Tuesday, April 07, 2009


"Fighting Furlans": (l-r) Fortunato [Toni] Degano and Tarcisio [Civon] Rossi
"A very poignant film, directed by Enzio Monteleone, entitled "El Alamein-The Line of Fire",depicts, both with courage and pathos, the Italian soldiers' hopeless plight in North Africa. Distributed by Palace Films, it was shown at the 2004, Italian Film Festival, in Marin." *
While the hopeless war in North Africa was raging, another hopeless war was being faught in Greece and the Balkans. The 'Canadian Furlan", Doriano Degano gives us an historical account of the "Fighting Furlans" who participated in that war.
Ivano "Mio Caro Amico"How are you my dear Furlan Friend !! Sempre Avanti that is a motto we should all take to heart. Well as you know I have been in contact with Reno, we have had some long email discussions and a few telephone conversations. And he has been sharing some information with me regarding the Alpino Reggimento Julia. And as you know I have been doing some research on my family tree and have completed some extensive historical research on my uncle Fortunato (Toni) Degano who was in the Alpino Julia Division 8th Reggimento Battiglione Cividale 16th Compania. In the Photo attached, left hand side, is my Uncle Fortunato (Toni) Degano born 2-October-1919 died 28-February-1941 Albania, and beside him (right hand side of photo) is his childhood friend Tarcisio (Civon) Rossi born 11-November-1919 missing in action never found 19-January-1943 Russia. As you know all Furlans had nicknames as you have experienced with your Father "Bronco". For some reason that was the style in Friuli back then primarily because many had very common last names. In Pasian di Prato Udine where my Father's family originates Degano is similar to Smith here in North America. Today however the nickname is no longer a style used. My Uncle Toni Degano was part of an Elite Division Alpini known as the Julia. The Division is no longer part of the Italian army, the Alpini are but the Julia was basically retired after WWII due to so many casualties. As I mentioned in order to qualify to become an Alpino, an individual must be at least 5' 9" tall and weight at least 160lbs., so this qualified many Northern Italians primarily Friulani, and this was the area that the Julia was formed from. My Uncle Toni and his best friend Tarcisio were drafted in the Army and quickly deployed to Kukes Kosovoe Albania where the Italian Army very quietly over took the very weak and fragile Balkan country of Albania. This was a strategic move to ensure Italy was protected due to their declaration of war against Britain. As you know the plan was then escalated when Mussolini heard of his buddy Hitler, quickly dispatching Poland in 1939. Feeling less of a dictator, Mussolini ill advised entered of Greece with absolutely no plans. Here the Italian armies primarily supported by the Alpino Julia were not prepared to fight a Guerrilla Type warfare in the mountains of Greece in late Autumn 1940, where the weather and the terrain hampered any formal military interaction. The Greek army primarily relied on sniper and ambush attacks using the mountains as their back drop. In addition the Greek army was being heavily supported by the British with equipment and supplies. Now the Regiment my Uncle was in, the 8th Alpino battaglione Cividale were without supplies, another friend of my uncle Vittorio Demarco, who is alive today at 90 years old, spent days with me to recount the sacrifices they all endured in Albania, Greek and Russian Fronts. Like I mentioned out of 350 men in my uncle's Battaglione only 50 men survived. They were basically murdered to put it bluntly. They did not have any clothing for winter warfare. It was brutal. Vittorio told me he was there the day my uncle Toni died. He went to witness the slaughter after major bombings. They were continuously hit by mortar attacks, they did not stand a chance. Vittorio told me the only reason he survived the Greek campaign was because he was given orders that 28th day of Feb 1941, to bring all the wounded down to the medical team from the Mountain top known as the Golico. Otherwise he would have been gone as well. Vittorio also told me all the men that did survive February 28th 1941, were all stricken with severe frost-bite to their hands and feet. My uncle's boyhood friend Tarcisio was badly stricken with frost bite on his feet, and was deployed back home to Friuli to hospital to recover. However, soon as the recovery was over from Frost Bite, both Tarcisio and Vittorio were both deployed to the Eastern Front Russia in 1942, but before leaving again to war they both signed a pack to join the resistance THE PARTISANS. Both Vittorio and Tarcisio both knew that they must rid Italy of this dictatorship that was strangling Italy. Many people joined the resistance forming an army of Partisians to secretly remove the Fascists from power, regardless of the methods used. Once in Russia Vittorio managed to survive through shear toughness. And as evident today, Vittorio has this air about him that one would have second thoughts to pick a fight with him. Tarcisio went missing in Russia never found on January 19th 1943. Many Italian soldiers went missing in action, never returning and their families never really putting some sort of closure to their lives. My uncle Toni Degano was laid to rest in Albania but after the war his remains and all the remains of his soldier friends were moved to Italy.They are resting in a military cemetery in Bari, review the web site http://ilcapocomitiva.blogspot.com/2006/10/il-sacrario-militare-di-bari.html where 1,000's of Italian soldiers that gave the ultimate sacrifice during WWII. My uncle Fortunato was really not "Fortunato" as you know fortunato translated means fortunate. He gave his life for his country. The sad part of his my uncle Toni left behind a girl friend that he had intentions of marrying, but she too shortly after my uncle passed away, also passed away from not having quick medical attention due to a severe appendix attack. Many hospitals in Friuli were without medical care due to most Doctors being deployed for the war effort. This is truly a sad story. I have more but this should do well on the 'Blagga'. Wishing all of you and your Families a very Happy Easter. Spend time with your loved ones!! -- Doriano A. Degano
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Reno said...

I heard about an incident regarding the sinking of a ship loaded with Alpini, beinging rotated back to Italy.

The story I heard was from a young woman from my hometown Italy. She told me that one battalion of Alpini believed that they should have been rotated first but were not. So (according to my source) the Alpini that where left behind planted a bomb on the ship. The ship sank with all aboard including her father.

Doriano, do you know anything about this incident?

Doriano said...

There was a bombing of a ship filled with Alpini, but that took place in Crete, Greece. As far as I know it was bombed by the British HMAS Sydney sinking the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni in June 1940. Many Alpini sank aboard the ship.

War is not pretty Reno. But all I can say is that the Furlans were hard fighters throughout it all never giving up !! The Julia Division of the Alpini fought with great Honour and Pride defending their position. They were decorated with a Gold Medal.


Doriano said...

Mio caro amico Furlan !! I am ever so grateful that my article on my Uncle Toni was published on your Blogga!! I cannot ask for a better dedication. Many men of my Uncle's regiment did not return and those that did were scarred for the rest of their lives. My uncle's friend Vittorio Demarco who is still alive today in British Columbia spent an entire day with me to recollect his experiences in Albania, Greece, most of the Balklans and Russia.
I certainly hope this article does not cause any misconceptions due to the fact the Italians were not (on the side of) the Allies during WWII. But as history clearly shows, the Italians secretly began a resistance to quickly dispatch the Fascist regime. The Fascists were strangling Italy. I think this is important to state since many Italians early on the Fascist take over, like your Father Bronco, recognized that the Fascists were not functioning on the level (they had promised) and so, many Italians left Italy.
Italy was not ready for a battle let alone a full scale World War. Many historical facts currently available indicate Italy did not have the necessary tax base to support the War. There was nothing left in the Italian tax coffers, since Mussolini had deployed troops to Northern Africa as early as 1934 and also assisted the Spanish Dictator Franco also during the same time period. These young soldiers were not on equal ground, and were doomed from the begininng.
Ciao e Mandi

Ivano Franco Comelli said...

Doriano: It was my privilege to publish your article on the LNostra-Costa Blagga. I just realized that this year (Sept) will be the 70th anniversary of the starting of WWII by Adolph Hitler (whose birthay is just around the corner, April 20).
I just finished re-reading "All Quiet on the Western Front", and the "Four Horseman of the Apocalypse". As you know, both novels (written shortly after WW I) depicted the horrors of the Great War. Yet, just a few years later this madman was able to convince his countrymen that War was the right thing to do. So many dead, so many horrible crimes committed. Horrible, simply horrible. ivno


Buona Pasqua a Tutti

Nonostante il Terremoto in Abruzzi tutto bene

Quest’anno notiamo una Pasqua sottomesso causa la crisi economica arrivata dagli States dovuta al alto tenore di vita degli americani, al costo eccessivo degli armamenti americani e alle guerre inutili in IRAQ ed Afghanistan.-

Ci si e messo pure il terremoto così gli italiani sono rimasti a casa a guardare la televisione

Berlusconi in testa vuole ricostruire un “new town” Aquila sulle rovine del vecchio centro storico.-

Non vogliono fare come in Friuli ricostruire sul vecchio credo abbia ragione!!

Auguro a tutti un serena e felice Pasqua

Spero quest’anno di vedere qualcuno della Costa qui in friuli a Ramandolo !!!

Se inaugurate un Fogolar Furlan a San Francisco contate sulla mia presenza.-

Un cordiale augurio a tutti.-

Ora sono andato in pensione quindi ho tempo di andare e rimanere via più giorni nei periodi freddi.-

Un abbraccio a tutti


Reno said...


I must comment on the story about Doriano's uncle and friend, and the war in Greece and in Albania. The suffering they must have endured because of the lack of support from the Italian and German Military. This was especially true where the one soldier had been sent back to Italy to recover from frost bite , and then, not only was he sent back
to the war front, but he was sent to hell.... the Russian front.

In a similar vain, I have to tell you about one of my uncles, who had just married my aunt ( my mother's second sister ). He was conscripted into the Army in 1939 and right away they sent him
to the Russian front. Unfortunately he was never heard from again.
In 1946 my mother and I went to the American Red Cross to see if they could help in finding my uncle . They told us that the Russians would not answer their inquiries.
As the years went by the Italian Government finally got involved
in order to help get closure for the families of these missing soldiers .
About 20 years ago his daughter (my cousin ) got notice from the
goverment ,that a list of missing soldiers, lost on the Russin front was sent by the Russins. My missing Uncle's name was on that list.
The place where he was found was natuarlly in the middle of
Siberia. My cousin went there . From the capital in Moscow ,they
travelled more than three hours ( by train ) and finally arrived at this very remote and small village to pay homage , and to verify her father's name on the list.

This is not the end of the story. According to my cousin some of the Italian soldiers who survied the war in Siberia, went back on their own to this remote village and built a small school for the kids who live there. Can you believe that? What a monument to these brave soldiers. Amazing simply amazing. Reno


I didn't particularly care for Ferruccio's comments re: the economy. Has he forgotten that in World War II America lost 25 million soldiers to save Italy (I know, I was there) --plus monies spent to rehabilitate Europe.
Ferruccio should clicca on World War II and find out what America did for Italy and Europe.
- Anon

Canadian Furlan said...

This is for Ivano and Anon Furlana! There seems to be this feeling in Europe that the world recession was caused by the United States. I get this from all my relatives in Europe as well as the United Kingdom. Well we all know better than that, unfortunately it's human nature to always place a blame on something or someone. And as far as the Italians remembering WWII and when the Americans liberated them .. I can assure you they will never forget the sacrifices that the Americans endured!! My parents who were there also recall when the American Troops came into Udine with their generous gifts of food, chocolate and cigarettes. Because the Northern portion of Italy which encompassed all of Friuli as far as the Piedmont region was completely held under the thumb of the Third Reich (Nazi's). During this time from 1943 until they were liberated in 1945 numerous atrocities were committed. Many civilians paid the ultimate sacrifice because of a dictatorship gone mad. Anon, I do not believe there is one Italian over the age of 70yrs old that will ever forget the Americans and what they did.





Dear Ivano,
This is an Englishman from across the pond and have read your blog on the fighting Furlans. I also had an uncle who joined an Alpini division somewhere in Gemona near Udine. He went to fight in Greece in 1940, and nobody saw or heard of him since he left his home on a wet stormy night. His three brothers and sister (my mother) stayed behind and became resistance fighters (partigiani) in the Italian Alps north of Udine. Do you have any suggestions as to how I might find any information about him, and what may have happened? His name was Giovanni Urbani, and would have been in his early twenties.
Looking forward to your reply,

Canadian Furlan said...

This is in response to the English Man across the Pond. Glad you were able to find this fantastic blogg put together by Ivano. I am also glad to here that you are half Furlan. Your Mother originating from Gemona. Beautiful Gemona! I visited Gemona many many times. The Church in Gemona suffered major damages during the Earth Quake of April 1976. Regarding your Uncle Giovanni Urbani do you have any information on his service record? Most of the Furlans were part of the Julia. The only military division outside of Germany that was decorated with the gold medal of honour for their bravery and severe losses during the early part of WWII. Your uncle more than likely ended the similar fate as my uncle Toni. Many soldiers of the Alpini were on the front line early on during the war with as you know not enough or no equipment for battle. I suggest trying to find information on what battalion your uncle was enlisted with. I would almost guarantee your uncle was of the 8th Regiment of the Alpini Julia. The 8th had four battalions, Tolmezzo, Gemona, Cividale, L'Aquila each battalion consisting of 4 companies. Uf you have your uncle's birth date, town he was born, I take it Gemona and also the battalion there is information via the armed forces that can dig up his service record. I know it took some time for me to find all the information on my Uncle and I had considerable help from family back in Friuli. Let me know. And welcome on board to Ivano's La Nostra Costa Blogg..


IVANO said...

Thanks 'Canadian Furlan'. I am sure this will of help to 'Englishman Across The Pond'.

In the last few weeks I have been contacted by individuals who have read these older articles on the 'blagga'. (Because of 'google' and other search engines these article can be easily found by interested persons.) I am indeed glad that the 'Blagga' has been able to help find lost relatives, etc. Sempre Avanti. ivn0


Hi Doriano,

Thanks for the information. I too can speak a little Furlan as well as Italian, but did not have the luxury of attending Italian language classes. I have not been able to find any service history, only a few old memories of my mother's who, in a frought state spoke to some returning Alpinis, after the fateful event. Also there is a very interesting and informative book written by Janfranco Gubiani, a former Partisan, pub. in 2004, title, Gemona Liberata (Gotis di storie). The book contains accurate information, verified by my mother, who was a fellow resistance fighter together with her brothers, except the eldest, Geovanni, who joined the Alpinis. The book is mainly concerned with the resistance movement in the area, but there are sections about the local Alpinis who went to Greece.

Giovanni was born in 1919, in Gemona. He was a tall, strong lad, well acquainted with high mountains, as the Alps were his childhood playground. He bid farewell to his family on a stormy night in January 1941 (it may have been December 1940). He was in uniform and there was a certain urgency to get to Greece. We think he was with the Gemona battalion of the Julia division. They landed in Greece under terrible wintery and freezing weather. They had to carry heavy equipment, in treacherous conditions, up moutains which were unfamiliar to them, and often in the dark. His group were carrying heavy pieces of artillary, and were never seen again. He is officially classified as dispersed.

Most of the Alpini who died were young men in their late teens or early twenties. Some of the actual mountains where bodies were found are listed and I believe are form the Pindus range. They are: Galico (many died here), Monstrkoda, Voiussa, Turano, Pregonat, Ponte Dragoti, Pindo and Toplinark. The returning Alpini soldier from the same battalion, who spoke to my mother all those years ago said that Geovanni was carrying, on his shoulder, a heavy part of a gun called a metratria, not sure what this is, and they were on a mountain called Bregenit, I can only assume this to be Mount Pregonat. What a waste of lives!! We should be truly thankful that we are living in relatively peaceful times.

peter said...

Hi Doriano, my grandfather Attilio was a member of the alpini who fought in Albania, Greece and Russia. He said in Greece his fellow soldiers were killed by a mortar while he was collecting supplies. He wished he had died then. He was on the ship which made it back to Italy. He wished he had died on the other ship. He was then sent to Russia, and God only knows why, survived. His story is like many others, shocking. Sadly, my Nonna, father and uncle never got the chance to grow with the husband/father they new before the war. As a young child I still remember the screems of my grandfather, reliving the horror in his sleep. We loved our Nonno, we now realise why he was so quiet, and why he was always deep in thought.





This message is for Peter from Australia. Thank you very much for your recollection of your Nonno's WWII brutal experience. If you can Peter please find out the Reggiment and Battalion your Nonno was in with the Alpini. As I mentioned in my write up, I am still in contact to this day with my Uncle Toni's fellow soldiers. One still alive and will be 90 yrs. old who made the same trek as your Nonno. Albania, Greece and Russia. On February 28th it will be 69 yrs. that my uncle Toni fell in Albania during the ill advised and poorly planned war against Greece. My uncle Toni was only 21 yrs old. If he would have survived the Greek conquest he would have with your Nonno in Russia.
Thank you so much for this update. And a special thank you to our Furlan Ivano Comelli and his La Nostra Costa Blogg..



IVANO said...

Peter: Welccome to the "blagga' train. Hopefully, you will respond to the Canadian Frulans message (above). You didn't say where in Australia you live. However if you are around the Melbourne area look up Comelli(s). I believe they live in that area. There father Bepo (deceased)was my first cousin, and immigrated there from Nimis Friuli. Sempre Avanti

peter said...

My Nonno Attilo (originally from Conco) fought with the 8th Alpini Regiment Cividale Battalion. Albania and Greece 23/01/41 till 15/04/42. Russian front 5/07/42 till 20/02/43. From 20/02/43 till 20/04/43 he spent in the Army Reserve General Hospital, Bari. He was then on leave for 30 days though he had to report to Padova Military Hospital on the 20/05/43 till 29/05/43 where he was later assigned to light duties.
When he returned home, both he and his brother, (like many others), had to hide from the retreating German army in the hills around Conco. Sadly his brother Joe was captured and forced to work in a Stucka German fighter plane factory. One night the factory was destroyed by allied bombers. After this he was then made to work at one of the many gas chambers in the Jewish (Camps), removing the dead bodies after they'd been gassed, then he buried them. Unfortunately for Joe, like Attilio, he rarely spoke of the war.
Ivano, my family and I are located about 100kms east of Melbourne in the country. Just a quick 1hrs drive from Melbourne.

IVANO said...

Peter: Thanks for responding to Doriano's query. You have a very interesting Furlan family history. You should be very proud of it.

Since you live in the Melbourne area, do try to locate the Comellis from Friuli. At one time they were in the butcher business. They have a copy of my book, if you are interested. Sempre Avanti.

Ben said...

Hi there, I am a fulan living in Australia. My nonno, Giovanni Nassig, I believe was part of the Alpini regiment in Albania & Greece and "operazione belliche scacchiere balcanico" in the balkans. I am trying to find out more about is military activities, that is, who he served and exactly when and where. I understand my noono's brother Arturo Nassig was also part of this regiment and he later became a partisan and only last year wrote a book about his personal military and partisan activities. My nonno was taken prisoner by the Germans after the armistace in 1943, but I think after he was released he may have rejoined an itialian army or a partisan brigade - unfortunately I really want to get more info and understand exactly what happened but it is a difficult task !

Canadian Furlan said...

WOW!! This is excellent information Ben. Welcome on board the world famous La Nostra Costa Blogga. Need information regarding what division of the Alpini was your Nonno enlisted with? If he was part of "Julia" there were three divisions 3rd, 8th and 9th. They were primarily comprised of Friulani. And you must get a hold of the book your Nonno's brother Arturo wrote. Many Alpini returned home from the Balklans and immediately joined the Partisans. The objective was to rid Italy of the strangle-hold the Fascists had on the entire Italian population. The war for Italy was over in the Balklans in 1941. This is where the basic Italian Soldier realized the true fact that Italy was not prepared for a battle let alone a World War. I have many many opinions regarding this terrible period of time for Italy, known as the BLACK PERIOD, however if you get me started it will be a long one. The facts are in our history books now, WWII started at the end of WWI. The complete conditional surrender signed by the Allies and Germany in that famous railway car in Compiegne Forest France on 11 November 1918 was in fact a blue print for plans to initiate WWII.
Ben thanks for the input and please keep in touch!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Canadian Furlan ! I managed to find out that my nonno was with the "Cividale" Battalion under the "Julia" division, and in the "16th Company". All I know was that he was ion Yugoslavia, not sure about Greece and nothing has ever been mentioned of him being in Russia. Do you know how or where I might be able to find out more? Mandi'. Ben ...

Ivano Franco Comelli said...

Hi Ben. I have forwarded your comment to the Canadian Furlan.
Also, Reno has a recent article on: "Fighting Furlans" posted at the top of the 'Blagga":


Sempre Avanti ivno


Hey Ben
The information you provided is very good. Sounds like your Nonno and my uncle were together. You need to determine if he was in the 8th Battalion of the Alpini, "Ottavo Battaglione Alpini, Divisione Julia" But as far as all the rest if Nonno was in the 16th company which was the Rifle company I am certain he was with my Uncle. As far as additional information. There is a way to contact the Italian military service "Esercito Italiano" here is the site http://www.esercito.difesa.it/ and if you provide your Nonno's full name date and place of birth with his parents names and address them to the Italian Military service. I was fortunate family back in Italy obtained all information on my Uncle. There was a book published of all the young men that went to war in my uncle's home town of Pasian di Prato. I am certain you will be able to find information.
Keep digging ask questions and if possible find out of commrades that may still be alive that can help you. That is what I was able to accomplish over a long time.
Keep me updated and I may also do some additional digging.. take care
Ciao e Mandi
Canadian Furlan