Italian-occupied Corsica refers to the military (and administrative) occupation by the Kingdom of Italy of the island of Corsica during World War II. It lasted from November 1942 to September 1943.
After an initial period of increasing control over Corsica, Italian forces started losing territorial control to the local Resistance, and in the aftermath of the Italian capitulation to the Allies various units took different sides in the battle between newly landed German troops, on one hand, and resistance fighters and Free French Forces, on the other hand.
On 8 November 1942, the Allies landed in North Africa. In response, Nazi Germany formulated Operation Anton, as part of which Italy occupied the island of Corsica on November 11 (Italian operation codename: “Operazione C2”), and some parts of France up to the Rhone river.
The Italian occupation of Corsica had been strongly promoted by the Italian irredentist movement during Italy’s Fascist period. The occupation force initially included 30,000 Italian troops and gradually reached the size of nearly 85,000 soldiers (reinforced in June 1943 by 12,000 German troops). This was a huge occupation force relative to the size of the local population of 220,000.
The VII Army Corps of the Regio Esercito was able to occupy Corsica, which was still under the formal sovereignty of Vichy France, without a fight. Because of the initial lack of perceived partisan resistance and to avoid problems with Marshal Philippe Pétain, no Corsican units were formed under Italian control (except for a labour battalion formed in March 1943). Corsican population initially showed some support for the Italians, even as a consequence of the irredentist propaganda.
The Italian troops grew to encompass two Army Divisions (the “Friuli” and the “Cremona”), two coastal Divisions (the Italian 225 Coastal Division and the Italian 226 Coastal Division), eight battalions of Fascist Militia, and some units of Military Police and Carabinieri. In July 1943, after Benito Mussolini’s fall, 12,000 German troops were sent to Corsica.
These Italian troops were commanded by General Mondino since the occupation until the end of December 1942, then by General Carboni until March 1943 and later by General Magli until September 1943.
Some Corsican military officers collaborated with Italy, including the retired Major Pantalacci (and his son Antonio), colonel Mondielli and colonel Simon Petru Cristofini (and his wife, the first Corsican female journalist Marta Renucci). Cristofini, who even met Benito Mussolini in Rome, was a strong supporter of the union of Corsica to Italy and defended irredentist ideals. Indeed Cristofini actively collaborated with the Italian forces in Corsica during the first months of 1943 and (as head of the Ajaccio troops) helped the Italian Army to repress the Resistance in Corsica before the Italian Armistice in September 1943. He closely worked with the famous Corsican writer Petru Giovacchini, who was named as the potential “Governor of Corsica” if the Kingdom of Italy should have annexed the island.
Rise of the Resistance
The French Resistance was initially limited, but it started taking shape immediately in the aftermath of the Italian invasion. This initially led to the development of two movements:
A network operating under the codename mission secrète Pearl Harbour (mission Pearl Harbor), which arrived from Algiers on 14 December 1942 aboard the Free French submarine Casabianca, the elusive Phantom Submarine. Under chief of mission Roger de Saule, they coordinated various groups that merged in the Front national. Communists were most influential in this movement.
The R2 Corse network was originally formed in connection with the London-based forces immediately under General de Gaulle in January 1943. Its leader Fred Scamaroni failed to unite the movements and was subsequently captured and tortured, committing suicide on 19 March 1943.
In April 1943 Paulin Colonna d’Istria was sent by Charles de Gaulle from Algeria and united the movements.
By early 1943, the Resistance was organized enough that it requested arms deliveries. The Resistance leadership was reinforced and the movement’s morale was boosted by six visits by the submarine Casabianca carrying personnel and arms, and it was later further armed by Allied airdrops. This allowed the Resistance to increase its activities and establish greater territorial control, especially over the countryside in summer 1943. In June and July 1943 the OVRA (Italian fascist police) and the fascist Black Shirts paramilitary groups started a large-scale repression. According to General Fernand Gambiez, 860 Corsicans were jailed and deported to Italy. On 30 August, Jean Nicoli and two French partisans of the Front national were shot in Bastia by order of an Italian Fascist War Tribunal.
Liberation of Corsica
Following the imprisonment of Benito Mussolini in July 1943, 12,000 German troops came to Corsica. They formally took over the occupation on 9 September 1943, the day after the armistice between Italy and the Allies. While their leaders were ambivalent, most of the Italian troops remained loyal the Italian King Victor Emmanuel II and some fought (mainly at Teghime, Bastia and Casamozza) alongside the French Resistance against the Nazi troops until the liberation of Corsica on 4 October 1943. Meanwhile, the French resistance aimed to establish control of the mountains in the island’s center, with the goal of preventing the occupying forces from moving from one coast to the other and thus facilitating an Allied invasion.
The liberation of Corsica began with an uprising ordered by the local Resistance on 9 September 1943. The Allies did not initially want such a movement, preferring to focus their forces on the invasion of Italy. However, in light of the insurrection, the Allies acquiesced to the landing of elements of the reconstituted French I Corps on Corsica in September 1943, starting with one division of elite French troops being landed – again – via submarine Casabianca at Arone near the village of Piana in the North West of Corsica. This prompted the German troops to attack Italian troops as well as French resistants in Corsica. The Corsican and French Partisans and the Italian 44 Infantry Division Cremona, 20 Infantry Division Friuli engaged in heavy combat with the German Sturmbrigade Reichsführer SS and 90th Panzergrenadier Division, supported by the Italian 12th Parachute Battalion of the 184th Parachute Regiment), which came from Sardinia and retreated through Corsica from Bonifacio towards the Northern harbor of Bastia. On 13 September elements of the Free French “4th Moroccan Mountain Division” were landed in Ajaccio to support the efforts to stop the 30,000 retreating German troops. During the night of 3 to 4 October the last German units evacuated Bastia and left for northern Italy, leaving behind 700 dead and 350 POWs.