Wrecks, a German tank… In Italy, the drought reveals vestiges of the Second World War

Wrecks, a German tank… In Italy, the drought reveals vestiges of the Second World War
In Italy, the wrecks of the Po emerged from the bed of the river during the last wave of drought which hit southern Europe in June. PIERO CRUCIATTI / AFP

The record heat wave that hit the north of the Italian peninsula brought to the surface of the Po two cargo ships sunk in 1944 as well as a tracked vehicle which, after restoration, will end its life in the museum.

The herons of Gualtieri, in Emilia-Romagna, have found new masts where to rest their little legs. These makeshift perches came out of the waters of the Po, the great river that crosses the north of Italy from the Cottian Alps to the Adriatic. The drought that hit the north of the country in mid-June considerably lowered the level of the river, exposing ancient shipwrecks. Among these, a cargo ship sunk in 1944 has resurfaced and now offers its dry and rusty carcass to the waders of Italy.

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55 meters long, theOstiglia was a cargo ship. A second wreck destroyed at the end of the Second World Warthat of Zibelloalso lies nearby. “The two barges were sunk in 1944. They were machine-gunned first, then the American air force finished them off”told local media Regionline the mayor of Gualtieri, Renzo Bergamini. The presence of the two vessels had been known to residents of Gualtieri for twenty years, following work along the river. Since then, freshwater sailors had become accustomed to seeing the steel noses of these wrecks peek out every summer, sinister landmarks punctuating the navigation of this portion of the Po, about twenty kilometers to the north from Parma.

The most severe drought for 70 years

“In recent years you could see the bow of the boat so we knew it was there, but to see the ship so exposed in March, when we were still in winter, was very alarming”told our colleagues at Guardian Alessio Bonin, an amateur photographer from the region who took a drone shot of the wreck of the Ostiglia. “I’ve never seen such drought at this time of year – our main worry used to be the flooding of our river, now we worry about it disappearing.” According to the Roman daily The Notizia the level of the Po would have, at the end of June, decreased by about 3.4 meters compared to sea level, that is to say almost half a meter more than the maximum reached last year, in August.

View of a bridge over the Po, in Boretto (Emilia-Romagna), June 15, 2022. The water level has dropped considerably, exceeding the record set in August 2021 in June. Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

This episode of drought, the most severe for 70 years, forced the towns of the Po Valley to ration water from the river, from which farmers, the hydroelectric sector and the inhabitants draw. Before this episode of heat, the level of the Po was already under way due to particularly poor snowfall this winter. The spring melting of the Alpine glaciers has thus provided little water to the river, making it more vulnerable to drought.

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Despite the tension that the situation has created for the agricultural sector, the drought has also provided an opportunity for the inhabitants of the Po plain to rediscover a heritage that is usually submerged. In addition to Gualtieri’s two ships, the waters of the river have revealed the remains of an old Piedmontese hamlet or even a German vehicle of the Second World War.

A half-track rescued from the waters

The vehicle was reportedly pushed into the waters of the Po by German troops on April 23, 1945, in the final weeks of the war, to prevent it from falling into Allied hands. Like the Gualtieri wrecks, the presence of the carcass in the vicinity was known to specialists, thanks to an aerial photograph of the time; its precise location, however, had eluded researchers.

Discovered in the river bed, near Sermide, in the province of Mantua, the half-track – a Sd.Kfz. 11 – protruded from the dried silt. It piqued the interest of a small local museum. “This is a unique opportunitysaid Simone Guidorzi, director of the Po World War II museum, to the Italian daily Il Messaggero . The Germans abandoned several vehicles in this area. Many were immediately recovered, but this one ended up in deep water.” Uncovered for two days, first with a shovel and then with a mechanical shovel, the vehicle will soon be exhibited in the Felonica museum, about twenty kilometers from Ferrara.

The two wrecks bathing in the sun of Emilia-Romagna, for their part, have not been the subject of any attempt to excavate. “These are structures of large dimensions, it would be difficult or even impossible to recover them”reported Renzo Bergamini to the Italian press agency Ansa. In addition, their shell would be too fragile. “We would risk damaging them”, further specified for Reggionline the mayor of Gualtieri. The city councilor does not plan to disassemble the structures to reassemble them elsewhere. The municipality has already taken the habit, in recent years, of organizing mediations on this submerged heritage that has become a familiar part of the landscape. “The area is valued from a historical point of viewsummarizes Renzo Bergamini. They are fine here”. Herons too.

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