Operation Simcol was a parachute mission behind enemy lines in October 1943 to rescue and evacuate Allied service personnel who had escaped from prisoner of war camps in Italy following the Italian Armistice on 8 September.
A large number of Allied service personnel managed to escape, against Army orders, into the neighbouring hills and countryside before the Germans had time to move in and reassert control over the camps.
An operation to rescue and evacuate personnel in the Marche and Abruzzi regions was requested in mid September by 15 Army Group, following concerns that the Germans would take steps to round the escaped prisoners up and transport them to Germany.
It was evident that the operation should be mounted as quickly as possible and detailed planning was started by Lt Col Simmonds at Bari on 29 September 1943. It was considered that 2 October was the earliest date by which all aircraft and stores could be assembled.
The plan required 5 detachments or 'sticks' of men to parachute into different areas and co-ordinate the rescue operation with jeep patrols from 2 Special Air Service Regiment (2 SAS). Each detachment was planned to comprise one officer, an interpreter and eight other ranks. Three detachments were provided by 1st Parachute Brigade, one from each of the battalions, another was provided by 2 SAS and the fifth by US forces.
Each detachment was tasked to seek out the escaped PoWs and send them to designated rendezvous locations to be lifted off by chartered Italian vessels or Assault Landing Craft (ALCs) carrying British armed guards and taken back to Termoli.
Briefings and final arrangements were made in Bari on 30 September and 1 October where the detachments were issued with money, maps, esacape aid boxes and cigarettes.
The detachments dropped with sufficient rations for 48 hours, sten guns and grenades and it was planned that Dakotas would drop further supplies in support of the search and rescue parties.Unfortunately not all detachments had signals due to a shortage of wireless sets.
The operation was only planned to last for 14 days. In the event most men who took part in Simcol operated behind enemy lines for much longer than this and by 15 November all members of 1st Para Bn's detachment and most of 2nd Para Bn's detachment were unaccounted for.
The mission was extremely hazardous for the members of the Simcol detachments, particularly following Hitler's infamous ‘Commando Order’ issued on 18 October 1942, ordering the annihilation of all men operating on Commando raids against German troops regardless of circumstances.
Several hundred Allied personnel were rescued and at least 3 Military Crosses, 2 Distinguished Conduct Medals and 3 Military Medals were awarded to personnel who took part in the operation.
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