By Mark McConville
THE FULL story of Britain’s elite Special Forces’ operations in Italy during World War Two has been told in a new book.
In the summer of 1943, the Special Air Service came out of Africa to carry the fight to the Germans and Fascists in Sicily and on the mainland.
At the time, the originator of the SAS, Colonel David Stirling, was held in Italy’s high-security Prisoner of War Camp Five at Gavi in Piedmont. But his work continued.
The idea of small groups of parachutists operating behind enemy lines to attack strategic targets and to obtain intelligence was realised in the daring missions carried out in Italy by the men of the 2nd SAS Regiment and the Special Raiding Squadron.
In the first phase, they mounted island raids, took part in the invasion of the mainland, rescued escaped prisoners of war and supported the Anzio landings. In the second phase, they helped to breach the Gothic Line and to secure the victory, this time in concert with the Italian Resistance.
The SAS carried out over twenty operations in wartime Italy and they are all covered in Anglo-Italian historian Malcolm Tudor’s new book, SAS in Italy: 1943-1945, published by Fonthill Media.
“It was during this time—the last two years of the Second World War—that the SAS exploded on to the Italian scene,” he writes in the book’s introduction.
“The 2nd SAS Regiment was responsible for a majority of the operations, while the Special Raiding Squadron (SRS) (temporarily replacing the 1st SAS Regiment) was also in action during Operation Husky, the capture of Sicily; Operation Baytown, the attack across the Straits of Messina; and Operation Devon, the capture of Termoli.
“These operations are shown with their actual landing areas, which were not always those intended by military planners located in North Africa or in southern Italy. In July 1944, the Allied Force Headquarters (AFHQ) for the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations, which planned and directed ground, naval, and air operations, moved forward from Algiers to the Royal Palace of the Bourbons at Caserta, 19 miles from Naples in Campania.
“The story of the SAS in Italy has remained largely unknown and it is a pleasure to shed light on what many members of the Regiment called the ‘Italian Job’, well before the film of the same name.
“The accounts are woven through with the ethos of the SAS as we have come to know it since the Regiment’s birth in North Africa, but they also show how the men responded successfully to the different conditions they found in Italy, which helped to ensure final victory.”
The Special Air Service (SAS) is a Special Forces unit of the British Army. The SAS was founded in 1941 as a regiment, and later reconstituted as a corps in 1950. The unit undertakes a number of roles including covert reconnaissance, counter-terrorism, direct action and hostage rescue. Much of the information and actions regarding the SAS are highly classified, and is not commented on by the British government or the Ministry of Defence due to the sensitivity of their operations.
The SAS was formed in July 1941 by David Stirling and originally called “L” Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade—the “L” designation and Air Service name being a tie-in to a British disinformation campaign, trying to deceive the Axis into thinking there was a paratrooper regiment with numerous units operating in the area (the real SAS would “prove” to the Axis that the fake one existed). It was conceived as a commando force to operate behind enemy lines in the North African Campaign and initially consisted of five officers and 60 other ranks.