The anarchists of Pistoia, who had tried their hand at various forms of fighting fascism under the Mussolini regime and who had been among the earliest victims of fascist violence (remember that fascism’s first two victims in Pistoia were two anarchist brothers Fabio Gori and Giuseppe Migliorini, murdered on 31 July 1922), had no hesitation, when the time came, in joining in the fray and – some in the city and others in the mountains – in taking up arms and doing their bit to defeat the Nazis.
Under Marshal Badoglio’s provisional regime, a group was formed in Bottegone and Barba near Pistoia; among others, its membership included Egisto and Minos Gori, Tito and Mario Eschini, Tiziano Palandri, Silvano and Francesci Fedi, Sinibaldo Guerrini, Carlo Giovanelli, Sergio and Lors Bardelli and Francesco Toni and Luigi Nanni; the group was up and running from 9 to 28 September 1943 and engaged in intensive propaganda activity in the area between Florence and Pistoia. At its meetings, one of which was also attended by Pasquale Binazzi, discussion focused on the practical implementation of anarchist ideals at that particular time and in the future, taking due account of the raging war and real conditions. Liaison was also established with other political groupings and with the working class and peasantry.
At the same time, Minos and Egisto Gori embarked upon assisting a band of Allied troops who had been captured by the Italian army and then escaped. They were provided with shelter, protection and medical assistance thanks to help from a friendly physician. In Pistoia the first weapons stores were procured; these rifles, automatic rifles and munitions were to arm the first resistance units operating in the area. Minos Gori remembers: “On 9 September , Luigi Nanni and I picked up an automatic rifle and sundry munitions that we moved to Barba where the comrades had assembled, so that they could be used along with others in our possession when the time would come. Precisely how our struggle should be approached was not yet clear, partly because it was not yet known which way the Italian army would jump and we were unaware if other groups besides our own had been formed.” This is important evidence because it shows that anarchists did not let themselves be caught off guard by events but were ever vigilant, and among the first to make decisions that would go down in history. Minos Gori continues: “The unit was ready and waiting for twenty days until, by common consent, it was agreed that it should be wound up in order to avert reprisals against the civilian population, as the Germans had threatened. Thus we handed over virtually all our weaponry, but within a few days, had accumulated an equal arsenal insofar as an officer friend (Rodolfo Turco) gave us the weapons issued to his unit in the Case Nuove di Masiano district. We moved them, under the very noses of the Germans, with a tricycle, to a place of safety and they later represented the initial arsenal of units operating in the Pistoia area. I came across my own rifle in the “Bozzi” unit. I recognised it because I had carved my grandmother’s name on it.”
Once the political and military position had clarified, the time came for anarchists to make up their minds: Minos Gori and his cousin Giorgio Gori served with the communist “Bozzi” unit that was to operate primarily in the Tuscan and Emilian Appennines and was one of the units that acted as midwife to the Montefiorino republic in Modena. After the battle fought in Treppio, Giorgio Gori was captured by the Saló Republic fascists who, after giving him a beating, handed him over to the Germans. He was deported to Germany, first to Mauthausen and then to Ebensee where he died. After the battle, the fascists had come across a diary written by a “Bozzi” member and containing the particulars of many anarchists, including Egisto Gori. He and his family were wanted by the fascists who were keen to arrest them. Nearly two hundred of them lived in the area where the Gori family was a huge clan and only a providential tip-off by a peasant prevented their capture. Thus the Goris managed to escape ands made it to Florence where they were taken in by some relatives and helped and supported by the Florentine anarchists until such time as they were able to return to Pistoia.
Egisto Gori resumed his political activity, among other things as a member of the National Liberation Committee (CLN) of Pistoia alongside Tito Eschini.
Many Pistoian anarchists served with the Pippo units operating in Zone XI, on the borders of Lucca province and Pistoia; among these we might mention Tiziano Palandri who was vice-commandant of the entire XI Zone Brigade, Lindano Zanchi (a district commander), Mario Eschini and Archimede Peruzzi. In our view, Silvano Fedi deserves a special mention. He had already made a name because of his initiative: in 1939, as a student, he had served a year in jail, imposed by the Special Tribunal, for “anti-national association and propaganda”. On 25 July 1943, during a demonstration at which hundreds of clandestinely printed leaflets were distributed, he held a typically libertarian meeting outside the San Giorgio plant in Pistoia. He was arrested but the masses of San Giorgio workers attending the meeting marched on the police headquarters and secured his release. The partisan unit that Silvano Fedi then launched was made up chiefly of anarchists or libertarians and was the main unit operating in Pistoia. The decision to operate close to the city rather than in the mountains was no accident. His unit was autonomous and so it was unlikely to receive supplies from the Allies. Operating close to the city, there was a chance that it might make good deficiencies in weaponry and munitions through raids. And indeed a number of raids were made on the fortress in Pistoia and on the police headquarters, during which arms, munitions and supplies were seized in sufficient quantities for the Pippo, Communist Party and Action Party units to be refurbished. Foodstuffs were also distributed to the local populace. Among the unit’s operations, those involving raids on the hospital and jails to free political prisoners are worth noting.
Fedi’s unit did not restrict itself to the armed struggle: “In Piuvica, on the plains of Pistoia in July-August 1943, the anarchists … were concerned to organise the populace in order to overcome the temporary chaos. They persuaded the peasants to thresh the grain they had been allowing to rot for want of a market, setting up an oven permanently staffed by two men and the bread was distributed free of charge to the local residents.”
Fedi also raised funds for the anarchist press and in particular forwarded money to the anarchists in Florence who were planning in September 1943 to bring out a few clandestine issues of Umanità Nova.
Silvano Fedi’s death on 29 July 1944 is still shrouded in mystery. “It was an ambush by Italians”, argues Enzo Capecchi who was there at the time, “But I cannot tell of which political persuasion because evidence is lacking… In the course of an operation mounted to crack down on bullying and violence against the local populace by gangs of brigands, Silvano Fedi perished when he walked into an ambush laid for him, on the basis of information given, by German troops lurking on the Montagnola di Montechiaro di Casalguidi.” Giuseppe Giulietti perished with Silvano Fedi and Brunello Biagini was captured and was shot the following 1 August. Marcello Capecchi escaped because he was discovered by his comrades wounded and hiding in a ravine.
Following Fedi’s death, command of the unit passed to Enzo Capecchi up until 5 September 1944 and then, after he was wounded, to Artese Benesperi. The Fedi unit, under Benesperi’s command, was to be the first to enter a Pistoia liberated from the Nazis.
Italino Rossi – La ripresa del Movimento Anarchico Italiano e la propaganda orale dal 1943 al 1950 (Edizioni RL, Pistoia, 1981) pp. 26-30.
PATRIOTIC FLYING SQUADS
SQUAD LEADER – Silvano Fedi
In the immediate wake of the German occupation of the city of Pistoia on 10 September 1943, a band of patriots was formed and in concert with the Liberation Committee it launched actions against the renascent fascist government and Germans who maintained a tight grip on the area under their control through the use of terror.
No 1 – 17.10.1943
Raid on the Fortress in Pistoia
At 22.00 hours seven of us entered the fortress, ferrying away from its arsenal around 10,000 machine-gun bullets which were removed that very night by cart to the safety of the mountains.
No 2 – 18.10.1943
Raid on the Fortress in Pistoia
At 05.00 hours ten of us re-entered the fortress; we advanced with pistols drawn because German and soldiers sentries had been posted. We carried away: eight rolls of canvas which were removed to the safety of the mountains.
[Participants] Silvano Fedi, Brunello Biagini, Danilo Betti, Giulio Vannucchi, Marcello Capecchi, Enzo Capecchi, Santino Pratesi.
No 3 – 20.10.1943
Raid on the Fortress in Pistoia
We entered the fortresss at 10.30 hours; this time we brought along two carts and carried off: a few crates of smoke bombs, a few hundred clips of rifle ammunition, two cases of machine-gun ammunition and five canvas rolls.
Silvano Fedi, Danilo Betti, Giulio Vannucchi, Marcello Capecchi, Enzo Capecchi, Santino Pratesi.
No 4 – 29.10.1943
Enzo Capecchi arrested
Enzo Capecchi was arrested by the German SS for having abetted the escape of British prisoners and having ferried them to a place of safety.
No 5 – 3.11.1943
Munitions moved by cart
We removed munitions from the Torre di S. Alessio to the Fornace di Candeglia, a safer location.
Marcello Capecchi, Brunello Biagini.
No 6 – 29.3.1943
German officer killed
On the night of 29.3.1944, while we were en route to recover some weapons held in a German military dump located near the Valdibrana Station, we ran into a German officer in the company of a woman. Upon sighting our band of armed men, he said a few words in German, probably something about taking cover and a pistol shot rang out immediately thereafter; Silvano Fedi and Artese Benesperi were on hand and the latter replied to the German officer’s gunfire with an automatic weapon. In the meantime the German had fired another pistol shot wounding Benesperi in the hand. That was his final shot, for he was cut down by a burst of gunfire from Benesperi.
The squad was unable to proceed with the raid on the German military dump because the shooting had alerted the many Germans in the area. Artese Benesperi’s hand required an operation to remove the bullet.
The German command posted a 50,000 (fifty thousand) lire reward for the killers of the German officer.
No 7 – 1.6.1944
Attack on the Fortress in Pistoia
It having come to our attention that there was a sizable dump of foodstuffs, weapons and clothing in said fortress, it was decided that an attack should be mounted, regardless of the very many guards. Through an IML employee working in the fortress we secured all the relevant intelligence; there were about twenty troopers and one or two NCOs, several quintals of foodstuffs (grain, flour, pasta, rice, jam, salt, sugar, chickens, canned goods, cheese and several kilos of tobacco), several outfits of clothing, around 30 rifles and 20 machine-guns.
At 01.00 hours that night, the fort was entered through the main gate, from which we gained access to the rooms by climbing through the windows. All of the military were disarmed and then herded into the central courtyard where several men had meanwhile been setting out the goods captured which were hauled away in a heavy lorry and a cart. Two trips were made in all and all of the movable and usable material was carried away. Only three machine-guns were buried. The rifles and some of the foodstuffs were handed over to some lads from Montale who had shown up especially to lend us a helping hand; off with them with some of the soldiers eager to get involved in partisan activity.
It was almost daybreak when the fortress was abandoned, all of its installations having been set on fire; they burned for a while day. All of the captured material was used to refurbish the squads of patriots in the mountains.
Participants in this operation were: Silvano Fedi, Enzo Capecchi, Marcello Capecchi, Artese Benesperi, Iacopo Innocenti, Aladino Gargi, Marino Spagnesi, Giovanni Pinna, Santino Pratesi, Ademaro Briga, Piero Audino, Antonio Galigani, Giulio Vannucchi.
No 8 – 26.6.1944
Raid on the holding cells in Pistoia
On the morning of the day in question, Enzo Capecchi, using Licio Gelli’s military vehicle (Gelli being a liaison officer between the German and the Italian troops), with Gelli himself at the wheel, drew up at the jail in Pistoia (the Ville Sbertoli) and, without showing any papers (since he had none) claimed to be from the police and to have come to inspect the cells, and would be returning that evening with 40 partisan prisoners along with two well-known leaders.
At 14.00 hours that same day, Silvano Fedi and Artese Benesperi arrived handcuffed at the jail (but armed with pistols and grenades) under escort from Enzo Capecchi, Giovanni Pinna, Iacopo Innocenti and Licio Gelli and had the gate and doors unlocked before forcing an entry.
The head jailer was forced to hand over the keys to all cells which we then systematically opened and all of the inmates were freed.
Those freed were 54 males (most of them held on political charges), 3 females (arrested for political offences) and 2 Jews.
6 soldiers and 6 jail warders were disarmed and locked in the cells. Their rifles were handed over to those inmates who meant to join a partisan unit.
All of our comrades returned safely after an hour.
During this operation we were obstructed by carabinieri and Public Security agents working hand in glove with the Salò Republic’s militiamen and with the Germans pursuing partisans and draft-dodgers. We urged them to desert and join us; the odd one did desert but many stayed behind and so we visited all the barracks and the police headquarters and chased them home. Operations against all in cahoots with the fascists began in mid-May; by the end of July, there was not a single agent left in Pistoia in the service of the Germans and this was not so much a matter of their choosing as because our unit forced them to drop out of the struggle.
The Battle of Montechiaro
At a meeting held on 24.7.1944 in Pergola between the representative of the Action Party, the Communist Party representative and our own, it was decided that our various units should be mustered in the Monti Albani for the launching of a specific operation against German vehicle columns passing through the Pistoian Serravalle area via the Florence-Seaside and San Baronto highway.
On 25 July we set our squads in motion.
Squad No 1 (9 men) with arms, munitions and supplies were posted in the Villa Livi.
Squad No 2 (7 men) with arms, munitions and supplies was positioned on the slopes of Monte Pantano.
Squad No 3 (11 men) with arms, munitions and supplies were stationed on the slopes of Monte Gabellini.
Squad No 4 (10 men) with arms, munitions and supplies was stationed in Montegattoli.
Squad No 5 (7 men) with arms, munitions and supplies was stationed overlooking Montemagno.
Squad No 6 (8 men) with arms, munitions and supplies was posted to Collina (Castel Benedetti).
By the 28th, Squads Nos 1, 2 and 5 had moved into position without incident. On 29 July, while the weapons of Squad No 4 were being moved, the Germans surprised the Squad and captured two machine-guns in the vicinity of Montechiaro. That same day, not knowing what had befallen Squad No 4, Silvano Fedi, Marcello Capecchi, Giuseppe Giulietti, Danilo Querci, Brunetto Melani and Enzo Capecchi, kept a rendezvous with several individuals in the Montechiaro area.
Silvano, Marcello and Giuseppe were waiting for these individuals near the crossroads on the road from Vanacciano road and Enzo and Danilo were waiting 200 metres further down the road to alert them to their approach as well as to cover more ground.
They were all armed with pistols. Suddenly, shooting erupted very close by; the comrades from No 2 Squad were battling a German patrol. Another German patrol, about 10 men armed with machine-gun, rifles and pistols, then swooped on Fedi, Capecchi and Giulietti who promptly drew their weapons and opened fire but superior fire-power and numbers soon told. Silvano and Giuseppe were felled, mortally wounded. Marcello was shot through the arm and after his gun jammed he clambered up the mountain to safety in spite of his pursuers. Danilo and Enzo opened up with their handguns but once they ran out of ammunition they were forced to flee, partly also because another German patrol showed up. Silvano and Giuseppe were finished off by these same Germans. When Silvano was searched they discovered the list of squads and some partisan documents and the same was true of Giuseppe.
During this skirmish Squad No 2’s Brunello Biagini was captured; he was shot on 1.8.1944.
From intelligence, it seems that two Germans were wounded and it appears that one of these died later.
After the death of Squad leader Silvano Fedi, command was assumed by vice-commandant Enzo Capecchi. Our Squads mustered in the Monti Albani; in the Torre di Sant’Allucio and Casa al Monte district.
Since 2.5.1944, we had been in contact with the band of Lieutenant Manrico Ducceschi (Pippo). with the Action Party headquarters in Pistoia and with the Communist Party’s Pistoia headquarters.
Contacts with the aforementioned units were for the sole purpose of our unit’s making delivery of supplies. Those supplies were shared out as follows:
Supplies delivered to the Pippo Unit
Two trips were made by car by our comrade Silvano Fedi to the Pippo unit in the Bagni di Lucca (Astracaccio) district. On those two trips 5 quintals of grain, 2 quintals of rice, 20 kilos of jam and 100 packs of cigarettes were delivered.
No receipt exists for these goods except a note scribbled by our delivery man, Silvano Fedi.
Silvano Fedi travelled to Astracaccio but was unable to trace the persons to whom he had previously delivered the goods and as a result he was obliged to leave the delivery with one Natale Moriconi, a resident of Vico. The delivery consisted of 16 ten kilo jars of jam, 1093 packs of Italian cigarettes, 1 quintal of sugar and 19 pairs of shoes.
For this delivery of material there is a receipt signed in pencil by Natale Moriconi, to whom Fedi also handed over 300 lire to come to Pistoia with a guarantee that everything had been delivered. Moriconi was never seen again and all contact was lost with the Pippo formation from that point on.
Delivery of supplies to the Action Party Unit
In return for a receipt the following was delivered:
On 12.6.1944 – 10 kilos of rice, 10 kilos of pasta, 30 hens, I kilo of salt, 50 kilos of grain, 2 towels, 4 sacks, 100 packs of Italian cigarettes, 20 crates, 5 kilos of sugar, 10 kilos of cheese, 20 kilos of jam, 4 bales.
On 21.6.1944 – 200 packs of Italian cigarettes, 10 crates, 40 kilos of jam, 14 kilos of cheese, 1 bladder of lard, 7 pairs of shoes, 50 kilos of sugar, 90 kilos of rice and 1 salami.
On 24.6.1944 – 100 packs of Italian cigarettes, 10 kilos of sugar, 10 kilos of jam, 50 kilos of pasta, 20 kilos of salt and 200 tins of condensed milk.
On 2.7.1944 – 110 kilos of grain, 10 kilos of pasta, 26 crates, 10 kilos of pasta, 15 kilos of cheese, 10 kilos of jam, 150 packs of Italian cigarettes, 51/2 kilos of salt and 10 kilos of rice.
On 8.7.1944 – 15 kilos of cheese.
On 18.7.1944 – 8 pairs of shoes and 20 cases of beef.
On 12.8.1944 – 100 packs of Italian cigarettes.
Supplies delivered to the Communist Party’s Formation
On 15.8.1944 – 100 packs of Italian cigarettes, 20 kilos of rice, 20 kilos of jam, 4 kilos of sugar, 2 kilos of salt, 10 crates, 3 kilos of cheese, 10 pairs of underwear, 3 pairs of shoes.
From mid-August onwards our patrols harried enemy columns on the Vinci-San Baronto road. On 1 September the entire formation set off on a march to Vinci. On the morning of 2 September it went into action, occupying Vinci by 10.30 hours.
After the hoisting of the tricolour and having left a squad behind in position, the commander with the remainder of his men made for Lamporecchio and that location was occupied too after a short clash with patrols and 5 Germans were taken prisoners and handed over to the British command.
Two women were injured in the course of this operation. At 17.30 hours on the road leading to San Baronto there was a brush with another patrol and a fire-fight broke out abruptly. After a short battle one German was killed and the rest were put to flight and prevented from blowing up the Anchione bridge.
On our return to Vinci a British captain instructed us to act as forward patrols and keep watch on the approaches to the area. On the morning of 3 September our unit was broken up into patrols and headed for San Baronto where we arrived after some brief skirmishes. The last German patrols were put to flight and San Baronto occupied.
At 15.00 hours on 3 September, in the Villa area, several Germans holed up as snipers in a house were scattered and two prisoners taken; these were handed over to a British patrol commanded by Pittanata. Giorgio “the Viennese” (no further details are given) distinguished himself in this operation. On the morning of 4 September, we swooped down from San Baronto and occupied Casalguidi at 05.00 hours, meeting with no resistance. Knowing that there were lots of German patrols in the area, our commander split the unit into two squads and started to explore the area. The squad under the command of Marcello Capecchi ran into Germans near Pontassio and attacked, putting them to flight. The other patrol attacked the German sappers in Ponte alla Stella, killing one German and putting the rest to flight, thereby preventing the destruction of the bridge which was garrisoned by 5 men.
Around 14.00 hours we were alerted that the Germans were bearing down in some numbers upon Casale. Confronted by our men, they were put to flight after an hour’s fighting. As to the cost to the enemy, we cannot be specific; we for our part suffered one man wounded, Giorgio “the Viennese”. At 16.00 hours a German patrol appeared close to La Bottegaccia and made in our direction. Commandant Enzo Capecchi mustered his men and set off to attack the Germans; this time too, they were put to flight and carried away some wounded. On re-entering Casale our formation was reunited and after a while several cannon volleys were heard from the Pistoian Appenines. A number of enemy patrols returned to the attack. The unit was suddenly forced on to the defensive, keeping a close eye on enemy operations. Enemy guns continued to pound the location in question, but even under enemy fire there was an effective counter to German patrols and these retreated at haste. While the wounded (namely, Ivan Bechelli and the women Pagnini and Lastrucci) were receiving first aid, further shelling struck other comrades, leading to the deaths of Marcello Capecchi, Rolando Haubis, Rolando Chiti and Florio Lenzi and Enzo Capecchi, Franco Fedi, Armando Cappellini, Ferdinando Frosini, Danilo Querci, Guido Giovannetti and Moreno Matteini were wounded during the same action. On 5 September our patrols combed the entire area between Casalguidi and the Ombrone river where we were stationed.
The only activity was some exchanges of rifle fire between both sides.
On the morning of 6 September, a patrol under the command of Artese Benesperi who had taken command of all our squads following the death Marcello Capecchi and the wounding of Enzo Capecchi, crossed the Ombrone on an exploratory mission and returned to base, having accomplished its mission. Nothing eventful occurred on the night of 6-7 September.
At daybreak on 7 September, the patrol commanded by Artese Benesperi crossed the Ombrone again and penetrated as far as the Autostrada bridge where it ran into numerous Germans; in the ensuing fighting, two Germans were wounded but we cannot authenticate other casualties because the enemy, having received reinforcements, forced us into falling back in the direction of the river and we found ourselves in some straits; but Giovanni Pinna’s patrol, alerted in time by a runner sent out by Benesperi, moved on to the right bank of the river and opened fire to some effect, forcing the Germans to pull back towards the north.
Our other patrols had thrust as far as S. Pierina Casa al Vescovo, but encountered no one; subsequently, they too were pulled back to the banks of the Ombrone. At 22.30 hours a South African patrol presented itself to our command to gather intelligence about the German forces remaining in Pistoia; Artese Benesperi and Giovanni Pinna agreed to accompany this friendly patrol into the city. Benesperi returned shortly afterwards with a pain in his foot, whereas Pinna escorted the patrol as far as Pistoia and through several areas. He returned around 04.00 hours on 8 September.
At 08.30 hours, our men, divided into two sections, carried out wide-ranging reconnaissance patrols in S. Pierino Casa al Vescovo, Ponte alla Pergola and the airport. One group was under Artese Benesperi’s command and the other under Giovanni Pinna’s. At around 17.00 hours that same day, in accordance with orders received from Captain Serena of the National Liberation Committee (CLN), commandant Benesperi drafted his squads in to guard the city of Pistoia.
At dawn on 9 September came word that a group of Germans, about 20 strong, was barricaded in Villa Colonna (San Giorgio). Giovanni Pinna was dispatched to winkle out this last redoubt and set off with 13 men.
On arrival at the bridge he deployed his men and decided to attack. After three and a half hours of fighting, these were the results: The Germans lost 1 man killed and 3 wounded, 1 was taken prisoner (and handed over to the National Liberation Committee) and the rest fled. There were no losses on our side. On 10 September the unit, under the command of Artese Benesperi, mounted reconnaissance operations with patrols in Pistoia and its outskirts, controlling the city for that whole day. In the days that followed several men from this unit provided a public order service as special public security agents.
The Squad has a receipt for German prisoners handed over to the Allies.
Unit commander (Enzo Capecchi)
“SILVANO” Group, XII Zone Patriotic Squads
Our fallen comrades1) Silvano Fedi – killed in action against the Germans on 29.7.1944
2) Giuseppe Giulietti – killed in action against the Germans on 29.7.1944.
3) Brunello Biagini – shot on 1.8.1944.
4) Marcello Capecchi – killed by artillery on active service against the Germans.
5) Florio Lenzi – killed by artillery on active service against the Germans
6) Rolando Haubis – killed by artillery on active service against the Germans.
7) Rolando Chiti – killed by artillery on active service against the Germans.
Our wounded comrades1) Artese Benesperi – in combat against a German officer.
2) Giorgio – Austrian national: while on active service against the Germans on 3.9.1944.
3) Ivan Bechelli – in combat on 5.9.1944.
4) Franco Fedi – by artillery fire during an operation on 5.9.1944.
5) Enzo Capecchi – by artillery fire during an operation on 5.9.1944.
6)Guido Giovannetti – by artillery fire during an operation on 5.9.1944.
7)Ferdinando Frosini – by artillery fire during an operation on 5.9.1944.
8) Settimo Mangoni – by artillery fire during an operation on 5.9.1944.
9) Armando Cappellini – by artillery fire during an operation on 5.9.1944.
10) Danilo Querci – by artillery fire during an operation on 5.9.1944.
Commander (Enzo Capecchi)
From Italino Rossi – La ripresa del Movimento Anarchico Italiano e la propaganda orale dal 1943 al 1950 (Edizioni RL, Pistoia, 1981), pp. 133-140
From: La ripresa del Movimento Anarchico Italiano e la propaganda orale dal 1943 al 1950 (Edizioni RL, Pistoia, 1981). Translated by: Paul Sharkey.