Mason Hammond: The Early Activities of the First American Monuments Man in the Field

This is the fourth in an ongoing series of posts on real-life Monuments Men by Dr. Greg Bradsher. See also his posts on Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, Walter J. Huchthausen, and Seymour J. Pomrenze.

The forthcoming movie, The Monuments Men, has focused great attention on the Monuments Men (and women) and their work during and after World War II.  Of course the movie cannot tell the story of the over 300 individuals involved in Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFA&A) work, so focuses on three: George Stout, James Rorimer, and Rose Valland, played by George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Cate Blanchett respectively.  Over the course of the next two months, I thought it would be illustrative to discuss some of the lesser known individuals.

This post focuses on the first American Monuments Men in the field, Mason Hammond.  This is the fourth in the series of blogs on the Monuments Men.

Mason Hammond, born in 1903, graduated from Harvard in 1925.  He then studied at Oxford University, receiving an A. B. degree in 1927 and a B.Litt. degree in 1930. He returned to Harvard to teach Latin, Greek, and History.  In 1932 he received his master’s degree from Harvard and served as Professor in Charge of Classical Studies at the American Academy in Rome from 1937 to 1939.  He entered military service in 1942.

During the spring of 1943 discussion within the military civil affairs authorities led to the creation of the Office of Adviser on Fine Arts and Monuments to the Chief of Civil Affairs at the headquarters of Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories (AMGOT).  The initial T/O [Table of Organization] called for a Lt. Col. and Major.  On May 13 General Marshall cabled General Eisenhower that for the protection of arts and monuments, the American major position was to be filled by Capt. Mason Hammond and that the British agreed to assign a British captain under Hammond. Hammond was transferred from Air Force Headquarters Washington A-2, Current Intelligence Section on May 21 and sent by air to Allied Forces Headquarters (AFHQ). He reported for duty at Chrea, Algeria, on June 7.

At Chrea and at Tizi Ouzou, Algeria, Hammond acted in the various capacities of student, teacher, and planner.  Three days after arriving at Chrea he produced “Brief Notes for Civil Affairs Officers on the Protection and Care of Monuments, Historic Buildings, Works of Art, etc. in Occupied Areas.” Later in June Hammond drafted for General Administrative Instruction No. 8 on the same subject for the AMGOT Handbook for the guidance of AMGOT Civil Affairs Officers participating in the first phase of operations.

While in North Africa Hammond encountered difficulties in actually making inspections of cultural property, primarily because of lack of transportation, but he did make some inspections and acquired information, which he reported back to the United States, where he requested it be shared with relevant military and civilian organizations and  individuals.

For the pending invasion of Sicily Hammond prepared a very brief “Art History of Sicily” and a list of certain sites which seemed important.  These he was not allowed to reproduce and distribute on account of security.  So Hammond advised all men with whom he talked, to secure local guides, or the standard guides, or to find out from local authorities, what monuments were in their districts, and to ensure their protection.

The invasion of Sicily took place on July 10.  But Hammond was not part of the invasion force.  Because of limitations of transportation, he was not moved forward with the AMGOT Headquarters and, and for weeks, was completely cut off.  The effectiveness of the protection rests, therefore, Hammond wrote a colleague on July 24, wholly in the hands of the Civil Affairs Officers attached to task forces-who had a great deal else to think about.  In terms of bombing the island he hoped there would be little damage, and that it would not lead to serious deterioration through any delay in getting attention.  “And,” he added, “one can only hope that unsettled conditions will not lead to thievery, souvenir collecting, etc. by either inhabitants or troops.”

On July 27 Hammond preceded by air from AFHQ via Tunis to Syracuse, reporting for duty at AMGOT Advanced Headquarters at Syracuse, on July 29.  Several days later Hammond wrote the Chief Civil Affairs Officer regarding the damage done by troops in the Syracuse area and requested transportation, because he was dependent “on chances of travel with others, which binds me to their route and their disposition of time.”  On August 3 Hammond proceeded as part of the Headquarters convoy to Palermo.

From August 4 until September 10 he was tied to Palermo for a number of reasons: lack of other personnel, lack of transport, and the pressure of work. While at Palermo Hammond produced reports about the situation and in mid-September he produced a paper entitled “Suggestions to SCAO’s and CAO’s [Senior Civil Affairs Officers and Civil Affairs Officers] for the handling of questions relative to Monuments and Fine Arts in Sicily.”

Analyzing his work on Sicily, Robert M. Edsel in his Saving Italy, observed that: “Hammond assessed damage to monuments, effected temporary repairs where possible, got superintendents and other local museum and church officials back to work, and cut down on billeting problems by well-intended troops seeking shelter. His work in the field proved the job could be done.” “Serving as the guinea pig for the Monuments officers,” Edsel added, became Hammond’s enduring legacy.  Each miscue provided invaluable information about what to do differently once Allied forces reached the Italian mainland and began the push northward.”

Following the Italian surrender in September 1943, AMGOT was abolished, and a new Sub-Commission on Fine Arts and Monuments was created within Headquarters Allied Military Government.  In late November, the Sub-Commission was renamed Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives.

During the fall of 1943 Hammond would be joined by other MFA&A personnel and they tackled the difficult problems associated with protecting cultural property in a war-torn country.  One of his new colleagues was Maj. Theodore Sizer, formerly director of the Art Gallery and professor of the History of Art at Yale University.  In November, soon after arriving at Sicily Sizer wrote “Everything worthwhile has been already magnificently accomplished by Mason Hammond.”  Hammond’s hard work took its toll on him.  On December 2 Sizer wrote a mutual friend, that “M. H. literally worked himself to death & has been in the hospital [in Palermo] the past 10 days-out soon.”

Hammond would leave the hospital and continue his MFA&A work in Italy, serving with the 15th Army Group in Naples. Early in 1944, he was transferred to England, where he was assigned to the section responsible for planning MFA&A activities in Germany.  He would subsequently serve in MFA&A supervisory positions in France and Germany, including heading the MFA&A Branch of the United States Group Control Council.  For his work in the MFA&A, he was promoted to major and then lieutenant colonel and received honors from the Italian and Dutch governments, as well as the French Legion of Honor.  He would leave military service in 1946, and return to his teaching and writing careers. He would pass away in 2002 at age ninety-nine.

Hammond’s early career can be followed in the Subject File Aug 1943-1945, Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Section, Operations Branch, G-5 Division, General Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331; Security Classified General Correspondence, 1943-July 1949, General Records, Civil Affairs Division, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, RG 165.

The exploits of Hammond, Sizer, and other MFA&A personnel in Italy are detailed in Robert M. Edsel, Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013).