Sunday, October 17, 2010

PER L'ONORE, PER LA VITA: The SS ‘Debica’ Battalion Story

On September 8, 1943, Italian left her German ally and surrendered to the Allied after the Fascist Grand Council deposed Mussolini a few weeks before. Hitler reacted by occupied most Italy, formed a puppet-government under Mussolini in northern part of the country, and tried to disarmed all Italian forces in the Axis territories.

During this chaotic time, throughout the late summer/early fall of 1943, some Italian troops willingly disarm. Others fight German units attempting to disarm them. Some switch sides and join up with anti-Nazi partisan forces. Others want to continue to fight on the side of the Axis, including an Italian SS ‘Debica’ Battalion.

The Battalion formed at the SS Heidelager Training Centre at Debica (that’s how the unit get hers nickname), Poland. Most of the volunteers come from the 31st Tank Battalion of the Italian Lombardia division plus former members of the Julia alpine division. There were 20 officers and 571 men served in the unit under Italian Major Fortunato, a former CO of the 6th Bersaglieri Regiment.

Although kitted out in German paratroopers uniforms, these troops were considered as Waffen-SS men. There were some troubles in the unit because some SS instructors mistreatment against Italians during theirs training, which made Major Fortunato and 38 volunteers resigned from the unit.

At the end of February 1944, ‘Debica’ was considered ready to for action and send to Italy. They were served as an anti-partisan unit around the Pellice Valley, southwest of Turin, under SS Kampfgruppe ‘Diebitsch’ during March-April 1944. The battalion also fought Italian partisans around Nocera Umbra, Asisi, and San Severino.

In early June 1944, the battalion fought in the north of Rome along Tyrrhenian coast under the German I Parachute Corps. It suffered heavy losses while fighting American tank units in this area and against partisans behind the German lines.
During the withdrawal to Florence, they were thrown against partisans near Cumiane. On 7 September, the battalion converted a recce detachment, a new 59. SS-Füsilier-Battalion by adding a mounted squadron and a bicycle company, and became part of the new Waffen Grenadier Brigade der SS (Italian nr. 1). During latter part of war, the unit got its final name, 29.SS-Füsilier-Battalion ‘Debica’.

After fought against American armored onslaught in Nurubene on 20 April 1945, the battalion retreat northward under a devastating Allied aerial assaults which guided by partisans. Surrounded by a large American armored unit, the ‘Debica’ battalion survivors and remaining of some other Italian SS units surrendered to the US Army in Gorgonzola on 30 April 1945.

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