The Office of Strategic Services and the SIMCOL Operation in Italy October 1943

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

At the time of the Italian Armistice on September 8, 1943, there were almost 80,000 Allied prisoners of war in Italian prisoner of war camps.[1]  When the Allied prisoners of war learned of the Armistice, most were in a quandary as to what action to take.  Under orders received earlier in the summer, the majority remained in their camps under the mistaken impression Allied forces would soon liberate them. Italian camp authorities also faced their own quandaries.  Without clear orders as to what to do, many simply opened the gates to allow the prisoners to leave their camps. During the first days after the Armistice, perhaps as many as 50,000 prisoners remained in their camps and quickly became prisoners of the Germans. Another 30,000 left their camps.  Some 16,000 were recaptured and 4,000 found safety in Switzerland.  The remaining 10,000 found safety in hiding with the help of Italians, and many began trying to get to the Allied lines.[2]

As the scope of the ex-prisoner of war problem in Italy became apparent, Lt. Col. A.C. (Tony) Simonds, the head of M.I.9’s Cairo office (technically known as “N” Section of “A” Force), was ordered on September 23, to launch an operation to rescue as many ex-prisoners as he could. Later he recalled being told that the instructions to this effect had come from Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who himself had been on the run behind enemy lines after escaping from the Boers during the South African War.  Simonds came up with a plan to drop uniformed parties by parachute along the Italian coast where they would contact ex-prisoners of war and escort or direct them to four preselected rendezvous points on the coast, during the dark periods of the moon, beginning the first week of October 1943. At those points they would be met at prearranged times by parties coming by sea who would embark them to Allied territory. The troops forming the operational parties were drawn from the First Airborne Division (British), the 2 Special Air Service Regiment, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and No. 1 Special Force of Special Operations Executive (SOE). The latter personnel would be involved in the SIMCOL seaborne operations. [3]

The OSS contingent of the operation, codenamed SIMCOL, would be composed of members of an Operational Group (OG). The OGs, composed primarily of second generation American soldiers with language facility, were assigned to operate only in enemy or enemy-occupied territory. Their primary function was in connecting guerrillas – to organize, train, and equip resistance groups in order to convert them into guerrillas, and to serve as the nuclei of such groups in operations against the enemy as directed by the Theater Commander.[4]  Company “A” of OG arrived in Algiers on September 8 and went to Section “X,” the OSS headquarters at the time. There the OGs trained at the various areas while awaiting further combat orders. During the period from September 9 to September 27 nearly all officers and enlisted men of the unit underwent parachute training. The unit at this time went under the designation of “Unit ‘A’, First Contingent, Operational Groups, 2677th Headquarters Company Experimental (Provisional) AFHQ [Allied Force Headquarters].”[5]

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Spanish Explorations of the Pacific Northwest and the First Nootka Sound Settlement, 1790-1791

Part II of the blog series 225 Years Ago: Spanish Explorations of the Pacific Northwest and the First Spanish Settlement in Washington State, Núñez Gaona (Neah Bay), 1792

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

Because of Spain’s growing concerns about its sovereignty over the Pacific Northwest in 1788 and 1789, the Spanish Government decided to strengthen its naval position at San Blas, in order to mount new expeditions to the Pacific Northwest. In late March 1789, Juan Francisco Bodega y Quadra, who was then back in Spain, was informed of his appointment as commandant of the Naval Department of San Blas. The next month the king instructed him to select six junior officers to serve under his orders. He chose Manuel Quimper, Ramón Saavedra Guiráldez y Ordóñez, Francisco de Eliza, Salvador Fidalgo y Lopegarcía, Jacinto Caamaño Moraleja, and Salvador Menéndez Valdés. They sailed to New Spain, with a new viceroy, Juan Vicente de Guemes Pacheco de Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, Conde de Revillagigedo, accompanying them.

Portrait of Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra.

Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra. Wikimedia Commons

Revillagigedo, Bodega, and his companions reached Veracruz on August 8, 1789. Shortly after arriving, Revillagigedo received a letter from former viceroy Flores informing him that Martinez at Nootka Sound had seized two English ships, the Argonaut and the Princess Royal. Flores added that those ships had sailed from Macao to take possession of Nootka Sound for the king of England, and noted that the two ships and their crews were on their way to San Blas. He urged the new viceroy to relieve him as quickly as possible, not wanting to get involved in the problem. Revillagigedo replied that nothing further should be done until instructions were received from Madrid. Flores responded that the Argonaut would be made ready to sail and that the First Free Company of the Catalonian Volunteers[1] stationed in Guadalajara had been told to prepare to move to San Blas for onward transportation to Nootka Sound. Flores wrote Revillagigedo on August 27, that the Princes Royal, commanded by Jose Maria Narváez, had arrived in San Blas. He said nothing about his order to Martinez to abandon Nootka Sound and return to San Blas. Continue reading

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A Wasteful Use of Time: EPA Regulations of Hazardous Waste in the 1980’s

Today’s post was written by Brian Schamber, student at Central Michigan University and summer intern in Textual Processing at the National Archives at College Park, MD.

Since the implementation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in 1976, municipalities, corporations and landfills across the United States have had to deal with hazardous waste in a very thorough and heavily documented manner. Under Subtitle D of RCRA: Non-Hazardous wastes are what we would think of as everyday waste such as food, scrap metal, and sewage waste. In comparison, some examples of hazardous waste would be the products of industrial processes, such as sewage treatment sludge or sludge created from a distillation process.

I am working with records Regulations, Standards, and Guidelines Relating to Delisting Hazardous Substances* (NAID 7543044) in RG 412, Records of The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pertaining to delisting “hazardous” waste so that it can be disposed of as a non-hazardous waste in landfills. One particular case stuck out to me concerning the manner of disposal that one company used for their “non-hazardous” waste.

The subject of the delisting petition is Storeys Transprints Inc. of Harrisonburg, Virginia. Storeys was under investigation for illegal waste disposal from 1982 until 1986. In correspondence the operational manager at Storeys expressed that the Colonial Heights facility held on to its waste in cardboard boxes until their delisting petition. If the petition was successful they would dispose of the waste at a nearby landfill.

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Spanish and British Explorations of the Pacific Northwest and the Nootka Sound Controversy, 1774-1789

Part I of the blog series 225 Years Ago: Spanish Explorations of the Pacific Northwest and the First Spanish Settlement in Washington State, Núñez Gaona (Neah Bay), 1792

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

Two hundred and twenty-five years ago, in 1792, Spanish Navy Lieutenant Salvador Fidalgo y Lopegarcía established the first permanent European settlement in the present state of Washington, at Neah Bay (latitude: 48.368122 N) on the Olympic Peninsula at the southwestern coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This settlement was in fact, the first European settlement in the Continental United States, West of the Rockies and North of San Francisco. Neah Bay, home for the Makah Nation for over 3,500 years, lies five miles to the east of Cape Flattery, just inside the south entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This strait is the wide waterway stretching from the Pacific Ocean on the west to the San Juan Islands on the east, with Vancouver Island to the north and the Olympic Peninsula to the south.

Map of Cape Flattery and Nee-Ah Harbor, Washington, 1853

U.S. Coast Survey, Cape Flattery and Nee-Ah Harbor, Washington, 1853. From Record Group 23, Published Nautical Charts of Coastal Areas of the United States and its Territories (NAID 563731), Chart #645, 1st Edition. Click on the image to open an expanded view.

In some respects, the story of the settlement of Neah Bay begins in 1774, with the expedition of Spanish Navy Ensign Juan José Pérez Hernández. On the day before Christmas, 1773, at the Spanish navy base at San Blas[1], Mexico, 175 miles southeast of Mazatlan, Pérez received instructions from the Spanish crown to conduct a survey of Nueva Galicia (the Spanish name for the Pacific Northwest) and officially reassert the claim of these unknown northern reaches for Spain. The Viceroy governing New Spain, Antonio Maria Bucareli y Ursua, ordered Pérez to go 600 North (about the latitude of present-day Cordova, Alaska) and return to Monterey. He was not to make any settlement on land; he should simply mark with a wooden cross and take formal possession of any site deemed suitable for occupation. Should any foreign settlements be encountered, he was to avoid them and sail farther north, where the ceremony of taking formal possession should be performed. Continue reading

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Inviting the World to Watch the Election of 1960

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

As the election of 1960 approached, President Dwight Eisenhower made a unique suggestion to Secretary of State Cristian Herter.  In a telephone conversation on the afternoon of October 31, General Andrew Goodpaster, Staff Secretary to the President, informed Herter that the President recommended inviting the foreign diplomatic missions (embassies and legations) in the United States to observe election procedures.[1]  Goodpaster informed the Secretary of State that President Eisenhower realized that some embassies might specifically aim to report voting problems, but “even that would be a plus because we had permitted it to be observed and we are trying to effect improvements.”  To implement the President’s desire, Herter sent the following letter to 87 foreign missions in the U.S.[2]

711.00[11-160

Secretary of State Cristian A. Herter to Minister Peter Voutov of the Bulgarian legation in the US, Circular Letter, Nov 1, 1960, file 711.00/11-160, 1960-63 Central Decimal Files, RG 59

Even though the Department issued the invitation only seven days before the election, many missions accepted the offer.  The countries invited and their responses are indicated on the chart that follows.[3]  Overall, the response was positive, even from those countries that did not participate.  A number of countries declined because of staffing issues (the UN General Assembly was meeting in New York City at the same time), because they saw no need because of familiarity with the U.S. and its election procedures, or planned to rely on radio and television coverage.  Others relied on consular officials already assigned to cities around the U.S.  Still others just declined. Continue reading

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“Arias Bernal’s Trip to Washington”: a Mexican Cartoonist Joins the War Effort

Today’s post is written by Daniel Dancis, an Archivist in the Textual Processing Branch at the National Archives, College Park.

Antonio Arias Bernal, an accomplished Mexican political cartoonist, came to Washington, D.C. in 1942 at the invitation of the U.S. government to create editorial cartoons to promote the Allied war effort. Prior to being invited, Bernal was known for artwork that ridiculed the Axis leaders which regularly appeared on the cover of the Mexican magazine Hoy. His trip to Washington was organized by the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA), a World War II era agency established to promote solidarity and cooperation among the countries of the Western Hemisphere. Primarily concerned with economic and commercial cooperation, the agency also worked to shore up political and cultural support through propaganda messages conveyed in radio, motion picture, and print outlets. Bernal’s contribution came in the form of posters.

As reported in The New York Times on October 2, 1942:

“Posters,” said Señor Bernal, “reach the thousands of our people who do not read but who can understand quickly a dramatic picture.”

Señor Bernal reported that in 1938 he perceived a certain trend to divide the Americas and began to devote his art to unification. At first, he said, he received many anonymous threatening letters, especially after any of his cartoons attacked Hitler. Gradually the number of these letters decreased as sentiment in Mexico became more nearly solidified against the Axis.

Now, he said, he receives none, but he believes that there is still need in Latin America for posters and cartoons showing graphically the issues at stake in this war. [1]

 

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Como un Solo Hombre (As One Man), NAID 44266052

In the image above created by Bernal for the CIAA, a colossal sentry, armed with a rifle, literally emerges in equal parts from North and South America. Below him, the words in Spanish “Como un Solo Hombre” (As One Man), reinforce the meaning of the illustration: the Americas stand united against a common enemy. Continue reading

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A View of the Election of 1960 From Abroad

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

While the Foreign Service reporting found in Department of State files is mostly about the countries in which the U.S. has overseas representation or about U.S. relations with those countries, the files include a modicum of documentation reporting on foreign official and unofficial commentary about events in the U.S.  One topic that usually attracts attention is a U.S. presidential election.

The election of 1960 was one in which foreign policy and national security issues played a major part, most notably the question of the (non-existent) missile gap between the U.S. and the USSR.  Other foreign policy issues included the off-shore islands between mainland China and Formosa/Taiwan and Cuba.

The following documents  from the Central Decimal Files (NAID 302021) consist of the reporting from the U.S. embassy in Moscow that touches on the election.  The final document is a short intelligence assessment about foreign comment on the election the Department of State prepared for President Dwight Eisenhower.

711.00[3-1160

Telegram 2290 U.S. Embassy, Moscow to Department of State, March 11, 1960. File 711.00/3-1160

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Elbridge Gerry and the Constitution, 1787-1788

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

It had been a long, hot summer for Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his colleagues in 1787 at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. They had come to Philadelphia in May to improve upon the Articles of Confederation, which Gerry had signed in 1778, and ended up drafting a Constitution. Gerry had spoken often at the Convention, in fact, the sixth most times. Sometimes his colleagues agreed with him, sometimes not. However, he did not give up in expressing his views regarding government, hoping his colleagues would agree. Finally, during the second week of September he called for reconsideration of certain provisions, including measures to protect individual rights and to curtail the power of the central government. On September 12, believing there was nothing else he could do to stop the proposed constitution from being adopted by the Convention, he moved that a national bill of rights be incorporated into it. He was seconded by George Mason. When his motion was rejected, Gerry unsuccessfully offered numerous specific provisions to guarantee individual liberties.

mural-detail-m

Elbridge Gerry (center) can be seen in the mural of the members of the Constitutional Convention hanging in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.

On September 15, after the members had gone over the final draft, Edmund Randolph, Mason, and Gerry spoke in opposition to the proposed constitution. Gerry, after detailing his minor objections, told the Convention that he could live with them if individual rights had not been rendered insecure by the power of the government to make laws it may call necessary and proper, to raise armies and money without limit, and to establish tribunals without juries. He then joined Mason and Randolph in calling for a second constitutional convention where measures could be adopted to adequately protect individual rights. Continue reading

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Stories of American Escapees from Prisoner of War Camp 59, Servigliano, Part II

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

While many American escapees returned to Allied lines in 1943, once having escaped from Camp 59, as was seen in Part I, many were not able to return until 1944. These are some of their stories.

PFC Richard A. Wombacher, 168th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division, had been captured on December 1, 1942, when taking part in a landing near Bizerte behind the German lines in an attempt to cut the main road. Before reaching the road they were attacked and surrounded by the enemy and forced to surrender after a few hours fighting.  On September 14, Wombacher left Camp 59 in company with five other American soldiers. The party walked south until they reached Falarone where they stayed with Italian families until November 27. During this time truckloads of German SS troops combed the countryside for escaped POWs, but Wombacher and his companions managed to evade them.  On November 27 the party set out again and walked for four days until they reached San Vittoria and here they stayed for a month due to bad weather and fatigue.  At the end of this time, in spite of continued bad weather, Womacher, accompanied by T/4 John Ford, managed his way to Corvara. Here they were snowbound for 21 days in nine feet of snow.  They stayed in a hay barn on the outskirts of the village and were given food by the townspeople. On January 22, Wombacher and Ford left Corvara, walking eight or nine days to Gagliano going cross-country and avoiding villages. They spent from February 3 to March 23 in caves near this town and received food from the villagers. One day Ford and a South African who had joined them, went to Sulmona and contacted an escape organization.  They were provided with clothes, shoes, maps and a compass and returned to Gagliano. After resting for a day and a half they and Womabcher returned to Sulmona and spent two nights there at the headquarters of the organization. Another group of escapees arrived meanwhile and on March 23 Wombacher, Ford and a party of 29 others left with a guide.  They walked part of the evening and all that night, taking a route over Monte Maiella. The going was extremely difficult through deep snow and, being too weak to continue, Wombacher had to drop out.  He and an American Air Force officer, 2nd Lt. Ellis A. Ruppelt (a pilot of a B-25 that had been shot down on August 27, 1943, and who had escaped by parachute from his burning aircraft over Benevento, Italy), made their way to Campo di Giove and remained there four days and nights in an abandoned church. The weather then improved and they again attempted to cross the Maiella Mountains. They walked all night and at dawn found themselves overlooking Palena which was occupied by the Germans.  They hid in a cave all day and at 4pm on March 30 started down the road but almost immediately encountered a patrol of three Germans. They skirted back to the side of the mountain and walked four miles through an abandoned aqueduct arriving at dusk at a point above the village of Torricella Peligna. After dark they followed a road into Lama dei Peligni and encountered a British outpost.[1]

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Stories of American Escapees from Prisoner of War Camp 59, Servigliano, Italy – Part I

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

At the time of the Italian Armistice on September 8, 1943, there were almost 80,000 Allied prisoners of war in Italian camps.  Among these prisoners of war were 1,310 Americans; many were soldiers captured in North Africa and airmen shot down over Italy.[1]

Most of the American prisoners of war were confined at Camp 59, at Servigliano. This camp, 15 miles north of Ascoli, in the foothills of the Apennines, held perhaps as many as 3,000 prisoners, mostly Allied enlisted personnel. Although the camp was well-guarded and thorough searches frequent, numerous tunneling projects were continually in progress. There were quite a few escapes, but most of the prisoners were recaptured. [2]

When the Allied prisoners of war learned of the Armistice, most were in a quandary as to what action to take.  Under orders received earlier in the summer, most remained in their camps under the mistaken impression that Allied forces would soon liberate them. Italian camp authorities also faced their own quandaries.  Without clear orders as to what to do, many simply opened the gates to allow the prisoners to leave their camps. During the first days after the Armistice, perhaps as many as 50,000 prisoners remained in their camps and quickly became prisoners of the Germans. Another 30,000 left their camps.  Some 16,000 were recaptured and 4,000 found safety in Switzerland.  The remaining 10,000 found safety in hiding with the help of Italians, and many found their way back to Allied lines.

The Camp 59 Commandant, apparently a hard-core Fascist, at the Armistice placed his guards around the walls of the Camp, ostensibly to “protect” the prisoners from the Germans but, in reality to detain them until the arrival of the Germans.[3]  On September 14, it was rumored in the camp that the Germans were close by and at 10pm the Senior British Officer (SBO) gave the order to evacuate the camp. As the prisoners started towards the gate, the guards opened fire and the SBO went to the Commandant and asked (or perhaps threatened) that the guards be ordered to cease fire. The order was given over the loudspeaker system and the gates were opened. [4]

With the gates opened, the prisoners took off to get as far away as possible before the Germans arrived in the area.  What follows are stories of some of the American soldiers and airmen who escaped from Camp 59 on September 14.  All of them made it to the Allied lines, some in 1943 and others in 1944.  During the process, some were recaptured, but escaped again to reach the Allied lines.  As will be noticed, all of them received help from Italians.  Without this help many of the escapees would have been recaptured and most likely ended up in a German prisoner of war camp for the duration of the war.

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