Diary of Writing Italy’s Sorrow

Two Good Days, 17 August, 2006

Have just had two really good days in London.  Yesterday, I got the train up and was at the National Archives in Kew before 11am.  These archives seem to get better with every passing month, and I’ve now cottoned on to the fact that I can order documents and reading desk the day before so that they are waiting for me when I arrive.  In this case, a big folder of translated statements from German commanders in Italy was waiting for me.  They were all voluntary statements, but obviously had been collected as Allied lawyers began work on the war crimes trials, as they all addressed the issue of partisan reprisals and civilian executions.  There were a number of lengthy statements from Kesselring, as well as from all the key players, and very revealing they were too.  There was also a detailed statement from Max Simon, commander of the 16th Waffen-SS, and at long last I think I’ve got my answer as to the chain of command for the orders to destroy the Stella Rossa in September 1944.  I then looked at two very detailed files on General Karl Wolff, the senior SS officer in Italy.  Included were a number of bugged conversations held shortly after the end of the war, as well as lengthy interviews and interrogations.  I now have detailed accounts of Wolff’s efforts to bring about an early peace deal in Germany from Clark’s papers in Charleston and now from the horse’s mouth as well.  What also interested me was the degree of mistrust and back-biting amongst the senior German commanders in Italy, as well as the complete breakdown of command in the last days of the war.  Wolff’s personality comes across very clearly, more so than many men at his level of seniority and I think it is going to be interesting trying to bring him alive once more in the book.

Later in the afternoon I headed to East Sheen to see Wladek Rubnikowicz.  I have interviewed Wladek before, but last time it was at the Polish Centre in Hammersmith along with two other Polish Italy veterans and the quality of the recording was not great.  His wife, Teresa, has been very helpful to me over the past couple of years, so it was nice to meet her properly for the first time.  Wladek speaks very quietly but his memory is good and his words are quite precise.  Afterwards, we sat around their table eating tea, which was really welcome as by that time I was ravenously hungry.

The following day, I went over to the Imperial War Museum and there looked at the papers of General Oliver Leese, commander of Eighth Army for much of the Italian campaign.  Leese and Clark notoriously disliked one another, and while his unpublished memoir were unremarkable, his extensive and lengthy letters to his wife were far more revealing.  On several occasions he splutters indignantly to his wife about Clark’s attitude to Rome, which was just what I was after.  I didn’t have time to finish off, so a return trip is definitely in order.

When I got home, there was a package waiting for me from IWM Duxford, where all the British German records are kept.  Stephen Walton at Duxford had sent me a list of all the German material relevant to Italy and at first glance there seems to be a fair amount.  I don’t need much excuse to go to Duxford, so I must ring Stephen and fix a date to come up and look at them.

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