Italy 1943: the 'Stay Put Order'

Discussion in 'Prisoners of War' started by vitellino, Dec 22, 2019.

  1. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Without diverting too much space and thanks Robert-w. A quick look at Wiki indicates very few German POWs were held and those that were came from the Luftwaffe, who were held in camps and did not abscond.

    An aside: I did not realise the German paratroopers captured by the Dutch @ Rotterdam & The Hague were moved to the UK
  2. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    German POWs captured by the British but in French camps were released
  3. GeoffMNZ

    GeoffMNZ Well-Known Member

    I inherited a book "Happy Odyssey", the memoirs of Carton de Wiart, from my father and had wondered why it was in his small collection of WW2 books. I will now have to read it to see what his story reveals.
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  4. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    Harry Ree's post misses the point that the order was issued to both British and American POWs and Montgomery did not have the authority to do this. There is no argument that MI9 passed the message on by a code system to the British POWs - the documentation exists,but there was a parallel US organisation for US POWs. Once again the only person who could authorise both was Eisenhower with who the buck has to stop. But as I said he could well have been taking Monty's advice.
  5. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member


    I think Crockatt's first consideration answers that.The German forces with large concentrations of POWs in their midst and thinking that they would act as belligerents behind the lines would react with the infamous excuse on deaths of POWs..."shot while attempting to escape".This was seen as a high probability and lead to many incidents of this occurring.There would also be a problem of POWs being supported by local helpers.high as it may be reckoned but the figure of 75,000 has not be validated.There was also an off the cuff remark by a senior British officer who declared that it was easy to escape from an Italian POW camp but where do you escape to....(others such as George Millar might well disagree.Despite numerous attempts to escape from an Italian POW camp after being captured in North Africa,he was bungled off to Germany by train along with many others. Millar finally escaped from a Bavarian POW camp into France and home via Gib with considerable help on the way.)

    MI 9 had been quite proficient in their escape guidance to servicemen before the Mussolini regime fell but looking at the guidance it appears that it must have been a hard task to arrive at a safe haven,Sicily was seen as slim for the chances of escaping although it was stated some of the population were seen to be anti fascist and be willing to give help.The less guarded coastline was thought to be between Palermo and Messina giving a chance to steal a boat.....aim for Tunisia but west of Bone was the guidance.

    MI 9 guidance went on.The eastern coastline along the Adriatic is more open and less populated.The Foggia area is likely to be more friendly and anti fascist and it may be possible to steal a boat or stowaway.Make for the Yugoslavia border in the Split area where Yugoslav guerillas are operating,Another option is in the heel of Italy where it may be possible to get a boat across the Greece in the vicinity of Corfu.There are mainly Albanians and Greeks here who will certainly give aid to British personnel but remember that there is an Italian seaplane base at Corfu.

    Numerous tracks across Greece are recommended if personnel made it to Corfu.The western side of Crete was also mentioned and emphasised evasion help but an escaper would still require to get off the German occupied island to say Egypt.

    Trieste and the Fiume were also recommended for an escaper and help would be highly likely,it was thought because the population were very anti Fascist.The Lake Como area was suggested as the best route to get across the border into Switzerland.

    The stand fast order resulted in a shambles and the Allies were determined to have something better in place for the liberation of Allied POWs in Western Europe.Eisenhower was brought into the reporting structure with IS 9 (WEA) ,a cover name for MI 9,attached to SHAEF and responsible to Eisenhower.MI 9 and MIS-X (US escape and evasion) continued to have a presence with representatives in close touch with army commanders.Interesting point again that Crockatt emphasised to his subordinates that commanders of regular units,for the most part dislike and mistrust private armies and warned against IS 9 (WEA} ever being classed as another Popski's private army. ..he deemed it a sackable offence and would act accordingly.
  6. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Obviously Montgomery seized the initiative for Italy and through Crockatt effected it to the British SBOs in the Italian POW camps.The US MIS-X (escape and evasion section) were happy to "conform" with this.Then at the Washington presentation in mid June 1943,Crockatt went over his key points with the US (level not stated) to which the US "conferred." Both "conform" and "conferred" are used by Foot and Langley to record the state of agreement between the two Allies on the matter.

    It has not been recorded that Eisenhower was in the decision loop at the time of the Stand Fast edict. He only had people reporting to him via the January 1944 created IS 9 (WEA),a cover name for MI 9 when in the aftermath of the Stand Fast shambles a better plan was put in place to deal with the expected liberation of Allied POWs in Western Europe.In this structure,IS 9 (WEA),were attached to SHAEF and reported to him directly.Although British in ownership,there was a US element in the group.Both the British and US groups matched each other in terms of officers and ORs down to the same number of equal ranks and jeep personal transport.
  7. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    So, my conclusion is that release of all these prisoners into an area which would soon be heavily occupied by German troops would have increased the death rate among their numbers.


    Edited: I have read everyone's contribution again, thanks, and would just add that
    'The stay put order WAS a shambles. But had there not been any such order there would have been an even bigger one.'
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2019
  8. tedfromscrubs

    tedfromscrubs Junior Member

    Worth remembering that an estimated 50,000 did escape, though many were soon recaptured. And the SBO of PG21 Chieti was actually court-martialled after the war for preventing escapes.
    Given that the Germans arrived pretty quickly after 8th September, I'm not sure the statistics would have been that different.
    Not everyone wanted to escape, being too institutionalised/unfit or preferring quite reasonably to keep away from any return to the fray. Those that did and kept their wits about them remained free. From my reading it seems that a good number of escapees allowed freedom (and local Italian wine) to go to their heads which certainly increased their chances of recapture!
  9. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    I note this 2014 comment by the daughter of a POW held in PG21, whose research was based on his letters and memories:

    So what happened to her stated number of 18,500 POWs who did escape, but not to Allied lines or Switzerland?
  10. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    Roger Absalom, in his article Assistenza ai prigionieri in Piemonte (Assistance given to prisoners in Piedmont) says:

    Nos. of POWs in Italian camps: War Office (middle of August 1943) 79,543

    35,000 left the camps of whom half

    reached Swizerland
    reached or their own lines
    were in hiding with Italian families

    It seems obvious that the other half were recaptured at some stage during the German occupation and sent on to Germany/German occupied countries.

    A small example from the 46 survivors of HM Submarine Saracen.
    All five officers were sent to Germany at the Armistice except one who escaped.( He died later in Italy)
    Of the 41 ratings:
    All left the camp at the Armistice.
    11 stayed in hiding/made it to their lines
    3 were killed in Italy
    27 were recaptured and sent to the Third Reich, where one died.

    Last edited: Dec 27, 2019
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  11. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

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  12. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    The link works, at a price £34, but the footnotes are ample and may provide a cheaper insight.
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  13. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Foot and Langley's research throws further information on the missing POWs.....they relate;

    A previous chapter has described in some detail revealed the mess that was made in Italy at the time of the Italian surrender.It did not attempt to qualify the number of escapers who made themselves scarce after the Italians had dropped their guide,and the Germans imposed their own, and estimates vary widely. Christopher Soames (future son in law of WSC and in command of the 8th Army Field Escape Section No 2 ) noticed that the German broadcasts claimed 50.000 taken away to Germany;over 70.000 had been notified by the Red Cross as in Italian camps;only about 4000 had been recovered by the time of his enquiry,half in Italy and half in Switzerland.Where were the rest?Had there been a massacre,or were they all evading?

    After the war,it was clear that there had been no major catastrophe,only the colossal misunderstanding discussed above.The then British ambassador in Italy,Sir Noel Charles once put the figure of those who had gone spare from the camps,and were hiding up in the countryside, as high as 30.000.This last estimate seems to us a good deal too high,but we have not found data on which to found an exact figure.

    N Section was busy,needless to say,probing for information about ex prisoners' whereabouts,and came in late February 1944 with the following rough locations:

    Over 2000 in the Grand Sasso,a mountain range ENE of Rome
    5000 near Venice
    2000 near Padua,to thev west of Venice
    1000 near Belluno,in the Dolomite foothills north of Venice
    1000 Treviso,midway between Belluno and Venice.
    60 in Slovenia,moving south.....(Slovenia was the northeasternmost province of wartime Italy)

    Additional information from as given in Vitellino's link #31

    Point 9. N Section was set up in Cairo in August 1940 being of A Force (Cairo,Algiers,Balkans and Italy) The primary duties of this organisation was to generate deception by any means available against the enemy high also became the cover for training fighting men in evasion and escape,and to organise any help they were likely to need.

    Point 17.Foot and Langley made observations in their research as follows.The Italian OVRA papers,even if accessible could tell them little of what they wanted to discover.The Gestapo documents were equally hard to find;and the papers of the Kreigsgefangenenwesen,the German administrative body charged with the care of POWs,seemed to have vanished down the gulf of time.They were removed from Germany by the British in the autumn of 1945,and were of some use in preparing the prosecution's case for war crime trials at Nuremberg and elsewhere.They were neither passed on to America,nor returned whence they came.Neither the Cabinet Office,nor the Foreign and Commonwealth,nor the Judge -Advocate-General's Department,nor the Ministry of Defence,nor the Public Record Office.nor the Imperial War Museum admits to possessing them now.

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  14. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    There is something which doesn't add up here though. In May/June 43, the Allies hadn't even committed to invading Italy after Sicily. Was there, perhaps, a misunderstanding about which prisoners Montgomery was talking about, if indeed he was asked about it at all? What evidence is there that Montgomery, in June 1943, anticipated that a campaign in Italy would last only a "matter of weeks"?

    It also always alarms me when the historiography admits that a "directive has not survived or surfaced but it is thought that the directive was so secret that it may have been passed by word of mouth".

    I wouldn't doubt for one minute that Montgomery would have an opinion on this matter (I think there is plenty of evidence to show that he had an opinion on many matters that Alanbrooke thought were none of his business!), what I haven't seen is any evidence that he was the "Source" of the "Stay put Order".


  15. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    I wonder how many they estimated to be in the Marche? There are a large number of war crimes files relating to unlawful killings of prisoners of war in this area. I have just done a quick count - I am working on a project dealing with deaths behind the lines - and there were twenty-six indiviuals involved between the Armistice and the passage of the front. Also, the 'Rat Line' (run by A Force - one of the main players was Italian nobleman 'Hugh' (Uguccione Ranieri di Sorbello) ran from the Marche down through Abruzzo - the Gran Sasso referred to in their list is here - to Puglia.

    Another incredible omission from the list is Piemonte (Piedmont) - a large number of the burials in Milan War Cemetery are POWs (see the blurb on

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  16. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Foot and Langley have thrown up an abundance of such endeavours of the "Rat Lines" set up by A Force.This was done by sending in operatives or agents as they were termed, by boat, or by parachute, with the task of setting up such lines in German occupied north Italy.One such agent was Dick Lewis who apart from organising an escape line during a 6 week spell in enemy held territory, acted as the billeting officer for a Luftwaffe unit.Two agents are recorded as being outstanding: Ranieri and Losco. Lieutenant Ugo Ranieri (Hugh) ran an escape line on the Adriatic for 7 months, north east of Rome and in spite of arrests and murders saw over 400 men through to safety by the time he was overrun.He was then after a short rest he was put in contact with the north CNL at Milan .....his objective was to funnel escapers in Piedmont and Lombardy to safety in Switzerland.

    As regards the list of the locations of escaped Allied POWs,that list was made up in late February 1944,on the information to hand at the reference to updating but that must have been a snapshot of the then current situation.

    Obviously excesses did occur as Germans rounded up escaped POWs and reprisals to those who sheltered them....might have a source somewhere relating to that,certainly there was a an atrocity carried out by the Germans against a group of many civilians in Rome.Wolff the SS Oberstgruppenfuehrer,the Military Governor of north Italy and very importantly the plenipotentiary to Mussolini during the collapse of the fascist regime might throw some light on the subject of reprisals but I cannot see it being in depth.
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  17. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    Here's some more on 'Hugh'- it's on Dennis Hill's website. The second part is written by Hugh's son Ruggero:

    I.S.9 Captain Uguccione Ranieri di Sorbello

    I know his son very well and we have both been invited to speak on the prisoner of war theme at PG 59 Servigliano on two occasions. The Ranieri di Sorbello Foundation has published two books of mine.

    Harry, the atrocity you mention in Rome was the massacre at the Ardeatine Caves, 24 March, 1944. The previous day some partisans had detonated a 40lb. bomb placed in a rubbish cart as a column of Italian soldiers from 11Coy, 3 Bozen (Bolzano) Police Regt. was marching down Via Rasella. 26 men were killed outright and 70 wounded, some seriously. The final death toll was 33. A child and six civilians had also been killed. As a reprisal 335 people were shot and sealed up inside the Ardeatine caves, following what was afterwards to become the infamous 10 Italians for one German ratio. with five others added in for good measure. Among the victims were seventy five Jews, and political prisoners taken from the Regina Coeli prison.

    The best account I have read of the whole episode is in Raleigh Trevelyan's book 'Rome '44'.

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  18. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Reviewing what has been recorded regarding the Stand Fast Order

    Crockatt effected the directive to Italian POW Camp SBOs so it is logical that Crockatt would be aware of the source.No evidence exists who raised the directive but it is recorded that Montgomery was the originator when on states the approximate date when the directive was generated. The MI 9 researchers record that nothing exists to point to a source and have given worthwhile explanations,I say worthwhile because we know from Crockatt that the origin of the directive was British.....searching myself I cannot find a reference to Crockatt leaving notes or a report of this event in his MI 9 or any memoir he left behind.He did write a report of his activities as he was handing over the section to Sam Derry but nothing relevant has come out of this as I see.

    Overall there is clear evidence of Crockatt informing the US MIS-X of the Stand Fast Order and from that, it is evident that the US military authorities had no input into the philosophy and accepted the directive when it was proposed and then reviewed to them by Crockatt over two meetings,the last being in Washington.

    If this is thought to be incorrect what has been recorded of the historical events that took place,then it should not deter others to research the events in an effort to prove otherwise.

    The invasion of Italy put into perspective.I would refer to the invasion of Italy as an operation brought about by a "window of opportunity"as the dynamic events unfurled in Italy.All plans and decisions are subject to change in the light of updated information.... the decision to invade Italy is a good example of this.

    The issue and decision of invading Italy from Sicily has a background in the planning of Overload.There was a less than harmonious meeting between the US and British contingents with FDR and WSC in attendance at the Quebec Conference of August 1943.The US with memories of a rejection of their 1942 proposal to invade Europe were set aside by the British caution of simply stating that the Alliance was not ready for the task.Deep discussions took place between the two Allies to formulate a workable plan,the US being anxious to execute a landing in Europe in 1944.The Quebec Conference was the 3rd meeting by the western Allies from the start of 1943...Casablanca....Washington and then Quebec and still the Allies had not reached an understanding upon a strategy for the invasion and liberation of Europe.Marshall had opposite views to Brooke.Marshall just as he had stressed before Dieppe that the Germans could be defeated by a direct thrust across the Channel favoured the same approach again.Brooke stressed that an invasion by the Channel could not be an intelligent act of war until Germany's strength had been weakened and he laid out the means of achieving of this in additional to three main conditions on which the success of the Overload plan would be based.

    Brooke insisted on three main conditions for the planning of Overlord and brought the subject of the invasion of Italy as a requisite for the success of the overall plan.Marshall insisted that the British accepted that the British strategy for 1944 should be a cross Channel thrust into the heart of German forces.Brooke agreed to this "but" and the Americans were angered by the British "but" outlining three main conditions.The talks had the potential to split the two Allies with Marshall threatening to resign.As to Brooke, his view of Marshall was that "it was quite impossible to argue with Marshall as he does not begin to understand a strategic problem....the only real argument he produced was a threat....we parted at 1730 hours after sat for three unpleasant hours". The three main conditions were:

    (a) The reduction in strength of the Luftwaffe
    (b) The restriction of German strength in France and the Low Countries and of German ability to bring in reinforcements during the first two months after the invasion.
    (c) A solution to the problems of supplying the invasion armies across the beaches.And how might a situation favourable to Overlord be obtained? By invading Italy to contain the maximum German forces and by air action from Italian bases to reduce the German air forces.

    (While the conference was going on,Brooke was told by WSC who had promised him the job of Supreme Commander of the AEF,that he could not have the appointment...he was disappointed and WSC, according to Brooke treated it as one of minor importance.The job applicants were said to be between Marshall and Brooke but the outsider, Eisenhower was appointed, with FDR placating Marshall, the reason was that it was far better for the US to have Marshall back in the US where his exceptional talent in managing organisations would be more beneficial.)

    Nevertheless Brooke carried on in discussions with Marshall.Good news came while the conference was sitting that an Italian general had contacted Eisenhower's HQ and wished to discuss the surrender of the Italian Empire with a proposal then that the Italians join in a Grand Alliance against the Germans.Mussolini had already been sacked by King Victor Emmanuel on 25 July 1943 and Brooke sensed that the Axis was crumbling fast after Ultra revealed that the German had 13 divisions in Italy which might have been deployed in France or Russia and a large German army and air force had been assembled in the Alps ready to take up the Italian army presence in Northern Italy and the Balkans.Brooke's assessment of the Italian military situation was conveyed to Marshall at the conference table and that the US and Britain must take advantage of the Italian collapse and begin preparations for an invasion immediately.After another 3 hours of "brutal" conference,Marshall accepted the British proposal that there should be an immediate invasion of Italy.........
    ......Montgomery's 8th Army was to cross the Straits of Messina within fourteen days and the embryo of a new US army,the 5th under General Mark Clark was to land at Salerno a week later with the task of driving on to Naples.A US airborne division drop on Rome was an option but not taken up.

    As I see, the invasion of Italy occurring at a window of opportunity afforded to the Allies by the crumbling of the Mussolini regime and the breakup of the Axis partnership.

    The late Anthony Cave Brown thrashes out the historical detail in depth regarding the breakdown of the Axis alliance in his "Bodyguard of Lies"
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  19. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Long ago there was a reference in a thread to the WW2 Escape Lines Memorial Society (ELMS) and their website states their aims are:
    Link: The Society - WW2 Escape Lines Memorial Society

    They have a section on the historical background in Italy, which could be worth reading. Link: Historical Background - WW2 Escape Lines Memorial Society
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  20. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    The veracity of Bodyguard of Lies has been so extensively trashed in later works it may be unwise to rely on it.

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