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]

T/Sgt. William A. Madunich, 513th Bombardment Squadron, 376th Bombardment Group, had been captured by Italian soldiers when he was forced to bail out of a crippled bomber near Sant Maria, Italy on July 18, 1943.  On September 14, Madunich, accompanied by two other Americans left Camp 59 and walked south to San Vittoria where they were fed and sheltered by friendly Italian peasants. While here he heard of a plan to evacuate escapees by boat from the coast near the mouth of the Menocchia River but when he reached the rendezvous area the plan had been discovered and no boats arrived.  Madunich then returned to Montelpero where he met another American escapee and after two weeks they decided to set out for the Allied lines.  Reaching San Elpido they were taken in by a friendly Italian family and stayed with them for three months.  On February 1, 1944, Fascists entered the house and took Madunich to the civil prison at Ascoli Piceno where he was kept for 23 days before being moved, on February 23, to a POW Camp at Aquila.  On the night of March 1, approximately 400 prisoners were loaded into box cars, to be taken north by rail.  That night several prisoners were shot for attempting to escape through the floor of the car.  The next night another attempt to escape was made and one American prisoner was killed and his body dragged in full view of the prisoners before being buried alongside the track.  That same night Madunich and several others escaped through a vent in the roof of the car.  He traveled with two other American soldiers but on March 8 separated from them as he was barefooted and unable to continue in the snow at their pace.  Travelling alone he went through Umbertide and Gubbia to Fabriano where a priest gave him a pair of shoes and took him to a partisan band.  He stayed with the band and took part in several raids against the Germans before the band was forced to scatter. Madunich set out for San Epidio where he remained in hiding until June 26. On that date after being informed that the Allies had taken Porto San Giogio, Madunich walked south to contact them, arriving on June 28.[2]

 

Private Lawrence Danich, Co. D, 2nd Bn., 1st Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division, was captured on February 15, 1943 during the fighting in the Kasserine Pass, Tunisia, after all four tanks of his company had been hit and put out of action by enemy fire and he himself had been wounded in the leg by shrapnel. He was taken to a hospital at Bari, Italy. On April 1, 1943 Danich was moved to Camp 75 near Bari and remained there until the end of May when he was taken to Camp 59. During his stay in this camp Danich was punished for starting to dig an escape tunnel. Danich left Camp 59 on September 14 in company with a Private Ellsworth. They decided to go towards Rome and walked in a southwesterly direction but on the third morning were advised by civilians to make for Pescara as it was expected that it would very shortly be taken by the Allies.  Accordingly Danich and Ellsworth started off in the direction of Pescara, stopping at various small villages on the way to obtain shelter and food. On September 21 they changed their uniforms for civilian clothes at a farmhouse and the next day started the crossing of the Gran Sasso Mountains.  It had been raining very heavily and on September 23 Danich became ill, running a high fever.  An Italian doctor gave him medicine and hot packs but would not allow him to continue his journey with Ellsworth who left alone. The next day, September 24, the Germans searched the village and Danich was taken to a cave in the hills.  While here he met Squadron Leader Nathaniel Nye, a RAF Chaplain from Camp 59, who stayed with him for a week. At the end of the week Danich left alone and headed for Pescara, stopping at villages for a day or two en route.

On the way he was told by another escapee that the area was dangerous owing to the presence of many German troops in the vicinity. The next day he met a group of five Yugoslav escapees and joined up with them and stayed in the Ville of Carpineto for 2 days. Then the Germans came to the town and Danich and his companions retreated into the mountains where they stayed in a shack from late October until March 3, 1944. During the latter part of their stay, from January onwards, the villagers were afraid to help them. The escapees were short of food and owing to the extreme cold suffered considerable hardship. Towards the end of February they heard rumors of a method of escape so on March 3 a party of about 20 formed and started off. They made a big semi-circle through the mountains and in five days got to within 10 miles of Chieti.  Here they were told to proceed to Guardiagrele, in the foothills of the Maiella Mountains, where they would find a guide to take them through the lines. Arriving at Guardiagrele they were unable to find the guide, and so  split up and walked to a town just behind the lines.  At a farmhouse on March 9, Danich met two British escapees who were going to attempt the crossing. He joined them and the three set out that night. Danich was now walking on his bare feet, as his shoes had fallen to pieces at Guardiagrele, and was suffering considerable pain. The party passed through the first German outpost in the midst of a group of Italians and got by unnoticed. At the next outpost they were halted by a German sentry but darkness enabled them to break away and run for it. Going through some barbed wire they sneaked past a third German outpost and were picked up by a British patrol early on the morning of March 10. Danich was then taken to a British aid station for treatment before being sent back to join his own forces. [3]

camp59blueprint-2_g72

Plan for the Layout of Camp 59 from 1915. Gray area indicates area used during World War II.

Sgt. William P. Hancock, Jr., 441st Bombardment Squadron, 320th Bombardment Group, was tail gunner on a B-26 which had as its mission the bombing of the Marshalling yards at Villa Littoria. During the mission Hancock was forced to bail out from his crippled aircraft.  After remaining in hiding for two days, some civilians picked him up and took him to the local police. They took him to Camp 66 at Capua and later to Camp 59.  On September 14, Hancock and three others left Camp 59 and started south, but were recaptured by the Germans when one of their party became ill. As the Germans were taking them to a prison camp, a P-51 strafed the column wounding Hancock who was then taken to an Italian hospital.  On October 24 they were advised by Fascist guards that they were going to be taken to Germany.  One American and one South African tried to escape.  On being discovered they raised their hands in token of surrender, but the Fascist shot the American soldier who died the next day.  He attempted to shoot the South African but his pistol jammed.  On December 28, the Germans loaded the POWs into a freight car. When the train started up, Hancock and two others managed to force open a window and tear off the barbed wire, jump from the moving train and make their way into the woods. They met a former American who sheltered them and supplied them with maps.  On April 6, 1944, Hancock and two others were captured by Germans. They were taken to a POW Camp where they remained for a month and then moved to Camp 82 at Laterina.  On June 17, the Allied push forced the Germans to evacuate the camp and Hancock, taking advantage of the confusion in moving, remained behind although the area was swept with machine gun fire and hand grenades thrown in. That night they moved into the hills where a partisan band took them in until July 5, when they contacted Allied forces near Siena. [4]

S/Sgt. George H. Tucker, 96th Bombardment Squadron, 2nd Bombardment Group, on July 14, 1943, was forced to bail out over the Straits of Messina when his plane was hit by flak. He was captured by Italians who took him to PW Camp 66 at Capua where he remained for one month, and then removed to Camp 59.  On September 14, Tucker left Camp 59 in the company of S/Sgt. Kingsland.  They headed for the hills and an Italian who told them to stay in his home until the Allies reached that area.  They agreed and stayed with this family until October 15, when they again headed towards the lines at Cassino.  They arrived in the Germans lines near Cassino, but were captured at the Volturno on December 3 and returned to a prison at Spoleto. They stayed here for six weeks. Once here Tucker escaped and again attempted to pass thru the German lines, but was again captured at Sulmona on April 6. He was returned to a prison camp at Laterina (Camp 82) where he remained until June 18. He and his friend escaped once more and took to the hills and headed once more for the front.  On July 5, they made contact with Allied Troops at Pelasola, just south of Florence.[5]

Additional information about the airmen mentioned above can be located at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, in the Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs), 1942-1947 (National Archives Identifier: 305256), in the Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Record Group 92. Typically, a MACR gives some or all of the following kinds of information about each crew member:

  • Name
  • Rank
  • Service number
  • Crew position
  • Name and address of next of kin

The report also usually indicates the following:

  • Army Air Forces organization to which the aircraft was assigned
  • Place of departure and destination of the flight plan
  • Weather conditions and visibility at the time of loss
  • Cause of crash
  • Type, model, and serial number of the aircraft and its engines
  • Kinds of weapons installed and their serial numbers

Some MACR case files include the names of persons with some knowledge of the aircraft’s last flight. In some cases these are rescued or returned crew members. Most reports do not contain all of the above information, especially those prepared in 1943 and in 1947.

Also useful for biographical information about the American soldiers and airmen mentioned above is the series of records, at the National Archives, entitled Identity Cards for American Prisoners of Italian Army (Entry UD 1024), Records of the Allied Screening Commission (Italy), Records of Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, Record Group 331. These records were created in 1942 and 1943 and acquired from the Italian Government by the Allied Screening Commission (Italy).  The series consists of preprinted 5” x 8” cards labeled “Scheda Personale P.G.”  The “P.G.” denotes Prigione di Guerra (Prison of War) and Scheda Personale translates as Personal Card. The cards pertain to American prisoners of war of the Italians. The cards have places for information about the prisoner of war. The information provided, in most instances, is:

  • name
  • name of father and mother
  • Army serial number
  • branch of service
  • date of birth, birthplace, nationality
  • marital status, religion, profession, address
  • date and place of capture.

On the reverse side, prisoner of war camp information is provided.  The American prisoners of war were captured during 1942 and 1943 in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy.


Photo Credits and additional reading:

  • Photos of views of Camp 59, as seen in 1968, taken by Tony Vacca. Obtained from Camp59Survivors
  • Layout of  Camp from 1915 comes from State Archives at Fermo, Italy. Obtained from Camp59Survivors
  • The Camp 59 Survivors Blog provides a space to share experiences of the Allied Servicemen who were Prisoners of War at Servigliano, Italy. Many thanks to Dennis Hill and the Vacca Family.

[1] Memo, Richard N. Tandler, Lt. Col., A.C. G-2 (P/W) Section, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2 to Commanding General, Mediterranean Theater of Operations, Subject: Recommendation for Award of Bronze Star Medal [PFC Richard A. Wombacher], January 5, 1945, Bronze Star Medal Recommendations Oct. 1944-June 1945 (NAID 68121207), Allied Screening Commission (Italy), Records of the Allied Screening Commission (Italy) and Prisoner of War Claims Screening Commission, Records of Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331.

[2] Memo, Philip V. Holder, Lt. Col., GSC. G-2 (P/W) Section, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2 to Commanding General, Mediterranean Theater of Operations, Subject: Recommendation for Award of Bronze Star Medal [T/Sgt. William A. Madunich], June 3, 1945, Bronze Star Medal Recommendations Oct. 1944-June 1945 (NAID 68121207), RG 331.

[3] Memo, Richard  N. Tandler, Lt. Col., A.C. G-2 (P/W) Section, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2 to Commanding General, Mediterranean Theater of Operations, Subject: Recommendation for Award of Bronze Star Medal [Private Lawrence Danich], February 15, 1945, Bronze Star Medal Recommendations Oct. 1944-June 1945 (NAID 68121207), RG 331.

[4] Memo, Philip V. Holder, Lt. Col., GSC. G-2 (P/W) Section, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2 to Commanding General, Mediterranean Theater of Operations, Subject: Recommendation for Award of Bronze Star Medal [Sgt. William P. Hancock, Jr.], June 24, 1945, Bronze Star Medal Recommendations Oct. 1944-June 1945 (NAID 68121207), RG 331.

[5] Memo, Philip V. Holder, Lt. Col., GSC. G-2 (P/W) Section, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2 to Commanding General, Mediterranean Theater of Operations, Subject: Recommendation for Award of Bronze Star Medal [S/Sgt. George H. Tucker], June 27, 1945, Bronze Star Medal Recommendations Oct. 1944-June 1945 (NAID 68121207), RG 331.

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

  1. Did know about the complete story. Thanks for posting.

    Like

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