The Garibaldi broth­ers

The fa­bled Giuseppe Garibaldi’s six grand­sons all fought valiantly to de­fend France and Italy dur­ing WWI

History of War - - CONTENTS - WORDS FRANK JASTRZEMBSKI

The leg­endary Ital­ian’s de­scen­dants bat­tle to save France and Italy in WWI

Cel­e­brated as the ‘Hero of Two Worlds’, Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) is best re­mem­bered for lead­ing a se­ries of cam­paigns in Latin Amer­ica and Italy. His ir­reg­u­lar vol­un­teers – nick­named the ‘Red­shirts’ for their trade­mark loose-fit­ting, blood-red shirts – were ro­man­ti­cised through­out the world for sup­port­ing na­tion­al­ist causes and fight­ing against op­pres­sive au­toc­ra­cies.

Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln showed in­ter­est in re­cruit­ing Garibaldi to lead his armies dur­ing the Amer­i­can Civil War, with the hope that he could “lend the power of his name, his ge­nius, and his sword to the North­ern cause”. Garibaldi’s faith­ful Brazil­ian wife, Anita (18211849), gave birth to four chil­dren be­fore her un­timely death from malaria while cam­paign­ing with her hus­band. For six decades, men from the Garibaldi blood­line fought around the world to lib­er­ate op­pressed peo­ples and to de­fend repub­li­can ideals and democ­racy.

Ric­ciotti Garibaldi (1847-1924) fol­lowed his fa­ther dur­ing his cam­paigns in Italy and France. He took com­mand of a bri­gade in Garibaldi’s Army of the Vos­ges dur­ing the Franco-prus­sian War. He dis­tin­guished him­self at the Bat­tle of Di­jon in Jan­uary 1871, where he pre­sented the cap­tured stan­dard of the 61st Pomera­nian Reg­i­ment to his fa­ther on the bat­tle­field. Giuseppe Garibaldi died in 1882, but the Garibaldi cult lived on through Ric­ciotti. He is­sued a procla­ma­tion call­ing for vol­un­teers and led a Garibaldi Le­gion against the Ot­tomans dur­ing the Greco-turkish War of 1897 and the Balkan War of 1912-13.

At the age of 67, Ric­ciotti was too old and crip­pled from old war wounds to fight when Ger­many de­clared war on France in Au­gust 1914. Still, he called for Ital­ians to de­fend French soil against Ger­man ag­gres­sion, just as his fa­ther had done dur­ing the Franco-prus­sian War. He vis­ited Eng­land and France to try and raise funds to equip 30,000 Red­shirts for ser­vice on the Western Front. The name of Garibaldi be­came a ral­ly­ing cry for those in Italy who wanted to see their na­tion en­ter the war on the side of the Al­lies.

Six of his seven sons, rang­ing in age from 20 to 35 – Giuseppe (known as ‘Pep­pino’), Ric­ciotti Jr., Sante, Bruno, Con­stante and Ezio – en­listed in the French army. All six of the broth­ers had re­ceived ed­u­ca­tions at the Methodist Col­lege in Rome. World trav­ellers like their pre­de­ces­sors, the broth­ers roamed the globe, at one time or an­other cov­er­ing five con­ti­nents. When war broke out, Pep­pino and Ric­ciotti Jr. headed to France from New York, Bruno from his sugar cane plan­ta­tion in Cuba, Sante from Egypt and Con­stante and Ezio from Italy.

“THE NAME OF GARIBALDI BE­CAME A RAL­LY­ING CRY FOR THOSE IN ITALY WHO WANTED TO SEE THEIR NA­TION EN­TER THE WAR ON THE SIDE OF THE AL­LIES”

De­scribed as be­ing “tall, hand­some and looks as if born to com­mand,” the old­est and most out­spo­ken of the broth­ers, Giuseppe ‘Pep­pino’ Garibaldi II (1879-1950) saw ac­tion as a mer­ce­nary in a hand­ful of wars and rebellions be­fore vol­un­teer­ing for ser­vice with France. Born in Aus­tralia, he fought with his fa­ther in the Greco-turkish War and in the Balkans War. Dur­ing the Sec­ond Boer

War (hav­ing been con­vinced by his fa­ther to fight for the Bri­tish rather than the Bo­ers) he car­ried a sword that had been pre­sented to his grand­fa­ther by the work­ers of South Shields into bat­tle. He next trav­elled to Latin Amer­ica, where he com­manded Venezue­lan and Mex­i­can rev­o­lu­tion­ary units. Pep­pino brought this wealth of mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence to France when he ar­rived in Au­gust 1914.

A to­tal of 2,354 Ital­ian vol­un­teers en­listed in the Fourth Rég­i­ment de Marche of the French For­eign Le­gion in Novem­ber 1914. The men were split into three bat­tal­ions. They wore the stan­dard French uni­form but had a small branch of pome­gran­ate leaves em­broi­dered on their col­lars. Many wore the Garibaldi em­blem, the blood red shirt, un­der­neath their great­coats.

The age of the vol­un­teers in the ‘Ital­ian Le­gion’ or ‘Garibaldi Le­gion’ as it be­came known, ranged from 14 to 60. They came from a di­verse range of back­grounds: min­ers, fac­tory work­ers, shop­keep­ers, in­tel­lects, artists, sol­diers, en­gi­neers, chemists, teach­ers and ro­man­tic ad­ven­tur­ers. Al­though they were a di­verse group, most fought with the same Garibaldi ide­ol­ogy in mind. The French gra­ciously al­lowed half of the of­fi­cers se­lected to be Ital­ians, and all six broth­ers were com­mis­sioned as of­fi­cers (Pep­pino was made a lieu­tenant colonel and was ap­pointed as the sec­ond-in-com­mand of the reg­i­ment).

The Garibaldi Le­gion was at­tached to Gen­eral Henri Gouraud’s Tenth Colo­nial Di­vi­sion and de­ployed to the Ar­gonne sec­tor (be­tween Cham­pagne and Ver­dun) on the Western Front in De­cem­ber 1914. The reg­i­ment re­ceived its bap­tism of fire in the La Fon­taine-desmeuris­sons ravine to the east of the Bolante Woods. On Christ­mas Day 1914, the Sec­ond Garibaldi battalion re­ceived or­ders to drive the Ger­mans from their trenches, who were only 140 me­tres (150 yards) from the Al­lied lines. The French bom­bard­ment be­gan at mid­night and lasted un­til the next morn­ing.

The Garibaldis rushed the Ger­man trenches, only to find the mass of barbed wire still in­tact, ex­pos­ing them to with­er­ing ma­chine-gun fire. They suf­fered the loss of 48 dead and 78 wounded, in­clud­ing Sec­ond Lieu­tenant Bruno Garibaldi, Ric­ciotti Garibaldi’s fourth son.

The hand­some Bruno had trav­elled to

Eng­land be­fore the war with the in­ten­tion of be­com­ing a mis­sion­ary. He in­stead found him­self serv­ing on the Western Front rather than per­form­ing char­i­ta­ble work in Africa, Asia or Latin Amer­ica. Bruno didn’t have or­ders to take part in the Christ­mas Day as­sault but chose to join it any­way (aban­don­ing his place with the re­serves). He was wounded in the hand and tem­po­rar­ily left the fight­ing to have a sur­geon patch it up. He re­turned to the front line un­til he was hit again, still urg­ing his men on. A third bul­let struck the 26-year-old of­fi­cer, killing him. His body was re­trieved from the bat­tle­field and sent back to Rome by train.

De­spite his fa­ther’s wish for his funeral to be a pri­vate af­fair, “All Rome paid homage to the

“GIUSEPPE GARIBALDI II (1879-1950) SAW AC­TION AS A MER­CE­NARY IN A HAND­FUL OF WARS AND REBELLIONS BE­FORE VOL­UN­TEER­ING FOR SER­VICE WITH FRANCE”

dead hero,” one ac­count re­called. Thou­sands gath­ered to at­tend the funeral on 6 Jan­uary 1915. Old vet­er­ans lined the streets wear­ing their ragged red shirts from past Garibaldi ex­pe­di­tions. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives came from the French army to show their appreciation for his sac­ri­fice. Am­bas­sadors from France, Eng­land, Rus­sia and Bel­gium at­tended too. A red shirt was stretched across the top of the funeral car while French, Ital­ian and Greek flags were draped over Bruno’s cof­fin.

The same day that Bruno’s body was be­ing trans­ported to Rome, an­other Garibaldi fell de­fend­ing France. On 5 Jan­uary 1915, the First and Third Garibaldi bat­tal­ions as­saulted the Ger­man trenches at Courte-chausse plateau. Eight mines hold­ing 2,700 kilo­grams (6,000 pounds) of ex­plo­sives were det­o­nated un­der the 0.8-kilo­me­tre (0.5-mile) long Ger­man trench at 7am. The Garibaldis rushed the Ger­man po­si­tion and se­cured the first and sec­ond trench lines. They were halted at the third line, but not be­fore cap­tur­ing four ma­chine guns, two mor­tars and 200 pris­on­ers.

Their suc­cess came with a hefty price, suf­fer­ing the loss of 125 dead and 175 wounded. Among the dead was Chief Ad­ju­tant Con­stante Garibaldi. Re­mem­bered as “a tall, manly young fel­low, full of vigour and hope,” his death came only days af­ter Bruno’s. Con­stante’s body ar­rived in Rome for burial on 12 Jan­uary. The deaths of Bruno and Con­stante shocked Italy to its core, but their sac­ri­fice fu­elled Ital­ian sen­ti­ment to­wards wider in­ter­ven­tion in the war.

The four re­main­ing Garibaldi broth­ers con­tin­ued to see se­ri­ous fight­ing on the Western Front. On 7 Jan­uary 1915 the

Ger­mans took the ini­tia­tive and three reg­i­ments launched an as­sault at 7.30am on the 46th French Reg­i­ment, Tenth Di­vi­sion. French re­in­force­ments were rushed in to plug the breach. The French 89th Reg­i­ment and the Sec­ond Garibaldi battalion charged into the woods and en­gaged the Ger­mans in handto-hand com­bat. They man­aged to check the en­emy ad­vance and res­cued the rem­nants of the 46th – re­duced to about 300 men un­der a cap­tain. Blood­ied in the en­gage­ment, the Garibaldis were re­lieved by the 120th Reg­i­ment two days later.

“THE GARIBALDI LE­GION SUF­FERED HEAV­ILY AF­TER LESS THAN THREE WEEKS OF FIGHT­ING AND MORALE BE­GAN TO WANE. THEY LOST ABOUT 600 MEN – 41 PER CENT WERE OF­FI­CERS”

The Garibaldi Le­gion had suf­fered heav­ily af­ter less than three weeks of fight­ing and morale be­gan to wane. They lost about 600 men – 41 per cent were of­fi­cers. “The fight­ing that fell to the lot of the Le­gion Ital­i­enne in Jan­uary 1915,” Lieu­tenant Colonel Pep­pino Garibaldi ex­plained, “re­duced its num­bers to such an ex­tent that it had to be with­drawn to rest and re­form.” The reg­i­ment was pulled from the front line on 10 Jan­uary. The French min­is­ter of war dis­banded the unit on 5 March 1915, af­ter only four months of ser­vice. Pep­pino later re­called with re­morse that it “ceased to ex­ist ex­cept as a glo­ri­ous mem­ory”.

Mem­bers of what re­mained of the Garibaldi Le­gion vol­un­teered for ser­vice in the Ital­ian army when Italy joined the war on the side of the Al­lies in May 1915. Three of the Garibaldi broth­ers en­listed. Pep­pino joined the Alpini Bri­gade – orig­i­nally formed by their grand­fa­ther in 1859 to fight against the Aus­tro-hungarian Em­pire – while Ric­ciotti Jr. and Sante were sent back to the Western Front, dis­tin­guish­ing them­selves in the fight­ing that took place in the sum­mer and au­tumn of 1918.

The Aus­tri­ans and Ital­ians fought a vi­cious war in the Alps be­tween 1915-1918. While fight­ing for con­trol of the moun­tains, they also had to deal with freez­ing tem­per­a­tures, avalanches and the night­mare of trans­port­ing men, ar­tillery and sup­plies over the rugged ter­rain. Roughly 600,000 Ital­ians and 400,000 Aus­tri­ans would die fight­ing in the gritty bat­tles

on the Ital­ian Front. On 12 July 1915 Pep­pino Garibaldi was given com­mand of a battalion sta­tioned at the foot of Col di Lana moun­tain.

Pep­pino had or­ders to take the strate­gic lo­ca­tion at what­ever cost. He ap­pre­ci­ated the im­por­tance of cap­tur­ing Col di Lana but did what he could to min­imise the loss of life.

“It is not in a Garibaldi to sac­ri­fice men for any ob­ject what­ever if there is any pos­si­ble way of avoid­ing it,” he wrote. In­dis­crim­i­nate frontal at­tacks had led to the destruc­tion of the Garibaldi Le­gion af­ter only three ma­jor en­gage­ments on the Western Front. Now he would adopt “man-sav­ing the­o­ries” that he’d learned from the Ar­gonne, util­is­ing mines and adopt­ing ar­tillery cover to make less costly as­saults. This kind of think­ing was still in its in­fancy on the Ital­ian Front.

Steady pres­sure from Pep­pino Garibaldi’s men over the sum­mer months forced the Aus­tri­ans fur­ther up the moun­tain. By the first week of Novem­ber his men were in con­trol of three sides of Col di Lana, with the ex­cep­tion of the sum­mit. This im­preg­nable po­si­tion was de­scribed by him as a “sheer wall of rock” 200 me­tres (650 feet) high. A 14-man ma­chine-gun nest sat on top of the cliff, po­si­tioned to eas­ily an­ni­hi­late any ad­vanc­ing Ital­ian units. Just like his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther be­fore him, Pep­pino was used to work­ing with less and pre­pared to find a way to over­come this daunt­ing ob­sta­cle.

He or­dered all of his ar­tillery to con­cen­trate fire on the sum­mit. Once the ma­chine-gun nest was elim­i­nated, he or­dered 120 hand­picked Alpini sol­diers to scale the cliff. They caught the Aus­trian de­fend­ers by sur­prise, cap­tur­ing 130 of them in one sweep. The Alpini troop­ers suf­fered the loss of only three men. “The ap­par­ent im­preg­nabil­ity of the po­si­tion was re­ally its un­do­ing,” Pep­pino would later de­clare. Cap­tur­ing the sum­mit was only part of the prob­lem: hold­ing it was an­other mat­ter.

The Aus­tri­ans di­rected 120 guns to bombard the sum­mit. 50 of Pep­pino’s men found shel­ter in rocky ledges, while the re­main­der crept over the edge of the cliff and “held on by their fin­gers and toes”. An en­emy coun­ter­at­tack that night drove the bat­tered Alpini men back and re­cap­tured most of the sum­mit.

Pep­pino Garibaldi would have to find an­other way. He de­vised a plan to mine the por­tion of the sum­mit held by the en­emy. He se­lected Ge­la­sio Cae­tani for the task, as he’d had ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in mines in Cal­i­for­nia and Alaska be­fore the war. His men be­gan tun­nelling in the mid­dle of Jan­uary 1916.

When the Aus­tri­ans found out what the Ital­ians were up to, they be­gan to con­duct counter-min­ing oper­a­tions and con­cen­trated heavy fire on the min­ers. They bom­barded the Ital­ians day and night for 14 days. Pep­pino di­rected the oper­a­tion from his head­quar­ters in a lit­tle shed pro­tected by a large boul­der. In one specif­i­cally hot in­stance, the Ital­ians

“THE AUS­TRI­ANS DI­RECTED 120 GUNS TO BOMBARD THE SUM­MIT. 50 OF PEP­PINO’S MEN FOUND SHEL­TER IN ROCKY LEDGES, WHILE THE RE­MAIN­DER CREPT OVER THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF AND ‘HELD ON BY THEIR FIN­GERS AND TOES’”

“IT IS NOT IN A GARIBALDI TO SAC­RI­FICE MEN FOR ANY OB­JECT WHAT­EVER IF THERE IS ANY POS­SI­BLE WAY OF AVOID­ING IT ”

– Pep­pino Garibaldi

counted an average of 38 Aus­trian shells fired per minute. The front­line bat­tal­ions had to be ro­tated ev­ery week to re­lieve them from the re­lent­less strain and hard work.

For three months the Ital­ian min­ers worked in the tun­nels un­til the mines were ready. On 17 April 1916 the mines were det­o­nated, blow­ing a hole 45 me­tres (150 feet) wide and 15 me­tres (50 feet) deep. An Aus­trian sur­vivor re­called, “The peak of Col di Lana burned like a pil­lar of fire in the night sky. The moun­tain trem­bled and shook. It opened up. It rose. The peak tipped over, lost its shape, broke in on it­self to­gether. Here a chasm opened, there an­other closed. Rocks, snow, earth, hu­man bod­ies, gun sup­ports, cov­ers, shel­ters, barracks, steel plates, ma­chine guns flew light as feath­ers up­wards, rained and raged heav­ily down…

Balls of fumes and thick smoke un­folded, rolled be­fore the wind and were driven for­ward, sank, tat­tered, dis­solved. When the smoke, which had long hov­ered low, faded away, one saw through the rain of ash the mu­ti­lated peak.” the Alpini then moved in and re­claimed the sum­mit.

For his val­our and ex­cel­lent ser­vice dur­ing the war, Pep­pino Garibaldi was pro­moted to gen­eral and awarded the Lé­gion d’hon­neur on 26 Au­gust 1918.

The sur­viv­ing Garibaldi broth­ers re­mained in­flu­en­tial fig­ures in Italy well into the 1940s. Ric­ciotti Sr. and Ezio Garibaldi sup­ported

Ben­ito Mus­solini’s Fas­cist move­ment (the Ital­ian dic­ta­tor liked to link his Black­shirts to the famed Red­shirts), while Pep­pino and Sante re­mained ar­dent anti-fas­cists. Sante of­fered to lead a Garibaldi Bri­gade to fight with the French re­sis­tance in 1939, but this never ma­te­ri­alised. He went on to sur­vive be­ing sent to Dachau con­cen­tra­tion camp.

Even to­day, there is de­bate in Italy over how much of Giuseppe Garibaldi’s myth is fact and fic­tion. Re­gard­less of the Garibaldi pa­tri­arch’s ac­com­plish­ments in his life, his six grand­sons valiantly fought in de­fence of France and Italy dur­ing WWI – two sac­ri­fic­ing their lives.

“WHEN THE SMOKE, WHICH HAD LONG HOV­ERED LOW, FADED AWAY, ONE SAW THROUGH THE RAIN OF ASH THE MU­TI­LATED PEAK”

The Garibaldi Broth­ers. From left to right: Bruno, Ric­ciotti, Pep­pino, Sante, Con­stante, Ezio

Pep­pino (wear­ing a tie) with Fran­cisco I. Madero (sec­ond left) dur­ing the Mex­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion

ABOVE: Bruno, Pep­pino and Ric­ciotti Jr. ar­rive in Paris to en­list in the French For­eign Le­gion

ABOVE: Ric­ciotti Garibaldi pre­sent­ing a cap­tured Prus­sian stan­dard to his fa­ther

The leg­endary Giuseppe Garibaldi af­ter be­ing wounded in Aspromonte (the wound is vis­i­ble on his right an­kle) ABOVE: Bruno Garibaldi’s body be­ing car­ried to the rear by his men

LEFT: Giuseppe Garibaldi and his Red­shirts, Calatafimi, 15 May 1860

Bruno and Con­stante Garibaldi died in these trenches while fight­ing in the im­pen­e­tra­ble and muddy Ar­gonne

Gen­eral Ric­ciotti Garibaldi Sr. re­view­ing troops in Paris, 1915

View from Col di Lana, look­ing across to the Mar­mo­lada Glacier

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