A few days ago, I came across an article in the UK’s The Telegraph,dated 17 May 2013 and written by the late Annabel Freyberg.
As Thomas F. Madden describes in his 2012 book, Venice – A New History, Nazi troops had arrived in Venice on 8 September 1943.
The US forces under General Eisenhower captured Rome on 5 June 1944, and soon after the German armies began to retreat from Italy. By April 1945, the US Fifth Army and British Eighth Army had captured the Po Valley and Italian partisans had captured Padua.
In Venice, Jan Morris describes how Venetian partisans seized the city from the last of the Germans, gave some safe conduct to the mainland and awaited the arrival of the Allied forces.
On 28 April 1945, Mussolini was executed, and the next day, Venice was liberated when Freyberg’s two New Zealand tanks were the first to arrive across the causeway. The British infantry were not far behind, and soon almost all of the boats were requisitioned, and luxury hotels, the Danieli, the Excelsior and the Luna were turned into officers’ clubs
Earlier on in Rome, Freyberg and his men had been billeted to the luxurious Excelsior Hotel, only to find that the Americans had reached the hotel first, and claimed it as their lodging and club, telling the New Zealanders to ‘buzz off’. Freyberg had visited Venice in the 1920s & 1930s, staying the Hotel Danieli, and after the privations of war, he was determined that his men would reach Venice first to settle into the Hotel Danieli.
It’s well worth viewing the link to Annabel Freyberg’s article to see fascinating images of the New Zealanders crowded around the reception desk of the Danieli, views of the Basilica di San Marco boarded up and troops enjoying a gondola ride in Venice.