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Mission Ginny II
On the cloudy and moonless night of March 22, 1944, two PT boats from the American OSS base on Corsica appproached the rocky Ligurian coast near Framura, a tiny town 6 miles north of Monterosso in Cinque Terre. Working silently, the boats' crews launched three rubber boats holding a commando team of 15 American soldiers in field uniform, their weapons and equipment, including 650 pounds of dynamite. As the team paddled toward shore, they struggled to ascertain their position relative to their objective: a small promontory south and east of Framura Station where two railroad tunnels on the critical Genoa-La Spezia line joined in a vaulted arcade with openings toward the sea. They knew their starting position from the radar carried on one of the PT boats, and they planned on using radio contact for further direction. In a disastrous turn of events, radio transmissions were unreliable that night and German torpedo boats appeared, forcing the American PT boats to leave. The final approach was visual on the darkest of nights with unknowable ocean currents.
The team consisted entirely of soldiers who had volunteered for the OSS, Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to the CIA. These well-trained soldiers had been chosen for covert operations on the Italian front because they were qualified, of Italian heritage, and they spoke Italian to some degree. At least one even spoke Genoese, the dialect of Genoa that would be quite similar to the dialect spoken around Framura. Several had been born in Italy and emigrated with their parents, most were born in America to immigrants from Italy. They were a cohesive unit and had tried this very mission before. On the previous lunar cycle in February, they had put ashore near here on the mission known as Ginny I, but were unable to find the target. After more aerial surveys were flown, they were confident of success this time.They reached land still not knowing their exact position, but it was soon clear they were not near the right promontory and there was no access to the rail tunnel. They had apparently drifted down the coast while paddling and put ashore near the locality named Sca. Scouts were sent to locate the rail line but travel on the very steep and rocky slopes made it impossible to locate before dawn. Since an attack on the tunnel could not take place, they had to hide and try the next night, according to the mission plan. They hid the yellow rubber boats and the explosives as best they could and began moving upslope. The team found an unused farm building on the edge of the locality of Carpeneggio, and settled in. On the morning of March 23, two team members, 1st Lt. Russo and Sgt. Mauro, went out to get food and information at the nearest farm. They made contact with an Italian farmer named Franco Lagaxo, who agreed to buy food for them, and later in the day guided them on reconnaissance which succeeded in locating access to the Genoa-La Spezia rail tunnel.
The mission plan called for the OSS team to make contact with the PT boats at prearranged radio contact times before setting off the explosives. On the evening of March 23rd however, the mission took another bad turn - the PT boats ran into trouble. One had a mechanical breakdown on the trip from Corsica and had to return to base. The second encountered enemy activity as it approached the coast, and was also forced to turn back. Lacking a coordinated means to escape after the attack, the team was forced into another day of hiding.
In the morning light of March 24, an Italian fisherman noticed the rubber boats pulled up along the shore, and mentioned them to authorities at nearby Bonassola. Soon a search of the area began, involving both Italian and German personnel. Eventually, as the search area widened, searchers encountered an Italian girl who had seen strangers with rifles on a road near her home. Quickly the area was sealed off, the farm building surrounded, and the American team forced to surrender. They were questioned briefly by Italian Fascist authorities in Bonassola, then turned over to the German military, and transferred to the German headquarters of the 135th Fortress Brigade in La Spezia. There interrogation began in earnest. Details of the interrogation methods are lacking, but eventually at least one of the soldiers divulged the details of the mission. Ominously, the information that it was a commando raid was relayed up the German hierarchy.
On the next morning, March 25, a cable arrived at German headquarters in La Spezia, signed by General Anton Dostler, head of the 75th German Army Corps. The Americans were to be executed immediately. The order was the implementation of an edict issued by Hitler in 1942 called the Fuhrerbefehl Commando Order which specified immediate death without trial for anyone engaging in sabotage or other action behind German lines. To execute uniformed prisoners of war was a direct violation of the Geneva Convention and the German officer corps knew it. However, the entire higher command of the German Army had sworn a loyalty oath to Hitler. Colonel Almers, commander of the 135th, as well as the interrogating officers, requested a stay of execution, but it was denied. During the evening of the 25th, an officer, Koerbitz, from the 135th and two from the German navy, Klaps and Sessler (who, incredibly, had met one of the Americans before the war), sought in writing and by phone to have the order reversed, but were ignored. Alexander zu Dohna-Schlobitten, an aide to Gerneral Dostler, refused to sign the execution order, and was later dismissed from the Wehrmacht for insubordination. However, in the end, the commanding officer General Dostler refused to reconsider, and ordered the prisoners executed the next morning.
On the morning of March 26, 1944, the 15 American soldiers -still in uniform - were brought to Punta Bianca, above the sea on the rocky tip of Ameglia's peninsula. Eleven were executed by being struck on the head with great force, two were shot in the head at close range, and two had no known wounds*. The bodies were taken to the La Ferrara area of Bocca di Magra and buried in a shallow, hidden mass grave. The circumstances make clear that the German command knew this was a war crime, and sought to hide it. They chose Punta Bianca because it was remote, with no houses nearby, and under military control. There was no firing squad, both to reduce the number of witnesses and the noise. They did not inform the De Lutti cannon batteries close by. They chose to bury the soldiers in an area of Bocca di Magra with no houses at the time, and camouflaged the grave site. Two days later a German communique was issued falsely reporting that the commandos had been annihilated in combat. Four days later, General Kesselring, Commander in Chief of German forces in Italy, ordered all written records of the affair destroyed.
In the days after Liberation, the investigation into the disappearence of the OSS commando team was given priority. Notice was given to American forces that General Dostler and Colonel Almers were wanted, and should be taken alive if possible. Several investigators were assigned and began interviewing at Framura. Information was gathered from local Italians and then German Army personnel. Gradually the story was pieced together and the grave located. Dostler was subsequently captured and brought to trial before an American Military Commission in Rome on October 8, 1945. His defense was that he had simply obeyed Hitler's order, and if he had not done so, he would have been brought before a German court martial. The defense of 'Superior Orders' was rejected and the Commission unanimously found General Dostler guilty and he was shot by a firing squad near Naples on December 1, 1945. Anton Dostler was the first German General brought to trial after the war, and the first executed. This case became a precedent for the Nuremberg war crime trials of German generals, officials and Nazi leaders beginning in November, 1945. The precedent thus contributed to the codification of Principle IV of the Nuremberg Principles, which rejects 'Superior Orders', and a similar principle found in sections of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
A traveler or ex-pat is easily drawn into reflection about what love of country means. It's simple enough when we're seven years old, and the concept is absolute and the flag is its visualization. Later, patriotism becomes incorporated into our morality and our egos. We enter a nuanced world where we have the luxury of liking this aspect of our host country and not liking that aspect of our homeland, defending this idiosyncracy of our people, and knocking that characteristic of another people. But this story is of men who lived in a period when that luxury dropped away, and these fifteen ordinary people faced the necessity of deciding what they believed, what was worth fighting for. These Italian-Americans decided to defend "the meaningfulness of their life itself": they did their duty and fought for two nations, for two peoples. This is what Liberation Day honors and remembers whether you are American or Italian or both. Honored because they had the courage to face that decision. Remembered so that future generations might summon the courage to similarly face their own decisions. The fifteen men of the Ginny II mission were:
The Men Who Loved Two Countries
1st Lt. Vincent J. Russo, Montclair, NJ Sgt Alfred L. De Flumeri, Natick, MA
T/5 Liberty J. Tremonte, Westport, CT T/5 Joseph M. Farrell, Southport, CT
T/5 Salvatore DiSclafani, Brooklyn, NY T/5 Angelo Sirico, Brooklyn, NY
T/5 Thomas N. Savino, Brooklyn, NY T/5 John J. Leone, Poughkeepsie, NY
T/5 Joseph Noia, NY, NY 1st. Lt. Paul J. Traficante, NY, NY
Sgt. Dominick Mauro, NY, NY T/5 Rosario Squatrito, Staten Island, NY
T/5 Joseph A. Libardi, Stockbridge, MA T/Sgt. Livio Vieceli, Manor, PA
T/5 Santoro Calcara, Detroit, MI