Italian occupation of Corsica
Italian-occupied Corsica refers to the military (and administrative) occupation by the Kingdom of Italy of the island of Corsica during the Second World War, from November 1942 to September 1943. After an initial period of increased control over Corsica, by early spring 1943 the Italian forces started losing territory to the local Maquis. In the aftermath of the Armistice of Cassibile, the Italian capitulation to the Allies, Italian units sided with the new German garrison troops or the local Maquis and Free French Forces.
On 8 November 1942, the Allies landed in North Africa in Operation Torch. The Germans implemented a contingency plan, Case Anton, which included an Italian occupation of Corsica on November 11 (Operazione C2) and parts of mainland France up to the Rhone. The Italian occupation of Corsica had been strongly promoted by Italian irredentism by the Fascist regime.
The 20th Infantry Division "Friuli", of VII Corps (VII Corpo d'armata) made an unopposed landing on Corsica, which was French territory. The absence of Corsican resistance and a desire to avoid problems with the Vichy French limited the Italian recruitment of Corsicans, except for a labour battalion in March 1943. The Corsican population initially showed some support for the Italians, partly as a consequence of irredentist propaganda. The VII Corps garrison eventually comprised the 20th Infantry Division "Friuli" and 44th Infantry Division "Cremona", the 225th Coastal Division and the 226th Coastal Division, a battalion of Alpini and an armoured battalion. The Italian troops were commanded by Generale Umberto Mondino until the end of December 1942, Generale Giacomo Carboni until March 1943 and by Generale Giovanni Magli until September 1943. The initial occupation force numbered 30,000 Italian troops and rose to nearly 85,000 soldiers, a huge number relative to the Corsican population of 220,000.
Italian order of battleEdit
Details from Barba 1995.
- Coast (16 battalions)
- 225th Coastal Division (General Pedrotti)
- 226th Coastal Division (General Lazzarini)
- detached regiment
- 20th Infantry Division "Friuli" (Generale Cotronei)
- gruppo da sbarco (landing group)
- Blackshirt battalion (Consul Cognoni)
- 44th Infantry Division "Cremona" (General Primieri)
- Raggruppamento Sud Generale Ticchioni.
- 10th Ragrruppamento Celere Colonnello Fucci
- 175th Reggimento Alpini Colonnello Castagna
- Regia Aeronautica (Colonnello Baudoin)
- Campo dell'Oro (airfields all on the eastern lowlands)
In Corsica, the local collaborationists linked to irredentism supported the Italian occupation, stressing that this was a precautionary measure against a Anglo-American attack. Some Corsican military officers collaborated with Italy, including the retired Major Pantalacci (and his son Antonio), Colonel Mondielli and Colonel Simon Petru Cristofini (and Marta Renucci, his wife, the first Corsican female journalist). Cristofini, who even met Mussolini in Rome, was a strong supporter of the union of Corsica with Italy and defended irredentist ideals. Cristofini collaborated with the Italians in Corsica during the first months of 1943 and (as head of the Ajaccio troops) helped the Italian Army to repress the Resistance in Corsica before the Italian Armistice in September 1943. He closely worked with the famous Corsican writer Petru Giovacchini, who was named as the potential "Governor of Corsica" if the Kingdom of Italy annexed the island.
In the first months of 1943 these irredentists, under the leadership of Petru Giovacchini and Bertino Poli, conducted mass propaganda efforts among the Corsican population to promote the unification of Corsica to Italy with a "Corsica Governorate", as had been done in 1941 with Dalmatia (where Mussolini created the Governatorate of Dalmatia). There was lukewarm support for the Italian occupation from most of the Corsican population until summer 1943. The Italian occupation of Corsica was related to the Nazi Germany dominion of Europe over which Adolf Hitler ultimately exercised control: Benito Mussolini thus postponed the unification of Corsica to Italy until a "Peace Treaty" could be done after the hypothetical Axis victory in the war, mainly because of German opposition to the irredentist claims.
Social and economic life in Corsica was administered by the original French civil authorities: the préfet and four sous-préfets in Ajaccio, Bastia, Sartene and Corte. This helped to maintain calm on the island during the first months of Italian occupation. On 14 November 1943, the préfet restated French sovereignty over the island and stated that the Italian troops had been occupiers.
French Resistance was initially limited but it started taking shape after the Italian invasion. This initially led to the development of two movements: A network operating under the codename mission secrète Pearl Harbour (secret mission Pearl Harbor), which arrived from Algiers on 14 December 1942 aboard the Free French submarine Casabianca (Capitaine de frégate Jean l'Herminier), the elusive "Phantom Submarine". Under the chief of the mission Roger de Saule, they coordinated various groups that merged in the Front national. Communists were most influential in this movement. The R2 Corse network was originally formed in connection with the London-based forces immediately under Charles de Gaulle in January 1943. Its leader Fred Scamaroni failed to unite the movements and was subsequently captured and tortured, committing suicide on 19 March 1943.
In April 1943 Paulin Colonna d'Istria was sent by de Gaulle from Algeria and united the movements. By early 1943, the Resistance was sufficiently organised to request arms deliveries. The Resistance leadership was reinforced and the movement's morale was boosted by six visits by Casabianca carrying personnel and arms and it was later further armed by Allied air drops. This allowed the Resistance to increase its activities and establish greater territorial control, especially over the countryside by the summer of 1943. In June and July 1943 the Organizzazione per la Vigilanza e la Repressione dell'Antifascismo (OVRA) the Italian fascist secret police and the fascist Black Shirts paramilitary groups began mass repression, 860 Corsicans being jailed and deported to Italy. On 30 August, Jean Nicoli and two French partisans of the Front National were shot in Bastia by order of an Italian Fascist War Tribunal.
In November 1942, the Germans replied to Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa (8–16 November 1942), by implementing Case Anton, a contingency plan for the occupation of the unoccupied portion of Vichy France. As part of Case Anton, the Italians implemented Operazione C2 for the occupation of Corsica and mainland France as far west as the Rhône. The Italian Special Naval Force, originally intended for the invasion of Malta, was available in Italy and disembarked at Bastia in the north-east on the night of 11/12 November; other forces landed at Ajaccio and Porto Vecchio.
By the time of the Italian withdrawal from the Axis, German occupation forces in Corsica comprised the Brigade Reichsführer SS, a battalion of the 15th Panzergrenadier Division two heavy coastal artillery batteries and one of heavy anti-aircraft guns. On 7 September, General Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin arrived to take command and received assurances from the Italian commander, Generale Giovanni Magli, that the Italian garrison would continue to fight against the local resistance and not oppose the arrival of German troops from Sardinia. There were about 20,000 French Maquis on the island and the Germans suspected that many of the Italians would defect to them.
At the First Quebec Conference 17–24 August 1943, The western Allies had decided not to occupy Sardinia and Corsica until Italy had been knocked out of the war and Allied air bases had been established around Rome. Unternehmen Achse (Operation Axis), a German plan to forestall an Italian surrender and defection to the Allies, began on 8 September, which included the evacuation of the garrisons of Sardinia to Corsica. When news of the Armistice of Cassibile (3 September 1943) was announced on 8 September, German forces began to be embarked from the ports of La Maddalena and Santa Teresa Gallura on the north coast of Sardinia, landing at Porto-Vecchio and Bonifacio in Corsica, the Italian coastal gunners nearby not interfering with the operation. The Germans used craft available since the evacuation of Sicily and such barges that could be diverted from transporting fuel from Leghorn (Livorno) to the front in Italy to shift troops from Sardinia to Corsica. Fliegerführer Sardinia moved to Ghisonaccia Airfield in Corsica on 10 September, becoming Fliegerführer Corsica and the next day the last 44 Luftwaffe aircraft in Sardinia arrived.
At midnight on 8/9 September, German marines captured Bastia harbour, damaged the Ciclone-class torpedo boat Ardito and massacred seventy of the crew. The merchant ship Humanitas (7,980 gross register tons (GRT) and a MAS boat were also damaged but the Ciclone-class torpedo boat Aliceo managed to sail at the last moment. The next day, Italian troops counter-attacked and forced the Germans out and the port commander ordered Comamnder Fecia di Cossato, the captain of Aliceo to prevent Germans ships in the harbour from escaping. At dawn on 9 September, lookouts on Aliceo spotted German ships leaving the harbour in the early-morning mist and turn north close to the coast.
Aliceo was outnumbered and outgunned, having only a speed advantage over the German flotilla, but closed on the submarine chaser UJ2203 as it opened fire, zig-zagging until 7:06 a.m. to a range of about 8,000 yd (4.5 mi; 3.9 nmi; 7.3 km) and began to fire at the German ships. At 7:30 a.m. Aliceo was hit in the engine room and brought to a stop but the damage was quickly repaired. Aliceo caught up with the German ships and closed the range, hitting UJ2203 and some of the barges. At 8:20 a.m. UJ2203 exploded with the loss of nine of the crew. Aliceo fired on UJ2219 and after ten minutes it exploded and sank. The barges, which were well-armed and had been firing continuously, separated but three were sunk by 8:35 a.m. At 8:40 a.n. Aliseo attacked another two barges, under fire from Italian shore batteries and the corvette Cormorano, which were beached. Aliceo rescued 25 Germans but 160 had been killed.
From 8 to 15 September, the Germans conducted demolitions on seven Sardinian airfields but Italian aircraft had begun landing on other airfields on 10 September, some en route to Sicily and Tunisia to join the Allies, others to operate from Sardinia with the Allies. Five Cant Z 1007 bombers attacked German ships in the Bay of Bonicafio on 16 September and Luftwaffe aircraft retaliated with attacks on operational Sardinian airfields for the next four days. By 19 September, the 90th Panzergrenadier Division, a fortress brigade, anti-aircraft and Luftwaffe units comprising 25,800 men, 4,650 vehicles and 4,765 long tons (4,841 t) of supplies had reached Corsica from Sardinia. In Corsica, a large part of the Italian 184th Paratroopers Division "Nembo" defected to the Germans.
The Free French General, Henri Giraud feared that the Maquis on Corsica would be crushed unless the Allies intervened and gained the agreement of the Allied supreme commander of the North African Theater of Operations, General Dwight D. Eisenhower to assist the resistance. Eisenhower stipulated that no Allied forces engaged in the battle at Salerno (9–16 September) could be spared and the French must their own ships and troops. From 11 September, French troops were dispatched to Corsica from Algiers; the submarine Casabianca ferried 109 men to Ajaccio and from 13 to 24 September the destroyers Le Fantastique and Le Terrible delivered 500 men and 60 long tons (61 t) of supplies and on 16 September thirty men and 7 long tons (7.1 t) of supplies were delivered by the submarine Perle, followed on 17 September by 550 men and 60 long tons (61 t) of stores in Le Fantastique, Tempête and L'Alcyon and 5 long tons (5.1 t) of supplies by the submarine Aréthuse. A US commando unit comprising 400 men with 20 long tons (20 t) of supplies were landed from the Italian destroyers Legionario and Oriani.
On 12 September, Hitler ordered Corsica to be abandoned and Fregattenkapitän von Liebenstein, the commander of the Sicily evacuation, was sent to Corsica to supervise the naval withdrawal. The Germans planned to concentrate in the north-east of Corsica and use the port of Bastia and the airfields nearby to evacuate the German garrison to the Italian mainland (Livorno and Piombino) and to the island of Elba, between Corsica and Tuscany. Until 24 September, Luftwaffe transport aircraft operated from Ghisonaccia Airfield, about half-way up the east coast, to mainland airfields at Pisa, Lucca, Arena Metato and Practica di Mare then closed the airfield. On 25 September, the air evacuation resumed from Bastia. French Army units and the resistance had advanced from Ajaccio, pressed the German withdrawal. On the night of 29/30 September the French penetrated the German defences at Bastia but were unable to hinder the evacuation, which was completed on 3 October. The sea evacuation transported 6,240 troops, about 1,200 prisoners of war, more than 3,200 vehicles and 5,000 long tons (5,100 t) of stores. By air the Germans lifted 21,107 men and about 350 long tons (360 t) of supplies for a loss of 55 transport aircraft, most on the ground on Italian airfields to Allied bombing. Allied bombers and submarines sank about 17,000 long tons (17,000 t) of shipping.[a]
The transport of Allied forces to Corsica had continued and on 21 September, 1,200 men, 110 long tons (110 t) of stores, six guns and six vehicles were delivered by the light cruiser Jeanne d'Arc and the destroyers Le Fantastique, Tempête and L'Alcyon. The French cruiser Montcalm and Le Fantastique arrived on 23 September with 1,500 troops and 200 long tons (200 t) of supplies. Another 350 men and 100 long tons (100 t) of supplies, 21 guns and thirty vehicles arrived on the destroyers Le Fortuné and l'Alcyon, Landing Ship, Tank (LST-79) and the MMS-class minesweepers MMS 1 and MMS 116. Jeanne d'Arc returned with 850 men and 160 long tons (160 t) on 25 September, followed the next day by Montcalm and the British destroyer HMS Pathfinder with 750 men, 100 long tons (100 t) of supplies, twelve guns and ten vehicles. On 30 September, 200 men, four guns, seventy vehicles arrived on Le Fortuné and LST-79, which had been damaged by air attack, LST-79 sinking. On 1 October, Jeanne d'Arc and l'Alcyon delivered 700 men and 170 long tons (170 t) of supplies.
Nearly 100 collaborators or autonomists (including intellectuals) were put on trial by the French authorities in 1946. Among those found guilty, eight were sentenced to death. Seven of the death sentences were commuted and one irredentist was executed, Petru Cristofini, convicted of treason. He tried to kill himself and was executed while he was dying in November 1943. Petru Giovacchini was forced to hide after the Allied re-occupation of the island. Prosecuted by a Free French tribunal in Corsica, he received a death sentence in 1945 and went into exile in Canterano, near Rome. He died on September 1955 from old combat wounds. Since his death, the Italian irredentist movement in Corsica is considered to be defunct.
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