Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Have Americans invaded Lake Garda?

Garda Ferry
Lake Garda, Italy's largest lake, has been a popular tourist destination for centuries.  Pleasure boats and ferries ply its waters.  There are an abundance of restaurants and hotels along the many towns that line its shores.  Sunlight sparkles off the blue water of Lago di Garda.

Goethe Plaque, Torbole, IT
J. W. Goethe, the German poet, visited Lake Garda in 1786.  It was in the town of Torbole that he wrote Iphigenia in Tauris.  Goethe made a drawing of castle Scala, a dilapidated Venetian fortress;  he was briefly arrested by Venetian authorities on suspicion of being an Austrian spy!

Lake Garda by Winston Churchill
Chartwell, UK
In 1949 Winston Churchill visited Lake Garda where he relaxed by painting scenes of the lake.

Thomas Tileston Wells (1865 - 1946)
During the summer of 1914 my own great grandfather, Thomas Tileston Wells, visited Riva on the north end of the lake in what was then Austrian territory.  Wells wrote that "Riva is one of the most beautiful places in the world."
View from the Lido Palace Hotel, Riva del Garda, IT
He and his family stayed at the Lido Palace hotel in Riva.  In An Adventure in 1914 he wrote, "We went to the great hotel called the Lido Palace Hotel which is on the lake and has a beautiful garden running out to a little promontory on the lake." 

Lido Palace Hotel, Riva del Garda, IT
The Lido Palace hotel, where Wells stayed in 1914, was reopened in 2011 after a ten year restoration.  Here is their web site...http://www.lido-palace.it/en/.

Austrian Soldiers WWI, Riva
Riva Museum
Astonishingly enough, Wells himself was arrested on suspicion of being a spy while on vacation at Riva.  Unlike Goethe, he had not drawn any fortifications though the Austrians had built elaborate defensive fortifications into the shores around Riva.  Wells visited in the summer of 1914 as World War I was breaking out and Austrian armies were mobilizing to invade Serbia.  An Austrian official arrested him on suspicion of being a Russian spy and threatened him with execution!  Wells, the American Consul General to Romania, managed to convince him that he was neither a spy nor Russian.
US soldiers and Italian Partisans on Lake Garda
Riva Museum
In the closing days of World War II Americans would return in force to Riva.  The town was a hospital center for the German forces.  The Fiat factory had moved much of its production to the underground caves that surround Riva.

DUKWs landing in Torbole on Lake Garda
Riva Museum
On April 30, 1945 troops from the 10th Mountain division would assault the town of Torbole in DUKWs similar to those used earlier at Normandy.

10th Mountain division in Torbole
Riva Museum
Colonel William Darby (1911 - 1945) was the leader of Darby's Rangers.  On April 30, 1945 he was killed in Torbole by a shell from a German 88 while leading an assault on Torbole.  He was the only American officer of WW2 who was promoted posthumously to brigadier general.  A film based on his life, Darby's Rangers, was made in 1958 (see video below and www.amzn.com/B0029778T8).
Darby Monument, Torbole, IT
A visitor to Torbole will find this monument to Darby.

In 2015 Americans returned again to Torbole on Lake Garda to dedicate a new plaque with a highly appropriate quotation from Benjamin Franklin.  So Americans have invaded and indeed liberated Riva del Garda.

Lake Garda, IT
Coming October 2015!

Special thanks to my guide Carmen Picciani (highly recommended) in Riva, and the Riva Museum (http://www.museoaltogarda.it/it/il_museo/).
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