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The Secret War In Italy : Special Forces, Partisans and Covert Operations 1943-45

by William Fowler

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The Secret War In Italy : Special Forces, Partisans and Covert Operations 1943-45

The war in Italy was characterised by a host of special forces actions. The fact that the Italians had formed two governments, one backing the Allies and one a puppet German government, meant that the secret war was vital to the Allies conventional forces and partisans, the SAS, SOE, the US OSS (precursor to the CIA) all played important roles.

On the night of 20/21 April 1945 the last operational jump of World War 2 took place - Operation Herring. The airborne action was undertaken by No 1 Italian SAS, trained by British SOE (Special Operations Executive) forces who were dropped by the USAAF, in support of the 8th Army attack into the Po Valley. Operation Herring lasted over 72 hours instead of the 36 initially foreseen, but it turned out to be a success. With some help on the part of the local partisan groups, according to some sources 481 German soldiers were killed, 1,083 surrendered, 44 vehicles were destroyed and many captured including some tanks, armored cars and guns, 77 telephone lines severed, three bridges taken intact, and an ammunition storage site blown up. The price the Italians paid for the success was 31 dead (including a British paratroops sergeant) and 10-12 wounded. An Italian lieutenant and a private were posthumously awarded the Gold Medal for Valor.

The action did presage the end of the Italian campaign and the war in Italy, but until now little has been written about this, and other secret operations, on the Italian front. It will be an essential reference for students of World War 2.

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