THE HALL OF HONOURS
The Fiume - Arditi Group of Senior Corporal Giorgo Falconi
© Hendrik Meersschaert, 2004 - 2017
Compiled and written by Pietro Cedomi
Additional information on d'Annunzio by Gwen Meersschaert
Edited by Hendrik Meersschaert
Giorgio Falconi was born on 24 April, 1903 in Pozzomaggiore (Sardinia). His mother, Pietrina Mereu, got pregnant by a Carabiniere who, though recognizing the baby as his, did not want to marry her. She emigrated with Giorgio to Milan tor work and Giorgio, once an adolescent, was placed in a boarding school. In May 1915, Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary and General Cadorna launched mass attacks again the Austro-Hungarian defense lines, but the Italian army suffered heavy casualties. Giorgio was a member of the boys scout of Italy and, at fourteen years of age (1917), was mobilized into an auxiliary war and sent near the front. He was very enthousiastic to join in battle and some months later, now aged 15, went to an Army Recruiting Office in Cuneo and told them he was 18, the minimum age for enlistment. After a short period of training as an Ardito (the word ardito means bold or daring), he was enlisted in the "Primo Reparto d'Assalto" or first Assault Unit, the elite force of the Italian Army created by Colonel Bassi in 1917.
The assault units of Arditi were assigned the tactical role of shock troops, breaching enemy defenses in order to prepare the way for the infantry advance. They were trained to fight in hand to hand combat and were lightly armed with a Carcano M1891 TS carbine, a dagger, and SIPE or Thevenot hand grenades, but when attacking were supported by artillery, Fiat machine guns, Villar-Perosa light machine guns and flamethrowers. Like more Arditi during World War I, Giorgio fought with courage and ferocity, using his dagger or his carbine to kill the enemy, and he was promoted "caporale maggiore" for his bravery.
Mid-1918, the Italian forces under the command of General Diaz attacked the enemy defense line which collapsed as a result of the successful actions of the Reparti d'Assalto. The Austro-Hungarian army was pushed back and the Italian troops captured Trento and Trieste on 3 November 1918.
At the Conference of Versailles in 1919, Italy received the Trentino, Alto Adige, Venezia Giulia and the Dodecanese areas as war booty, while being refused Fiume and Dalmatia. Gabriele d'Annunzio, the most celebrated Italian poet and writer of the era, did not accept this decision. His motto became "Either Fiume or Death" and with a force of 300 Italian volunteers regrouped near Ronchi, he marched on Fiume on 12 September 1919.
Senior Corporal Giorgio Falconi and many Arditi of the 1st Assault Division mutinied and joined d'Annunzio's forces and the city recently handed over to the Yugoslavs was rapidly occupied. Their commander, Gabriele d'Annunzio, a former fighter pilot decorated with the Gold Medal for Military Bravery and the Wounded Emblem, forced the Inter-Allied Control Commission to withdraw and proclaimed "the Italian Regency of Carnaro". The Italian Army remained passive in face of d'Annunzio's "coup de force", but received order to blockade Fiume. Caporale Maggiore Giorgio Falconi was enlisted in the company Arditi "d'Annunzio", called "La Disperata", a 100 men strong personal guard of the poet-soldier which was quartered in the port. They wore d'Annunzio’s name embroidered high on the left sleeve of their jacket.
During the occupation of Fiume, Italy and Yugoslavia continued to negotiate and the Treaty of Rapallo was signed on November 12, 1920, but d'Annunzio refused to accept the terms of the Treaty and the next day, he occupied two Yugoslav islands (Arbe and Veglia) with his Arditi. A few weeks later, the poet warrior declared war on Italy and the Italian prime minister Giolitti sent an expeditionary corps to put him out of business. The "Legion of Fiume volunteers", assisted by a few hundred black-shirted Arditi, defended the city, but during the "Christmas of Blood" (24 - 28 December) the Italian battleship Andrea Doria bombarded Fiume and a few shells destroyed d'Annunzio's headquarters in the municipal palace. For the starving volunteers, it was the end of the military adventure and d’Annunzio’s army was disbanded.
Only Giorgio Falconi and a dozen other volunteers remained with d’Annunzio in Fiume until 10 January 1921. The Arditi were considered too dangerous by the Italian government and all the "Reparti d'Assalto" of the Italian Army were disbanded. They were incorporated in the regular forces or demobilised. A few months later, during a ceremony in Milano, Caporale Maggiore Falconi received the "Arditi cross" number 394 and later, the Fiume medal ("To the Liberators 12 September of Fiume d’Italia") was created by Gabriele d’Annunzio for the braves who fought with him.
Once the Arditi were disbanded, Giorgio Falconi was incorporated in the "Guardia di Finanze" and sent to Cantride on the Yugoslav border. He later participated in the March to Rome with the Fascist black shirts of Mussolini and left the army. He returned to civilian life as syndicalist of the fascist Trade Union. His office was in Merano, but in 1930, after an adventure with the daughter of his manager, he was compelled into exile and went to Savoie (France) were his mother was living with an British colonel.
In 1931 and 1932, Giorgio visited Belgium : the first time when Maria, a sister of his mother, emigrated to Belgium (and married one Frans De Vleeschauwer), the second time when one of his friends emigrated to live at the Belgian coast.
In 1933, he died in Aix-les-Bains from tuberculosis.
It is perhaps fitting to elaborate on the person of Gabriele d'Annunzio, who played a great part in Giorgio Falconi's life at that stage :
Gabriele d'Annunzio (Pescara 1863 - Carnacco 1938)
Italian poet, writer and politician
Gabriele d'Annunzio was born on 12 March 1863 as Antonio Rapagnetta and, as with Wagner and Nietzsche, heroism plays a major role in work. It's also very nationalistic, sometimes even patriotic to the extreme. His first poems were published in 1879 (Primo verde), his first novel in 1889 and his first play in 1898.
In that same year, he was elected to parliament for an extremist right wing party. At the outbreak of WW1, he strongly spoke out in favour of Italian participation and did himself enlist in the army. After the war, he occupied the city of Rijeka (Fiume in Italian) with his irregular troops on 12 September 1919 and held the area for 15 months. The regime he put into place there ( the "Italian Regency of Carnaro") had all the markings of the later fascist government in Italy. The occupation of Fiume by this poet-politician, who greatly favoured fascism and became a personal friend of Mussolini, has two aspects. Firstly, it can be seen as exerting pressure to gain full grant of Italy's maximalistic demands on Yugoslav territory (partly realised in 1920 with the Rapallo Treaty, Rijeka became formally Italian through the Treaty of Rome in 1924). Secondly, it is the announcement of fascist violence to come in the next decennia (from a speech by d'Annunzio in 1919 to the Arditi : " .. each bullet from our rifles should kill a Slovak or a Croatian ...").
d'Annunzio's influence on Mussolini appears to have been quite substantial : the future "Duce" certainly copied and imitated the Fiume style of government, his ideas on corporate state economics, stage tricks and large emotional gestures when addressing crowds, nationalistic rituals, the Roman salute and - from the uniform of the Arditi - the black shirt for the "strong arm" members of the fascist party.
After the Fiume adventure, d'Annunzio took up residence in a villa near Lake Garda in 1920 and four years later was knighted and granted the title of "Principe di Montenevoso". He continued to live in his "Villa Vittoriale" till he died of a stroke on 1 March 1938.
Some documents relating to Giorgio Falconi
The above document lists the ranks and names of those that remained with d'Annunzio in Fiume till the very last - the penultimate name entered is "Cap.Magg. Falconi Giorgio" ! The top of the page can roughly be translated as follows : "The following legionnaires are temporarily at my disposal in Fiume without pay. They will all be removed adminstratively on the 10th."