I.S.9 History—Operations in Italy, Part 2

This post is ninth 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,” “I.S.9 History—Communications,,” “I.S.9 History—Agent Choice and Training,” “I.S.9 History—Air Operations,” “I.S.9 History—Sea Borne Operations,” and “I.S.9 History—Operations in Italy, Part 1.”

Lieutenant Ruggiero Cagnazzo is mentioned in this part of the history, referred to as Italian agent “CAG,” and the rescue of the “the Generals Party” is described in detail. The initial operational plan for this mission is described in a recent post, “Rescue Plan—Generals and Civilians.”

See also “Rescues along the Adriatic Coastline” I.S.9 rescue details.

Several prisoner accounts on this site mention prisoners’ awareness of the I.S.9 rescue operations.

For instance, a 1980 newspaper article on American serviceman Raymond E. Cox reported, “In the spring of 1944, American paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines and began assembling groups of escaped prisoners who were placed on PT boats and taken to larger ships waiting at sea. Cox missed out of a chance to get out of the country that way, however, and rode a borrowed bicycle to look up with a field army unit after the Poles began pushing the Germans up the Adriatic Coast of Italy and the ‘front’ shifted.”

Tom Ager, when traveling through the countryside near Florence with comrades, said, “Our idea then was to go to the east coast and try and get picked up, because we’d heard rumours that every now and then someone would arrive and pick up people—but how true it was I have absolutely no idea. But we never reached it—it was too heavily fortified.”

And Roland Rakow encountered a British commando while on the run who informed him of a rendezvous. Roland explained, “He had been dropped off behind the lines to contact POWs that they knew were circulating in the hills trying to get back to the Allied lines. He was letting us know that if they could, a boat would pick us up and take us back down the Adriatic and around the lines where the British and Germans were still fighting.” Although Roland narrowly missed a German Patrol along the way, he made it to the shore in time to be rescued.

Below is a transcript of Part 2 of the I.S.9 history’s report on operations in Italy:

Part Two

1. General.

2. The Boating Section, TERMOLI.

3. Field Section Activities.

4. Field Headquarters.


From mid-Nov 43 both 5th and 8th Armies probed the outposts of the German Winter Line and built up their strength for two heavy attacks. 5th Army attacked the German defensive positions on the GARIGLIANO River, and around MONTE CASSINO, and 8th Army attacked and successfully crossed the SANGRO River on the ADRIATIC sector. However, due to the limited forces available and the dreadful Winter conditions, it was impossible to make further progress and these attacks were not exploited.

On January 22nd, 1944, a sea borne landing was made by the U.S. VI Corps at ANZIO behind the main German defence line. This seemed to be the only possible way of ending this stalemate and cause the Germans to withdraw during the Winter. The enemy was quick to sense danger and the four Allied divisions landed at ANZIO were soon opposed by ten enemy divisions commanded by the famous KESSELRING.

I.S.9 (CMF) had every desire to land a section at ANZIO but simply could not do so due to our limited W/E [war establishment] which still remained at the same strength as at 1 Nov 43. It is doubtful if very much could have been achieved, as the concentration of enemy around the ANZIO bridgehead made penetration look impossible. It is interesting to note that a mere handful of evaders ever crossed into the beachhead and a fairly large number were concentrated in the hills not far away. Every inch of the perimeter was thick with troops and mines. It was far better for us, therefore, to leave our sections to operate in areas which did have possibilities, for it was impossible to cover every sector of the front.

The Winter campaign gained little ground and throughout it was a battle against the same line of defence and against wicked climatic conditions. Apart from several local moves and a few changes in personnel the I.S.9 (CMF) Field Sections operated throughout the Winter in static conditions.

The boating section remained at TERMOLI and had an equally hard task. Enemy interference to sea borne evacuations was a minor problem compared with the elements experienced along the ADRIATIC coast. It would however, have been wrong to have abandoned sea operations for the Winter months, for, in spite of the weather, several successes were achieved. Of the many operations attempted only two failed due to enemy action, the remainder due entirely to heavy seas preventing coastal approach. During this Winter period much experience was gained which was to prove invaluable in the coming Spring.

It is proposed to quote each Section’s activities during these Winter months and to describe more fully the more important operations undertaken.


On Nov 1, 1943, several operations mounted during the “SIMCOL” operations period were still outstanding. Several Allied officers had sailed with an Italian MS [Motoscafo Silurante, or torpedo motorboat] boat (No. 74) to assist in the landing of certain agents and to pick up a party of E & Es at the same time. Unfortunately, MS 74 did not return to TERMOLI and her fate was unknown. On 7 November a fishing schooner sailed into TERMOLI harbour bringing seven members of the 2nd S.A.S. [Special Air Service] Regiment, two Royal Naval officers and two ex-P/W. The S.A.S. party were members of a “SIMCOL” mission and the Naval officers had been aboard MS 74 to assist in the actual landing operations. From their report it appeared that the MS boat was attacked by a shore battery whilst lying to and sunk. Little definite news was available of Capt LEWIS, an American I.S.9 officer who was also aboard MS 74, and it was a relief when he walked through the lines some short time afterwards (Dec 17). The only other Allied officer involved was a member of the 2nd S.A.S., but he, too, returned in a stolen fishing craft, some two days later. Within a few hours of his arrival yet another 2nd S.A.S. officer returned to TERMOLI alone in a 10-ft rowing boat, having covered some sixty miles along enemy occupied coast. Such were the events of the first few days of I.S.9 (CMF) boating section and it suggested a future full of excitement.

Every day fishing craft of all sizes, sailing boats, and small dinghies would “heave to” in the minute harbour of TERMOLI, bringing down parties of refugees, P/W and “SIMCOL” mission personnel. A total of eighteen P/W arrived at TERMOLI between 1 Nov and 11 Nov and all were evacuated by the efforts of “SIMCOL” personnel. From official interrogations and normal conversations with the returning personnel it was possible to gain a very good idea of the effects which members of “SIMCOL” missions had created in the ABRUZZI and MARCHE. They had made their presence felt amongst both E & Es and the peasant families and a very definite connection had been established between both sides of the line. It now remained for us to arrange the necessary means of evacuation for the many parties of E & Es with whom we were in contact. Unfortunately this contact was not good and we had to rely on word of mouth instead of direct W/T communication. Had we had reliable wireless communication, it is reasonable to support that the successful sea evacuation of large numbers of E & Es would have been achieved. At this stage, however, we had to rely on the slow and doubtful system of pre-arranged beach rendezvous.

Except for specifically planned evacuations, the normal operation took the following form – firstly information would arrive by a returning agent, P/W or refugee, that a given number of E & Es would rendezvous at a certain point on the beach along the ADRIATIC coast; could we send a ship to evacuate them? We had two choices as regards craft, our own motor fishing vessels, or Italian light coastal craft under command of the Royal Navy. The problem was taken to SNOLA (Senior Naval Officer Landing Adriatic) who was based at TERMOLI and he would decide on the craft to be used.

Unfortunately SNOLA was responsible to FOTA (Flag Officer TARANTO) for all small craft operations along the ADRIATIC coast line and our requests had to be considered and given their due priority. If MTB’s or destroyers were operating on the particular night we wished to conduct our evacuation, it was invariably called off since the normal instructions of Royal Naval small craft sweeps was to sink everything on sight. The disappointing thing to us was that all too often our requests coincided with small craft sweeps by the Navy and could not be allowed to take place, and we had no means of letting the E & Es know. Such was the problem presented by a complete lack of W/T communications in E.O.T. [enemy occupied territory].

An even more infuriating situation would often arise – our request to attempt an evacuation would meet with official approval only to be cancelled on the sailing date due to a 50 – 60-mile an hour gale. To select a free night for operations, which would also coincide with suitable weather conditions, was almost expecting the impossible. It cannot be wondered at therefore that many a night a fishing vessel of the I.S.9 private navy would slip silently out to sea and risk being sunk at sight by Royal Naval coastal craft. In these cases the most difficult problem was assuring the Italian crews that all was well lest they should suspect a sweep was on, and secondly to answer to SNOLA should we be noticed leaving TERMOLI, or our craft sunk. Fortunately we always managed to run the gauntlet and did not suffer any losses. Off the record though many of these early attempts were, our job was all important to us and we simply had to make an effort.

The 13th Nov saw the arrival of another party of four “SIMCOL” mission personnel and four P/W. Later that same day an Italian agent who had been landed a few days previously at a point in E.O.T. sailed a small fishing craft into TERMOLI harbour with 18 Allied P/W. This was the first real success for I.S.9 (CMF) Boating Section since Nov 1, and we looked to the future full of optimism. Several agents had been landed to contact P/W and bring them down to pre-arranged RV’s [rendezvouses] on the beach. SNOLA took a renewed interest in our efforts and a large shipping demand was made for the next non-moon period. It should be noted that both evacuations and landings could only be attempted during the non-moon periods. The coastline was very lightly defended and excellent for our work, yet the great disadvantage was a road and railway which ran parallel along its whole length and within fifty-yards of the beach. To have attempted operations during the moon period would have asked for disaster.

Operational conditions in so far as our work was concerned, remained reasonable until the middle of November, but then further problems came our way. No. 1 Special Force (M.0.4.) commenced intensive operations along the coast and it was not surprising to find certain reactions by the enemy. Apart from the few good pinpoints along the coast being compromised by this intensified activity, the enemy began to sow shallow depth mines at those and other likely landing spots, thus rendering long stretches of coastline impossible for small craft operations. ‘E’ boats [German Schnellboot, or “fast boats”] also made their appearance but fortunately in very small numbers.

November 19, however, brought another success when at 1430 hrs an I.S.9 fishing schooner arrived at TERMOLI with twenty E & Es. The Italian agent in charge of the party told of a second party of P/W which was on the way – they duly arrived on the morning of 20 Nov – ten in all.

These early successes provoked further interest amongst the clandestine world and a further agency began to operate from TERMOLI – I.S.L.D. [Inter-Services Liaison Department]. The competition for craft, priorities, pinpoints, etc., was increasing and deteriorating weather conditions automatically reduced the number of possible operational days. I.S.9 Boating Section by this time was the oldest established clandestine agency operating from TERMOLI. Very naturally the HQ became the meeting place of all other agencies, and, together with members of the Royal Navy, an excellent spirit was created amongst us all.

The amount of tactical “I” information which was available through P/W and refugees returning to TERMOLI was considerable. Although we appreciated the need and responsibility for passing this information to 5 Corps HQ (then operating on the ADRIATIC sector of 8th Army front) we were unable to do so due to a shortage of staff. A visit to the G.S.O. 1 “I” at HQ 8 Army ended in the attachment of an Intelligence Officer who was to be responsible for the tactical interrogation of all returning personnel and the submission of any information obtained to the appropriate HQ. This officer proved to be extremely capable and was soon on the official W/E of I.S.9.

On November 21, SNOLA produced the disappointing news, that, due to naval support for certain army operations, all small craft operations must be temporarily cancelled. This was indeed a setback since two operations had been planned which involved the infiltration of certain British I.S.9 officers. The strongest representations were made to FOTA at TARANTO to lift this ban and a meeting was called at which the problems of small-craft clandestine operations were examined. We have pride in causing this meeting to be held, because the outcome promoted the establishment by FOTA of a special operations section which would be responsible for the co-ordination of all small craft operating for clandestine agencies. The formation of this Naval Special Operations Section was beneficial to every clandestine agency using small craft along the ADRIATIC coast.

On November 26, two I.S.9 officers, Major McKEE and Capt McGIBBON LEWIS, together with certain Italian agents, were successfully landed behind the lines at a point near to CUPRA MARITIMMA. They were to attempt to form a safe line of evacuation down to various beach RV’s and possibly to extend this line far enough SOUTH to allow the ex-filtration of P/W through the German lines. This operation, known as “RATBERRY ONE”, will be described in more detail at a later stage.

On November 28, an agent was successfully landed at PORTO CIVITANOVA in order to contact Capt LOSCO, an I.S.9 officer who had previously been landed in the same vicinity but had failed to keep the pre-arranged RV. On the same night a party of agents were landed for I.S.L.D. Thus ended a month of great activity for the Boating Section during which many successful operations were carried out.

With few exceptions, our TERMOLI section had so far confined its operations from immediately behind the enemy lines to ANCONA – some 120-miles to the NORTH. It was both practical and convenient for operations along this stretch of coastline to be planned locally at TERMOLI and put up to SNOLA for approval. By this time, however, the African Coastal Flotilla Adriatic was fully established for ADRIATIC small-craft operations with its base at MOLFETTA. Therefore if we had to undertake an operation NORTH of ANCONA an application for craft was made to the ACF(A) through the FOTA’s special operations section at TARANTO. The ACF(A) were equipped with fast motor fishing vessels which had been specially designed for clandestine work and were manned by Royal Naval crews. Once the application was approved, all sailing arrangements and the execution of the operation were made by the ACF(A). During the operational periods it was usual for the ACF(A) to base certain craft forward at TERMOLI and this arrangement provided an excellent liaison with our own section.

It was extremely interesting to watch the gradual development of a workable system and one which was continually subject to changes after each lesson was learned – these lessons were invariably learned the hard way.

It was anticipated that high seas would prevent much activity during December but a full programme of operations was planned. This included the second landing of Capt LOSCO with an Italian helper, who were to contact P/W in the CIVITANOVA area and bring them to a pre-arranged RV. Unfortunately the RV could not be kept during the December operational period due to high seas, and Capt LOSCO remained behind the lines. He continued to operate most successfully and helped in the care and maintenance of P/W over a wide area in the ABRUZZI. He was eventually captured whilst touring his area by motor-cycle and imprisoned in MACERATA Civil Gaol. Although contrary to the standing orders Capt LOSCO was in civilian clothes at the time of his capture but he was armed with an excellent cover story and necessary documents. He spoke excellent Italian and was able to withstand a German Tribunal which believed his story and as a result he was sentenced to 15 years hard labour in the MACERATA prison. Sad though we were, it was indeed excellent news to know that Capt LOSCO had been imprisoned so near to hand. Had his story been exposed he would undoubtedly have been shot by the Germans. Had he been taken prisoner in uniform his life may have been spared but he would most likely have been moved to GERMANY. Whilst in MACERATA we had every chance to assist in his escape and several plans were attempted. Finally, he managed to make a successful escape during an Allied air raid on the town and returned safely to TERMOLI. Capt LOSCO had already operated in CORSICA during the German occupation and also in ITALY.

On December 16 a schooner arrived with an Italian agent and five E & Es. On December 19, Lieut FERGUSON (ex-P/W attached to I.S.9) and an Italian helper sailed into TERMOLI, having successfully carried out the evacuation of a party of General officers which included Lieut-Gen. NEAME, Lieut-Gen O’CONNOR and Air Marshal BOYD. The details of this operation must be described separately – enough now to say that we were glad. Also on December 16 a party of 2nd S.A.S. personnel were landed in E.O.T. under plan “SASSOON” and one of their tasks was to bring P/W down to a beach RV. This operation proved unusually full of interest, for it was one of the first landing parties to have the benefit of W/T communication. Their set worked back to our base set at TERMOLI and we remained in daily contact during the whole period of the operation. The value of this communication was manifold – RV’s could be arranged and acknowledged within a few hours, they could be cancelled if the weather made the attempt impossible, tactical “I” information was continually passed back and it enabled us to give all possible assistance to the shore party. Finally, a party of some 25 E & Es were mustered at a beach RV and Capt P.S. FOWLER sailed in the I.S.9 schooner “SATURNIA” on Dec 21 to carry out the evacuation. Due to a series of misfortunes and enemy interference, Capt P.S. FOWLER was left ashore and the “SATURNIA” was forced to abandon the evacuation, returning to TERMOLI. Having W/T communication enabled us immediately to arrange further attempts to evacuate the party but due to bad weather and the end of the December non-moon period, it was not until January 1944 that we could resume operations. During the intervening period daily communication was maintained and on 21 Jan 44 a most successful evacuation was carried out using an Italian MS boat and which resulted in the rescue of 25 E & Es and the return of all the “SASSOON” party and our own Capts FOWLER and LOSCO.

An I.S.9 agent was successfully landed by submarine on the night 26/27 Dec 43 some eight miles SOUTH of CHIOGGIA (near VENICE). His task was to contact a party of 12 known E & Es and bring them to a pre-arranged beach RV on nights immediately following. These RV’s could not be kept due to weather conditions but other alternative nights had been arranged for the January operation period.

So ended the December non-moon period and in spite of our doubts as to weather, it again produced a month full of success and excitement. The highlight of which was the successful evacuation of the “Generals party”.

Plans for January were already under way but the “SASSOON” party naturally had first priority. Early in the month we were able to land two more agents for I.S.L.D. but little more could be accomplished due to the exceptionally bad weather. We were bound to concentrate on the “SASSOON” evacuation and before we were successful seven attempts were made, which, incidentally, were the only seven nights in January that it was possible to struggle out to sea from TERMOLI harbour.

On January 5, Capt McGIBBON LEWIS returned by fishing craft under his own arrangements. He had been landed previously with Major McKEE on “RATBERRY ONE”. He brought disturbing news of the party which had been dispersed during an engagement with the enemy.

The remainder of January 44 was spent in preparing our private navy for the coming months and all hands went to work – painting, varnishing, repairing and completely overhauling the schooners. Several of them were sailed down to MOLFETTA and slipped for bottom scraping. These points are recorded to illustrate exactly what goes into the rescue of the P/W by sea. It must be recorded that the whole period we ran an I.S.9 navy, the Royal Navy and particularly the officers of the ACF(A), gave us all possible help and advice.

During the period up to date the Boating Section had many successes but an equal number of disappointments. It was hard work indeed to defeat our many problems but most satisfactory whenever this was accomplished. Record must be made of one operation which ended in failure but fortunately without loss of Allied lives. The details of this operation are as follows:-


The plan was divided into two parts and involved the landing of a party of twelve agents under the control of an Italian Priest in the VENICE lagoon area. This was successfully accomplished by Italian MS boat early in November. They were to collect known parties of E & Es and muster them on the beaches at pre-arranged RV’s.

Two I.S.9 schooners were fully equipped with stores, clothing, food and comforts and were sailed over to the Dalmatian Island of LUSSIN PICCOLO. They were accompanied by an Italian MS boat and arrived safely some five days after the landing of the agents in the VENICE area. It was intended that the two schooners should remain at LUSSIN PICCOLO and form a base and that the Italian MS boat should make as many trips as required from the island base to the Italian mainland to pick up the E & Es collected by the agents.

The preparation for this operation involved considerable effort, as all base stores required, including high octane petrol for the MS boat, had to be loaded into the schooners. W/T communication was kept from the LUSSIN PICCOLO base to the Boating Section at TERMOLI.

The agents had arrived safely, the schooners and MS boat had reached LUSSIN PICCOLO and all seemed set. Unfortunately, however, the arrival at LUSSIN PICCOLO coincided with a German attack on the island which was held by Yugoslavian partizans. Our base was dispersed in the ensuing struggle and Lieut FALVEY, an American I.S.9 officer, and Lieut BENTLEY BUCKLE, Royal Navy, were taken P/W (they were later reported in a P/W Camp in GERMANY). A Royal Naval historical artist who accompanied the expedition was also captured. Luckily the I.S.9 officer in charge of the operation, Capt. McARTHUR, U.D.F. [Union Defence Forces] (himself an ex-P/W), was able to escape to the mainland and was eventually evacuated from YUGOSLAVIA. Thus ended a most promising adventure and one which had every possibility of complete success. During the immediate period after the party was dispersed, we spent many worrying times due to the continuous flow of reports indicating the worst and it was with relief when we heard the true story.

At the end of the January period of operations we were faced with yet another problem. Orders were issued that the port of TERMOLI was to be closed and that small craft operations must be continued from another base. ORTONA to the NORTH of TERMOLI, was, by this time, in Allied hands, but still within enemy shelling range. We did sail up a schooner on a reconnaissance but were immediately attacked. The only alternative was to move further SOUTH from TERMOLI. Unfortunately, the only suitable base was MANFREDONIA, over 100 nautical miles away from the front line. A move here had obvious disadvantages but proved inevitable. In order to overcome the problem of the huge distance, the main base was established at MANFREDONIA with a forward staging base in the one cove on the barren TREMITI Island. TREMITI Island lies some 30-miles off the Italian mainland and abreast of TERMOLI. Stores of food and petrol were shipped over to this forward base in our own schooners and manhandled up the precipitous cliffs of TREMITI, to a safe storage.

At this stage our fleet was in good order and consisted of the following MFV’s [motor fishing vessels]:- “KARAVASTA”, “BUDRINDO”, “FEDEL FRANCO”, “SATURNIA” and the “LUCRETIA”. We were still able to call on three Italian MS boats and other Royal Naval coastal craft.

The following operations were arranged for the Feb non-moon period: –

(i) The landing of “CAG” – I.S.9 Agent.
(ii) The landing of a Yugoslav mission – “JUG”.
(iii) The landing of “PETER” – I.S.9 Agent.
(iv) The landing of “RATBERRY TWO” – I.S.9 Agents.

Our strength was increased by the permanent attachment of a Royal Naval officer to assist in our navigational problems. It seemed the Navy were satisfied as to the capabilities of our own navy and realised that each operation carried out by us released their own craft for other duties. This somewhat ad hoc arrangement continued throughout the history of the Boating Section and although somewhat strange and unorthodox worked most successfully.

The seas during February were again exceedingly rough and prevented all but two operations – “PETER” and “JUG”, both of which were successfully carried out. Several attempts were made to land “CAG” and the “RATBERRY TWO” party without success. On one attempt the dinghy was overturned by the rough seas whilst attempting to land the “RATBERRY TWO” party and all W/T equipment was lost. We looked towards March with confidence – our new base and staging point were now well established and we could expect fairer weather.

At this stage it may be as well to clarify certain changes in the organization of I.S.9 (CMF) in ITALY, since these changes influenced the operations of the Boating Section.

HQ 15 Army Group had left BARI and moved to CASERTA. Unfortunately it was impossible for I.S.9 Main HQ to move from it’s BARI base, since all other clandestine agencies, training establishments, air bases, etc., remained situated along the ADRIATIC coast between BRINDISI and BARI. At this stage we were also very much tied to the HQ of FOTALI at TARANTO. The problem was overcome by attaching the officer previously with HQ 5 Army, to HQ 15 Army Group as a liaison officer and maintaining our Main HQ in BARI. We had managed to obtain on attachment sufficient signal equipment and personnel to supply links between TREMITI Island and MANFREDONIA to Main HQ, BARI. The success of the boating operations so much depended on accurate timings that a good system of quick communications was essential. But for the availability of attached personnel and equipment this would have been impossible – particularly in the case of TREMITI Island since we were the only Allied unit ashore. Even MANFREDONIA had become a backwater by this stage and did not have a high grade army cypher office. The nearest office was at FOGGIA some 2-hours drive from the Boating Section HQ. Telephonic communication did exist but could not be relied upon and for operational traffic was obviously insecure.

During March 44 a limited number of operations were attempted and the usual amount of excitement experienced. The first attempt to land our Italian agent “CAG” was unsuccessful due to enemy ‘E’ boat activity. A second attempt was successful although intermittent firing was heard in the vicinity of the landing point. The party were to attempt the rescue, by sea evacuation, of the balance of the “Generals party”. They were equipped with a W/T set and our hopes ran high.

Two nights later Major McKEE was landed on a sea evacuation scheme from the TENNA Valley area. He hoped to make contact with Sjt GREEN who was put ashore at the same time as “CAG’s” party.

Whilst lying off the TREMITI anchorage, Sjt WESTWATER, master of the “BUDRINDO”, noticed the collision in mid-air of two B.24 aircraft. They dived straight into the sea and the sad sequel was the recovery by the “BUDRINDO” of 7 bodies. Immediately following, the “BUDRINDO” sighted a B.17 returning to base but obviously out of control. The ten American crew members bailed out over the sea and were picked up by Sjt WESTWATER none the worse for their experience.

Thus ended our operations for March 44 and it is convenient at this stage to term this the end of the Winter campaign for I.S.9 Boating Section.

Since it’s formation in early November it was commanded by the following officers in turn. Major J.F. FILLINGHAM, Capt P.S. FOWLER, Lieut P.A. BROWN and Major P. LEFROY.

This history to date is evidence as to the optimism we felt over future operations in the coming Spring. Many problems had arisen but we had overcome them one by one and the sum total of experience gained was considerable.


At an early date during the Winter campaign the following was announced by Guenther Weber, [German news agency] “Transocean’s” special war correspondent:-

“The Allies have been employing for some time past, chiefly along the ADRIATIC coast, special squads, which can best be designated as ‘dodger squads’.

On dark nights these squads land far into the hinterland by means of parachutes or by submarines, and are charged with the task of picking up Anglo-American prisoners who escaped from prisoner of war camps after Sep 9th and are still roaming about. The squads then ‘filter’ the former prisoners through the German front-lines.

Fresh Commando troops, provided with large amounts of Italian currency and equipped with the most modern wireless-telephone sets, are used for these operations. Italian soldiers, with a special knowledge of the locality, have also been used. Recently one squad offered a PESCARA fisherman 50,000 lire to ferry the group along the coast to the Allied front.

Through the vigilance of the German troops and the assistance of the Italian population, many of the commando groups have been caught.”

Our officially published reaction to this took the following attitude:

(i) It has taken the German propaganda a very long time to react to what must be, by its very nature, an activity fairly well known to the enemy.

(ii) While this may be meant to discourage the activities of I.S.9, it indicates that at least we are causing the enemy some inconveniences.

(iii) Should the enemy decide to increase his vigilance, thereby making our task more difficult, he can only do so at the expense of formations already committed in battle.

(iv) A gesture, not dissimilar from the V sign, directed towards the enemy.

The game was on and our land sections refused to be dismayed by announcements of this kind, or to take any notice of the arrival of the severest Winter conditions ITALY had experienced for many years.

A short explanation is required in order to clarify the somewhat peculiar numbering of our Field Sections.

No. 1 Section – arrived in ITALY in the early days of the SALERNO landings under the command of Major E.S.A. HERBERT and retained its identity throughout the Italian campaign.

No. 2 Section – landed at REGGIO with the 8th Army invasion of SOUTHERN ITALY and retained its identity throughout the campaign. Was originally commanded by Capt A.C. SOAMES.

No. 3 Section – landed at TARANTO with the Para Brigade on D+3 under command of Lieut FALVEY, U.S.A. This section was abandoned when “SIMCOL” arrived in ITALY shortly afterwards. No. 3 Section was not reformed until sent to NICE (FRANCE) in August 1944.

No. 4. Section – landed in CORSICA during the German occupation and was commanded by Capt A.V. LOSCO. Was not reformed after being dissolved at the successful conclusion of the CORSICAN campaign.

No. 5 Section – was formed from the Boating Section at TERMOLI. For the first few weeks concentrated on carrying out land infiltrations connected with sea borne evacuations. Then because entirely engaged on land ex-filtration and was originally commanded by Major A. ROBB.

We are, therefore, concerned with the activities of No’s 1, 2 and 5 Sections for this Winter period from 1 Nov 43 until Spring 1944.

No. 1 Section.

At 1 November, No. 1 Section were situated in SALERNO and the Section was composed of Major E.S.A. HERBERT, Capt VLASTO, Lieut Lee BRADLEY, Lieut CHIDIAC and Sjt GREEN. They had also formed a sub-section in NAPLES for the purpose of obtaining the services of suitable helpers.

Their early activities were severely restricted, due to the fact that their transport was not unloaded until the beginning of October. Even so, they were able to mount an operation which greatly assisted the safe return of some 46 U.S. parachutists who had been dropped on an operational task behind the German lines. In an early report from the Section, the following statement appeared; “One thing is certain, and it is that a Field Section does not become operationally effective from the day it starts work.” However, by 21 October the Section had infiltrated a considerable number of helpers to form a co-ordinated network of safe houses. Further guides were operating a regular passage to and fro through the enemy’s lines. At this stage they had managed to bring a total of 67 E & Es to safety.

Valuable information was supplied by the Section concerning the general whereabouts of the large numbers of P/W known to be roaming the countryside. The information they were able to supply concerning the SULMONA area, proved to be exceptionally useful. The Section were also able to recruit, in the city of NAPLES, several Italian agents, who were despatched to ALGIERS and in due course infiltrated by air and sea into NORTHERN ITALY. During the long Winter months, the Section continued to operate on the 6 and 10 Corps front of 5th Army. The enemy intended to hold his line at all costs, in order to prevent the early capture of ROME. In order to do this, he employed a large number of divisions and battle groups composed of his best troops, including the fanatical First Para Division. After we crossed the GARIGLIANO River, our forces were faced with tremendous obstacles including MONTE CASSINO. Severe Winter conditions made movement extremely difficult and many units were completely bogged down, several to the extent of having to receive their supplies by air. It was in these conditions that No. 1 Field Section battled cheerfully throughout the Winter and it can be said that they had easily the most difficult task of all our Sections. During this period they were able to claim some one hundred P/W rescued. Several agents had been selected for W/T and parachute training, for use in No. 1 Section operations to be mounted early in the coming Spring.

No. 2 Section.

At the time this Section passed to our command, it was operating from the right flank of No. 1 Section and Westwards across the central sector of the Italian front. The majority of its activity had been on the sector held by the First Canadian Division, whose HQ was in CAMPOBASSO. The enemy had withdrawn from the town itself very quickly, and Capt A.C. SOAMES’s Section was one of the first units to establish a HQ in CAMPOBASSO.

The enemy withdrawal towards CAMPOBASSO provided excellent opportunities for Field Section operations. Although it merely represented an organized move back from strongly held outpost positions to the main Winter defence line, the withdrawal was over a considerable distance and proved to be the only time during the whole Winter campaign that the situation was in any way fluid. Once the Germans decided to withdraw to the main line of defence they carried out the operation according to their standard methods. Contact was broken quickly and the troops withdrew down two roads to the NORTH of CAMPOBASSO.

All other routes which were not used by the enemy were secured by mining, blowing bridges and extensive demolition. This prevented the advancing Canadians regaining close contact until the enemy reached his main line but it did allow excellent opportunity for the infiltration of agents and guides and the passage of E & Es back to safety.

This situation only lasted for the short period of the withdrawal but every advantage was taken by our Section. Large numbers of E & Es returned daily and the majority, by our efforts. The large numbers were not so surprising as it was known previously that many hundreds from SULMONA and nearby camps had escaped into the mountains and were hiding up in this region. A Sitrep [situation report] received from No. 2 Section on 1 Nov states “last 48 hours 46 E & Es brought in by my guides (.) total since 22 Oct officers 24 other ranks 188 (.) This figure only those brought in personally by our guides.”

The Section had certainly reacted extremely quickly to the momentarily fluid battle situation and day and night worked a continuous courier service of guides. It may appear, that, many of the E & Es the Section guided to safety, would eventually have been overrun by our advance, but in the main our experience has proved otherwise. We consider that no matter how simple a rescue is, and no matter how short the distance the P/W is guided from enemy territory, that we are justified in considering them as definite claims. Throughout the whole campaign the natural tendency of the E & Es was to move back whenever his hide-out was approached by the advancing Allies. The following signals reached base from No. 2 Section within the next few days:-

2 Nov – 6 officers 15 other ranks brought in by my guides.

3 Nov – 8 other ranks rescued today.

4 Nov – 4 officers 10 other ranks brought in.

9 Nov – 7 other ranks in with my guides.

11 Nov – 3 other ranks rescued.

15 Nov – 5 other ranks brought through.

16 Nov – Foolish agent of mine reports having guided 5 officers 11 other ranks from SULMONA area and passed them over to 1 Section guide (.) Please check with HERBERT.

16 Nov – Guide arrived with six other ranks and reports further 23 routed towards 5 Section ratline 5 Corps front (.) Please advise ROBB.

20 Nov – 72 P/W through with guides each guide bringing eight (.) Situation ideal for short range guides.

At this stage of the game the sum total of I.S.9 confirmed claims was 1004, a number which included those evacuated during “SIMCOL” operations. It is almost impossible to arrive at a strict division of numbers rescued before and immediately after Nov 1, since the change-over was essentially one of command and operations remained progressive from the day the Italian campaign commenced.

Further signals arrived from 2 Section:-

21 Nov – 4 rescued.
22 Nov – 10 guided through.
24 Nov – 3 brought through.

Thus ended a most successful month of operations.

At the beginning of December the military situation had changed and again assumed a static character. Consequently freedom of movement as experienced during the preceding month could not be expected and the Section had to plan accordingly. Snow was already thick on the ground and it was obvious that encouraging the successful passage of E & Es through the lines needed careful thought. Not only had we to attempt their rescue but we had to assist in their feeding and clothing until such time as this was possible. No longer could we expect large numbers as in the preceding months (Oct – 643, Nov – 133).

A good deal of thought was given to our new problem by both Field HQ and the Section and as a result plan “BONCO” was evolved. The general idea was to establish two HQ’s behind the enemy lines, which were to be commanded by two Italian Alpini officers attached to us from the Italian Army. From: these HQ’s a series of safe hide-outs in peasant cottages and mountain huts would be developed.

It was proposed to drop food, clothing and medical supplies to each HQ at regular intervals and build up a reasonable reserve. This done, the next task was to find a route through the lines down which small parties of P/W could be despatched with locally recruited mountain guides. This involved many considerations apart from enemy vigilance and one had to consider particularly just how much privation the E & Es could stand up to in the snowbound mountain passes.

The plan was put into operation and, up to a point, succeeded, but by the beginning of January 44 it was obvious “BONCO” was doomed due to the exceptionally heavy snowdrifts which had blocked almost every passage through the lines.

Early in 1944, Field HQ moved up to CAMPOBASSO and many discussions took place with both 1 and 2 Sections as to how we could defeat the appalling conditions which were now our main enemy. A further plan “SCARLETT” was thus evolved, which again was based on safe houses, air supply and a passage through the lines.

It became known at this juncture, that an Allied force was to land behind the enemy lines to secure a bridgehead at ANZIO. It was hoped by the General Staff that this might cause the enemy to make a sudden withdrawal in order to prevent the capture of ROME and completely disorganize the Winter line already described. All our plans therefore were changed and an effort was made to be ready to react to any eventuality likely to occur as a result of the ANZIO bridgehead.

The landing took place on 22 January and although a successful bridgehead was established it was not exploited. The Germans quickly sensed the object of landing and reacted strongly, and it was not necessary for them to order any withdrawal from the main Winter line.

For the remainder of the Winter therefore, 2 Section faced a huge problem and continued to operate in almost impossible weather conditions. The Polish Corps took over this sector from the Canadians and to a large extent had to rely on air supply for their food am ammunition. Movement even on our side of the line was doubtful and even on a trip between Division and Corps one had to be prepared to spend a day or even more completely snowed up. On its move to CAMPOBASSO, Field HQ spent five days in the mountains unable to move.

No. 5 Section.

At 1 Nov 43, No. 5 Field Section were commanded by Lt-Col. Ian WHYTE, S.A.A. (U.D.F.). This may sound odd but the colonel himself was an E & E who had joined “SIMCOL” after his escape and remained with us for a short time after 1 Nov 43 . As an ex-P/W, he knew the problems to be faced and achieved most successful results whilst commanding the Section. Until prevented by intense enemy vigilance, he spent most of his time passing to and fro through the enemy line, encouraging the many E & Es in his sector to make SOUTH through the lines.

The Section operated from the right flank of No. 2 Section and across the ADRIATIC front down to the sea. They worked in close conjunction with the Boating Section at TERMOLI and many combined operations were undertaken.

In the middle of November the Section was taken over by Capt A. ROBB and one of the last signals received from Lt-Col. Ian WHYTE before he left the Section HQ at CUPELLO to be “processed” by the Allied Repatriation Unit, was to say that he had recovered two more E & Es, which made his total 183.

Lt-Col.WHYTE left us a high standard of efficiency to live up to and in conjunction with Field HQ and the Boating Section, Capt ROBB set about planning what was later to become a most successful ratline. The plan was named “RATBERRY” and in its original form was designed to effect the escape of the large number of P/W known to be in TUSCANY, UMBRIA and ABRUZZI.

The intention was to establish a ratline from POPPI and SOUTH to our own line. Three HQ posts were to be established at convenient intervals along this line, each manned by a British officer with an Italian W/T operator. Post ‘A’ was to be established in the area of CUPRA MARITTIMA commanded by Capt ROBB. Capt McKEE was to establish a similar post in GUBBIO to cover the area GUBBIO to PORTO SAN GIORGIO. The most Northerly post was to be under command of Capt McGIBBON LEWIS and to cover the area POPPI to GUBBIO. These officers were to be landed during the November non-moon period at a point 3-kms NORTH of CUPRA MARITTIMA and proceed to establish each of their HQ’s. It was arranged to drop wireless operators to each post some few days after the anticipated arrival of the officers. If we were to be able to effect the rescue of the many P/Ws at large before the Winter proper set in, speed in execution of this plan was essential.

Capt McKEE and Capt McGIBBON LEWIS both successfully landed and proceeded to their posts but unfortunately every effort to land Capt ROBB during the November non-moon period failed due to weather conditions. Before the December boating period arrived Capt McGIBBON LEWIS had returned to inform us that he and Capt McKEE became engaged in a fight with the enemy whilst on their way to establish their posts and had had to disperse. Notwithstanding this disappointing news, we set about replanning the operation.

It was decided that perhaps the first plan was too ambitious and penetrated to too great a depth. The new plan called for the infiltration by sea and land of six carefully chosen Italian agents, who were all born and bred in the area of operations. They were to concentrate at a known safe house at MONTE GIORGIO and from there move out to pre-selected points along a proposed ratline. As stated, this line was much shorter than that proposed in the first plan and the general idea was to establish a passage through the line and later extend the influence of the ratline through the efforts of locally recruited guides. Our experience during the first unsuccessful operation had proved to us that such a line would not be made in a day. We had, however, the advantage of being able to avoid mistakes previously made and the report made by Capt McGIBBON LEWIS proved of great assistance. A further advantage to this second plan was that the senior Italian organiser was not only familiar with the area but owned several estates and properties which could be considered safe staging posts along the ratline.

The mission was successfully landed and during the following 3-weeks succeeded in establishing a safe line. The one disadvantage was that the headquarters of the line did not have W/T communications with 5 Field Section. Although an excellent system of communications was built up through a courier service running to and fro through the lines, it will readily be seen that this method of passing information across the line is not only slow but should a courier fall into the hands of the enemy, might prove most insecure. It was arranged, therefore, to infiltrate a wireless operator and set at the first available opportunity.

January 16th produced the ratline’s initial success, when the surprisingly large party of 31 E & Ks were passed through the lines. On interrogation each one of them spoke highly of the excellent organization which had enabled then to be safely guided down a line some 60-miles in length. Staging posts had been set up to receive the evaders at the end of each day’s journey, where the E & Es received a meal and a night’s sleep. The total journey down the line, including the final crossing, took 6-days on an average but movement was naturally restricted when enemy forces presented an unnecessary danger.

Couriers frequently arrived with requests for stores to be dropped at various posts along the line and we were able to despatch these successfully. Without direct W/T communication the reception committees were obliged to stand by for long periods awaiting suitable flying conditions but we were able to limit these periods to a minimum through the broadcasting on the B.B.C. news in Italian of pre-arranged phrases. For the remainder of the Winter period the ratline worked effectively and parties of P/W were passed through the lines almost daily. By the arrival of the Spring, organization along the line had been almost perfected, a wireless operator had been infiltrated and the scope of “RATBERRY” tremendously increased.

No. 5 Section’s activities were not only directed towards the successful operation of the “RATBERRY” line, but many other independent rescue missions were launched and included the successful evacuation of a party of Brigadiers from the SULMONA area. Whilst not wishing to underestimate the successful efforts of this Section, who produced a larger number of E & Es than any other of our land units, it is true to say that they had the easiest sector of the front to work on. In addition, far more P/Ws were located in the MARCHE and ABRUZZI than in any other area.


So far, little mention has been made of the organization, function and influence which our Field Headquarters had upon operations in ITALY. Field HQs was first located near to HQ 15 Army Group at SAN SPIRITO, BARI, under the command of Major J.F. FILLINGHAM, and was charged by Main HQ, ALGIERS, with the responsibility of escape operations in ITALY and to represent I.S.9 at Army Group. When “SIMCOL” was disbanded, Major FILLINGHAM moved to TERMOLI to the Boating Section and S/Ldr. E.A. DENNIS replaced him at Field HQ.

Late in 1943 it became obvious that, due to the increasing amount of work to be done in ITALY, more personnel were needed. At this time Field HQ had become involved in a hundred and one problems which were of a semi-administrative nature and had little connection with operational tasks – the main function of our Field H.Q. The work of our Main HQ in ALGIERS, though still considerable, was decreasing in an equal ratio to the increase in ITALY. Accordingly, it was decided to move over the majority of our Main HQ staff, to ITALY, leaving but a small representation under Lt-Col. HUFFER, an American officer attached to I.S.9, in ALGIERS for liaison duties with A.F.H.Q. A separate HQ was thus established near to BARI and Field HQ was able to hand over many of the responsibilities it had acquired and get down to its main task. S/Ldr DENNIS became G.S.O.1 and as a Wing Commander assumed control of I.S.9, with his Main HQ at BARI, whilst Major FILLINGHAM returned to Field HQ, having handed over command of the Boating Section to Capt F.S. FOWLER.

Field HQ also remained in BARI until early 1944 and then moved forward to CAMPOBASSO, a town centrally placed on the Italian front. The idea was to reduce the problem of distance from Field HQ to Sections to a minimum. After a brief trial it became obvious that at least during the Winter months no advantage was gained by this move. This was due to the almost impossibility of travel, the non-availability of direct W/T communications between Field HQ and Sections and the fact that all other equivalent HQ of kindred clandestine organizations remained in the BARI area.

It was decided therefore that Field HQ should move back to BARI and live with Main HQ but still retain its complete identity and responsibilities. Events were to prove that this decision was correct and Field HQ ramained in BARI until early August 1944 when it again moved NORTH. An explanation of this move will appear later in this story and in proper sequence of events.

The major task throughout the Winter campaign was the control of Field Section and boating operations and the direct planning and execution through Field Sections of certain special operations. Perhaps it is worthwhile to record the more interesting of these, ·which included the following:-


In the early days of the “SIMCOL” operations an Italian came through the lines on the front of No.1 Field Section with a report that a party of British General officers had escaped at the time of the Armistice and were in hiding at LA SEGHETTINA, Map Reference ITALY, 1:100,000, Sheet 107 (MONTE FALTERONA). It was stated that the party consisted of Lieut-Generals NEAME and O’CONNOR, Air Marshal BOYD, Major-General GAMBIER-PARRY, and Brigadiers COMBE, TODHUNTER, STIRLING, VAUGHAN and ARMSTRONG, and in addition Lieut. the Earl of RANFURLY, A.D.C. Various escape schemes were organized, one of which ended in the successful evacuation of Generals NEAME and O’CONNOR and Air Marshal BOYD. This particular plan was originally mounted in the days of “SIMCOL” but due to a series of complications became very confused with further plans organized after the 1st November, and it is difficult to decide if this first party of Generals should be claimed by “SIMCOL” or by I.S.9 post-1st Nov.

On 8th Nov, an Italian agent was landed at PORTO CIVITANOVA with a plan to contact the Generals and bring them down by motor-car to a pre-arranged beach rendezvous for a sea evacuation. Unfortunately, due to exceptionally bad weather conditions, the boats were unable to reach the rendezvous and this plan failed. An attempt was made by courier to contact the Generals, explaining the reasons for our failure and offering them a further means of escape.

In the meantime, we received through a courier, a request from the Generals for a submarine evacuation but had to inform them of the Navy’s decision that such a plan could not be undertaken with any degree of safety due to high seas. On 20th Dec 43, Lieut FERGUSON and the Italian agent sailed into TERMOLI harbour with Generals O’CONNOR and NEAME and Air Marshal BOYD, and brought up-to-date information on the remainder of the party. The one disappointing feature of this escape, was that the Generals did not fully realise the part played by Lieut FERGUSON (an ex-P/W attached to I.S.9) and were inclined to over- emphasize the efforts of the Italian. Unfortunately the Generals were not in possession of the full story concerning the operations which led to their rescue. Naturally the arrival of these Senior Officers caused minor sensations and it was with the greatest difficulty that we were able to institute sufficiently strong security precautions to prevent the leakage of information which would have led to jeopardizing the chances of the balance of the “Generals party” still in enemy territory.

The Generals themselves produced a plan to assist P/W remaining in the MARCHE and ABRUZZI. They had agreed with a local Liberation Committee to infiltrate a sum of ten-thousand pounds sterling, to be used by this Committee on behalf of P/W. The Bank had agreed, that, once this sum was received and deposited by the Committee, they would allow an unlimited credit for use on behalf of P/Ws. It was only after reference to the C-in-C (General ALEXANDER) and M.I.9, War Office, that this scheme, so open to corruption, was cancelled. The receipt of a signal on 3 January telling us that the plan had not been approved by higher authority was a relief, as otherwise we had visions of the greatest difficulty over financial matters at a future date.

On March 18th, 1944, an Italian agent (“CAG”) was landed successfully on the ADRIATIC coast with yet another plan to rescue the remaining party of General Officers. It was afterwards learnt that during the landing, his W/T operator had to abandon his set and disperse due to enemy activity. “CAG”, however, made contact with the Generals and several unsuccessful attempts were made to rescue them by sea evacuation.

By this time “CAG” had lost all means of direct communication with base but had made contact with Major McKEE and Lieut CURTEIS who were operating in the TENNA Valley on plan “HOPEFUL”. From then onwards “CAG” worked under the orders of Major McKEE but concentrated particularly on the Generals party, whilst the “HOPEFUL” mission continued its main task of P/W sea evacuations from the TENNA Valley.

Due to a number of insurmountable handicaps, it was impossible for Major McKEE to arrange the large scale evacuations he had hoped for, and so on May 4th, 1944, arrangements were made for Lieut CURTEIS to join “CAG” and the party of Brigadiers and sail down to TERMOLI to report on the situation. A small fishing boat was stolen and the party sailed on 9 May from TORRI di PALME and reached TERMOLI without incident the following day. Unfortunately, shortly before this party sailed, General GAMBIER PARRY left for ROME but otherwise the balance of the “Generals party” were now safe in Allied territory. This indeed was a relief, as until their rescue high level enquiries as to their welfare had caused us many a worry.

The arrival of Lieut CURTEIS at Field HQ marked the beginning of a most successful series of boating plans but strictly they fall into the Spring and Sumner period and will be recalled in the following section of this history.


These plans essentially involved aircrew personnel and were designed to offer a means of escape by sea evacuation. Arrangements were made with the navy to run small craft to pre-selected points along the enemy coastline of ITALY. These runs were to adhere to a timetable and as many aircrew personnel were briefed accordingly before taking part in combat missions. Should they be shot down, the idea was for them to make to the RV at the stated time. It was a case of anticipating the worst and preparing some means of escape before it happened. These plans were very much appreciated by aircrew members and although no one was ever able to take advantage of them, they did have an excellent morale effect. No further reference will be made in this report to these plans, so it is recorded here that some fifteen runs were made, the majority from BASTIA, which was our boating section base in CORSICA, to points on the WEST coast of ITALY.

The operational work of Field HQ had grown to such an extent that it was essential to provide some assistance for Major J.F. FILLINGHAM and in early 1944 Lieut P.A. BROWN was withdrawn from TERMOLI to act as G.S.O. III (Ops). The need for an I.O. was always felt but no such officer could be made available before early 44.

The end of the Winter campaign saw the mounting of plans “HAY” and “BEE”. These were two independent missions each composed of an Italian officer with agent helpers and W/T operator. The personnel were sent to Field HQ by No. 1 and 2 Field Sections and given parachute and W/T training. They were briefed according to the wishes of Field Sections and finally dropped behind the lines. The missions were to work in the areas of VALLEPIETRA and COVARO and, operating in close conjunction, to form ratlines through the Western flank of the Italian front. The reception of parties and the operating of short range guides was to be accomplished by No’s 1 and 2 Field Sections. They were also to request food and clothing by air supply. Unfortunately, mission “HAY” was badly compromised and had to disperse after the W/T operator had been captured and consequently the mission achieved little success. Mission “BEE” on the other hand did an excellent job of work and became the envy of the Army ‘I’ staff who badly needed information of enemy movements in this particular area. We were able to obtain much useful information until the mission was overrun by our troops. The training of mission personnel and making the necessary arrangements for the reception and eventual dropping, was one of the many calls upon Field HQ and a way in which real support could be given to the Field Sections.

Field HQ was also the centre to which all P/W information eventually found it’s way – and it was here that it was disseminated and despatched to the relevant section.

Other duties included a close liaison with the operational HQ’s of other clandestine organizations and also the Special Operations Section of the Royal Navy at TARANTO. By November 1st, 1943, a very close relationship existed between all clandestine organizations operating in ITALY and as the many Allied missions in the field became more dependent on one another, irrespective of organizations, an even closer tie up was required at this side of the line.

Air supply dropping operations also involved considerable effort but for the sake of clarity it is proposed to deal with this subject under a separate heading.

It is hoped the brief summary above gives some idea of the functions of a Field HQ and at this point we leave the Italian Winter Campaign – a very much wiser escape organization than as at 1st November 1943.

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