San Marino is one of those countries that some people don’t think exists, except when it makes a brief appearance in international football. Did it cease to exist at about the time of the Borgias, or does it only exist to issue stamps? Neither. It is tiny, admittedly, but it is a proper country nevertheless, nestling on the eastern side of the Apennines, surrounded by Italy. Its official name is the rather charming ‘Most Serene Republic of San Marino’. Impressively, its official foundation date is AD301, the point at which Saint Marinus himself is said to have left the (now) Croatian island of Ran and established a small church in what is now San Marino.
There was little serene about the situation in the republic as war raged around it in 1944. Until that year, San Marino had remained neutral in a world in flames. There had, it’s true, been a slight misunderstanding in 1940, when it was reported to have declared war on Britain and then had to deny it, but apart from that things had been pretty peaceful, that is, until September 1944 when the war reached the Most Serene Republic’s doorstep. Perhaps it was just as well for San Marino that things had been peaceful up until then, since its army (with the Crossbow Corps established in 1295) was unlikely to play any decisive role in a world of tanks, heavy bombers and vast armies. Germans, retreating in the face of the Allied troops who were advancing up the Italian peninsula, occupied the country, in spite of helpful large signs at the border stressing the country’s neutrality. And then we went in to liberate it.
After bitter fighting the Cameron Highlanders finally took San Marino city on 20 September 1944.