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TALES OF TREASURE & PIRATES & SHIPWRECKS

Elba
Italy, Mediterranean Sea

During the Second World War (1939-45) Mussolini used his power as dictator of Italy to collect together a vast personal fortune. It included four tons of gold from the Italian state bank, jewels stripped from wealthy families, the enormously heavy crown of Ethiopia, paintings and art treasures, and wooden crates stuffed with stolen and forged currency. When the Allies invaded Italy Mussolini headed for Milan (en route to Germany if the worst came to the worst) and there he met his death at the hands of the partisans, who left him hanging upside-down from a lamp-post.
His treasure followed him—but it never reached Milan. It vanished somewhere along the coast-roads, and although the sixteen men guarding it were tried and convicted of complicity nothing has been seen or heard of it since.

Elba

Italy, during the final days before the Allied invasion, was in a state of turmoil, torn not only by the invading troops from the exterior but also by the mixed loyalties of the Italians themselves. Some were fascist, others communist; there were partisans who fought as Italians against the Germans, and there were those who fought for the Germans—and there were those who were traitors to everyone, concerned only for their own skins. There were also the retreating Germans, surrounded by their enemies, the Allies.
When the Mussolini treasure vanished it went into this maelstrom of confusion and so it is hardly surprising that on the face of it no one knows very much about it. Even the sheer quantity of treasure—the six trucks used to carry it—would not have been remarked upon then when arms and ammunition were being transported, when trucks were full of troops, when partisans hijacked the Germans and when whole villages were on the move for fear of reprisal. However, there are those who even today know something, and it is by piecing together their fragmented stories that the route taken by this treasure can be followed.
Most people believe that the treasure was driven into the Italian Alps in the north and hidden there, or perhaps taken from the point where it disappeared to Tuscany—to Carrara, where Michelangelo quarried the marble for his famous statues and where there are huge caves and caverns. But all this is surmise.
The actual place where the treasure was taken, according to local stories, was to a large estate once owned by Napoleon's sister, Princess Pauline Borghese, in the hills above the town of Pisa in northern Italy. This villa was taken over during the War by the German SS. Even today there is a lasting fetid between some families: between those who joined the Germans and those who were partisans.
The hill on which the villa stands is riddled with caves, and some of the local men declare—not to strangers—that it was here that the treasure was taken, up the secretive forest-covered hill, to be concealed in the caves and guarded by the SS.
The villa is a stone's throw from the ports of Pisa and Viareggio, and it was to one of these ports that the treasure was taken later when the fall of Italy looked imminent. People in the know say that a sea journey was safer than any road, as the roads were filled with the mass exodus of the German and Italian armies from the south before the waves of the Allied forces. They say that the officers of the SS and some local farmers who were employed by them loaded the treasure on a boat and headed south fifty miles to the island
of Elba. With their authority as members of the feared SS there was no problem in requisitioning a boat. No questions were asked and the cargo was not even examined.
Soldier - Elba

Elba is riddled with caves in its limestone eastern coast—and with iron mines, where the ore had been dug out from the ground for over two thousand years. It was to one of the lonely beaches on the cast coast that the treasure was taken and concealed in the cliffs.
Nothing is known about what happened to the Italians used in this work, but almost certainly they were killed at once to keep the whereabouts of the treasure secret. The SS officers could not risk them returning to their homes and describing their night's activities; obviously they themselves would want to return later, even if it took years, and have the treasure safe for themselves.
But the boat used, the David, it is recorded, was sunk on its return journey with the loss of all on board, and the secret of the hiding-place of the Mussolini millions and of the fabulous crown of Ethiopia was lost.
All that is known is that somewhere on Elba the treasure is hidden and the only men who knew for sure where it was concealed were drowned in the Mediterranean.

 Elba: Story reproduced by kind permission of author Rosemary Kingsland. Treasure Islands: True Stories of Shipwreck, Piracy and Buried Treasure. (Angus & Robertson 1980).