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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.
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.”
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
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.
Ancona War Cemetery
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.
Recently, Luigi Donfrancesco—nephew of I.S.9 Italian agent Andrea Scattini—and I have been in touch with Nancy Lewis, the wife of Captain Richard W. B. Lewis, an American officer with I.S.9 POW rescue operations in Italy during the war.
Richard Lewis served his role during the war admirably, and was discharged from service in 1946 with the rank of major.
After the war, he had a long, distinguished career in teaching at Smith College, and Princeton, Rutgers, and Yale Universities. A profic writer, recognition for his work included a Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for Edith Wharton: A Biography. He retired from Yale in 1988. He died in 2002.
Richard Lewis is mentioned in a number of posts on this site, including I.S.9 diaries, situation reports, and other documents.
Mrs. Lewis has kindly given permission for us to share a section of her husband’s book The City of Florence: Historical Vistas and Personal Sightings (1995, pp. 64-68), in which he recounts his experiences with the I.S.9 rescues.
We are very grateful to Mrs. Lewis.
Notes in brackets were written by Luigi Donfrancesco.
“My own knowledge of the Casentino [province of Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy] began in the autumn of 1944. The first stay in Florence had, after all, been a short one, and during it I housed our little headquarters – two American officers, two British sergeants, and half a dozen Italian agents – in a luxurious apartment on Lungarno [Riverside] Vespucci (it had belonged to the former Fascist mayor of Florence, who had fled with the Germans and was later brought back and tried). It was a time of curious contrast, for while the German shells whistled about the Bailey bridge being thrown up below our windows, we inside, having for the moment nothing to do, indulged in a mild and continuous orgy.
“In early September, the front line had sufficiently established itself across the Apennines to permit us to go back to work, and we moved to a farmhouse just beyond the village of Rufina, about fifteen miles northeast of Florence and a few miles into the hills above Pontassieve. From here we could dispatch agents through the relatively unguarded mountain areas north toward Imola and Forlì and east into the Casentino.
British researcher and author Phil Froom recently told me about his new book, Evasion and Escape Devices Produced by MI9, MIS-X, and SOE in World War II.
The book concerns the profusion of covert E & E devices produced during WW II by the British intelligence agency M.I.9 (Military Intelligence–Section 9, the parent organization of I.S.9, or Intelligence School 9), its mirror U.S. agency MIS-X (Military Intelligence Service–X), and SOE (British Special Operations Executive).
These organizations were responsible for the invention, production, and distribution of a huge variety of these ingenious devices issued to Allied air crew and Special Forces, which would enable them to evade capture after being forced down, or cut off behind enemy lines in occupied Europe.
Published by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd, the book was released in the UK in January of this year.
First page of Captain Robb’s seven-page periodic report
The transcription and notes in this post—a January 1944 “periodic report” filed by Captain Andrew Robb—are by Dr. Luigi Donfrancesco, nephew of I.S.9 agent Andrea Scattini.
Our original access to this document (from the British National Archives) was courtesy of researcher Brian Sims.
This document is a treasury of information, including details on operations and future plans, POWs and evaders recently brought across the lines, and a list of Italian agents at work for I.S.9 at the time.
In a remarkable passage of the report, Captain Robb refers to the outstanding service of these agents:
“In the performance of their extremely difficult and dangerous tasks, the incentive to turn back is great; the incentive to stay on the other side of the line is greater. And yet, of the nine most recently returned, two are hospital cases, three others are receiving daily medical attention. One walked for twenty-four hours through the snow, despite a case of malaria and a bullet wound; another crossed the [Mount] Maiella with a foot too swollen and infected to permit the wearing of a shoe. Only unusual loyalty and determination would produce such results, which, were it allied personnel, we believe would win them immediate military awards.”
Luigi Donfrancesco wrote, “This report gives a perfect idea of all the efforts and risks of rescue operations. It shows the excellent organizational capabilities of I.S.9 officers of the 8th Army and the tremendous job done by Italian agents and guides in helping and saving the POWs.
“We have to remember that winter 1943-1944 was particularly severe in that part of Italy and there was a lot of snow. That made harder the transfer at night and by foot of POWs across the front to the Allied lines.”
See additional I.S.9 reports at “I.S.9 Progress Reports for November 4–21, 1943,” “I.S.9 War Diary—November 17–20, 1943,” “I.S.9 Situation Report—November 3–4, 1943,” “I.S.9 War Diary—December 16–29, 1943,” and “I.S.9 Situation Report—November 12–13, 1943.”
For background information on Captain Andrew Robb, see “I.S.9 Officers—Biography.”
Some corrections in spelling have been made in the transcript below, including the corrected spelling of the comune of Paglieta for Paglietta; Alberto Pietrorazio’s name, which is spelled Pietrorazzo throughout the original document; and the comune of Manoppello, which is spelled Manopelle in the document.
PERIODIC REPORT OF No. 5 FIELD SECTION 15 Jan – 25 Jan [January 15–25, 1944].
Following the interrogation of my agent by 5th Corps on Jan 8, and the interest his information aroused, I have, whenever possible, supplied formations with such items of information as were of immediate interest to them. This finally culminated in 4 Ind. Div. [4th Indian Division] sending to me a Cpl. [Corporal] Bjorkman who was about to penetrate to find certain information required by them. Fortunately, as it happened I could give them some indication of where to look and a route through the enemy lines, one of those used by my agents. This was immediately followed by inquiries by 13th Corps; they were contacted. I returned to Lanciano. I was phoned and then told that some of my agents were at 13th Corps H.Q. [Headquarters] where they had been held for interrogation. This meant another visit to Corps at Paglieta and I foresaw that these calls for information, the holding back of agents for interrogation might get out of hands and seriously impede our only object – that of getting exP/Ws [ex prisoners of war] out.
Dr. Luigi Donfrancesco, nephew of I.S.9 “A” Force agent Andrea Scattini, has discovered a number of online sites that offer information on six key I.S.9 officers.
These officers—Andrew Robb (New Zealand), Richard W. B. Lewis (United States), Bridges George McGibbon-Lewis (UK), Major John Francis Fillingham (UK), Major John Alec McKee (UK), and Raymond Lee Couraud (France)—are mentioned frequently in the official I.S.9 history and in I.S.9 situation reports and war diaries on this site.
The men were active in I.S.9 No. 5 Field Section operations along the the Adriatic coastline of Italy.
Captain Andrew Robb
An entry for Andrew Robb is included in unithistories.com, “British Army Officers, 1939–1945”:
Here are a few details from that entry:
Born March 20, 1901 in Dunedin, New Zealand
Employed by the Colonial Service and lived in Malaya
A one page I.S.9 “SITREP” (situation report) for November 12–13, 1943
The transcription and notes in this post are by Dr. Luigi Donfrancesco, nephew of I.S.9 agent Andrea Scattini.
Access to this document (from the British National Archives) was courtesy of researcher Brian Sims.
See additional reports at “I.S.9 Progress Reports for November 4–21, 1943,” “I.S.9 War Diary—November 17–20, 1943,” “I.S.9 Situation Report—November 3–4, 1943,” and “I.S.9 War Diary—December 16–29, 1943.”
This report is particularly interesting in that it contains lists of POWs rescued on these two dates, including several from P.G. 59.
First page of the I.S.9 “progress report” for December 16–29, 1943
The transcription and notes in this post are by Dr. Luigi Donfrancesco, nephew of I.S.9 agent Andrea Scattini.
Access to the war diary (from the British National Archives) was courtesy of researcher Brian Sims.
Here are a few abbreviations that occur in this report:
2 Para Bde – Second Paratroopers Brigade
8 Indian Div. or 8 Ind. Div. – Eighth Indian Division
A/Q – acquisition
AMGOT – Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories
Bde – brigade
B.M. – brigade major
DADOS – Deputy Assistant Director, Ordinance Services
ex P/W – ex-prisoner of war
F.S.S. – Field Security Service
H.Q. – headquarters
I.O. – Intelligence Officer or Information Officer
L/Cpl. – lance corporal
N.Z. Div. – New Zealand Division
Re – regarding
S.I.B. – Special Intelligence Branch/Bureau
sd – signed
Sect. – section
PROGRESS REPORT – No. 5 ‘A’ FORCE FIELD SECTION
16 DECEMBER – 29 DECEMBER, 43
Dec. 16: Visited DADOS at VASTO and on to CUPELLO. Contacted DADOS 8 Indian Div. Sgt. Gillespie maintained daily contact [with] H.Q. 8 Indian Div.
Dec. 17: LANCIANO: picked up agent ZOPITO [di Camillo] at CASALBORDINO. Visited 406 F.S.S. and AMGOT and S.I.B. re. civilian clothing. This was satisfactorily arranged. Sgt. Gillespie brought the news that Capt. LEWIS [Richard W. B. Lewis, U.S. Army Air Force] had come through.
Dec. 18: Clothing hunt. “Made my number” with G.III (I) 5 Div now in this area. Daily contact by Sgt. Gillespie with H.Q. 8 Indian Div.