Category Archives: War Crimes Investigations

Serjeant Joseph Groves—Fallen in Pito, Italy

12 Tory, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, UK—the home of Joseph and Phyllis May Groves. The photo is courtesy of Jonathan Falconer, who comments, “I suspect he only lived there briefly after they married in June 1940 and before his regiment was posted overseas the following month to Egypt. Even so, he is commemorated on Bradford-on-Avon’s war memorial in the town centre.”

The Grave of Joseph Groves in Ancona War Cemetery.

The inscription on the marker reads:

777836 SERJEANT
J GROVES

11TH FEBRUARY 1944 – AGE 36

[The crest of the Royal Horse Artillery is carved within a cross]

IN MEMORY OF MY DEAR HUSBAND WHO DIED FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM FOR ALL

Sjt. Joseph Groves was captured in North Africa, interned in PG 59, and was killed in Italy four months after his escape from the camp. Some records, including the marker at Ancona War Cemetery, indicate he died on February 11, 1944. In fact, he was killed by soldiers of the German Brandenburg Regiment on March 11, 1944, during a surprise ambush at Pito, Italy.

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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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War Crime—the Ponte Dragone Executions

The River Aso between Petritoli and Ortezzano, in Fermo Province—a few miles downstream from Ponte Dragone, where three ex-prisoners of war and an Italian I.S.9 agent were executed in March 1944
Image—Wikimedia Commons

In dark of night on March 10, 1944, three escaped British POWs and an I.S.9 agent involved in Ratline evacuations of POWs to Allied territory were executed on the Dragone Bridge. Ponte Dragone is three miles from the village of Montedinove. Earlier that day, the four men had been captured and interrogated by officers of the Montalto Marche branch of the German S.S. Brandenburg Regiment.

One year later, members of the Allied Forces’ Special Investigation Branch (SIB) conducted an investigation into the matter.

According to Italy: Imperial Prisoners of War Alphabetical List, Section 1, British Army, the POWs who were killed had been interned in two camps:

Gunner Lionel H. J. Brown (Parachute Regiment, Army Air Corps) had been interned in P.G. 70–Monteurano, near Fermo, Ascoli Piceno.

Private Daniel R. Hollingsworth (The Buffs, Royal East Kent Regiment) and Private Thomas White (also of The Buffs) had been interned in P.G. 53–Sforzacosta, Macerata.

These killings are referenced in the recent “Service in Italy for Three Soldiers” post on this site. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission announcement refers to the killings as having occurred at Ponte Del Diavolo. However, the official account references Ponte Dragone as the site of the killings.

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Dedication in Comunanza

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A new memorial plaque

In the Italian village of Comunanza last Sunday, May 15, a plaque was installed to commemorate the killing of escaped Allied prisoners of war in 1944.

See “An Execution at Comunanza” on this site.

The men killed were English, American, and Scottish (Private Charles Gordon was from Gartochorn, Dunbartonshire, and Driver James Didcock was from Bridgend, Linlithgow—both in Scotland, although the official military inquiry into the case referred to them simply as “British soldiers.”

To the best of my knowledge, some of the dead to this day remain unidentified.

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Attendants at the memorial ceremony

For other photos of the dedication, visit the La Casa della Memoria Facebook post regarding the ceremony.

This event was on the final day of the Freedom Trails 2016 walk (May 11–15)—sponsored by Monte San Martino Trust, WW2 Escape Lines Memorial Society, and La Casa della Memoria di Servigliano.

More on the Death of William Edwards

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The grave of Private William Edwards, Assisi War Cemetery

In May 1944, British Gunners Leslie Wilkins, Ernest Bellinger, and Kenneth Howarth; Private William Edwards; and two other POWs who had escaped from a camp near Spoleto hid together near the village of Roselli, Italy.

In time the fugitives were discovered and the hut where they were sleeping was raided in the night by a band of fascists and German soldiers. William Edwards, was killed during the attack, and two others were wounded.

On June 3, 1946, Leslie Wilkins was interviewed by the Criminal Investigation Department of the Birmingham City Police, apparently in cooperation with a Judge Advocate General’s war crimes investigation into the case. That testimony was presented in an earlier post on this site, War Crimes—the Killing of William Edwards.

Late last week, I received a note from Janet Kinrade Dethick, a WW II researcher who lives in the Italian region of Umbria. She wrote, “I would like to update you on the research I have been doing on Private Edwards, who is buried in Assisi War Cemetery.

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An Execution at Comunanza

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Exhibit G.4 in a report of the British military’s Special Investigation Branch inquiry into the execution of six servicemen at Comunanza, Italy, is captioned, “Photograph at Comunanza showing alleged scene of crime.”

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Exhibit G.2 is captioned, “Photograph showing position of Communal Grave where six deceased were originally buried.”

This post contains a draft report of the British Special Investigation Branch (SIB) into the deaths of six Allied servicemen (four English and two American) in Comunanza on May 2, 1944.

The creation of the draft followed an extensive investigation by the SIB. It traces a likely scenario of events that preceded the killings, and speculates on who the soldiers were.

After the draft report is an October 1944 special report of the Graves Registration Unit (GRU). The six bodies were removed by the GRU from the vault where they had been buried and carefully examined in an attempt at identification.

More information on the Comunanza incident and the activities of the Brandenburg Division will follow on this site. Once again I am grateful to researcher Brian Sims for drawing my attention to these and other important documents from the British National Archives.

See also “The Brandenburgers—War Crimes Investigations.”

The Draft Report

SECRET. DRAFT.

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

SUBJECT:- Alleged War Crime against six allied escaped prisoners of war at COMUNANZA on 2 May, 1944.

Two of the deceased believed to be:
(a) No.2935269, Pte. GORDON, Charles.
(b) No.T/3052152, Dvr. DIDCOCK, James.

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