Exhibit G.4 in a report of the British military’s Special Investigation Branch inquiry into the execution of six servicemen at Comunanza, Italy, is captioned, “Photograph at Comunanza showing alleged scene of crime.”
Exhibit G.2 is captioned, “Photograph showing position of Communal Grave where six deceased were originally buried.”
This post contains a draft report of the British Special Investigation Branch (SIB) into the deaths of six Allied servicemen (four English and two American) in Comunanza on May 2, 1944.
The creation of the draft followed an extensive investigation by the SIB. It traces a likely scenario of events that preceded the killings, and speculates on who the soldiers were.
After the draft report is an October 1944 special report of the Graves Registration Unit (GRU). The six bodies were removed by the GRU from the vault where they had been buried and carefully examined in an attempt at identification.
More information on the Comunanza incident and the activities of the Brandenburg Division will follow on this site. Once again I am grateful to researcher Brian Sims for drawing my attention to these and other important documents from the British National Archives.
See also “The Brandenburgers—War Crimes Investigations.”
The Draft Report
H.Q., ‘A’ Group, 60 Section.
Special Investigation Branch,
c/o A.P.M’s Office, 61 Area,
Central Mediterranean Forces.
SUBJECT:- Alleged War Crime against six allied escaped prisoners of war at COMUNANZA on 2 May, 1944.
Two of the deceased believed to be:
(a) No.2935269, Pte. GORDON, Charles.
(b) No.T/3052152, Dvr. DIDCOCK, James.
60 Section, S.I.B.
Herewith a precis of the investigation into the above War Crime, commenced on 3rd February and completed 21st July, 1945. Five documents were included in the initial file and briefly the facts to hand at the beginning of the enquiry were as follow.
Two American and four English escaped Prisoners of War were alleged to have been shot outside the cemetery at COMUNANZA by order of the local German Commander named ‘UNRAU’. The particulars of the two Englishmen were given as No.2936269, Pte. Charles GORDON (2 Cameron) and No.T/3052152, Dvr. James DIDCOCK, who were alleged to have been betrayed to the Germans by a civilian named CAPOLITTE for about 3,000 lire.
The date of the execution was given as 1st and 2nd May, 1944, and a No.6151141 Pte. STRAPP was alleged to have witnessed the execution from a cave in which he was hiding. A Sergeant SELBY was also stated to be among the deceased, and it was alleged that one of the British prisoners was buried alive as he was only wounded by the firing squad, and the Officer in charge would not allow a further shot.
Briefly, the investigation has revealed the following facts.
On 29 April, 1944, two English escaped prisoners of war, named GORDON (No.2935269 and not 2936269) and DIDCOCK , were concerned in an incident at MARNACCHIA, a hamlet near AMANDOLA, in which one or both of them indecently assaulted two Italian women. As a result the local carabinieri were informed by a man named CAPPELLETTI (not CAPOLITTE) and the two men were arrested by a German officer and two N.C.O’s and taken to the Carabinieri Caserma, AMANDOLA. It has not been possible to prove whether CAPPELLETTI did receive any money for his information, and the nature of the incident appears to justify the matter to a certain extent.
The following day, 30 April, 1944, GORDON and DIDCOCK were taken in a German truck to COMUNANZA, but when it arrived it contained six prisoners of war in all. It has not been possible to establish the identities of the other four prisoners or where they were recaptured, but it would appear they were placed on the German truck between AMANDOLA and COMUNANZA, and that two were English and two Americans. No Sergeant SELBY (mentioned in the initial file) has been connected with any events surrounding this incident.
The six men, dressed in civilian clothes, and guarded by a German sergeant and members of a Battalion ‘M’ of the Fascist Republican Army, arrived at COMUNANZA about 9 am on 30 April, and were kept at the Carabinieri Barracks that night. They were taken to ASCOLI PICENO during the morning of 1st May, and returned to COMUNANZA about 5 pm in the afternoon.
About 5-30 am on 2 May they were shot with automatic weapons by members of the Fascist Battalion ‘M’ and some Germans against the wall that surrounds the cemetery, and it appears that the prisoners were not previously informed of the sentence to be carried out. About 38 holes can be seen in the cemetery wall, at the alleged place of execution, which appears to have been made by the strike of bullets. This wall hides the scene of the execution from view from the main Macerata – Ascoli Piceno road that passes the cemetery, and it would appear that there were no eyewitnesses (other than suspects) to the shooting. Flashes of gunfire were observed by witnesses, and about seven members of Battalion ‘M’ and are alleged to have been seen (from a distance of 200 metres) at the spot directly after the firing had occurred, but no identification of these men was possible at the time owing to there being insufficient light. The cave where Pte. STRAPP is alleged to have witnessed the execution was visited, and it would have been impossible to have observed the incident from that distance (about ½ mile) in the existing light conditions. Also the witness stated to have made the allegation denies having done so.
Numerous civilians visited the scene late during the morning of 2 May and saw the six bodies and describe the brutal nature of the crime, but none identified any of the deceased. A large grave was prepared outside the cemetery and near the scene of the crime, and the six bodies were buried together about 3 p.m. on 2nd May. The evidence of the witnesses precludes the possibility that any of the victims were buried alive, as is alleged in the original information. The cemetery custodian alleges ROSCIOLI Settimio, a notorious fascist, instructed that the victims were not to be buried inside the cemetery because they were Jews. This same ROSCIOLI was seen by another witness taking spent rounds from the cemetery wall at the presumed place of execution about 9 a.m. on the same day.
On 2nd May, 1944, a notice was published in COMUNANZA, by the local German Commander, stating that four English and two American prisoners of war had been shot for looting the houses of peasants and terrorizing the inhabitants of the area to the northwest of AMANDOLA. On one of these original notices the German Commander’s name is given as ‘UNRAU’, but on two hotel bills this officer signed, during his stay at COMUNANZA, the name appears to be ‘ANRAU’, and his German field post number is 44468. One witness believes that the Germans at COMUNANZA at this time belonged to the 16th Company, Brandenburg Division.
Witnesses have named various persons who are alleged to have been implicated in the incident, and others who were friendly with the Germans, and who may be useful sources of information when traced. Other persons known to have been in the area at the time are also named, and altogether 11 Germans, 15 members of the Fascist Battalion ‘M’, 6 other Italians (including 3 women) , and a British escaped prisoner of war (now believed repatriated), are required for interrogation in connection with this case. Among the Germans is a Captain KESTING and a Lieutenant FISCHER, who are wanted in connection with other alleged war crimes committed in the Province of ASCOLI PICENO. KESTING and FISCHER belonged to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Brandenberg Regiment, later incorporated in the 5th Mountain Division.
The six bodies were exhumed on 1st July, 1944, on the orders of the Provincial Doctor, ASCOLI PICENO, and re-buried within the cemetery of Comunanza the same day. On 29th January, 1945, representatives of 26 Graves Registration Unit exhumed four bodies and reinterred them at ANCONA Military Cemetery. The evidence of nationality accepted by the G.R.U. appears to have been that on the feet of the four dead men were British boots. The whereabouts and action taken regarding the two (presumed) Americans has not so far been clarified, but a report is awaiting from the Adv. H.Q. G. R. and E. who is believed to have performed an exhumation of all six bodies for registration purposes prior to 29th January, 1945.
It would appear that the incident in which DIDCOCK and GORDON were concerned took place to the east of AMANDOLA as did another occurrence which may have some connection with this inquiry where an escaped prisoner of war appears to have raped an Italian woman. No evidence in fact has been found to substantiate the allegation of the Germans that the offences committed by the deceased in this case occurred to the north-east of AMANDOLA. It is possible, however, that the six men were shot as an example to other escaped prisoners of war and patriots actively hostile to the Germans in this region.
The investigation has been of some length due, particularly at the beginning to the impossibility of reaching many witnesses owing to the winter conditions, and generally throughout the inquiry to the enormous amount of hearsay received from civilian sources, which, when checked, has shown in many cases that the facts of the incident have been grossly exaggerated and distorted by the local population.
In conclusion, the inquiry revealed that alleged war crimes against allied prisoners of war, and the information received was noted as a basis for any future investigation that may be deemed necessary.
28th July, 1945.
D.A. THORN, Lieut.
60 Section. S.I.B. [Special Investigation Branch]
The two photographs above from the draft report are of members of ‘M’ Battalion stationed at Comunanza. The numbers above and below the individuals are keyed to a list identifying them by name (when known).
This is a clearer version of the photo above it, but one person is cropped out.
Exhibit G-1 reads, “Photograph of portion of Cemetery wall at Comunanza showing holes believed to have been made by bullets.”
Graves Registration Unit Special Report
Subject. Special Report to be read in conjunction with AFW. 3372 Report No. 19GR/RMB/2198
1. Below is given an extract of report by T/Sgt. Shotland of 602(QM) Graves Registation Unit.
6 Allied Soldiers executed outside Civilian cemetery in Comunanza and buried in a hole by Germans. After Germans left, the Italians exhumed and buried them in a Family vault (Tomba communale) in the Civilian Cemetery. See diagram on page 1. The diary of the Italian Lt. Vaccari of May 1st mentions 2 English and 4 American soldiers. Il Maresciallo dei Carabiniere Reali di Comunanza, the caretaker of the Civilian Cemetery, and the farmer Antonio Amici declare that the vault contains 2 American and 4 British soldiers. Since the identification seems to be extremely difficult (civilian clothing, no identification tags or documents, shot through the head) the American and English Graves Registration, in my opinion, have to decide together on dis- and reinterment.
The place of execution and first burial was thoroughly searched by the undersigned.
6 Groups of bullet holes are clearly visible in the wall. On top of the original mass grave the letter to a German soldier was found, addressed to “Gefreiter Wilhem Bauer” from Biettigheim/Enz WTTBG. Besigheimerstrasse 33, German A.P.O. No. 20673. According to the diary of the Lieut. Vaccari, May 1st. the German Lt. Horst Unnrau seems to have been the officer of the Firing Squad.”
2. This case was investigated jointly by T/Sgt. Shotland and the O.C. [officer in command] this Unit, and the coffins were brought out of the vault for examination.
The first thing that was noticed was that the coffins were marked. “P.O.W. 1” “P.O.W. 2” etc.
These numbers have been retained throughout because they were marked thus by a British or American escaped P.W. at the time of internment in the vault.
3. Full details and descriptions so far is possible are given below:-
Height approx. 5’ 6”. Black hair, Civilian jacket, Shirt, etc., Empty Players Medium Tobacco tin found in pocket. Shot through head and mouth. No tooth chart possible.
Height approx. 5’ 8”. Brown hair, slightly curly. Civilian trousers, blue pullover, vest, etc. Shot through head from left exit at right eye and temple. Complete set of good teeth. Tooth R.1 oversized.
Height approx. 6’ 0”. Light brown hair. British Boots approx. size 8. Civilian jacket, shirt, trousers, waistcoat. One G.S. Greatcoat button in trousers pocket. W.D. pattern gray socks. Lid of coffin was marked:- 2935269. Charles Gordon. Church Hall, Gartochorn, Dunbartonshire. [Tooth chart included for this individual.]
Height approx. 5’ 8” Hair dark brown nearly black long and wavy. British B.D. Blouse. British Boots size approx. 8 or 9. Shirt possibly British. Pullover probably Italian. Trousers could either be civilian or B.D. Small flat tin found in right inside pocket of B.D. Blouse containing letters addressed to 2935269. Pte Charles Gordon. [Tooth chart included for this individual.]
Height approx. 5’ 8”. Hair dark brown. Italian trousers and shirt. Italian jacket with Zip fastener. A comb was found that might have been obtained from American P.X. [military post exchange store] make “Electus”. [Tooth chart included for this individual.]
Height approx. 5’ 10”. Hair dark brown or black. Italian trousers and jacket. Khaki pullover. [Tooth chart included for this individual.]
4. It is thought possible that the 2 u/m [unmarked] American Soldiers were amongst these 6 Ex Ps.W.
14002194. S/Sgt. Donald D. Perry Armd. Corps.
Sgt. Ralph Frank di Salvo 47 Inf. Regt.
5. A man in COMUNANZA stated that the 2 u/m British Soldiers were amongst these 6 Ex. Ps.W. but that he could not connect the names with any of the bodies.
2935269. Pte. Charles Gordon.
Church Hall, Gartochorn. Dunbartonshire.
3052152. Dvr. James Didcock.
Auldhill Entry, Bridgend, Linlithgow.
6. The O.C. this Unit would have accepted the identification by letters of the P.O.W. 4 as Pte. Charles Gordon had it not been for the fact that the coffin of P.O.W. 3 was marked as Pte. Charles Gordon.
It seems more than likely that P.O.W. 4 is in fact Pte. Charles Gordon and that an error was made in that the wrong coffin was marked with his name.
The difference in height should permit definite identification as the difference of 4” (6’ 0” for P.O.W. 3 and 5’ 8” P.O.W. 4) would more than allow for errors.
The tooth chart should give confirmation.
7. The whole investigation was carried out jointly by O.C. this Unit and T/Sgt. Shotland who had taken note of all details.
Officer Commanding No. 19 Graves Registration Unit.
C.M.F. [Central Mediterranean Force]
3 Oct 44.
Copy to A.F.W. 3372.
Copy to 68 S.I.B.
I don’t understand point 4. above:
“4. It is thought possible that the 2 u/m [unmarked] American Soldiers were amongst these 6 Ex Ps.W.
14002194. S/Sgt. Donald D. Perry Armd. Corps.
Sgt. Ralph Frank di Salvo 47 Inf. Regt.”
Is he saying that the 2 unmarked American soldiers may have been Perry and Di Salvo? If so, no evidence is provided for this affirmation. Ralph De Salvo is listed as a prisoner in Camp 59, on the basis of information from Robert Newton.
Robert Newton has confirmed that Ralph De Salvo survived the war, so we can eliminate him from the enquiries.
The story of the British boots is not confirmed by this Special Report. Instead the report states “The diary of the Italian Lt. Vaccari of May 1st mentions 2 English and 4 American soldiers”, which would tend to confirm Manuel Serrano’s statement that there were 4 GIs.
Comment from Ian McCarthy:
As I don’t think the men killed in Comunanza would have come from Mantua or Verona (they would more likely have headed for Switzerland), the possible names are Clemitson, Evans, Pineau and maybe Spence. Frank Powers obviously got back to his unit and was later sent into Belgium. His date of death was November 1, 1945, when the war was over in Italy. Evans had been a prisoner in Gravina which was where the two identified victims, Didcock and Gordon, had come from. Clemitson had been in Altamura, right next to Gravina. Capua, where Pineau had been, was a transit camp so he might have been sent on to Sforzacosta or one of the other camps in Central Italy. Spence had been in a camp near Florence and some of the Slav partisans fighting in the area around Comunanza had come from camps in Tuscany.
All four men that I’ve named were Infantrymen, which would be consistent with Manuel Serrano’s claim that he had identified the bodies of those of “2 Brits and 4 G.I.s” although he also is said to have added “from the 1st division”.