cover - The SAS in Tuscany

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SAS in Tuscany

by Brian Lett
Pen and Sword, August 2011
ISBN 9781848844469

In this book I relate the story of three SAS operations in Northern Tuscany between 1943 and 1945. I know the area well, and have walked many of the routes described in the book.

The first was Operation Speedwell 2, in which six men of the 2nd Special Air Service Regiment dropped blind into Italy on the early morning of 8 September 1943. They had no radio communication and no ground support, and had not even been told that the Italian Armistice was due to be announced within hours of their arrival. Their mission was to sabotage as many of the railways in the area as possible, and then either to ex-filtrate hundreds of miles to the south, or to lie low until the Allied advance over-ran them. Four were captured, and were executed in accordance with Adolf Hitler’s notorious Commando Order. Two escaped to the south, but only one succeeded in crossing the front line into enemy territory. His escape had taken him seven months.

I deal not only with the Operation itself, but also with the war crimes investigation and trial after the war had been won.

The second operation was Operation Galia, in December 1944. I trace how conditions in Northern Tuscany had changed by that time, due to the emergence of the Italian partisans, and the efforts of the Special Operations Executive. My father was in place as the British Partisan Liason Officer in the valley of Rossano, high in the mountains above the Magra Valley, and he arranged for the men of Operation Galia to drop onto a secure Dropping Zone in the valley. The operation that followed was an enormous success, despite the most extreme of winter weather conditions. At one point, the thirty-three men of the SAS tied up thousands of enemy troops, as the Germans unsuccessfully attempted to hunt them down  and to curtail their sabotage operations.

The third operation, Operation Blimey, should have been the most successful of them all. Twenty-four men of 2 SAS were dropped into Rossano on 6 April 1945, to assist the final Allied push by sabotaging German lines of communication, and generally making a nuisance of themselves. They had excellent ground support, detailed intelligence on the area, and decent weather. Yet they achieved very little.
I examine the reasons for the success or failure of the various operations, and the support that the SAS received from the local Italians, who gave food, shelter and support  at enormous danger and cost to themselves. I have spent many hours talking with the Italian veterans of the various campaigns, and have had the benefit of my father’s original archive as well the results of my own detailed researches at the National Archives and the Imperial War Museum.

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