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on 27 December 2014
Myths deceive, and preserve false incomplete stereotypes. In World War Two Fascist Italy was deemed a loser on every front, from which Churchill presented the future planned invasion of Europe to be launched through the weak partner, the "soft underbelly", and British school children repeated the derogatory idea that the Italian book of heroes was the world's smallest book. It may have led to the false hope that intelligence in Italy would be week end excursion.

Roderick Bailey's Target: Italy is the second, and accompanying history to David Stafford's Mission Accomplished Mission Accomplished: SOE and Italy 1943-1945, and takes the story from the outbreak of the war in June to the armistice in September 1943, whereas the other continues to the end of the war. It was longer in the making, and does not follow the same chronological geographical operation pattern adopted by Stafford, nor that of the collection of biographies of agents penned by Alan Ogden A Spur Called Courage, even if two of the surviving protagonists: Maj. Malcolm Munthe, MC, and Maj. Dick Dallimore-Mallaby, MC, feature in both tomes. All the agents who "disappeared" off the official radar: beginning with the failed Colossus mission in Sicily with Fortunato Picchi in February 1941, through the failed Boardman deception plan in Sardinia in January 1943 with Alder (shot together with socialist trade unionist Bruno Buozzi when the Germans pulled out of Rome in early June 1944) and Serra, and the unplanned ad-hoc operations in August 1943 of the "explosive topo lads" during the invasion of Sicily, were re-traced and their lives in captivity and subsequent deaths were added as a part of the complete history of the SOE Italian section.

Target, however, is the first SOE history to cover recruitment, training, planning and operations inside an enemy country rather than an occupied country - including under the 1941 agreement the presence in one mission (details unknown) in 1943 of two agents, Florio and Rossi, operating with SOE for the Soviet intelligence agency, the NKVD. Much of the layout and analysis resembles Henri Michel's classic Shadow War Shadow Warwith the author presenting changing goals of the organization at the Italian desk in London, the contacts in Cairo or Berne, and the functions of the agents in the field, with each chapter focuses on and illustrates one or two of these features in context.

Unlike official Second War reports written quickly after the events for the Ministry based exclusively on British sources, Bailey has had the advantage of a longer time scale, the possibility to turn to contemporary official Italian documents which came to light after the armistice, reports of interrogations of Italian officials who had met the SOE agents in the few missions and who on transferring their allegiance from the Axis to the Allied cause were prepared to provide additional first hand details. Thus, Bailey's narrative demonstrates a continual change in interpretations, like a journalist today investigating and chronically describing a recent event, as more resources and witness accounts appear in the story. Moreover, he slowly peels away the layers of preconceived ideological myths that Italian Fascism was an empty, corrupt, lifeless shell, with no local support, ready to be smashed, and non-existent Italian intelligence, into something though a poor Mediterranean relative of Nazism, it was still a permanent totalitarian state at war with the decadent democratic world, eager to extend and reproduce its powers and influence everywhere.

If researchers today use only the official papers in London, they would assume as Cecil Roseberry, head of the Italian desk, did that Jock McCaffery between 1941-43, had recruited vital go-betweens who had set up anti-fascist groups: one, the Wolves, in Milan, another the Young Tigers, i Tigrotti, throughout the country, devoted to providing vital local intelligence, hastening an Italian defeat through sabotage, and spreading defeatist dissent. They would read of diverse successful tales of sabotage: a derailed train carrying 30 tanks on the Bracciano to Rome line, a fire in rubber factory at Chiavari, or of a hellish fire in the port of Genoa which had kept the fire-brigade, soldiers, sailors, police, and two fire ships busy for the entire day.

Unknown to him, Italian military intelligence, SIM, and the Italian secret police, OVRA, were both very informed of these underground activities, these "groups", and about McCaffrey, too, as the go-betweens Eligio Klien, alias "Almerigotti" or "Giusto", Capt Eugenio Piccardo, alias "Elda", or "Andreoli", as well as Luca Osteria, all worked for Italian intelligence, running such bogus groups intent in destroying communication between the allies and genuine anti-Fascists, such as Luigi Rusca and Eugenio Paladino, and managing to deceive the deliberate acts of foul play with genuine accidents and completely imagined reports. Only one agent, Giacomino Sarfatti, in Milan, failed to be arrested and later shot, keeping up the idea of a fairly solid clean organization, only because by a twist of fate he had been sent into the field near to the fall of the Fascist regime.

Just as SOE took time to develop, improve and grow, Italy's surrender and becoming co-belligerent with the Allies changed the history of SOE and intelligence in Italy, bringing to an end the first phase of its history in Italy: or as Churchill had remarked in another context it was its "end of the beginning". It is not true as WJM Mackenzie claimed that "no harm was done to real (Italian) resistance" The Secret History of S.O.E.: Special Operations Executive 1940-1945, for until mid 1943 the Italian Fascists had deceived Britain as much as the Nazi's had in Holland. Indeed, the certainty that intelligence organization was so sound prevented SOE in adequately considering other avenues that could have been authentic. Little effort, Bailey notes, was made to contact and work as immediately in France with the few active communists in Italy. That needed the arrival of CP member John (known as James) Klugmann and Kim Philby in 1944, and with it brought a twist to the tale for Italy, Yugoslavia, post-war intelligence, and until the end of the Berlin Wall even analysis and interpretation of the Second World War.

Not all activities, however, were failures for SOE during the first phase. SOE, McCaffrey, and in particular agent Dallimore-Mallaby, alias "Capt Tucker", were used in the field as diplomatic go-betweens with anti-Fascist groups from May 1942 up to the fall of Mussolini in July 1943: including top Italian Army generals, the Action party (Pd'A), and the entrepreneur, Adriano Olivetti, from Ivrea, to try to free the country from its alliance with Nazi Germany, so preventing further unnecessary defeats and deaths; in addition they were involved in the negotiations for the armistice until September 1943 showing that by refusing to take decisive decisions for days both Premier Marshall Badoglio and Foreign Minister Guariglia caused the greatest dangers to members of the Italian Army with respect to German occupying forces both in Italy and on battle fronts abroad after the announcement of the armistice. Such experience and the prominence of this agency by others during the second phase duly enabled SOE to be called upon again in the preliminaries to Operation Sunrise with Gen Wolff for the surrender of the German Army in the Spring of 1945.

If families of Italian agents suffered at the hands of the Fascists: Picchi's brothers being denied a place of work, one denounced as a traitor and deported to Mauthausen concentration camp, another being forced to volunteer and served with the Italian contingent in Soviet Russia; once the regime was overthrown, the author stressed circumstances did not instantly change to their benefit. In 1949 Picchi was declared part "hero", and part "traitor" for committing themselves to a foreigners' war against their homeland.

Strangely, the rule of the victor did not apply in Italy, and explains why many left-wing partisans in the early 1950s felt their country, now a Republic led by Catholics, had turned even against them for having fought to liberate their country against Nazi occupiers and against the oppressive presence of local Fascists. Max Salvadori, a mild radical, an active anti-Fascist, whose family had links with Britain, and commissioned in the British Army: he too was treated by his father, another true patriot, as a stranger, an outsider, almost a foreigner. It seemed by overcoming Fascism, nationalistic Italy had turned its back on all those patriots, who had sacrificed themselves, and preferred something of its Fascist past. Odd? Not so strange if one realises that until the armistice, and the German occupation in the North, Italy, like Nazi-Germany did not possess a small core of supporters to the Allied cause. They might be anti-Fascists, but Italians first; some expats, incidentally, had returned to Italy in 1935 volunteering to fight a Fascist War in Ethiopia. Still odd? Not so, when many convinced Italian anti-Fascists met up for British support from the late 1930s, but insisted that the struggle should remain an Italian issue. Sadly, issues widened, and the people directly involved were caught up during the occupation and after, wishing to uphold the memories in the conflicting debates of resistance and national liberation.

As Roderick Bailey's work complements both Stafford and Ogden who use similar sources, perhaps a latter day MRD Foot might now produce an Italian history in a single volume SOE in France: An Account of the Work of the British Special Operations Executive in France 1940-1944 (Government Official History Series). A book that showed a natural will to oppose, a desire to fight but an inability to create a mass fit army, nor ensure even the chosen few to keep quiet and not brag, to observe, and behave responsibly as passive before taking on the role of active agents. The field of the skilled, thus, was limited, achieving little but producing many unexpected failures. To a certain class of officers in the British military, it was a proof that resistance by excellent foreign amateurs was still wasteful and unproductive.

An author describing only arrests, death, and defeats, who seems informative and useful, has incredibly much to his credit, far more than one who can play to the thrilling adventurous triumphs. For someone used to Peter rather than novelist brother Ian Fleming explaining failure in wartime is more realistic and worthwhile than of continual romantic and fictional dare-devil successes. A good all rounded product, with crystal clear description and analysis.
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on 12 July 2015
This was one of our Christmas books about the male SOE missions in Italy. My first job, for the month of August 1978, was for the Olivetti's showroom in Edgware Road. Wasn't the one who lived in London a great friend to Martha Gellhorn? I think so. This book was woven into a readable story but it was a bit "army" for me. I've preferred some of the other books about the SOE female agents - see elsewhere on my Profile page.
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on 15 June 2015
This is a book for those whose prime interest is in history rather than simply wanting a good read. It is very well researched and well illustrates the difficulties involved in spying on a country with whom you are at war rather than one like France which has been occupied by an enemy. There are tragic heroes. There is double crossing. And there is confusing detail. A sobering but informative read.
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on 21 June 2015
Very interesting and readable account. I was particularly interested in SOE's part in facilitating the secret armistice negotiations between Italy and the Allies - I didn't know anything about that, thank you. Moreover, this activity by the SOE seems to have been a genuine success, given that the overall effectiveness of so much else that the SOE did is questionable. Good read.
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Anyone who has ever been associated with intelligence and counter-intelligence knows about failures, they are inevitable given the nature of the game. In this book by Oxford historian Roderick Bailey we are told about hare-brained schemes and incompetent agents involved inside Italy in WW11.

Mussolini's Italy was extremely difficult terrain for SOE, far more difficult than, say France. In Italy agents faced a ruthless secret police and a very efficient SIM, a facist counter-intelligence organisation. The author describes operations that went wrong-he would have had plenty to chose from.

The most interesting part of the book is when Bailey explains how we viewed the Italians, frankly as buffoons. This was a gross error based as it was on ethnic bias and ignorance. As a result we picked many for saboteurs who were emigres, for example, those living around Soho. Most of their ideas such as poisoning Mussolini's pasta and using the Rome sewers were useless and impracticable.

The members of SOE and their agents were very brave but unfortunately the training was often amateurish. Also there was a disturbing lack of linguistic skills, few spoke Italian. As a result there were many bungled and failed missions.

The author is at times a little unfair to SOE and their operations. It is easy to list the failures but more attention should have been paid to the enormous problems associated with conducting operations inside an enemy country. The logistical problems alone were enormous. More emphasis is also needed on how these operations had to be planned and organised from scratch at a time when resources were scarce, and when many influential people in goverment and the miltary argued that such endeavours were a total waste of money. Remember as well that prior to D-Day our military actions against the Axis were severely limited.

An interesting book but one that contains very little that has not been known for very many years.
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on 21 September 2014
The research underpinning this book is massive and the balance magisterial. The author has mastered the official long classified records and set these against a wealth of new research he has conducted in Italian(and other) records. This leads to his fascinatingly balanced judgements which deal fairly with the few (if worthy) SOE successes and are properly critical of their frequent failures.
After reading this absorbing book, I understand how and why SOE knowledge of Italy was so sparse. I also understand the enormous difficulties they faced in finding Italians who were prepared to work with them and how surprisingly efficient the Italian counter resistance was.
Thoroughly recommended. I am off to buy The Wildest Province, the author's account of SOE operations in the Balkans.
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Target Italy – On Target

As any student and graduate of history can tell you the field of study of World War Two is sodden with many books many the same as each other. Then we get University educators who write history books that are either very readable or as dry as a bone written for us graduates and just accessible for the general book reading public. Well I am pleased to announce that Target Italy is very readable written by one of Britain’s top modern historians Roderick Bailey of Oxford University. Roderick Bailey also happens to be an expert at the workings and operations of Churchill’s own Special Operations Executive.

When Italy entered the war on the Axis side the intelligence that the British had was either so far out of date not to count or just simply none existent. So from 1940 it was decided that intelligence operatives were needed on the ground in Italy, the only problem the British faces is that they had no boots on the ground. So from the air, sea the outside the British had to send operatives in to make contacts and gain intelligence while waging war on Mussolini and his fascists.

Roderick Bailey lies out the British attempts of the SOE in Italy from their beginnings in Italy to how their operations grew or were hampered, and he has interrogated the newly released archive material in Britain and Italy. He also opens up that at times it was more ‘Allo ‘Allo than Secret Army and secret battles. He also exposes the fact that the SOE were out of their depth at the duplicity and masters of deception in the Italians and were often fooled by them.

This book also highlights the story of Fortunato (Wilfred) Picchi who was the first Italian to volunteer for the British to go back to Italy and work with the SOE. There was only one problem for him, his back-story and cover was so week that he was easily exposed and shot as a traitor by the Italians.

We also learn that silk maps were better than paper maps and easier to conceal. Or that when requested container loads of equipment were dropped in to Italy from contacts who were later to be revealed to be fakes and using the weapons for their own purposes. This book also explains the delicate and quite dramatic negotiations that took place for the Italians to lay down their weapons against the Allies.

I found this book to be brilliantly researched, well written that at times could make you smile at the cock-ups, but more importantly the desperate and daring work of the SOE and without whom the Italian surrender may have taken longer to come about.

This is an excellent history of the SOE in Italy and I cannot recommend it highly enough – I just wish I could write and research as eloquently as Roderick Bailey.
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on 1 July 2015
A very interesting story but the writing style a little erratic
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on 31 December 2014
In England I feel we are not overburdened with books depicting Italy during the last World War and this book opens up so much of what happened at that time. I learned so much and found it difficult to put down.
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on 7 October 2014
During the course of my research into the Second World War I am often astounded by the courage and sacrifice displayed by ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The agents in this book are no exception.

At the outbreak of hostilities with Italy, the British Intelligence Services were woefully unprepared to undertake operations in Italy. Slowly, after a distinctly amateurish start, SOE was able to recruit agents, improve operational techniques and begin clandestine operations against the Fascist regime.

Italy was no friendly country occupied by a common enemy. Italy was a hostile country with a hostile population. In addition, unlike SOE, the Italian Secret Services were skilled and professional opponents with 20 years experience of internal repression and counter-espionage work gained within a totalitarian regime. Taken together, the odds of a successful mission were extremely small and yet it is testimony to their bravery that they still went and indeed were successful (at times).

Roderick Bailey’s book is extremely well written, well researched and immensely readable. If I have a criticism its that there is no map to indicate the areas of operations which would have helped with those, like me, who are geographically challenged.
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