I was initially not going to write about the current COVID-19 outbreak, but after the recent massive Russian help to Italy, and seeing how it was maligned by the NATO-associated propaganda centres, I felt compelled to turn to history once again, and show that this is not the first time Russia reaches out a helping hand to Italy.
Those interested to see how the NATO think-tanks work, there is an excellent analytical article by Bryan MacDonald on RT: How disinformation really works: Activists linked to pro-NATO think tank smear Russian Covid-19 aid to Italy.
But we shall look back in time, into the not-so-distant past of year 1908…
Below are translations of two articles detailing those events.
The article appeared in the “Century”, an Information-Anaytical Publication of the Fund for the Historic Perspective on the 14.01.2009, written by Irina Barancheeva and Mario Tornello
Italy holds an exhibition “Year of 1908. Russia-Messina”, which tells about the courage and selflessness of the Russian sailors.
Messina and Reggio Calabria experienced three devastating aftershocks on the eve of the New year of 1909, followed by others, but with lesser force.
“Small groups of people huddle in the squares; maimed, exhausted by fear, shivering from the cold – most are almost naked, some are wrapped in blankets, sheets, – wrote Maxim Gorky, who was an eyewitness of those events. – All barefoot. All of them have lost a loved one, many lost all. When they recognize each other, they exclaim with surprise: “Are you alive?”
And, hugging tightly, they cry like children. Calls come to them from everywhere: “Save me!» Those who can, silently rush to the screams and, clenching their teeth, tear up stones and debris with their bare hands, every second risking being crushed by the new collapses of curved, broken walls.”
In Messina, however, another calamity was added to the earthquake. After the most powerful third shock, the sea retreated from the shore, almost draining several kilometres of the coastal zone, and then the water rushed back towards the ground, bearing disastrous consequences.
Waves from six to ten meters in height violently attacked the shore, sweeping away everything that came in their way and dragging along those who tried to find shelter in the port, considering it at that time the most reliable place in the city. Fires began to break out in Messina and Reggio Calabria, as gas seeped from damaged pipes.
Messina, where about 90% of the buildings were destroyed, was almost wiped out. Her port was home to the 1st torpedo squadron of the Royal Navy. At eight o’clock on the morning of December 28, the ship “Sappho” managed to make her way among the wrecked ships in the port so as to land her sailors in the boats. Also, the sailors of the cruiser “Piedmont” landed on the shore, becoming the first to come to the aid of the victims.
At the same time, Lieutenant A. Bellini sailed from Messina on the torpedo boat “Spica” and, despite a strong storm, reached the town of Marina di Nicotera in Calabria, from where he was able to transmit a Telegraph message about the disaster. That is how the world learned about the tragedy that befell Italy.
No sooner had the news of this tragedy spread, than the ships that were lying in the roadstead in the vicinity rushed to the coasts of Sicily and Calabria.
One of the first to come to the aid of the victims were the sailors from the ships of the Russian Midshipman squadron under the command of Counter Admiral V. I. Litvinov.
The squadron consisted of the battleships “Slava”, “Tsesarevich”, and the cruisers “Bogatyr” and “Admiral Makarov”, located in the port of Augusta on the southern Sicilian coast.
In total, two thousand Messinians were saved and about 1,800 people were taken to Naples and Syracuse.
“Having divided into small detachments, our seamen, ignoring every minute the collapses of still falling buildings and new, though weaker, tremors that shook the ground, bravely climbed over the piles of debris and shouted:
“Hey, Signor, Signor!”
If they were answered by a groan or a cry, they set to work shouting the words they had learned:
“Subito! Corragio!» (“Now! Hold on!» – ed.), Maxim Gorky recalled. – Among the sailors, I saw many shell-shocked, injured, who continued to work, risking their own lives in every one that they saved. They climbed places, where death seemed certain to take them, but they won – and saved people.”
And here is an excerpt from the story of 1st Rank Captain V. F. Kasatonov, whose maternal grandfather Alexey Ivanovich Igolnikov took part in the events of Messina: “…When evening came, the ships were rushing at full speed to the roadstead of the city of Messina. There was a report of a devastating earthquake in Calabria and Sicily last night. The Admiral reported the received information to St. Petersburg and without waiting for the decision of the Command, ordered to proceed to Messina, which was several tens of miles away. Already on the approach to the city, permission was obtained from the Main Naval staff to provide assistance to the victims.
Horror made the sailors shudder when they saw from the sea, on the site of a beautiful southern city, the dead ruins engulfed in flames. Over the 42 seconds of aftershocks, the earth split and the coast with its piers and embankments sank several meters into the sea. The first few minutes on the beach were terrifying: howls and groans came from the ruins, the smoke of fires and the stench of burned bodies, pleas for help from the second or third floors of miraculously standing skeletons of buildings, appearing out of the smoke and disappearing into nowhere distraught human figures in rags. The earth hums, it still shudders. The tremors continue.
Tents were set up on the beach, where the ship’s doctors deployed medical aid stations. All the wounded picked up in the city were taken to these points. Some of the sailors, replacing each other, dug out crippled citizens from under the ruins and immediately gave them first aid.
Of particular value was the drinking water that the special detachment brought from the ships, for there was not a drop of water in the city. By midday, the sailors lit fires on the beach and began preparing hot food for the citizens, and bread arrived from the battleships “Tsesarevich” and “Slava”.
Russian sailors in Messina performed a heroic deed.
In 1910, the Italian government awarded all participants of the rescue mission – and that is about 3 thousand Russian sailors – a “Commemorative Medal for the Earthquake in Calabria – Sicily.”
Counter Admiral V. I. Litvinov, who brilliantly organized the rescue operation, received the highest award of Italy – the order of the “Grand Cross of the Italian Crown”, the commanders of the ships and ship’s doctors – “Commander’s Crosses”.
The Russian educated society was not left aside. Maxim Gorky, who was in a political exile on Capri, went to Sicily to write the book “Earthquake in Calabria and Sicily”, which was published in St. Petersburg in early 1909 and the entire proceeds from which went to help the victims of the earthquake.
The great Russian singer Fyodor Chaliapin, married to the Italian ballerina Iola Tornagi, also made a noble gesture. He donated 5,000 francs to the victims.
The memory of the selflessness of Russian sailors still lives in the hearts of grateful Italians. In Messina, many streets and avenues are named after them. In 1966, the Soviet Post issued a postal envelope with a drawing of the monument to heroic Russian sailors in Messina, and in 1978 a postage stamp with the image of the same monument appeared.
This tragic event left an indelible mark not only in human memory, but also in the history of Russian-Italian relations.
This article appeared in the vulcanologist publication “Vulcan” 20.05.2017
On December 28, 1908, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.5 occurred in the Strait of Messina between Sicily and the Apennine Peninsula. As a result, the cities of Messina and Reggio Calabria were destroyed. This earthquake is considered the strongest in the history of Europe.
Messina is a beautiful jewel in the crown of the Italian cities. It has an ancient history – the first mention of this settlement dates back to 730 BC. Located on the coastline of the Strait of Messina, the city became not only a trading centre, but also the core of the entire agricultural area, specializing in the cultivation of citrus crops.
There were many events in the history of the city that led to its decline, but Messina recovered and flourished again. One of these tragic events for the city was the earthquake that occurred on December 28th, 1908. Russian sailors, by the will of fate, became the participants in the rescue operation.
After the Russo-Japanese war, which had decimated the Russian Navy, the authorities had a pressing matter of training the commanding staff for the warships. For this purpose, in the spring of 1906, a special detachment of vessels was formed, which included two battleships – “Tsesarevich” and “Slava”, and the cruisers “Bogatyr” and “Admiral Makarov”. The command of the detachment was entrusted to Counter Admiral V. I. Litvinov. The ships held trainees: 135 graduates of the Peter the Great marine corps, 23 mechanics, 6 graduates of the Engineering Institute and several students of Quartermasters of the Baltic fleet. Before the campaign, the group was visited by the Emperor, who called on the sailors to behave properly in foreign countries, since they were the ambassadors of their homeland.
In October 1908, the ships sailed to the Gulf of Finland and headed for the Mediterranean, according to the exercise plan.
Not far from the coast of Spain, manoeuvres and exercises were held on ships, the main purpose of which was to train fresh officers who had no prior practical experience.
After completing the training tasks of the campaign on December 15, 1908, the detachment arrived at the Italian port of Augusta, located on the Eastern coast of Sicily at a distance of about 70 miles from Messina.
On the morning of December 28, there were tremors in Messina, which led to the displacement of sections of the bottom of the Strait of Messina. Huge waves suddenly hit the morning city. Three strong aftershocks arrived at the same time, which caused the collapse of buildings in almost twenty towns along the coastal strip of Sicily and Calabria.
The sailors of the Russian squadron were awakened by a powerful rumble, and then they all heard the blows against the ship’s hull. A huge wave broke into the harbor bay, turning the ships anchored in it by 360 degrees. After a few minutes, the situation returned to normal, with only a slight disturbance on the water surface.
In the evening of the same day, the captain of the port and the Russian Consul A. Makeev addressed the commander of the detachment with a request to help the population of Messina, which was almost in the epicentre of the earthquake. Having sent information about the incident to St. Petersburg, the commander of the detachment ordered the ships to prepare for departure to Messina.
During the sailing, the sailors of the detachment prepared to provide emergency assistance to the victims: they formed rescue units, groups were provided with tools, food and water. The infirmaries were being prepared to receive the injured. The doctors were led by an experienced doctor A. Bunge, who had a good practice of working in extreme conditions of the Arctic.
When the ships arrived on the roadstead of Messina, the sailors saw huge destruction: all houses and port facilities were destroyed. The remaining residents, distraught with grief, pain, and loss of loved ones, asked for help. From under the rubble came the screams of the wounded, and there were numerous fires in the city.
Russian sailors began clearing the rubble. The work was complicated by the fact that the tremors continued, collapses in the rubble threatened the lives of sailors who were dismantling the remains of the buildings.
Medical assistance was provided in the dressing stations deployed in the shortest possible time. As it turned out later, many residents were saved by this rapid act. Subsequently, the Russian rescuers were joined by the crews of the British squadron.
Rescue teams worked around the clock. Russian sailors pulled more than two thousand victims from the rubble.
The wounded, sick, children and the elderly were transported on Russian ships to the nearest Italian cities that were not affected by the disaster: Naples, Palermo and Syracuse. Returning to Messina, the ships delivered purchased provisions, dressings, and disinfectants.
According to available information, as a result of the Messinian earthquake, the death toll was about 44% of the inhabitants of the towns that took the most severe blows. 100.000 lives were lost in this most powerful European earthquake.
Later, Italian doctors wrote a letter of gratitude to the Russian Maritime Minister, in which they noted the selfless work of the sailors and the brotherly care for the victims of Messina, assuring him that Italy will always remember the help of Russian sailors.
The Italian government awarded orders to doctors and ship commanders: Litvinov received the Grand Cross of the Italian Crown and the gold medal, the rest were awarded silver medals and Commander’s Crosses. In memory of the cooperation, all sailors were awarded silver medals.
More than 6,000 military personnel and 300 doctors took part in the rescue operation. Only on January 3, the local authorities, after thanking the Russian military, notified them that they were now able to cope on their own. The detachment of Russian ships continued their journey: first to Augusta, and then to Alexandria.
Messina has not forgotten its saviours. Two years later, the money collected by the residents of Messina was used to cast a gold medal, which it was decided to award to the Russian Navy; as well as a sculpture depicting Russian sailors rescuing people from the wreckage of buildings. These marks of gratitude were presented to the Commander of the cruiser “Aurora”, which arrived in the harbor of Messina in March 1910.
Until now, the city’s residents keep the memory of the feat of Russian sailors. Many streets in Messina are named after Russian rescuers of the Baltic squadron. A memorial plaque placed on the municipal building in 1978 says that it was erected in memory of the generous assistance of the crews of Russian ships during the December earthquake in 1908.
A hundred years later, the Messinians commemorated this tragic date. The most touching thing is that the descendants of the residents remember the Russian sailors who came to the aid of the city’s population. Grateful Messinians still call Russian sailors “blue angels” – because they appeared unexpectedly from the sea and their uniforms were blue.
Years pass, but as long as the memory of the descendants of Messinians is alive, St. Andrew’s flag will unfurl more than once near the shores of this glorious city.