This post is eleventh in a series drawn from a History of I.S.9 (CMF) in the British National Archives. Access to this report is courtesy of researcher Brian Sims.
For earlier postings on I.S.9 history, see “I.S.9 History—Organization,” “I.S.9 History—Tasks,”I.S.9 History—Methods,” “I.S.9 History—Communications,,” “I.S.9 History—Agent Choice and Training,” “I.S.9 History—Air Operations,” “I.S.9 History—Sea Borne Operations,” “I.S.9 History—Operations in Italy, Part 1,” and “I.S.9 History—Operations in Italy, Part 2, “I.S.9 History—Operations in Italy, Part 3,” and “I.S.9 History—Operations in Italy, Part 4.”
Here is a transcript of Part 5 of the I.S.9 history’s report on operations in Italy:
Part Five—The Final Phase.
April 1st to the final capitulation of the German forces in Italy, 2 May 45.
At the beginning of April 1945, it was obvious that full preparations had been made to conduct an all-out attack finally to defeat the German forces in ITALY. The opening of the attack saw the 8th Army advance up to and through the ARGENTA gap and on to the River PO. 5th Army, after initial stiff resistance, swept through the APPENINES and onwards to VERONA. It was clear that the campaign had developed suddenly and more rapidly than had been anticipated and the enemy was already floundering in chaos. Throughout the NORTH, partizan bands had risen and were offering an additional threat to the German lines of communications, which already had been reduced to the minimum by the Allied Air Forces. It was anticipated that the enemy might attempt to make a stand on the ADIGE Line, but this was quickly turned and the way laid open to the BRENNER PASS and AUSTRIA and to VENICE, UDINE and TRIESTE. At this stage the American 92nd division pushed out columns into the NORTH WEST corner of ITALY and sealed off any escape routes the German 75th Army Corps had contemplated using, and by the end of April it was clear that the enemy would be reduced to complete submission within a matter of days. The final capitulation was signed on 2nd May 45, the enemy having been utterly defeated. Once the 8th Army was through the ARGENTA gap, and 5th Army had captured BOLOGNA, the Germans had been unable to offer any organized resistance.
Although we did not envisage such a dramatic end to the Italian campaign, preparations to cover such a happening had been made at an early date, when Main HQ instructed Field HQ to make preparations and to become as mobile as possible. A conference was held at Field HQ, when all Os i/c Field Sections discussed future action which was later approved by the G-1. It was decided at this conference that we must prepare ourselves for two eventualities, (a) a German withdrawal to the NORTH and NORTH EAST as a result of Allied offensives in ITALY or Allied advances in the Balkans. Should Allied troops advance to the PO, the Germans might be obliged to evacuate PIEDMONTE and make a stand in NORTH EAST ITALY on the ADIGE – VERONA line, and (b) a German capitulation, either as a result of a military defeat or in sympathy of events in other theatres. It was thought that such a capitulation might occur whilst the Germans were holding their defence line as at the end of May 45, or at some time during the withdrawal.
It was decided, therefore, that the future roles of Field Sections would be as follows:-
(a) In event of a German withdrawal – Sections would follow up the front (as during the advance from CASSINO), on the following lines of advance:-
No. 1 Field Section: LA SPEZIA – GENOVA – PIACENZA – BRESCIA.
No. 2 Field Section: FERRARA – ROVIGO – PADOVA.
No. 3 Field Section: CUNEO – TORINO – VERCELLI – MILANO – BERGAMO.
No. 5 Field Section: MODENA or REGGIO EMILIA – MANTOVA – VERONA.
Note: It might be necessary for No. 1 Section to enter MILAN instead of No. 3 Section – according to the circumstances of the enemy evacuation of PIEMONTE.
During this advance, Field Sections would continue to carry out normal rescue work as far as circumstances permitted. They would also be responsible for sending an officer to each large town on their line of advance for collection of P/W intelligence, etc.
(b) In event of a German capitulation – Field Sections would await instructions from Field HQ. Field HQ would probably, in the first instance, direct Field Sections to proceed with the occupying troops and establish themselves at some central point in the following general areas, assuming responsibility for, collection of E & Es and E & E intelligence, and for I.S.9 clearing up in these areas:
No. 1 Field Section: LOMBARDY.
No. 2 Field Section: VENEZIA (all the NE corner of ITALY).
No. 3 Field Section: PIEDMONTE.
No. 5 Field Section: EMILIA.
At a later date, all Field Section personnel might be recalled in order to assist in the interrogation of Allied ex-P/W released from the camps in NORTH ITALY and AUSTRIA. It was also possible that personnel might be recalled for this task immediately after the capitulation.
It was realised at the time of this conference that, even though the Field Sections would have to take up a mobile role and advance over great distances up into the NORTH of ITALY, Field HQ could not move as a whole at the beginning of the offensive. Obviously, the many tasks of Field HQ would have to be carried on right through until the battle line was broken and that even then, when the situation would assume complete mobility, with our Field Sections moving forward with the leading troops, Field HQ would still retain certain responsibilities which could only be carried out from FLORENCE. It was appreciated, however, that it would be desirable to have some system of control over the Field Sections forward of FLORENCE which could issue the necessary orders for their tactical employment in the light of the progress of the battle. It was anticipated that once our forces had broken through the static line and deployed themselves across the PO Valley, that events would move at such a speed as to make it necessary for 15 Army Group HQ and 5th and 8th Army HQ’s to decentralise powers of decision, even down to the level of divisional commanders. It was thought that beyond receiving general instructions, which complied with the broad intention of the Army Group commander, the most junior formations would be given full power to exploit success. It was felt that for our Field HQ to rely on keeping abreast on the situation on an Army Group level would be unsatisfactory from our point of view and subsequent experience proved our appreciation to be correct.
A small tactical HQ under the command of Major J.F. FILLINGHAM was formed and equipped from Field HQ personnel and resources, and became known as Tac HQ I.S.9. Immediately the offensive started, this HQ moved forward of FLORENCE and entered BOLOGNA as soon as the latter fell. Tac HQ took over control of Field Section wireless stations and also formed a link back to Field HQ. Orders were issued for Field Sections to move forward on the axis of the advance already indicated. In the main, wireless control of Field Section movements worked well, but, due to the fact that we were not in possession of ideal wireless and equipment for use in a mobile role and because the ether was crammed with army wireless traffic, several ‘skeds’ were missed. On the whole, however, this did not have an adverse effect and our sections were ordered forward and instructed to liquidate certain I.S.9 missions in the field, collect and safeguard any E & Es whom they encountered, and were also given certain tactical escape roles.
No. 1 Section moved up the WEST coast through SPEZIA, GENOA, PIACENZA and finally came to rest in RAVENNA. No. 2 Section advanced with the 8th Army through MESTRE, VENICE and NORTHWARDS to UDINE, and also threw off a sub-section to investigate the situation in TRIESTE. No. 5 Section moved forward through the central APPENINES, first liquidating their “CRUSADER” mission, and then, moving NORTHWARDS through MODENA and VERONA, they found themselves with the 88th American division operating in the Lake GARDA area. It was after the capitulation that they moved to BOLZANO and then further NORTH to MERANO. No. 3 Section, as already described, moved into ITALY from FRANCE, to TURIN, where they finally established an HQ.
After entering BOLOGNA, at 2300 hrs on 21 Apr, Tac HQ immediately took care of certain ‘S’ Force intelligence targets which it was thought would produce useful P/W information. These targets included all hospitals (military and civil), municipal offices, prisons and partizan HQs, and visits were also made to various German and Fascist HQs. Much useful information was obtained, including the complete documentary records of all P/W who had passed through the Italian P/W Military Hospital No. 203 situated near to BOLOGNA at CASTEL SAN PIETRO.
On the 25th April, Tac HQ set out for MANTOVA and on arrival discovered that it had been by-passed by Allied armoured columns moving NORTH and that they were the first Allied troops to enter the town when Capt LOCKETT arrived in his 15-cwt truck. MANTOVA was considered a primary target, since it was known that the enemy had used the military hospital for the housing of Allied wounded. Upon arrival it was discovered that the enemy had vacated the hospital and not only had they taken away their medical personnel, but also food, drugs and surgical instruments. They had left behind 61 Allied P/Ws, most of them severely wounded, and who had been taken prisoner in the fighting around BOLOGNA and the PIACENZA gap. In addition, the Germans had left 180 of their own seriously wounded. The only medical assistance available for the wounded, including many suffering from amputations, were a handful of Italian Red Cross nurses who had decided to remain at the hospital, in spite of German orders to the contrary, and three South African medical orderlies.
The situation was deplorable, and Allied personnel were dying on their hands. The South African orderlies were doing everything in their power to tend to the wounded and even using newspapers to bandage up their wounds. We saw the evening meal, which consisted of a watery soup made from cabbages. An enquiry was made as to what medical supplies were most urgently needed and a wireless message transmitted back to Field HQ requesting an urgent supply drop. The following morning a DZ [drop zone] was established in the main square of the town and later that day three B.25s dropped 18 containers of food, cigarettes, comforts, medical supplies, surgical instruments and much needed penicillin. These supplies were handed over to the hospital and may well have been responsible for saving several lives before the arrival of a Field Hospital unit.
The military situation around MANTOVA was most confused and Tac HQ was able to secure the surrender of several German pockets of resistance and in addition was able to set up a military administration in the town until the arrival of the Allied Military Government representative. This procedure was also carried out in several other towns by our Field Sections, since many places were falling so quickly that it was impossible for the Allied Military Government to attend to all their responsibilities within the first few days. The work accomplished included placing German stragglers in the local civil gaol, legislating, calming the public, collecting food and organizing distribution through a system of rationing, instituting security precautions and generally making the flag flutter. It occurred to the officers of Tac HQ and Field Sections that if ever a similar situation occurs in our history, a small force should be detailed to move in rear of the leading troops and occupy any towns or villages by-passed during the main advance – one officer and ten other ranks in each town would suffice.
Tac HQ left for VERONA at 1400 hrs on 27th April. It was thought that the Germans had used the P/W camp in the town for transit purposes, but it was found unoccupied. Fortunately, VERONA did not present any problems outside our own work, as many troops located themselves in the town. Much useful information was acquired from ‘S’ Force targets and Tac HQ was still located in VERONA at the time of the final surrender. During the period from the break-through across the PO Valley until the capitulation, and until I.S.9 (CMF) was disbanded on the 20th July, an energetic programme was carried out by the Sections in the field in order to collect all possible information and intelligence connected with P/Ws. The Sections were also called upon to render assistance to the Allied Screening Commission and collect together as many claims as possible. At the moment of writing this history, the exact number of claims collected during this period is not known accurately but it is anticipated this figure will represent well over twenty-thousand. Several members of I.S.9 (CMF) joined the Allied Screening Commission on the disbandment of our headquarters and will no doubt carry on screening duties in the field.