Finding the grave of Lgd. Tel. Victor James Crosby HM sub. Saracen

Discussion in 'Prisoners of War' started by vitellino, Aug 20, 2016.

  1. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    Hello everybody,

    Having read the thread on John Antony Ronald Coulthard I thought I would post the outcome of my efforts to fnd the grave of Ldg. Tel. Crosby:

    Leading Telegraphist Victor James Crosby DSM MID (P/J.112731)

    Ldg. Tel. Crosby was shot by the Germans at Murrone in the Comune of Fontana Liri (Province of Frosinone, Lazio, Italy) on 12 December 1943. His story is incredible in that the Allied Screening Commission and the War Office denied that a serviceman by the name of Victor James Crosby had ever been a prisoner of war in Italy even though the Admiralty had carried out a thorough investigation into his death and his case had been investigated as a war crime.

    As early as 9 April 1944 the War Office was already aware of the situation. It had been informed by M.I.9. that on or about 13 December 1943,

    Crosby, a POW from British Submarine Service, attempted to escape from some German troops who had recaptured him. He was shot in the leg while escaping and was subsequently put to death by Germans without trial.

    Ldg, Tel. Crosby had been rescued from HM Submarine Saracen when she had been scuttled off Bastia, Corsica, on 14 August 1943, and had been taken to Italy and held until the Armistice of 8 September 1943 in Campo No. 1 Marina at Manziana, near Lake Bracciano to the north of Rome. Saracen's 41 surviving ratings were led out of the camp by Capt. Mario Cuneo, one of the Italian officers in charge, and tried to make their way south towards Allied Lines. At the beginning of December 1943 Ldg. Tel. Crosby arrived in Fontana Liri as testified by Lieut. A.R.M. Palmer, 2 R.T.R. on 31 May 1944, after the Allies liberated the town. (Testimony held in the National Archives ADM 1/29526.)

    (He) stayed in a house next to, about 250 yds from, the house in which I was living, in an area known locally as Monte Dolce. On the evening of Dec 12th, at dusk, the house was raided by a party of 15 German 'Polizia' (apparently S.S.) who had been led there by an Italian informer named Papa. Crosby tried to escape but was fired on and brought down. A written statement which I have seen, has been made by a local girl named Pantanella who saw Crosby immediately afterwards, in which she states the he was definitely only wounded in the leg. The Germans roughly bandaged him and put him on a door which they had torn down from the house. They then proceeded to loot the house, and later carried Crosby off towards Arpino, their H.Q. What happened then is not quite clear, but some three or four hours later Crosby's dead body was left in the middle of the path about half way to Arpino. Italians who saw him then all say that he had been killed by a burst of machine-pistol shots across the stomach. Italians who wanted to move the body into a house nearby were threatened by the Germans and ordered not to touch it. The Germans then left. The next morning two returned and buried Crosby close to the path. The spot is known locally as Santo Spirito and is close to the boundary between the communes of Arpino and Fontana Liri. A wooden cross was put up by the Germans, describing him as an unknown British soldier, and dated, for some reason, 13 December. I have since ascertained that the German Commandant at Arpino was Capt. Walter Schot and the sergeant in command of the police detachment was Mainhard.

    On 8 August 1944 the newly-elected mayor and former partisan leader of Fontana Liri, Arturo D'Innocenzo, wrote a letter to the Italian Under-Secretary of State requesting that the British Authorities be informed of the death of Lgd. Tel. Crosby at the hands of the Germans. On 26 September a translation of this letter was sent from the Admiral based in the Allied Forces Headquarters (Mediterranean) to the Assistant Deputy Judge Advocate General, with a copy to the Flag Officer, Taranto, Adriatic, and Liason, Italy (Rome). On 2 November 1944 the Office of the Commander-in-chief, Allied Force Headquarters Mediterranean, released the following communication:

    Victor J. Crosby, Ldg. Tel. P/J112731- Victim of War Crime

    The following information has been received from the Admiralty with reference to MED. 00100/3 of the 26th September and your CR/15000/G.1(B) OF 17 October:-

    'I am to acquaint you that this man has been identified as Victor J. Crosby, Leading Telegraphist, P/J112731, ex- HMS Saracen on information already received from the Allied Prisoner of War Repatriation Unit, Central Mediterranean Forces. All casualty action has been taken and it does not appear that any further information is necessary.'

    2. The Flag Officer, Taranto, Adriatic, and Liason, Italy (Rome) has been requested to forward any further details on the death of the rating to the Commander-in Chief, Mediterranean.

    After a year's delay, during which time Ldg. Tel. Crosby had been awarded a posthumous Mention in Dispatches, the decision was taken to investigate his death as a War Crime. Despite numerous detailed testimonies it was not possible to trace the perpetrators and in October 1947 the case was abandoned. Incredibly, on 3rd March of that same year the Allied Screening Commission had stated that Ldg. Tel. Crosby had never been a prisoner in Italy! Clearly the correspondence which had passed between the War Office and the Admiralty, now held in the National Archives in file ADM1/29526, had never been consulted.

    By this time Ldg. Tel. Crosby's body had been taken away from its resting place in Santo Spirito (sometimes also known as Spirito Santo) the locals believing it to have been repatriated. Given that no mariner by the name of Victor James Crosby is buried in any of the military cemeteries in Italy, I asked the Commonwealth War Graves Commission if an unnamed British serviceman had ever been exhumed in Fontana Liri or Santo Spirito. Here is their reply:

    I can find no reference to any remains being recovered from the locations mentioned, however not all locations are listed with place names, some just map references, so it is possible we do have the remains, but we haven’t indexed the map references yet. If he was found then logically, the nearest cemetery to this location is Cassino War Cemetery. Alternatively, the grave became lost and was never recovered. We have no unknown with the date of death given who matches either – as you know, the body would certainly not have been repatriated to the UK.

    Fortunately Lt. Palmer's testimony gives a grid reference indicating where Ldg. Tel. Crosby was living before he was killed. When I gave a more detailed six-figure reference showing the locality known as Spirito Santo to the CWGC I received the following reply:

    I have found an Unknown Royal Navy sailor buried in 14.B.13. in Cassino War Cemetery who was recovered from a location to the East of Spirito Santo in July 1946. I have now passed the case on to Nic Andrews as an ID Case. He will pass it on to the Royal Navy. It will be up to them to decide if there is sufficient evidence to identify this grave as Ldg. Tel. Crosby’s…

    Upon receiving the relevant documentation Mr. Nic Andrews' reply was as follows:

    Thank you for the evidence provided, the case made is persuasive and so will be forwarded to UK MoD, as the relevant Service Authority, for their authority to change the arrangements for the commemoration of Victor James Crosby.

    On 11 May 2016 I was informed by the Ministry of Defence that

    after conducting our own research, we agree with your findings that the unknown soldier buried in Cassino War Cemetery (14.B.13) is Victor James Crosby.

    In March or April 2017 Ldg. Tel. Crosby's new gravestone will be commemorated in the presence of his family.
  2. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member


    Congratulations! That's an amazing outcome. You must be really pleased that your efforts have been recognised by CWGC/MOD and that he will now rest in a named grave.

    I hope UK MOD are able to trace his family members.

    Well Done!

    Steve Y
  3. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Hi Vitellino

    Absolutely brilliant - well done

  4. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    Thank you everybody for your kind words. They are much appreciated. I made contact with his granddaughter during the preliminary investigations - the families Saracen's crew are a well organised lot and now have a Facebook page - and she and her father, his eldest son, came down to Fontana Liri with me in April 2014. A local historian, Lt. Carlo Venditti of the Italian Army, had already done a lot of local research in preparation for their visit - he found the family in whose olive grove Ldg. Tel. Crosby had been initally buried and the farmhouse where he had been in hiding. The mayor was also involved - he put on a reception for them in the Town Hall.

    Perhaps I should say how I found out that Lgd. Tel. Crosby had been killed at Fontana Liri. I simply 'Googled' his name and up he came, a park having been named after him there. Plans are now afoot to replace the memorial stone in the park, which after all these years is looking the worse for wear.

    Lgd. Tel. Crosby's story is just one in the book I wrote with Anne. M. Corke, daughter of E.R.A. Bill Morris, about the fate of all the crew. the book is 'Twixt the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea' which we self-published through


    Last edited: Aug 20, 2016
    jonheyworth likes this.
  5. tedfromscrubs

    tedfromscrubs Junior Member

    Fascinating and a great result vitellino. Just shows how important this work is, even all these years later!
  6. Hugh MacLean

    Hugh MacLean Senior Member

    This is excellent research - well done!

  7. Peter Clare

    Peter Clare Very Senior Member

    A little re the loss of Saracen

    Saracen left for patrol in the Bastia area on 7th August. According to information from Italian naval sources the corvettes Minerva and Euterpe left Bastia at 0015 on 14th August to hunt for a submarine reported in the approaches. Minerva obtained contact a short way outside the port and dropped a pattern of 28 depth-charges. The submarine was seen to break surface after a short interval, and soon afterwards it was observed that men were jumping overboard. The captain, all the officers and 41 out of the 43 ratings on board were picked up by the Italian ships. Saracen had sustained severe damage in the after compartment in the attack, a considerable inrush of water necessitating the compartment being shut off. An attempt to catch a main ballast trim soon proved impracticable, so she was brought to the surface and the main vents were opened to ensure her sinking, as her company escaped into the sea. Saracen, under Lumby's command, had had an outstanding record and her loss was a sad blow to her flotilla, mitigated by the survival of nearly all her company.
  8. Recce_Mitch

    Recce_Mitch Very Senior Member

    Fantastic effort, well done.

  9. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    More about Saracen and one member of her crew:

    The remains of HMS Saracen were found in Italian waters west of the island of Elba on 22 June 2015 by Guido Gay from AzioneMare with his catamaran the DAEDALUS after a long and detailed search.

    There's only one crew member about whom we know absolutely nothing other than the fact that he escaped from Campo no. 1 Marina at Manziana and was killed whilst a POW in Italy. He is Telegraphist James Gordon Hibbert MID (D/SSX.29430).

    His death is reported variously in his service record as 6 July (on the typed sheet giving his date of birth, place of birth, trade or occupation) and 6 April (on the partly hand-written sheet which gives his service details and also the name of his next of kin). According to the July version the cause of death was 'an enemy land mine whilst escaping from a POW camp in Italy', whilst the 6 April version says that he was 'killed in explosion during attempted escape whilst a Prisoner of War in Italy'. No information source is provided.

    Given that the date passed on to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was 6 April it is logical to assume that the accepted cause of death was the one associated with that date, and that Tel. Hibbert was not killed whilst escaping from a POW camp but whilst an escaped Prisoner of War.

    An announcement in The Times of 29 September 1944 which gives the whereabouts of the entire crew of HMS Saracen lists Tel. Hibbert as 'Missing presumed killed.' This would seem to indicate that none of the eleven escapers from the submarine who had been recovered by Allied Forces in June and July 1944 knew what had happened to him, but given that the only Escape and Evasion report to survive is that of A.B. Melling this cannot be taken for granted. He is not mentioned in any of the twenty-nine Liberation Reports filled in by the recaptured members of the crew upon their release from camps in Germany in April /May 1945.

    I am about to give up on this one....but, CWGC Rome tells me that an unknown British serviceman, dressed in civilian clothes and thus believed to be an escaper, date of death 6 April 1944, is buried in Staglieno War Cemetery, Genoa. There is no other unknown British serviceman buried anywhere in Italy whose death was on that date...

    Deacs, alieneyes, jonheyworth and 2 others like this.
  10. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member


    Seems that you cannot give up on this one now :salut:
  11. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    The Commemoration ceremony for Victor James Crosby will take place on Wednesday next and I will be there together with members of his family. Watch this space!!
    Deacs, Rich Payne, alieneyes and 5 others like this.
  12. jonheyworth

    jonheyworth Senior Member

    Top man ! Well done
  13. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    Well, I'm a woman actually, but thanks all the same!!
    jonheyworth likes this.
  14. jonheyworth

    jonheyworth Senior Member

    Even better ! Marry me !
  15. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    She already married - o_O I'm afraid to say

    jonheyworth likes this.
  16. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    Now if you were serious....Actually, I'm married to a former marshal in the Italian Air Force and have no plans to change the situation at present.
  17. BarbaraWT

    BarbaraWT Member

    Crosby's story is very moving and your search for his grave a tremendous success. Congratulations!
    I've had a look at your book on lulu and it looks well worth reading. You're a great detective!
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2017
    jonheyworth likes this.
  18. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    Thank you very much Barbara. The discovery of Victor's grave and the meeting with his family, as well as all the good people of Fontana Liri who named their park after him, has been one of the highlights of my life.

    Tricky Dicky and chrisharley9 like this.
  19. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    Just three photos of the re - dedication ceremony in Cassino War Cemetery.

    Leading Telegraphist Victor Crosby1.jpg Leading Telegraphist Victor Crosby2.jpg

    stolpi, 4jonboy, Deacs and 2 others like this.
  20. chris CROSBY

    chris CROSBY New Member

    I’m Chris Crosby. Victor was my fathers Dad. He always talked about this story to us growing up. Sadly my father passed away 4 years ago. He’d have been thrilled to have read this. We visited my grandads grave whilst on holiday 2 years ago. It was still marked up as grave of the unknown sailor then. We took a leaf from the Oak tree that is close by and placed it in a clear press frame which we keep next to my Dads photo. I’m in awe at how brave they all were. Lest we forget. Forever we must remember.

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