Text by Andrea Mazzoni
from : Dizionario della resistenza. Luoghi, formazioni, protagonisti, Vol II, pp.123-125, Torino, Einaudi
Prato, a workers’ town, took active part in the anti-Fascist struggle and in the Resistance. In the town itself there were GAP [Gruppi d’Azione Patriottica, i.e. Communist-inspired Patriotic Action Groups, small groups of partisans, usually not more than five men] and SAP [Squadre di Azione Patriottica, i.e. Patriotic Action Squads, groups of up to 20 men], while sizeable fighting units were formed in the mountains of the Bisenzio Valley, north of Prato. Individual opponents of the regime or secret cells set up by workers were active inside the factories (veritable “universities of anti-Fascism”). The labour movement had strong roots in the Prato area, where the “Red Biennium” [the two years, 1919 and 1920, that saw riots and occupation of farmland and factories] had been very intense. It therefore
offered a fertile ground for widespread hostility towards the dictatorship. In the immediate aftermath of Mussolini’s fall on 25 July 1943 [when he was ousted as Prime Minister and arrested], a call to end the war went out from the factories, which saw a spate of spontaneous strikes, while the population in Prato and in the surrounding hamlets knocked down all symbols of the regime. Strikes continued for several days before the repression set in, with police authorities arresting dozens of workers.
After 8 September and the arrival of German troops, hostility against Nazi-Fascism led to the organizing of armed struggle. At first the gathering point for anti-Fascist combatants was at Catena di Quarrata, a hamlet in the adjoining province of Pistoia. Later on, the mountain ranges north of Prato became the main areas of partisan activity. Towards the end of 1943, the unit commanded by Lanciotto Ballerini moved from Mount Morello to the Calvana [a mountain range closer to Prato]. Ballerini, born in Campi Bisenzio, was a senior corporal who had defected from the army after 8 September. His aim was to reach the mountain areas in the province of Pistoia and join the partisan formation of Manrico Ducceschi, who went by the nom de guerre “Pippo” and like Ballerini had ties to the Partito
d’Azione [Action Party]. On Boxing Day 1943 Ballerini and his men stopped at Valibona [a village on the slopes of Mount Morello], before starting on the march that was meant to take them to the 1st “Rosselli” Brigade they intended to join.
They were unable to carry out their plan because in the night from 2 to 3 January 1944 several hundred men – militiamen of the National Republican Guard and the “Muti” Battalion– advanced in three columns from Prato, Vaiano and Calenzano, and in the early hours of the morning surrounded the farmhouse where the anti-Fascist combatants were hiding. In the ensuing fight Lanciotto Ballerini and two of his men were killed.
Carlo Ferri, a Communist from La Briglia, in the Bisenzio Valley, had been intending to have a partisan group from Prato join Ballerini’s unit. After the events at Valibona, he continued in his efforts to organize a group of combatants, eventually forming in February, at Faggi di Javello [a beech forest on top of Mount Javello, north of Prato], the fighting unit “Orlando Storai” (named after an anti-Fascist executed by firing squad in Florence, in the park of Le Cascine, during a retaliatory action). After skirmishes with Nazi-Fascists at La Briglia and nearby Migliana, the “Storai” unit continued its operations on Mount Falterona and also carried out important operations at Fontebuona and Dicomano. In April 1944, however, large-scale German mopping-up operations caused the formation to dissolve. The men returned to the Prato area where, meanwhile, the transfer of the local textile mills
to northern Italy had been prevented and there had been the general strike on 4
March and on the following days. Thanks to an accurate organization and to picket lines manned by partisans on the roads leading into town the strike had seen a massive workers’ participation in Prato and in the entire Bisenzio Valley. The industrial action had been followed by an extensive roundup, despite the fact that on 7 March Prato had been hit by heavy air bombing. Many citizens of Prato – strikers, opponents of the regime, ordinary people – were captured and deported to concentration camps, from where few would return.
At the same time, the clandestine struggle, led by the CLN [National Liberation Committee], which would meet in the nunnery of San Niccolò, was expanding its operations. Sabotage acts, such as the one against the railway line between Prato and Bologna, became increasingly frequent. The most memorable of these actions took place at Carmignano, south of Prato, where a group of young partisans was operating under the command of Bogardo Buricchi. Already on 1 May they had carried out a sensational action, hoisting a red flag on a bell-tower. Earlier, in March, they had set fire to the town offices were the registers for the National Stockpile of agricultural products were kept. On the night of 11 June this group of patriots blew up eight freight wagons loaded with explosives from the nearby Nobel Powder Factory that were standing on sidings near the Carmignano train station. The explosion killed four members of the squad, including Bogardo and his brother.
A partisan brigade formed at Faggi di Javello about this time was named after Bogardo Buricchi. For supplies and logistics the “Buricchi” Brigade could rely on the local rural population, in addition to the contacts it maintained in town and the constant flow of material it received from there. It thus kept growing until it had about two hundred men, and carried out sabotage actions, engaged in skirmishes with Nazi-Fascists, and saved civilians from reprisals.
On the eve of Prato’s liberation the squads that were in town moved into action in order to assume control of the town’s outskirts. In the night from 5 to 6 September the “Buricchi” Brigade started to come down from the mountain, intending to join the operation, but their descent – rumour of which had imprudently been spread – was intercepted by German troops at Pacciana. The partisans were forced to disperse, many were taken prisoner, and twenty-nine of them were executed by hanging at Figline, even as the Allies were about to march into Prato. That very evening, in the town hall, the CLN installed the new town council headed by Dino Saccenti.