Tag Archives: Italian soldiers Sidi el Barrani

Capture…what next and where to!

The Italians soldiers, airmen and sailors who were captured from December 1940 to February 1941,  believed the propaganda promises that the second advance would arrive quickly to liberate the increasing numbers of prisoners of war. This was not to happen.

Another insult was that they felt betrayed by the Italian Commanders.  Before capture, the soldiers were ordered to destroy everything. The belief was that the enemy would not take any of the supplies.  Water tanks were tainted with oil and food supplies destroyed. How then were the Allies expected to conjure food and water for 40,000 prisoners at Bardia? This order to destroy Italian provisions contributed to the deaths of Italians from starvation. The other betrayal was that the commanders ‘vanished’ so as to evade capture.

Ferdinando Pancisi remembers, “We hadn’t eaten for days. Food wasn’t arriving. We tried our best to survive. We were trying to make do looking for food on one side or the other of the Front, looking everywhere that we could and we survived. Well those who managed, survived, many others didn’t make it. I went for 7 days and 7 nights without food or water because the English were not giving us anything. I tried asking a British guard for some food or water and he’d always reply “tomorrow, tomorrow”. For 8 days we were kept at Bardia. Then they moved us to near Alexandria in Egypt near the SuezCanal. Every now and then they would send some of us to some part of the World.

For me, India. I was trying to depart, I wanted to go. I was trying to get out of there. People were dying of starvation, there were fleas and head lice, we couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t a nice place to be.”

Sidi El Barrani.jpg

13th December 1940 SIDI BARRANI – A STREAM OF PRISONERS NEARLY TWO MILES LONG CAME INTO SIDI BARRANI FROM THE SOLLUM AREA, THERE TO AWAIT TRANSHIPMENT TO PRISON CAMPS. (AWM 004436 PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

The Italian POWs also suffered from bombardments by the Germans.  Filthy, covered in lice and sand, hungry and thirsty, there are many testimonies that the Italians did not eat or drink for seven days. There was always a promise of ‘tomorrow’ from the British and Australia.

1940 Water

10th December 1940. WESTERN DESERT – THE MOST PRECIOUS COMMODITY IN THE DESERT….WATER. EVERY OPPORTUNITY MUST BE TAKEN TO REPLENISH SUPPLIES & THESE ITALIAN PRISONERS, ALTHOUGH THEIR WORRIES ARE OVER, ARE TAKING NO CHANCES OF RUNNING DRY DURING TIME OF WAITING TO BE SENT TO SOME COMFORTABLE PRISON CAMP. (AWM Image 004452 PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

From places of capture the men walked to internment areas; caged compounds; and then to marinas at Bardia, Sollum or Tobruk.

“In fact, now prisoners they led us to Sollum and I stayed there for five days. Waiting for the propaganda promises of the Army that the 2nd advance that would come to free us. Hunger, the despair was so great and who knows the destiny what would have reserved for us. So from Sollum they transferred us to Mersamentuck in a concentration camp in Egyptian territory. From there they took us to the station and as beasts they put us in a freight train, and each wagon more than 40 -50 prisoners to reach a concentration camp along the Suez Canal.

The number of prisoners, which could not be counted, was high and I can affirm that the treatment for us was of the pitiful and inhuman ones that not everyone could sustain. In this field I stayed for about two months, then they took us to lead us to Suez and from there embarked on an English ship, think that in a hold, below sea level, worse than animals we were amassed in 700 prisoners. For nineteen days by sea we suffered that penance, until we arrived in Bombay in India and received another “moral slap”.” Domenico Masciulli

Loaded onto supply ships,  Italians were first used to unload supplies before embarkation.

1940 supplies

SIDI BARRANI – ITALIAN PRISONERS EARNING THEIR KEEP & HELP TO UNLOAD STORES FROM BRITISH SUPPLY VESSELS. LOWER RIGHT CORNER MEMBERS OF THE “COMMANDERS” – A SORT OF ENGLISH FOREIGN LEGION, WHO BECAUSE OF THEIR SLOUCH HATS ARE OFTEN MISTAKEN FOR AUSTRALIANS. (AWM Image 004464, PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

Some were shipped to Marsa Matruh (Mersa Matruh) and entrained to Alexandria: Film footage of the Italians on trains 

Mersha Merah

MERSA MATRUH, EGYPT. C.1941. GERMAN PRISONERS OF WAR CAPTURED IN THE WESTERN DESERT IN A COMPOUND SEEN THROUGH THE BARBED WIRE PERIMETER. (AWM Image P00064.013)

Others were sent directly to Alexandria.

Eypt POW onboard troopship 1940

31st December 1940 Alexandria, Egypt. An Australian destroyer with Italian prisoners aboard. (AWM Image 005002/03 Photographer Damien Peter Parer)

Recollections tell of being treated no better than beasts as they were loaded into train crates.   Sent to camps such as Quassassin or Ismailia the Italians eventually were sent to camps at Geneifa where they were officially processed.

In time they boardered ships at Suez headed for Australia or India. ‘Emanuele Favoloro a fishman from Lipari Sicily:  “…took us to Alexandria in Egypt. Here we were given a loaf of bread for tomorrow.  But we ate it instantly and starved fthe next morning.  We had plenty of water.  We got given five cigarettes and I sold my cigarettes for more bread.  My biggest horror from the war is the starvation and lack of water plus the horror of the deaths.  After six months in Alexandria, I was taken to Quassassin Camp.  We worked carrying light poles.  I was there six months and then I was shipped to Suez where I became ill and was left behind whereas the others went to Australia.” Favoloro Emanuele from Bocia Cesarin by Cesare Romane Stefanate.

Geneifa POW Camp AWM 2

GINEIFA, EGYPT, 1941. PRISON CAMP AT GINEIFA, NOT FAR FROM SUEZ. TAKEN FROM PASSING TRAIN. (AWM Image P00237.056)

Luigi Bortolli kept a diary and detailed maps of Campo 9 Ismailia and Campo 2 Suez:  Luigi Bortolotti: From Tobruk to Clare.

Edmondo Mazzinghi Testimonial Yol-La mia avventura: is in Italian and includes numerous photos for his journey.

Canal Zone Camps

It was 1941 and those sent to Australia did not return home until January-February 1947.

Map 2

Marsa Matruh… Alexandria…Port Said…Ismailia…Suez…

(from Google Maps)

 

the words of an Italian soldier

Paolo Reginato was a soldier with the 202 Regg. Artiglieria Division XXVIII Ottobre when he was captured at Sidi el Barrani 11 December 1940.

A special thank you to Daniel Reginato and his family for sharing the details of his father’s libretto.  Paolo’s record of his days as a soldier and a prisoner of war is adding a personal perspective to this history; written at the time his comments are brief but poignant.

libretanono1Libretto di Paolo Reginato

(photo courtesy of Daniel Reginato)

Paolo writes: On 8th December (in the afternoon) we suffered a heavy naval bombardment and on the 9th we were attached by a strong artillery fire throughout the day, the same afternoon when the fire ceased the order came to retreat to Sidi el Barrani. Our subcommander takes a bottle of anise and makes us all dring, one by one with his own hands on his knees around him, at night we follow the retreat and on the morning of 10th we are located 10 km from Sidi el Barrani where we went again. We attacked with batteries and armed cars throughout the day, at night the fight continued until day 11, at hour 9 I was taken prisoner with almost the entire divison.

Newsreel: Fall of Sidi Barrani

From Second World War Official Histories, Volume 1 – to Benghazi (AWM):

Sidi El Barrani from Chapter Six Victory at Barrani AWM

Naval ships were to shell the Maktila positions on the night before the attack, [8] air support was to be given by No. 202 Group which included three squadrons and one flight of fighters, three squadrons and two flights of day bombers and three squadrons of night bombers… [9th] Frightened, dazed or desperate Italians erupted from tents and slit trenches, some to surrender supinely, others to leap gallantly into battle, hurling frenades or blasing machine guns in futile belavour of the impregnable intruders… On the morning of the 10th the 4th Armoured Brigade was lying on an arrowhead between Sidi Barrani and Buq Buq, facing on the west a series of Italian camps…the 7th Hussars attacked the enemy’s posts but they were too strong to take withouth costly losses and by early afternoon the main strength of the brigade had been sent eastwards… 6th Royal Tanks and the 2nd Royal Tanks attacking…  the 16th Brigade had attacked at dawn on the 10th..Advancing over open country in a dense dust storm it was met by effective artillery fire and was held… Finally a concerted attack late in the afternoon broke the enemy’s reisatance and by 4.40 Sidi Barrani had fallen.

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12th December 1940 SOME OF LATEST BATCH OF 4000 PRISONERS FROM AREA BETWEEN BARRANI AND Buq Buq. ALL ITALIAN TROOPS WERE WELL-CLOTHED & ARMED & IN GOOD PHYSICAL CONDITION BUT SEEMED IN NO MOOD FOR FIGHTING AFTER THE FIRST FEW HOURS OF THE ENCOUNTER. (AWM Image 004431 PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

Long columns of dejected prisoners in drab oive-green and khaki streamed eastwards.  In the whole battle 38,300 prisoners, 237 guns and 73 tanks were captured. Four generals were taken: Gallina of the Group of Libyan Divisions,  Chario of the 1st Libyan Divison,  Piscatori of the 2nd Libyan,  Merzari of the 4th Blackshirt.

Sidi el Barrani Italian dispositions

Sidi El Barrani

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fighting in North Africa

At War

Antonino Lumia has had his memories of being soldiers in the Italian army and prisoners of war in Australia recorded for posterity.   Lumia’s words were recorded by his grandson Damiano and can be heard via YouTube,  Antonino Lumia POW in Australia 1941-1946.

This recording is an invaluable insight into the personal experiences of the ordinary men who were caught up in the politics of war.  Lumia had his 28th birthday in the north African desert and was captured at Tobruk.

Special acknowledgement to Damiano Lumia for allowing for his work and the words of  Antonino to be reproduced here as part of this project.  His  assistance is invaluable as these memories provide depth and perspective for this history.

Antonino Lumia was captured at Tobruk 22nd January 1941

.. we embark in the direction of Cyrenaica

We passed close to Tripoli at night …Destination Benghazi.  Before arriving in Benghazi, a captain tells us … “Young people, dress up. Tthat night the port was bombed …” “If aviation surprises you when going down, it’s the end of the world” We gathered our things. The blankets on our shoulders. Our guns. The dinner. When the boat arrives at the port in Benghazi … in speed, all … We have moved away from Benghazi. We found refuge under a tree. For a month we waited for the weapons, the cannons. Towards the fortress of Tobruk. Some morning workouts.  In the evening … free in Benghazi. 
Guns 044455

Bardia, Cyrenaica, Libya. C. 1941. An Italian 47mm anti tank cannon used by the Italian Army in operations in the Western Desert and abandoned after its defeat by Allied forces (Australian War Memorial, Image 044455)

After 15 days came the guns … we dragged them.  Shells firing … 8 kilometres … In columns, we went to war. We arrived in Barce. And we are stopped.

I found a fountain … … the women filled … … their water reserves …… a knife skin, mounted on a donkey.

I was on duty that day. Soldiers were forbidden to clean their dishes in drinking water.

A young black woman …… fills her reserve. A soldier is always a bit provocative.

I wanted to get close to her to help her …… she pushed me violently shouting. I could not approach her. She then left.

The next day, the order was given: departure for the war. The column was reformed: the colonel at the head, … and we all behind, trailing the guns.

We passed Tobruk. We landed in the desert. The fortress of Tobruk. Everyone had his place.

Our guns, concrete refuges. One day… … the British began the bombing …… the lieutenant calls me …”Lumia” “Tonight will get me to eat” Are you calling me? I’m just a sergeant, a helper …

Call the second lieutenant! “The sub-lieutenant is sick, you’re designated!” … They will think that I am an enemy, pull me off. And if I’m wrong, in the dark… “He is an enemy. “You are appointed.”

Resigned. I take my dinner. He said, “Take this power line in your hand …” … and walking … more …

I took this line in my hands. … you will find the mess of the officers …” I lifted this electric wire …

… and I walked. I arrived at the command post. Come back. in the dark. Again the line in my hands, back. Thorns in my legs, on my skin. I was following the telephone line in my hands. The lieutenant had his dinner. Lieutenant Duca, from Vallelunga. The next day the English bombed us.

With their guns. The American navy approached the port. The US Navy fired shells up to 20 kilometers. Shells fell on us … up to 250 kilos. Luckily they landed on sand.

Most did not explode. There’s something to jump in the air. They silenced us. In the distance, the smoke. The command telephone no longer works. Our commander called Sergeant Traina.

A man from Vittoria, near Canicatti. “Traina, the phone does not work anymore!”

Traina … orphan child of soldiers of the great war …”But, my captain … I’m going to die”

“You have to go, you!” The poor man. Religious sign. On a motorcycle. He’s going there.

Thanks to God, he returned alive.

 “Captain, the colonel told me …… we are free. Because in a moment …… the enemies will make us prisoners “.

“To fire, to flee, to surrender … everything is allowed”. The Colonel tells us. “Take with you whatever you want … one moment to the other we will be prisoners”.

POW cage 040628

Tobruk, Libya 1941. Italian Prisoners, captured by the 9th Australian Division, in a temporary P.O.W. cage.

(Australian War Memorial, G. Keating, Image 040628)