Partisan Leader in Italy during WWII
Petroleum Geologist and Geothermal Pioneer
I met Giancarlo Facca in late 1972 and worked for him only for the first six months of 1973, but he played an important role in my professional career and my life. It was Giancarlo, who convinced me to turn down the fellowship I was being offered for graduate study at Colorado School of Mines. He picked up the phone, called his friend (Professor) Hank Ramey at Stanford University and arranged a meeting in a short conversation as I listened. A week later, I met with Ramey, a man who was to also play an important role in my career. I went through graduate school at Stanford on a Chevron Fellowship because of the Facca-Ramey friendship.
Giancarlo Facca was born in 1913 in Pordenone, Italy in the foothills of the Alps. He attended Padova (Padua) University, one of Europe’s oldest and finest institutions of higher learning – established in 1222. Facca received his Ph.D. in Natural Science at Padua University in 1936 and went to work for AGIP, the state-owned Italian oil company. He spent the next nineteen years with this company. Italy was then under control of the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Italy had attacked Ethiopia from Eritrea and Italian Somaliland in October 1935. without declaration of war. The members of the League of Nations unanimously declared Italy an aggressor, but took no action. Italian forces overwhelmed the hopelessly outdated Ethiopian forces in a matter of months and Italy formally annexed Ethiopia on May 9, 1936. AGIP sent young Facca was sent to Ethiopia to do field work related to petroleum exploration. He did field work throughout the remote countryside, even as fierce native resistance continued. It was a dangerous time – field geology as few in my generation ever experienced. Unfortunately, I remember little of anything Dr. Facca may have related to me of his experiences as a field geologist in northeast Africa.
Facca was a brilliant man and moved quickly up the ranks of AGIP. As with the rest of his generation, he soon found himself engulfed in World War II. I lived in his home for a time and came to know him well, but he never brought up the war or the role he had played. It was a mutual friend, a man to whom Facca had introduced me, who made an off-hand remark one time several years later about Facca’s experiences as a partisan leader in the Second World War. I asked Giancarlo and he spoke to me about the experience one time and then never again. Most of what little I know comes from his longtime friend, Doctor Franco Tonani.
Facca worked in Firenze (which we know as Florence) in the early 1940’s. He was clearly familiar with and likely involved with the development of the Larderello geothermal field by this period (Larderello is southwest of Firenze). The Italians had harnessed natural steam to power turbines and generated electricity at Larderello since 1904. This was the first such geothermal power generation station in the world. Larderello supported a 250-kilowatt station in 1913, which electrified the Italian railway system, and by 1943 was producing 132 megawatts of power.
Tonani wrote me that Facca, “ … was in a pretty important position in the Florence in-town underground when I joined it through him.” Giancarlo was close to the famous Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci (In a 1972 interview, Fallaci managed to get Nixon National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger to admit that the Vietnam War was a “useless war”. He later wrote that it was “the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press.”). Giancarlo’s friendship with Fallaci went back to partisan connections during the war. Tonani told me that Giancarlo was in a fairly important position in the resistance in Florence. Oriana’s father Edoardo was also prominent in Giustizia e Libertá, the Florence resistance. She was born in 1929 in Florence and was only 15 years old in 1944 when she worked with the resistance. Both Giancarlo and Oriana smoked constantly. She died of lung cancer in 2006.
In time, Facca left Firenze and went into the Tuscan countryside. Tonani wrote, “He had command of a partisan brigade on Mt. Amiata, southern Tuscany …”. Amiata is the highest mountain in Tuscany, the result of late Quaternary volcanism, and the rugged region was the site of serious partisan resistance during World War II. The recent volcanism with related steam vents and active seismicity made Monte Amiata a region of geothermal resource and Facca was familiar with the region from geologic field work. Tonani told me that Facca left the partisan brigade after the third attempt by Communist partisans to kill him. He then traveled south on his own and crossed the battle line to the American forces. The exact date is not clear.
The Allies took Sicily in August 1943 and landed on the Italian peninsula at Salerno in September. The Italian people, many of whom had little love for Fascism and its dictator, surrendered and Mussolini capitulated. The Germans moved in veteran forces to hold the Italian peninsula and put up fierce opposition to the advancing Allies. Shortly after Allied forces took Rome in June 1944, the United States’ Office of Strategic Services (OSS) transferred to the Italian mainland and began to place greater emphasis on partisan warfare. According to the official U. S. Army history, General Eisenhower agreed in February 1943 to allow the Special Operations staff of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Algiers to set up commando cells to organize and assist guerilla forces in Italy. OSS agents discovered a resistance movement already in place, but desperately in need of equipment and supplies. It was not until the summer of 1944 that the Americans began to drop supplies and operatives into northern Italy on a large scale. OSS support allowed the Italian partisans to take the offensive and harass the German forces withdrawing to the Gothic Line during the summer and fall of 1944.
According to Tonani, Facca, after traveling south on foot to make contact with the American forces in Italy, “ … joined the OSS, then was parachuted (back behind German lines) and ran attacks on the German army, blew up bridges, etc …”. I recall Giancarlo telling me that he parachuted behind German lines three times. I asked him how he learned to parachute jump, knowing how rigorous and extensive airborne training is. He laughed and said a sergeant told him to roll his shoulder just before he landed. When I asked Giancarlo how helpful that was, he laughed again, saying all drops behind German lines in Italy were made at night. He could see nothing of the ground he was rapidly approaching and was injured each time he landed. He carried a radio transmitter that allowed his men in the hills to triangulate the source and locate him. A race ensued across the rugged terrain with the partisans rushing to reach Facca before the German patrols did so. At the conclusion of each assigned series of operations, Facca would again travel on foot through the German lines to the American forces, make contact again with the OSS and then again be dropped back in by parachute, sustaining renewed injuries. Participation in the partisan movement was discrete. Giancarlo happened to discover that his brother Umberto was also working with the resistance movement. Even siblings did not discuss their involvement, as there were fascist informers.
Air supply to Italian partisan bands became difficult in the winter of 1944-1945 due to poor weather. The Germans took the offensive and inflicted considerable damage on the resistance. The partisans, who remained in the spring of 1945, renewed their harassment of German forces. OSS sources reported seventy-five teams working with the Italian resistance in that period as the war came to a close. U. S. Army reports state that Italian partisans killed three thousand Axis soldiers, captured over eighty thousand and prevented the destruction of key facilities in several important centers, including Venice, Milan and Genoa. Giancarlo told me, “Of course, it was a terrible time”, relating how close friends with whom he coordinated were captured and tortured to death by the Gestapo. He told of the fear of being discovered as he slipped into a city to make a contact. But he added that, however dangerous, “It was also a great adventure”, acknowledging the camaraderie, the adrenalin rush and the opportunity to be a part of something historic and important.
Giancarlo related to me of his riding on top of a railroad car at the end of the war to return to the geothermal field at Larderello, assess the damage to the site and assist in getting steam production and power generation back up. Facca, as a prominent geologist with AGIP, recognized the importance of this source of power to the revitalization of post-war Italy. The post-war significance of Larderello was not lost on the Allies. New Zealand army engineers serving in the Italian campaign with the British Eighth Army visited and inspected the site in June 1944. While they found the plant totally destroyed by the Germans, New Zealand engineers returned to Larderello in 1948, no doubt interfacing with Facca. By this time, Larderello was producing 140 MW and about to bring on the second station to bring total power generation to 282 MW.
Dr. Facca became Chief Geologist for AGIP in 1951 and continued in that capacity through 1955. He was proud of the role he played during that period in the discovery and development of the Po Valley gas fields that became an important source of energy to Italy. But Facca was increasingly enamored with the relatively clean energy source of geothermal power. In 1953 he convinced AGIP to further develop the Larderello Field. Under his guidance, Larderello’s power generation rose to 400 megawatts. He investigated other sources in Italy, but soon was searching elsewhere in the world.
Facca became technical manager of SOMICEM, an ENI company in 1955. Italy was the only nation producing energy from geothermal resources until 1958, when New Zealand began generating electricity at Wairakei. By 1959, Facca left the corporate world and was working as an international consulting geologist, his energies focused on the worldwide exploration of geothermal energy. He worked, among other places, in Yugoslavia, Turkey, Israel and Sicily. He taught petroleum geology at Bari University in Italy from 1961 through 1963. Giancarlo wrote a geography text, Geografia Italia, which was used in Italian schools for some years in several editions and from which he received substantial royalty income. Facca began a long series of publications related to geothermal energy in 1961. He and his close friend, Dr. Franco Tonani, a noted Italian geochemist and volcanologist, published several important papers on the potential for geothermal energy in 1961 and 1962.
In 1963, Facca joined Worldwide Geothermal Exploration Company, a consortium of consultants. He remained with them for five years, consulting for various major oil companies. He was an interregional technical adviser for geothermal energy for the United Nations for a time. Facca wrote and published what are perhaps his most important papers during this period:
“Geothermal Energy Exploration”, 1963
“Theory and Technology of a Geothermal Field”, 1964
“Geothermal Power Economics” with A. Ten Dam, 1964
“The Self-Sealing Geothermal Field” with Tonani, 1967.
Giancarlo always felt that his greatest contribution was the concept of the self-sealing geothermal field.
In 1964, Facca advanced a bold estimate for the potential of The Geysers geothermal field in Sonoma County, California that many saw as wildly optimistic. It was not until 1979 that The Geysers surpassed Larderello in Italy as the world’s largest producer of energy from geothermal resources. The Geysers was generating 400 megawatts (MW) in 1964. Facca offered a conservative estimate of 1,000 MW and adding total potential for 4000 MW. The field today produces 2700 MW of power. Facca moved to the San Francisco Bay area in 1968, convinced that California was the most important region for geothermal energy in the world and determined to drive the growth of this natural resource. Dr. Facca formed his own consulting firm, Geoexplor International, Inc., in the year he moved to California. He consulted for Signal Oil and advised them on the successful drilling of the Castle Rock area of The Geysers field. He worked closely with Thermal Power Company and Magma Energy, early developers of The Geysers. He was responsible for the First United Nations Geothermal Symposium, held at Pisa, Italy in 1970. The symposium proceedings were for many years an important reference for the new field of geothermal energy.
I worked as a geologic assistant for Giancarlo in his later years. He worked out of his home, a magnificent home on a sprawling estate lined by eucalyptus trees. At the bottom of the hill was the guest house and a huge pool surrounded by a Roman portico. Multimillionaire industrialist Henry Kaiser bought the lot at 1023 Timothy Lane in 1951. He bought the house two doors down for his wife’s nurse, a tall, slender young woman. When his wife died that same year, Kaiser married the nurse less than a month later and built the house at 1023 Timothy Lane for his new wife. Albert Heiner, a Kaiser biographer, wrote, “Kaiser was particularly concerned about the construction of the staircase for the house. It was to be handcrafted in San Francisco by an old country Italian artisan … designed as a work of art to be the central attraction of the whole house.” The sprawling house encompassed well over ten thousand square feet and featured state-of-the-art electronics for communications and automatic control. I understood that Howard Scripps of the Scripps fortune bought the house from Kaiser and subsequently sold it to Facca. Dr. Facca lived in this house with his wife Ciblus and their lovable Black Labrador, Lucy. He and Ciblus (pronounced Jeh-BLUE) had worked together for many years and married late in life. They had no children.
I worked daily in Facca’s home. His office was a mountain range of maps intermingled with books. Facca had an insatiable desire for learning and was a voracious reader. In that sense, he and I were kindred spirits, something we recognized from the first meeting. I could not help but admire his extensive library – he had hired a carpenter to construct built-in bookcases throughout his home at Timothy Lane. It was Facca, who encouraged me to accumulate books that I might later read. Conversations with Giancarlo would often deviate into unrelated subjects, such as the merits of the Johnson presidency. Facca was quite vocal in his praise of the accomplishments of Lyndon Johnson.
Giancarlo, as I came to know him, was a tough taskmaster. He had little time for politeness and his gruff style defined his personality. He was part field crew boss and part partisan leader. It was only by daily exposure to him that Facca’s goodheartedness and kindness became clear. He was quick with instructions and quicker to chide one for not catching on, but he shared his extensive knowledge with enthusiasm. Giancarlo had his own ways of doing things. He carried a five-gallon can of gasoline in the trunk of his car. The original intent may have been for remote fieldwork. The energy crisis of 1973 and the ensuing gasoline shortage had yet to ensue. But I realized that Giancarlo did not watch his gas gauge and from time to time would run out of gas. Fortunately, no one ever rear-ended us. But fieldwork did involve extensive rural driving. In those days, one did not have to wander far from the East Bay to reach relatively unpopulated regions.
I remember well feeling queezy from repeated switchbacks while driving in the California Coast Range. I also crawled on my stomach into collapsed mine entrances to obtain temperature readings from within the earth uninfluenced by surface ambient temperature for thermal gradient surveys. I spent considerable time in the New Idria Mercury Mine near Coalinga, traipsing through old mine shafts deep in the earth while timbers cracked with every footstep. But I always followed Giancarlo. His famous line was “Let’s go tear down”, his loose transliteration of “over there” (there down). Part of each workday when we were in the office was the complete Italian meal at lunch. The house was equipped with a commercial kitchen, but Facca’s had no staff. Ciblus would spend a great deal of time each morning preparing a meal of several courses – she was an accomplished cook. Faccas introduced me to many wonderful Italian dishes. Ciblus was the quintessential European woman. She was slender and refined and carried herself well. She enjoyed entertaining the many friends who visited them.
Wine accompanied every meal and always in liberal quantities. I came to appreciate the intense flavor and full body of Zinfandel, the wonderful dry red wine made from “California’s grape”. Giancarlo would often expound on the merits of California wine and, in particular, the Zinfandels. Although Giancarlo’s relocation to California was directly related to his passion for geothermics, he was quite content with the climate so similar to that of Italy and, correspondingly, the large number of Italians and Italian- Americans living in the Bay Area.
Giancarlo always wanted to eat and drink well. When we were in the field together in the California coastal range, he always made sure our trip included a stop at a fine restaurant on the way home. He had certain places he revered, like the GrapeVine Inn in Napa, Fior d’Italia or Paoli’s in San Francisco – places where he was well-known and greeted by name. But I recall other times when we were not on familiar roads. One early afternoon, we veered off the interstate for a restaurant stop in San Jose. The lunch crowd was well-dressed, all of the businessmen were in suits and ties. Giancarlo and I were in field clothes, wearing hiking boots and carrying a stack of maps and reports. Giancarlo did not hesitate to request a table of the maitre d’ and ignored the look he and the patrons gave us. We proceeded to scatter our work over the table and order an elaborate meal with wine, our tab, no doubt, exceeding that of many other tables. Facca knew who he was and cared little as to what others might think. I learned from him to appreciate that geologists were a different breed and certainly could not be expected to be in coat and tie if we were to do our job properly. It was an attitude similar to that which I later discovered with old Texas geologists.
At the same time, Giancarlo’s living room seemed to me to be the meeting place of the world. Prominent professors from UC Berkeley, executives of European oil companies, people from the United Nations and many others found their way to 1023 Timothy Lane. Late afternoon cognac sessions were held in any number of languages. Giancarlo would sit in a deep black leather chair and debate and laugh and drink with his friends, periodically leaning over to translate for me.
Facca became quite ill in the spring of 1977 and spent two months in the hospital. He continued to have health problems. I was fortunate to have some opportunity for occasional business travel to California from 1978 onward, as I worked for an energy utility with a small interest in geothermal. On my last visit to California in which I was able to see him in the early 1980’s, he related how he had been rushed to the emergency room by ambulance and had been forced to give up alcohol. He did so reluctantly, but never again drank. He continued to smoke cigarettes, one was always burning in an ashtray, if not in his hand. His stocky, powerful body showed the wear-and-tear of both. Giancarlo Facca passed away on July 23, 1986. He was seventy-three years of age. I knew he had not been well. The Geothermal Resources Council Bulletin wrote of Facca, “He was truly in every sense of the word a geothermal pioneer. We will miss this man but enjoy his legacy.” I believe that he left his extensive library to the University of California at Berkeley.
Giancarlo Facca wrote to me in 1977, “Please remember that we enjoy your letters and we await for your news. Ciblu and I are happy if you people remember us.”