The Incredible Story of Silvio Corbari from lorenzos blog (check it out)
The story of Silvio Corbari is a tale of war, love, and betrayal, enriched all the more by the sensational events which surrounded this man during one of Italy’s darker periods, the German occupation. His life may seem like a plot from an adventure novel or a movie, but it is in actuality the true story of a man who risked all in the name of pride and country. It is a story which deserves to be known.
A boy from the “Land of Black and Red”
A boy from the “Land of Black and Red”
During the first decades of the 1900′s, the Emilia Romagna region of Italy maintained an agricultural driven economy based on the medieval concept of landed property: a few wealthy families owned enormous tracts of land which were in turn worked by thousands as farmhands. The marked difference between social classes, especially in rural areas, the lack of a true middle class, in conjunction with poor conditions for the working class, caused the wide spread of socialist ideology throughout the area. In a move to improve their wages, the agricultural laborers grouped themselves into cooperatives and began a series of strikes, some of which ended in violent clashes between the opposing sides.
Despite the overwhelming propaganda, the rise of Fascism did not improve the situation for this class of laborers. One of the points of the first Fascist manifesto stated “The land to the workers” but actually, at least in the Emilia Romagna region, it came about quite the opposite as the Fascist Blackshirts constantly defended the landowners, and during heated exchanges attacked the socialist cooperatives. Instead of becoming an instrument to defend the oppressed, the Blackshirts were used by the oppressors as a means to maintain control and power.
As mentioned, this situation often led to bloody clashes between the two factions, and ultimately, to widespread repression of the workers organizations when Fascism rose to power. Hence, the already weak bargaining power of the agricultural workers was practically annihilated under the Fascist boot heel of the Blackshirts. Because of these vastly contrasting points of view, Emilia Romagna gave rise as both the homeland for Mussolini and many others fascist personalities, and also served as the core of a strong anti-fascist movement.
Silvio Corbari, born in 1923 in Faenza, grew up in this volatile environment, on the ‘wrong’ side of the social divide; he thus very soon in life developed a strong aversion to Fascism. In all other regards however he had a normal youth; he completed primary school plus the working-starting course, (which was a good level of instruction for a working class boy in those years). Once his studies were complete, he obtained gainful employment in a local workshop. He also had a passion for reading and acting, especially when the character he was portraying was in disguise. This aptitude would become a great help to him in the future.
By the end of 1942, Corbari was married and had a daughter, and like many of his fellow countrymen, he was called up for military service. During the period of his life spent in the army, he experienced considerable problems due to his contempt for authority, especially when his platoon was ordered to perform parade drills in front of the Fascist leaders; something that he steadfastly refused. Thus, more than once was Corbari sentenced to spend a few days in the Army jail of Faenza.
During this time Corbari’s anti-fascist beliefs strengthened even more, and he began to contact and recruit others with like views to form a small clandestine outfit. So, when Mussolini was deposed on July, 25, 1943, Corbari already was the established leader of his own little anti-fascist group.
The Birth of the Partisan Brigade
For most of the summer of 1943 the group did little more than partake in some street brawls against some disbanded Blackshirt members, but this situation changed drastically when Italy signed the Armistice with the Allied powers on September, 8, 1943. The Regio Esercito local command of Faenza was left without any orders from the high command, as was most Army units across all of Italy, on a course of action to undertake now that the Armistice was signed; the fundamental unanswered question facing local Army commanders was whether they were to resist the Germans and engage on sight or were they to allow the Germans to pass north to escape the Allied advance, the second scenario possibly an accord agreed upon previously with the Germans. Shortly after the announcement of the Armistice a German column, which greatly out gunned the Italian forces, was spotted heading towards the city, thus to avoid capture and imprisonment since the Italian forces had no answer to these questions, the Commander ordered the disbandment of all the army units inside the city.
Corbari realized that this was the right time to transform his group into a true fighting formation, so in the days that followed, while the civilians ran to the abandoned army depots looking for food and clothing, Corbari and his men conducted a raid to collect as many weapons and ammunition as possible. The Germans set up to occupy the city in force, so Corbari’s group was forced to move to the mountains outside of the town once their supply raid was completed.
It was here Corbari met a group of officers and soldiers who were trying to form the first nucleus of organized resistance, and drawn to their shared ideas, he decided to join with them. In a short range of time a partisan brigade was created. The brigade consisted of two companies; Corbari and his group were assigned to the one called “Compagnia della Samoggia”. They were but 35 men, however thanks to Corbari’s foresight, they had 7 heavy machine guns, 30 light machine guns, 100 Mod. 91 rifles, handguns, and several hundred hand grenades.
Typically, a Partisan brigade had a structure based on two commanding figures; the military commander and the political commissioner. The military commander was usually a former officer of the Regio Esercito whose responsibilities were the common military functions including planning of actions, organization of the units, and the distribution of the guns and so forth. The political commissioner was often a civilian (if possible a graduate or an undergraduate) who represented the C.L.N. ( National Liberation Committee) which was the union of all the anti-fascist parties. Since C.L.N. was practically the Comando Supremo of the partisan units, the political commissioner acted as a liaison officer who submitted to the C.L.N. approval request on important operations, and whose position also was responsible for keeping contact with various intelligence units and with the clandestine organization called S.A.P. (Patriotic Action Squads). The S.A.P was composed of civilians who appeared outwardly to live a common life, but actually secretly worked for the resistance. Even though Corbari’s partisan brigade was one of the firsts created, it already followed this standard command structure
So, finally Corbari had the opportunity to fight against the Fascist and German forces he so longed to engage; his dream however did not last long.
First Target: Mussolini
In late September 1943, after being freed from captivity by German paratroopers and whisked off to Germany to meet with and thank Hitler, Mussolini returned to German-RSI controlled northern Italy and his home located at Rocca delle Caminate, which was just inside the operative zone of “Della Samoggia” company. Corbari, who favored “commando” type actions, immediately devised and presented to his command a detailed plan to kill Mussolini during a meeting the Duce was to attend at the Grand Hotel of Castrocaro. The plan was rejected as it was deemed too risky, but Corbari wasn’t discouraged and devised another plan to assassinate Mussolini at Rocca delle Caminate.
This time Corbari tried even harder to convince both his command and the C.L.N. to act immediately before Mussolini’s escort became more reinforced. Even though the military commander supported his plan, the C.L.N. wavered too much, thus this suggested operation was likewise discarded. Being of rebellious nature and recalcitrant to orders, Corbari considered the incertitude of the C.L.N. in his abilities to be a sort of veiled sabotage of his efforts, so, after a fierce dispute he left the brigade followed quickly by a dozen other partisans loyal to him.
“Banda Corbari” and Iris
Once he left the Brigade, Corbari formed a new and smaller partisan group in which his first rule was the total autonomy from the
reins of political control. In fact he didn’t accept any relation with the C.L.N. and even refused to establish the position of the political commissioner.
Given the smaller size of the group, the C.L.N. considered Corbari’s decision with indifference rather than with anger. Within a couple of months however, the group increased in size with the addition of some recently freed Yugoslavian POW’s, now turned partisans, who joined Corbari’s band. These men revealed an unexpected skill in guerrilla fighting tactics that helped to achieve the group a series of very successful operations within a short range of time. Corbari’s fighters began to earn a reputation for being able to move silently, attack suddenly and violently, and to then disappear as fast as they had appeared.
Soon the local civilians began to admire the group’s actions taken against the Germans, while the enemy began to fear this small group of partisans who were disparagingly called “Banda Corbari”, much as if they were a common gang of thieves.
Also officially joining the “Banda Corbari” around the same time as the Yugoslavians was Iris Versari, an Italian girl who previously had worked as courier. When Corbari met Iris it was love at first sight and, although he was already married, they soon became an inseparable couple.
While the group was building it’s good military reputation , Corbari decided to adopt an additional strategy which he considered something comparable to propagandist-psychological warfare. Using his passion from his days on the stage for jokes and deception, he devised a series of sensational actions designed to convince many undecided young men to join the resistance, while also delivering to the enemy a precise message; a partisan can be anyone and anywhere, and he can strike at any time.
Funny and Amazing Actions of Banda Corbari
Corbari decided to put in motion his new strategy with a dramatic opening, and did so by challenging to a duel the RSI secretary of Faenza. In his letter of challenge sent to the secretary, Corbari defined the location, a church, and he requested only one condition: both gentlemen were to arrive at the location without escorts or their guns. The secretary agreed to the duel and arrived at the church at the established time; breaking his word the secretary had his escort secretly and inconspicuously surrounded the building earlier in the day, but Corbari did not appear. The secretary fumed as he waited inside the church, his anger rising by each passing minute when it became obvious to him that he had been stood up by Corbari. As he exited the church he paused to ask an old beggar who sat on the church’s stairs if he had seen a young man around the building earlier. The beggar said no, and was rewarded by the secretary who tossed him some money for the information.
The following days the secretary spread the word about the apparent cowardice of Corbari, who had refused to show at the church for the duel. Soon after, the secretary received a letter containing some money and the message “I give you back the money that you have generously donated to me, but you have to know that your life is what I’ve donated to you. Silvio Corbari.” Corbari had pulled off his first great acting performance of the war, at the expense of one angry and embarrassed RSI secretary.
A few days later, the city of Faenza was again thrust into turmoil as Corbari’s group announced publicly that a high explosive bomb was placed under the statue of General Pasi and would soon detonate. An RSI bomb squad was quickly sent from Bologna to handle the situation, but while defusing the device they found that the explosive consisted of nothing more than a pot of bean soup.
Thus, while the reputation of Corbari increased amongst the local population, the civilians began to laugh at the expense of Fascists, eroding their credibility.
Trying to stop the rising admiration for Corbari, the RSI command spread the news through the city journal that Corbari had been killed during a fire fight near San Giorgio in Cepparano. The following Sunday a GNR officer entered into the most crowded cafè of Faenza, and ordered himself a coffee. He sat quietly in the bustling cafè amongst the locals and GNR soldiers likewise enjoying their beverages. Once he finished drinking his coffee, he slammed to the ground portraits of Mussolini and Ettore Muti, and then spat on them both. The patrons of the cafe were no doubt stunned by this outburst, and it was only when the GNR officer took off his hat that everyone realized that he was Silvio Corbari. At that point a couple of the GNR soldiers in the cafe attempted to react, but the cunning partisan drew his weapon and fired an entire smg’s magazine in their direction, skillfully hurting no one but halting the men in their tracks. Corbari then quietly walked out the cafe door, his newly developed legend growing even greater, for Corbari was a partisan who, acting as if a hero from a novel, could mock the whole fascist garrison of Faenza and apparently could not himself be touchedWith his sensational actions, Corbari obtained the results he had hoped. Soon, more young men began to join him in his fight against the Fascist and German troops, and by the end of 1943 the group was composed by more than 50 partisans. Now the commander of a true partisan’s brigade, Corbari devised an ambitious plan to further propel his cause.
The morning of 9 January 1944, he led his men on the attack against the Fascist controlled town of Tredozio; while the town was small in size, it held an important crossroad vital to the Germans supply line. Corbari, commanding a company of 30 partisans, was able to quickly capture the Carabinieri post and the GNR garrison without suffering any losses to his men. The area was immediately proclaimed by Corbari the Partisan Republic of Tredozio, and was to stand under his ‘banner’ for 11 days, despite several enemy attacks to reclaim her, before finally falling back into the hands of the Fascists.
During those days, Corbari in the role of city ‘Mayor’, redistributed to the poorest people the accumulated wheat from the GNR depots, and also destroyed the records of taxes and military service held in the town. On 20 January, the short lived Republic of Tredozio came to an end as a GNR brigade, after receiving a tip, attacked a farm known as Cà Morelli, where several of the partisan fighters in the “Republic” were hiding. The GNR prevailed, and the fighting left about 20 of the partisans dead. Less than a week later, a fascist police squad burst into the house of Iris Versari, and arrested the entire family minus their main target, Iris, who escaped the raid by jumping out from a window and then fleeing to safety. Her brothers spent over 40 days in jail and her mother was deported to the Dachau lager, where she was fortunate to survive her confinement there. Her father was deported into the Buchenwald lager, where he was to perish while in captivity.
The creation of the ‘ Republic of Tredozio’, while serving the strategic purpose of interruption of the GNR-German supply route, was also once again a coup for Corbari in regards to growing the popularity and reputation of his partisan group, while also giving hope to those who longed for true freedom.
The Ghost Truck
Even while these losses were a severe blow, both personally and operationally, for Iris and Silvio, they did not prevent them from continuing to fight for their cause. In February the band ‘recaptured’ Tredozio from the Fascist two more times, but they were unable to hold the town for more than two or three days each occasion.
In the same month Corbari and his men captured a group of GNR soldiers and their truck; Corbari the schemer would not let this golden opportunity go to waste. The partisans, perfectly disguised as GNR soldiers, used the truck to attack small garrisons and road blocks along the road between Emilia Romagna and Tuscany. Deceived by the friendly approach of the “fake” GNR soldiers advancing in their truck, more than 15 enemy targets fell within two days during this masterful deception. The truck was successively hidden after each raid, and then used again for similar actions; indeed for a time the partisans were also known as “The Band of the Ghost Truck”.
During that same period Corbari’s band occupied several other towns in nearby Faenza, usually for one or two days each time, nothing more, before relinquishing control. Corbari and his men were becoming masters of hit and run style guerrilla fighting. One of the notable aspects of these occupations was a recurring task undertaken by Iris Versari, who often went to the local bank of the town and absconded with all of the cash. A part of the money was held by the brigade for its sustenance, and the rest was distributed to the poor of the town. Iris receipted the money and the goods held by the brigade, and it is curious to note how, when the war ended, the Allied Command repaid to these towns all of the receipts ‘owed’, classifying them as “war expenses”.
Once again Tredozio
After the two occupations of Tredozio, the Wehrmacht Command was forced to place a company within the town, in addition to the GNR garrison previously positioned there to protect the crossroad. As soon as he became aware of this development, Corbari wrote to the Wehrmacht commander announcing his intention to visit him in the following days. The Germans reacted by setting up several checkpoints around the town; they were determined to capture the scourge of Tredozio.
A week later an old farmer walked down the main street of Tredozio dragging behind him a large pig by a rope. As he stopped in front of a tavern, the farmer asked a couple of nearby German soldiers if they could watch his pig while he went inside to drink a glass of wine. The Germans agreed, and the farmer shuffled off into the tavern to enjoy his vino. After the drink, the farmer emerged from the tavern, thanked the soldiers and walked away with his pig trailing behind him.
Some days later the German commander received a letter stating: “Since your men are unable to catch a partisan, I humbly suggest you employ them as pork guards. This is the only job that suits them. Silvio Corbari”. One can only imagine the look on Silvio’s face as he sat in the tavern that day drinking his wine, a wanted man reclining mere feet away from two of Hitler’s ‘fiercest soldiers’, who instead of seizing the ‘fugitive’ Corbari, stood outside in the sun guarding his hog. This was Silvio Corbari as his best.
The Murder of Gustavo Marabini, MVSN Consul
In April 1944, Corbari secretly sent word out to the local Fascist HQ requesting to establish an unexpected treaty with the MVSN General Consul Gustavo Marabini, probably the most prominent member of the RSI in Emilia Romagna. Corbari claimed that he was tired of a clandestine life on the run, and he wanted to negotiate an honorable surrender for Iris and himself. Marabini accepted, and in exchange for the two abandoning their partisan cause, he offered to Iris a position of responsibility in the Red Cross, and to Corbari the rank of commander in a GNR Brigade.
That proposal was accepted by the two partisans, and they arranged a secret meeting with Marabini to formalize the accord. The agreement called for Corbari and Iris to meet Marabini in an open meadow, and from here they were subsequently scheduled to travel together in Marabini’s car to Rocca delle Caminate, to meet Mussolini and finalize the deal. The initial rendezvous in the meadow took place as scheduled, but during the trip to Rocca delle Caminate, mayhem erupted in the back seat of the car. Iris suddenly pulled out a gun that she had secreted on her person, and tossed it to Corbari who immediately shot Marabini in the neck, killing him. In an instant, Corbari the actor had transformed himself into a new role once again; this of a cold blooded assassin.
This act echoed tremendously throughout the RSI, for Corbari had struck the establishment very close to its heart. Thus, after this execution, the RSI put a bounty of 30.000 lire (a considerable amount) on the head of Corbari. He was now one of the most wanted men in all of RSI controlled Italy.
Spring – Summer 1944
In spring 1944 the RSI, desperately looking for new soldiers, enacted a measure that inadvertently became Corbari’s biggest partisan recruitment tool to date. The RSI extended mandatory conscription until the class of 1926, and instituted the death penalty for those ‘draft dodgers’ who subsequently failed to enlist. This measure caused the opposite effect that the RSI had hoped for, and in fact a mass of young men left their homes and joined the resistance to now fight against them.
The Banda Corbari benefited greatly from this surge in volunteers, with the new arrivals of May-June 1944 allowing for the creation of 8 new companies. Those inexperienced recruits were ably trained by the older partisans, including Antonio Spazzoli, a WWI hero who joined the brigade along with his brother Arturo. The Spazzoli brothers were outstanding in their field craft and were very valuable members fighting for Corbari’s unit; they also were separately involved in many secret missions working together with field operatives from British intelligence. The brothers Spazzoli were an integral part to Corbari’s partisans, but they suffered a terrible blow when a German ambush captured Antonio, and he was duly imprisoned by the Nazi forces. Despite the torture he endured while in captivity in an attempt to break him, he never revealed any information about the group’s operations, or betrayed his fellow partisans.
During that spring, Adriano Casadei, a 22 year old local boy, joined the Brigade. Soon after, Casadei revealed an unexpected ability in formulating military strategy and tactics, which allowed him to quickly become the commander of a company, and also a devoted friend and confidant of Corbari. A couple of months after his arrival, the “newcomer” Casadei devised and then implemented one of the most famous actions ever undertaken by Corbari’s Brigade.
Knowing that the radio transmissions from the brigade were being intercepted by the Germans, Casadei sent a signal requesting from the Allied Command an air-drop of supplies. He asked for guns and ammo, but also a large quantity of explosives, indicating to his Allied contacts the desire to destroy some bridges in the area. After several requests, the Allied Command confirmed the “rendezvous”, and designated for the drop to take place the night of July 10, on the crest of Monte Lavane. The German’s intercepted this message, and their command was thrilled with this apparent ‘inelegance coup’. In their grasp they believed, was now the opportunity to deliver a devastating blow against the thorn in their side that was Corbari’s Brigade.
The day of the air drop arrived, and as the Germans prepared their assault team for the surprise raid, Corbari’s men prepared something in turn for their countries occupiers. Casadei and two squads of partisans had hidden on the mount since early that afternoon, and as soon as the packets were dropped down from Allied planes, the men moved out from their seclusion and collected the supplies. One of Casadei’s squads secured all the guns and ammunition and moved away quickly from the drop zone disappearing once again into the surroundings. The other squad grouped together all of the explosives, and gathered them in a nearby cowshed.
While the partisans were busy on the summit, below two columns of SS and Alpenjagers arrived at the base of the mount, and began the ascension up the incline. When the Germans reached the clearing, they saw no sign of partisan activity, but noticed a lamp lit inside a cowshed in the distance. A squadron of soldiers were silently dispatched to surround the structure and to in turn capture the partisans inside.
The German troops moved closer to the shed and fell right into Casadei’s trap. Sheltered behind a cropping of rocks, Casdei and a handful of men patiently watched as the German troops moved into the shadow of the cow shed, and to the point of no return. Casadei ignited the fuse, and moments later a tremendous explosion burst forth from the shed obliterating the area. The Germans caught in the blast suffered appalling casualties with 80 dead and more than 100 wounded soldiers thrown about the
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The End of Silvio, Iris and their friends
Following the action on Monte Lavane, both the Germans and RSI intensified their hunt for Corbari and his men. Corbari decided to move the Brigade’s HQ to a secluded area, far from his troops. This strategy was often used by partisan formations due to the unlikelihood of a simultaneous enemy attack on two different locations. When living a life on the run, you must attempt to stay two steps ahead of your opponent at all times.
So for some weeks, Corbari, Iris, Casadei and Spazzoli laid low while living in a small house secluded in the woods, keeping in contact with the brigade through the use of several couriers. In the first days of August 1944, during a routine reconnaissance around the HQ area, Casadei and Spazzoli came upon Franco Rossi, a young man who claimed to be a partisan escaped from prison. Corbari took him in, and Rossi was sheltered for several days in the HQ. One day however, Rossi disappeared, absconding with the customized MAB smg of Iris Versari. Iris maintained a Sten as a backup gun, but a couple of days after Rossi’s disappearance she accidentally shot herself in the leg, most likely due to her inexperience with this weapon or perhaps from the gun malfunctioning.
Perhaps underestimating the Rossi situation and or the risk over his theft and disappearance, Corbari did not order a move away from the current HQ, thus the partisan leaders remained at the cabin. The fact that Iris had suffered the leg wound and would of had a difficult time moving most likely factored in on Corbari’s decision to stay. This decision would prove to be Corbari’s fatal mistake
In the early morning light of August, 18, 1944, units of the Italian Battaglione M and German Alpenjager, guided by Franco Rossi, burst into Corbari’s HQ. Caught by surprise, the partisans tried to resist, but were overwhelmed by the sheer number of attackers. The confrontation inside the cabin was quick and deadly. Iris, pinned on her bed, shot herself in the head before she could be captured. Corbari, seeing his love slump over dead was devastated. He quickly regrouped as best he could, and realized he would need to try and fight his way out of the cabin if he was to survive. He jumped out from a window, shooting at his attackers as he leapt, and attempted to run into the surrounding woods. He was quickly hit by several bullets, but still kept moving. Staggering from his wounds, he fell into a nearby ravine fatally striking his head on the rocks below. Silvio Corbari, hero to so many, was dead.
Arturo Spazzoli had his legs shattered by an initial burst of machine gun fire and had fallen where he had stood; lying immobile on the floor, he was immediately executed. The loyal Casadei initially made good his escape, but was captured uninjured when he returned to attempt to rescue Corbari.
The prisoner Casadei, along with the corpses of Corbari and the other partisans, were taken to the main square in Castrocaro where they were hanged. In the afternoon, the corpses were moved to the public square in Forlì where they were hanged once again, left there to sway in the wind for several days. Antonio Spazzoli, brother of Arturo, was led from the prison to Forlì where he was likewise executed.
This was the tragic end of the brigade’s command, but it did not mean the end of the brigade as a fighting unit; the partisan troop was able to stay united for several weeks even without commanders until Bruno Corbari, elder brother of Silvio, became its new leader. During that time a new surge of partisan volunteers allowed the formation of eight more companies, doubling the previous total. In October 1944 the Brigade was renamed “Battaglione Silvio Corbari”, and in his honor continued on the fight for freedom, especially in support of Allied troops, until the end of the war.
Immediately after the war the President of the Italian Republic awarded Silvio Corbari, Adriano Casadei and Antonio Spazzoli with the gold medal for military valor. Many years later, Iris Versari was also awarded with the same decoration. Some sources report that Arturo Spazzoli also was awarded with a medal by the British Army, for having helped in rescuing many British troops caught behind enemy lines.
Another Side of the Story
Although over the years the legend of Silvio Corbari increased and, as often happens, was bolstered by popular exaggerations which raised his mystique to an almost story book level, still today his story seems steeped in mystery. There remain questions that have been left unanswered since he and his band blazed their way into Italian lore.
Without a doubt Corbari was a clever man who had a decent education and basic military training, but for some this alone is not enough to explain the excellence of his achievements, for example, the outstanding military effectiveness of his brigade, especially during the genesis of the group. Many have stated that Corbari knew and applied concepts that, in those years, were known only by members of Special Forces or intelligence agents. The question often asked when discussing Corbari is if you do not believe that his skill was simply an innate talent, who in fact had trained him?
But perhaps the biggest mystery surrounding Corbari was the treaty and successive murder of Gustavo Marabini. Why did the MVSN Consul accept to meet Corbari and even to go so far as to sit in the same car with him? Was there more to this agreement and operation then is known? We know that Marabini was a spokesman for Benito Mussolini, but was Corbari in turn the spokesman for someone else higher up? Or perhaps was Marabini set up for this hit by someone on his own side?
Questions also linger over the circumstances of the death of Corbari and his command team. Who directed Franco Rossi to Corbari’s HQ where the partisans found him for the first time? Why were Corbari and the other partisans not more alarmed after the disappearance of Rossi? Did they just write him off as a deserter, a reasonable assumption concerning a man they hardly knew? If so this underestimation was a huge mistake by the usually security minded Corbari which proved deadly for him.
There are some historians who have formulated an account of Corbari which is slightly different from the popular one. They allege that in October – November 1943 Corbari made contact with elements of Russian intelligence who were working covertly inside Italy, and it would be through ties with this organization that his brigade would accomplish so much. They also theorize that the Yugoslavian POWs who joined the brigade were actually Russian SMERSH agents, and that Iris Versari had been their contact and in fact possibly a Russian agent herself.
Corbari was brave and daring without a doubt, but also young and inexperienced. The theory goes that the Russians felt he was the ideal man for them to work through, and his formation, not being politically controlled, offered to SMERSH more leeway than other brigades, included the communist ones. It would have been through these Russian agents that Corbari learned how to train and employ his partisans like commandos, and to conduct operations in such an efficient manner. Some speculate that the treaty with Marabini was orchestrated by the Russians, who were attempting to open a dialog with Mussolini, but Corbari’s deep hatred of Fascism and his impulsive nature got the better of him, and he seized this unique chance to gun down such a high ranking member of the Fascist Party.
They go on to reason that the Russians would not have cared for the Spazzoli brothers due to their relationship with British intelligence. This would have been a potential conflict of interests with their future goals for the Italian political establishment after the war had ended.
It goes to reason that if the Russians had set up the meeting with Marabini, the failure of this encounter in terms of establishing a direct line of communication with Mussolini would have been a major disappointment to them. Factor in the arrest of Antonio Spazzoli and the fear that he might compromise their operation; it’s easy to see how the Russians would begin to have some doubts about the reliability of Corbari and Iris, if one were to put stock in this theory
Following this train of thought, when Corbari and Iris devised a new and solid plan to kill Mussolini during a public speech he was scheduled to deliver, the Russians understood that those ‘partisan lovers’ had become a serious problem towards the successful fulfillment of their ultimate plans, instead of the resource they once were. Is this how and why Franco Rossi was inserted into the picture, sent by the Russians to survey the HQ and then betray Corbari and his crew? As proponents of this theory point out, the partisan command was attacked just a few days before the planned assassination attempt on Mussolini, and all the captured partisans were killed without being interrogated, a most unusual thing.
If on the one hand this theory has some logic behind it, there is no solid proof at this time to back this account. Even if Corbari had Russian intelligence backing him, it was still his skill, bravery, and daring that pulled off these missions. One can say the mystery surrounding the life and death of Silvio Corbari still remains intact; perhaps this is the way it should remain.
The older generation who continue to live in that once hotly contested section of Italy to this day still talk about Silvio, Iris and their friends with love and respect. During those dark, confusing and turbulent days of the war, the actions of Silvio Corbari gave many a sense of hope and pride; he had become rebellion incarnate. Due to the Brigades sensational and often mocking actions, combined with Corbari’s idea of an absolute social justice, in the eyes of those civilians, that “gang” represented their revenge against a regime that had exploited and oppressed Italy for more than 20 years. Silvio Corbari stood against a reign of tyranny, and gave voice to a people who for far too long had none.
Note: Thank you to TJ for your collaboration on this article.
Pino Cacucci – Ribelli
“Silvio e Iris” in RAI Radio2 Broadcast “Storie” by Chiara Pacilli and Andrea Bajani
Aurora Borioni – Silvio Corbari ( School Essay for Liceo Scientifico Torricelli)
Massimo Novelli – Corbari, Iris, Casadei e gli altri
To learn more about the working conditions of farmhands during Fascism, I recommend reading several works by Paul R.Corner.
“Fascist agrarian policy and the Italian economy in the inter-war years”
Website of the Presidency of the Italian Republic
Decrees of awarding of gold medals for military valor