John Gaffney and Albert Romero Survive Crash to be Interned in P.G. 59

B-24 Liberator (United States Air Force)

While on a mission, American airmen John Gaffney and Albert Romero’s B-24 bomber was shot down over the sea near Messina, Italy, on 30 April 1943. The only two survivors, they were interned in P.G. 59. Both escaped on the night of the 14 September 1943 mass breakout. Although John Gaffney paired up with Sgt. William Casey and Albert Romero traveled alone, they all headed south for the Allied lines, arriving a couple of days apart in late October.

The following information is from their POW repatriation reports prepared by MIS-X Section, POW Branch, of the U.S. War Department. The reports are courtesy of the United States Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA), Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama. Their reports contain a wealth of information, including the names and addresses of Italian helpers.

S/Sgt. John Hugh Gaffney

EX Report No. 131
15 January 1944

Escape by S/Sgt. John Hugh Gaffney, 12040114, 515th Bomb Squadron (H), 376 (H) Bomb Group, from Camp 59, Servigliano, Italy

Missing in action – 30 April 1943
Date of capture – 30 April 1943
Reported P/W – 27 May 1943
Escape – 14 September 1943
Rejoined Allied forces – 24 October 1943 at Lucito, Italy
Previous interrogation – Canadian HQ near Lucito; British Intelligence Officer, Campobasso; 12th Air Force, Algiers
Arrived in USA – 7 December 1943, Newport News, Virginia
Home address – 559 West 52nd Street, New York, NY
Age – 22
Length of service – 1 years, 11 months

S/Sgt. Gaffney’s unit was based near Benghazi, Libya. He was shot down on his 19th mission in a raid on the ferry slips at Messina, Sicily. After completing the bomb run, his ship received four flak hits which set No. 3 engine on fire, blew off the bomb bay door, penetrated the bomb bay gas tank, and hit the left wing flaps. S/Sgt. Gaffney’s guns froze twice, and his window and turret sight clouded up. The solenoid was out of time, and he had to press the trigger 30 or 40 times to get a burst. As the plane went down, it was jumped by three ME-109’s. One of which S/Sgt. Gaffney shot down. The pilot power dived and pulled out to make a crash landing in the sea approximately 60 miles south of (Siracusa) Syracuse, Sicily, about 1400 hours, 30 April 1943. The tail turret broke off when the plane crashed. The plane sank within a few minutes. The men’s Mae Wests did not hold them high enough out of the water. They found some oxygen bottles floating after the crash, and this helped buoy them up a little. About 4 hours later, an ME-109 led an Italian Red Cross seaplane to them. It picked up S/Sgt. Huska, dead, and Sgt. Romero and S/Sgt. Gaffney. The names of the crew and known information on them are as follows: 

Pilot – 1st Lt. Swarner – Drowned after plane crashed. He became panicky and swallowed sea water.
Co-Pilot – 1st Lt. Morgan – Went down with plane.
Bombardier – 1st Lt. Ted Deffner – Went down with plane. Lt. Swarner told S/Sgt. Gaffney that both co-pilot and bombardier were dead from wounds before the plane crashed.
Navigator – 1st Lt. Longstreth – Dead. S/Sgt. Gaffney saw him dead in the water, perhaps from a deep head wound.
Engineer – T/Sgt. Andrew Huska  – Drowned after ship crashed. He became panicky and swallowed sea water.
Radio Operator – T/Sgt. Albert Romero – Captured and later successfully escaped. Subject of EX-Report No. 62.
Waist Gunner – S/Sgt. Jack Paul – Fate unknown. Badly wounded in crash.
Belly Gunner – S/Sgt. Holliday – Went down with plane. Unconscious from wounds when plane crashed.
Tail Gunner – (Narrator) – Wounded in head and wrist.

Briefing

S/Sgt. Gaffney received briefing by various S-2 officers on evasion and escape on land, which was of no value to him.

S/Sgt. Gaffney had an S-2 Kit containing a map of Italy, money, a brief Italian vocabulary, and button compass. It seemed useless to him after the water landing, so he dropped it in the area. He had two watch compasses which were taken from him when searched. He suggested that maps be sewn into the lining of clothes and that button compasses be sewn on clothing. He knew of one man who sewed an Italian map into the crotch of his trousers and thus smuggled it into Camp 59. The men were stripped and searched thoroughly on the Italian plane. The story of S/Sgt. Gaffney’s experiences up to his arrival in Camp 59 is told in EX-report No. 62 [Albert Romero’s EX-report]. He received no mail or next-of-kin parcels at Camp 59. Otherwise, he had nothing to add to previous information on camp conditions there.

Interrogation

S/Sgt. Gaffney had been briefed five or six times by various S-2 officers on methods of enemy interrogation and how to thwart them. He thought the briefing very valuable.

The story of S/Sgt. Gaffney’s interrogation and experiences prior to arriving at Camp 59 is told in EX-report No. 62.

Escape

S/Sgt. Gaffney escaped with Sgt. William B. Casey. They were among the first to leave and were going through the sports field when they heard shots whizzing by and, later, the camp commandant giving the order to cease fire. They walked by day and made the entire trip in British battle dress. They had several close brushes with Germans who were searching for young Italians to be impressed. They avoided roads and villages, the places Germans were most likely to be encountered, except small mountain villages. To obtain help, S/Sgt. Gaffney attempted to play on the inhabitants’ sympathy, telling them sad stories about wishing to rejoin his wife who he hadn’t seen for years and other imaginative tales. They stayed about three days just south of Trivento, getting the lay of the land and the habits of German patrols, until they saw the enemy evacuate the town. Resuming their journey, they met an old Italian guide carrying credentials stamped by the 8th Army. He was an irresponsible old gent, and began leading them and two Yugo-Slavs down the road on which S/Sgt. Gaffney and Sgt. Casey had observed many German patrols. He was in the lead with the Yugo-Slavs, singing and flourishing a pistol; the two Americans were well behind. A patrol spotted the trio in the lead, challenged them, and began firing. Usually German patrols advertised their presence, especially at night, by singing or loud talking. The two left the road after the brush with the patrol, and the next morning met Canadians at Lucito.

Secret

Proceeded to Caramanico, Torricella, Castiglione, and Trivento. Crossed the Trigno River just south of Trivento and then reach Lucito.

S/Sgt. Gaffney was one of the men working on the tunnel in Hut 7, the “Sargent’s Hut,” at Camp 59. He and Sgt. Casey also made an escape attempt the night of 12 September 1943. They hid in the shower house on the sports field, as mentioned by Sgt. John J. Withers in EX-report No. 126. [See ”Oscar Ruebens and John Withers—Escape Reports.”There was a drunken party for the guards nearby, and one of them stumbled into the shower house and discovered the pair. They were confined by Captain Millar, SBO [Senior British Officer], for this attempt.

APPENDIX “A”

E and E [Escape and Invasion] Information

S/Sgt. Gaffney and Sgt. Casey were helped by a guerrilla chief near Monte dei Fiori, between Ascoli and Teramo, who gave them a note asking Italians to please show the bearer the shortest way to Allied lines. S/Sgt. Gaffney does not recall this Italian’s name. He and Sgt. Casey stayed in the vicinity several days. Formerly a guerrilla band had occupied Monte dei Fiori, but the Germans had dispersed them by the time the two arrived there late in September. There was still sporadic sniping at vehicles along the Ascoli-Teramo road, in which they joined. They heard that a German major was killed and shortly after the Germans shelled several towns in the vicinity, perhaps as a reprisal.

S/Sgt. Gaffney and Sgt. Casey were also helped by the following persons:

Guiseppe Spaccapaniccia
Santa Vittoria in Matenano
Provincia Ascoli Piceno, Italia

Rosa Pallotti
Santa Vittoria in Matenano
Provincia Ascoli Piceno, Italia

They stayed at the house of Guiseppe Spaccapaniccia nine days, during which he had their shoes repaired and gave them food and shelter. Rosa Pallotti also helped feed them.

They stayed three days at Ernesto di Tillio’s house, had their shoes repaired, and received food and shelter. This young man of about 20 made a practice of helping prisoners and had signed statements from four or five other Allied soldiers testifying to his help.

S/Sgt. Gaffney and Sgt. Casey gave their name and serial number to the three persons above. S/Sgt. Gaffney took their names and addresses and carried them on a slip of paper which he concealed in the lining of his trousers. 

Route

Servigliano to Santa Vittoria (in Matenano).
Thence to Amandola, Ascoli, Teramo, and Penne.
Thence to home of Ernesto di Tillio, about 10 km. west of Pescara.
Then crossed Pescara River near Torre.

APPENDIX “B” 

Incidental Intelligence

S/Sgt. Gaffney made the following observations:

Germans usually move motor convoys at night. He saw one moved by day south of Termoli being strafed by eight P-40’s. The Germans were using every vehicle they could commandeer, including charcoal burners. He saw many trucks parked on roads, under repair.

At Ascoli, he was told that two battalions of Italian troops, supposed to be Mussolini’s personal troops, were bivouacked nearby. He did not know if they had been or were to be used in the line. 

Rail and highway bridges were always guarded and were prepared for demolition some distance behind the lines. Usually there was a sentry pacing the deck of the bridge.

In woods and mountains where many young Italians trying to avoid German impressment. The labor draft was not organized. The Germans simply seized any young Italian they encountered. He heard from several families that many had been taken. There was a rather intensive search around Santa Vittoria in late September 1943.

Shortly after reaching Allied lines, he met a captured German officer who said he was from the 16th Panzer Division with which he had come to Italy from Russia (sector not given). He expected Germany to last only three or four months, especially if the “second front” was opened. This officer believed that the Japanese had invaded California and were well inland and that the Germans were bombing New York regularly. 

T/Sgt. Albert S. Romero 

EX Report No. 62
11 December 1943

Escape by T/Sgt. Albert S. Romero from Camp 59, Servigliano, Italy

Missing in action – 30 April 1943
Date of capture – 30 April 1943
Reported P/W – 27 May 1943
Escape – 14 September 1943
Rejoined Allied forces – 22 October 1943 at Campobasso, Italy
Previous interrogation – I.O. Lamarsa, N.A. 12th AFHQ 
Arrived in USA – 7 December 1943
Home address – Route 1, Box 302, Pittsburgh, California
Age – 26
Length of service – 2 years, 4 months

Sgt. Romero was shot down by flak and three M-109’s while radio operator in a B-24, in a daylight raid on ferry slips of Messina 30 April 1943. The plane crashed in the water. According to Sgt. Romero, five crew members were killed by machine gun fire, crash, or drowning immediately; four survived the crash, but two of these died after some time in the water. Romero and one other were rescued, being taken prisoners by the Italian rescuers. Other members of the crew were:

Pilot – 1st Lt. (Capt.?) W. C. Swarner – survived crash, later drowned
Co-Pilot – Lt. (first name unknown) Morgan – killed by machine gun fire
Navigator – 1st Lt. Robert Longstreth – killed in crash
Bombardier – 1st Lt. Theodore Defferner – killed by machine gun fire
Engineer – T/Sgt. Andrew Husks – wounded, drowned after four hours in water
Turret Gunner – S/Sgt. Holliday – unseen, believed lost with ship
Waist Gunner – S/Sgt. Jack Paul – killed in crash
Tail Gunner – S/Sgt. John H. Gaffney – wounded, injured in crash, rescued; P/W. Italy, unstated

Sgts. Romero and Gaffney were picked up by an Italian Red Cross seaplane, flown 60 miles to Syracuse, and immediately interrogated by a captain. Gaffney was apparently out of his mind temporarily; Romero requested first aid. After treatment, a civilian, speaking fluent English, came in and questioned them at length. Gaffney could not answer. Romero says he refused to answer, pointing out that they had been instructed to give name, rank, and serial number only. They were given an International Red Cross card to fill out, apparently a legitimate one, since it called for name, rank, serial number, and address only.

Sgts. Romero and Gaffney were then transferred to a hospital in Syracuse, where, upon arrival, they were again questioned by the same civilian and an Air Force captain in Spanish and English. (Romero speaks Spanish, understands Italian.) After four days, the men were taken to Messina by train and then to Rome.

Imprisonment – Reggio Poggio – Camp 59 

After four days, they were taken on 5 May 1940 to Poggio Mirteto. Interrogations were frequent, in a casual manner. An Italian captain, who said he has lived in England for several years and in New York, took Sgt. Romero for walks, conversing apparently aimlessly. Sgt. Romero had nothing further to add about conditions here than has previously been reported. After 16 days, both men were transferred to Camp 59, Servigliano. 

Escape from Camp 59

On 14 September 1943, prisoners started mass escape. An entire body of prisoners took off into the woods. Sgt. Romero traveled with another American, Sgt. Robert H. Williams. They took food which lasted them five days. They avoided main roads and towns, traveling on paths through mountainous country, without maps or compasses (Romero’s and Gaffney’s aids boxes were left in the plane, no maps or compasses in the prison camp to Romero’s knowledge) for 39 days. Food and lodging were obtained from all peasants from whom they asked.

Canadian units were contacted near the Biferno River, 22 October 1943. An IO interrogated them immediately for combat intelligence. Although they arrived in civilian clothes, without identification, they were accepted as American soldiers. Both were immediately shipped to Fermo, Foggia, Bari, Taranto, and after 13 days flown to Tunis to 12th AFHQ, La Marsa. Here they were interrogated by an IO, Col. Compton. Finally, they were flown to Casablanca, where they took a boat to Newport News.

Sgt. Romero stated that he has not had an examination by any American medical officer since his escape while with the Canadians. He was examined by a British MO, who told him he required in early operation for hernia.

Upon being returned to American Base HQ, in Bari, Sgt. Romero was required to sleep on a cement floor, with a blanket only beneath him, for the seven days he was there.

The QM Depot at Bari stated they were unable to issue him clothing and equipment, although they had it on hand. Reason for this was not clear to Romero.

Sgt. Romero was detained nearly a month after his return to the Allied forces before being shipped, for no apparent reason other than delay in issuing orders and arranging transportation. He pointed out that British escaped Ps/W were shipped home within two days, while he was with the British.

More Information

For more on John Withers, see “Oscar Ruebens and John Withers—Escape Reports.”

Although I don’t have a repatriation report for William B. Casey Jr., from POW records from the U.S. National Archives we do know that he was repatriated in Italy on 25 June 1943. The last camp he was in was P.G. 59.

Here are the Italian POW identification cards for the three men mentioned in this post. Courtesy U.S. National Archives (NARA)

SCHEDA PERSONALE P. G. [PERSONAL CARD of PRIGIONIERO DI GUERRA, prisoner of war]

Cognome e nome [Surname and name]: Gaffney, John
Paternità [Father]: James
Maternità [Mother]: Margaret
Grado [Rank]: Sergente Maggiore [Staff sergeant]
Matricola [Service number]: 12040114
Arma-Corpo [Service unit]: U.S.A.A.F. [U.S. Army Air Force]
Data e luogo di nascita [Date and place of birth]: 29 November 1921, Dallas, Texas
Nazionalità [Nationality]: –
Stato civile [Marital status]: Celibe [single]
Religione [Religion]: –
Professione [Occupation]: –
Domicilio [Residence]: 559 W. 52nd Street, New York (U.S.A.)
Data e luogo di cattura [Date and place of capture]: 30 April 1943, Messina

Giorno/Mese/Anno/Variazione [Day/Month/Year/Change]
10 May 1943 – CC Poggio Mirteto
22 May 1943 – CC 59

SCHEDA PERSONALE P. G. [PERSONAL CARD of PRIGIONIERO DI GUERRA, prisoner of war]

Cognome e nome [Surname and name]: Romero, Albert
Paternità [Father]: Paul
Maternità [Mother]: Mary
Grado [Rank]: Maresciallo 3rd [in the Italian military, a non-commissioned officer]
Matricola [Service number]: 19053167
Arma-Corpo [Service unit]: U.S.A.A.F. [U.S. Army Air Force]
Data e luogo di nascita [Date and place of birth]: 15 April 1917, Monrovia, California
Nazionalità [Nationality]: –
Stato civile [Marital status]: Coniugato [married]
Religione [Religion]: –
Professione [Occupation]: –
Domicilio [Residence]: Route 1, Box 302, Pittsburg, California
Data e luogo di cattura [Date and place of capture]: 30 April 1943, Messina

Giorno/Mese/Anno/Variazion [Day/Month/Year/Change]
10 May 1943 – CC Poggio Mirteto
23 May 1943 – CC 59

SCHEDA PERSONALE P. G. [PERSONAL CARD of PRIGIONIERO DI GUERRA, prisoner of war]
Cognome e nome [Surname and name]: Casey, William B. Jr.
Paternità [Father]: William B. Casey
Maternità [Mother]: Evelyn Fleahman
Grado [Rank]: Sergeant
Matricola [Service number]: 6575976
Arma-Corpo [Service unit]: Infantry
Data e luogo di nascita [Date and place of birth]: 11 January 1914
Nazionalità [Nationality]: American
Stato civile [Marital status]: Single
Religione [Religion]: Catholic
Professione [Occupation]: Bookkeeper
Domicilio [Residence]: Triadelphia, West Virginia
Data e luogo di cattura [Date and place of capture]: 29 March 1943, Tunisia

Giorno/Mese/Anno/Variazione [Day/Month/Year/Change]
17 April 1943 Guinto a questo CC 98 dalla Tunisia [coming to CC 98 from Tunisia]14 May 1943 CC 59

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