September 6

This Day in History

World War II

Sep 6, 1944:

Italian resistance fighters persevere

On this day in 1944, British intelligence receives word that, despite setbacks, Italian guerillas fighting the German occupiers of their country are continuing to widen their activity.

Since the Italian surrender in the summer of 1943, German troops had occupied wider swaths of the peninsula to prevent the Allies from using Italy as a base of operations against German strongholds elsewhere, such as the Balkans. Allied occupation of Italy would also put into their hands Italian airbases, further threatening German air power.

As the Allies battled the Germans, pushing them farther and farther north, Italian partisans (antifascist guerilla fighters) aided them. The Italian Resistance had been fighting underground against the fascist government of Mussolini long before its surrender. Now it fought against German fascism—and the Italian monarchy. Italian liberation for the partisans meant a democratic republic—not a return to a country ruled, often ineptly, by a king.

The partisans had proved extremely effective in aiding the Allies; by the summer of 1944, resistance fighters had immobilized eight of the 26 German divisions in northern Italy. German reaction to resistance activity was brutal; in one incident, German soldiers killed 382 Italian men, women, and children as revenge for a partisan attack that killed 35 German soldiers. German "sweeps" of partisan activity did much damage, but failed to stop the guerillas. On September 6, the Japanese ambassador to Italy reported back to Tokyo that partisan activity, especially around Turin and the Franco-Italian border, had widened, despite German purges. This information was intercepted by British intelligence and decoded, reassuring the British forces fighting within Italy that they were not alone in fighting the Germans.

By war's end, Italian guerillas controlled Venice, Milan, and Genoa, but at considerable cost. All told, the resistance lost some 50,000 fighters—but won its republic.

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