Our town loves a good festival. Honestly, from May until October there is something going on every single week. This weekend we were looking forward to a 3X3 Basketball Tournament that was to run from Thursday through Sunday. Sunday turned into a “maybe”, because today, Sunday, the Army was removing a WWII bomb from the river near the railway bridge coming into our town. It was discovered in March. Some folks ask me why it took 2-1/2 months to finalize the removal. The bomb had been there 74 years, and if undisturbed would pose no immediate threat, so it was decided that a calm and well planned evacuation of the town was in order! So today, almost the entire town (5000 of the town’s 7000 inhabitants) was evacuated for the procedure. The final day of the basketball festival would be at the mercy of the removal efforts of the army.
This bomb was American in origin. Our town has a lot of history and pride surrounding the resistance movement during WWII. Borgo Val di Taro was heavily occupied by the Germans after Operation Eiche brought Mussolini back into power, and there are many monuments to the “fallen” who were instrumental in decisive battles against occupying forces. Despite the large resistance presence in the area, Borgotaro was also seen as an important logistics location for Axis forces, and the Allies bombed the town many times during the summer of 1944, as they attempted to bring down the occupying German forces. An excerpt from the squadron that was involved in one of the bombings follows (see here for more info)
“765TH BOMBARDMENT SQUADRON (H)
461st BOMBARDMENT GROUP (H)
Office of the Combat Intelligence Officer
APO 520, NY, NY
30 JUNE 1944
SUMMARY OF THE SQUADRON HISTORY FOR THE MONTH OF JUNE
…June the 5th, on the day that Rome was entered by the “Yanka”, our crews were briefed to hit Borgo Val di Taro, Italy. All 10 of the ships made it over the target and back home. We didn¹t run into any flak; however, flak was seen around Bologna, and no E/A intercepted our ships. The target that the men were briefed for was missed, but the RR lines were blasted.
About a month later, the 320th Bomb Group came back and tried to finish the job of taking out the bridge. They laid down quite the line of bombs, but apparently none of them actually took out the “target” this time either – i.e., the bridge! Here’s a photo – mislabeled as January 2, 1944 (but as you can see from the original page this was indeed the July 2, 1944 raid). During this time, June and July of 1944, the resistance movement in the Taro area had a brief surge of success in liberating the area from German and fascist dominion, and even established the “territorio libero del Taro” (free territory of the Taro). Shortly thereafter however, the Germans cracked down and brought this area to its knees, killing and deporting many of the locals. In retrospect, had the Americans hit their target, the railway bridge at Borgo Val di Taro, the balance of power in the Taro area may well have been changed, and the heavy partigiano losses over the next 9 months, until the area was was finally liberated by the patriots in April of 1945, might have been lessened. But history is full of “what ifs”. Almost 74 years to the day of the July 2, 1944 bombardment, it was time to remove the “hopefully” last physical remnant of that mostly unsuccessful bombing run.
In order to secure the safety of our citizens, almost the entire town was evacuated, as well as some of the countryside to the East of town. Everything in a 3km (1.8 mile) radius of the bomb location was affected. Two “reception centers” were erected to hold those who either had no where to go, or had no desire to wander far.
Originally, we had thought to take a day trip to La Spezia, but after contemplating a bit, decided to stay and go to one of the “reception centers” to bond with the neighbors 🙂
The evacuation team gathered at 6:00 am to ensure that the town was emptied out prior to the procedure. Folks gathered at the coffee shops early for a cappuccino and brioche, before all of the shops closed at 8:30. We were to be out of town by 9:00 am. The reception center that we went to is just past the edge of the evacuation circle, about 2km from our apartment, we walked over after breakfast. We saw people walking, biking and driving to the center, and shuttle vans were bringing in those who needed transportation.
There were a host of volunteer workers at the evacuation center. According to the Mayor’s post, there were more than 250 volunteers and 100 members of the police force on hand to assist with handling the evacuation. One of the policemen we talked to told us he thought the volunteer crew had risen to 400 by the time the evacuation was complete. Doors were knocked on, assisting residents remaining behind who needed help. We saw numerous volunteers from the region (Emilia-Romagna), Province (Parma), and of course local groups. The Red Cross was out in force. There were various official services from the police to the army, including our beloved Alpini. I have not yet heard how many army/bomb squad members were on hand, dealing with the “business end” of this operation.
There were indeed a lot of amenities to keep us comfortable, and to feed and thank the many volunteers and army/police forces on hand for this operation. On arriving, we were asked to sign in. Then we passed by the “porta potties” which were in reality full blown 4 piece bathrooms: toilet, bidet, sink and shower. Honestly, that portable bagno was bigger than our apartment bathroom!
There were cots for about 80 people. There was another location next to us for emergency medical care. I think these tents were more for a quick nap or a comfortable place to read a book!
Next was the Emergency Mobile kitchen. Here we were offered tea, cookies, fruit, water (still or sparkling) with the promise of a pasta lunch. While this was certainly appreciated by the public in general, the volunteers were truly the guests of honor and focus around the kitchen for most of the duration!
This arrangement is part of the emergency preparedness equipment that is available similarly to US FEMA operations. In Italy, these facilities are more generally used for supplying shelter after earthquakes, but these can of course be used for any situation that requires even temporary evacuations, like ours.
At 10:00 am we were given the news that the evacuation had been completed, and they were ready to start removal of the ordinance. Around 11:40 the kitchen opened up, and the feeding began.
While it was not exactly a party in that there was no alcohol to be found (oh wait – maybe there was some!), everyone enjoyed a break from their routines and conversed jovially.
There was a lot of great conversation while we waited. We met a woman who loved Colorado. We chatted with a volunteer who had knocked on doors. We saw many of our neighbors dressed in volunteer gear, and got a better appreciation of who in the community held what roles in various organizations and teams.
Shortly after 1:30, the all-clear came, and we were told it was time to head home. Folks milled about a bit, not really sure they were ready to leave. Many thank yous, hand shakes and cheek kisses later, the crowd dispersed.
About the time the bars and cafes were reopening, we got the word that our American bomb had safely made it to the quarries at Rubbiano, and had proven that it still “had what it takes” to get the job done, even after lying under the Taro River for 74 years!
Alle ore 16.00 l’ordigno è stato fatto brillare dagli artificieri dell’Esercito ( genio pontieri di Piacenza) presso le cave di Rubbiano, completando definitivamente le operazioni di bonifica.Posted by Borgo Val Di Taro on Sunday, July 1, 2018
Never let it be said that Borgotarese don’t enjoy life to the fullest. While the bomb was being detonated in the quarry, the 3X3 Basketball Tournament recommenced, and the real party started all over again! Who knows – maybe a commemorative “Festa della Bomba” will pop up to remind us all of the struggles that brought us to where we are today, and how this town survived!
Enjoy a few more images from the day!