19 August 2012

LIFE: Bombs Away

Liguria, The Targeted Area
SARONNO, Italy -  On Friday, 10 August, 2012 a 500 pound (227 kilos) aerial bomb was found in Genoa. It was uncovered in the Bettolo quay in the city’s harbor during a dredging operation to expand the port facilities. All terminal traffic was halted. The red light was on for all ships, including cruise ships and ferries. Then an evacuation of the area was ordered as the Port Authorities arranged for the disposal of the 70 year old bomb identified as an American made AnM64. Once the bomb, which contains about 200 pounds (91 kilos) of the explosive TNT, was neutralized, it was transferred to a nearby quarry for detonation.
 Port of Genoa
The following Monday, August 13th, a 250 lbs. (114 kilos) aerial bomb was found in the harbor of Sestri Levante, and once again, as in Genoa, the sea around the discovery site was cordoned off and sea traffic was brought to a halt. This time the location of the bomb was dangerously close to Sestri’s two beautiful bays: the Baia delle Favole (Bay of Fairy Tales) named in honor of the Danish writer of fairy tales Hans Christian Andersen, who lived in Sestri Levante in 1833, and the Baia dei Silenzio, (Bay of Silence), commemorated by the flamboyant and romantic British poet Lord Byron who declared  it a piece of paradise on earth.

In charge of the bomb removal operation is the Deputy Vice-Prefect of Genoa, Paolo D’Attilio, the same man who, last year, oversaw the removal of three other unexploded aerial bombs found in the seaside town of Recco. Most notable of the three was the bomb that weighed 1,0000 lbs. (550 kilos).That bomb, the 1,000 lb. bomb, was discovered on Sunday, 13 January 2011 and 5,000 local residents had to be evacuated before the authorities would even touch it.
Bird's Eye View of Recco
There are many other relics of World War II in Liguria, none quite as dramatic as the 1,000 lb. bomb found in Recco, but still grim reminders of the death and destruction that ravaged the now peaceful and beautiful sea side region. It started in February of 1941 with the announcement by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill of an imminent all-out attack on Genoa. Before it was over more than one thousand tons of bombs would be dropped on the city of Genoa and other towns along the sea.

The Italians had built twenty-five stone artillery bunkers into the hills creating a fifty kilometer line of defense along the coast between Genoa and the city of La Spezia. I first saw them when I took a boat one Sunday morning from Genoa Nervi, where I lived, to Portovenere in Cinque Terre. But the twenty-five artillery bunkers against more than one thousand tons of bombs were about as effective as pitting a fly against a fly swatter.
Cathedral of San Lorenzo, Genoa
You can still see one of the bombs that was dropped from a British plane (and didn’t explode) in the Cathedral of San Lorenzo in Genoa’s historic center. It’s on display in the right hand corner of the Cathedral as you walk in the door. It’s hard to imagine just how big – and scary -  an aerial bomb really is until you stand next to it.

In the end, the Italians did come through for the Allies.  By 1944, the Americans had landed in Sicily and were making their way up the boot to liberate Genoa,  but they were still more than 100 kilometers away when a group of civilians, daring the crossfire of German artillery, captured the city's radio station and informed the world that the city was in their hands. Even worse news for the Germans came when their division en route to Genoa was waylaid by another group of partisans.
 Bay of Silence, Sestri Levante
In the face of further humiliation, at 9 a.m. on the 26th of March 1944, the German General Gunther Meinhold, commander of the Wehrmacht in Genoa, surrendered to the partisan group, the National Liberation Committee (CLN) for Liguria, and Genoa became the only Italian city where the Nazis surrendered to the partisans before the U.S. Army arrived. It was also the first time a fully equipped army corps ever laid down its arms to civilians. 

The Genovese paid a heavy price for that honor. Out of 20,000 partisans, 2,500 died and approximately 2,700 suffered serious injuries, and every time another aerial bomb is uncovered, the people of Liguria shudder, remembering the horrors and the glory of those days.

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