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. 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.
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. 
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. 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].”