Walking in the forgotten battlefield: Hill 731 through the eyes of Italian researcher Riccardo Iacobini

Interviews, Then and Now, WW2

By Pierre Kosmidis

Photos by Riccardo Iacobini, used by permission

Mr. Riccardo Iacobini, 36 years old, lives in a small town near Rome, in the region of “Castelli Romani”, south of the Italian capital.
Mr. Iacobini has a strong passion for history since he was a kid, especially of the recent history stretching from the First World War to the most recent events in the history of mankind.
Recently, Mr. Iacobini visited one of the most crucial battlefields of WW2, in the war of the Italians against the Greeks in March 1941, Hill 731.
The strategic importance of Hill 731 is clearly visible
The strategic importance of Hill 731 is clearly visible. The Hill has been dubbed “modern Thermopylae”, as the Greeks defending this position in the Albanian front managed to stop the attacking Italian forces in March 1941.
The battle for 731 resulted in a Greek victory, as the Italians failed to break through, thus condemning their attack to failure.
An unexploded 81mm mortar round on the slopes of Hill 731
An unexploded 81mm mortar round on the slopes of Hill 731
A battle of epic proportions was fought on and around Hill 731. Thousands of men from both sides, fought valiantly and died on the slopes of the blood stained Hill.
Thousands of men fought and died on these slopes
Even today, the battlefield is full of war scars, as the legend goes on to say that Hill 731 is now several meters shorter, due to the massive bombardment it received by the Italian artillery.
Monuments erected by both Greeks and Italians pay tributes to the lost soldiers, a bitter reminiscent of war, with bombs, shrapnel and other war material still visible on Hill 731.
A monument erected in the memory of the Greek soldiers who died on Hill 731
www.ww2wrecks.com has asked Mr. Riccardo Iacobini to share his experience, as well as his photos of the sacred ground of Hill 731, a place where so many young men from both sides fought and died.
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The iItalian “Puglie” division monument on hill 731. which was restored by Greek history enthusiasts, as it was destroyed by Albanians. Read more on the links below:

Quota 731: Nemici in vita, fratelli nella morte



Why did you decide to go to Hill 731?
The passion and willingness to research more about the famous hill 731 (in Italy it’s not very known unfortunately) started when during my university days, when I wanted to write my thesis on this subject.
Hill 731 overlooks the mountainous ridge.
At that time, about more than 10 years ago, I also started to document myself about this famous battle, about the lesser known aspects of a “soldier’s struggle”.
This now serene landscape was once hell on earth
This now serene landscape was once hell on earth
It was during this years that I began to meet some very knowledgable and very interesting people who had the same passion for history as I did.
The battlefield of Hill 731 is still full of war scars, despite nature’s work to restore it
A Greek author has been a superb source of information and a great friendship started as well.
A plateau on Hill 731. On this exact spot, men from both sides fought and died
From that point on, I started to collect other books about the whole campaign. It’s noteworthy to understand that in Italy, the Greco-Italian conflict of 1940-1941, has been “almost” forgotten, compared to the north African and the Russian fronts.
Now full of trees and shrubs, Hill 731 was bombed extensively in March 1941 and as a result “there was not a single spade of grass” on it, as a Greek soldier who fought there wrote in his memoirs
The feeling I had while researching this subject was that of an injustice:  Of the multitude of Italian soldiers who were killed during that conflict, most of them, I believe, did not get the recognition they deserved in our country; at least, they didn’t get the respect given to other fallen soldiers, on the other fronts.
“No stone was left unturned on Hill 731; the bombs dug the Hill so deeply, that we could not bury the dead anymore, they would come again up in the surface in the next bombing”, a survivor once said.
The Greco-Italian war was an unjust war, not felt by the common soldier. Someone once wrote that it was there, in the harsh Albanian alps, that anti-fascism was born…
The view from Hill 731 is unobstructed. The visitor can see around for miles
There are lots of books about the Russian front; probably even more about the north African campaign.
Even taking into consideration that these were two fronts which were battled on for longer compared to the struggle in Greece-Albania, yet, I always felt we were missing a lot.
A few trees here and there, try to cover the brutality of war
I was glad to find that the situation in Greece is different. I was also impressed in discovering that, for example, the italian “Puglie” division monument in hill 731 was put standing back by other Greek history-fans, who went there some years ago.
What was it like to walk in a WW2 battlefield, which cost so many lives from both sides?

There was a feeling of loneliness while walking above and under Hill 731.
The road that stretches from Hill 731 to the Monastir, passing through HIll 717, is short.
731PINEROLO 9 3 8
It doesn’t take much to reach both ends while walking normally. Yet, it was on this small stretch of road that many young lives from both sides were spent. Dreams were shattered in a second, agonies and cries surrounded the barren terrain.
It’s incredible the amount of bullets, shells, cases, pieces of any military equipment one can find all around the area.
More impressive is the thousands of shrapnel and artillery splinters that one can find on the soil.
Thinking about it makes even the less sensible person in the world wonder.
The area around Bregu Rapit and the other Hill 717 was also almost unexplored and the Proi Veles river hidden in between is mostly left as it was 70+ years ago.
Climbing slowly on the hill slopes, one can still hear the echoes of war; that’s the feeling I had.
What are your thoughts on keeping the memories alive and preserving the past as a tool to understand the present?

I strongly believe that if the new generations will be forgetting what their grandfathers had to pass through seventy years ago, it would mean that we failed, as “lovers of history” , to do our duty and to pass on our knowledge and in remembering the past.