This post is eleventh in a series drawn from a History of I.S.9 (CMF) in the British National Archives.
The chief task of I.S.9 was the support and rescue of escaped POWs and evaders (E&Es) stranded in enemy territory in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. I.S.9 was a division of M.I.9 (British Directorate of Military Intelligence Section 9), a department of the War Office during WW II.
Access to this report is courtesy of researcher 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, and “I.S.9 History—Operations in Italy, Part 3.”
Activities of Field Sections 1, 2, and 5, as well at the Boating Section, are described in this part of the report, and accounts of several named missions are given.
Of particular interest is an account of a Section 5 Lysander aircraft being downed by friendly fire while on a mission, and of the daring rescue of a wounded pilot who was stranded near the frontline by a small craft which landed on a makeshift dry riverbed runway.
The report also touches on I.S.9 (CMF) involvement in field activities in southern France.
The report contains a reference to the “several E & Es, including private soldiers, [who] were so highly thought of by the Italian patriots for their bravery, leadership and devotion to duty, that they were put in command of patriot battalions.” Canadian Pilot Officer John Leon Turner, Royal Canadian Air Force, who was chosen for captaincy of a band of partisans, is an example on this site.
Here is a transcript of Part 4 of the I.S.9 history’s report on operations in Italy:
Part Four—the Italian Winter Campaign,
from 1 Oct 44 until 31 Apr 45
1. General Military Situation.
2. Field Section Activities.
3. Special Operations (Land).
4. I.S.9 activities in the invasion of SOUTHERN FRANCE.
5. Operation “FERRET”.
1. GENERAL MILITARY SITUATION.
From 1st Oct 1944 and onwards through the Winter, and indeed even until the final battles of the Italian campaign, most of the activity in ITALY took place on the ADRIATIC coast, to which the 8th Army had been switched back in July and August 1944. It is doubtful if the Allies could ever have broken the German’s Winter line at CASSINO without the element of surprise achieved by the secret transfer of practically the whole of 8th Army from the ADRIATIC coast to the LIRI Valley in April 1944, so, too, the Allies might never have broken the GOTHIC LINE if Field Marshal ALEXANDER had not transferred the 8th Army back to the ADRIATIC coast in August. Due to the secrecy of this last move, which was carried out under cover of all ways and means of deception, KESSELRING discovered the Allied strength on the ADRIATIC coast too late, and the 8th Army pierced the EAST end of the German line. KESSELRING was forced to weaken his centre to prevent a disastrous break-through on the EAST coast.
Field Marshal ALEXANDER promptly launched the 5th Army at the enemy’s centre, SOUTH of BOLOGNA, and they, too, broke through the GOTHIC LINE. The Canadians, New Zealanders, Indians and U.K. troops advanced along the ADRIATIC coast to capture the towns of FANO, PESARO and RIMINI, only to arrive at the fringe of the PO Valley just as the Winter rains arrived and converted the BOLOGNA plain into one great marsh. The Canadians, however, continued to make progress and in Dec 44 captured the coastal town of RAVENNA. Here our progress was halted, and the 5th Army were also pinned down on the forward slopes of the APPENINES overlooking the PO Valley. No further advances of any consequence were made along the whole Italian front throughout the Winter 1944/45.
The partizan brigades operating in the PO Valley and the Italian Alps had, so far, rendered valuable help, doing excellent jobs of sabotage, intelligence, and generally keeping the enemy L. of C. [lines of communication] and rearward formations in a nervous state. Realising the difficulties of partizan brigades maintaining themselves and retaining themselves in organized formations during the Winter months, it was decided that, sooner than risk their complete collapse, to order them to disperse. The intention was for them to restrict their activities to isolated acts of sabotage on single targets, and hide their heavy arms and equipment and prepare themselves to reform into organized fighting units to give support to what we hoped was to be the final battle for NORTH ITALY in the Spring of 1945.
When this order was received it had an indirect reflection on the many E & Es who were living and fighting with patriot bands. The latter were forced to leave the comparative safety of partizan bands and seek shelter elsewhere. It might be mentioned here that throughout the Italian campaign, large numbers of E & Es joined and fought continuously with patriot bands. Indeed, several E & Es, including private soldiers, were so highly thought of by the Italian patriots for their bravery, leadership and devotion to duty, that they were put in command of patriot battalions. In the PIEDMONTE region, two Australian E & Es rose eventually to command patriot brigades, each numbering over two-thousand Italians, and were paid the compliment of the brigades bearing their names. The patriot forces had become an influential factor in all escape operations. The movement as a whole had a hard struggle. After the fall of MUSSOLINI and the Allied invasion of the Italian mainland, large bodies of young Italians deserted from the Fascist army and overnight commenced guerilla activities. Naturally, these young men were not well organized but no doubt expected a quick victory by the Allies. The sudden exposure of themselves caused the capture of many hundreds of them in the first six months of the Italian campaign. When it became clear that a quick victory by the Allies in ITALY was not to take place, these guerillas organized themselves into well-drilled and disciplined formations. They were equipped and armed by air supply from Allied bases and many of them fought heroic actions. At the beginning of the Winter 1944/45 is was realised how valuable they could be when our final attack in the Spring of 1945 was to take place. The order, therefore, instructing them to preserve themselves for this occasion, sooner than risk complete annihilation during the Winter months, was not surprising. The patriots themselves, however, found such an order difficult to understand but by the end of the year had fully realised its wisdom.
The enemy knew that once across the PO Valley, our armoured columns would penetrate deep into the NORTH of ITALY and that there was little chance of any further prolonged resistance. They not only held their Winter line ferociously but embarked upon a plan of cleaning up patriot formations and any subversive elements at large in the NORTH. To do this they employed large numbers of Fascist Republican forces and, particularly in the NORTH EAST corner, literally thousands of Russian, Polish, Czech and other elements who had been impressed into their army. Rigorous security controls were instituted through the Gestapo, the Italian and German S.S., and the Italian Brigata Nero forces. The E & Es therefore faced a difficult Winter and since death was the reprisal for anyone harbouring a P/W, finding a safe hide-out was not an easy problem.
2. FIELD SECTION ACTIVITIES.
No. 1 Section.
Throughout the Winter, No. 1 Section operated against a similar problem and similar conditions as the Section had done in the Winter of 1943/44, when up against the CASSINO front. They employ similar methods, but were able to benefit considerably by previous experience gained in the Winter 1943/44. Field HQ was also in a position to offer considerably more direct support. It was possible for Field HQ to train and drop by parachute many No. 1 Section agents behind the lines, thus saving hazardous journeys through the lines. In addition, Field HQ was able to drop food, clothing and special equipment at points behind the line specified by No. 1 Section. This procedure helped the Section enormously.
The majority of the air operations were conducted by fast B.25 aircraft to daylight receptions and were almost 100% successful. The packing and despatching was done at Field HQ and it was possible to include amongst the stores despatched the most detailed item. On one occasion we had a call for diptheria serum, and on another occasion medical supplies were requested for an E & E suffering from V.D. – both these sorties were successful.
No. 1 Section received parties of E & Es returning from the “VERMOUTH” mission, they gave up-to-date information on any changes of route required for the final crossing of the lines by “VERMOUTH” parties, they also supplied “VERMOUTH” with guides and this greatly supplemented those dropped direct to the mission by air. The Section’s activities in relation to “VERMOUTH” will be amplified when describing this mission’s Winter activities.
No. 2 Section.
By January 1945 it became obvious that it was physically impossible for No. 5 Section to operate across the whole of 8th Army front, which, in mileage, represented almost half the distance across ITALY. One of the main difficulties was that the majority of the roads ran from NORTH to SOUTH and there was very little means of lateral communication. The whole of 8th Army were supplied by two roads, the only ones it was possible to use, owing to snow and floods rendering the remainder impassable. A considerable number of 12th Air Force fighter and light bomber aircrew personnel were being lost, whilst engaged on army support operations in the Lake COMACCHIO region. It was necessary for us, therefore, to reform No. 2 Field Section under the command of Lieut PEPPER, U.S., and establish it with 8th Army to work on this right flank of the Army’s sector.
No. 2 Section were faced with yet another topographical problem which required special treatment. We wondered if ever this amazing country of ITALY would cease to provide us with ever-changing terrain. Lieut PEPPER tackled his problem with full enthusiasm and his methods were at all times imaginative. A fleet of rowing boats, rubber dinghies and small sailing craft were acquired, for the purpose of carrying out evacuations in the flooded lagoon areas around Lake COMACCHIO. On occasions, these small craft were also used to sneak round the left flank of the enemy’s line and land parties of agents. The Section operated on these lines, with some success, throughout the Winter, and might best be described as a land maritime section.
No. 5 Section.
At Oct 1st, 1944, the Section was situated in RUFINA, NORTH of FLORENCE, and ready to put into operation plans made during the previous month. The major of these operations was plan “TEMPLAR”, which entailed the landing of a mission by Lysander aircraft to a strip already prepared near to TOLMEZZO. The party were to join a partizan band operating to the NORTH of VERONA and VICENZA. They were to establish agents in the cities of VERONA, VICENZA, PADOVA, TREVISO , VENEZIA, and possibly in BELLUNO and UDINE. They were to establish liaison between these agents and keep base fully informed by W/T. They were to supply first-hand information concerning numbers of E & Es in the area. They were to form a ratline for the evacuation of E & Es which could operate immediately the Allied advance reached to within a reasonable distance of their area.
Weather prevented an early infiltration of the party, and it was decided that it may be possible to drop the party by air to a reception in the TRENTO area more quickly. Weather unfortunately rendered this impossible and again we reverted to the Lysander plan. After a tremendous amount of planning, amendments, and replanning, which is inevitable in a delicate operation of this kind, the Lysander took off from IESI aerodrome at 0910 hrs on the 19th November. The pilot circled the landing strip for 45 minutes but was unable to receive the correct reception signals and returned to base. A second and third attempt was made, and the last attempt ended in one of the greatest tragedies to mission personnel we experienced in ITALY. After being in the air for 20 minutes, the Lysander was shot down by a Mustang patrol. We can think of no explanation for this gross negligence by the pilot of a friendly aircraft, since the Lysander was heavily escorted by Kittyhawks from 239 Wing, but it appears that the pilot of the Mustang confused a Lysander with an enemy aircraft. Thus ended the “TEMPLAR” operation, which had involved tremendous efforts by No. 5 Field Section, Field HQ and Main HQ. Apart from the sad loss of our mission personnel, and particularly the Lysander pilot (P/O Jack RAYNS, of the Balkan Air Force), we had failed to infiltrate a promising mission which was so badly needed in the VENEZIA area.
During the planning and mounting of the “TEMPLAR” mission, the normal system of rescue operations against a static line in Winter conditions was carried on. Guides were continually sent through the lines to contact known E & Es, particularly aircrew members, and guide them through the lines. We shall include a word under the Field HQ section of this history on the efficient system which had been built up in conjunction with the E & E sections of both the 12th and 15th Air Forces, which led to the quick location of pilots who bailed out behind the lines.
This programme was energetically carried out throughout the Winter and from 1 Oct 44 until 31 Apr 45 the Section recovered over 50 E & Es – every one a direct rescue. The arrival of Jan 45 saw the initial planning of another long term mission – “CRUSADER”.
“CRUSADER” mission involved parachuting a party of agents, under command of an Italian Lieut, to a pinpoint at LAMA di MONCHIO. The mission was to exploit the area from SAN MARCELLO PISTOIESE to MODENA and establish a ratline of safe houses. A mission equipped with W/T communications was very necessary in this area, since an exceptionally large number of pilots and aircrew members engaged in tactical missions over the army front were force-landing or bailing out. The mission was successfully infiltrated on 16th January 45 and quickly got down to work. Stores, clothing and food were dropped by air, and parties of pilots were soon contacted and arrangements made for their care and maintenance and their eventual passage through the line. By the middle of April 1945, the mission was thoroughly established and apart from one or two minor difficulties presented by the temperamental attitude of the Italian personnel engaged on the operation, all was going according to plan. It was decided, however, to reinforce the mission with Sjt WATSON (UDF – I.S.9), who, it was thought, would exercise more discipline among the mission members than the Italian officer in charge. Sjt WATSON, himself an ex-P/W who had been taken on to the strength of I.S.9, had, before his escape through the lines, spent a considerable time operating as a partizan in the “CRUSADER” area. He was successfully dropped to a reception provided by our “VERMOUTH” mission on the 17th April. Within a week, however, the Germans had withdrawn from the “CRUSADER” area and almost simultaneously with Sjt WATSON’s arrival from the “VERMOUTH” mission, our troops had by-passed the area. No. 5 Section moved up and liquidated the mission in a similar way to that of their “RATBERRY” mission during the early Summer of 1944.
In Oct 1944, Major McARTHUR, M.C., was in command of the Boating Section, based at ANCONA, and had already found that operations around the PO Delta and along the coast to the NORTH and NORTH EAST presented a far greater problem than previous operations between TERMOLI and ANCONA. The American OSS had also established a section for maritime duties in ANCONA, and a close liaison was established. In the main, our relationships and close co-operation with the OSS throughout the Italian campaign was of the highest order, but, unfortunately, through a slight conflict of personalities, the initial liaison at ANCONA was not fully maintained. It is unfortunate to think that such a situation may have led to our operations suffering but, as events proved, such was not the case.
During the period 1st Oct 44 to 31 Apr 45, a number of missions were landed at points along the coast and pre-arranged evacuations attempted. The missions met with comparatively little success compared to previous results obtained by the Boating Section. The operations attempted were of a straightforward nature and in the main the few E & Es evacuated does not represent any lack of effort by Major McARTHUR. Operations were, in fact, systematically carried out, but missions infiltrated were unable to find E & Es in the flat country in the PO Delta and beyond. This negative result was in a way expected, but we felt obliged to test the area thoroughly.
Between ourselves and the combined efforts of the American OSS detachment, a total of 69 E & Es was evacuated by sea during the period under review.
The final effort made by the Boating Section, was the landing of a mission in night 9/10 Apr, headed by Major McARTHUR. Soon after landing, the whole party were surprised by the enemy and captured and thereafter spent a period in the hands of the German and Italian S.S., during which they suffered considerable torture. Major McARTHUR, Cpl KROUPA, U.S., Sign BURTON and two Italian helpers were finally freed by the intervention of the International Red Cross, from the German concentration camp at BOLZANO. Cpl KROUPA had shrapnel wounds, Sign BURTON had been shot in the chest, and L/Seaman JOHNSTON, a member of the dinghy party who was inadvertently left ashore and captured with the main party, had been killed. Not too happy an ending to the history of a Section which, in a period of 18-months, had a most successful record and had developed a real tradition. Considering the circumstances of Major McARTHUR’s party’s capture, and their subsequent treatment at the hands of the S.S., it was fortunate that only one member was killed.
On the 1st Oct 1944, Field HQ was situated at GALUZZO, a small village 5-miles SOUTH of FLORENCE, and remained in this location until the end of the Italian campaign. This location proved ideal, as FLORENCE was within a few hours drive of each of the Field Section HQs. In addition, No. 1 Special Force (M.0.4) had established a tactical HQ in the town to control the patriot bands operating immediately behind the enemy lines and giving tactical support to the 5th and 8th Armies. The operational HQs of the various Sections of the American OSS, 5th Army and 12th Air Force were all conveniently near.
Soon after the arrival of Field HQ in FLORENCE the closest liaison had been established with Captain BORZILLERI of the 12th Air Force E & E Section and this relationship was to prove invaluable, particularly in respect of air supply operations and the availability to call upon air transport. Until the Allied air supply base move forward to ROSSIGNANO, in early 1945, all special stores, containers and parachutes, and a large proportion of the stores required for supply drops done by Field HQ, had to be obtained from ME 54 at BRINDISI. In order to assist in getting this material forward to Field HQ, HQ 12th Air Force provided air lift whenever it was required, and the saving in time, wear and tear on transport was considerable. In addition, these flights were utilised to transport agents and operational personnel backwards and forwards between Main and Field HQs. They also allowed the G.II at Field HQ to pay frequent liaison visits to Main HQ. These visits, which were carried out on an average once every 10-days, would have been far less frequent if road transport had had to be used, since the journey from FLORENCE to BARI took 2-days by Jeep but only 3-hours by air. During these frequent visits it was possible to keep the G.I fully informed on all operations in hand, to discuss our many administrative problems, and save a great deal of correspondence between the two HQs.
At an early date a conference was held with the 12th Air Force E & E Section to review the position of aircrew personnel who had been lost behind the lines. It was made clear at this meeting that with the approach of the Winter the problems facing the E & Es were manifold, and that as the weather deteriorated these problems would increase. The existing I.S.9 ratlines and missions were explained but it was emphasized that movement, passage through the lines, and the general care and maintenance our missions could offer to aircrew personnel during the Winter months would weaken unless an energetic method of air supply could be organized. It was explained that the existing system of air resupply, which was based in the SOUTH of ITALY at BRINDISI, was not able to cope with our requests for drops in the NORTH of ITALY, largely due to the wretched flying conditions between base and the front line.
Using the argument that it was possible to fly supply dropping operations from forward landing grounds on days when the weather would prevent attempts being made from aerodromes in the SOUTH of ITALY, we were able to obtain from the 12th Air Force the sole use of a B.25 (Mitchell) based on the FLORENCE airport. We were also able to convince the 12th Air Force that by far the most successful method of ensuring that stores dropped were received by our personnel in the field, was to carry out the operations during the daylight. Up until this stage daylight operations had not been attempted in ITALY.
Field HQ called upon this B.25 aircraft until the end of the Italian campaign and the results obtained were phenomenal. It was used for missions in every area of ITALY, but in the main we concentrated on the resupply of our missions engaged on tactical roles in connection with Field Sections’ activities. The B.25 could carry a sufficiently large load to meet the requirements at any one time of any single mission. The majority of operations involved the dropping of 6 containers at a time. These containers were packed at Field HQ and loaded and despatched by I.S.9 personnel. Immediately a request came from the field for supplies, an application for use of the aircraft was submitted to the E & E Section of 12th Air Force, who held themselves responsible for detailing the aircrew and providing the necessary fighter escort. The system worked so well that it was very often possible to supply a mission on the same day that they requested stores. On several occasions the B.25 carried out two separate supply drops on the same day. An appendix appears in another section of this report which gives a detailed list of operations carried out.
A number of special operations were also carried out by the B.25 and included the dropping of money in small packets and from low altitudes. It was possible to throw out these packets by hand from as low as 200-ft and ensure their safe arrival exactly on the DZ. On the few occasions when the aircraft was free from Italian operations, it was used to support Main HQ in their supply drops to YUGOSLAVIA. Had it not been for the fact that the 12th Air Force were particularly keen to offer us every support to our efforts on behalf of aircrew personnel, it is unlikely that we should have been able to obtain the use of this aircraft and we should have had to rely on supply sorties carried out by the Allied Air Supply Base. This somewhat unofficial system of resupply set up between Field HQ and the 12th Air Force was responsible for the flying of many successful missions which could never have been undertaken through the normal channels.
Other clandestine organizations envied us the use of this B.25 and realised our good fortune in obtaining the aircraft purely through the fact that our business was P/W and the Air Forces were prepared to provide support over and above the normal facilities supplied by the Allied Air Supply Base. We therefore arranged with the 12th Air Force E & E Section to carry out resupply missions with the B.25 to OSS and No. 1 Special Force missions, who were harbouring E & Es. At the same time, OSS and No. 1 Special Force were able to include special stores of their own, i.e. wireless equipment, cipher pads, crystals, etc. In this way, many a vital OSS and No. 1 Special Force mission received essential pieces of equipment which it is most unlikely could have been dropped through normal channels. The B.25 therefore had an indirect effect on increasing the amount of support No. 1 Special Force and OSS were prepared to give to E & Es, knowing full well that, because of this help, they could expect their requests for special supply drops to be fulfilled.
In addition to operations carried out in NORTHERN ITALY by the B.25, Main HQ carried out a number of successful operations to DZs in the NORTH of ITALY through the normal channels of the Allied Air Supply Base at BRINDISI. They continued to bid for a monthly estimated tonnage of supplies we might require to drop, and although whilst we had the use of the B.25 these tonnages were seldom used in full, monthly estimated requirements continued to be submitted, for had we lost the use of the B.25 we should have had to rely solely on the Allied Air Supply Base. In the early part of 1945, the Allied Air Supply Base moved forward from BRINDISI to ROSSIGNANO and from then onwards and until Main HQ moved to FLORENCE, in Apr 1945, Field HQ submitted requests for air sorties to NORTHERN ITALY and made the necessary arrangements for body dropping operations. HQ 15 Army Group had by this time moved to FLORENCE, 5th Army having moved forward. ROSSIGNANO operations were controlled by G-3 (Special Ops) and an Air Ops Section at 15 Army Group HQ, and arrangements for operations could be conveniently made. When Main HQ moved to FLORENCE they re-assumed full responsibility for these operations, taking a weight off the shoulders of Field HQ.
During the period under review, Field HQ continued its normal function of controlling Field Sections, arranging air resupply operations, dropping personnel on behalf of Field Sections, and mounting missions behind the line. One of the most interesting missions mounted behind the line was “SPIDER”, which it is now convenient to describe. It will be recalled that an attempt was made to mount a mission in the NORTH EAST corner of ITALY but that our efforts were defeated when the “CRUSADER” party were shot down in the Lysander. Operation “SPIDER” was planned to fulfill this need and was to work in the general area bounded on the WEST by a line drawn through VENICE – ROVERETO – BRENNER PASS, on the EAST by a line drawn through GORIZIA – TOLMINO, and on the NORTH by the AUSTRO-ITALIAN frontier.
At the time of mounting this mission, it was known that the area harboured a considerable number of Allied airmen who had been shot down during raids on the BRENNER PASS and other Northern Italian targets. The number of aircrew E & Es was increasing daily as the Allied air effort increased. Several Allied missions were already established in the area and controlling patriot brigades. These patriot bands were numerous and extremely active, but more than the normal amount of friction over national and political questions existed amongst these bands in the NORTH EAST. It was known, however, that they were reasonably sympathetic towards the E & Es and offering what help they could. The enemy held the main towns and valleys in the proposed area of operations and frequent “rastrellamenti” were conducted against the patriots, who had a strong control of the hill country. Many E & Es had succeeded in making their way EAST into YUGOSLAVIA, but at this stage, due to increased enemy vigilance along the R. TAGLIAMENTO, the flow had grown considerably less.
The “SPIDER” mission consisted of Lieut McCORMICK (given the local rank of captain for the purpose of the operation), an Italian officer, and an Italian W/T operator. They were dropped successfully on the night 4/5 Apr 45 to a reception provided by a No. 1 Special Force mission near to BELLUNO. Their task in general included the setting up of a W/T set in a suitable area, arranging the care and maintenance of all E & Es contacted, and organizing a safe route of evacuation into YUGOSLAVIA. In addition, they were instructed to report on the possibilities of evacuations by sea and air in order to substitute or supplement evacuation overland. It was considered, before their departure, that it may be possible to land Catalina flying boats on the larger of the lakes in the area of operations. The mission was fully briefed on the landing requirements of Catalina flying boats and a tentative plan was made which could be quickly put into operation by the mission, if, on arrival, they found conditions favourable. They were also briefed on the use of the ‘S’ Phone, the reception of resupply drops and air landing strip requirements.
Soon after the mission was established, they successfully received a supply drop, the contents of which were greatly appreciated by the E & Es, who had previously depended for food on the patriots. Naturally, the patriots had gladly given them a fair share of their food but this was usually in short supply.
The mission reported that the Germans had heavy machine gun posts situated on the shores of the lake on which we had proposed to attempt a flying boat evacuation. It seemed that these guns were mounted to prevent the very type of operation we wanted to carry out, and we therefore abandoned the idea. It is a pity, since by this time the mission had contacted and had ready for evacuation, 30 Allied airmen. Lieut McCORMICK immediately set about an alternative plan and with the assistance of over 80 patriots prepared, within 10-days, a landing strip capable of receiving a C.47 aircraft.
When all arrangements had been made to send up a C.47 to carry out the evacuation, a period of bad flying weather started. In addition, all special operations were cancelled for a 48-hr period in favour of operations in direct support of 8th and 5th Armies. Finally an aircraft was despatched but could not make the landing due to weather conditions. Further attempts during the following few days were impossible, as, due to heavy rain, the strip was rendered unserviceable. By this time the arrival of Allied troops in the area was expected almost any day and the operation was cancelled. The mission were able to evacuate all airmen and E & Es in their area SOUTH by truck to join our forces advancing towards the NORTH. During the period immediately preceding the German surrender, and for some days afterwards, the situation in the area was extremely confusing. It will be appreciated that the Allied columns who had advanced into the NORTH were now spread out over wide areas and that even after the capitulation, spasmodic resistance was offered here and there by the more fanatical units of the German army. It was in this period that the mission was able to see to the care and safety of large numbers of E & Es before they finally moved, on the orders of Main HQ, into SOUTHERN AUSTRIA. Had it not been for the sudden collapse of the Germans, there is little doubt that this mission would have produced spectacular results, and in the short period of time it was in the field it can be said to have been most successful.
3. SPECIAL OPERATIONS (LAND).
Early in October 1944, a U.D.F. Sjt of I.S.9 dropped by parachute, together with two guides, to reinforce the “VERMOUTH” mission, and the main members were now Lieut LOCKET, Tenente D’LAURO (an Italian Officer) and Sjt BARRY FICK (UDF). The first party of E & Es had been despatched on 22 September from the HQ of the mission and been safely guided through the lines, arriving on 4th Oct. Although we knew that the Winter conditions lying ahead would not make things easier for the mission, we felt confident that it would succeed in producing results. It was easily the most highly organized mission we had ever had in the field. Perfect wireless contact was maintained daily. Signals were received by M.I.6 in BARI, passed to our Main HQ, retransmitted in turn to Field HQ and No. 1 Section, and answers sent by the reverse process. It may seem that such a system was cumbersome, but we were bound to adopt this system and due to an excellent understanding between Field and Main HQs, the latter were able to control the wireless traffic with little need for reference to Field HQ. Receiving wireless traffic from missions in the field is always a thrill, and Wing Commander DENNIS took a great personal interest in this particular mission and handled a great deal of the return wireless traffic.
Parties of 7 or 8 P/W were organized, and, after checking with base that conditions along the front were reasonable, these parties were despatched, with a guide, down a safe route through patriot areas and eventually through the line. In all, a total of 31 parties, every one guided the whole way from “VERMOUTH” mission headquarters at BARAGAZZI, arrived safely through the lines, and represented 186 E & Es. Of the total number making the attempt, only two E & Es failed to cross the lines. The particular party in which these two E & Es were travelling was in charge of an Air Force officer, who decided on the last lap of the journey to disregard the instructions he was given by the “VERMOUTH” guide, and we feel no responsibility for the two E & Es who were, in fact, re-captured.
Interesting features during the course of the mission are quoted below, to give some idea of the workings which go to make up such a successful plan. Firstly we were able to meet every supply demand made by the mission. In all, some fifteen successful daylight supply and body dropping operations were carried out to the mission and the mission personnel played their part, always providing excellent reception committees. Other supply dropping operations were carried out to organizers of safe areas through which the mission’s ratline passed.
The original wireless operator became tired and it was possible to drop a new set and operator to relieve him. After making certain that the new set was satisfactory, and that the fresh operator had made good contact with base, the original operator was attached to a returning party of E & Es and safely brought through the lines. The mission became extensively known by other Allied missions throughout a wide area, and all E & Es contacted by No. 1 Special Force and OSS within a reasonable range of BARAGAZZI, were directed to “VERMOUTH’s” HQ. Here they were billeted, fed, clothed and given medical attention if needed, until such times as it came their turn to join a party setting out across the lines.
Sjt Barry FICK’s efforts cannot be too highly emphasized, and the speed with which he carried out reconnaissances over wide areas in his search for E & Es caused him to become a legendary figure. After Sjt FICK’s arrival at the mission, and it had reached such an efficient stage, Lieut LOCKETT was ordered to return through the lines with a party and arrived shortly before Christmas 1944.
Shortly before the area was overrun by our troops, perhaps the most satisfactory operation of all was carried out. News reached us from the mission that an Air Force officer had arrived at BARAGAZZI with a wounded leg and that it was impossible for him to make the journey through the lines on foot. Showing much initiative, as, in fact, the mission always did, they proceeded to construct a landing strip capable of receiving a Piper Cub or similar light aircraft, in order to carry out an air evacuation of the injured pilot. The strip was constructed in a dried up river bed some half a mile away from BARAGAZZI. Field HQ arranged for the loan of a German Fieseler Storch aircraft which belonged to Tac HQ No. 1 Special Force, and was piloted by a young Italian air force colonel. A fighter escort was supplied by 22 Tac HQ of the 12th Air Force and the wounded pilot was successfully evacuated. This operation was a remarkable success when one considers the nearness of the front line, the slow light aircraft used, and the fact that the plane had already picked up a wounded partizan from a No. 1 Special Force landing strip before landing to pick up the Air Force officer at BARAGAZZI. At an early date the success and value of the mission was appreciated, and instructions were issued concerning its move NORTH as and when our advance made this necessary. Fortunately, however, the Italian campaign came to a sudden end and “VERMOUTH” closed down activities with a splendid record.
4. I.S.9 ACTIVITIES IN THE INVASION OF SOUTHERN FRANCE.
When it became known that an Allied invasion was to take place in SOUTHERN FRANCE at the end of the Summer of 1944, it was decided that I.S.9 (CMF) should attempt field escape operations, at least until such times as the attack joined hands with the main invasion forces of NORTH WEST EUROPE. I.S.9 (CMF) were far more conveniently placed geographically to carry out this task than I.S.9 (WEA) [Intelligence School 9, Western European Area].
A short time before the invasion took place, Captain P.S. FOWLER was infiltrated as a member of a combined No. 1 Special Force – I.S.9 mission, with the principle task of caring for E & Es and keeping them out of harm’s way until they were overrun by our invading forces. It was envisaged that the attack in SOUTHERN FRANCE would make rapid progress, as it was known few German formations remained to defend the beaches, and such successful progress was being made by the B.L.A. [British Liberation Army] in the main attack. This proved to be the case, and after very patchy resistance to the actual landings a firm bridgehead was established and within a few days this had been extended to a great depth. We then received the sad news that Capt FOWLER had been killed, along with two members of the French Maquis, during a fight with a German patrol which had ambushed them. Captain FOWLER was thus the first officer we had had killed and his loss was greatly felt by us all.
Peter was not only one of our most likeable officers but he was thoroughly efficient and sincere in his work. He had previously been in command of our Boating Section based at BASTIA, in CORSICA, where he personally planned and took part in many hazardous landing operations on the WEST coast of ITALY.
We intended to obtain permission for an I.S.9 representation under command of Lt-Col. J.W. HUFFER, U.S., to land with the 7th Army on its attack in the SOUTH of FRANCE as soon after D-day as was possible. The general idea was for Col. HUFFER to carry out field escape operations with a complete freedom of action. Unfortunately, however, it was impossible for the necessary arrangements to be made, and Lieut F. HENDERSON, U.S., took the place of Col. HUFFER and landed with a similar directive.
During the swift advances made by the 7th Army at an early stage in the campaign, numbers of E & Es were overrun, most of whom had been hiding up in the mountains, living and fighting with the French Maquis. 7th Army were faced with the collecting, processing and subsequent evacuation of these E & Es and even greater numbers released from SWITZERLAND, but at this stage the Allied Repatriation Unit did not have a representation in SOUTHERN FRANCE. Lieut HENDERSON was called upon by 7th Army HQ to tackle the problem, no mean task for one officer, an N.C.O. and a piece of transport. He was, however, given certain assistance by 7th Army in the way of transport, food and clothing, and was able to arrange the speedy evacuation back to ITALY of over a thousand E & Es and for his work I.S.9 (CMF) received a letter of appreciation from the General commanding the U.S. 7th Army.
Soon afterwards, the 7th Army broke out of its bridgehead and joined the main European attack, and I.S.9 (WEA) sent over two operational teams and a small Field HQ, all composed of U.S. personnel, to operate into ITALY from the FRANCO-ITALIAN border. We had agreed in principle to this arrangement, since we realised the possibilities existing and were not in a position to spare personnel of our own to form additional Field Sections. We did insist, however, that all operations attempted by I.S.9 (WEA) and involving CMF territory should be closely co-ordinated with us and at all times subject to our approval. It was arranged, therefore, for Lieut HENDERSON to remain in SOUTHERN FRANCE and join Field HQ of I.S.9 (WEA) , which was situated in NICE, and act as our liaison officer. It was agreed that the I.S.9 (WEA) Sections should be given every help and support that we were in a position to provide, and a direct W/T link was established between their Field HQ and our own Field HQ.
Until the end of 1944, the American personnel composing the I.S.9 (WEA) Sections carried out the normal type of short range rescue operations, infiltrating locally recruited guides to contact E & Es living with patriot bands operating in the mountains. Their Field HQ remained in NICE and they established their Field Section HQ at BELVEDERE in the SOUTH and GRENOBLE in the NORTH. Owing to exceptionally severe Winter conditions, it was only possible to attempt crossings from ITALY into FRANCE along three mountain passes and even these meant hazardous journeys. Many efforts by the WEA teams failed to make contact with one of our W/T sets operating in the TURIN area through which it was hoped to be able to promote a close liaison with the Sections in FRANCE, with the idea of developing ratlines across the ITALO-FRENCH border, in time to be fully operative immediately the warmer weather arrived, thus freeing the snowbound passes. In early Nov 44, Commander RODD visited the Sections in FRANCE and reported non too favourably on conditions, and this was confirmed by a further visit by Major FILLINGHAM. In the middle of Nov, a party of E & Es attempting to cross the COL de la GALISE were caught in a snow blizzard and perished. It became obvious that passage across the ITALO-FRENCH border during these Winter months, although possible by expert mountaineers with a good local knowledge of the weather conditions, was not a feasible proposition for the E & Es. We recommended therefore that the I.S.9 (WEA) Sections should suspend operations. In view of the appreciation that any Field Sections would inevitably cross into ITALY when the main attack of the Armies in ITALY carried them NORTH of the PO Valley, it was suggested that I.S.9 (WEA), being under command of SHAEF, should be withdrawn and an I.S.9 (CMF) Section, being under command AFHQ [Allied Force Headquarters], should be substituted. This plan was agreed to by Brigadier CROCKATT and in February 1945 an I.S.9 (CMF) Field Section under command of Lieut HENDERSON was established in NICE.
We had learnt from the experiences gained by I.S.9 (WEA) teams that it was not a simple matter to recruit locally in FRANCE the right type of agent/guide for our type of operations. The I.S.9 (WEA) teams had found that of those willing to operate, the majority were partizans, who were far more interested in military operations than the rescue of prisoners of war, and unless they were given arms and ammunition in repayment for their efforts on I.S.9’s behalf they were indifferent towards our work. Consequently, we sent over with Lieut HENDERSON a number of agent personnel recruited from our resources in ITALY who knew the proposed area of operations but were not necessarily interested in patriot activities on the ITALO-FRENCH frontier. This new arrangement worked much more satisfactorily and whilst we were able to exercise a complete control of the operations and many useful infiltrations were conducted, we were not able to effect the actual rescue of more than a handful of E & Es. Lieut HENDERSON realised the difficulties of land exfiltration and made efforts to carry out small operations along the Italian Riviera coast. One of these operations was successful, recovering 2 P/W, but in the main, sea borne operations were not practical. The coastline but for a few isolated coves, was unsuitable and the necessary craft required were not available in NICE. It is true that we could have obtained the support of the ACF base at LEGHORN in ITALY and could have requested than to carry out sea evacuations planned by Lieut HENDERSON’s Section, but at no time were we able to muster a sufficiently large number of E & Es at any one time to justify such a request.
A point which should not be overlooked when considering operations based in the SOUTH of FRANCE, is that once the area was occupied, all but the minimum number of troops required to control the FRENCH frontier moved NORTHWARDS to join the main assault on GERMANY. NICE itself became a backwater and it was impossible to obtain very much local support. As an example, it was necessary for the Section to draw every single item of stores from MARSEILLES, which involved a 4-hours drive. ITALY, of course, was a CMF commitment and naturally SHAEF shared no responsibility except to provide for the defence of the ITALO-FRENCH border. Our Section, therefore, was in a very isolated position and had to depend for administrative support entirely on our Main and Field HQs based in ITALY. Other clandestine organizations based in ITALY who had sent small representations to SOUTHERN FRANCE for the purpose of operating over the border into ITALY, were also faced with similar problems, with the result that all subversive activities across the ITALIAN-FRENCH border were restricted.
The Section remained in FRANCE until the beginning of the final battle for the NORTH of ITALY , when they crossed the border and penetrated to TURIN, in which location they remained until the final surrender of the German forces. For the move into ITALY the Section split into two parts. One half making an early sea borne entry, landing at GENOA, and the second half infiltrating across the border by road.
If for no other reason than this early entry into ITALY, the Section justified its existence in that, during the days immediately preceding the capitulation and for some 10-days afterwards, they were able to gather together and see to the care and maintenance of over 100 E & Es who might well have suffered at the hands of German S.S. and Fascist formations. As already explained in a previous section of this report, the more fanatical enemy formations did not submit readily to the orders for their capitulation, and in areas where our troops did not make an early appearance, these units and Fascist party members continued acts of atrocity.
5. OPERATION “FERRET”.
After this mission had moved from LIGURIA and established itself successfully in the TURIN area, in the late Autumn of 1944, the leader, an Italian officer, worked under extremely difficult conditions but managed to do a good deal of useful work. Soon after his arrival in TURIN, we were able to despatch 18 containers of stores, spare parts for his wireless set, and a quantity of money. The operation was flown by three B.25s who dropped to a reception committee which had been arranged by our organizer with the patriots. It is interesting to note that at the time of our drop the patriots were receiving very few arms and ammunition through No. 1 Special Force and OSS, as this particular area did not have a high priority. After our successful drop it was natural enough to receive enquiries from the patriots as to why supplies could be successfully despatched for P/Ws but not arms and ammunition to the partizan brigades. It was with the greatest difficulty that we were able to offer tactful explanations to the patriot leaders, thereby ensuring their continued support to our work. This was not the first occasion when a similar situation arose during the Italian campaign, and it was difficult for the patriots to appreciate the various independent organizations operating on the Allied side of the line.
W/T communications were maintained throughout the Mission’s history, until it was finally overrun by our troops, and seldom a day passed without messages being transmitted. The mission provided us with continuous information on the location of P/Ws and the reactions of the enemy, who frequently conducted “rastrellamenti” and mopping up operations in the area. An accurate list of E & Es, with their names, ranks and numbers, was transmitted to base and in addition a good deal of useful strategical intelligence information which was greatly appreciated by 15 Army Group. The mission’s influence extended over a wide area and included the districts of BIELLA, VERCELLI, IVREA, CUNEO and the SUSA and AOSTA valleys. E & Es were hidden in safe houses, given boots and clothing, and generally cared for.
A constant effort was made to provide physical contact between the “FERRET” mission and the Field Section personnel operating from NICE, and although several couriers made contact, little success was achieved in this direction. In the two months preceding the German capitulation, a No. 1 Special Force military mission to the partizans existed in the BIELLA area, under the command of a British captain, and our mission developed a close liaison. At the beginning of April, however, the leader of the mission was captured, but W/T contact was maintained in the following period and until a week before the capitulation when the leader was freed by patriots and rejoined his mission. The German forces operating in the NORTH WEST corner of ITALY were under command of the German 75th Corps and they surrendered themselves on the 2nd May to No. 1 Special Force mission. The leader of our “FERRET” mission produced a document covering the terms of surrender and due to his excellent knowledge of German, was able to assist at the signing of these terms.
It was some considerable time after the capitulation that any large Allied formation arrived in the area and the leader of our mission set up an early administration in the district and proved himself of great use to the Allies. He went on to collect and collate P/W information and prepare records of personalities who had helped to maintain our E & Es, until the mission was officially closed in the middle of June 1945.