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Kimonico Bridge-001

Kimonico Bridge-001.jpg

The Kimonico Bridge (also known as the Nazi Bridge), which was destroyed by the Germans and then rebuilt by them in 1943. A carved stone slab with the year 1943 and Swastika can still be seen under the right bridge support. There is also a very faded inscription on the mountainside, I believe it refers to the German Grenadier Regiment 966 Mountain Battalion (966th Fortress Regiment) who, were fighting the Italians on the island in 1943. The original timber supports can still be seen where they decayed and fell under the bridge. A new steel bridge was built in front of the old ruins of the bridge after the war.

Immediately after the fall of Benito Mussolini on the 25th of July 1943, the German Army Corp., Command ordered the 966th Grenadier Regiment, made up of two battalions, the 909th and the 910th, to be sent to Cephalonia along with a mobile half-track unit and artillery to keep the situation under control and oversee Italian military operations. After a dramatic night between the 14th and 15th September, rather than surrender the Acqui Division voted to fight against the Germans.

On the 16th of September, despite strong opposition from the Italian artillery, German units succeeded in landing at Cape Akrotiri. Against continued opposition, the Germans rapidly reached the assigned positions to the left of the 910th Division in Kardakata. On that same day, the 1st Battalion of the 317th “Acqui Division”, stationed in Sami, received orders to reach Kardakata and hit the left flank of the enemy forces. Once the battalion was loaded they set off and were constantly harassed throughout the journey by the constant action of the Stukas. The battalion eventually reached the Kimonico Bridge at dusk.

Meanwhile, on the arrival at the front line the 12th Company of the Gebirgsjäger, patrols were sent out on reconnaissance and destroyed the bridge at Kimonico to prevent attacks from the left flank. This halted the passage of the Italian troops marching towards Kardakata. This unit was unable to proceed until the arrival of engineers to repair the way over the river. By dawn on the 17th of September, the bridge still remained impassable and a decision was made to leave the heavy equipment behind and to move forward towards the objective. The troops left the road and advanced in single file, climbing the slope at the side of the river in order to bypass the bridge.

Air raids began at first light and the unit found themselves completely exposed to the Germans who had moved into position overnight, overlooking the slope on which they were advancing. The engagement turned out to be fast and furious. Gradually the Italian infantrymen were forced to retreat, but managed to regroup in Divarata.

As the Gebirgsjäger advanced any captured Italians were killed and all the dead stripped of their valuables, this continued during the German advance. The word was quickly spread among the infantrymen that the Germans were taking no prisoners. Only the strongest would be spared since they were needed to carry heavy loads, arms, and knapsacks. All officers were separated from the troops and shot. The German 12th Company continued on it's march and sweeping the Italians from the northern zone as far as Fiskardo, returned to Divarata to face the Italians attempt at stopping their advance. The Italian defence was overwhelmed, and the line was slowly, but inevitably pushed back.

The Gebirgsjäger headed for Sami, reached Grizata, and continued on to the Kolumi Pass. No one was spared, Hitler’s orders were carried out to the letter. The artillery, which had played a key role in the action, ran out of ammunition and was unable to help. At this point, the “Acqui Division” was annihilated. By this time General Gandin, together with his Command, had moved from Prokopata to Keramies - he had no option but to surrender at 2 p.m. on the 22nd of September.

Lieutenant Colonel Von Hirschfeld, who had directed the operations, won a victory ahead of plan primarily due to complete air superiority. Full of contempt for the Italians he said to his men: “The next 48 hours are all yours”, effectively giving them licence to run amok. When local people saw how cold-blooded the Germans slaughtered Italian soldiers, they were horrified. The people of Kefalonia were actively involved in the Greek Resistance and fought for the country’s liberation throughout World War ll. Enemies became allies as Greeks hid Italians to save them from death.

In total, over 9,500 men of the Acqui Division were killed on Cephalonia in September of 1943. More than 5,000 were massacred by the Germans. Approximately 3000 were drowned when the ship taking the prisoners to concentration camps hit a mine off the island and the rest were killed in battle. Major Harald von Hirschfeld was never put on trial for his role in the massacre as he was killed while fighting at the Dukla Pass in Poland in 1945.




Copyright ©2019 John Reali