This post is tenth 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,” “I.S.9 History—Operations in Italy, Part 1,” and “I.S.9 History—Operations in Italy, Part 2.”
One of the more interesting bits of information in this installment of I.S.9 operations in Italy is news that the leadership of I.S.9 had almost no contact with the Rome Escape Organization, its companion POW assistance and rescue group that was in operation from the Vatican, until after the fall of Rome in June 1944.
Limited contact with the Rome organization during German occupation was made via I.S.9 couriers, but close communication and coordination was not feasible during German occupation.
Here is a transcript of Part 3 of the I.S.9 history’s report on operations in Italy:
Part Three—the Spring and Summer Campaigns 1944
1. The military situation at 1 May and onwards through the Summer of 1944.
2. Field Section Activities.
3. Field HQ.
4. Sea Evacuations.
5. Special Operations (Land)
1. THE MILITARY SITUATION AT 1 MAY AND ONWARDS THROUGH THE SUMMER OF 1944.
At the end of the Winter 44, it was obvious that the enemy was re-grouping his forces and arranging his defence in order to delay the capture of ROME for as long as possible. They were still entrenched along the GUSTAV LINE which was heavily defended, particularly along the approaches to ROME – (MONTE CASSINO, MONTE CAIRO and the LIRI Valley).
Eighth Army Headquarters and the bulk of its troops had been moved over from the ADRIATIC sector to assist the Fifth Army in an all-out attack against MONTE CASSINO, a feature which had held us up for four months. Both armies attacked simultaneously on the 11th May 1944. For two days a tremendous onslaught was maintained and included an air bombardment on MONTE CASSINO town and its famous Monastery, which, at that date, was the greatest air attack on any single target that had ever taken place. The French Expeditionary Corps captured MONTE MAJO and broke into the main defences of the GUSTAV LINE. This achievement cut off a large number of German troops and allowed a division to advance along the SOUTH bank of the River LIRI. The U.S. 2nd Corps were making excellent progress along the coastal sector and very soon the Western end of the GUSTAV LINE was completely outflanked. The Polish Corps, 13 Corps and the Canadian Corps were attacking the Eastern end of the line and finally broke through to the HITLER LINE, which was the last organized defence before ROME itself.
Orders were given on May 23rd for the U.S. VI Corps to break out from ANZIO. They quickly joined the main forces and in a series of neatly executed attacks [and] ROME was captured on June 4th.
After the capture of ROME the Germans broke contact and withdrew rapidly to the NORTH. Before arriving at the main line chosen by the enemy for their defence of NORTHERN ITALY, the Allies covered a hundred and seventy miles and by the end of July had advanced to the River ARNO. The only resistance encountered during this advance, was at Lake TRASIMENO and in the mountainous country around ANCONA, AREZZO, POGGIBONSI and LEGHORN, and these efforts by the enemy were merely delaying actions and did not hold up the momentum of the advance.
For the second time, Allied forces in ITALY were again called upon to supply divisions for the B.L.A. [British Liberation Army]. The four divisions of the French Expeditionary Corps and 3 U.S. divisions of VI Corps were withdrawn from ITALY for the coming invasion of SOUTHERN FRANCE. In addition, 12th Air Force and the Desert Air Force, which until this stage had provided magnificent close support to the Fifth and Eighth Armies, were called upon to support the invasion in FRANCE although still based in ITALY and CORSICA, and this additional role greatly reduced their effective strength in ITALY. In spite of our depleted strength, the armies managed to pierce the GOTHIC LINE and seriously threatened the PO Valley beyond, but unfortunately were unable to exploit these successes. The end of the Sumner campaign saw the Germans contesting every yard of ground, intent on preventing an Allied advance into the Northern plains. History has proved the value to the enemy of the tremendous resistance put up SOUTH of BOLOGNA – yet another Winter had to be faced in ITALY.
It will be seen, therefore, that the Summer campaign of 1944 found the Allied armies engaged in a continual advance¬ from the GUSTAV to the GOTHIC lines and over this stretch of country few long term escape plans could be put into operation; it was a case of exploiting to the full the missions we had already in the field before this advance started and otherwise employing short range guides.
2. FIELD SECTION ACTIVITIES.
No’s 1 and 2 Field Sections.
At the beginning of the Summer campaign the plans of No’s 1 and 2 Sections were very closely related, particularly so in the case of plans “HAY” and “BEE”. It was decided therefore to combine the two Sections and form a Field Section West. The Section so formed was never officially known by this title but retained the name of No. 1 Section. No. 2 Section lapsed and was not reformed in an independent role until after the Summer campaign was over.
The period between the end of the Winter campaign until the fall of ROME, was essentially spent mounting and controlling missions “HAY” and “BEE”. Both missions were excellently placed and W/T communication was established in both cases. Had it not been for the quick advance made by the armies, they would have proved themselves invaluable to us. However, we were prepared for the worst and it did not happen.
At this point we at last obtained an independent W/T new between Sections and Field HQ which was to prove itself almost indispensable. Looking back, it is interesting to note how much simpler and more effective our task became when we no longer had to depend on Army signal channels.
The Section was now under command of Lieut LEE BRADLEY, U.S., Major E.S.A. HERBERT having joined I.S.9 in LONDON.
In view of the peculiar nature of I.S.9 work in the Field, it is not surprising, perhaps, to find that we were first with many new ideas. We can lay claim to have conducted the first sea borne evacuations, to have been the first organization to have its own boating section, to have infiltrated the first Allied personnel behind the enemy lines, to have been the only clandestine organization to operate a private air force, and the only organization to carry out a successful sea borne evacuation by L.C.I. [landing craft infantry]. It is interesting therefore to see that No. 1 Section put up a plan for a rescue operation by air pick up as early as 26 May 44 and it was turned down as impossible by the Air Force. After many months of persuasion, air landings and pick ups in ITALY were finally agreed to, but this was not until over a year later. We found that the Services were inclined to place too much reserve on any operation involving untried methods. Once one could prove the possibility of operations involving new methods, both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force were only too willing to co-operate. Perhaps we had an undue bias towards these operations and our imagination became a little too fertile as a result of continually trying to find a way to overcome the increasingly difficult problem of rescuing the E & Es.
The liberation of ROME opened a new field for the recruiting of helpers, guides and agents. Everything clandestine seemed to have concentrated in the Holy City and we established a small section in ROME to look to our interests. The personnel were provided from No. 1 Section. Meantime the main body, under Lieut BRADLEY, had moved up with the forward troops and by early June were established 2-miles to the WEST of TUSCANIA, SOUTH-WEST of Lake BOLSENO. They were having a difficult task to operate to any great advantage due to the speed of the advance but managed to infiltrate many locally recruited guides. The main task given to these guides, was to contact E & Es, and, if possible, bring them back to the Section HQ immediately. If this was not possible, the guides were instructed to explain the latest position of our advancing troops and encourage the E & Es to hide up and await our arrival. In an advance of this nature, information of this kind could be transmitted without any security dangers.
The enemy continued his quick withdrawal and retired behind the River ARNO. The British First Infantry division were able to force a quick crossing and entered the city of FLORENCE. For 3-weeks following and until the end of August a unique situation existed in the town. Immediately our troops had crossed the River ARNO, the enemy withdrew from FLORENCE in the direction of FIESOLE but, after a few days, moved forward again to occupy half the city. It was here that the first real organized resistance was offered by the Fascist Republican Forces and under command of the Germans they proved extremely troublesome. Our own advance had halted at the River ARNO, in order for the armies to re-group and to gain a little breathing space after their advance from ROME. It was in this strange atmosphere of sniping, street fighting, rape and looting that No. 1 Section moved to establish its headquarters at the Hotel Excelsior, FLORENCE.
FLORENCE was known to be a Fascist stronghold and to contain German S.D. [Sicherheitsdienst, the Nazi intelligence agency] headquarters and other interesting targets. An Allied organization called ‘S’ Force had been formed and was composed of representatives of almost every Allied intelligence organization. Their task was to secure selected targets in the city and to make pre-selected arrests. For the period ‘S’ Force operated, it was found convenient and valuable to attach No. 1 Section to the headquarters.
Within a few days of the fall of FLORENCE, Field HQs moved into the city, for, in spite of the many ties still existing in the BARI district, it had become almost impossible to take care of Field Section activities from so far SOUTH. At the conclusion of ‘S’ Force operations, a change in command occurred in No. 1 Section, when Lieut BRADLEY was recalled to the States. F/Lt HAMBLETON, R.A.F., who had maintained a sub-section of No. 1 Section during the advance up the WEST coast and whilst Lieut BRADLEY’s main effort had been directed towards FLORENCE, assumed command and opened his headquarters at COLETA, just outside LEGHORN.
Again the military situation, in so far as No. 1 Section was concerned, was beginning to take a static air and F/Lt. HAMBLETON set about recruiting and infiltrating guides and agents on a long term basis. He still retained many of the personnel who had worked so well for us during our operations further SOUTH, but we had learnt that one must obtain the services of guides born and bred in the area of operations. Up to this stage we had always utilised the services of patriot formations but in the main had found them to be a doubtful quantity. Usually they were poorly organized, ill armed, and not very reliable. The situation in relationship to patriots however, had changed considerably with our arrival in the NORTH. They were well organized, well armed and full of fight, encouraged by the recent Allied advances. No. 1 Section began a series of small operations in conjunction with these patriot forces and a close connection and liaison was slowly built up.
Work continued on these lines throughout the Summer. The Section were also providing the local support to the “VERMOUTH” mission. This mission was mounted from Field HQs at the beginning of the Summer and eventually proved to be our most successful and productive ratline. It worked without a hitch from the beginning to end and might well b used as a model for any future builders of ratlines. “VERMOUTH” is a story in itself and must be described later in this report independently.
No. 5 Field Section.
For No. 5 Field Section, the arrival of the Summer ’44 saw the beginning of an extremely interesting phase of their history. They were no longer required to supply direct land support to the Boating Section and were free to concentrate upon and extend their ratline. Throughout the preceding Winter they had proved that a well planned system of staging posts could produce good results, in spite of difficult weather conditions. With the arrival of the better weather, the Section immediately concentrated on the extension and complete exploitation of their ratline.
So completely did they penetrate the enemy’s line and the country beyond, that at times their results were incredible and never once during these Summer months did they lose the initiative. Parties of E & Es arrived almost daily at the base of the ratline and were guided through to safety. Excellent W/T communication existed with the HQs staging post and this reduced the need for couriers in large numbers. It was only when the Italian officer commanding the ratline wished to send out a verbal or written report, or we wished to infiltrate specially long instructions, that couriers were needed. It was not surprising therefore, to find the Section looking further afield for more work and as early as April they submitted an ambitious scheme to Field HQs for an extension of their ratline as far NORTH as the SWISS border. After due thought and consideration it was decided that such a scheme, sound though it appeared on paper, could not be handled efficiently by a Field Section. Accordingly, they were instructed to concentrate across the ADRIATIC sector of the front and NORTHWARDS to a depth of approximately 100-miles. Even this distance may sound large but the Section proved that it was possible to operate to such a depth and several E & Es made such a journey in the care of No. 5 Section’s agent personnel.
At this time the Section was commanded by Capt LEWIS, U.S., who had taken over from Major ROBB at the beginning of the Summer. The Section HQs were situated in LANCIANO with a sub-section at CASOLI. One of the most used routes across the line was down the R. GUARDIAGRELE, which emerged on our side of the line near to CASOLI, and the sub-section acted as a collecting post for returning parties of E & Es and a start-point for the infiltration of agents. Although by this time the Allied P/W Repatriation Unit were fully established in ITALY and capable of quickly evacuating returning E & Es, we almost invariably found that it took 24-hours on an average for the P/W to reach an evacuation point after arriving through the line.
In the early days it took even longer, as the Repatriation Unit had not opened up forward centres and worked from bases in BARI and NAPLES. Formation of forward collection centres greatly improved the difficult problem of P/W evacuation and in passing we record that it was partly due to our suggestion that Col. ROBINSON established these centres. We ourselves, out of sheer necessity, also had to assist in the repatriation and care of prisoners in the period between earning through the lines and reaching a recognised centre.
At CASOLI, for instance, all P/W arriving with our own parties and, in fact, any that managed to make the journey of their own accord, were given a hot meal on arrival, boots and clothing as necessary and any other comforts we could provide. We then arranged for their evacuation to the nearest Repatriation Centre. It seems that according to Field Service Regulations the evacuation to the rear of E & Es is the responsibility of the “Q” Service, but the problem in ITALY was too great for them to devote sufficient time to, especially during extensive fighting. Any help, therefore, that we could render to assist the Repatriation Unit, was extremely welcome and an excellent understanding was built up between our two organizations.
During the advance NORTHWARDS, the ratline was overrun post by post and the Section had an extremely busy time liquidating helpers, collecting together all I.S.9 agents employed on the line and generally seeing that the operation was left with as few loose ends as possible. In order to do this and at the same time continue operations with the advancing troops, a sub-section was left in the ASCOLI area which was the final HQ of the “RATBERRY” mission. The leader of the mission had become so well known amongst anti-Fascist and patriot circles that he led a force which took the town of ASCOLI some days before the arrival of Allied troops. He issued all necessary proclamations, became chief administrator and acted as a very advanced Allied Military Government representative. Even after the arrival of our forward troops, he continued to administer the town until the arrival of A.M.G. officials some ten days afterwards. This was not the only occasion we were able to assist in this manner.
At the beginning of July, the Main HQ of the Section was established near to the beautiful town of ASSISI, near to PERUGIA. During the month of July the speed of the advance towards the River ARNO prevented several plans fully materialising and there was little we could do except the vigorous employment of local guides and couriers.
No. 5 Section were already thinking in terms of the GOTHIC LINE and beyond, and were able to penetrate the area with several reconnaissance missions. Events had moved so quickly and very little was known of exact locations of E & Es NORTH of the River ARNO. It was simple enough to generalise, since we had only to study the terrain to know where P/W would be hiding up and we had a certain amount of information from returning E & Es and other clandestine agencies. But, before one can organize any long term rescue plan, it is necessary to have exact information as to locations and to make a close study of the hundred and one factors entering into the problem – terrain, routes, patriot forces, Fascists, enemy L. of C. troops , etc. Before any reasonable appreciation can be arrived at it is necessary to obtain this kind of information by extensive reconnaissance by the Section. During this period a great deal of ground was covered and valuable information was obtained upon which to base future plans.
At the end of September the Section HQ was in RUFINA, NORTH of FLORENCE on the road to FORLI. Several interesting operations had been planned and were about to be put into operation, but it is proposed to carry on the story of No. 5 Section from 1 Oct 44 onwards in the next section of this history – the Winter campaign 1944/45.
3. FIELD HQ.
Throughout this period, Field HQ carried out the many functions already described and, in addition, planned and directed through the Field and Boating Sections a number of special operations. These operations could never have been undertaken without a quick system of communication existing between all Sections and Field HQ. Our own W/T network was the secret behind the many operations executed during this Summer period. It was particularly important in so far as the sea borne operations were concerned and generally helped Field HQ to maintain the closest system of control. A regular system of schedules were kept and urgent messages could be passed through QRX calls at any time of the day or night. W/T contact did a great deal to promote extra efficiency and an excellent liaison and understanding throughout our field organization.
4. SEA EVACUATIONS.
A good deal has already been said about the achievements of the Boating Section, but it was in May that we were to complete one of the cleanest and most successful sea operations we ever carried out during the Italian campaign. The full report of this operation runs into some thirty typewritten pages and although it would make interesting and useful reading for anyone contemplating a similar operation in the future, it is obviously impossible to reproduce the full story in this history. The operation was named “DARLINGTON” and resulted in the evacuation of 152 E & Es from the TENNA Valley on the same night – 127 by L.C.I. and 25 by P.T. boat. Unlike most military operations, everything went in our favour from start to finish and with a few exceptions the evacuation was carried out exactly according to plan. It was the type of operation one dreams about and one which seldom works so perfectly. A very short precis of the report follows:-
Precis of Operation “DARLlNGTON”.
Lieut CURTEIS, I.S.9, and an I.S.9 agent arrived by sailing boat from German occupied ITALY on 10 May and brought with them a party of General Officers.
As a result of information supplied by Lieut CURTEIS it was decided that the Navy should be approached and asked to co-operate in a plan to evacuate a party of 100 P/Ws from the TENNA Valley.
These P/Ws had been left in organized parties by Lieut CURTEIS and were being cared for by Major McKee, I.S.9, and other agents.
On night 17/18 May a beach recce [reconnaissance] was attempted at a point approximately 1,000-yds SOUTH of the River TENNA. Not completed due to the time factor.
Night 18/19 May. Operation again attempted but again uncompleted.
Night 19/20 May. Beach recce successful and it was ascertained that the L.C.I. could safely beach at the RV. Lieut CURTEIS and an agent were successfully landed. They were to contact the parties of P/Ws and have them available for evacuation by L.C.I. on night 24/25 May.
24 May. Approximately 1315 hrs L.C.I. 260 sailed from TERMOLI to keep the RV at 2359 hrs. A party of 6 officers and 68 O.Rs. [other ranks] of No. 9 Commando, under Lieut-Col. TOD, were aboard. Their task was to provide a beachhead party on arrival at the RV. Lieut Comdr YOUATT (ACF(A).) , Lieut McPHERSON (RNVR) [Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve], and Major FILLINGHAM (I.S.9) were also on board.
The I.S.9 American ‘P’ boat 402 sailed in company as escort. It had on board two USN [United States Navy] Naval Scouts with a kayak and signal equipment.
Sometime before reaching the vicinity of the RV, the ‘P’ boat broke company with the L.C.I. On arrival at a point of shore from the RV the two US Naval Scouts were launched in their kayak and were to pick up the shore signals, made by Major McKEE, and relay them out to sea. The ‘P’ boat was then to return and escort the L.C.I. into the RV.
The American ‘P’ boat failed to make contact with the L.C.I., but picked up the lights being shone off shore from the RV, and returned. Being of the opinion that the L.C.I. may have met with a misfortune, the ‘P’ boat commander decided to evacuate 25 P/Ws. This was successfully carried out and the ‘P’ boat returned to TERMOLI without incident.
The L.C.I. continued searching for the RV until approximately 0200 hrs, with the result that it was decided that the plan had miscarried and the L.C.I. should return to TERMOLI. The L.C.I. proceeded down the coast at a slow speed. At approx 0215 hrs a light was seen from the coast giving the correct signals at a point several miles SOUTH of what had thought to have been the correct RV.
The L.C.I. was beached at 0230 hrs and Major M.R.H. ALLEN, MC, 9 Commando, together with Major FILLINGHAM, MBE, went ashore and contacted two I.S.9 agents. The Commandos formed a beachhead and 127 ex-P/Ws were successfully embarked. The Commandos withdrew and the L.C.I. returned to TERMOLI, arriving at 1100 hrs, 25 May. The period of time from the L.C.I. beaching until the embarkation of P/Ws and Commandos was completed, was approximately 35 minutes.
A Royal Navy signaller was unfortunately missing at the conclusion of the operation. It appears he set out from the ‘P’ boat in a rubber dinghy intending to assist in the embarkation of P/Ws. He was not seen again. It was fortunate that the L.C.I. was able to pick up the beach party’s lights and thereby turning the operation into a complete success.
The lessons learned seem to be that in future operations of this kind, a kayak party should use a strong hand torch for relaying the signals out to sea as opposed to an Aldis lamp.
An alternative plan must be made to provide an opportunity for any personnel left ashore on the main operation. All personnel engaged on the main operation should be carefully briefed on this plan.
Two I.S.9 agents returned on June 4 from the area in which the operation took place. They reported that “DARLINGTON I” was conducted with complete security and that no compromise took place. They also reported that P/Ws were already being organised by I.S.9 agents for a similar operation in the June no-moon period.
We feel entirely justified in claiming “DARLINGTON” as the most successful sea borne clandestine operation ever undertaken along the Italian coast by any organization.
The “HUMBER”, “TRENT”, “HULL” and “SPURN”.
These plans were made in order to help to clear the ABRUZZI of the many hundreds of E & Es still hiding up in the mountains and in peasant houses. The “RATBERRY” line was very much overstrained and it was considered that they could send four parties of approx 20 each to beach RV’s and we could evacuate them by small craft. Messages were sent instructing parties to be prepared and despatched to meet Capt McARTHUR, M.C., at a beach RV. This officer was landed on the night of 20 May at a point 1 1/4-miles SOUTH of River TORDINO and made preparations to receive the four parties from “RATBERRY” on nights following.
Capt McARTHUR remained ashore until the night planned for the evacuation of the fourth party, but, unfortunately no E & Es had appeared. He himself was evacuated by the ACF(A) schooner “DENTICHE” according to plan. We learnt at a later date that the messages to the “RATBERRY” HQ did not allow sufficient time for the parties to reach Capt. McARTHUR at the time stated. It was a lesson well learnt and for no loss. It was proposed to attempt similar evacuations in the following non-moon period but the military situation by that timing rendered them impossible.
Early in May we heard of some 40 E & Es at large in the area of ADRIA. We sent them a message telling them to RV at a point midway between PORT FOSSONE and PORT CALERI at 1800 hrs on the night 22 May. At 1900 hrs on 22 May we received the following message from a clandestine radio set in the VENICE area:-
“The area to the SOUTH of the FOCI DELL’ADIGE is well watched and in a state of alarm. Embarkations and landings considered impossible we are dispersing.”
The schooner had already sailed to keep the RV but fortunately we were able to recall her by means of a W/T message.
The point to note is the sensible appreciation made by the E & Es themselves.
The above operations were planned by Field HQ and executed through the Boating Section and provided a month full of excitement and profitable results.
An extensive programme of boating operations were planned to take place in June 44 but were cancelled due to the rapid advances made by our troops along the ADRIATIC coastal sector. We were, however, closely concerned in an operation undertaken by “Popsky’s Private Army” which was designed to give support to the 8th Army attack. The operation involved the landing of a reconnaissance party, to be followed by the landing by L.C.I. of a raiding force of P.P.A., equipped with Jeeps and armed with heavy machine guns. We were able to supply complete information on the proposed disembarkation pinpoint, beach conditions, routes inland from the beach to ensure a quick get-away for the raiding force, safe lying up areas further inland, worthwhile targets and an accurate description of enemy troop concentrations. Unfortunately, the operation was not successful due to naval difficulties which occurred during
the attempted landing.
By the end of July 44 the coastal strip as far NORTH as ANCONA was in our hands and here we set about organizing a new base. The fall of ANONA caused a complete reorganization in the handling of all small craft operations. SNONA (Senior Naval Officer Northern Adriatic) was appointed to control all operations from ANCONA and was given a free hand by FOTA, who still remained in TARANTO. The ACF also were unable to continue operations from TERMOLI and MOLFETTA and therefore set up a new base at ANCONA known as ACF(NA) (African Coastal Flotilla Northern Adriatic). We had, so far, confined the majority of our effort along the coastline from TERMOLI to ANCONA and by the end of operations knew almost every inch of the coast like the back of our hand. We had, however, very little knowledge of conditions or possibilities NORTH of ANCONA and it was necessary to commence a programme of intensive reconnaissance. Naturally, enemy coastal defences were now a greater problem, having been telescoped along a shorter coastline, and the enemy was extremely sensitive to any form of sea borne activity which might threaten his rear and the PO Delta. Therefore the Boating Section had to spend the remainder of the summer period preparing for the October non-moon period.
5. SPECIAL OPERATIONS (LAND).
During the 1944 Summer campaign a series of special land escape operations were planned. Amongst these, record is made of the following:-
In early June 1944 it was decided to infiltrate an I.S.9 Mission into the PONTREMOLI area (NORTH EAST of LA SPEZIA), with the object of establishing a land ratline SOUTH and through to the front of No. 1 Field Section. An I.S.9 mission already existed in the area, under the joint command of two Italian officers, for the purpose of arranging sea evacuations from the WEST coast. This latter mission had not proved as productive as we had hoped, largely due to the extremely difficult coastline and the fact that the enemy employed effective counter-measures to coastal approach by our small craft, using ‘E’ boats and an efficient system of radar. The Mission was, however, equipped with wireless communications and were in a position to arrange a reception committee to receive the land mission by air.
The “Vermouth” mission was composed of four agents commanded by an Italian officer, and a W/T operator. Arrangements were made to drop the mission in two ‘sticks’ but due to a period of impossible flying weather we had been unable to despatch them by the middle of July. The problem of land evacuation was becoming increasingly urgent and it was decided therefore to attempt to infiltrate this mission by sea. Accordingly, the party were flown over to our Boating base in CORSICA and from here Captain FOWLER was able to land the party on the Italian coast near to LEVANTO. During the following two months the “VERMOUTH” mission met with a series of misfortunes which delayed them in their task. They did, however, maintain excellent W/T communication and we were able to direct and assist in their efforts to form a land escape route. It was in September that the first party of E & Es safely arrived on No. 1 Section front, having travelled down the “VERMOUTH” ratline. This first party left the head of the line on Sept 21st, arriving through the lines on the 4th Oct.
At this time we received a message from Lieut F. LOCKETT, himself an E & E, asking permission to join the mission and this was agreed. From this date onwards, the work of the mission reached a high standard of efficiency and was gradually developed and in course of time proved our most successful ratline. It is proposed to continue the story of “VERMOUTH” in the following section of this history.
In August 1944 it was decided to make an attempt to revive a more active connection with BALDO, an Italian officer who was working on our behalf with the National Committee of Liberation in MILAN. We proposed to infiltrate an additional Italian officer and a new W/T operator. A reception was arranged through another clandestine organization but before the operation could be flown the dropping zone had to be abandoned due to enemy activity. This mission was cancelled in favour of a land infiltration from FRANCE.
In August 1944 we had excellent information concerning E & Es taking refuge with patriot bands in the area enclosed by the triangle VERONA – BRENNER PASS – UDINE. These E & Es not only included those who had escaped from camps at the time of the Armistice in September 1943, but a large number of aircrew personnel. The area included the BRENNER PASS, and in view of the extensive bombing programme which had been arranged by the Air Forces, it was reasonable to assume that aircrew losses over this area would increase. The area was also conveniently near to AUSTRIA, where there were known to be large numbers of Allied P/Ws working on farms and fairly lightly guarded.
It was decided, therefore, to parachute into the area an I.S.9 mission composed of a British serjeant, an Italian agent, and a W/T operator. For the purpose of the mission, the serjeant was given the rank of captain and a suitable cover story was provided. The general intention of the plan was for this mission to arrange with the leaders of the various patriot bands to assist in the movement of escapers and evaders into GORIZIA. Here it was hoped they could be taken over by an I.S.9 officer who was working with a Yugoslavian partisan mission and ultimately be flown out by air.
Unfortunately, due to an untold number of difficulties, the mission could not be mounted and it was not until almost 8-months later that we were able to infiltrate a similar mission. This reference to “HILLTOP” has been made in order to make clear that we were fully conscious of the need for such a mission as early as August 1944.
This mission consisted of an Italian officer and a Palestinian, plus W/T operator. They were dropped to a DZ NORTH of FLORENCE in the middle of May, and were to Form a ratline SOUTH and through the central sector of the Italian front. Unfortunately, one of the members of the mission was captured and the remaining officer, although able to do some excellent work caring for and maintaining parties of E & Es, the area was overrun by our advancing armies before his escape line was completed. An interesting feature of this mission was a secondary task requested by the ‘I’ Staff of 8th Army. It appeared that one of the main map depots in ITALY was situated in FLORENCE and that 8th Army were not in possession of a number of sheets which were required for their campaign further to the NORTH. It so happened that the Italian officer engaged on this mission had previously worked in the Instituto Geografico Militari in FLORENCE and knew many of the personalities. He maintained that he would be able to bribe certain of the officials and obtain the missing maps. These were, in fact, obtained and proved extremely valuable to 8th Army and 15 Army Group. At the time of writing this history, June 15th, we have just heard the fate of the Palestinian member of the mission. After capture he was subjected to torture and removed to the German concentration camp at DACHAU and no further information is available.
Mention has already been made of a mission which we had sent into the PONTREMOLI area in order to conduct sea borne evacuations. This particular mission was known as “LONDON” and had been landed from our Boating Section base in CORSICA at VERNAZZA, a point on the Italian coast, on the night of 31 Apr/1 May 1944. With the arrival of the “VERMOUTH” mission, and the almost impossibility of sea evacuations from the WEST coast, it was decided to close down the activities of the “LONDON” mission, reform it under the name of “FERRET” and transfer it NORTH to the area of TURIN and change its role to one of land evacuation.
In early September, instructions were given to the Italian officer in charge of the “LONDON” mission to make arrangements to move to the TURIN area. By means of bribing a German transport driver, the personnel and W/T set were successfully transported to their new location and immediately started an extensive programme of reconnaissance. The “FERRET” mission was in a position to commence work in the TURIN area by the end of the Summer campaign 1944. The story from here onwards will be related in the following sections to this history.
The fall of ROME in June 1944 produced the anticipated number of interesting problems and situations. It has been recorded that we found it necessary to establish an I.S.9 representative in order to take care of our interests. The officer concerned was able to collate a great deal of information relating to P/Ws, and also make many valuable contacts, not only connected with our work in ITALY, but of interest to us in connection with future operations that Main HQ had in mind for AUSTRIA.
By far the most interesting outcome of our entry into ROME was gaining contact with the Escape Organization which had existed during the German occupation under the direction of Major S.I. DERRY (now Lt-Col. S.I. DERRY, DSO, MC, GS01, G-2 (P/W), AFHQ). This particular organization was easily the largest non-I.S.9 unit engaged in the care and maintenance and possible escape of E & Es. Although we were well aware of the existence of this organization, and had made successful attempts to gain contact during the German occupation, it was unfortunate that we were unable to encourage a closer connection in the early days. We sent an Italian officer courier into ROME and he returned with a reasonably accurate description of the situation, and had personally contacted Father O’FLAHERTY of the Vatican. We sent him back almost immediately, in an attempt to connect ourselves more closely with Major DERRY. Unfortunately, our courier was unable to obtain an interview with Major DERRY and was very naturally treated with suspicion. It was not until the final entry into the city and our contact with Major DERRY that we both realised the pity in that real contact was not established between I.S.9 and the Rome Escape Organization during the German occupation.
From the fall of ROME the personnel of the Rome Escape Organization were embodied into G-2 (P/W), and almost without exception, the officers in charge of the escape plans became members of our family and officially taken into the war establishment, working with the Allied Screening Commission, of which they were “founder members”.
We now move to the Winter campaign of 1944/45, commencing 1st Oct 1944.