La grande histoire

Operation Wintergewitter



Operation Wintergewitter was one of the last military campaigns carried out by the Wehrmacht and the National Republican Army on the Italian peninsula, directed against Anglo-American troops on 26 December 1944. One of the main theatres was the village of Sommocolonia.

The front had stabilised in October 1944 along the Gothic Line and the Allied advance was halted with the arrival of winter. In order to weaken some areas of the front, the German army planned an attack on the Allied troops in Media Valle del Serchio in collaboration with the Republican army, where the 92nd Infantry Division, composed of African Americans and considered one of the weakest and most inexperienced divisions in Italy, was stationed. The Wehrmacht leadership chose the Christmas period to try to surprise the Allies.

Operation Wintergewitter (Winter Storm), also known as the Christmas Offensive or Battle of the Garfagnana, caused fierce fighting especially around the village of Sommocolonia, a stone village located in Media Valle del Serchio on the slopes of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines. On 28 December 1944, the German and Italian units fell back after capturing many prisoners and causing numerous casualties. The Indian brigades recaptured Barga, Fornaci di Barga and Gallicano. US General Harold Alexander ordered the positions to be held until the final offensive in the spring of 1945: the Garfagnana front thus remained unchanged.

Signs of the battle are still visible today in Sommocolonia: the walls with bullet holes, the destruction of the parish church of S. Frediano, later rebuilt after the war, the monument with the plaque and memorial stones to partisans and fallen soldiers, the remains of the medieval tower where Lieutenant John Fox had perched. The latter was the heroic figure for which he was awarded the Medal of Honour in 1997, one of the first African Americans to receive it. He voluntarily gave up his life by ordering his comrades to fire on his position surrounded by German army troops in order to annihilate them and not concede the tower.

The Peace Museum in Sommocolonia was dedicated to the war events of December 1944. Weapons, equipment and artefacts from the period are on display inside, accompanied by extensive photographic documentation.

Via della Liberazione is an itinerary that retraces some of the places linked to WWII in the area. The loop route starts in Barga and reaches Catagnana, Sommocolonia, Rio Villese (La Moma) before returning to Barga.