Workman are now working on removing the many tons of rubble, soil and rocks from the base of the ruins of the tower in Sommocolonia.
The project is intended to rebuilt part of the tower using those rocks and finally to construct a building to house the museum “Sala della Memoria”
The Romans built the first fortification probably wooden on the highest point of Sommocolonia. Later during the 12th to the 13th century, two stone tower were built and a city wall was constructed to defend the village.
One tower was destroyed along with the walls that protected the village in the 16th century, the other was damaged by a strong earthquake that struck the area, and in 1944 a heavy concentration of mortar and 105mm shells destroyed it leaving just one wall standing.
When a massive German assault was launched on this windswept mountain village in December 1944, a scant two platoons of American infantrymen were dug in here. Their own commanding officers expected them to throw down their guns and run.
But for twenty critical hours, the tiny complement of seventy G.I.s — all of them black, from the U.S. Army’s segregated 92nd Infantry Division — held out against an offensive that might have changed the course of World War Two.
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 Sommoclonia 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..
From his observation post in the tower, 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 hedquarters 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. — full article by Frank Viviano here
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