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The first operational drop in British military history took place on February 7 1941 in southern Italy. With the commandoes was an SOE recruit, a former head waiter from the Savoy Hotel who had lived in Britain for 20 years Fortunato Picchi. The commandoes blew up an aqueduct but it was not seriously damaged and the entire party was captured. Picchi was tried as a traitor found guilty and shot.
Starting in 1941 SOE’s man in Switzerland became convinced that he was in contact with a network of pro British active ant Fascists who were causing damage across northern Italy. Reports reached him from Italy of sabotage attacks together with appeals for money and explosives. British supplies were smuggled from Switzerland into Italy, the Royal Air force dropped supplies and the Royal Navy landed supplies on the coast. Only after the armistice when Italian intelligence officers changed sides was the deception discovered. The Italians had exaggerated incidents in factories or train derailments etc and claimed that these were sabotage attacks.
In October 1942 Antonio Gallo an SOE agent landed on the Sicilian coast together with an MI6 agent. Gallo had been loaned to MI6 as it needed a radio operator. An SOE staff officer on learning that MI6 had no contacts in Sicily and that no safe house had been arranged warned that it seemed “more or less a suicide job”. Shortly after landing from a submarine both were captured taken to Rome and shot.
In January 1943 two SOE agents were landed in Sardinia both were captured within 24 hrs of landing. One agent was taken to Corsica where under threat of execution he helped in the round up of French SOE agents who were shot. He was later shot. The other agent Antonio Gallo was forced to send messages pretending that he was operating successfully. The British send more agents and stores which the Italians captured. Gallo was subsequently moved to prison in Rome and was shot by the Germans in June 1940. An Italian prisoner of war later told the British that they were caught “because they approached a shepherd whilst he was guarding his flock” and “No native would ever do this”.
In a police station near Anzio in 1944 British troops found a document warning all concerned of a projected attempt on the life of the Duce sponsored by the British and a description of the assassin. SOE in August 1942 had placed an agent Giovanni Di Giunta in a prisoner of war camp in Palestine. His job was to escape from the camp and make his way to Turkey from where he would be repatriated to Italy thus arousing no suspicion. Once in Italy he would assassinate Mussolini. Di Giunta boasted about his mission to a friend in the camp and SOE heard about it. It seemed that Di Giunta had doubts about the mission and when back in Italy might turn himself in, the mission was aborted. Possibly the Italians had found out from the man Di Giunta had boasted to in the prison camp. He was the MI6 agent who in October 1942 landed in Sicily with Antonio Gallo
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Budiansky, Stephen (2000). Battle of Wits: The complete story of Codebreaking in World War II
European Axis Signal Intelligence in World War II, Volume I, Synopsis. DOC ID 3560861" (PDF). Army Security Agency