Tag Archives: Mersa Matruh Egypt

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)

 

1941 A Drive Across the Desert

An Australian army driver from Western Australia,  Chas. [Charles] Parsons sent home written details about his 2,000 mile drive from Alexandria in Egypt to the front between Bardia and Tobruk.  While published 1st May 1941 in an Australian newspaper, this journey would have taken place between 6th January and 21 January 1941.

Chas. Parsons describes the scenes of destruction, the lines of Italian prisoners of war, the noises of battle and the cold of a desert night.

1941 ‘2.000 MILES ACROSS THE DESERT.’, Pingelly-Brookton Leader (WA : 1925 – 1954), 1 May, p. 3. , viewed 05 Jun 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article252273760

The full article is available via the links below:

2000 Miles Across the Desert 1

2000 Miles Across the Desert 2

Mersa Matruh

…Mersa Matruh, prettily situated on the shores of the Mediterranean. As we approached, the beauty vanished and a slight devastation greeted us.  Hardly a building had escaped damage of some description.

Mersa Matruth

“Burying Italian prisoner at Mersa Matruh, Padre Phillips assisted the Italian padre.” January 1941-May 1941 (AWM Image  PO5182.014,  Photographer Robert Otto Boese)

 

Sidi Barrani

Sidi Barranai it [the road] was badly blown about… we came across the first lot of captured Italian material.  Hundreds of guns of all descriptions war were in neat rows; also dumps of other goods… a very sorry sight.  It was blown to pieces and the wonder is how anybody could possibly get out alive from such destruction. Only parts of walls were left standing and utter confusion was everywhere… up to this point we had seen occasional smashed trucks and cars by the roadside; but now they started to appear every few yards, and also other equipment that had not been collected.

Sidi Barrani

SIDI BARRANI – THE ONLY THING LEFT STANDING COMPLETE IN BARRANI WAS THIS MONUMENT PROUDLY COMMEMORATING THE LIBERATION OF LIBYA BY THE ITALIANS. 13 December 1940 (AWM Image 004418, PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).

Sollum

Sollum with its pretty little harbor.  We did not go through the town but took the “Hell Fire Pass” up over the hills – a rough, treacherous, windy track… it was an extremely difficult road to negotiate… the way to the Libyan border, was marked by miles of barbed wire.  For miles now we had been meeting trucks of “Iti” prisoners packed in, standing room only – being conveyed to various spots behind the lines, and many of the trucks were captured ones.

Sollum

SOLLUM – OVERLOOKING THE JETTY AND HARBOUR AT SOLLUM BRITISH TRANSPORTS ARE UNLOADING BENZINE INSPITE OF ARTILLERY FIRE FROM ITALIAN GUNS DIRECTED ON THIS POINT. 28 December 1940 (AWM Image 004945, Photographer F. HURLEY).

 

Fort Capuzzo

Approaching Fort Capuzzo, the roadside was littered with all sorts of equipment – big trucks, burnt, on their sides, on their nose, upside down, in hundreds of bits; tanks burnt and disabled, guns, rifles, clothes, motor bikes, boots, water bottles, gas masks, blankets – everything…In the distance we saw a big mass of black figures; they were thousands more prisoners, hemmed in by barbed wire and awaiting transportation.  Fort Capuzzo is nothing but a heap of rubble…

Fort Capuzzo

FORT CAPUZZO, LIBYA. RUINS OF THE FORT AFTER THE HEAVY BOMBARDMENT BY BRITISH FORCES. 24 December 1940 (AWM Image 005274, Photographer James Francis Hurley)

Another bad stretch of bombed road, with many of Graziani’s tablets, milestones and victory monuments uprooted…. an occasional aeroplane smashed and burnt by the roadside.

Monuments

FORT CAPUZZO, LIBYA. L/C W. BROOKS, PROVOST CORPS 6TH DIVISION DIRECTS TRAFFIC AT JUNCTION OF SOLLUM-BARDIA ROAD. HIS IMPOSING PEDESTAL IS THE VICTOR ARCH ERECTED BY ITALIANS AND IS ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THEIR FLAMBOYANT DECORATION OF THE OTHERWISE FEATURELESS LANDSCAPE. 27 December 1940 (AWM Image 005264, photograph James Francis Hurley)

 

Bardia

Everywhere are signs of absolute confusion and rout of the Dagos.  They left burnt bridges, undamaged as well as thousands of pounds worth of most valuable equipment in the way of big Diesel trucks, guns, clothing and stores.

Bardia Clothing

Bardia. 1941-01-03. Pile of provisions and clothing on the ground after an Italian Quartermaster Store was destroyed by the Allies. Note the soldier in the background, possibly from 2/2nd Battalion, with a large cloth, possibly a captured banner. (Original housed in AWM Archive Store)( AWM Image PO2038.078)

Hundreds of these Dago trucks are being used by English and Aussie boys, who are also wearing various Dago things – caps, hats, overalls, boots etc are blending in with our own khaki dress…. along the route were hundreds of empty wine casks.  They like their wine like our chaps like their tea or beer.  Not all the barrels and bottles were empty, as our chaps found plenty of them full and had quite a merry time.

Bardia Raod

BARDIA, LIBYA, 1941-01. DISABLED ITALIAN GUN, A 105/28 FIELD HOWITZER, AFTER BATTLE AROUND BARDIA ROAD. (DONOR: L. MOUSER). (AWM Image P00643.002)

Graziani’s Road

… we were able to enjoy Graziani’s beautiful road. It is a magnificent road, excellent surface, good foundations, shiny knobs on every curve and every 200 yards are built platforms off the road to make turning easy and packing and unpacking of trucks a simple matter…

Road to TobrukTOBRUK, LIBYA. 1941-12. ROAD BLOCKS USED ON THE EASTERN END OF THE BARDIA ROAD. (AWM Image 022175)

Arrival at the Battle Area

The night was beautiful- a full moon, mild and myriads of stars.  Sometimes there would be a lull in firing, and then everything would go again – big and small, machine guns, rifles and anti-aircraft.  The flash of the guns at night was beautiful … The cold towards morning is terrific.  I slept in blankets, sleeping bag, pullover, shirt and balaclava… Most of the firing was being done by our fellows, and Tobruk was being pounded relentlessly by land and sea.  The Dagos are well beaten here and the place will soon be in our hands…

POW CAge

TOBRUK, LIBYA. 1941. ITALIAN PRISONERS, CAPTURED BY THE 9TH AUSTRALIAN DIVISION, IN A TEMPORARY P.G.W. CAGE. (AWM Image 040628, Photographer G Keating)

Driving back to Alexandria

At one spot we came across about 24,000 prisoners straggling along the road.  They were unattended and presented a sorry picture; they stretched for miles and naturally were most dejected, as they would be wondering, of course, just what treatment was ahead of them… I did forget to mention the thousands of petrol tins thrown everywhere across the desert.  Mostly tins are carried for convenience, as each vehicle has to look after itself and those tins, twinkle and shine everywhere along the 2,000 mile trip we had…

Petrol Tins

LIBYA, 1941-12. FIGURE OF EROS MADE FROM KEROSENE TINS IN THE DESERT. (AWM Image 021710)