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Mission Accomplished: SOE and Italy 1943 – 1945

By David Stafford, The Bodley Head, London,
ISBN 978 1 84790652

Mission Accomplished chronicles the SOE campaign after the armistice with Italy, which was signed on 3rd September 1943 (Avalon Project). SOE operated under the guise of No.1 Special Force and initially set up base in several houses in Monopoli from which operations and training would commence within months of the allies invading Italy. Acting as a satellite post to ‘Massingham’ (a former beach club in Guyotville, Algiers) No.1 Special Force tackled the complexity of re-aligning Italian professional military personnel loyal to the future democracy of Italy and not sympathetic to the royalists or tangled up with the complexity of the political war between the Fascists and the Communists. The Italian campaign was no sideshow as the Allies pushed through Europe. The German Army made a series of strategic rear-guard actions and the effective use of the Gustav and Gothic Lines hampered the Allies advance causing attrition upon the Italian population trapped in the German occupied zone.

Within this political maelstrom, SOE managed to find or use dedicated volunteers from within civilian and military life to wage war either through more conventional methods or build up a partisan army made up of all factions ‘glued’ together by brave and dedicated liaison officers (BLO’s) working in the field in more hazardous conditions than their counter-parts in France. The role of the BLO was to support not only operations in the field, but act as the official support for the Comitato de Liberazione Nazionale (CLN) for the smooth transition from military to civilian governance – a role not well known, but one of huge success for the future of Italy. In the occupied zone, the Comitato de Liberazione Nazionale di Alta Italia (CLNAI) chaired by Alfredo Pizzoni a prominent banker, successfully managed to hold together a complex political structure, procure an alternative banking system while regularly crossing the border into Switzerland to meet his controller in Berne.

The Italian campaign for SOE was not easy due to the complexity of the political arena in both the German occupied regions and also the strategic planning by the Allies. On occasions SOE were competing against the OSS for resources and support for covert operations. Stafford’s account chronicles the accounts of numerous operations and activities of the resistance against the back drop of the main campaign. It was a brutal campaign with the retreating German army supported by Fascist forces (Black Brigades) providing stiff resistance to the advancing Allied troops. The civilian population were in fear of the undercover work by the Organizzazione per la Vigilance e la Repressione dell’ Antifascimo (OVRA) making the resistance forces sometimes fighting on several fronts for survival, particularly in areas where Tito’s Slovenian partisans were competing for territory too. Operations were made more hazardous due to the terrain and one of the harshest winters recorded in the region. Shortage of supplies brought starvation levels that tested the resistance troops resolve and their trust in the Allies. Many BLO’s commented upon the dedication and professionalism of the resistance groups holding out against the odds with regular anti-partisan ‘sweeps’ (rastrellamento) keeping these units on the constant move and yet retained civilian support despite the constant threat of death.

Stafford’s meticulous and detailed analysis of the Italian campaign, reveals an ability to present the reader with a moving account that goes beyond the military or political arena where personal accounts and testimonies adds atmosphere to the chronicled events. The professionalism of the BLO’s working in isolation with limited resources and poor communications relied heavily upon a group of daring and brave resistance fighters who deserve far greater credit. Unfortunately, Britain decided not to reward those who had been instrumental in SOE’s success. Ironically, it was a Pole who captured Mussolini near Dongo on Lake Como. Karol Urbaniec was part of the 52nd International Brigade fighting a long campaign in Italy. He returned to Poland after the war unlike so many of his comrades.

The 5th Battalion of the Kings Regiment became part of the T-Force and as the German front lines collapsed, the need for mobility and operate with few constraints became increasingly apparent. As T-Force moved into Germany, Sean Longden outlines numerous operations, which saw the capture of scientific and industrial material and their secrets. New weaponry, advances in gas and metallurgy together with aviation technology demonstrated the Allies had been lagging behind in key military developments.

Julian Hoseason, editor polandinexile.com


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