Category Archives: Italian Helpers

Andrea Scattini—Youthful I.S.9 Agent

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Portrait of Andrea Scattini by Federico Spoltore, Lanciano, February 14, 1944

As a young man and a medical student, Andrea Scattini was enrolled in the Medical Corps of the Italian Army and assigned to the Celio Military Hospital, Rome, according to his nephew Luigi Donfrancesco.

In September 1943, after Italy signed the Armistice, Andrea was captured by Germans outside the hospital. He and several other young men were slated for transport to Germany when Andrea escaped.

He returned to his home in San Vito Chietino Marina, on the Adriatic coast.

In October 1943, in Termoli, Andrea offered his services to the Allies and was enrolled as an agent under Captain Andrew Robb, No. 5 Field Section, “A” Force (I.S.9). He was among the first small group of six Italians to be employed in that capacity (the others being Uguccione Ranieri di Sorbello, Don Domenico Orlandini, Ermanno Finocchi, Fausto Simonetti, and “Guido”—full name unknown).

Andrea’s mission was to organize escape “Rat-lines” and to guide former POWs to safety over land and along the Adriatic coastline.

This was named Plan RATBERRY Section “A”, No. 5 Field Section, and Andrea and the other agents of his group were often referred to as “the Ratberry boys.”

Luigi is trying to acquire documents with details of Andrea’s missions and activities as an “A” Force/I.S.9 agent in the Marche and Abruzzo regions.

In a No. 5 Field Section progress report from Lanciano, Captain Robb states that on December 21, 1943, Andrea arrived at the Allied lines of the New Zealand Division, taking with him ex-POW Lance Corporal “Spiro.”

In the same report, Captain Robb states Andrea is “one of the original planners of MILKY WAY.”

“MILKY WAY” was a plan to extend RATBERRY in other directions, north and possibly east, to take prisoners to Switzerland and/or Yugoslavia.

On March 8, 1944, at age 26, Andrea was killed in the village of Force—the victim of an apparent ambush.

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Monument to Valiant Rescuers

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I recently exchanged several e-mails with Luigi Donfrancesco, who lives in Rome. His uncle, Andrea Scattini, was an Italian I.S.9 agent during the war.

I.S.9 was a sub-organization of special Allied operations unit “A” Force. I.S.9 formed escape chains to evacuate Allied escapers and evaders (E & Es) from enemy-occupied territory.

Luigi sent me photographs taken by Dr. Luigino Nespeca of a monument at Villa Stipa at Offida (Ascoli Piceno, Italy) that commemorates No. 5 Field Section of I.S.9, which produced the largest number of E & Es of any I.S.9 land unit in Italy.

See “I.S.9 History—Operations in Italy, Part 2” for detailed information on No. 5 Field Section.

Villa Stipa was one of the main bases of I.S.9 “Rat Line” rescues.

“My uncle Andrea Scattini is improperly placed with the shot [executed] patriots, but he should be with the fallen in service instead, because he was never captured,” Luigi clarified.

“Also, Don Domenico Orlandini was never shot nor dead (they erroneously thought so), but survived the war and died later in his sixties.”

Here are the names acknowledged on the memorial:

GUERRA DI LIBERAZIONE [War of Liberation]

N.5 A FORCE FED. SEC C OCAO.
A.M.G. MAGG. ROBB E CAP. R. W. LEWIS [Allied Military Government, Major (maggiore in Italian) A. Robb and U.S. Army Air Force Captain R. W. B. Lewis]
COMANDO RAT LINE
COMANDANTE CAP. G.A.R.I. [Genio Aeronautico Ruolo Ingegneri, Aeronautical Engineer Corps] STIPA LUIGI
COLLEGAMENTO VIA RADIO
CON ALGERI BARI E LANCIANO [wireless connection, Algiers with Bari and Lanciano]
SETTEMBRE 1943—18 GIUGNO 1944 [September 1943 to June 18, 1944]

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“Don Carlo”—The Unknown Hero

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I.S.9 agent, partisan leader, and Catholic priest Don Domenico Orlandini “Don Carlo” in the uniform of a military chaplain of the Italian Army, 1945

Several posts on this site concern Italians who, during the war, served as agents for I.S.9 (Intelligence School 9)—also known as “A” Force.

I.S.9′s chief mission was support and rescue of escaped POWs and evaders (E&Es) stranded behind enemy lines. I.S.9 was a division of M.I.9 (British Directorate of Military Intelligence, Section 9), a department of the War Office during WW II.

Last year researcher Brian Sims sent me a series of I.S.9 agent files from the British National Archives. Among the files, Don Domenico Orlandini’s lacks details contained in many of the others—parents, birthplace and residence, educational background, and so on. It does identify him as a priest, and offers this colorful description: “Fair. Medium build. Eyes deep-set. Very active & alert. High-pitched voice. (Smokes, drinks, gambles).”

See “I.S.9 Italian Agents, Part 4.”

Until recently, that was all I knew of Don Domenico. But recently two Italian authors wrote to me with further details.

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Parisse Leoni—Italian Protector

I received a note from Michelle Leoni Hazelton of Monongahela, Pennsylvania, this week.

She referenced the name of her great grandfather, Orlando Leoni, in the “Clifford Houben’s Address List” post on this site.

Orlando Leoni’s name appears on one page of the list, and eleven pages later there is a seemingly unrelated reference to two locations:

MONONGHLA, Penn.
R.I. ACQUARTA, IT.

Above these place names is penned “BRO.”

“MONONGHLA, Penn.” is evidently a reference to Monongahela, Pennsylvania, and “ACQUARTA, IT.” seems to reference the Italian comune of Arquata del Tronto.

My guess is that “BRO” is Clifford’s abbreviation for brother. All this was confirmed by what what Michelle shared with me.

In her email, Michelle wrote, “I am the great granddaughter of Orlando Leoni. He was mentioned in Clifford Houben’s list of addresses. There was also another entry ‘R.I. Arquata.’ I believe this may have been his brother, Parisse Leoni, who resided with his wife and roughly eight children in Faete, Arquata del Tronto, Italy.

“Orlando came to America and became a citizen around 1920 but traveled home often to support his family. In America, Orlando resided in Monongahela, Pennsylvania.

“I am trying to learn more about Parisse Leoni and any other relatives that remained in Italy. If you have any further information it would be most appreciated.”

Here is the text of a newspaper article Michelle sent me that describes Parisse’s activities during WW II:

Separated for 50 Years, Brother, Sister Reunited

By Jane Robinson
The Daily Republican (Monongahela, Pennsylvania) – Herald-American (Donora, Pennsylvania) Wednesday, August 19, 1970

“I’m so happy…I thought I’d never see my brother again,” said Mrs. Dominick Varone, now 74, with visible emotion.

After all, fifty years is a long time to wait.

The reunion of brother and sister took place just last week when Mrs. Varone’s brother, Parisse Leoni, 65, arrived in this country from his native Italy. The two had parted in November, 1920, when Mrs. Verone, then Benedetta Leoni, had left Italy for America at the age of 24. Her brother, who accompanied her to the bus but in the confusion never managed to say a final good-bye, was 15 at the time.

She arrived in America in December, sponsored by her brother, Orlando Leo [sic] of RD 1, Bentleyville, and within the next year was married to Dominick Varone. Her brother, Parisse, married too. He has lived and raised his family in the village of Faete, in the same house where he and Benedetta and all the children were born.

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Brian Sims—A Tribute

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Brian Sims oversaw the dedication of this memorial plaque and a commemorative tree planted in the National Memorial Arboretum several years ago.

My first connection with researcher Brian Sims was on June 2, 2013.

In an earlier post on this site I had speculated on the presence of New Zealanders in PG 59, to which Brian responded with this short note:

“There were a very small number of New Zealanders in PG 59—2 in March 1942—3 in May 1942—and only one up to December 1942. None are recorded for 1943.

“The information comes from my database of Red Cross reports copied in the UK National Archives. —Brian Sims”

Thus began a rich two-year correspondence with Brian during which he introduced me to or shed additional light on many aspects the POW experience including:

  • The SS Brandenburg Division operations in Italy
  • I.S.9 rescue operations along the Adriatic coast
  • Recommendations put forward by British and American officers for honors and awards to Italian helpers
  • British Special Investigation Branch (SIB) inquiries into the murder of escaped prisoners
  • POW escapes into Switzerland
  • Sam Derry, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, and the Rome Rescue Organization

Brian’s research into the POW situation in Italy went back 23 years, to the time of his retirement from a career in mining. What began as a quest for information on his father—a British POW who drowned when an Italian ship on which he was being transported was sunk in the Mediterranean—quickly became a calling to learn all that he could about Allied POWs in Italy, and to make that information available to others.

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A Rescue Mission Gone Awry

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Giovanni Nebbia with the football team he organized at his Marine School (Scuola di Avviamento Marinaro). The photo was taken in the year they won a championship. December 3, 1940.

In 2005, at a ceremony in Monte Urano, Italy, to honour Ken de Souza—a former POW and author of Escape from Ascoli, which Annelisa Nebbia translated from English into Italian—Annelisa shared an account of a rescue mission her father experienced that nearly ended in tragedy.

Annelisa’s speech is here translated into English:

“Missions to rescue escaping POWs from the Adriactic coast frequently failed due to the Italian captains’ lack of local knowledge, resulting in their being unable to find the exact point of the coastline where escapers were to be picked up.

“Allied Headquarters in Termoli asked Elio Tremaroli—who worked for them and crossed the lines [into enemy-occupied territory] continuously—if he knew somebody who was truly an expert on the Adriatic coast.

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“Operazione Nebbia”

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Giovanni Nebbia’s partisan identification card, issued in 1950 by the Associazione Nazionale Partigiani d’Italia, or National Association of the Italian Partisans, acknowledges his involvement with the Banda Gran Sasso from September 25, 1943 to June 20, 1944

Captain Giovanni Nebbia’s activity as an I.S.9 “helper” took place along the Adriatic coast of central Italy, including the port towns of Termoli, Manfredonia, and Vieste.

In 1943 Captain Nebbia spearheaded an operation to save the fishing fleet of San Benedetto del Tronto, which was under threat of seizure by the Germans, who were due for arrival in the town the next morning. On completion of the mission, Radio Bari broadcast news of the successful event, today described in Italian history books as ‘Operazione Nebbia.’”

An account of “Operation Nebbia” in Giovanni Nebbia’s own words, translated into English by Annelisa, is below. The original document in Italian is at the end of this post.

To Major R. E. ITALO POSTIGLIONE
Commander 23rd and 24th Patriot Groups
GROTTAMMARE

Having returned home after my departure from San Benedetto del Tronto in the night of 4-5 October 1943, I hasten to give you notice of the mission entrusted to me by you and of subsequent events.

According to the orders that you had given to me, on that date I immediately proceeded with the help of other officers from the groups of patriots to steal the fishing boats/trawlers and minesweepers requisitioned for certain capture by the Germans; such vessels in the port of San Benedetto del Tronto were equipped with local elements, and we launched them for the ports of southern Italy that were already in the hands of the Allies.

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Vaccarezza Family—P.G. 52 Escapees Protected

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Farm building on a remote property owned by the Italian couple Gaetano and Maria Vaccarezza, where five escapees from P.G. 52 were sheltered

I received a note last month from Frank Vaccarezza. Frank explained that for a time during the war, his Italian grandparents had sheltered five Allied POWs, all escapees from P.G 52.

Frank who was born in Italy, has lived in the U.S. for most of his life. However, he is in communication with cousins in Italy, who live near his grandparent’s old property. Frank has asked that I post information about his grandparents’ assistance to the soldiers in the hopes of his making connections with the servicemen’s families.

Here is the information Frank sent:

I am trying to locate the families of several British Commonwealth soldiers who escaped during WW2 from P.G. 52 near Chiavari, Italy and hid from the German army in an old stone structure. Chiavari is a town on the Mediterranean Sea coast just about 25 miles south of Genoa. It’s believed these soldiers escaped some time in 1943, but I can’t really be sure of the year.

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I.S.9 Captain Uguccione Ranieri di Sorbello

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Uguccione Ranieri di Sorbello

Many of the stories on this site concerning the protection of escaped POWs describe the brave actions of the contadini, the poor farmers of central Italy.

But people from other strata of Italian society were also involved in the rescue of escapees and evaders. Uguccione Ranieri di Sorbello, the son of R. Ranieri Bourbon del Monte, Marquis of Sorbello, and of Romeyne Robert, an American, is one example of an aristocrat and scholar who lent his expertise and means to the cause of rescuing these stranded soldiers.

A document recommending an award for Uguccione, now in the British National Archives (provided by researcher Brian Sims), has this to say about Uguccione’s service:

“From early November, 1943 until June, 1944 this officer worked behind the lines organising the escape of Allied P/W and showed great personal courage and disregard of danger. On one occasion when the land escape route was disrupted due to enemy vigilance and activity he successfully arranged the evacuation by fishing boat of 27 P/Ws. He was constantly aware of the atrocities committed against P/W by the Germans and Fascists and did all in his power to alleviate the plight of these prisoners. Through the partisans he pursued the originators of these atrocities and saw to it that a number met a proper fate. His energy and extreme loyalty was an inspiration to the many Italian soldiers who worked alongside him.”

In 1945, Uguccione was decorated with a silver medal for valor—and, in 1949, a Ministry of Defense bronze medal—for his rescue and recovery involvement.

I am grateful to Uguccione’s son, Professor Ruggero Ranieri, for allowing me to share on this site the following paper about his father.

The role of Uguccione Ranieri di Sorbello in the operations of the Ratline (Marche and Abruzzi)

1. Sources used

There are two main sources on the history of the Adriatic coast Ratline, which was active between December 1943 and June 1944. One consists of the documents of IS9 itself, which are kept at the NA in Kew Garden. The documentation is fairly vast, but there are two important files covering the key events: Major Fillingham’s report and the Newsletter of IS9 itself, printed every fortnight with news from the various battle fronts, or better from the various Field Section in which A-Force was divided.

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Captain L. C. Giovanni Nebbia

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Captain L.C. Giovanni Nebbia

Over the past several months, I have exchanged a number of e-mails with Annelisa Nebbia, whose father, Captain L.C. Giovanni Nebbia, was involved in the Adriatic coast rescue of Allied POWs during the war.

Annelisa explained, “My father was a sea-captain and his missions were mainly sea missions. His movements as a “helper” took place in the province of Ascoli Piceno and in Southern Italy, precisely in the area including the towns of Termoli, Manfredonia, and Vieste situated along that coast.

“According to his personal diary, I know that he came into contact with the Eighth Army stationed in Italy. In particular, on 5th October 1943 under the command of an American officer of the A.M.G.O.T. [Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories] my father took the fishing-fleet of my town to the Tremiti Islands, because it certainly would have been seized by the Germans who were due to arrive the next morning at 7 a.m. He told the fishermen and owners of the trawlers to bring as much food as they could, as nobody knew how long they would have to stay there. The food would help to ensure their survival.

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