Mission Accomplished: SOE and Italy 1943-1945 Paperback – 1 Mar 2012
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"I much admired David Stafford's previous book, Endgame 1945 and Mission Accomplished, an official history commissioned by the Cabinet Office, exhibits the same elements of a lucid, flowing narrative combined with acute observations about the varied personalities involved...The mission was something of which both Britons and Italians can be rightly proud and Stafford does it full justice" (Christopher Silvester Daily Express)
"Although this is an official history commissioned by the Cabinet Office, it is written with a light touch and Stafford is unafraid to give his own opinions... strong tensions, personal and political are skillfully navigated by Stafford...splendidly chronicled" (Raleigh Trevelyan Literary Review)
"An admirably lucid and carefully balanced account... ...official histories are rarely as absorbing as this" (Nigel Perrin Times Literary Supplement)
"A page-turning history" (Independent)
"[Stafford] offers readers a sound judgment of SOE's contribution to the liberation of Italy and a gripping account of Britain's secret war in Italy...Stafford vividly describes these missions with striking detail and telling quotes" (BBC History Magazine)
Mission Accomplished provides the first ever complete and authoritative account of Britain's secret war in Italy during the Second World War.See all Product description
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Mission Accomplished, and the author David Stafford, are different. Fair to stress the importance and not to belittle earlier works, this historian distinguishes his "official" product from modern general histories of the War in Italy War in Italy, 1943-45: A Brutal Story, in that he confines himself exclusively to the official SOE operations, avoiding either general or single histories of the Italian Resistance (Battaglia)Storia della Resistenza italiana, 8 settembre 1943-25 aprile 1945. Nuova edizione. With maps and its varied political bands, the many safe areas in the different localities used by missions whether started by escaped POWs after the Italian Armistice on September 8th, 1943 (Lett in Liguria) Rossano A Valley in Flames SAS in Tuscany 1943-45, or by servicemen in the SOE, (though admitting the inter-relations of all these specific study areas), and so will allow the regular continuation of clearly written contributions by Malcolm Tudor to appear unhindered SOE in Italy 1940-1945: The Real Story. It is multi-dimensional: covering the different people and forces at play in Britain and in Italy (including the US OSS), and despite offering an official cover is overtly both praiseworthy and critical of all protagonist. What is more, unlike many official histories, it is a history of the people on the ground and their lives, complete with brief biographies, resembling features of the late visionary Foot's SOE in France SOE in France: An Account of the Work of the British Special Operations Executive in France, 1940-44.
The story is divided and analysed chronologically as the Allied Armies pushed northwards up the peninsula, noting the successes and the many more failures of the most important operations and missions. To the less aware British reader, the author emphasizes the atrocities and reprisals of the Germans against partisans, villages of women and children in Tuscany and Emilia, on a scale much greater than in France, and more like those in Eastern Europe: the now notorious Marzabotto butchery of 770 inhabitants, south of Bologna, was not so unique, as again in August 1944, 20 villages in the Apennines were burned down and the entire population of two were killed. There is a feeling here that the Italians over-reacted, and bad as it sounds, they simply chose to ignore SOE's warnings to claim more martyrs and attract new adherents to the cause of freedom.
Throughout the period under examination, Stafford recounted that all the wily Italians of every kind always played both their Anglo-Americans allies one against the other to ensure them the greatest gain, but as has since occurred since 2003 in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, the locals were never grateful for being liberated by the new occupiers.
Most Italian histories have tried in turn to present the liberation as a "spontaneous" event, owing nothing or little to the allies, but entirely achieved by their brave Italian partisans -which is understandably a nation building approach; so Stafford's present work is bound to irritate many older veterans and some young sensitive locals, in particular as he chose not to comment on the British Government's refusal to present British military awards to Italians in the campaign. In addition, by bringing up FM Alexander's much disapproved order that the partisans should disappear during the winter of 1944-45, and his possible admission of his error, would be enough for them to reply that the allies were not totally committed to their cause in Italy, and only used the Italians when it suited them. That response, however, would simply be reading historical evidence in hindsight, which is the work of politicians, and not historians.
On his part, Stafford has been honest to mention that in time those officers who had lived and operated for months with partisans and former Italian soldiers had broad shoulders to forgive them for their war against Britain prior to 1943, and started to view them with respect as courageous fellow fighters, much better organized, disciplined, and fighting for a real felt cause. They may not have understood one another entirely as beyond the conflict against the common foe, the more politically minded resistors were each promoting different post-war political aims, totally unimportant to the British Tommy wishing to finish his present operation, then relax with a few drinks and friends, before then going home.
Readers will learn from this volume of two local cases which for many years did not even receive a footnote by Italian historians. Firstly, the French had plans to annex border areas in the North-west (in fact, they actually did take three villages for around a month in May 1945) and they were less willing to collaborate with Italian resistors even if the latter did with them, as a response to their stab in the back attack by Mussolini in June 1940 at a time when France was virtually suing for peace.
Secondly, as for 50 years the North-east became the Cold War frontier with a different type of civilization, any evidence from late 1944 of Tito's Armies, together with certain bands of local Italian communist partisans being actively involved in murderous personal hostilities against anti-communist Italian partisans, "i fazzoletti verdi" (lit the Green scarves) "Green Flame" Osoppos, highlighted in February 1945, in the massacre at Porzus, north of Udine, in Friuli, of the Osoppo command post (including the death of Guido Alberto Pasolini, brother of the left-wing Pier Paolo, the film director) Porzus, something well-known in London as the British missions had reported fearing their own elimination, the subject became a political hot potato and, like the question of the Cossacks in Austria made public by Count Tolstoy Victims of Yalta, had best be forgotten. Incidentally, this was the first phase, spoken about by Stafford as outside his SOE historical framework, in the planned post-war transformation of the territory following enforced ethnic cleansing of Italian nationals (including Italian communists of the local Trieste partisan liberation council, the CLN), frogmarched and thrown into the deep Istrian caverns, the foibe, their replacement with Slavs from other districts of the new Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, with the remaining Italians being obliged to adopt a socialist Yugoslav identity on pain of threats of witch hunts against them as "fascists" and "enemies of the people".
This second case, especially with regards the foibe, will be much appreciated by the likes of Berlusconi and his kin, who still love to describe their political opponents in historical terms as "Bolsheviks" eager to weaken and destroy the pillars of democracy. They do have some justification in their favour, as they are aware that the more extreme resistors still feel their liberation, and the birth of their new country, was never accomplished.
In the last pages the author uses in detail a communiqué from the British Ambassador, Sir Noel Charles, in Rome, who asked London if members of the SOE could be kept on to prevent the country falling into the hands of the communists. Sadly, Stafford does not report the growing number of atrocities committed by organized gangs against landowners and small former fascists in Emilia, Lombardy, Venetia, and Friuli immediately after VE Day until 1947, now retold in Pansa's best-sellers Il sangue dei vinti. Quello che accadde in Italia dopo il 25 aprile. Obviously, for Charles, the War was finally over but the mission in Italy was far from being accomplished, since it seemed until the communists' exclusion from the coalition governments in 1948 to be fast drifting into another bloody Greece Civil War.
Stafford does say that SOE had already done enough to prevent the Nazis dismantling the economic and industrial infrastructures of the country between December 1944 and May 1945, as well as restraining certain known extremists from creating anarchy. That vital comment is a general unproven statement which many Italians would strongly dispute, just as others would laugh if they heard Italians claim they had won their peace in Italy all by themselves.
No one can dispute that SOE's wartime mission in Italy was concluded, but was it fully accomplished? For the normal British soldier, for Attlee and his Labour Government the answer might have been in the affirmative; for Charles, Churchill, and others who saw a country moving into the hands of the communists was not only very much in the negative, but also a betrayal to the memory of all the fallen who had given their lives after six long years of war - more so since these public figures should have realised they had already betrayed Poland, the country they had gone to war in September 1939.
David Stafford's work will open the debate. Well argued, enjoyable, with sufficient photos, and praiseworthy; it makes "official" history closer, more human, largely credible, somewhat incredible in our cynical spin-oriented age.