I.S.9 History—Agent Choice and Training

This post is fifth in a series drawn from a History of I.S.9 (CMF) in the British National Archives. Research courtesy of Brian Sims.

See also “I.S.9 History—Organization,” “I.S.9 History—Tasks,”I.S.9 History—Methods,” and “I.S.9 History—Communications

Below is a transcript of sections of the history detailing agent choice, training, and management:

Agents, Choice of

This paragraph must be sub-divided into (a) the choice of long term Agents, and (b) short term Agents, and again should be sub-divided into 2 periods, first that period of the early rush of activities when we really knew little or nothing of the “form” concerning Agents and a little later when it was quit obvious that our first ideas needed considerable change.

Therefore let us take (a) first.

The choice of agents during the period of our activities, when we were still in N. AFRICA and before the invasion of ITALY had taken place, was extremely limited. So difficult did it become after a few enquiries had been made that we were finally limited to the recruitment and use of Italian prisoners of war. The choice was further limited in view of the few recruits willing to undertake the risk of returning to ITALY and working for us. The absence of any large numbers of Italian P/W willing to return to ITALY can be well understood when it is stated that at that time there were extremely few (if any) Agents working in ITALY for clandestine organizations. The activities of the OVRA [Mussolini’s secret police] and other Fascist counter-espionage services made matters almost, if not quite impossible, for clandestine work.

However, a few stout-hearted Italian P/W were found and were duly dropped by Air or landed from the sea in an endeavour to carry out our work. These were necessarily at that time regarded as “Long Term” Agents. One or two such Agents were trained in W/T operating but on the whole results were disappointing.

The choice of Agents under (b) above (first phase) could really be described as no choice at all.

To understand this phase, which started at the time of the landing of our Sections with the invading forces and for a short period after that event, the reader should consider the position of I.S.9 at that time. At the time of the invasion in Sept 1943, which co-incided with the surrender of ITALY, most of the P/W Camps were thrown open by the Italian authorities and some 75,000 Allied P/W were released and before they could be rounded up by the Germans again, large numbers were roaming the countryside.

Naturally, Allied authorities were concerned and orders were issued to I.S.9 to take all possible steps to evacuate to Allied lines as many of those P/W as possible. The great need appeared to be speed and more speed.

At that time, too, large numbers of Italians expressed their willingness to help the Allies and our Sections found themselves with many volunteers for our work.

With the urgency of the situation continually in their mind, it is not surprising to find that Sections had little chance to carry out much selection and security screening and in the main all volunteers coming forward were sketchily briefed and pushed through the lines with instructions to help back as many ex-P/Ws as possible. In view of this and also in view of the limited experience of our Sections at that time, it is also not surprising to find that the numbers of ex-P/Ws returning to the fold, although perhaps not too disappointing, hardly justified the large numbers of such Agents employed.

It is still a matter for wonder, however, within I.S.9 why, in view of the scanty security check used, the whole of our work was not blown sky high by the enemy.

However, it was not so and we lived to learn and profit by our mistakes in this direction.

The end of this phase which lasted roughly two months, found us with much more experience and a much better idea of the type of Agent we required.

At this stage it might be interesting to the reader to learn what, in our opinion, was the type of Agent best suited to our work.

He should of course be courageous, but not possessing only that courage which is brought out in the heat of battle with the enemy, but the quietly courageous type who understands fully the personal risk he is undertaking and can be relied upon not to think of his personal safety before the safety of the E & Es he is looking after.

He should not be a volunteer for sabotage work nor one merely for Intelligence work. He should possess patience, a sense of discipline, an administrative ability, and a clear understanding of the difficult problem of collecting, looking after and finally evacuating through enemy lines, a mixed bag of Imperial and American E & Es.

He should also have a good working knowledge of the area in which he would have to cover and, if possible, a knowledge, however slight, of the English language.

The standard for our Agents was set high and although the supply of Agents possessing all the necessary qualifications was not great, we were fortunate in thinking that perhaps we might obtain such Agents from those formations of the Italian army who had refused to fight on the side of the Germans but who had surrendered to the Allies in accordance with the terms of the Armistice.

Enquiries were therefore made via the Italian authorities for volunteers from the Alpine and Parachutist formations of the Italian army.

It should be stated here that the Italian authorities co-operated and helped us greatly in our recruiting campaign and at no time was there a falling off in this co-operation or a lack of recruits for our work. We would pay tribute to our Italian soldier Agents who, with few exceptions, have served us well. A number have unfortunately lost their lives in the service of E & Es and a number suffered injury and torture after capture.

We have no recorded incident however that, under torture, any Italian soldier personnel revealed the work on which he was engaged, or revealed details of our organization.

Almost without exception, the Italian officers so used, proved first-class and were key men of our long range Missions in E.O.T.

A few civilian Italians were employed during this phase but these were all used on short term work.

Thus it might be said, as an indication of the type of Agents used for all long term or Mission work inside E.O.T., that they were Italian army personnel and right well did they serve us.

So much for the choice of Agents. Now for the training.

Agents, Training

The word “training” would normally convey something rather important in the work of I.S.9. Something for which a school of instructors would be necessary. This of course is true so far as the training of W/T operators is concerned, and to describe the training of W/T operators is easy.

All that happened is that our own Signal N.C.O. [noncommissioned officer] gave a likely recruit a short keyboard test and if his sending and receiving amounted to at least 10 words per minute, the recruit would be passed on to the I.S.L.D. [Inter-Services Liaison Department] (M.I.6) training school for further training in procedure and until the required standard of 20 words per minute was achieved.

Should the recruit not pass his first 10 words per minute test but otherwise appear likely, he would be retained at Main HQs and be given training by our own Signal N.C.O. until he attained the required 10 words per minute.

The “training” of Agents, other than W/T operators, was much more simple and required no school and no instructors for, to be quite blunt about it, there was no training as such.

It is true of course that if an Agent was required to jump from an aircraft he had to undergo parachute training, or, if landed from a submarine or small dinghy he would be required to undertake a short course of dinghy drill, but otherwise “selection” of the right type of Agent gave more success than any endeavour to “train” as an I.S.9 Agent.

Following a good selection came a good and detailed briefing and the Agent was then all set to go.

Employment of Imperial and American Personnel in E.O.T.

This question naturally gave rise to much thought and caused a number of sleepless nights, both to the G-1 and the G-2 in charge of Field Hqs. [Headquarters] Imperial and American personnel were dropped from aircraft and landed by sea within a few days or the Allied landings and I.S.9 can rightly claim to have had the first Allied personnel operating in uniform in E.O.T. in ITALY. These first days were known to us of I.S.9 as the days of the SIMCOL operations, the days when owing to the rapid advance of the 8th Army and the landing of the 5th Army at SALERNO, confusion reigned behind the enemy’s lines.

Full advantage was, of course, taken of this confusion and many Imperial and American personnel were used behind the enemy’s line without running a tremendous risk of capture. However, when the enemy finally arrived at his GUSTAVE LINE and the line became more static, control of his immediate rear areas became easier for the enemy and it was then not so simple for Allied personnel in uniform to work.

That it was ever possible for our officers and 0/Rs [other ranks] to work in E.O.T. in uniform was due to causes explained under the paragraph headed “Help given to I.S.9 work by others”, but in spite of these causes, the risk of capture was ever present and the employment of Allied personnel in E.O.T. was never lightly undertaken.

The W/E of I.S.9 was never large and quite apart from the risk of capture depriving us of a valuable member’s services, we could not afford to have too many operational personnel in E.O.T. at one time, especially during the first 12-months of our work in ITALY when the call for “snap” operations was likely to come at any time. Officers in charge of Field Sections would, at times, request permission to infiltrate into E.O.T., but until there were at least 2 officers attached to each Section, permission to foray behind the enemy lines was almost invariably refused.

It soon became obvious that short range work by land could best be done by Agents and only under exceptional circumstances was permission granted for our personnel to infiltrate through the lines. Later on, however, when it became possible to establish Missions in given areas on long range work, every effort was made to have at least one Allied officer or Sjt [serjeant, or sergeant] attached to or in charge of the Mission.

One rule was invariable, namely the wearing of uniform. That rule was made for obvious reasons, but it must be admitted that from information since received, one or two of our operational personnel did find occasion to don a civilian suit in order to wander further afield from the Mission area, but this was against the rules and was never agreed to when requested by Signal.

In YUGOSLAVIA, I.S.9 personnel wore uniform and as they were obliged by the Partizans always to be with the Allied Mission there was never any occasion for them to adopt civilian clothes.

Operational Personnel at Rest

One of the most difficult jobs a C.O. [commanding officer] has, is to keep operational personnel contented and “up to the mark” during periods of rest in the rear areas.

It has inevitably fallen to the lot of our Main HQs to look after, provide accommodation and, if possible, amusement for our operational personnel during their rest periods.

This is fairly easy for the first few days whilst the personnel are getting cleaned up, attending to their correspondence, and getting up to date on local affairs.

Thereafter, in an atmosphere of paper work and “office” which a Main HQs must be, this becomes increasingly difficult.

A “rest home” somewhere out of town, near the sea or in the country might be the answer but such a “home” requires a few Army O/Rs even though native labour can be used. Extra transport, too, is required and both personnel and transport have been scarce in I.S.9 (CMF).

Native personnel are easier to deal with in this respect and a separate establishment has been maintained throughout the Italian campaign as a rest-house for Italians, manned entirely by Italian labour but supervised by a British officer.

Inter-Allied Relationships at between American and British Personnel with I.S.9

This particular paragraph is a very tricky one my friend the reader, but one which must be written if a true account of I.S.9 History is to be recorded and if the lessons learned during the present war are to be of use to any future I.S.9 equivalent organization.

It is difficult to assess whether the “marriage” of M.I.S.(X) [the U.S. War Department equivalent of I.S.9] and I.S.9 (CMF) as a joint organization was a success or a failure. The reason for this difficulty is the feeling that M.I.S.(X) in WASHINGTON appeared to take little interest in E & E affairs in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations and appeared to have little concern with the Table of Organization of the American personnel with I.S.9.

True it was, that, during the first flush of operational activities, it was believed that M.I.S.(X) intended to have an American G-1, other American Staff officers and Operational personnel in an endeavour to establish dual control of the M.I.S.(X) and I.S.9 Organization.

Whether such an arrangement would have worked will never be known, for, owing to various complications, the chief of which was the “Theatre Overhead” whereby all American personnel had to be found from within the Theatre and could therefore not be sent from WASHINGTON purely as M.I.S.(X) personnel, the intention was never carried into effect. The apparent lack of interest taken by WASHINGTON in the American personnel working with I.S.9 (CMF) reacted unfavourably on the personnel concerned, who, almost without exception, – and entirely without justification – blamed their own Senior Officer (a Major) for lack of promotion, lack of rotation for return to the States, etc. Although one or two officers did come direct from M.I.S.(X) and one or two officers from this Theatre returned to M.I.S.(X) the feeling of both American and British personnel was that WASHINGTON took little interest in our affairs.

In view, therefore, of this apparent lack of interest and lack of higher direction, relations between Americans and British became a matter of personalities.

It should be clearly stated here and now that I.S.9 were fortunate in that the Senior American officer (a Major) served with the R.A.F. [Royal Air Force] during the last war whilst he was then a Canadian, and a great many domestic problems were ironed out by the G-1 of I.S.9 and this officer in a spirit of understanding and goodwill.

On the whole and judged by British standards the Americans were less amenable to discipline than were the British but at no time did they question British authority as such, rather did difficulties arise which, in view of the lack of complete understanding of the Americans and their way of life, made the solving of these difficulties less easy than would have been the case had they been British personnel.

At the same time we would say that the American personnel took their full share of I.S.9 work and with a Senior American officer understanding the British, their ways of life and action, it was never seriously considered that the marriage of the American and British personnel should be annulled.

However, and as a guide to any future I.S.9 organization, it has been agreed by the G-1 of I.S.9 and the Senior American officer above-mentioned, that it would be a good thing if American and British troops are again used in the same Theatre of Operations, and it is considered desirable that an American and a British I.S.9 organization should be formed, that there should be two separate and distinct organizations, as in the case of O.S.S. [Office of Strategic Services, a U.S. intelligence agency during WW II] and M.O.4. [a branch of the British liaison organisation SOE (Special Operations Executive)] in ITALY.

Given close co-operation between the two organizations, such an arrangement might work well and to the common good.

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