On the return leg from my Corisca trip I thought I’d take a detour and cross the Apennines, from Florence to Bologna, by the old Futa and Raticosa passes. The Futa pass was this mythic road I had heard about over the years yet it wasn’t until recently that I decided to give it a go. Often referred to in Italy simply as La Futa, it’s just one of two mountain passes that don’t actually require saying the word pass after the name to understand what the person is talking about – the other being Stelvio. Located in Tuscany, just north of Florence, it is found along the SS65 or Via Bologna, as it is known locally. As the name suggests, the SS65/Via Bologna is the old road that links Florence to Bologna but not before surmounting the Futa (903 m) and Raticosa (882 m) passes.
The road leading up to the Futa isn’t particularly impressive or scenic but then it does make for a rather leisurely ride. Nothing really to distract you and the corners are wide and sweeping. Here’s a little sample of me cresting the Futa pass in the video below.
Further along the SS65 I stopped at the small town of Taversa for lunch. Sitting at a patio just off the road I met the nicest couple, Carlo and Rita. They were local to Bologna but described how they would often take motorcycle trips up the Raticosa and Futa passes for a little getaway without going too far away. It’s funny meeting fellow motorcyclists: they’re congenial and friendly. Carlo was quick to mention that the Raticosa pass much more fun and technically more difficult than the Futa. He wasn’t wrong.
It’s difficult to talk about this wonderful stretch of road without acknowledging the historical importance of this area and the role it played during the Second World War. While I was researching the Futa and Raticosa passes prior to leaving for Corsica, I kept stumbling upon web pages talking about WWII and the Gothic Line.
The Gothic Line, or Linea Gotica in Italian, was a heavily fortified, thick belt of German defenses spanning the width of Italy, from Massa in the west coast, following the footprint and naturally defensive wall of the Apennines, to Pesaro on the Adriatic Sea. It was the last main German defensive position in Italy, which ensured control of the agricultural and industrial resources found in the north. Coincidentally, as I disembarked the ferry from Corsica in Livorno and then traveled east to Florence, I was, unknowingly, traveling along just south of the Gothic Line.
In the summer of 1944, as the main Allied forces were storming the beaches in Normandy and making good ground in France, another major operation was planned in Italy to breach the Gothic Line. Code-named, Operation Olive, the objective was to get behind the German defenses, clearing a path to gain significant strategic advantage in northern Italy, before pushing up through Austria and Hungary. The benefits would be twofold: securing central Europe against Russian encroachment while closing off the German 10th division from the rear, which was stationed at Bologna. At first, the Allied commanders were planning on spearheading the centre of the Line, just north of Florence. However, realizing that crossing the well-guarded, mountainous terrain of the Apennines would be a battle of attrition, they turned instead to the easier route along the Adriatic front, advancing on the seaside town of Pesaro. The idea here was that the battle along the Adriatic would eventually draw in German reinforcements stationed in the central Apennines. This, in turn, would allow Allied forces to then advance at the centre where they would, theoretically, face divisions weakened in number.
The advance from Pesaro was slow going. Then on August 25, the I Canadian Corps along with the British 8th Army made an assault on the Gothic line which lasted four days, pushing the Germans back towards Rimini. With the Germans now on their heels, the Canadians decided to press their momentum without re-grouping, counter to tactical procedure at the time. With that push, they were the first Allied unit to breach the Gothic Line. However, their eagerness would be in vain as the Germans managed to recover their positions before the British 8th Army could catch up to the Canadians’ initial success. It would take another three weeks before the Canadians – with the help of the Greek, Polish and British troops – would secure Rimini.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army made their way through enemy lines via the Giogo Pass and was involved in a battle at Imola. The fierce fighting at Imola however, did draw in more German troops from the 1oth division stationed at Bologna. Realizing this, the Americans shifted their offensive eastward and headed to the Futa and Raticosa passes, en route to Bologna. The mountain trails and poor weather would be factors in this advance, leading to many a standstill and hindering progress. After numerous attempts from the U.S. ground forces, the breakthrough for Bologna finally came by mid-October.
With the help of Italian partisan activity north of the line, the Allies had re-taken northern Italy by spring of 1945.