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Victor Failmezger
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
A very detailed look at the goings on in the City of Rome from just before the Italians changed sides and the Germans occupied the majority of Italy. The Germans were not best pleased about the Italians ‘treachery’ as they saw it so life was not easy for Italians, both military and civilian.

While the book concentrates on Rome, the author does go off on some tangents which affected life in Rome itself. For instance, the rescue by Skorzeny of Mussolini, although Skorzeny did not lead the raid, he made sure he got the publicity. Mussolini did not come back to Rome but his supporters were encouraged by his release and this made life between Fascists and others, mainly Communists, very fraught.

The book covers five main groups, the Italians, both civilians and resistance, the Germans, the Vatican, the Allies fighting towards northern Rome from Anzio and lastly the Allied Prisoners of War (PoWs).

This latter group makes up the core of the book and is absolutely fascinating, When the Italians capitulated and changed sides, many Italian soldiers just downed tools and went home. This left many PoW camps unguarded. Thousands of PoWs took the opportunity just to walk out of the doors to freedom. Now the Germans were not daft and expected this so were swift in rounding up many of these loose Allied servicemen, but a great many made it to the hills, were assisted by local Italians, much to their peril and many of them made their way to Rome. When the Germans got round to occupying Rome hundreds of Allied prisoners were being looked after by ordinary, or in many cases, extraordinary Italians right under the noses of the Germans.

The Vatican was officially a neutral State and this was respected by the Germans, even though they were sure the Vatican, or some of the people in it, were helping Allied PoWs. A very effective escape line was organised through the Vatican with a handful of officers running this from there. How the various Ambassadors acted and how their staff helped out is an enthralling story which the author has brought in full. While this is about the Vatican and the reactions of Pope Pius XII, it does not delve in to the Vatican but the periphery where the ambassadors lived, worked and looked after their country’s interests.

The Germans respected the neutrality of the Vatican and a white line was drawn round St Peter’s Square which was not crossed but was guarded by the Germans. Getting in and out of the Vatican was not a major issue other than the protagonists had to ensure that Vatican neutrality was not brought into question, which they did successfully. Thus the escape line were able to get money, clothes, papers to escapees and set them off down the line towards the Allies. Hundreds of men were fed through or just round Rome.

The Italians. There were still Fascists loyal to Mussolini and the Germans but there were many Italians glad to see Italy officially out of the war and from this a strong Resistance movement was formed. Some of the antics were almost comical and ‘Allo ‘Allo-esque but this was not a joke and lives were at stake; many lost their lives resisting the Germans. There was one specific occasion when, following a bomb attack, the Germans took their well known style of revenge. Rounded up a group of Italians from the street and executed them in reprisal. Many families took in escaped PoWs and looked after them knowing what the punishment would be if discovered – or denounced by some Italian with a grudge, as happened on occasion. Money to buy food was smuggled out of the Vatican escape line to them to feed these people. Several wealthy Romans gave their own money to assist in this. There were a huge number of brave actions undertaken during the occupation.

The Jews. Under the rule of Mussolini, the Jews were, in the main, left alone and continued as ordinary members of the city population. The arrival of the Germans ended this and hundreds were shipped off to the death camps of eastern Europe. At one point the Jewish leadership were asked for a huge sum of gold and the Germans would spare they remaining Jews. Well, the gold was found handed over to the SS who shipped it to SS HQ in Berlin where it just lay in a box in an office und=til being found as the Allies too Berlin. The gold was returned to the Jewish community in Rome after the war.

The story is bookended by the initial panic as the Italians changed sides with the Italian general asking for 15 days to organise a resistance. This was refused by the Allies so the government was in complete panic and confusion as they escaped south. In contrast the Germans took just two days to occupy the whole of the City. The end of the story tells of General Mark Clark driving round Rome looking for someone to greet him as the conquering hero. A bit is made of his decision to take Rome rather than cut off the main German army in their retreat from Anzio.

This is a really good, detailed and well written book of some 440+ pages of narrative, an extensive bibliography and good Index. I did not know what to make of this book when I first got it as it was written by an American former serving officer so I thought it would go the route of many books written by Americans and ignoring anything not done by US troops. Far from it, this book is about the people of Rome and their stand against the Germans. The rest, while extremely interesting, is just add-on’s to the lives of the People of Rome and the Vatican. This book is a salute to them.

This book is a very strong 4 Mr MRHs.

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