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Commander Romano

by Cristiano D'Adamo

Mr. Romano, I would like to thank you for having given us the opportunity to interview you. As we already mentioned, we are interested in the period 1940-1943.

Before answering your question, I must make a preliminary remark. I know that you see, with great diligence and depth, the events of the “Regia Marina” during World War II in the period 1940 to 1943. Allow me to remind you that for the “Regia Marina” the war did not end on September 8th, 1943 but continued on until April 25th, 1945. For some of us, it went on until 1946, when we were no longer “Regia”, but continued our small war clearing the seas of mines of any kind to reopen them to free navigation.

This last war was not one “en masse”, but I assure you that given the dangers of the underwater weapons spread out and the technical characteristics of the equipment used to neutralize them, this was also considered a war and recognized as such to all effects

Do you remember where you were the day war was declared? (June 10th, 1940)

I perfectly remember what happened on June 10th, 1940. I was an ‘avanguardista’ (a rank within the youth movement of the Fascist Party), musketeer, actually I was a cadet. I had the highest rank an “avanguardista” (from vanguard) could reach. My responsibilities were simple, for instance: in case of “general assembly” I would gather the largest possible number of “avanguardisti” and reach, running, Piazza Venezia. I underline on foot. For those who know Rome, running from Piazza Mazzini to Piazza Venezia is not a stroll!

Thus one might ask, “What was a general assembly?” Following a prolonged wailing of the sirens, all activist had to interrupt, wear their uniforms, and run to Piazza Venezia to listen to the Duce’s words. Then, we did not call him by his last name – Mussolini – but Duce, with the capital D. Not many general assemblies took place, as far as I remember three or four; indeed four. One on occasion of the levying of the sanctions against Italy (November 18th, 1935 if I am not mistaken), one for the conquest of Addis Ababa (May 5th, 1936), one for the proclamation of the empire (May 9th, 1936) and one for the declaration of war (June 10th, 1940). I was present at all of four general assemblies and “well” placed almost under the infamous balcony. This was because we made the journey really running, arriving at the place of the assembly before the square would become crowded by the “oceanic wave” of black shirts as seen on photographic documentation of the period.

On June 10th, 1940 it was the last time we heard the sirens in peacetime. Already the night of the 10th they went off for an aerial alarm. French airplanes flooded us with leaflets (which the following morning had disappeared by a miracle), and in the Piazza Mazzini neighborhood, where I used to live, fell an intense rain of shrapnel from our antiaircraft guns. This was my June 10th, 1940.

In an Italian movie recently released in the United States, that day was described as a moment of collective euphoria. Do you think that this description is exaggerated?

I haven’t seen the movie you mentioned, thus I cannot evaluate the level of euphoria described in the motion picture. One thing is sure, collective euphoria did exist in Piazza Venezia the afternoon of June 10th, 1940 and it is abundantly documented, but it does not count. In Piazza Venezia there were, in greater part, just us, very young schoolboys, the young Fascists (18 or older), the university students, the activists from the neighborhoods’ Fascist groups, and a large number of militia and black shirts from a great variety of social backgrounds and all relatively young.

Of course we were excited by the thought of war against the “hated plutocracies”, which would have inevitably concluded with our final victory as in Abyssinia (1935) and Spain (1938). “The word of the day is Victory… and we shall win!” (this is an exert from Mussolini’s speech) But outside Piazza Venezia everyone was shaking their heads with very strong doubts about the future. The most doubtful were those who had lived the affairs of the First World War. Reflections ranged from making sacrifices, to grief and destruction, to the realization that we were not ready to face a war, even though I believe that that day no one – because you are asking me about the collective euphoria of the 10th of June – had any ideas about what would actually happen.

Victories in Abyssinia and in Spain, and those of Hitler’s Germany, exalted to the highest by Fascist propaganda, inebriated and made us feel proud, and the idea of “breaking the enemy’s back” made us particularly euphoric. But, as early as the night of the 10th of June, the presence of enemy airplanes over the skies of Rome dimmed the enthusiasm of many, but not all, and numerous were the requests for voluntary draft or voluntary transfer to a war zone. Numerous draftees for every armed force were forcefully recalled, or kept in service, and the Italians, euphoric or not, answered the call, did their duties, faced great sacrifices than had previously been forecast. Everything considered, they did their best. If things have gone the way they have, we now know whose responsibility it was.

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