Category Archives: Italian Helpers

Recognition of Bastiano Crescenzi

Sebastiano “Bastiano” Crescenzi

I received an email this week from Maurizio Roscetti, who lives with his wife, Valentina Crescenzi, near the village of Canneto Sabino, between the city of Rome and Rieti.

Maurizio wrote, “I am in possession of a certificate of gratitude signed by Field-Marshall H. R. Alexander, awarded to my wife’s great-grandfather, Crescenzi Sebastiano, called by all ‘Bastiano.’

“I’m a lover of history and I would like to deepen my understanding of the history of this certificate. I was completely unaware of the story behind the certificate until a search on the Internet led me to your site.”

Bastiano lived in Canneto. He was a soldier in the First World War, Maurizio explained. Born in 1885, he was 59 years old in 1943–44. Franco Crescenzi, Bastiano’s son (Valentina’s grandfather), was too young to serve in the Italian army during the Second World War, and Bastiano was too old to fight.

Maurizio wrote, “My father-in-law, Sebastiano—given the same name as his grandfather—said that Bastiano saved a group of English soldiers from an ambush prepared by German soldiers near the city of Fara in Sabina. The English soldiers would certainly have died, if he had not warned them!”

Today, a reminder of the war exists nearby. “Near Canneto there is a street called “the street of the English” (strada degli Inglesi),” Maurizio wrote, “because, during the Second World War, after the liberation of Rome, the Allied forces in order to continue the liberation of North Italy, built a new street where before there was a little muletrack—the English Army had many tanks that needed to pass from there!”

The “Alexander certificates,” signed by Field Marshal Harold Alexander, commander of Allied forces in Italy, were issued to Italians who had risked their lives to protect escaped British POWs and evaders (soldiers evading capture in enemy territory) during German occupation of their county.

Bastiano’s Alexander certificate reads:

This certificate is awarded to Crescenzi Bastiano as a token of gratitude for and appreciation of the help given to the Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen of the British Commonwealth of Nations, which enabled them to escape from, or evade capture by the enemy.

H.R. Alexander
Field-Marshall,
Supreme Allied Commander,
Mediterranean Theatre
1939–1945

Young Partisan William Scalabroni

William Scalabroni in 1942. Mattia De Santis says, “One year later he would be a partisan in this place.”

Mattia De Santis from Ascoli Piceno, Italy, wrote to me two weeks ago, “I’m the nephew of two partisans that were in Ascoli between September and October 1943.

“My grandfather, William Scalabroni [also a partisan], told a very short story on video about himself and his comrades who helped two Italian officers and also a group of POWs from Servigliano to reach the road going south during the German attack on Colle San Marco.”

The video can be accessed through Storia Marche 900, a website devoted to the history of the liberation movement in the Marche.

“Maybe you would find the story interesting, even if it’s just a little reference,” Mattia wrote. “It is in Italian, but I can help to translate it.

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Domenico Mancini—A Key Italian Assister

The letter shown here and an accompanying list of Allied servicemen referred to in the letter are among many documents from the British National Archives that Brian Sims shared with me during our brief two-year friendship at the end of his life.

According to this communication, 51 ex-POWs were assisted by Domenico Mancini of “Monte Falcone” (presumably Montefalcone Appennino in the province of Fermo, in the Italian Marche).

There are two versions of the list, the first a carbon copy and the second a typed copy with some discrepancies and errors. Fortunately, it contains many service numbers that are useful in confirming some of the men’s identities.

The letter makes mention of the murder of prisoners at Comunanza (see “An Execution at Comunanza.”)

Here is the text of the letter, followed by the list of names:

SECRET
Ref: No.
SIB60/A-Gp/WC/45/9a.

H.Q., ‘A’ Group, 60 Section,
Special Investigation Branch,
c/o A.P.M’s Office, 61 Area,
Central Mediterranean Forces.

SUBJECT :- Ex-Prisoners of War.

To :-
D.A.P.M.
60 Section, S.I.B.

1. Herewith a list of 51 ex-prisoners of war mostly members of the United States Army. The names may come in useful at some later date as the list was commenced on 2nd October, 1943. MANCINI, now residing at MONTE FALCONE (Italy, 1:200,000. Sheet 14. MR. X(B)5687), lived for over 20 years in America. Some of the names on the original document, which was obtained by Sergeant HOWARTH and BURGESS., are difficult to decipher and other possible interpretations have been included. I am retaining the original as it may be required as an exhibit in file 9A.

2. Reference Progress Report No. 2. on file 9A, paragraph 3, LOUIS LYCKA’s personal number would appear to be 38028716 from the enclosed list (No. 10), and possibly the American authorities can trace him from this and let us have some information regarding his activities.

Check of the other names may reveal some relevant information as it is believed that the British ex-prisoners in this case were exhumed and transferred to another cemetery in August 1944, and that the bodies of the Americans at COMUNANZA have been searched by American personnel. If this is correct the respective Second Echelons may have the names of these people.

D. A. THORN. Lieut.
60 Section, S.I.B.

29 Mar ’45.

Copy to :- File.

DAT/GBG.

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Onore al Merito—Search for a Long-Lost Film

I would like to draw readers’ attention to an interesting article that appeared last week on The Text Message Blog, on online publication of the U.S. National Archives.

“‘Let’s Make a Movie:’ The Allied Screening Commission (Italy) and the documentary Onore al Merito (To Whom Honor is Due), 1946″ was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

The story is intriguing. As early as April 1944, an idea was proposed for a film to recognize and honor the scores of Italians who helped Allied evaders and escapees from prisoner-of-war camps. The film concept quickly drew interest and support, and the work came to fruition in the summer of 1946, a joint effort of the Allied Screening Commission (Italy) and the British Embassy in Rome.

Entitled Onore al Merito (To Whom Honor is Due), the film was about 25 minutes in length. Both Italian and English language versions were produced.

The Italian version of the film premiered in the village of Camarda, Italy, where much of the film was shot. It was later shown both formally and privately in Rome. It’s doubtful the film was ever shown in the United Kingdom.

Greg Bradsher writes in his post that neither the U.S. nor British National Archives possesses a copy of the film.

“Perhaps a reader knows where a copy might reside,” he writes. “My guess is that it will be in Italy.”

If any readers of this post have knowledge of the film, please contact me at hilld@iu.edu. I will gladly pass along any information.

Mario Mottes

I.S.9 agent Mario Raoul Mottes

Belgian-born Mario Mottes served as a parachutist and radio operator agent for Allied I.S.9 operations. His task was to locate escaped Allied POWs in enemy-occupied Italy and guide them across the lines—a mission known as Ratline evacuation.

However, on March 10, 1944, while performing his duty, he was arrested by the Germans and executed with three escaped Allied prisoners of war.

The two photos of Mario Mottes in this post were given to my colleague Luigi Donfrancesco by Dr. Lino Beber, a retired physician and historian from Pergine Valsugana (in the province of Trento, Northern Italy), the hometown of Mario Mottes’ mother, Pia Paoli.

The photos were provided to Lino by the the daughters of Mario’s cousin Gina Paoli, daughter of a brother of Mario’s mother. Today Gina Paoli is nearly 100 years old.

Mario Mottes with his cousin Gina Paoli at Lake Caldonazzo, near Pergine Valsugana, Italy.

For more on Mario Mottes, see “War Crime—the Ponte Dragone Executions,” “Ponte Dragone Deaths—A Second Report,” and “Honor Recommended for Mario Mottes.”

Service at Ancona War Cemetery

A rededication service for Private Lionel Brown, 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment, and Privates Daniel Hollingsworth and Thomas White, 1st Battalion The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) took place this past week. The three, having escaped from Italian prisoner of war camps during WW2, were shot along with I.S.9 agent Mario Mottes, near the village of Montedinove, Italy.

Read an official Ministry of Defence news story about the event, “Bravery of 3 World War 2 soldiers shot for escaping from a POW camp finally recognised after nearly 75 years.”

Read also “Heros Honored” by The Sun.

On this site, read “War Crime—the Ponte Dragone Executions” and “Ponte Dragone Deaths—A Second Report” for the details on the Special Investigation Branch war crime investigation into the soldiers’ capture and execution.

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Ponte Dragone Deaths—A Second Report

A page from the Ponte Dragone Special Investigation Branch (SIB) file

On May 16, 1945, Sergeant W. Mottram filed a formal report on investigations into the Dragone Bridge execution of three British soldiers and an I.S.9 agent (see “War Crime—the Ponte Dragone Executions”).

Twenty-two days later, SIB Captain E. Lister issued a memo concerning the event that is more concise, but offers additional details and clarifications.

Lieutenants Fischer and Rommel were identified as officers of the Montalto Marche detachment of the “Brandenburgers,” the group implicated in the crime. Fischer was officer in charge, and Rommel was his second in command.

A possible close family connection of young Lieutenant Rommel to Erwin Rommel was clearly of interest to the investigators, as twice in the report the lieutenant was referenced as a nephew of the late field marshal.

Decades later, this connection is just as intriguing. In 2001, a day after the release of the secret war crime file for this incident, the Guardian did a story entitled “Rommel’s nephew linked to war crime.”

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