M.I.9 Activity in Italy
M.I.9 (British Directorate of Military Intelligence Section 9), a department of the War Office during WW II, was active in rescuing prison camp escapees from enemy territory in Italy as early as October 1943.
Also known as “A Force,” the group arranged operations for guiding the escapees to the sea, where they were put on available vessels—often fishing boats—and skippered south to freedom.
Researcher Brian Sims helped me sort out names of relevant units within M.I.9.
“The term ‘A’ Force is used quite loosely at times,” he explained.
“In the desert, ‘A’ Force set up all deception schemes. N Section was a part of that unit with responsibilities regarding help given to escapers. N Section was renamed I.S.9 (Intelligence School 9) late in 1943.
“The problem came with the word Intelligence which was looked upon with suspicion in adjoining countries such as Yugoslavia. This was avoided by just using the blanket title ‘A Force’ which alleviated any suspicious attitude, and in turn promoted collaboration.”
Section 5, a unit within N Section, is said to have been operating in the Marche area.
I came across the term “rat-line” in a document Brian sent me pertaining to Adriatic coastline rescue of POWs.
He explained, “A ratline was a route established by ‘A’ Force. In this case towards the coastal areas; 5 Section worked in the general area which was in turn partly controlled by the ‘Ratberry’ Mission. Confusing isn’t it!”
The Rescue Operational Plan
Here are two document from the British National Archives that are courtesy of Brian. Both papers describe an plan to rescue, by fishing vessel, two British generals and an American corporate executive and his family hiding in enemy territory.
There are a couple of things that I find of particular interest in these two papers:
An Italian “A” Force agent, Lieutenant Ruggero Cagnazzo, was involved in this planned rescue. Signor Cagnazzo was a key player in the rescue of POWs from behind the lines. His name will appear on this site again in accounts to come. Also, there is mention of what seems to be a more comprehensive rescue mission in the works.
APPENDIX G [or C]
ADV. ‘N’ SECTION
C/O TAC. H.Q. “A” FORCE
C/O H.Q. 15 Army Group
C.M.F. [Central Mediterranean Force]
20 Sep 43.
To – Lieut. Colonel A.C. Simonds,
H.Q. Main Eighth Army.
This is the story in brief of Lt. J. Y. FERGUSON who is coming up to TERMOLI by boat to receive your blessing to a small Operation to which he had committed himself.
1. Lt. FERGUSON escaped from Camp 29 on 13 Sep 43 together with Lt. N. C. JOHNSTON who is now at TARANTO. He became separated from his brother escapee, and found refuge in the monastery at FONTE AVELLANA, near CAGLI. He stayed there a week during which time he made contact with a Maj. CAULDWELL (Son-in-Law of Gen. Montgomery) and Capt. SPOONER. These officers together with a Mr. M. F. FOSTER (General Manager of Mobiloil) American citizen and his wife had been sheltered by the monks. Also, two British Generals are in the near vicinity of the Monastery and are receiving food through the agency of FOSTER who is interned at CAGLI.
2. A plan was formulated whereby Lt. FERGUSON, who was the fittest and volunteered to go, should proceed with an Italian ROUGGERO [RUGGERO] CAGNAZZO; to the coast and procure a fishing vessel in order to sail down to Allied Territory to obtain help.
3. After some difficulty, a fishing vessel prepared to make the journey was found, and they sailed on 16 Oct, from CATTOLICA on the pretext of obtaining fishing gear from PESCARA. They landed at VIESTE, and when from there to Eighth Army H.Q. to ask for help, and they were sent on to us, arriving night of 20 Oct.
4. After sifting the evidence, and confirming the genuineness of their request for aid, Maj. FILLINGHAM decided to equip them for their return to FONTE AVELLANA to affect the escape of the party at the Monastery (including the two Generals) and any other P/Ws who could be collected from the area.
This can be a completely independent mission, which does not compromise your existing plans. Furthermore, if we decide to ignore this request for help, and the Generals and the American FOSTER are re-captured; awkward questions may be asked later. There are four points that require consideration: –
(a) FOSTER is a ‘big noise’, and WASHINGTON has already made representations for efforts to be made for his release.
(b) FERGUSON does NOT know the names of the two Generals as he was only at the Monastery a short time and has not met them.
(c) He did not return immediately to the Monastery to collect the party and bring them down to the Coast as he considered a long trip in a small vessel too arduous for the women in the party. He expected that 8 Army or American Authorities on hearing the two Generals and MR. FOSTER were awaiting rescue, would lay in a special exhibition to pull them out.
Please give your consent to this Operation as I believe it may be carried out successfully and bring back useful information as well as P/W.
A very full interrogation report has been taken by the P/W Commission at BARI on both Lt. FERGUSON and CAGNAZZO, copies of which will be in your hands within the course of he next two days. These reports include detailed information of a large SECRET organization in the area North of ANCONA, which is prepared to help in evacuation of P/W.
/S/ J.C. Champion, Capt.
S.A.S. Regt. (N)
20 Oct 43.
Copy to – Adv H.Q. “A” Forces.
Here is a second document related to this operation:
OPERATIONAL PLAN (REF. ITALY 1/250,000 SHEET NO. 20 and 24)
Escapee, Lt. J. Y. FERGUSON, R. Sigs. I.A., reports presence of two Generals, a Maj. CAULDWELL and Mr. W. F. FOSTER (American General Manager – Mobiloil) and wife in the vicinity of Monastart at FONTE AVELLANA near CAGLI (Map Ref R.9141) A Miss MELROSE is also with this party. The position of these PW and civilians is precarious as FOSTER is in hiding and liable to be shot for helping P/W and food situation is becoming more acute. Supplies are brought in from the outlying farms and administered by the monks. British P/W are known to be in the mountains East and South of CAGLI, but numbers as yet unconfirmed.
The enemy is not thick on the ground but his control of village population is tightening.
To contact and evacuate by sea known P/W and Internees in area.
(i) An Italian fishing vessel, the FRECCIA AZZURRA now lying at MANFREDONIA will sail on 22 Oct for TERMOLI under command of Lt. FERGUSON, and having on board R. CAGNAZZO the Italian under whose care the P/Ws have previously been.
(ii) The FRECCIA AZZURRA will sail on 24 Oct for GATTOLICA (Map Ref. R.9888) and disembark Lt. FERGUSON and CAGNAZZO.
(iii) Lt. FERGUSON and CAGNAZZO will proceed by cars (two of which are already waiting at the port for this purpose) to the Monastery at FONTE AVELLANA and make contact with P/W and FOSTER party..
(iv) On first suitable night after contact, the whole party will drive to the Coast and embark on the FRECCIA AZZURRA which will sail immediately for TERMOLI.
4. INTERCOMMUNICATION. – N I L
The FRECCIA AZZURRA will be provisioned with rations for seven men for 12 days (six COMPO boxes) and twelve gallons petrol for the cars, together with six blanket rolls (American). Lire 10,000 has been paid to the Master of the vessel, with the agreement to pay 10,000 at TERMOLI, Lire 10,000 on completion of mission.
/S/ J.F. FILLLINGHAM
20 Oct. 43