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
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
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
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.

  • 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
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.

  • 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
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
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.

  • 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:

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Thursday, 17 May 2018

SS-Police crimes in Ossola and Lake Maggiore: unpublished facts

Our presentation on Saturday 12 May 2018, at Spalavera Bookshop in Pallanza, attracted interest of a major regional Italian newspaper. La Stampa Verbania Cusio Ossola presented in its Tuesday edition a long article in Italian that IH has translated in English for our readers.  

La Stampa, Italy

The name of the Nazi soldier who killed captain Beltrami, the hero of the Italian Resistance in the region of Ossola, has been discovered after 70 years. Unpublished facts, based on archive materials related to the SS-Police operating on Lake Maggiore, have become public.
by Teresio Valsesia - Edition 15 May 2018, Verbania

Unlike other reprisals committed by Germans during the Italian Resistance, those perpetrated in the regions of Verbania and Ossola have never been prosecuted by the Italian magistrate. In fact, an investigation was opened in 1966, but the Military Court of Torino classified it due to the impossibility to ascertain the precise identity of the responsible people. It seems incredible, but no one (investigators, historians or Italian researchers) has ever thought about viewing the German archives.

Presentation on 12.5.18 in Pallanza
@Insubrica Historica
Instead, Raphael Rues (Swiss national from Ticino, a passionate researcher), has rigorously analysed the primary sources related to the war operations of the SS-Police, the German military body, that conducted activities against the partisans in the regions of Ossola and Lake Maggiore from the end of 1943 till the spring of 1945. 

The names of all German officers emerged from his research, being strictly codified in the documents and preserved not only in Germany but also in Switzerland and in England.

So, after more than twenty years of work, he must be credited for having reconstructed meticulously the events that have remained unpublished until now. In short, it is a real story, not just news.

One of his contributions has been included in the latest issue of "Verbanus"; the magazine has been directed by Vittorio Grassi, and his presentation was reported by Leonardo Parachini in the Spalavera bookshop in Pallanza. The work of Raphael Rues will be also presented as a book, published in Italian, German and English, that will be introduced on 21 June 2018 at the Casa della Resistenza in Fondotoce.

SS-Police Presentation 12.5.18
@Insubrica Historica
The documents have confirmed that battalions of the SS-Police intervened in the autumn of 1943 trying to cease the insurrection of Villadossola. In February 1944, Captain Ernst Simon left Varallo for Omegna with the task to eliminate the formation of Filippo Maria Beltrami. 

The unpublished fact is that the heroic «captain» of the Resistance was killed by soldier Heino Almstädt from Hamburg. Later, Simon left the area to move to Verona organising the convoys that brought Jews to the extermination camps.

Moreover - Rues pointed out - these battalions were itinerant across Europe and Italy; they arrived directly from Norway, but the bloodiest massacres took place in Eastern Europe where the victims were much more numerous than those of the regions of Verbania, Cusio and Ossola: the relationship was 1,500 against 1. 

As for the figures of the SS battalions and losses, the numbers have always been overestimated. For example, it was thought over 200 dead partisans and Germans during the roundup in the Val Grande; in reality, a dozen of casualties could be proved, especially in Miazzina and in the bloody battle in the area of Laurasca.

The terrible raid of the Val Grande was directed by two colonels of the SS-Police: Ludwig Buch and Ernst Weiss. The latter celebrated his 50 years birthday on 20 June 1944 in the Villa Caramora, where at the same time 43 partisans where executed massively in nearby Fondotoce. 

As for Colonel Buch, it has been claimed that he committed a suicide in Novara on 28 April 1945, when the Nazi-Fascist troops surrendered. In reality, Buch died in his bed after the war, as did Weiss who died in 1964 in West Germany, waiting for his trial for the crimes committed against Jews. Other SS officers, who operated in the region, were hired in the post-war period as police officers in Germany.

After the re-occupation of Ossola, in October 1944, the SS-Police stopped once in Stresa as it appeared in one of the unpublished photos retrieved by Raphael Rues. They went then to Lake Garda where they were honoured by Benito Mussolini. The epilogue of the war led to the abandonment of the Nazi-Fascist garrisons in the region of Ossola and Lake Maggiore, when the troops merged with the column commanded by captain Ludwig Stamm: there were about 300 men, attacked constantly by the partisans of Vergante.

Stamm, like several other German officers, reappeared after the war in Baveno, in the same hotel that Germans had occupied during the war. It was in 1954, and he was immediately recognised by the owner who did not report him to the authorities. The following morning, he resumed his journey to Florence. Stamm died in his bed in Argentina few years later.

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Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Soviet Maps of Switzerland: case of Locarno

The most striking feature of Soviet General Military Staff maps for a Western European person is that all places and rivers are written in Cyrillic letters. It isn't surprising that familiar appellations look suddenly so different on Soviet maps. Many designations, especially those related to Swiss German locations, were transliterated phonetically in Russian, allowing thus an easy pronunciation to a Russian native speaker.
Soviet map of Zurich in 1952, with interesting colour sets
 As a matter of fact, reading and understanding a Soviet map requires some exercise, and it becomes much easier if you have some basic padronance of the cyrillic alphabet.

1:500'000 Soviet map related to Locarno, Insubrica region
@Insubrica Historica
For example, Ascona was written on Soviet maps as "ACKOHA". There was an exceptional specification of topographic symbols related to industrial and military assets. Bridges had also a very specific mention indicating which specific military tank could pass over a bridge.

Available Soviet maps for Ticino
@Insubrica Historica
IH has recently acquired two Soviet maps edited by "Voenno-topograficheskoe upravlenie General'nogo shtaba" (in English: General Military Staff); both maps are in Gauss Kruger Projection.

The first map is on a 1:500'000 scale with the reference L32-A, entitled in Cyrillic Bern. There are five maps which cover partially Switzerland, thus the most central is L32-A which however doesn't show the eastern part of Switzerland.

The contours on the map are placed at 50 meters intervals. A large amount of details can be observed related to roads, railways (even the one going in the Valle Maggia which had been dismantled  since 1920 canals, lakes, airports, airfields and etc. Transcriptions of the towns are written in different sizes related to the amount of respective inhabitants. 

The second set of maps in our possession is on a 1:50'000 scale map, L-32-66-4 Lugano and L-32-66-2 Locarno, the size of 1:1, with the dimensions 42 x 45 cm. There are at least 157 maps on a 1:50'000 scale covering Switzerland and bordering regions, all indexed under series L-32.

It is hard to discern which kind of sources the Soviets used in drawing these maps. The map "Bern" on a 1:500'000 scale is dated 1976, and despite this fact, it had already some major flaws that would not have been discovered with a simple field inspection or a plagiarism :( of a Swiss made map

The final results leave some room for doubts whether Soviets were ready to a potential invasion of Switzerland using these maps. In any case, the Soviet maps are a piece of history of the world torn apart by the Cold War, and for IH, they still contribute to our beautiful collection of historical maps.

  • Loadmap gives you the easiest possibility to access online to Soviet maps about Switzerland in scale 1:500'000. It is the most user-friendly among various download sites, since it shows the available maps overlaid on Google Maps. It makes it easy to identify maps you could possibly need. The lowest accessible scale for Switzerland is 1:500'000 (1cm to 5 km)

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Friday, 11 May 2018

SS-Obergruppenführer Conti: native of Lugano and fierce opponent of Crystal Meth drug in the Third Reich

IH learned about Leonardo Conti (1900-1945) while reading the monumental work of Robert Jay Lifton  called "The Nazi Doctors", an essential study related to human genocide in the field of jewish survivors and doctor perpetrators. 

Leonardi Conti born in Lugano, Switzerland
@Eco di Locarno
The book was written by Lifton, and at first sight, it was not that easy to grasp, going beyond a simple description of the facts, analysing the psychological component of the nazi doctors involved in the genocide. A sort of "anatomy of human destructiveness", if we paraphrase a famous title used in Erich Fromm's book.

What is interesting about Leonardo Conti is that he was from the Insubria region, being born in Lugano, more precisely in Castello Monteggio, on 24 August 1900, as Leonardo Ambrogio Giorgio Giovanni Conti. Our attentive reader will remember another personality from Lugano Joseph Mainoni  who was a general under Napoleon. If we look for similarities between two men, it is possible to confirm that Leonardo Conti was by far more extreme "butcher" than Mainoni.

Conti's mother Anna born Pauli (according to some sources her first name was Nanna)  - later a convinced Nazi party member - divorced quickly moving back to Germany in 1903, together with her second son, Silvio Carlo Paolo Clement Conti (1893-1938). Conti grew up in South Berlin around Schönenfeld, keeping the name of his father Silvio, a post service director, working in Lugano, who remarried having four children. Most likely, Leonardo Conti had never learned Italian or the dialect of the Insubrica region, and he had no contact during and after the war with his father in Lugano.

Leonardo Conti went to school in Berlin, studied at the University in Berlin and Erlangen, north of Nuremberg. Already in early years and as a student, he was involved in extremists actions, participating in few Freikorps. In 1925, Conti married a noble lady, Elfriede Freiin von Meerscheidt-Hullessem (1902-2002) who gave birth to a son and two daughters. 

Conti with Italian Fascist Dott. Giovanni
General Director of Public
Health  in 
1941 in Berlin @Gettyimages
Leonardo Conti became in 1944 an "SS-Obergruppenführer" (equivalent to a lieutenant general - three-star general), inferior only to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945). Conti had been already from 1939 "Reichsgesundheitsführer" (in English: Reich Health Leader) and State Secretary in the Interior Ministry. Despite being promoted to a SS-Obergruppenführer, his influence diminished considerably in 1944, and he resigned from his position as a "Reichsgesundheitsführer" on 16 August 1944.

According to Lifton, despite being a technocrat, Conti was among few Nazi leaders who pushed extensively forward forced sterilisation programs and involuntary euthanasia. Unfortunately, his huge involvement with Jewish genocide was not put on trial because he hanged himself on 6 October 1945 before the Nuremberg trail.

IH has decided to write about Leonardo Conti, not only because he was from the Insubrica region but because of his standpoint on drugs in the Third Reich. What follows below has a direct connection to the content of a German book, appeared in 2015 and entitled: "Der Totale Rausch - Drogen im Dritten Reich".  The book is written by Norman Ohler putting emphasis on the consumption of drugs during the Nazi regime. 

As a matter of fact, Ohler's book brings up a different aspect of Conti's personality. It's interesting to note how Conti appears to be, from the one side, a fiercest opponent of the drug use in the Third Reich (specifically of Pervitin) and, from the other side, an active ideological inspirer of a massive extermination of Jews and war prisoneers.

During the early stages of Second World War in Germany, methamphetamine was sold in a tablet form under the brand Pervitin, produced by the Berlin-based Temmler pharmaceutical company. Pervitin was used extensively by all branches of the combined Wehrmacht armed forces and was popular in particular with Luftwaffe pilots for its performance-enhancing stimulant effects inducing extended wakefulness.

Ohler doesn't sustain and document too much his argument, but he makes reference to Pervitin as being the additive that most allowed German army to lead famous "Blitz-krieg" as a rapid offensive in 1940 against France. 

Conti was successful as in 1941 he was promoted to a "Reichsmeldestelle für Suchtgiftbekämpfung" responsible to register all German soldiers being drug-addicted but also to prevent any addiction, not only related to drugs. Always according to Ohler, the Nazi regime changed radically their permissive approach on drug consumption in 1943, even if being on the verge of losing the conflict with Soviet Russia.

By the end of the war, there were at least twenty-four "Meldestelle" (Contact Points), all distributed throughout the Third Reich, engaged in controlling the abuse of drug substances. The Third Reich was somehow consequent in the fight against drugs, as Pervitin (which, in fact, was a predecessor of Crystal Meth) became indeed, by the end of the war, "Mangelware" (meaning in English: scarce commodity).

  • F. Maggi, "Un medico ticinese alla corte di Hitler", Armando Dadò Editore, Locarno, 1999
  • N. Ohler, "Der Totale Rausch - Drogen im Dritten Reich", Kiepenhauer&Witsch, Köln, 2015
  • R.J. Lifton, "The Nazi Doctors", Basic Books, News York 1986
  • Aldo Battaglia, Eco di Locarno, "La brutalità di un ticinese alla corte di Adolf Hitler", 12.11.1988, special edition Saturday.
  • Dr. Conti der Schweizer Nazi,

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Tuesday, 8 May 2018 smart tool for historical research

IH would like to present a tool that is widely used in order to sustain our own research and writing efforts. This tool is a web platform: This website is the official GIS information platform of the Swiss Confederation, and it is one of the most awarded and visited websites in Switzerland.

Fully accessible, it allows the user to search  immediately for a large amount of specific charts, for example, in 2018 there are at least 480 different maps, related to Switzerland. In addition, there are  historical maps, aerial photographs, field names, noise maps, travel times, waterdams, tick-epidemic areas, and much more content is still available online. 

For the sake of clarity, we won't reproduce all charts, but we will focus on maps which have a direct connection with history. You will be amazed by the kind of treasures hidden in this website. What follows bellow is just three examples of what a person can research. Any use of the content should be done according to the terms of use.

Aerial pictures by
@Insubrica Historica
Aerial photographs maps: mostly b/w pictures dating from the Second World War and even before.

For border regions, such as the Insubrica region, the pictures are also available for the Italian territory (or for all bordering countries and regions).

The number next to the pin is the precise year in which the picture was taken. Just click on the year and a pop-up window will highlight the given picture.

You then click again on the picture, and with a right mouse click you can save the content on your hard-disk. This particular service can also be combined with other maps, such as the "Journey through time maps". Here a given picture link for Ascona pictures taken in 1953.

Journey through time
@Insubrica Historica
Wayback maps: With you can travel back in time, till 1864. The service is also available for border regions.

You just have to change the year, and you can swap automatically the chart. This is a very good instrument to realize how a given spot has changed in times. We used this tool for our articles on Ascona dynamite factory and Polish internees soldiers in Losone.

We use this service with a great pleasure. For example, it could be a very smart gift for friends who have just bought a new house, combined with the aerial picture mentioned above, showing them how the area changed in time. It is also amazing what you can discover that has been long forgotten.

IVS Inventory
@Insubrica Historica
Swiss Federal Inventory of Historical traffic routes: This is probably the most hidden gem at showing what the Swiss Federal Roads Office (FEDRO) did to manage the inventory of historical traffic routes in Switzerland.

There are specific requisites in order to have a road to be admitted to this inventory. The gem is that you can search for a given route, and get technical details on the given route.

IVS is called in German (Bundesinventar der historischen Verkehrswege der Schweiz), and it has become for IH an ultimate companion for very interesting trolls in the Swiss landscape. The quality of the inventory is, in our opinion, very high. Every route (marked in red) becomes a very nice journey through times, with an excellent report, see here an example of Ascona (left picture).

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Friday, 4 May 2018

Opel Ascona: Bestseller of Insubrica region

The model Opel Ascona was a large family vehicle designed by the German automobile manufacturer Opel (General Motors) from 1970 to 1988. It had three generations, beginning as a rear-wheel-drive, and ending up as a front-wheel drive car. The model was sold more than 3.9 millions times becoming one of the best sellers for Opel.

@Insubrica Historica
Opel Ascona took its name from the lakeside resort of the Canton Ticino in Switzerland. As a matter of fact, a special edition of Opel Rekord P1 was already sold in the 1950s under the brand name Ascona. Situated in Biel by Bern, the General Motors Suisse car factory decided at the end of 1960s to rebrand this historical name.

Should IH pay attention to cars? We think yes because Opel Ascona was closely related to the Insubrica region. IH has thus researched some interesting facts on this long gone brand. 

As said before, a special model of "Opel Rekord P1" was produced in ten exemplars in the 1950's and was equipped with a 1.5-liter engine with 55 HP and a three-stage two-colour with white roof, equipped with two-tone interior and leather upholstery, as well as with a chrome trim at 45 ° angle front fender that separated both shades below the waistline and an "Ascona" logo on the rear side panels. 

Opel reached a conclusion in 1968 to reuse the brand name of Ascona for an adapted version of the Opel Kadett B into which the manufacturers had added a 1.7-litre engine, borrowed from a larger Opel Rekord model of that time.

Opel Ascona A was launched in September 1970 and was sold across Europe, becoming the first mainstream model of Opel to carry the name of Ascona. 

@Insubrica Historica
Opel Ascona was definitely a huge success. Three generations of Opel Ascona were built from 1970 to 1988 amounting to 3.9 million vehicles produced. Above all, Opel Ascona offered to families a lot of space for a reasonable price, reliability, modern technology and a fashionable design keeping up with the times. 

The first model of Opel Ascona became quickly a succes due to its size. The car was positioned between Opel Kadett and Opel Rekord. From the beginning, Opel successfully bet on diversity elements proposed by this new model; for example, the sedan was available with two and four doors, and the engines were from 60 to 90 HP, caming from Kadett and Rekord models.

@Insubrica Historica
However, Opel Ascona was not just a hassle-free family car: Opel had already achiev various successes in motorsport driving this model. Walter Röhrl - nowadays Porsche ambassador - and Jochen Berger won in 1974 European Rally Champion using an Ascona A car type.

The success of Opel Ascona continued with the model Ascona B: its production took place from 1975 to 1981 and was a real best-seller accounting to 1.5 million vehicles sold, becoming the most successful model of Opel of any times.

Opel Ascona B shared partially its basic structure and technical components with the model Opel Manta. But, it was its design that brought to the model a worldwide popularity: no curved shapes or excessive luxury but a limitation to a principal of functionality enriched by high-pitched colours, typical for the 1970s. The success of Opel Ascona continued with the version C, which was again sold more than 1.7 millions times.

In motorsport, Opel was able to extend its success during the 1970s, allowing Walter Röhrl to win in 1982 the World Rally Championship drivers' title with Opel Ascona 400 with 144 PS.

In Switzerland, Opel Ascona became a real success. As a matter of fact, the model Ascona Opel was widely used by the police forces and the Swiss army. Opel Ascona was usually given to warrant officers who were at least 37 years of age and to lieutenant-colonels, but colonels and brigadiers were entitled to have Opel Senator. Commanders of the division and major-generals were entitled to drive Mercedes 200, and their expenses for fuel, insurances and repairs were paid by the Swiss military administration.

In 1988, Opel stopped the production of the model Ascona and transitioned to the model Vectra A. Nevertheless, the manufacturing of Opel Ascona continued till 1996 in Brazil. However, the mighty brand of Opel, which in the 1970's was second in terms of sales in Switzerland, lost extensively its market share finding itself behind the top ten brands. There are still enthusiasts wishing to have a beautiful long gone model of Opel Ascona. There are offers for used Opel Ascona cars that it is possible to buy in Switzerland.

  • You can visit the Opel factories in Rüsselheim and Eisenach. Follow this link for registering.

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Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Napoleon Bonaparte's general with family roots from Ticino: Carlo Francesco Remonda

Carlo Francesco Remonda (aka Charles-François Rémond) was born on 2.11.1761 in Comologno, Valle Onsernone in the Canton Ticino, southern Switzerland. He was the son of Pietro Antonio Remonda. 

On the left presumed portrait
of Charles-Francois Remonda.
@L'Huillier & Associés
While being very young, he emigrated together with his family settling down in Bourges, France. In 1789, he entered service in the French National Guard as a simple soldier. On 25 August 1792, he became captain in the First Battalion of Volunteers, called in French "volontaires nationaux", du Cher-Val de Loire; this was a unit of the revolutionary army. 

He served from 1792 to 1794 in the army of the Moselle, and on 5 April, 1794, he joined the 132nd demi-brigade of Infantry. Assigned to the army of Sambre-et-Meuse in 1794, he was transferred to the 108th demi-brigade of Infantry on 4 May, 1796. 

His Swiss origins helped him to join the army of Joseph Mainoni that entered Switzerland in 1798, where he remained till 1800, and said to have fought in Schwyz against Russian Empire troops. Unfortunately, there are no evident testimonials that Remonda managed to came back to Ticino at the difference of Mainoni, while being in Switzerland. The fact that he fought in Schwyz possibly implies that Remonda served in the First and Second Battle of Zurich.

He was promoted to the rank of Chef of Battalion on 3 August 1800 and major of the 34th Infantry Regiment on 3 November 1803. Remonda became knight of the Legion of Honour on 25 March 1804 and in 1805 he was stationed in the garrison of Mainz, Germany. Like all areas on the left bank of the Rhine, Mainz had been annexed by France and became Mayence; at that time, it was the capital of the French department of Mont-Tonnerre, named after Donnersberg, being under the administration of French Prefect Jeanbon St. André.

In 1806 and 1807, he participated in Prussian and Polish campaigns and was appointed colonel, on 31 December 1806, of the 34th Infantry Regiment. From 1808 to 1813, following the French defeat at Battle of Bailen in Spain, Remonda was personally assigned by Napoleon to join the Spanish war front. 

He was promoted to the rank of Officer of the Legion of Honour on 10 March 1809, becoming a Commander on 17 December 1810. He was promoted to Brigadier General, on 16 August 1811, and commanded thereafter the 2nd Brigade of the 7th Infantry Division of the Army of Portugal. 

The siege of Astorga 1812.
Surrender of the French troops.
Remonda was wounded, on 11 April 1812, at the Battle of Villagarcia - also known as the Battle of Llerena - which resulted with the defeat of the French army. Remonda was the last commander of the Spanish city of Astorga, a small town located in the central area of the province of León.

After the surrender of the city of Astorga in August 1812, Remonda was captured and detained at the La Coruña. He managed to escape from there by boat with other French officers arriving, after a long sailing adventure, in Santoña, near Santander. On July 16, 1813, he took command of the 2nd Brigade of the 6th Infantry Division of the Army of Spain. 

It is interesting to note that Remonda was not the only commander in Spain, having Swiss origins. For example, there was also Theodor von Reding (1755 – 1809) - we shall dedicate here to him a brief description even if has nothing to do with Insubrica region. Von Reading was born in Schwyz and was raised in Switzerland where he commenced very young his military career. 

Theodor von Reading, in
Spanish service.
At the age of 14, von Reading entered the Spanish service, becoming a captain in 1772, a lieutenant colonel in 1781, and a colonel in 1788. His troops were deployed in the Basque Country and in Navarre during the war against revolutionary France in 1793. 

In 1793 he was promoted to Brigadier in 1795. In 1801-02, he participated in the war of Spain against Portugal. 1803-04 he became Governor of the Province of Malaga and defeated the French at the Battle of Bailén on 19 July 1808 (see above for the details on this battle). 

Von Reding was promoted to Lieutenant-General and to Captain-General of Catalonia; he died later as a result of injuries sustained in the Battle of Valls, on 25 February 1809. Von Reding remains well remembered presently in Spain where exists an association dedicated to his name called "Asociación Histórico – Cultural Teodoro Reding".

Coming back to Remonda, we should say that despite having been judged by a military tribunal for the surrender of the city of Astorga, he was fully aquited in December 1813. In February 1814, he commanded the National Guard in Lyon and participated, on 11 March 1814, at the Battle of Macon against Austrians. The city of Macon was invaded by Austrian armies and liberated twice by French troops, before being permanently occupied until the fall of the Empire.

During the First Restoration, King Louis XVIII (1755-1824) made Remonda a Knight of Saint-Louis on 24 August 1814. During the Hundred Days, he was placed at the head of the departments of the Vienne and Indre in the central France on 26 March 1815, which prevented him from participating at the Waterloo Battle (18 June 1815). Remonda  was finally dismissed from the service on 21 August 1815 and was naturalised French on 21 January 1818, before being admitted as a fully France citizen on 1 January 1825. He died in Paris in June 24, 1843. It is not known if he had any children.

  • Surprisingly, "Treue und Ehre" written by Pierre de Valliere does not mention Remonda nor Mainoni. A lot of information related to Von Reding is taken from the website of his association in Spain (link here). 
  • For Remonda in Spain, consult: Masque una guerra: Astorga y el noreste de Espana en el conflicto peninsular (Link) as well as the Ph.D. thesis of Arsenio Garcia Fuertes "La decisiva partecipation de los Ejercitos Espanoles en el triunfo aliado en la campanas de 1811 y 1812 durante la guerra de la independencia". Link here.
  • Carlo Francesco Remonda left very early Comologno, but his grand-father Carlo Francesco Remonda had made a fortune in Chartres. His father builded in Comologno the "Palazzo di Sotto" which exists today; it is the house  or rather a Palace in which our General Carlo Francesco Remonda was born in 1761. 
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