This post is twelfth in a series drawn from a History of I.S.9 (CMF) in the British National Archives. Access to this report is courtesy of researcher Brian Sims.
For earlier postings on I.S.9 history, see “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, “I.S.9 History—Operations in Italy, Part 3,” “I.S.9 History—Operations in Italy, Part 4,” and “I.S.9 History—Operations in Italy, Part 5.”
Here is a transcript of Part 6 of the I.S.9 history’s report on operations in Italy:
Before we leave Operations ITALY, it would be as well, perhaps to write somewhat briefly on one or two of our rather longer range operations and activities.
“Committee of National Liberation” (C.L.N.A.I.) – MILAN [Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale Alta Italia].
Late in 1943, reports began to reach us of fairly large numbers of ex-P/Ws crossing into SWITZERLAND from NORTHERN ITALY. It was thought that the Committee of National Liberation [Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale], whose headquarters were in MILAN, were giving help to those ex-P/Ws.
With a view to further encouraging such help and with a view, also, to encouraging the flow of ex-P/Ws to SWITZERLAND by another means, an Italian officer (BALDO) volunteered to be infiltrated into NORTH ITALY, together with a W/T operator, with the intention of making his headquarters at MILAN.
Due to the early breakdown of the radio set a complete tie-up between C.L.N.A.I., BALDO and ourselves became impossible. In order, therefore, to make this ‘History’ clear to the reader we shall take the help given by the C.L.N.A.I. and the record of the mission ‘BALDO’ separately.
As already mentioned above, the C.L.N.A.I. had its headquarters in MILAN and was the controlling body, at least so far as policy was concerned, of a large number of partizan formations in NORTH ITALY. Soon after the Italian Armistice in September 1943, the C.L.N.A.I. realised that helping Allied ex-P/Ws was an activity likely to be strongly approved of by the Allied authorities and one, which, if carried out on a large scale, would give the C.L.N.A.I. prestige in the eyes of the Allies.
A Section of the C.L.N.A.I. known as the SERVIZIO PRIGONIERI di GUERRA [Prisoner of War Service] was therefore formed and roughly the method of working was as follows.
The S.P.di G. had local representatives in various localities and these would report the location of E & Es. These E & Es would be cared for and in due course an escort of one man for each 5 E & Es would be provided.
Near the SWISS frontier a local guide, smuggler or local partizan, would take over the party and, on reaching the frontier, each E & E signed a chit or card stating his rank, name and number, the card or chit then being returned to the S.P.di G. in MILAN.
Hats, overcoats and forged documents were provided by the S.P.di G. and the clothing would be handed back by the E & E at the frontier in order that it could be used again.
The S.P.di G. held itself responsible for the timings, routes and co-ordination of movements of E & Es and in the case of large groups of E & Es, the local representative worked on the spot with officer E & E in the making up of parties. The S.P.di G. had its own secret stores and hide outs. By the end of February 1944, the C.L.N.A.I. claimed to have passed 1,000 E & Es into SWITZERLAND.
Efforts were made to get in touch with the C.L.N.A.I. through other organizations and through The M.A., BERNE, and although certain messages were passed, co-ordination of effort did not seen possible.
Matters drifted in a rather confused state with I.S.9 vainly endeavouring to get good contact.
A further agent was infiltrated, in an endeavour to contact BALDO and through him the C.L.N.A.I., and although contact with BALDO was made it seemed impossible to progress.
A request from LONDON to allow I.S.9 (CMF) to infiltrate an officer into SWITZERLAND in order to speed up the flow of E & Es met with refusal, LONDON appreciating that such a plan might well compromise existing arrangements made by the A.M.A. at LUGANO.
During the Summer of 1944 messages were received from BALDO via M.A. BERNE, to the effect that the good work was continuing but it was evident that, through lack of funds, arrests and the mistaken appreciation by the C.L.N.A.I. that the Allies would, in their advance, sweep up to the NORTH of ITALY, the flow of E & Es into SWITZERLAND had almost ceased.
Efforts were made to get funds to the C.L.N.A.I. and M.A., BERNE, was requested to send 250 gold sovereigns. This was successfully done and later 237 Louis d’Or were also sent to the C.L.N.A.I.
In August 1944, a leading member of the C.L.N.A.I. came to BARI and long conferences were held as to the possibility of improving the situation and matters appeared to be well in hand.
An Italian officer attached to I.S.9 was a personal friend of this member of the C.L.N.A.I., and arrangements were made for him to be dropped by aircraft together with a W/T operator to a reception to be arranged by the C.L.N.A.I.
All arrangements were made but unfortunately family troubles caused the Italian officer to postpone his departure and by the time he was again ready, his friend of the C.L.N.A.I. was arrested by the Germans. At that time, too, BALDO was reported ill with dysentery and thus out of action for the time being.
A little later, news was received that the leader of the S.P.di G. had himself been arrested.
Thus the summer of 1944 was a bad one so far as our efforts to tie up matters with the C.L.N.A.I. was concerned. In October, word was received from BERNE that the leader of the S.P.di G. had escaped and had reached SWITZERLAND, where he gave a report expressing the opinion that for many reasons it was now very difficult to move E & Es but that if funds could be got to the C.L.N.A.I., a large number, approximately 800, could be cared for during the coming Winter.
In November 1944, word was received of the arrival in BARI of five members of the C.L.N.A.I., including Mr. PARRI, who became the Italian Prime Minister in June 1945. A conference was arranged, when W/Cdr E.A. DENNIS met these five members and the notes of the meeting read as follows:-
Notes of meeting with
LANGHI – President
(a) All of C.L.N. with HQ at MILAN and W/Cdr DENNIS on 16 Nov 1944.
(a) W/Cdr DENNIS was asked what ‘priority’ the P/W question had in relation to the other activities of the Partisans.
W/Cdr DENNIS replied that task No. 1 was obviously support to the Armies in the Field in beating the enemy but that task No. 2 should be the care and exfiltration of E & Es.
(b) It was further explained that it was necessary to bring back to Allied lines as many E & Es as possible; not necessarily because they might be combat troops but that they formed part of the Allied manpower and might be used in order finally to release A.1 troops for the fighting areas.
(c) Mr. PARRI explained that whilst the CLN fully understood this point there was the question of being able to spare personnel of CLN to help in the task of exfiltration. Whilst the CLN was perfectly prepared to do all they could to care for E & Es, there was for consideration, the fact that it was now getting a very dangerous business to exfiltrate E & Es to SWITZERLAND. Courier services, ratlines and the organization itself were becoming more and more liable to compromise and would it be possible for I.S.9 to indicate what order of priority we considered E & Es should take for exfiltration.
(d) W/Cdr DENNIS said that he fully realised the risks involved and whilst not prepared to request exfiltration of all Es & Es to an extent which might endanger the whole of the organization of the CLN thereby retarding the war effort, I.S.9 would like to request that exfiltration should take place in the following order, taking into consideration the fact that due security of the CLN should be ensured.
1. Allied Airmen.
2. Those E & Es consequent on the present fighting in ITALY.
3. Ex-P/W released from P/W camps at the date of the Armistice.
Mr PARRI agreed that this was reasonable.
(e) Mr. PARRI further explained that from the date of the Armistice until the early summer of this year the CLN had taken action to exfiltrate as many ex-P/W as possible. With the advance of the Allied forces however, it was considered that more active help to the Armies had priority over this work and that in any case the enemy would be thrown out of ITALY in a matter of weeks. As it now appears likely that another Winter campaign would be necessary, the CLN were prepared to set aside a few personnel to deal with P/W matters.
(f) In reply to a question by W/Cdr DENNIS, Mr. PARRI said it was difficult to arrive at a figure of ex P/Ws still in the NORTH of ITALY, but that as a guess he would say roughly 5000, although this estimate might be on the high side.
(g) Every effort would be made, however, to compile lists of ex-P/Ws and these would be passed to Lt. BIRKBECK.
(h) Apart from these ex-P/W with Partisan bands Mr. PARRI estimated ‘some hundreds’ living with families in the LOMBARDY plain.
(i) The influence of the CLN does not apparently extend to the area EAST and NORTH of UDINE where it is estimated, there is a considerable number of ex-P/W.
(j) Mr. FRANCHI was asked if he had news of BALDO and PETER. He replied that he had not met BALDO but understood that he was ill. W/Cdr DENNIS explained that BALDO’s brother had gone to FRANCE and would endeavour to reach MILAN and contact BALDO. Mr FRANCHI said he would make enquiries on his return to MILAN. ‘PETER’ had joined the CLN and was now an active ‘saboteur’. W/Cdr DENNIS said he would deal with Peter later on for deserting the cause of ex-P/Ws.
(a) Mr. LANGHI explained that the members of the CLN now present intended to visit ROME in an endeavour to make arrangements for the Italian Govt. now in office to assume responsibility for financing the CLN through the banks in N. ITALY.
(b) The Italian Govt. would, it is hoped, guarantee funds to be drawn by the CLN from the banks as required, thus eliminating the risk of having to send actual money in to the CLN from this side or from SWITZERLAND.
(c) Arrangements would be made to include in these ‘drawings’ sufficient money to finance the P/W side of their activities and from time to time Lt. BIRKBECK would be notified what was being expended.
(d) W/Cdr DENNIS agreed this, but said that if this arrangement was not possible arrangements could be made whereby Lt. BIRKBECK would be supplied with funds to pass on to the CLN.
3. ACTION TO BE TAKEN
(a) Mr. PARRI agreed to notify and instruct all Partisan bands with whom the CLN had contact that any I.S.9 Mission in the vicinity of a Partisan band was to be given every help and assistance in its task of exfiltrating E & Es.
(b) That further, the CLN would take action on the lines of Para 1 (d) (g) and para 2(a).
(c) W/Cdr DENNIS said he would signal Lt. BIRKBECK advising him of this present meeting and Mr. PARRI promised to contact Lt. BIRKBECK on his way back to MILAN and discuss with him the points raised at this meeting.
(d) It was agreed that Lt. BIRKBECK would act as chief liaison officer with the CLN HQs at MILAN with whom contact was not difficult.
(e) Major E. de HAAN of No. 1 Special Force was present at this meeting and agreed the arrangements made did not conflict with the special tasks of No. 1 Special Force.
On the 16th November also, 100 sovereigns and 1,000 Swiss francs was dropped to a British Mission and was later handed on to the C.L.N.A.I.
In December 1944, BALDO’s brother, who by this time had made his way to BARI, was infiltrated from the SOUTH of FRANCE and eventually reached his brother with 95 gold sovereigns.
In early 1945 it appeared evident that the C.L.N.A.I. had almost been broken up by arrests, but in March 1945 a message was received via an M.O.4 Mission [a branch of the British Special Operations Executive] that another member had been placed in charge of the S.P.di G. although there appeared to be some reason to doubt the security of this member.
After further fruitless signals, attempted operations, etc., the end of the war put a merciful end to our troubles in endeavouring to tie up with this most fruitful source of help.
The failure on the part of I.S.9 to do anything really effective with the C.L.N.A.I. was due entirely to lack of W/T contact. Many efforts were made to drop a radio set and personnel but at no time was it possible to arrange a ground reception.
It is true that other organizations were in W/T touch with the C.L.N.A.I. through their missions, but due to “rastrellamenti” arrests, and so on, it was never possible for these Missions to give a reception for I.S.9 bodies.
An immense amount of hard thought and hard work was put into this effort but it must be confessed that the results were disappointing. The exact number of E & Es helped by the C.L.N.A.I. is very difficult to assess, but it is certain that the Joint efforts of the C.L.N.A.I. and ‘BALDO’ produced 802 chits signed by the E & Es as they passed over the border into SWITZERLAND.
It is, however, thought that a large number of chits were lost on one occasion, during a series of arrests, and it is reasonable to assume that the total of E & Es helped into SWITZERLAND amounted to 1,000. The number of E & Es helped with food clothing, and shelter must have been very many more.
Whilst we have confessed to I.S.9’s inability to give much effective help to the C.L.N.A.I. in their self-appointed task, this confession must not detract from the efforts made by ‘BALDO’ the I.S.9 Italian officer infiltrated into NORTH ITALY, and in the next chapter we will briefly describe this operation.
As explained in the foregoing chapter, reports of the movements into SWITZERLAND of large numbers of E & Es reached us late in 1943. At that time we had attached to us an Italian officer, Capt G. BENELLO, an Artillery officer who had seen much service in the Western Desert and whose home was in NORTH ITALY. Although not a young man (he was 48 years of age), ‘BALDO’ volunteered to be infiltrated into NORTH ITALY, together with a W/T operator.
Much careful thought and planning went into the mounting of this operation and the landing was successfully carried out at PORTO FINO, a few miles S.E. of GENOA, on the 18th February, 1944.
True, the two bodies were landed at the foot of a cliff, up which they had to clamber, only to find a German unit at the top. However, all went well and they escaped detection.
Contact through a priest was made with a friend of BALDO’s and this friend agreed to help in the task of assisting E & Es.
On Feb 25, BALDO and his W/T operator moved to MILAN where their HQ was established, but an attempt to make W/T contact with base ended in failure. From that time onwards, and in spite of a change of W/T operators and set, only 2 messages were received by base from BALDO and only 1 message was received by BALDO and these were partially corrupt.
BALDO made contact with the C.L.N.A.I. to whom he explained his mission and he worked closely with the leader of the Special Section of the C.L.N.A.I. until the latter was arrested in April, 1944. From then onward BALDO worked with other members of the C.L.N.A.I.
In May 1944, a large scale “rastrellamento” was carried out by the Germans and Fascists and a 3-kilometre belt near the SWISS border was cleared of inhabitants. The evacuation of E & Es to SWITZERLAND, therefore, ceased for a period but BALDO and his helpers were able to arrange food and housing for the E & Es in the area.
ln July, BALDO’s brother volunteered to come to SOUTHERN lTALY in order to report to I.S.9, but on his Brother’s departure on his journey SOUTH, BALDO himself was laid low with pleurisy and was still a sick man when his brother returned to him in December 1944 with money from I.S.9.
In June 1944 one of the only 2 signals received direct from BALDO gave us the welcome news that in March, April and May 1944, 2 Senior Officers, 11 other officers and 94 other ranks had been passed across the SWISS border and we were confident that, in spite of the arrests and lack of funds, BALDO was continuing to do his best for E & Es.
In February 1945, BALDO was again on a bed of sickness and was still a sick man when he contacted Tac HC I.S.9 in May 1945.
In spite of almost complete W/T failure, BALDO was able to send us messages by briefing E & Es he passed into SWITZERLAND, who would pass on the messages to M.A., BERNE. This method, unfortunately, was slow and one way only and could not be used for operational purposes.
Altogether our high hopes for the BALDO operation, although not being completely realised, were not altogether without justification and BALDO’s presence in MILAN was always a reminder to the C.L.N.A.I. that E & E work was very much the concern of the Allied authorities.