Friday, 9 November 2018

German war crimes in the Lago Maggiore region and the roman background of the perpetrators

There is still a less researched chapter in the history of the German and Italian fascists occupation of the Lago Maggiore region, that is the quantification of the war crimes committed during the period 1943-1945.

Then and Now of the SS-Pol.Rgt.15 in Rome.
Former Roman HQ of 5./SS-Pol.Rgt.15,
today at Via Salaria 227. Credits for the SS-Pol.Rgt.15
Fondazione Museo della Shoah, Rome.
Main picture by Google Street View August 2017.

A recent article of Insubrica Historica on the First Battalion of the Panzer-Grenadier Regiment 2 of the Waffen-SS Leibstandarte Division, has brought some light in the activities around Meina and Verbania, during September 1943. In less than 10 days about 50 Jews were brutally killed by members of the Leibstandarte. Even less researched are other war crimes that happened in the same region, mainly committed 12 months later by members of the SS-Polizei Rgt. 15. 

The Italians operations of the SS-Polizei first started in Milan and Rome. Insubrica Historica has planned to spend a weekend in Rome. In order to best prepare for this historical trip, we have created a Google Mashup map that portrays the main sites where the Germans where active in Rome (see below). Just few sites have a direct link with our Insubrica region. Notably the sites of the SS-Polizei - eg. Via Salaria 227 - as well as the Fosse Ardeatine. The massacre of the Fosse Ardeatine is particularly important for Cannobio. The SS Captain that directed the retaliation of August 1944, Hans Clemens, was one of the major protagonists and killers at Fosse Ardeatine. An historical evening planned for 20.3.2019 in Cannobio will bring more light to Clemens and its activities before, during and after the war.


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Saturday, 3 November 2018

Insubrica (Ticinesi) artists and architects in Rome

Insubrica Historica is about to visit Rome this November. It seemed to us obvious that a visit in the Italian capital should have paid also a tribute to Insubrica artists and architects. We have realized a map that attempts to list all the major works by Francesco Borromini (25.9.1599 – 2.8.1667), Carlo Maderno (1556 – 30.1.1629) and Domenico Fontana (1543 – 28.1.1607). These are three personalities that technically could be considered today as being Ticinesi, even if the Canton was created only in 1803.

We will update Insubrica Historica of what we managed to visit during our stay. We are very much thrilled by the vestiges left by these Insubrica personalities. 



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Wednesday, 31 October 2018

A shortest and beautiful train ride: Centovalli Railway

Picture copyright: italianways.com
Insubrica Historica along with our visit from Munich Alexander, took this past weekend the train journey from Locarno to Domodossola with the Centovalli Railway. We opted for a short stint, boarding the train from Intragna to Camedo and back to Intragna. The railway is the shortest and most beautiful connection between lago Maggiore, the French speaking part of Switzerland and Berne, the capital of Switzerland.

Even if our train ride was slightly more than 30 minutes each way (about 9 km), it was a very panoramic train journey through the picturesque “One Hundred Valleys”. The train passed deep gorges and crevices with glittering cascading waterfalls, as since the early morning of Sunday it was pouring rain on this part of the Swiss alps. The train crossed colourful alpine meadows, several bridges, vineyards and forests of chestnut trees. 

The Domodossola-Locarno railway was born from an initiative mainly due to the then mayor of Locarno avv. Francesco Balli (1852-1924). The construction of the railway began in 1913 by the engineer Giacomo Sutter (1874-1939). The project stalled right at the beginning forced to halt as a consequence of the First World War, but gained momentum following a Convention signed on 12 November 1918 in Rome between the plenipotentiaries Sidney Constantino Baron Sonnino (1847-1922) and Hans von Segesser (1877-1935), representing respectively, the King of Italy and the Federal Council of the Swiss Confederation. 

The railway entered service on 25 November 1923 using for the first section the works of the Locarno-Bignasco railway and the Locarno trams that had the same metric gauge. Since then, it has regularly carried out its task of local connection between the region of Ossola and Locarno at Lake Maggiore. Even in the difficult period of the Partisan Republic of Ossola, it did not interrupt its important function of connection. Despite 1978 disastrous floods, which heavily affected the track in the Italian territories the service continued to perform as per today.


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Monday, 22 October 2018

Presentation Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Panzer Grenadier Regiment In Italy and Lake Maggiore

Pallanza, Villa Giulia, 21.10.2018. Raphael Rues of Insubrica Historica had on sunday the chance to held a presentation at the conference remembering the killing of at least 57 Jews during October 1944 on the shores of Lake Maggiore, Italy.

The conference saw the presence also of Senator for life, Mrs. Liliana Segre (Milan 1930).  In a very vivid testimonial Mrs. Segre recalled her experience of being captured in 1943 and deported in the camp of Birkenau (Auschwitz). 

The presentation about the Leibstandarte was focused on the military activities of the first Battalion of the Second Panzer Grenadier Regiment 2 of the Waffen-SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler commanded by Hans Becker. After a brief introduction regarding the actual Ph.D. project research of Raphael Rues, the presentation reconstructed the various stations of this unit, prior the operations in Italy. A very short video allowed the participants to discover even more details about this unit. 

About 150 persons attended this event, which was organized by Casa della Resistenza (CaRe). Mrs. Ester Giuli Bucchi, archive responsible for CaRe, presented the online database dedicated to the Lake Maggiore massacres in September and October 1943, in which 57 Jews predominantly of Italian, German and Greek nationalities were killed. The operation is considered to be the first German massacre of Jews in Italy during World War II.


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Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Feedback Presentation SS-Police in Ossola, Domodossola 12.10.2018

Original article written by Alessandro Velli, published in italian on the website Vco24.

Official presentation in the late afternoon of Friday 12 October, at the Mellerio chapel in Domodossola, of the interesting book by the Ticinese historian Raphael Rues "SS-Polizei Ossola- Lake Maggiore 1943-45. Rastrellamenti e Crimini di Guerra" printed by Edizioni Insubrica Historica

The event was moderated by Professor Pier Antonio Ragozza, who in his introduction highlighted  the responsibility of the SS-Police in the various war crimes committed in the Ossola region. Many of the officers also managed to remain after the war unpunished, and easily resumed their career in the German Federal police. The presentation also explained the various archival sources consulted for this specific research. 


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Thursday, 11 October 2018

Presentazione Panzer-Grenadier Division Waffen-SS " Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler" 21.10.2018 Villa Giulia, Pallanza

Breve storia del I battaglione Panzer-Grenadier Regiment 2 della divisione Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler prima e dopo gli eccidi di ebrei sul lago Maggiore. 

La presentazione che si tiene Domenica 21 ottobre 2018 presso Villa Giulia a Pallanza  introduce un mirato appronfondimento alla formazione delle Waffen-SS responsabile degli eccidi di ebrei avvenuti sulle sponde delLago Maggiore nell’autunno 1943.

La presentazione, a cura del ricercatore svizzero Raphael Rues, rappresenta la sintesi di una più ampia ricerca, ancora in corso, condotta dall’autore nell’ambito della sua tesi di Dottorato in Storia Moderna presso la University of Leicester, Inghilterra, relativa alle attività delle formazioni tedesche e fasciste nella regione dell’Ossola e del Verbano dal settembre 1943 all'aprile 1945. L’autore può essere contattato a questo link.

 Il cinegiornale nazista “Die Deutsche Wochenschau” con il filmato “Deutsche Truppenverstärkungen in Italien - 'Panzervoran'! (September 1943)” riporta alcuni spezzoni di filmato che riprendono soldati della Leibstandarte a Reggio Emilia. Fonte: https://youtu.be/yjSinZw5i2E – . I tre ufficiali che sfilano a partire dal 1min18sec sono da sinistra verso destra: primo tenente Paul Gühl (1916-1997), maggiore Joachim Peiper (1915- 1976) e primo tenente Werner Wolff (1922-1945). A partire dal 1m31sec - 1m33sec l’ufficiale con la tunica
bianca e berretto è con tutta probabilità il capitano Hans Krüger.




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Wednesday, 26 September 2018

74esimo Anniversario "Repubblica dell'Ossola" - Presentazione del libro SS-Polizei

In occasione del 74° anniversario della "Repubblica dell'Ossola", l'A.N.P.I e la città di Domodossola organizzano la presentazione del libro"SS-Polizei" di Raphael Rues, venerdì 12 ottobre alle 17:30 in Cappella Mellerio, piazza Rovereto Domodossola.
SS-Polizei. Ossola-Lago Maggiore. Rastrellamenti e crimini di guerra edito, in edizione trilingue (italiano, tedesco e inglese), da Insubrica Historica (Minusio, CH). Saggio che rappresenta un primo contributo all’interno di un lavoro più ampio di ricerca sulle formazioni tedesche e fasciste che operarono nell’allora alto novarese tra il settembre 1943 e l’aprile 1945 e che mette in luce aspetti in gran parte non noti. Questo primo lavoro è dedicato ai reparti delle SS-Polizei (reggimenti 12, 15 e 20) che operarono nella zona.

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Thursday, 16 August 2018

Buchveröffentlichung: „SS-Polizei Ossola - Lago Maggiore 1943 - 1945“

Raphael Rues - aus dem Schweizer Kanton Tessin mit Abschluss in Wirtschaftsgeschichte – recherchiert seit vielen Jahren die Einsätze der SS-Polizei in der Region Ossola und Lago Maggiore. 

In seinem im Juni 2018 veröffentlichten Buch beschreibt er den Weg einiger Polizeibataillone und einzelner Ordnungspolizisten in diesen Bataillonen von den blutigen Massenmorden im Osten über Norwegen nach Nord-Italien. Detailgenau berichtet er von einigen Einsätzen dieser Einheiten gegen PartisanInnen und ZivilistInnen in der Region zwischen 1943 und 1945. Beispielsweise über das Massaker in Fondotoce und die Zerschlagung der freien ParisanInnenrepublik im Ossola-Tal. 

Das Buch ist dreisprachig: italienisch, deutsch und englisch. Es enthält seltene Fotos der SS-Polizisten und einzigartige Karten. Susanne Pauli vom Verein „NS-Familiengeschichte – hinterfragen erforschen aufklären e.V.“ hatte die Ehre, das deutsche Vorwort zu schreiben. „SS-Polizei Ossola - Lago Maggiore“ von Raphael Rues (ISBN-13: 978-88-31969-00-0) ist erschienen im Verlag Insubrica Historica und ist online direkt beim Verlag für 7,99 € bestellbar (diese Seite ist englischsprachig). Beim Verlag ist auch eine englische Übersetzung einer Rezension in der italienischen Tageszeitung La Stampa zu lesen.
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Tuesday, 10 July 2018

List of living traditions in Switzerland

With the ratification of the UNESCO Convention on the Preservation of Intangible Cultural Heritage on October 16, 2008, Switzerland started to develop, maintain and periodically update an inventory of its intangible cultural heritage.

The «List of Living Traditions in Switzerland» was created as a part of the implementation of this UNESCO Convention. The list is conducted in cooperation and with the support of the cantonal cultural institutions.

The list is available in the form of a comprehensive documentation of the intangible cultural heritage of Switzerland in word, picture and sound on www.lebendige-traditionen.ch. It currently comprises 165 traditions selected by experts, representatives of the cantonal cultural institutions and the Swiss Commission for UNESCO under the direction of the Federal Office of Culture on the basis of proposals by the cantons.

The «List of Living Traditions in Switzerland» forms the basis and prerequisite for nominations of living traditions for the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage. The nomination process will be based on the tried and tested example of world heritage.

The Federal Office of Culture envisages various measures to publicize the list and keep the traditions alive. An increase in funding for organizations of culturally active lay people and the possibility of supporting events in the field of lay and popular culture have already been realized. The plan is to cooperate with the open-air museum and Kurszentrum Ballenberg on the topic of handicrafts as well as with Switzerland Tourism on the topic of culturally sustainable offer design.

  • Alphorn- und Büchelspiel
  • Alpinismus
  • Blasmusik
  • Decken und Reparieren von Dächern
  • Eidgenössisches Feldschiessen
  • Fondue
  • Grafik-Design und Typografie
  • Historische Milizen
  • Jassen
  • Kastanienanbau, Kastanien und Marroniverkäufer
  • Konsenskultur und direkte Demokratie
  • Martinimarkt und Jahrmarkt zu Ehren von San Provino
  • Prozessionen der Karwoche in Mendrisio
  • Rabadan und Fasnacht im Tessin
  • Schwingen
  • Sternsingen
  • Trockenmauern bauen




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Friday, 6 July 2018

Gordola: artillery fort and barrack of the First World War in Ticino

It is symmetrically positioned in the front line of the defence artillery zone of Magadino Superiore (see the article). As a matter of fact, the Swiss military forces built in the Valle Verzasca a series of corresponding forts and bunkers just before the beginning of the First World War.  The idea behind the defence elements was to block any possible route from the South (Lake Maggiore) leading to Bellinzona and further to the North to the massive of Sankt Gotthard.

It is the most easily accessible work which is a sort of the long fort, coloured in red, appropriately named today La Casa Rossa (in English: the red house), and situated above the village of Gordola. It is an infantry barrack built on the top of the hill, from where opens a spectacular view on the northern part of Lake Maggiore and Gambarogno. The number of canons originally installed is unknown till today. 

From the northern side, there is also an artillery fort built on the rock in 1913 which had the same layout of the one in Magadino Superiore which was conceived for approx. 70 soldiers. Originally, there should have been four canons of 7.5 cm firing toward Magadino, two headlights and at least two emplacements for heavy machine guns. The fort was somehow upgraded in 1941 as there has been since that date situated on the top of the Eastern entrance.

Further to the South, alongside the rail bridge, there are also two bunkers and one trench line.

Sources:
  • Monumenti Militari nel Ticino (Link), pages 16-17 for Gordola artillery fort
  • Schweizer Festungen - Fortifications in Switzerland (Link)
  • Werner Rutschmann, "Befestigtes Tessin: Burgen, Schanzen, Werke, Stände", Verlag NZZ Zürich, p.115-124

Visits:
  • Two objects mentioned in this article, La Casa Rossa and the artillery fort can be easily accessed as it is showed on Google Map below. The artillery fort access is protected by a gate and barbed wire.

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Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Tool: Allied aerial pictures of Insubrica region

We already wrote about online resources related to the aerial photography of the Insubrica region, particularly the resources offered by geo.admin.ch and many other examples found on the website Smapshot. While preparing the article on the bombardment of the Verbania area during 25-26.9.1944 we stumbled on a new resource.

Milan city center on 16 August 1944
@NCAP
The British National Collection of Aerial Photography offers a large database of aerial pictures taken during the Second World War over Europe. To access the site, simply follow the above URL. Once on the website, click for Browse NCAP, and then select the feature Map. You can then use the zoomable map to find images related to the particular region that you look for. 

Click then further on the markers to open the images or view Finding Aids for a selected area. The pictures can be downloaded for personal use or posted on a blog, as it is  the case for Insubrica Historica, as long as the publication is freely available. The pictures can also be bought.

There are surprisingly few pictures related directly to the Insubrica region. There are a couple of pictures for the area surrounding Varese, particularly Cislago, and few others around Chiavenna.

Nevertheless, NCAP remains an interesting online website and resource that gives rare views of an Europe torn apart by the conflict of the Second World War.

Sources:
  • The National Collection of Aerial Photography:https://ncap.org.uk/frame-download/1-1-216-1-227
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Saturday, 30 June 2018

Louis Favre: dynamite and human costs for the first major Gotthard tunnel

Louis Favre (1826-1879) was born on January 28, 1826, in Chêne Thonex (Canton of Geneva). He studied as a carpenter in Neully-sur-Marne (near Paris) and followed courses of architecture and engineering.

The epoch of the first industrialization in the first half of the 19th century  shaped innovative transport means as the railway. In a few years after the first test of the steam locomotive (1804) and the first railway sections (1825-1829), the railway spread throughout the continent. Among the works of the Railway Construction Company, where Favre worked after the graduation, there were the railway lines of Charenton (1846-1851) and Montbart-Dijon (1852-1853).

After passing through the tunnels of Augné (1855), Crédo (1856-1858), Grandvaux and Cornallaz (1858-1860), Creuzot (1863-1865) in 1871, Favre won the tender for the Gotthardbahn tunnel and started to work hardly. The work began in September 1872 and was completed ten years later in January 1882. Favre, overruned by the difficulties of the company, died on July 19, 1879, of a heart attack in Göschenen and could no longer see the opening ceremony of the tunnel.

The Gotthard Railway Tunnel (1872-1882)
The objective in the construction of the railway lines were very large, they were built for commercial or military-strategic purposes at that time. Soon, the question arose of a transalpine railway; already in 1838 people thought about the distance from Chiavenna to Chur.

At first, in 1845, a railway over the Lukmanier, was built, then in 1852, it was finally built over the Gotthard. After the innoguration of the Suez Canal (1869) and the Frejus Tunnel (1871), a project for a railway through the Gotthard and its associated costs were approved by the Confederation as well as by Germany and Italy.

In 1872 construction began. In 1882, after many technical difficulties and financial crises, the work was completed. The opening ceremony of the railway tunnel which had the length of 15 kilometres between Göschenen and Airolo opens up completely new and previously unknown traffic opportunities for Europe.

Visits:
  • The best sightseeing - albeit outside the Insubrica region - can be done from the Göschenen station, which alone has made history. From here you follow the information signs with the "G" and comes to 14 distinctive points of the village Göschenen, which shows the prehistory of the base tunnel. This tour is called "Gotthardtunneldorf Göschenen" and has been in operation since 2016. The tourist office Göschenen gives you more information.
  • On the south side at the station Airolo is another important example. The Monument to the Victims of Labor, created by Vincenzo Vela (Ticinese sculptor 1820-1891) on his own initiative and without payment. At the Gotthard tunnel construction, 177 dead and 403 seriously injured were killed.
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Friday, 22 June 2018

Bombardments on Lake Maggiore: commonly unknown history

A commonly unknown chapter of the final phase of the Second World War in the Insubrica region is related to the bombardment of two hamlets and the sinking of three ships in two days. And all of this happened precisely on Monday, 25 September 1944, and the next day on Tuesday, 26 September, between Luino and Baveno-Intra in Italy.

In order to efficiently understand the dynamics of the events, it is necessary to see the bigger picture of what was happening:

At the beginning of September 1944, the Allied military forces advanced rapidly in the Italian peninsula. The North of Italy (the area adjacent to Lake Maggiore) was occupied by the German military forces and was politically administered by the Neo-Fascist government called "la Repubblica Sociale Italiana" (RSI). An increased aerial activity was observed over Lake Maggiore, precisely in the regions of Ossola and Mottarone. This activity was mostly associated with allied transport airplanes that were used for intelligence missions in order to help the guerrilla movements fighting against Germans and Fascists.

The combat missions took place predominately in the dead of night. The military pilots, who helped the partisans, had Polish nationality. They departed usually from Brindisi, Southern Italy, heading towards the North. Their flying course was over the Adriatic See situated between Italy and the Balkans. Once, they used to reach Trieste, they turned to the west, taking 270' degrees course, over the Italian alps. As a matter of fact, this indirect path allowed them to avoid the German and Fascist anti-aerial artillery. And at the end of September 1944, the allied forces occupied the town of Pisa, so fighter storms began to operate with superior potential despite the limited autonomy of the airplanes like Spitfires.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the results of two bombardment days in September 1944 on Lake Maggiore will be seen in detail below. These days created an unprecedented panic wave among the civil population, especially in Luino, Baveno and Intra-Verbania in Italy. The civil population in Baveno and Intra was terrified the next days after the air strikes, being afraid of all aviation related activities.

Bombardment of Fondotoce on 25 September 1944 at 15:10 in the afternoon:
The fighter storm composed of six Spitfire airplanes arrived from the South, across the lake, in Verbania-Fondotoce. Two aircrafts bombed a house in Fondotoce. To date, it has been impossible to ascertain with confidence which house was touched.

Bombardment of Intra-Alta on 25 September 1944 at 15:10 in the afternoon:
Four airplanes attacked Fondotoce, bombing in this case a large civilian workers' house called "il Cassinone" in the region of Intra-Alta. The bombardment of the house caused the death of 9 civilians (according to other sources 11 civilians were killed) and several civilians were wounded. 

Air strike of Baveno and sinking of the boat "Genova" on 25 September 1944 at 15:30 in the afternoon:
The locality of Baveno was attacked with six military airplanes. The air attack resulted in the sinking of the boat called "Genova" that carried apparently only civilians: 34 passengers were killed. The boat "Genova" was builded in 1912 by Bacigalupo, and it was 43.3 meters long. Like similar ships "Milano" and "Torino", it could transport 500 persons on board. The boat sank near the lakeshore. To date, it is unclear if the wrecks have been still laying on the lake floor, or if they have been scrapped after the war. No official documents have been released concerning this matter. 

Air attack of Luino and sinking of the boat "Torino" on 25 September 1944 at 16:00 in the afternoon:
The aerial intervention on Lake Maggiore on Monday, 25 September, culminated with the sinking of the second boat called "Torino" which went down in the port of Luino.

Air attack of Intra and sinking of the boat "Milano" on 26 September 1944 at 9:30 in the morning:
In the the morning, on Tuesday, 26 September 1944, ignoring the precedent air attacks, the battalion commander, Major Giovanni Ledo (1907 - n.a.), of the Fascist unit "Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana" (GNR) of the stormtroopers "Venezia Giulia", decided to sail from Laveno to Intra. He ordered to load ammunition and other military goods on board of the ship "Milano". The board carried also 40 soldiers and 30 civilians. Once the board was in the middle of the lake sailing to its destination, it was attacked by fighter aircrafts. Officially 12 civilians and 14 soldiers were reported killed, but most likely, there was a greater number of victims. As a matter of fact, historians have been debating on the subject. Major Ledo survived but was heavily wounded and did not return to his post.

Air attack of Intra on 26 September 1944 at 10:00 in the morning:
Following the sinking of the third boat called "Milano", the aircrafts persisted their activity on the lakefront and at the port of Intra, albeit without dreadful consequences. 

Even to date, there are blindspots concerning these events: 
  • It is not clear which aircraft type was involved in the actions. 
  • On 26 September 1944, later in the night, there were two spy missions (Mangosteen and Chrysler) in the regions of Mottarone-Coiromonte, only 5km away from Intra. It is likely that the bombardments created the premises for their successful launch.
  • The precise number of victims, particularly those on the boat "Milano", is still unclear even after more than 70 years. The events related to the sunk boards "Genova" and "Milano" have been still commemorated in Italy, albeit only by the organisations of the right political spectrum.
  • The newspapers of the Canton Ticino like "Popolo e Libertà" and "Libera Stampa" reported with confidence in 1944 that the aircrafts departed from the airfield of Domodossola and were directly involved with the partisan operations (eg. "Popolo e Libertà", edition Friday 29 September 1944, article: "La Divisione Piave libera Cannobio").
The boat "Milano" has been finally found by the team of international divers, among them there was a Dutch professional diver, Pim van der Horst.


The boat was located at the depth about 236 meters underground. The highly complex immersion required the team composed of 40 divers and the helicopter surveillance. It was authenticated by the South African Nuno Gomes (world depth record holder) and included in the "World Guinness Book of Records".  

The wrecks of the board "Torino" were found in 1945 as the ship had sunk in the shallow water. The engine was replaced, and the boat was transformed into a motor vessel; its superstructures were completely rebuilt.  Some necessary uplifting was done in 1969 that gave to the board its current appearance, which made it look similar to the other 50-year-old motorboats, albeit with a slimmer hull. The vessel has been still today in the use on Lake Maggiore.

Visits:
  • The boat Torino has been still sailing today on Lake Maggiore.
  • The victims of the sunk boats "Genova" and "Milano" are still officially remembered in Northern Italy. Every year, there is a ceremony that commemorates the victims.




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Friday, 15 June 2018

Picturesque route in Ticino: Tremola and its engineer

Francesco Meschini was born in Piazzogna (today the municipality of Gambarogno) on 4 August 1762. He was educated at the Academy of Brera in Milan. Becoming a young engineer and architect, he got his first assignment in 1790 in the context of the renovation project related to the church San Nazzaro built in the Neo-classic style in Gambarogno. Later, he led other reconstruction projects such as the parish church of Gordola (1829).

Chiesa San Nazzaro
@Voce del Gambarogno
During the period of the Helvetic Republic, he was a member of the administrative chamber of the Canton of Lugano in 1801-1803. As an inspector of the bridges and roads of Bellinzona and Lugano, he drew up an extensive series of plans for local road connections.

It is worth mentioning the following Meschini's major works: The road of the Leventina situated between Biasca and Airolo (1813-1821), the ramps of the Gotthard pass (1827-1832), and the bridge across the river Maggia in Ascona (1818). Meschini was also a member of:  the Grand Council of Ticino (1813-1830), the Government Council (1815-1827), and the Landammann (in English: chief magistrate) of the Canton Ticino (1825). He died at the age of 78, on 3 December 1840 in Piazzogna.

The Ramps of the scenic alpine road Tremola (1827-1832)
The Canton Ticino was created in 1803 as a fully-fledged state within the Swiss Confederation. The problematic of the necessary infrastructures in the canton appeared soon. The engineers asked themselves to what extend the existing roads could be renovated in order to meet new requirements, but it should be also outlined that the Canton Ticino had no modern road connections at that time.

As a result, the first phase consisted of widening and repairing the old main road that run from Chiasso and Magadino to Airolo. The objective was to allow a transit of wagons drawn by horses. The goal was achieved after more than 15 years of work (1804-1821).

While the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia - Piedmont - decided to support the construction of trade routes across Splügen and San Bernardino in 1818, it was difficult to reach an agreement between the Canton Uri and the Canton Ticino, promoting the modernisation of the old road across the Gotthard pass. Nevertheless, the 17-kilometre-long Tremola project delighted Francesco Meschini who finished a spectacular roadway in five years (1827-1832). This part of the old alpine road across the Gotthard pass has been still a beautiful example of the old time engineering that was already advanced in the first half of the 19th century.

Visit:
  • You can travel across the Gotthard mountain by car which is really breathtaking; the drive across the cobblestoned Tremola runs through breakneck serpentine from Airolo and is considered to be one of the longest and prodigious roads in Switzerland. The road Tremola is largely preserved in its original eco-system, but during 1937-1941, the natural gravel coating was replaced by a granite pavement. As a result, the engineering artwork can be captured and experienced entirely. Unfortunately, various original components were replaced over the time, for example, many of the wegbegrenzenden stone steles were set new in a concrete cordon.

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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The Neuroni family from Lugano: battles against Turks

We saw earlier the mercenaries from the Insubrica region in the service of the Venice Republic, notably we wrote, last May 2018, about Bernardino Checco from Locarno. We wish to go further and to explore more in details mercenary connections between Ticino - Venice. Consequently, there is another family from Ticino that served the Venice Republic.

Neuroni family crest
@Patriziato Riva S.Vitale
The illustrious Neuroni family, from Riva San Vitale, Ticino, has been among the numerous names that drew our attention. This family was very devout, dedicated to the Church as well as to the military service.

According to Oldelli, Neuroni had an ancient family background: it originated from the name Nubiloni and thereafter Nuironi. The family had already established itself  in  Riva San Vitale, near Lugano, before 1290.

In 1400, the family core moved to Lugano, but other members were dispersed throughout various parts of Ticino. It is interesting to introduce the courageous members of this lineage who died on duty for the Venice Republic fighting against Turks. 

Siege of Candia 1648-1669
@Learning History
Captain Antonio Neuroni with his two brothers Fabrizio and Gian Pietro were killed in 1669 defending the walls of Candia. The Siege of Candia (modern Heraklion, Crete) was a military conflict in which the Ottoman forces besieged the city led by the Venetians.

The siege lasted more than 21 years from 1648 to 1669, becoming the second longest siege in the human history after the siege of Ceuta. The Ottoman soldiers were finally victorious despite the unprecedented resistance and struggle of Candia.

Colonel and general commander of the militia of the Venetian Republic, Gian-Maria Neuroni, was, according to Oldelli, in Corfu when Ottomans attacked the city. As a matter of fact, on 8 July 1716, the Ottoman army comprising of 33'000 soldiers began the assault of Corfu, the most important of the Ionian islands. Despite the indecisive naval battle, the Ottoman overland army continued that day its advancement towards the city.

On 19 July, after capturing outlying forts, the Ottomans started  the siege of Corfu. The defence was led by Count Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg, who had in his disposition 8'000 men. The extensive fortifications and the determination of the defenders withstood several assaults. A great weather storm on 9 August 1716 —which the defenders attributed to the divine intervention of Corfu's patron saint called Saint Spyridon—caused numerous casualties among the besiegers, forcing the Ottoman army to brake off the siege, retreating from the outskirts of the city.

The heroic defence of Corfu inspired composer Antonio Vivaldi who wrote the allegorical oratorio called Juditha Triumphans, the Baroque masterpiece. Vivaldi's Venetian Juditha is like a symbol of triumph of the Venetian defence and victory of Corfu in August 1716. 


Lieutenant-Colonel Pietro Antonio Neuroni, the brother of Gian-Maria Neuroni who has been mentioned before in the article, served like his brother the militia of the Venetian Republic. According to Oldelli, he was on duty in Navarre Spain. Few details are known in fact about his service, except that he died in Pamplona.

There had been another "Ticinese" soldier who was most likely active in Pamplona during 1569-1570: his name was Giovan Giacomo Paleari Fratino (1520–1586) known as El Fratin  (in English: The Little Friar).  Paleari Fratino was from Morcote, situated near Lugano.

He was a military engineer who served the Spanish Emperor, Charles V, and then, to his son Philip II of Spain. He is known for having designed the first Martello tower as well as many other fortifications. IH will necessarily write about Paleari Fratino because Dr. Marino Vigano, our friend and the honoured history researcher, has published Paleari's biography.

Sources:
  • Oldelli, Dizionario storico-ragionato degli uomini illustri del canton ticino, Veladini Lugano, 1807 pages 121-122
  • G. Martinola, La Compagnia Neuroni, Rivista militare della Svizzera italiana, Band 22, 1950
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Thursday, 7 June 2018

Smapshot: impressive research tool for aerial photography

IH continues to support the discovery quest of the Insubrica region heritage. We would like to introduce to our readers another new tool, following our article on geo.admin.ch.  It is like a "participative time machine" which can help volunteers to geolocate historical images of Switzerland, taken in the time when GPS and other aviation aids did not exist. This article will also be about Walter Mittelholzer who was a fervent aviator. Besides, he was the co-founder of the famous airplane company Swissair. As we will see, he was an avid aerial photographer and had a penchant for the Middle East, particularly Persia, and for African cities beginning from Cairo to Casablanca.

Mittelholzer over Locarno in 1919
@Smapshot
The website https://smapshot.heig-vd.ch/ is a joint project done by la Haute Ecole d'Ingéniere et de Gestion du Canton Vaud, Hasler Foundation, ETH and Migros Shtiftung. 

You have to access the website, choose the given collection for eg. Walter Mittelholzer and start to browse. It seems that the graphical plugins best work with Microsoft than Apple even if all the pictures are still accessible with a Mac Book Pro.

We appreciate this application as it allowed IH to determine with accuracy when Walter Mittelholzer (1894-1937) flew above the Insubrica region and specifically above Locarno. 

As a matter of fact, Mittelholzer was a notable Swiss aviation pioneer. Most likely, he was the person who contributed most to aviation in Switzerland; if the company Swissair came into being, it was all thanks to Mittelholzer. He was a pilot, photographer, travelling writer, and also the one who became the first aviation entrepreneur. Mittelholzer supported his activities by selling photographs and receiving donations from patrons. 

Mittelholzer picture of Ascona in 1929
@Smapshot
He created a great collection of pictures, combined together from his flights that was more than 9`000 copies in black and white. His pictures were taken at different altitudes, even the low ones. According to Smapshot, a rough distribution for the Insubrica region pictures done by  Mittelholzer's could be the following: 43 pictures in Valle Leventina, 31 around Bellinzona, 60 in the region of Locarno and 112 in the region of Lugano. 

For obvious reasons, as Mittelholzer was also an official Swiss Air Force pilot, he could not do pictures of the Italian part of the Insubrica region. It was not uncommon to have Mittelholzer flying around 300m to snap a picture of the beneath landscape. 

Mittelholzer flew above the Insubrica region already in 1919, taking pictures of Locarno and Lugano. In 1924-1925, he did a historic flight from Zurich to Persia which was from Zürichhorn to Pisa Marittima. 

Mittelholzer returned to the Insubrica region in 1929, at the end of April. He continued to fly over the Canton Ticino till 1933. He used essentially a Swiss aircraft Häfeli DH 3M, taking a wealth of pictures according to the Smapshot website. He died in 1937 in the climbing accident, being a member of the expedition in the Hochschwab massif in Styria, Austria.

Visit
  • Flieger Museum Dübendorf is well worth a visit if you want to admire the last Häfeli DH 3M in display. The museum itself is very interesting and worth a visit.
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Monday, 4 June 2018

Long gone castle in Ascona: San Michele

The castle of San Michele was located in the south-west of the town centre of Ascona, on a steep rocky promontory. The castle possessed a relevant extent of a rectangular shape with nine floors. The parameters of the caste were approximately the following: 130m by 50m which is about 6'500 m2. But all just part of the assumption! The true dimensions of the castle have been gone with the wind of the centuries. At present, at this historic place, private homes and the Church of Ascona have been built. The old church still has some parts of the fundaments based on the former walls of the castle. Sadly, for many tourists and history enthusiasts, there is almost nothing left to see today from the original castle of Ascona.

Sunset in Ascona. On the left: Brissago Islands. On the right: former castle and church San Michele
@Insubrica Historica

Nevertheless, the historians agreed that the castle of Ascona existed. As a matter of fact, it was mentioned for the first time in 1189. It belonged to the Duni family. The castle had been offered by the Bishop of Como, Anselmo Raimondi, to Pietro Duni who was a notable military commander. To date, it is not possible to say with confidence wether the castle was involved in the harsh war between the Guelfs and Ghibellines, or wether it was attacked by the Swiss Confederate troops around 1500. But most likely, it was simply abandoned at the time when the Duni's lineage stopped. The last member of the Duni clan was Giovanni Pietro Duni who died in 1690 and was buried at the Church of Saints Fabiano and Sebastiano in Ascona. Beginning from that year, the Duni family was extinguished.

To date, the primary architectural structures of the castle can been observed in the underground parts of the San Michele Church, which are situated in the Eastern part of the church. 

Like many for other castles in Ticino (for example, the one of Tegna on which we have already written), it seems that the Castle of San Michele could be founded before the Middle Ages. In fact, it could have rather a strategic position being situated at the entrance of a picturesque town of Ascona, above the lake, on steep slopes. This suggests that the castle could be settled and be used from the military point of view already from the Neolithic times (around approx. 3300 B. C). 

Many studies held by Johann Rudolf Rahn 1890, Giorgio Simona 1914, Emilio Clemente 1974 were done on this castle. They attempted to investigate and determine the size of the castle. The most pertinent study was done by Max Alioth in 1949. He used sketches and paints of the past in order to suggest a visual reconstruction of the castle. Max Alioth (1883-1968) was originally from Basle but lived in St. Moritz, Switzerland, being well known for his research skills. Alioth's drawings of 1949 showed a fairly big castle that was as large as the castle Montebello in Bellinzona. 

Castle San Michele according Max Alioth (1949)
@S. Lehman (2004)

It is interesting to note that the Castle of San Michele was one of the four medieval settlements of the town of Ascona. Let us name them all: San Michele,  San Materno, Griglioni and Carcano. 

Sources:
  • S. Lehman, Ascona TI, Castello di San Michele : Quellen, Archäologie, Baubeschreibung, Mittelalter : Zeitschrift des Schweizerischen Burgenvereins, Band 9, 2004, pages 106-120
  • Gian-Alfonso Oldelli, Dizionario storico-ragionato degli uomini illustri del Canton Ticino, Francesco Veladini e Comp., 1807, page 18
Visit:
  • The promontory of San Michele is accessible only on foot in the town of Ascona. The church of San Michele (rarely open) was conceived by Giovanni Battista Serodine and erected in the mid-17th century. We should say that the church was builded on the foundations of one of the corner towers of the ancient castle.
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Friday, 1 June 2018

First engineer of Gotthard: Pietro Morettini

Pietro Morettini was born in 1660 in Camanoglio, near Cerentino, in the Canton Ticino. Cerentino is still a tiny hamlet situated in the remote Valley of Rovana which is a part of the Valley Maggia, in the North-Eastern part of the Canton Ticino.

Camanoglio near Cerentino, birthplace of Pietro Morettini
@picssr.com

Morettini's biography can be divided into five major periods:
  1. The apprenticeship with Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban who was one of the greatest French military engineers; his first military works were done in Besançon (1677-1687) and Landau (1688-1691) when he served, among other engineers, Louis XIV of France.
  2. Building of fortresses in Namur (1692-1696), in Bergen of Zoom, Grave, Njmegen and Steenbergen (1697-1702), when he worked for William III of Orange.
  3. His waterworks, bridges and roads done in the regions of Locarno, Bellinzona, Lugano and Gotthard (1703-08);
  4. Building of fortresses, military buildings and waterworks in the Catholic cantons of the Swiss Confederation (1708-1717) in Freiburg, Solothurn, Rapperswil, Bremgarten, Baden, Lucerne (1708-1914) as well as the Urnerloch (see below);
  5. Numerous roads constructed in the Republic of Genoa and Corsica, especially in Savona, La Spezia, Novi Ligure, Gavi, Sestri, Bonifacio, Ajaccio, and Calvi (1717-1736) (1717-1737).
Coming back in his home for a short vacation, he died at the age of 77 on 15 March 1737, in Locarno.

The "Urnerloch", built in 1707-1708, probably the first alpine tunnel 


Lithography portraying the
Twärrenbrücke
@wikipedia
In the summer of 1707, when the old bridge called Twärrenbrücke was destroyed, a loud, terrible sound resonated over the mountains like the "anger of the water".

The old bridge was a transition way made of wood, which was freely suspended over the river on the slippery mounting wall. The idea was to create a direct path through the mounting from the direction of the Devil's Bridge, built in 1595, connecting the regions of Andermatt and Urserental.

The passage, called via Gotthard, had to become a link point between the Mediterranean and the Central-Nordic continent that was interrupted with great economic damages for the valley, which lived exclusively from the mule service and the customs duty.

Urnerloch
@wikipedia
With this new contract, signed on 20 September 1707, the Ursern corporation gave to Pietro Morettini, the military engineer from Insubrica region, the order to open the "Urnerloch".

A tunnel was drilled through the projecting rock and was inaugurated on 15 August 1708. The Urnerloch was the first Alpine tunnel and one of the oldest on the European continent.



Visit
  • Today, the original structure of the "Urnerloch" is characterized by the step-by-step developed modern street and in its original dimension and forms are no longer perceptible. Starting from the parking space of the restaurant Teufelsbrücke, you can approach the Urnerloch on foot.
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Monday, 28 May 2018

Via delle Vose: great stroll in Onsernone, Ticino

We have written about the hamlet of Loco, situated in the Valley Onsernone, when we spoke about astronaut Walter Schira whose family roots were from there. Today, we would like to describe once again this beautiful valley in order to introduce one of the most wonderful and scenic walks that exist in the Insubrica region.
  
The discovery journey will plunge you into a peasant hard life which has been associated with an ancient mule-track road since the Middle-Ages, called in Ticino the "Via delle Vose". The aim for local peasants was to reach the valley floor, notably the  market and the harbour of the town of Locarno. This long way was indeed a principal communication road between the Locarnese region and the Valley Onsernone in the ancient times.

Via delle Vose
@map.geo.admin.ch
The "Via delle Vose" is an indexed road within the Swiss Federal Inventory of Historical traffic routes. It is about 6.5 km long unveiling a remarkable heritage of the region to tourists who are eager to experience the surroundings on foot. 

IH suggests to reach the village of Loco (686 masl) in Onsernone as the starting point. It is possible with a postal coach service from Locarno that has hourly departures, stopping right at the beginning of the "Via delle Vose", which is situated in the North of the village Loco. While being in Loco, it is wise to pay a visit to a small local museum called Museo Onsernonese with its ethnographic, historical and artistic collection related to the valley. 

The initial part of the trek is fairly steep, falling sharply and bringing you to the bottom of the Isorno valley (406 masl) in which the river Isorno flows.  

The original bridge was completely destroyed by the floods of 1978. It has been replaced in 2016 by a new construction conceived by a well-reputed bridge architect, Ing. Prof. Christian Menn (1927-). It has recreated the small bridge yet with a great aesthetic appeal that integrates itself perfectly in the wild surroundings of this remote part of the road.

Christian Menn bridge on Isorno river
@csc-sa.ch
Christian Menn is known for having designed bridges all over the world; notably, just to mention few works: the Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge in Boston, Sunniberg Bridge near Klosters/Graubünden and many other bridges in Switzerland and abroad.

After having left the brigde, you ascend and cross the small hamlets of Niva and Vosa, walking alongside traditional dry-stone walled terraces and three beautiful chapels that create an ensemble of an old Via Crucis, that are pure testimonials showing to us how this stroll was difficult as a journey in the past. 

In Niva, above the Isorno river, you can also admire a wine-press from the sixteenth century used to press the grapes. The two hamlets represents also an unique setting for Canton Ticino, since in the late Middle-Age, belonged politically to Losone situated next to Locarno.The hamlets were thus used as a summer pasture land for the peasants of Losone.

Vosa di Dentro
@azione.ch
After Vosa, the path continues alongside of the valley descending toward the hamlet of Pila (590 masl) another beautiful mountain village. You will be surprised by the old school situated at the entrance of the village coming from Loco. Pila deserves a stop because it's a traditional hamlet of Ticino where the houses are made of ancient stones, standing on a sunny green hill with a pretty view over the town of Intragna, the gateway to Centovalli.

From Pila, the road descends to Intragna (339 masl). Your long walk can end in Intragna as the village is rich in hidden treasures, for example, the renowned San Gottardo church bell tower which is 65m height also the tallest tower in the Canton Ticino.

Visits:
  • Via delle Vose is a nice track about 6.5 km. From Locarno main train station, you will need to have at least 4 hours of walk, and it can be a little more if you use the public transportation to Loco and from Intragna. 


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Thursday, 24 May 2018

Andrea Brilli: Ticino officer for the Russian Empire

The "Dizionario storico-ragionato degli uomini illustri del Canton Ticino", written by Gian Alfonso Oldelli, is a sort of encyclopedia of 1807 where Andrea Brilli is mentioned. It should be noted that all famous people ("uomini illustri") mentioned in this encyclopedia were indeed, according to the author, exclusively men. 

The original note on Andrea Brilli
@Gian Alfonso Oldelli, 1807
A quick search in the Internet concerning Andrea Brilli didn't give much information on his personality, but IH has managed to find out that he served for the Russian Zarist Empire, particularly under Peter the Great and Empress Anna Ioanovna. 

We decided to contact the Russlandschweizer-Archiv RSA (Russian-Swiss Archive) in Zürich in order to learn what was known about Andrea Brilli. Indeed, the archive had some information on him, albeit there were only few pages of a correspondence that dated to 1983 between Professor Carsten Goehrke and Mr. Luigi F.C. Naef of Lugano interested in Andrea Brilli. 

For sure, Andrea Brilli was born in Cureglia near Lugano on 12 September 1682. His father was Carlo Simone Brilli married to Anna Maria Soroli; they both were from Cureglia. Andrea's parents married in Cureglia on 24 January 1666. According to the Russian Biographic Dictionary of 1908, Andrea Brilli (in Russian: Andrej Brill or Andrej de Brill or in some sources even Andrej Brilly) had a military background gained in France, Sweden and Prussia. He was in Berlin in 1701 where he met the Russian Ambassador, Izmajlov. 

Brilli accepted his proposition to serve for the Zarist Empire and went to Moscow where he had to pass a professional exam on his military skills before entering the service. The exam was delivered by a French officer named Lambert. Brilli passed the examen successfully so that he was promoted to the rank of captain in the Engineering Corp. Brilli's previous military rank remains unknown, but most likely, he was ranking officer while serving the French, Swedish and Prussian armies.

Brilli managed to accomplish a brilliant military career in the Zarist Russia. In 1723, he was promoted to the rank of colonel. At the age of 43, he became a general in 1725. In 1731, he was then assigned to Eastern Ukraine where he was tasked to reorganise the militia of Malorossia.

The term Malorossia is formed originated from two Russian words: Malinki and Russia, meaning in English Little Russia. This term traced in fact its origin back to the medieval times and was widely used of that time as the name for a geographic territory that was much similar to our Insubrica region, meaning a vast territory but not referring particular to a single place. From the middle of the seventeenth century, the word Ukraine (in Russian: Ukrayina)  was used sporadically, until it was reintroduced in the nineteenth century by the conscious effort of several writers who wanted to awake the Ukrainian national conscience. It was not until the twentieth century when the term "Ukraine" started to prevail substituting completely the term "Little Russia" that fell out of use.

Surrender of Azov in 1736
@Wikipedia
During the period of 1736-1739, Brilli participated in several military campaigns against the Turks and Tatars, notably in the Russian armies of Count Burkhard Christoph von Münnich (1683 – 1767) and Count Peter von Lacy (aka Pyotr Petrovich Lacy (1678 – 1751). 

In 1736, Brilli fought in the Don Army which took the key citadel of Azov and, next year, crossed the Syvash marshes into Crimea, where Russians were forced to fight against 15'000 men during two battles on 12 and 14 June. In 1738, Brilli won Crimea taking the fortress of Çufut Qale near the Khan's capital, Bakhchisaray, defeating definitely (it would be more correct to write exterminating) the Tatars hordes out of Crimea.

Brilli left Crimea for Latvia, as he was apparently tasked to become a Governor of the city of Riga. The Swiss sources reported on this fact, however there has been no other trace that Brilli was ever a Governor of Riga. For sure, he was promoted in 1741 to a Lieutenant-General in Riga. 

On 30 August 1744, he was decorated with the Order of St. Alexander Nevskij; at that time, it was  one of the greatest military medals in the Russian Zarist Empire. The medal was a direct consequence of Brilli's role with the army commanded by General von Lacy during the Russo-Swedish War of 1741-1743. Brilli took part in the military attack of the Swedish city Villmanstrand (at present, Lappeenranta in Finland).

It is likely that Andrea Brilli stayed in Riga at least till 1751. On this date, the Münchner Zeitung wrote that Brilli together with Scottish General Maier Broune (most likely, General Browne) and German General Friderici were seeking to leave the Russian Zarist Empire other assignments.

In 1751, Andrea Brilli had to be 69 years old. But, the sources vary. For example, according to the Russian Biographic Dictionary of 1908, Andrea Brilli died already in 1746 or 1747. But it is somehow most likely that Andrea Brilli died later in 1762. This is possible because he was cited by Münchner Zeitung in 1762, and it makes us to believe that plausibly, he lived till 1762. It is not known whether Andrea Brilli was married or had children.

Sources:
  • Gian Alfonso Oldelli, "Dizionario storico-ragionato degli uomini illustri del Canton Ticino" 1807
  • For more information about Andrea Brilli serving for von Lacy, consult: "Contemporary Memoirs of Russia" written in 1856 by Cristof Hermann Manstein


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Saturday, 19 May 2018

Typical Swiss business: Pellegrini's mercenary career for the French and Dutch Empires

One of the less described chapters related to the military history of the Insubrica region is the mercenary service of Ticino people carried out in behalf of other military powers. IH has already written about Generals Mainoni, Remonda and soon will about Andrea Brilli an officer in Russian service, but there are more personalities who are interesting to commemorate.

For example, Bernardo Pellegrini (1776-?) born on 18 August 1776 in Ponte Tresa, son of Francesco and Maddalena Scolari. He spent most of his life in the military, leading Napoleon and Dutch troops.

At the age of 21, he became a Lieutenant in the "Città di Lugano" (in English: city of Lugano).  Following examples of other Ticino natives, Bernardo was soon enrolled as a Lieutenant in the French Napoleon Army. Pellegrini fought in First Swiss Regiment which was created by merging together survivors of thirty three Swiss battalions of the old Confederacy. He spent 14 years in the military service under Napoleon, fighting in the campaigns of Danube and Russia, during 1803-1806 in Corsica, being later enrolled in the "Armata d'Italia". 

When Napoleon's army was defeated after the Russian campaign of 1812, Pellegrini returned in Metz in 1813 together with Captain Giovanni Maria Magatti, born also in Lugano, who had distinguished himself during the Russian campaign at the battle of Berezina. Consequently, Magatti was awarded in 1815 with the Swiss medal  of "Treue und Ehre" (in English: Honour and Fidelity).

As for Bernardo Pellegrini, he briefly joined the Swiss military service where he became on 2 June 1815 Lieutenant-Colonel of the "Ticinesi militia". He was used to a nomadic military life outside his homeland region and didn't stay quietly for a long time in Ticino as on 15 October 1815, he joined the Dutch military service in the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, becoming a commander of Swiss Regiment 32 under General Auf der Mauer. Pellegrini hired for his unit several servicemen from Ticino, particularly natives from Ponte Tresa, Magliaso and Lugano.

The Wien Congress of 1815 reshaped the frontiers of Europe with a new emerging Dutch state that needed an experienced army. Renewing the tradition related to the engagement of Swiss natives in the military service for the Dutch Empire (see also our future article on military architect Pietro Morettini), King Wilhelm VI started in 1814 to recruit extensively Swiss natives, creating four Swiss Regiments for a total of approx. 10'000 men. For example, Fourth Regiment was composed of natives coming from the Roman-Catholic Swiss Cantons, Central Switzerland and Ticino.

The Swiss regiment was initially stationed in the garrison of Antwerp, later it was moved to a number of cities in the Netherlands, most likely in Louvain (Leuven), Mechlin (Mechelen), Bergen op Zoom, ’s-Hertogenbosch, Gorinchem, Dordrecht, Gouda, Brill (Brielle) and Hellevoetsluis. To be noted that the regiment never executed its military service abroad.

Swiss Regiment uniform in the Dutch Army
@wagenbuur.nl
As a matter of fact, enrolling volunteers on mercenary service was a lucrative business of that time, and frauds were inevitably committed which affected particularly Fourth Regiment. The scam was related to an agreement called "Militärkapitulation", signed by several Swiss Cantons in order to provide human resources for the Dutch Empire. The terms of the agreement stipulated to select servicemen only of the Swiss nationality, but the Canton Ticino started also to sign up Italians from Insubrica.

Dutches were furious and reacted harshly between 1819 and 1821 checking scrupulously every single serviceman's origin. Consequently, the investigation resulted in 1821 in the dismissal of Commander Ludwig Auf der Maur (1779-1836) as well as in purging entirely Swiss Regiment 32. Most likely, the issue related to the abuse of the agreement was not only limited to the servicemen from Ticino as 15-25% of the overall military forces were dismissed from the Dutch service.  

Swiss Regiment uniform during the Dutch service
@Wikipedia
Bernardo Pellegrini was affected by the Dutch investigation and was forced to leave the Dutch service on 1 September 1821. The true reasons for his dismissal are unknown, but he was replaced by Colonel Göldlin von Tiefenau, a native from Lucerne. The Swiss engagement with the Dutch army ended in 1828 merely for financial reasons as keeping mercenary regiments became too costly for the Dutch Kingdom.  The last Swiss remaining unit was merged finally with the National Dutch Army.

The whereabouts of Bernardo Pellegrini after his dismissal from the Dutch service are unknown. Most likely he returned to the Canton Ticino to his native hamlet of Ponte Tresa.

Sources:
  • G. Beretta, "Ticinesi al servizio mercenario dell'Olanda", Rivista militare della Svizzera italiana, 28 - 1956, pages 308-318
  • G. Beretta, " I Ticinesi nella campagna di Russia 1812", Istituto Editoriale Ticinese, Bellinzona 1937
  • Wagenbuur Website: http://www.wagenbuur.nl/pozzi/service.htm


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