Gino Beer, with some girls at Farneta, near Montefiorino, 1944
I corresponded this week with Italian Michele Becchi concerning Gino Beer, who as a young man served in the fighting group headed by escaped POW Victor Styles. (See “Trooper Victor Styles—P.G. 52 Prisoner.”)
Michele Becchi researches WWII British Liaison Officers in Italy, ex-POWs, and downed pilots trying to reach the Allied lines. He is particularly interested in partisan warfare in his area of Italy, as well as Special Operations Executive (SOE) and Office of Strategic Services (OSS) missions.
Michele knows and has interviewed Gino.
Michele wrote, “Victor Styles was leader of a special ex-POW fighting group working for the ‘TOFFEE’ mission. I’m trying to find the names of other POWs and Italian partisan members of that group. Gino served in the group.
“I meet Gino Beer years ago, when I was researching ‘Operation Tombola,’ an SAS [Special Air Service] operation against a German headquarters not far from my town.
“Gino was an Italian Jew from Genoa; he and his family was persecuted by the Nazis and fascists due to his origin. After a brief spell with the Ligurian partisans, Gino and his family transferred to Modena, in 1944, to avoid death. But the situation worsened, and Gino was forced to join the partisans of the Reggio-Modena mountains.
“A brief flashback: In summer 1944, the partisans of Reggio and Modena freed a large (more than 40 square kilometers) area around Montefiorino, where they established a ‘free republic.’ The Allies, hoping to break the German lines, organized the so-called “Operation Batepits,’ the drop of an Italian parachute battalion which, with the help of the partisans, would have stormed the rear of the German front in order to help the Allied effort. To do so, they first dropped a large amount of stores, and a strong SOE party. But, in the last days of July 1944, the Jerries anticipated the operation and in a few days destroyed the partisan republic. The SOE party was forced to split: Majors Wilcockson and Johnston remained in the Modena area, where they formed the first bulk of the SOE ‘ENVELOPE BLUE’ mission; Captain Holland and Sergeant Hayhurst went to the Parma mountains and started the ‘TOFFEE’ mission. Major Jim Davies became the commander for all the SOE of the area, included those formed by ex-POWs like Oldham (‘TURDUS’ mission) and Gordon Lett (‘BLUNDELL’ mission).
“Gino was picked up by Davies and Wilcockson, and he learned fast how to stay alive, with all the dirty tricks included. He told me that on two occasions he evaded German control simply by cutting the throats of sentries with a razor blade hidden between his fingers.
“Later, Gino joined assorted groups of ex-POWs, working for Davies and the other BLOs as a courier, and also in a special unit of harassers—ambushing German traffic, and killing sentries and German officers.
“Gino did this work for some months, walking up and down the Appennines in the provinces of Reggio, Modena, Parma, Massa and Lucca, before ending up at the British Mission of Major Davies and Captain Michael Lees in the Farneta area, between Reggio and Modena.
“Mr. Bruno Gimpel, who worked as cipher officer for Johnston and Lees, knew Gino very well, and he told me Gino was 17 years old when he met him in the winter of 1944–1945.
“After the war Gino became an engineer for the Ansaldo company. He lives in Chiavari.”
Gino Beer, while traveling for the SOE at Secchio, in February 1945
Michele Becchi with Gino Beer, at Gino’s home in Chiavari, 2011
A fascinating story, set in difficult times.