Boxing Day morning in Sommocolonia and this year for the Alpini, the Barga Band and all present, the terrible freezing north east wind which four years ago froze everybody rigid, was not present – in fact, strangely enough for this time of year it was a sunny day with clear blue sky. That and the fact that it was the 70th anniversary of the battle at Sommocolonia might explain why there were so many people up at the village that morning.
After Don Stefano had said the mass in the San Frediano church, three wreaths were laid to commemorate the people who died during December 1944.
One was placed at the war memorial just outside the San Frediano church. A second at the base of the tower where John Fox and his companions were killed and the third and the third was laid just above Sommocolonia at the Memorial to the Italian Partisans.
89 year old Alpino Roberto Guerini talking (in Italiano) about the 26th December 1944 – Sommocolonia
Erano le 4 del mattino del 26 dicembre 1944 quando il silenzio della notte, a Sommocolonia, fu bruscamente interrotto da un boato: proveniva dal campo minato dove una compagnia di alpini tedeschi era involontariamente incappata mentre stava per cogliere di sorpresa i soldati americani nell’ambito dell’operazione “Wintergewitter-Temporale d’Inverno”. Sul campo minato- la cui posizione era stata variata alcuni giorni prima- rimasero 46 alpini tedeschi: più di mezza compagnia. Intanto altre due compagnie attaccarono il paese dal basso salendo dalla selva della Mariola. Altri tedeschi erano riusciti a penetrare il perimetro già prima dell’esplosione approfittando dell’allentata sorveglianza dovuta alle festività natalizie. La battaglia-che vide contrapposti gli afroamericani della Divisione Buffalo e gli uomini dell’XI Zona contro gli alpini tedeschi rinforzati da elementi delle divisioni ”Monterosa” e “Italia”,- fu durissima e si protrasse sino al primo pomeriggio: una battaglia casa per casa in cui persero la vita 132 morti, tra militari e civili. – La Battaglia di Sommocolonia: intervista a Vittorio Lino Biondi
The events of December 26th 1944
On December 26, 1944, John Fox was awakened at four a.m. by the sound of mortar fire and rushed to his position on the Sommocolonia hilltop, where he served as an artillery spotter. As dawn broke over the mountains, the 29-year-old lieutenant saw that the streets below him were swarming with troops.
They were Austrian infantrymen from the elite Fourth Mountain Battalion, the forward edge of a blitzkreig offensive that was to throw elements of six Axis divisions at U.S. Army detachments in the Serchio Valley. The poorly equipped and thinly supported 92nd was expected to pose no obstacle to the offensive. With luck, the Wehrmacht hoped to retake the strategic port of Livorno, 40 miles miles south of Sommocolonia. If successful, they would have choked off supplies to the Allied invasion force.
It didn’t happen that way.
By nine a.m., Sommocolonia was the scene of bloody, hand-to-hand fighting. The black G.I.s and 25 Italian Partisans who joined them knew they could not turn back the offensive. But they could slow it down. An order came to retreat at noon. “Get the hell out of there,” a U.S. Army captain in the nearby city of Barga radioed Lieutenant Graham Jenkins, Fox’s fellow officer in Sommocolonia.
“Just get me some ammunition,” Jenkins radioed back.
The men in Sommocolonia fought on until more than two-thirds of them were dead or wounded. The Austrians began torching houses where wounded G.I.s lay, shooting them as they tried to escape from the windows.
Jenkins radioed his final message. “They’re coming after us,” he said to the captain in Barga. “Please, when you get back to the States, tell my wife and my kid and my mother that I love them…”
As the Austrians closed in to kill Jenkins, who had no ammunition left, a survivor reported, he was trying to comfort a badly wounded G.I..
“That was how it was with ‘the master race’ of Nazism,” said villager Bonafede Moscardini, who was thirteen when he watched the battle explode around him. “They weren’t about to show mercy to these black soldiers.”
From his observation post, which was now surrounded by enemy troops, Fox telephoned in artillery coordinates that moved closer and closer to his own position. No one has survived who saw what happened at the end, but several men at 92nd headquarters overheard Fox’s last call.
He asked for a smoke screen to cover a withdrawal by the handful of G.I.s. and Partisans who could still walk. Then he ordered a heavy concentration of mortar and 105mm shells on the surrounded observation post.
“Fox, that will be right on you. I can’t do that,” the artillery officer at headquarters yelled into the phone.
“Fire it!” Fox yelled back.”
Late that night, the Austrians rounded up villagers who had hidden in cellars during the battle, and forced them to leave Sommocolonia. The village priest recalled seeing the body of Fox next to his observation post, with the corpses of more than 100 Austrians around him.
Of the 95 American and Italian Partisan defenders of Sommocolonia, 18 made it alive to U.S. Fifth Army lines.
Three days later, the German offensive sputtered to a halt, and by January 1, Sommocolonia was firmly back in Allied hands — read the full article about John Fox and 26th December 1944 by Frank Viviano here
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