Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Palaces of the Savoy

Chateau de Chambery
(residents of the Dukes of Savoy, in what is now in France)

Palazzo Madama, Turin
(residence of Queen Christine Marie of France, regent for King
Carlo Emanuele II, later used by the Senate & High Court)

Palazzo Reale, Turin
(primary residence of the Kings of Piedmont-Sardinia)

Palazzo Carignano, Turin
(residence of the Savoy-Carignano branch of the Royal House)

Castello del Valentino, Turin
(former residence of Queen Marie Christine of France)

Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome
(primary residence of the Kings of Italy)

Monday, October 20, 2014

MM TV Review: The Pizza Parlor

For those too young to remember or those unfamiliar, “Hogan’s Heroes” was an American television comedy set in a German prison camp (Luft-Stalag 13) during World War II. The German officers are totally incompetent and the Allied prisoners basically run the place, outwitting their inept captors at every turn. The main characters are, not surprisingly, Americans with one French and one British member on the team (the pilot also had a Russian character which was dropped in the regular series, also not surprising given that this was the 60’s when the Cold War was in full force). The Allies use Stalag 13 as a base from which to launch guerilla attacks against the Germans and to help Allied personnel escape Nazi-occupied territory. Since they are on a mission, they never escape and since no one has ever escaped from Stalag 13 the hapless commander remains at his post, glorying in his perfect record while the prisoners thwart the German war effort right under his nose. This episode is one of two featuring a recurring Italian character. It is episode 22 from season 1, airing on February 11, 1966 and directed by Gene Reynolds.

The cast consists of Bob Crane as Colonel Robert E. Hogan, the senior Allied prisoner-of-war and their leader; Werner Klemperer as Colonel Wilhelm Klink, the clueless German commandant; John Banner as the comic Sergeant-of-the-Guard Hans Schultz; Robert Clary as French Corporal Louis LeBeau (their master chef); Richard Dawson as RAF Corporal Peter Newkirk (a London pick-pocket); Ivan Dixon as Sergeant James “Kinch” Kinchloe (the American radio operator) and Larry Hovis as Sergeant Andrew Carter the simple-minded American explosives expert. For this episode the special guest star was Hans Conried as the Italian Major Bonacelli. If it seems odd having an American with a surname like Conried playing an Italian, this was typical for “Hogan’s Heroes”. Most of the actors were Americans but it is interesting to note that every character on the side of Nazi Germany in the series (Colonel Klink, Sergeant Schultz, General Burkhalter) were all played by Jews. It was something like an ‘in-joke’ of the series, one of a number of ‘running gags’ the show was known for. Another one that viewers must be prepared for is the extreme use of stereotypes, especially when it comes to the Axis forces.

“The Pizza Parlor” opens with LeBeau preparing a feast in the barracks only to be interrupted by Sergeant Schultz who tells them that Colonel Klink is coming to inspect them and Colonel Hogan remarks that the Germans have been sending a number of officers to inspect their camp lately to learn from Colonel Klink because of his perfect record of never having had a successful escape. Klink arrives and informs them that Major Bonacelli is due shortly from “Capizzio” to study their security methods for use in his own prison camp. When taunted about telling a foreigner his secrets, Colonel Klink angrily reminds Hogan that, “…the Italians are our allies!” to which Hogan replies, “Don’t remind me, remind them”. A subtle nod to the fact that, at this stage in the war Italo-German relations were not at their most friendly and that many in Italy were never very comfortable about being allied with Germany. After the credits, Allied HQ tells Hogan that tensions between Germany and Italy are high and that the Allies are planning a major landing near Capizzio and that Hogan should try to get some information out of him. Hogan agrees but isn’t too hopeful, imagining Bonacelli to be a rough character.

We are then introduced to Major Bonacelli who has pulled a gun on his German driver, trying to force him to take him to Switzerland instead of Stalag 13. He is fed up with the war and just wants to escape. However, an Allied bombing raid sends the driver scurrying for cover and before Bonacelli can get away an escort arrives to take him to camp. After arriving at the camp. Hogan digs him about the Germans pushing the Italians around and notice how Bonacelli grimaces at hearing what the Germans are fixing for lunch (lots of potatoes and cabbage). Hogan and company decide that they can get to Bonacelli with sentimentality, music and food. So, they call the Allied submarine they report to, which connects them to London which connects them to Garlotti’s Pizzaria in Newark, New Jersey. It is run by the father of one of the men at Stalag 13. From him they get a recipe for pizza for LeBeau to make to tempt Bonacelli and finish by asking him to sing ‘Santa Luccia’.

Later that night, with wine, pizza and song, the Allies tempt Major Bonacelli over to their barracks and get him to tell them how many Germans are stationed in Capizzio. While he is eating, he mentions possibly going to the United States as he has no desire to go back to his post and fight for the Germans. Hogan then gets the idea to turn him and asks the Major to become an agent in Capizzio for the Allies. At first, he is reluctant, having no desire to be shot as a traitor if he is discovered but the Allies play on his sentimentality again, persuading him that he would be benefiting his country by shortening the war. Finally, Bonacelli agrees on the condition that he gets the recipe for the pizza he’s eating. However, the next morning, as he is saying his goodbyes to Colonel Klink, a truck arrives with the driver he had pulled his gun on during his trip to camp. He accuses Bonacelli of trying to desert and Colonel Klink orders him placed under arrest. To rescue their new secret agent, Hogan hatches a plan to make Klink think Bonacelli is firmly on the Axis side and a hero as well.

Just as Klink is reporting the incident to Berlin, Schultz rushes in to inform him that ten prisoners have escaped and that Major Bonacelli is missing. Klink flies into a panic at the thought of his perfect record being destroyed. The escapees, meanwhile, meet up in the woods and tell Bonacelli that he has to march them back to camp, thus becoming a hero in Germany and the savior of Colonel Klink’s reputation. Back at the camp, Klink is fuming that none of his search parties have been able to find the escapees anywhere, even putting one of the search dogs on report for not living up to the standards of a *German* Shepherd. Just then, all ten prisoners return, led by Bonacelli, marching in perfect order back into camp, whistling the theme song of the show in a little homage to 1957’s “Bridge on the River Kwai”. Major Bonacelli is welcomed as a returning hero and in the last scene of the episode, Klink calls in Hogan to read him a letter from the Italian major. Earlier, when Hogan was asking Bonacelli how many Germans there were in Capizzio, he did it by asking how many pizzas they ate, figuring two per soldier. In his letter, Bonacelli uses this as a sort of code, saying that he has put his prisoners to work making pizzas for the Germans and by relating how many they are making, Hogan knows the exact number of German troops to report to Allied HQ. Hogan gives a parting remark, saying sarcastically to Klink how “some people think the Italians aren’t with you all the way”.

“The Pizza Parlor” is a fairly typical “Hogan’s Heroes” episode and those who like the show will surely find it enjoyable. It is noteworthy for being one of only two episodes to feature a non-German Axis power. For Italians, the stereotyping may be hard to take but if you have a good sense of humor it shouldn’t be a problem. There are a few cracks about the Major being cowardly but his attempt to escape to Switzerland is shown to be more about his disgust with the Germans than a fear of danger. He mentions on his first day in camp that “you can push a people only so far” and seems about to say that soon the Italians would take no more abuse from the Germans but, viewing his surroundings, stops himself. He also keeps his word to the Allied prisoners and ultimately takes on the very dangerous assignment to become a secret agent. The premise is rather absurd but this is even commented on in the episode with Newkirk doubting that a pizza and a few bars of “Santa Lucia” is not enough to make a man switch sides in a war, this, of course, also being a subtle illustration that it was more than that which motivated Major Bonacelli to do what he did. For those who like the character, he returned later in the series in 1969 with the episode, “The Return of Major Bonacelli” (though played by a different actor) in which the Germans discovered that he was passing information to the Allies and Hogan and his men have to help their Italian friend escape to England.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Columbus Day Controversy

Today is Columbus Day in the United States. In Mexico and much of Latin America it is celebrated as El Dia de la Raza (the Day of the Race) and it is National Day in the Kingdom of Spain. Sadly, some have seized upon the occasion to make the intrepid Italian explorer the scapegoat for the entirety of all the ills that came to Americas from the time of his discovery to the present day. It is, of course, absurd to say the least of it but it has gained ground with many because of 'political correctness'. Columbus, a man who was seeking a westward route to Asia and happened upon the Americas in the process is actually being held to blame for the devastation of the Native American populations by disease, for the entire period of European colonization, all of the clashes between European and European-descended peoples and the natives, even for slavery. To call that unfair would be an understatement. Columbus was an explorer, a navigator, a man hired to do a job and nothing more. It is a gross injustice to blame him for every ill that came after in all the centuries that followed. Some localities in the United States have, in an effort to gain favor with modern leftist sentiments, have replaced the celebration of Columbus Day with "Indigenous Peoples Day". Of course, there should be no problem with having a day to celebrate Native Americans (African Americans have an entire month). However, it is completely uncalled for to deny Columbus his holiday in the process and is an act of bigotry against Italian-Americans, the one group more than any other who have stood up in defense of Columbus and his place in history.

In making this point, I have had some dispute with me the assertion that replacing Columbus Day with "Indigenous Peoples Day" is discriminatory against Italian-Americans. But, how can it be otherwise? The truth of it is easily illustrated by imagining what would happen if another holiday was changed in the same way. Certainly if St Patrick's Day was done away with, this would be seen as offensive to Irish-Americans and if someone proposed replacing Martin Luther King Day with some other holiday the person in question would certainly be accused of racism against African-Americans. So, it should likewise be considered perfectly natural for Italian-Americans to regard efforts to do away with Columbus Day as offensive to the Italian community. Columbus was not a villain, he was a driven, courageous and deeply religious man who changed the course of history with his discovery. Of course, everyone knows that Columbus was not the first European to visit America but it was his voyage that mattered most.

As for the huge loss of life among the Native American peoples, this was certainly a tragedy but it was not as though it was the result of some genocidal scheme on the part of Columbus. The vast majority of the Native Americans who died did so as a result of the diseases carried by Europeans which they had no immunity to. It was an accidental and inadvertent tragedy caused by the coming together of peoples. To blame Columbus for this would be just as unfair as blaming Asians for the Black Death in Europe or holding Gaetan Dugas morally responsible for every person in America who has died from AIDS. It is also ridiculous to hold historical figures to the standards of contemporary morality which has certainly changed dramatically since 1492. There was nothing like the modern conceptions of human rights, civil rights, racial and gender equality and so on in the Fifteenth Century. By the standards of his time and place, Columbus was an upstanding man and a very devout Catholic, a third-order Franciscan in fact who actually had a cause for canonization opened on his behalf in 1877 with the support of Pope Pius IX. And, as Pope Leo XIII said, Columbus expanded human knowledge with his discovery. What others did with that knowledge is their responsibility and not his. The only alternative would be for humanity on opposite sides of the Atlantic to continue in ignorance and isolation.

However, it is particularly disgusting to see people who are themselves of European descent in the United States heaping blame on Columbus. Without his discovery and without European colonization, with all the good and bad aspects of it, neither the United States or Canada or Mexico or any of the countries of North, Central and South America we know today would exist. The populations, particularly in Latin America, which are largely of mixed European and native ancestry would also not exist. And surely, if Columbus had never made his voyage but if all European powers had remained on their own continent, they would be held to blame for being isolationists and not sharing their innovative technologies with the rest of the world. The Native Americans were so primitive compared to Europeans exactly because they had been isolated from the rest of the world where trade and commerce led to exchanges of information and knowledge from East Asia to Western Europe, going both ways. It must also seem extremely unfair for the Italian-American community in particular given that the one holiday celebrating a great Italian figure from history is the one constantly attacked and blamed for colonialism when, unlike Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland and the Scandinavian countries, Italy never had any colonies in the New World. It just goes to show that those who cry the loudest about justice and fairness are usually the most unjust and unfair of all.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Invasion of Abyssinia Begins

It was on this day in 1935 at 5am that Italian forces under the command of General Emilio De Bono marched across the frontier into Abyssinia in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. As one of the Quadrumvirs who led the March on Rome, the seminal event in the history of the "Fascist Revolution" but also a staunch monarchist who gave his first loyalty to the King, De Bono was chosen to lead this campaign because Mussolini wanted it to showcase Fascist military might. There would be a Fascist general in charge and the Blackshirts of the MVSN would make up the bulk of the ground forces initially involved, all with the intention of showing that the new, Fascist, Italy had prevailed in Ethiopia where Crispi's Italy had failed. Since De Bono was also a hero of the Great War and known to be an Italian patriot and loyal to the King, the Duce could expect no problems in the choice from the palace.

Unfortunately, many people have taken a very critical view of General De Bono and this seems, looking at the plain facts, to be rather unjust. His invasion of Abyssinia was a success, it simply did not proceed as rapidly as Mussolini wanted. General De Bono crossed into Abyssinian territory, captured several important positions, announced the abolition of slavery (something which is seldom recognized) and even accepted the surrender of the Ethiopian Emperor's son-in-law, some of whose troops even switched to join the Italian side. General De Bono advanced from the north out of Eritrea while General Graziani advanced from the south out of Italian Somaliland. There were to move methodically until all Ethiopian resistance was crushed between them. However, Mussolini wanted a swift, stunning sort of war which is not what General De Bono had in mind at all. Remembering well the horrific casualties of World War I, De Bono intended to fight a cautious and mostly defensive war in order to conserve the lives of his soldiers while inflicting greater losses on his enemies.

The plan General De Bono had was for the Italian forces to advance into Abyssinia slowly, taking, so to speak, one step at a time. They would move forward, stop, consolidate their lines on a strong, defensive front and then when the enemy attacked, having their primary asset in their huge numbers of Ethiopian soldiers, they could be wiped out by the machine guns and supporting artillery of the Italian lines with minimal losses for themselves. In the aftermath, the lines would be carefully advanced again, another defensive position taken up and then allow the Ethiopians to smash themselves to death again an impenetrable wall of Italian fire. There was nothing wrong with this plan, it was a plan for a slow, cautious advance that would keep Italian losses to a minimum and would end in certain victory. However, Mussolini was also correct in wanting the campaign to be more swift and not just because of his own impatience. The sanctions placed on Italy by the League of Nations meant that Italy could have been economically ruined by a long war and most experts thought that it would take Italy at least two years to conquer Abyssinia if it could be conquered at all without economic collapse at home and the fall of Mussolini's Fascist government. That was a real concern so it was not without some legitimate reasons that General Emilio De Bono was, properly, awarded the rank of Marshal of Italy and then removed from his position with the regular army General Pietro Badoglio taking over to lead a much more swift and aggressive campaign.

In the end, it all worked out and Ethiopia was conquered in an astonishing seven months time with Badoglio leading the Italian troops into the Abyssinian capitol. However, just because the new strategy worked, does not mean that De Bono's plan was necessarily wrong.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Grenadiers of Sardinia

The famous Grenadiers of Sardinia have a history that stretches back around three hundred years and they have earned a high reputation on numerous battlefields in numerous wars during all that time. The First Grenadiers Regiment, a Piedmontese unit, was founded on April 18, 1659 as the Regiment of the Guards (Reggimento delle Guardie) by Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy to be his personal guard. From the Siege of Turin to the Battle of Assietta they proved themselves to be an elite force. In 1774 King Vittorio Amadeo III of Sardinia formed the Regiment of Sardinia (later known as the Second Hunters Regiment) to guard the Royal Family during their exile on Sardinia after French forces had occupied Savoy. When the Piedmontese lands were annexed by France the Regiment of the Guards was disbanded though it had fought bravely in the Italian campaign against Napoleon. After the French defeat at Leipzig the Savoy Royal Family was able to return to Turin and the army began to be reformed. The Regiment of the Guards was restored and the Regiment of Sardinia was relocated to Turin and named the Guards Hunters Regiment (Reggimento Cacciatori Guardie). In 1831 King Carlo Alberto grouped these two regiments into the Guards Grenadiers Brigade and they were given preeminent status in the armed forces of Piedmont-Sardinia.

The Battle of Goito
They gained their motto, “Guards, to me!” when King Carlo Alberto led them at the Battle of Goito in the First Italian War of Independence. Renamed the Grenadier Brigade with the regiments retitled as the First and Second Grenadier Regiments in 1850 they saw extensive service in the Second Italian War for Independence such as at Lonato del Garda, the occupation of the Papal States, San Giuliano, Garigliano and the Siege of Gaeta. After the foundation of the Kingdom of Italy they were relocated to the new capitol of Florence and served as the guard troops at the Royal Palace. During the Third Italian War for Independence they saw action at the Battle of Custoza. The brigade organization was abolished in 1871 but reformed in its entirety in 1881 by King Umberto I. During the First World War, the Grenadier Brigade saw action in the first through the fifth Battles of the Isonzo before being transferred to defend Mount Cenigo in the Asiago offensive by Austria-Hungary. Their position was crucial and as the offensive dragged on, they alone held out to prevent a total encirclement of the Italian forces. The grenadiers fought on heroically, even after their ammunition had been exhausted until finally the Austro-Hungarian offensive was broken by their staunch resistance.

The Grenadiers went back to the Isonzo and fought in the sixth, seventh and eighth battles there before being shattered at the crushing defeat at Caporetto. Like most of the Italian army, the brigade had to be rebuilt after that fiasco but they came back strong. The Grenadiers served with distinction in the Battle of the Piave River and the famous Battle of Vittorio Veneto which finally knocked Austria-Hungary out of the war for good. After the war, based at Rome, another regiment was added and the unit was renamed the XXI Infantry Brigade and the regiments renamed the First, Second and Third Grenadiers of Sardinia. When Italy entered World War II the Grenadiers division was to take part in the invasion of France but the French surrendered before they saw action. The grenadiers did take part in the invasion of Yugoslavia and the occupation of Ljubljana in Slovenia which was annexed by the Kingdom of Italy during the war.

For the Grenadiers of Sardinia, their greatest trial came in the Spring of 1943 when they were detailed to defend the city of Rome itself. As it turned out, they would be defending it from their former German allies after Marshal of Italy Pietro Badoglio requested an armistice with the Allies and the Germans attempted to take control of as much of Italy as possible. Along with the Sassari and Ariete divisions, the grenadiers fought the Germans in front of Rome for two days before being forced back to the Porta San Paolo. It fought on there with the remnants of other army formations as well as groups of civilian volunteers. Finally, after taking nearly 600 losses and with the King having been removed to the safety of Naples, the Italian troops gave up the fight, though not before handing their weapons over to the civilian population to aid in the resistance that soon sprang up against the German occupation. Some elements, such as a few battalions on the island of Corsica, however, refused to surrender and joined with other Italian units and the Free French to fight the Germans and drive them from the island. In 1944 the division was re-organized on Sardinia as part of the Italian Co-Belligerent Army that was loyal to the King and fought alongside the Allies against the Germans and Mussolini’s Italian Social Republic based at Salo. However, not long before the end of the war they were disbanded again to be amalgamated into the Cremona Combat Group.

In 1946, with the aid of the United States, the Grenadiers of Sardinia Infantry Division was reorganized as part of the gathering forces to guard Europe from the Communist threat. However, their status would never be quite the same again as the fall of the Italian monarchy brought an end to their “royal” status and broke the ties of centuries that bound them to the origins of the grenadiers with the House of Savoy. Nonetheless, the unit remained and was again tasked with the security of Rome. The end of the Cold War brought downsizing which has increased lately but the Grenadiers of Sardinia remain a part of the military of the Italian Republic as a Mechanized Brigade and they still retain their status as a “guard” regiment.
Grenadiers, pre-WW1 at home and colonial service

Prince Umberto in grenadier uniform

Grenadiers of Sardinia in World War II

Grenadiers of Sardinia in the Co-Belligerent Army

Grenadiers of Sardinia in modern times, on parade