Robert A. Newton’s biography of his uncle, Corporal Robert Alvey Newton, Soldiers of the Strange Night, is now available in a Kindle edition through Amazon.

Here is the Amazon description of the book:

“During the night of September 14, 1943, an estimated 3,000 Allied prisoners of war escaped from Camp 59, Servigliano, Italy, under the mistaken impression that friendly forces were only days away. In reality, the Allied armies did not reach that region of Italy for nine harrowing months. With the German army and Fascists feverishly sweeping the countryside for the escapees, they were fed and sheltered by courageous Italian farmers who risked their own lives and property to rescue desperate strangers. The author’s own uncle and namesake was among those who escaped from Camp 59 and evaded recapture until March 9, 1944, when he was betrayed by a turncoat to an elite German commando unit, caught and immediately executed.

“Drawing on interviews, letters, and accounts written by the survivors, as well as war crimes files, Soldiers of the Strange Night vividly re-creates not only one American soldier’s journey into war, imprisonment, evasion and murder, but also the aftermath of the escape as seen through the eyes of his fellow warriors and the valiant Italian family that sustained him during the final days of his life. Soldiers of the Strange Night is a tribute to these remarkably heroic and resilient men who did their duty while facing impossible adversity. It is also a testament to the gracious humanity of the Italian people who dared to protect them, even under penalty of death.”

To learn more about Corporal Newton, read “The Story of Robert Alvey Newton,” “Cesare Viozzi on Sheltering Robert A. Newton,” “Robert A. Newton—Further Details,” and “Soldiers of the Strange Night.”

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.”

Captain Andrew G. Robb, Commander of No. 5 Field Section, I.S.9 or “A” Force

This resumé was prepared by Luigi Donfrancesco, nephew of Andrea Scattini, an agent of No. 5 Field Section, “A” Force.

The post is based on the following documents:

  • Captain Robb’s No. 5 Field Section Progress Reports, Final Periodic Report, and other I.S.9 documents provided by the late British researcher Brian Sims.
  • Captain Robb’s military records and vital records, which were kindly provided by Beverly Robb, wife of Murray Robb, Andrew’s nephew (son of Andrew’s elder brother, Alexander Robb).
  • Capt. Robb is mentioned at pages 81–82 of the 2004 book Scritti scelti di Uguccione Ranieri di Sorbello, by Elena Dundovich and Ruggero Ranieri (Uguccione’s son).
  • He is also mentioned in the 2007 book I Diari di Babka, by Alessandro Perini, and in the 2012 book San Vito e la Guerra, by Pietro Cupido.
  • Additionally, the “A” Force rescue operations organized by Capt. Robb (although he is not mentioned by name) are present in the 2010 book Il Memoriale di Don Carlo, l’eroe sconosciuto, by Giancarlo Giannotti.
  • Capt. Robb is in the list of British Army Officers 1939–1945 at unithistories.com.

Andrew George Robb was born 20 March 1901 in Dunedin, New Zealand. He was the second of four sons born to Alexander Robb (a tailor by profession) and Isabella Simpson.

Education:
1915–1918 – West Christchurch District High School, New Zealand. Matriculation
University – Canterbury University College, New Zealand

Employed in 1928, age 27, as Registered Surveyor (in Italian, Topografo), New Zealand, Land Survey (Rilevamento Topografico)

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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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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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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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Ancona War Cemetery
Image—Wikimedia Commons

The following graveside rededication service announcement is from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).

A rededication service for three soldiers who were killed in Italy in the Second World War will take place on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 in Ancona War Cemetery, Italy. Private Lionel Brown of the Parachute Regiment and Privates Daniel Hollingsworth and Thomas White of The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) were Prisoners of War and whilst being transported with Sergeant Mario Mottes (an Italian soldier) were shot on March 10, 1944 at Ponte Del Diabolo [Ponte Dragone]. They were originally all buried as unknowns in Montedinove Cemetery. However, the soldiers were later transferred to Ancona War Cemetery and now have individual named headstones.

The service has been organised by the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre and will be attended by family of Privates Brown and Hollingsworth. The Parachute and Princess of Wales Regiments will provide support.

Mario Mottes was an I.S.9 agent who was working with Allied forces in the rescue of escaped prisoners when he lost his life. See “Honor Recommended for Mario Mottes.”

Identification of the British soldiers who were shot at Ponte Del Diabolo [Ponte Dragone], as well as work on confirming the identity of Mario Mottes, seems to have been due to the work of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Huggan, OBE.

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Possibly from The Wishek [North Dakota] Star
Circa April 1944

“Somewhere in Italy for five months, between October, 1943, and March, 1944, a North Dakota man, Sgt. Arthur T. Sayler of Wishek had been fighting his way back to Allied forces after being a prisoner in Italian camp 59 since his capture at Tunisia March 10, 1943.

“His parents, Mr. and Mrs. F. J. Sayler of Wishek, had received no word since getting a letter written July 28, 1943, until word came from the war department April 8, informing them their son had reported back for duty March 25.

“No authentic details of his escape are known here.

“Sgt. Sayler entered the army April 10, 1941. He received basic training at Camp Claiborne, La. [Louisiana], and before going overseas in January, 1942, was stationed at Fort Dix, N.J. [New Jersey]. Northern Ireland was his first station overseas. From there he was sent to North Africa, and participated in the battle for Tunisia at which time he was captured. He is assigned with the infantry.”

See also “See also “Arthur T. Sayler—Capture and Escape.”

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After Elwyn “Buck” Vanous passed away on January 7, 2011, his obituary in the Bismarck [North Dakota] Tribune began, “Today we remember a true American hero and a North Dakota Cowboy.”

Like many soldiers of his generation, Buck Vanous identified first and foremost with his service to country and his roots.

Buck was born in 1916 and grew up on his family farm near the small town of Driscoll, North Dakota. He was drafted into the Army in 1941, and he served in combat during World War II.

The obituary says Buck was captured in North Africa and was a POW in three prison camps for a total of one year and one day. He then escaped and walked across Italy, traveling at night, until he reached friendly lines. He received medical care and was sent home.

At war’s end, he was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant.

Buck returned to North Dakota and married Helen Attletweedt in 1946. For years they farmed in the Driscoll area. The family lived in California for a while, but eventually returned home to North Dakota. Over the years, Buck worked in construction and cattle ranching. Buck and Helen had five children together before Helen passed away in 1966.

In 1969, Buck married Helen Jenner.

The obituary had this to say about Buck’s interests:

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Arthur T. Sayler

“My father was an American who escaped from Camp 59 when the Italians surrendered,” Susie Wickman wrote to me from her home in Colorado last November.

“He lived in a cave with help from the Italian people, until he was approached by an Italian man who offered to take him and his partner back behind Allied lines. I am trying to find information about this man who helped my dad and “Buck” Vanous. [See “Elwyn “Buck” Vanous—P.G. 59 Escapee.”]
 
“I recall my dad said this man approached them and told them his story.

“He had been living in America, when he was overheard to say on the phone, ‘I’ve got the package’ during the time of the Lindbergh kidnapping. He didn’t have anything to do with that, but he was deported. He told my dad that he loved America and was helping the Allies all he could so he could get back to America.

“He asked my dad to sign something like a petition at the time, but my dad was suspicious and did not. I don’t know if he was a member of the Italian resistance, or what.

“I would like to thank this man, or his family, as well as to accurately capture the story. If anyone has any knowledge of him, would they let me know?

“I have my father’s POW disability statement where he mentions Camp 59 by name.

“We know the name of the family in Italy that helped him—the Catalano family. The Catalanos were from Le Piane, Abbateggio [Pescara]. They had twin boys who eventually emigrated to America, and my dad was friends with them his whole life.

“I am still in touch with one of them, Romolo Catalano.”

Arthur Sayler’s Story

 
The following account of Arthur’s experience is derived from the disability application Arthur filed after the war.

ARTHUR T. SAYLER
Peoria, Arizona
Army Serial Number 37025925

On April 11, 1941, at age 23, Arthur Sayler of Wishek, North Dakota, was inducted into the U.S. Army at Ft. Snelling, Minnesota. He was assigned to Infantry Company A, 135th Infantry First Battalion, 34th Infantry Division.

From there, he was sent to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, where the Louisiana Maneuvers of the Red and Blue Armies were conducted.

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