First page of the progress report issued on November 13, 1943
The transcription and notes in this post are by Dr. Luigi Donfrancesco, nephew of I.S.9 agent Andrea Scattini. Access to the two progress reports (from the British National Archives) was courtesy of researcher Brian Sims.
Following the September 8, 1943 Armistice, German Divisions promptly invaded Italy and took control of the military situation. In October 1943, from among the many who did not want to collaborate with the Germans, six Italian patriots reached the Allied lines of the 8th Army in just-liberated TERMOLI (Campobasso, Molise).
They were immediately enrolled as agents in the “A” FORCE (I.S.9, or Intelligence School 9, called “A” Force on that front) and assigned to the No. 5 FIELD SECTION, operating in the east along the Adriatic coast.
The six men formed group “RATBERRY SECTION A” of No. 5 FIELD SECTION, under the command of Intelligence Captain Andrew ROBB, who was from New Zealand.
The six original “RATBERRY” agents, often referred to as “the RATBERRY Boys,” were:
1) Hugh/Ugo – Uguccione RANIERI – age 37 – (born 1906 in Florence). Lieutenant, Italian Army; Count of Sorbello – Bourbon del Monte; from Perugia. As he was the eldest, highest in military rank, and was perfectly Italian-English bilingual, he served as the head of the group.
2) “Don” Domenico ORLANDINI, age 30 (born 1913 in Poiano di Villa Minozzo, Reggio Emilia). A Catholic priest; cover name “Carlo.”
3) Ermanno FINOCCHI – age unknown – (“Marina Velica”? – Navy Sailing?); from Grottammare, Ascoli Piceno. Nephew of “Colonel Dolfi” (Gustavo Dolfi, Captain of the Merchant Navy and chief partisan of San Benedetto del Tronto).
4) Andrea SCATTINI – age 26 – (born 1917 in Marina San Vito, Chieti, Abruzzo). Student in Medicine and Surgery. Soldier in the Medical Corps of Italian Army at Celio Military Hospital, Rome.
5) Fausto SIMONETTI – age 23 – (born 1920 in Palmiano di Venarotta, Ascoli Piceno). Student in Medicine and Surgery. Soldier (perhaps in the Medical Corps) of Italian Air Force.
6) “GUIDO” (surname unknown). From TERMOLI, Fausto SIMONETTI and GUIDO were landed at CUPRA MARITTIMA (Ascoli Piceno, Marche) on October 22, 1943.
The other four were landed at CUPRA MARITTIMA on November 2, 1943, and joined Fausto SIMONETTI at Villa Vinci-Boccabianca, one of the main bases of the “RATBERRY Line” (or “RAT-LINE”), used to rescue ex prisoners of war.
Don Domenico ORLANDINI proceeded to his area near Reggio Emilia and returned by Christmas with 11 prisoners of war. He embarked with them at MARTINSICURO (Teramo) on January 6, 1944 and arrived in TERMOLI on January 7, 1944.
The other five agents remained in the Marche, from where they rescued and evacuated (initially by sea, later by land) many prisoners of war. In the following November 4–13 and November 14–21, 1943 progress reports of No. 5 FIELD SECTION, Captain ROBB reports four successful boatloads of POWs carried out by agents of team “RATBERRY SECTION A”].
Here are a few abbreviations that occur several times in the reports:
78 Div. – 78th Division
c.o.d. — perhaps Combat Operations Division, Current Operation Division, or Call of Duty
Div. HQ – Division Headquarters
Eight Indian Div. or 8 Ind. Div. – Eighth Indian Division
ex-P/Ws – ex Prisoners of War
HQ – Headquarters
Ops. – operators or operations
r.v.s. or r.v. – rendezvous, appointments, or encounters
Sec. – section
PROGRESS REPORT FROM No. 5 FIELD SECTION – 13 NOV 1943.
Nov. 4. – A sailing boat, bringing 5 ex-P/Ws, arrived [at] TERMOLI from SAN BENEDETTO [del Tronto]. This ‘coup’ [bel colpo, colpo maestro, mossa brillante] had been successfully organised by Agent FAUSTO [SIMONETTI], of this Section [No. 5], originally landed [at CUPRA MARITTIMA] Oct. 22 , one of the six Agents who were working as a team (see Plan RATBERRY Section “A”). They were guided by FAUSTO and accompanied by two helpers. They brought a letter from FAUSTO assuring me that all had arrived safely, arranged r.v.s. had been kept, and the Plan was going ahead. Good prospects are assured. The two helpers will be returned to FAUSTO, as soon as possible.
[On page 83 of her Diaries (I Diari Di Babka 1943–1944 Aristocrazia Antifascista E Missioni Segrete, published by Alessandro Perini, 2007], “Babka” says that Fausto SIMONETTI, having embarked from San Benedetto del Tronto on November 2 with his group of POWs (the 1st boatload), returned to Villa Vinci (Cupra Marittima] to meet the other four agents who were expected from TERMOLI (Uguccione RANIERI, Ermanno FINOCCHI, Andrea SCATTINI and Don Domenico ORLANDINI). After several delays due to various difficulties, they were finally landed by Captain ROBB in the night of November 2 and arrived at Villa Vinci at 2:30 a.m. on November 3].
Nov. 6. – I took over officially from Col. WHYTE, and Section 5 now covers a 2 Divisional Front, Eight Indian Div. and 78 Div., moved to SAN FELICE [DEL MOLISE].
Nov. 7. – Contacted Capt. BRYANT, 8 Ind. Div., also Signals [Royal Signals]. Got latest ‘dope’ on how things are done, and got details re [regarding] latest arrivals. Pte. [Private] JAMES WELLS followed the popular route, towards PALMOLI, passing through the hands of no fewer than 9 Helpers en route. Other ex-P/Ws tell of help by Parachutists, i.e. [id est, that is] Maps, money, etc.
Nov. 8. – “POP”, a well trained Agent [unknown], sent off across the lines, taking with him the two helpers who accompanied the five ex-P/Ws from SAN BENEDETTO. Contacted Intelligence Representatives of 78 Div. en route to 78 Div. HQ. On his advice, the Div. HQ being then on the move, did not go on, as nothing was likely to be accomplished. Sent on message by him to G.111 (I) Capt. BIRD.
Nov. 9. – Another Agent, has already done a job, sent over to contact “POP”. HQ, 8 Ind. Div. moved forward to FURCI.
During 9, 10, and 11 Nov. on the 8 Ind. Div. roads was almost impossible owing to the weather. Six hour halts were the usual thing, owing to the diversions being almost impossible, the roads being choked up with transport, in one case a 12 hr. block was experienced. I decided that it was better to be forward of Div. HQ and work across, so moved from PALMOLI to CUPELLO.
Nov. 12. – 2 Agents sent off from FURCE [FURCI], on the c.o.d. basis. Ex-P/Ws are passing through this Div. Front at a steady pace. The majority have been given help on the other side. 44 have checked in since Nov. 7.
Nov. 13. – GALLEO [Emilio GALEO], Agent making his 11th trip, sent off. This man does not work with directions given, but goes off on his own to his own contacts on the other side.
Returned to TERMOLI.
My chief Agent HUGH [Uguccione RANIERI di Sorbello], head of the Original Six put in at CUPRA MARITIMA [MARITTIMA] [two on October 22, and four on November 2], reported back with full account of activities, Plan RATBERRY Section “A” and bringing with him 18 ex-P/Ws, 3 Helpers, and the following story.
[They sailed from SAN BENEDETTO DEL TRONTO in the fishing schooner (“peschereccio”) MARIA with a second boatload of POWs, and arrived at TERMOLI at 8 a.m. on November 13, 1943.]
“Following successful get-away of the five ex-P/Ws on Nov. 4 [the first boatload successfully organized by Agent Fausto SIMONETTI, see above], it was decided to try it again. To keep 2 sailing vessels, which were about to sail, in abeyance, ERMANNO [FINOCCHI], one of my original 6, circulated the rumour that fishing vessels arriving at British Occupied Ports without some British P/W, were suspect. This had the desired result, and a promise was extracted to wait until the night of Nov. 8. FAUSTO [SIMONETTI], another of the six, set off to round up the ex P/Ws. HUGH and ERMANNO also set off, with HUGH’s brother [Lodovico RANIERI] and a friend [Gianni DA CAMPO] to round up some more.
In spite of the usual difficulties; local persuasion; distrust, etc., eleven more got on the move. A march of 45 miles was successfully accomplished and a hide-out found; here the “Brother” [Lodovico RANIERI] arrived with nine more [a total of 20]. Agent FAUSTO [SIMONETTI] never turned up. The group came to SAN BENEDETTO by night and conducted to the beach in order to be sent to the harbour in small groups. Unfortunately firing broke out just at the moment. Panic among the ex-P/Ws was avoided but the boat crew had vanished. The get away therefore was abandoned for that night.
Next day another group of [seven] ex P/W arrived, sent by ANDREA [SCATTINI], [another] of the original 6, from further up the coast, the number was now 27, no word came from FAUSTO [SIMONETTI].
Then followed days of anxiety. On Nov. 11, five discouraged ex P/Ws left to attempt crossing the lines. Finally HUGH, contacted an Italian Naval Captain, and together they finally persuaded a skeleton crew to attempt the get-away. Meantime a few more ex P/Ws had disappeared. The town was entered at dusk greatly aided by the fact that British planes were overhead and all the town’s people had taken cover. The motor fishing boat was boarded, the anchor was abandoned, as hauling it in would be too noisy, and the exit from the harbor was made in absolute quiet. The rest of the journey was uneventful, except for the jubilation of the ex P/Ws, and they arrived safely at “TERMOLI”. The course was approximately 14 miles from the coast.
This operation, carried out by the RATBERRY SEC. “A” No. 5 Field Section, proves that the “putting in” of a complete working team into an area known to them, is fully justified. Similar “coups” will be attempted, but the main plan of land evacuation will be pushed. To further this, HUGH will return Nov. 15 to this area and continue working with the other five, and their helpers. The Naval Captain [Italian] who assisted this last coup, will, as he is well known to many local fishermen on the coast, continue to organize boats and conduct the ex P/Ws to TERMOLI.
(sd) [signed] A. ROBB Captain.
No. 5 Field Section.
PROGRESS REPORT – No. 5 FIELD SECTION – NOV. 14–21, 1943
Nov 14/15: Following arrival of the 2nd boatload of ex P/Ws on 13th Nov., HUGH gave me the picture of what is happening inside in my area. Two of the original six agents put in have lost contact. From Oct. 22 nothing has been heard of GUIDO, but HUGH is of the opinion that he will turn up eventually. The other missing agent FAUSTO, also will put in an appearance sooner or later. We have recent reports re [regarding] his activities. The original idea, following HUGH’s arrival was that he should return immediately, but it was decided to wait 24 hrs., to tighten up at this end.
Nov. 16: Beach Party (HUGH, the Naval Captain and two others) left TERMOLI to be “put in” at CULPARA [CUPRA, MARITTIMA], the weather being considered suitable. With the arrival of McGIBBON LEWIS, from ALGIERS, the RATBERRY PLAN was re-opened. It was decided, as I had already agents operating in my area, it would be better if I remained at this end of the RATLINE, W/T [wireless telegraphy] being limited to two sets, and this side of the front being already short of personnel. In fact that I should continue working on the two Div. Front. The original RATBERRY to go on.
Nov. 17: Beach party returned, unable to land owing to bad weather. This, at the time seemed fortunate as all interested could discuss furthering RATBERRY. All Sections would now be ‘put in’ together. Left TERMOLI for 78 Div. front.
Nov. 17/18: 78 Div. front. Visited Div. H.Q. – Bde and Bn H.Qs. [Brigade and Battalion Headquarters]. Having discussed the various problems of dealing with ex P/Ws [ex Prisoners of War] and agents penetrating, went on to see the officer responsible for handling the bodies and was informed by him that as he had run out of pro-formas, he was interrogating ex P/Ws only regarding ‘G’ Intelligence information. This was what I already had suspected, however he has promised to re-adjust the Questionnaire method.
The G.III (I) at Div. H.Q. is most helpful, and certainly does all he can to help me.
Nov. 19: The 3rd boat load of ex P/Ws arrived at TERMOLI in all numbering 21 persons, including 2 paras [paratroopers]. This boat load had been collected and dispatched by Agent ERMANNO [FINOCCHI], from SAN BENEDETTO. Full list of ex P/Ws has been sent on from TERMOLI by Capt. FOWLER. The plan and route were the same as the two previous boatloads, and there was absolutely no hitch. Food and rest provided for all the ex P/Ws on route, and they were in high spirits on arrival.
Got the story from the ex P/Ws, also some helpful devices for gaining the trust and confidence of others, still remaining behind in the area (e.g. the torn prison chit, which when presented will fit the other half retained by remaining P/Ws). This sort of thing is being fully exploited where possible.
Nov. 20: The 4th boat load arrived with ex P/Ws numbering 11. The guide GIANNI [DA CAMPO, from Venice] supplied by ERMANNO [FINOCCHI], arrived but went at once to hospital. The M.O. [Medical Officer] in the party [an ex P/W] said that GIANNI had a temperature of 102 [102 Fahrenheit = 38,9 Centigrade] when they started across country. He brought them to the beach, but by that time he was already in a bad state muttering in delirium “I must get them down now, I must get them down now”. He is in a B/M [British Military] Hospital with jaundice and suspected malaria. I mention this to give you some idea of the help we are getting.
[Ermanno FINOCCHI did not embark and remained in the Marche. In her Diaries (page 90 of Alessandro Perini’s book) “Babka” says that, after the 3rd and 4th boatloads of POWs, Ermanno went to Villa Vinci – Boccabianca (Cupra Marittima) on November 21, and again on November 22. She also says that Nino PETTENELLO left with the 3rd boat load, while his friend Gianni DA CAMPO, ill, left with the 4th boatload. As university students, they were due to serve in the “Fascist Militia” or be brought to Germany, so they escaped from Venice to reach the Italian troops of General Badoglio in the south. Babka says (on pages 65–66 of the book) the two young men arrived at Villa Vinci on the evening of October 8, just when Uguccione RANIERI “di Sorbello”, Babka’s father Colonel Giorgio VICINO PALLAVICINO, Carlo WINSPEARE, Dino PHILIPSON, and Roberto BONDI were leaving to embark for San Benedetto del Tronto. Indeed the “5 Argonauts” were able to sail and reach the Allied lines at TREMITI islands and TERMOLI; Nino PETTENELLO and Giovanni DA CAMPO, who followed them, could not embark and had to return to Villa Vinci].
The ex P/Ws on this boat were full of praise for the way everything worked. It took only 8 1/2 hrs with one break, food and rest, from their last hideout en route to boat sailing. They also brought with them a marked map of the coastal defences of interest to “G” Ops. A list of names of this party has already been sent on. RATBERRY Party still await permission to sail.
Nov. 21: RATBERRY still postponed. TERMOLI, Papers, reports and Jeep trouble.
A. ROBB, Capt. – No 5 Field Section.