RAVENNA, IN THE EMILIA-ROMAGNA region of Northern Italy and less than 10 miles from the Adriatic Sea was liberated on 5 December 1944 by a combination of Canadian, British – including No.1 Demolitions Squadron, the Eight Army’s special forces unit, which in turn was better known as Popsky’s Private Army after its commander Colonel Wladimir Peniakoff, the Belgian son of Russian emigres – and Italian partisan forces.
The partisans had been supplied by and were feeding intelligence to both the American Office of Strategic Studies – the forerunner of the CIA and the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).
Not only did they actively participate in the capture of Ravenna but provided vital intelligence material when they ambushed and killed a German officer who had a complete set of plans relating to the eastern end of the GOTHIC LINE, a German defensive barrier that stretched across northern Italy from the Mediterranean to the Adriatic.
This particular material – together with other information that revealed the details of the western side of the GOTHIC LINE – was vital to the Allies and so the extremely dangerous task of getting the intelligence to the Allies at all costs had to be undertaken.
Both sides had advantages in the approaching battles.
The German Army had dug in on the high ground and fortified their positions – often using forced labour drawn from Italian towns and villages.
They had command of the ground and even though the Allies had more artillery and tanks the Apennine Mountains through which the German defences ran and which overlooked the surrounding plains made them unsuitable for a direct assault.
On the other hand the balance of air superiority was tilted towards the Allies. But air attacks killed and injured neutral civilians and partisans as well as the German forces and their fascist supporters – weakening support for the Allied cause. (1)
Despite these and the natural obstacles impeding the Allied progress, Ravenna was liberated before the harsh winter caused both sides – like the armies of old – to stop and consolidate their positions before fighting resumed in the spring of 1945.
On the subject of looting the historian Max Hastings notes that in the year 1944-45 disciplinary procedures were instigated against 72 British looters and that in the same period 2,792 soldiers were charged with being improperly dressed. (2)
Perhaps the posters worked.
(1) https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/spring98/OSS.html – retrieved 28 October 2019.
(2) https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2006/jun/08/comment.iraq – retrieved 28 October 2019.