The letter below from Captain Charles H. Duffett, Royal Navy, to his superior officer, offers insight into the efforts that were being made by the Allies to rescue fugitive prisoners of war along the Adriatic Sea coast a month after Italy’s surrender was announced.
This document, from the British National Archives, is courtesy of researcher Brian Sims.
15th Army Group.
17th October, 1943.
I have the honour to report that, after receiving your orders on 5th October to proceed forthwith to TERMOLI to ascertain what co-operation was required with regard to evacuation of escaped prisoners of war and to take command of landing craft there, I arrived at TERMOLI at 2300 on 5th October.
The Germans were on the outskirts of the town, 38th Brigade was being disembarked in the harbor from L.C.I’s. [landing craft, infantry] and periodic shelling of the town and harbour was taking place.
I found there was no Naval Officer in Charge of the Port. The only officer present was Lieutenant HILTON R.N.V.R. [Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve] who was acting as Liaison Officer to the S.S. Brigade and who was doing what he could but a more senior officer was undoubted required.
A flotilla of L.C.A’s. [landing craft, assault] was also in the Port but had to anchor outside to avoid damage.
2. Having ascertained the plans already commenced by Lieut. Colonel SYMONDS and his future proposals for the evacuation of prisoners of war by sea, we together formulated plans for carrying this out.
I retained 3 L.C.I’s. for this purpose and ordered the remaining four to BARLETTA.
On 6th October the harbour and town were again shelled and dive bombed, but without damage to naval craft.
Operations with 3 L.C.I’s. were commenced on the night of 6/7th October using the beaches extending as far north as GROTTAMARE.
These were continued on subsequent nights until 9/10th when I decided that as it was imperative to avoid detection thereby compromising all future schemes, operations should not be carried out during the period of bright moonlight except to follow up reliable information. One further expedition however was carried out on the night of 12/13th October.
All these operations produced no result beyond the evacuation of some 20 prisoners by fishing boat.
Although prearranged signals to indicate the correct rendezvous had been instituted, the exact location of the beaches proved a matter of extreme difficulty in the dark and actually contact with shore parties was achieved at only one beach, 2½ miles north of GROTTAMARE, where, however, no prisoners of war had been brought down.
3. On the night of the 9/10th an operation in the vicinity of PESCARA which might have proved fruitful was prejudiced by the presence of what the beach party thought was a German patrol boat, earlier in the evening. After inquiries I believe this to have been one of our own M.T.B’s. [motor torpedo boat] on patrol.
Communications throughout were extremely slow and all signals were passed by Army channels through 15th Army Group. Air cover, which was requested from dawn to about noon on each day of operating, was always supplied.
4. On the 10th October, 3 L.C.I’s. anchored some 3 miles south of TERMOLI were dive bombed about 1130. Near missed were obtained but damage appeared only slight and probably superficial.
5. On 15th October I was relieved by Commander NICHOLL R.N. [Royal Navy]
6. Any exact information regarding prisoners of war is most difficult to obtain, is usually out of date and mostly hearsay. It does appear however, that some 2000 to 4000 men may be lying up in the country between ANCONA and the front line. A large number of these are being looked after by Italians who, having been threatened by the Germans with death if they are found harbouring prisoners of war, are not unnaturally extremely reluctant to disclose information to any persons who may well be enemy agents. Our own prisoners of war appear equally suspicious.
7. I consider that the presence of a naval officer during the early stages of our occupation of TERMOLI was essential. There were many questions relating to defense, berthing, security, landing craft and local craft which arose and in all these the Army looked to the Navy for a decision.
A naval officer might, with advantage, have arrived a day earlier and had no one been sent, a very unfavourable impression would have been created with the Army who undoubtedly require someone to lean on on these occasions in a port.
Relations with the Army throughout were excellent.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient servent,
(signed) Charles H. Duffett,
THE FLAG OFFICER TATANTO AREA.