ships and their captain believing they were about to be attacked, ordered the ships to open fire. On land, the armed civilians bolstered by the soldiers that had changed sides began to engage the German sailors. The tanks began a fierce gun battle with the German ships.  The 47mm guns of the tanks peppered the two torpedo boats, sinking TA11 and forcing TA9 to withdraw at midnight after being heavily damaged. TA9 was to survive until August 1944 when she was sunk in an air attack whilst at sea.

As dawn broke the next day the German forces who had been abandoned by their ships surrendered. About 2-300 were captured with about 120 killed in the fighting, many of whom were likely to have come from the ships. The Italians had lost only four people killed and three times as many wounded. Later that day with command and control restored an Italian general ordered that the German prisoners be released and their weapons returned. The Germans then retreated from the city. The authorities then agreed to a surrender to the Germans. Incensed at this many of the soldiers and civilians who had taken part in the defence of their city grabbed the guns they had liberated and fled to the hills to form a resistance band. As they left they destroyed any equipment they couldn't carry, and just in time as the German forces returned.

Image credits:

See also this book for information on the TA11 camo, if you're interested in that sort of thing.