Following their weekend in Paris Jinnie and Penny were allowed Monday as a day off, so it wasn’t until Tuesday that they met Gretel on the train to work. As usual, she came puffing up the slope onto the platform as the Thameslink train was pulling into the station. Immediately they sat down Gretel asked where they had been and Penny said, “Working”. Gretel looked at her and asked, “But where?” Jinnie put her finger to her mouth and said quietly, “Not now,” and changed the subject to talk about the forthcoming state visit to the UK by the American president. Once inside Vauxhall Cross, Gretel again asked where they had been for the last couple of days. Jinnie looked at Penny and then replied that they had been on a secret mission and they were currently unable to tell her anything more.
As a new recruit, Penny was on a firearms course and went off to resume where she had left off last week. It was part of the SIS policy that all recruits should know how to handle a handgun. Gretel had been through the course the previous summer and when Jinnie had been sent on it she had lasted half a day before the instructors had sent her away as they realised that she was better with a handgun than they were. Jinnie was spending a placement in mission planning and really enjoying it. She had been given the chance to implement some of the planning training she had got in the cadets and had found it invaluable. She was now beginning to appreciate just why Dirk had wanted her to join the OCU.
Penny was getting more nervous day by day as her ‘A’ level results were due imminently. Jinnie kept reminding her that Dirk had promised that whatever happened she would have a place at Cambridge. But Penny still wanted to get the place on merit and although her teachers had assured her that she would, she still had nagging doubts. Even Larry had picked up on her mood and had taken to sitting on her lap every evening and rubbing his head against her. The morning the results were published Penny was up early as the results were available online from six in the morning. Jinnie was just coming out of the bathroom when she heard her sister yelling with joy. She had achieved A* in French, English and Maths which surpassed the results the college had required. Suddenly her mood picked up and Larry went back to sitting with Jinnie every evening.
The TV, radio and newspapers were still full of pieces about German atrocities and the three oldies had been interviewed numerous times by both British and overseas media. The rare reports on the activities of the resistance groups had grown to virtually daily. What had been a paragraph or two on the bottom of page 20, had been promoted to half a page on the second or third page and, for something spectacular, occasionally even the front page. Opinion polls had moved to a large majority being in favour of supporting the people of occupied countries. Jinnie was delighted to see her ideas being turned into a plan by government and being delivered by the media.
The day after the exam results came out the Italy story broke. Berlusconi had suddenly appeared on all the Italian TV and radio networks. It had not been a scheduled appearance, the British government hackers and resistance workers embedded in the broadcasting companies, had broken into the broadcasts at peak viewing time, on almost every Italian broadcaster. In addition, the broadcast had gone out on BBC World Service television and radio and Voice of America TV and radio. This had enabled Berlusconi to deliver his message directly to the Italian people. Berlusconi revealed that he was in the UK and had several meetings with Mr Farage and they had come to an agreement that the UK was behind what he was about to say. He had spoken, on video links, to the US president and he was behind this announcement, he had spoken to many Commonwealth leaders and they too were backing him. He then said that he was announcing that with immediate effect Italy was unilaterally declaring independence from the Third Reich and becoming an independent country aligned with the Allies. That the Italian army, airforce, navy and police forces, were to immediately eject Nazis embedded in their ranks, that the Italian Resistance Army was to be recognised as an arm of the state military. To that end, alliance forces were already landing at several points and would help the small Italian national forces eject the Third Reich military and police Forces currently in Italy.
The Italian PM continued that he fully expected the Parlamento Italiano to back him and that as soon as Italy was free he would call a general election along the lines of the British post-conflict election. He then thanked the Italian people for listening to him and wished them well, adding that he intended to be back on Italian soil just as soon as it was humanly possible. The Italian TV and radio programmes then faded back to their standard programming while the BBC and Voice of America channels cut to special programmes for the Italian public. The programmes warned the public to remain calm, carry on as normal, cooperate with the Allied force and to stay tuned for the latest information.
The announcement went out at about 19:00 BST and shortly after it finished the BBC broke into their British channels to tell the UK what was happening. They had obviously been pre-warned as they had Berlusconi’s speech in English, a pre-recorded interview with Mr Farage and lots of charts and plans. The prime minister revealed that British, Commonwealth, US and other Allied forces had started beach and airborne landings an hour earlier. The BBC even had war reporters embedded in the British forces and they were reporting being welcomed with open arms by the Italian people when they had landed at places prepared for them by the resistance.
Jinnie and her family were watching Masterchef when the programme was broken into and although she and her sister knew something was going to happen, this was far far more than she expected. Her first thoughts were for Paolo, was he involved? Was he OK? She prayed he was. The family sat watching the reports open-mouthed and the spell was only broken when Nigel Farage came on and Larry started meowing at the sound of his voice.
The Italian Resistance had struck early at many points across the country, cutting railway lines and roads that the Germans could use to ship in reinforcements. In many places, they had seized ports and airports. The Allied jets had been roaring overhead providing top cover and the B52s had swept in from Spain and Britain to hit the Nazi fighter bases, in a surprise attack just as they had in the War of Liberation.
At just after 11 o’clock that first evening now Sgt. Joey Jones drove the first of 2 of his squadrons upgraded Challenge 3 tanks down the slope out of the belly of the massive US C5 Galaxy that had flown them across the Mediterranean from a military airfield near Girona in northern Spain. Around him, on the apron of Milan’s Malpensa airport, other C5s were disgorging other of his regiment’s tanks, armoured fighting vehicles and helicopters. They had so far met nothing but cooperation, when the RAF C130s and American V22 Ospreys disgorged the British paratroops and American marines they had flown on to the airport’s runways they found the resistance had already secured the airport. Several of the early transport aircraft arrivals had already departed and others were lined for the short hop back to Spain for further loads. Joey knew that as soon as the tanks and AFVs could move out and expand the perimeter the fighters, that were overhead, could land and establish an Allied airbase.
HMS Agamemnon was cruising in a racetrack pattern off Livorno where it was tasked with protecting the landings that were going in on the beaches that were to the north of the port and, once the landings were secured, the port itself. So far it had been a quiet trip, the landing craft had gone in at the appointed time and from listening in on the communications net, Commander Dobiecki had gathered that all the targets had been met or exceeded with virtually no resistance. The troops were moving in on Livorno port, of which they had already reached the boundary. The port was important in the plan, as it offered docks to land bigger volumes of reinforcements and supplies at than air transport ever could. The captain scanned the boat’s sensors. Nothing that was not marked as friendly by the IFF was showing, on the surface, under the surface or in the air. It was just too quiet. The Germans had to be out there somewhere.
Paolo had been tasked by his group leader with taking the oil storage depot and refinery just outside the port. His small party had found the security on the main gate expecting them, not in an aggressive manner but with open arms. One of Paolo’s men had just walked casually up to the main gate and engaged a guard in conversation. The guard had heard the Italian PM’s broadcast and said he was hoping the Allies arrived before Germans had a chance to activate their forces. With that, the man signalled the small party forward and the guards had immediately looked to Paolo for orders. Paolo attempted to report the depot was secure using his mobile phone but discovered the network was down. As all he got was static he guessed it was being jammed and resorted to the small military radio he had been given. The information he got back was that the Allies had landed just up the coast and were driving inland and south to take the port. He was told to prominently display the royal blue triangles of cloth he had been supplied with to inform the Allies the depot was in friendly hands and sit back and wait, they were coming and quickly.
Jinnie had sat watching the rolling TV news until she had to go to bed because she was dropping off to sleep. Her family, and even Larry, had already deserted her for their beds. But they weren’t in love with an Italian who was in the resistance. Jinnie had seen live reports from the reporters with the troops at bridgeheads at Turin, Milan and Rome airports, on the beaches of Rimini, Giardini Naxos and Cefalu in Sicily and Bari. All these landings were currently unopposed and by the time she finally gave up, everything seemed to be going well. But as yet she had not heard a single word of Livorno or the area around it.
Off Livorno, the sensors of the Agamemnon finally picked up the propeller noise of a ship which wasn’t transmitting an IFF signal. It was heading south and the computers projected its course backwards to Genoa which was being used as a German naval base. The ship’s current course took it straight through the landing fleet off of Livorno and uncomfortably close to a British aircraft carrier that was suppling air support. Seconds later the computers spewed out the noise identification as a German Sachsen class anti-aircraft frigate. The computer flashed a warning that this class of ship carried electronics designed to fool submarine sensors into firing missiles or torpedos at a “shadow” target. The answer was to visually identify the target.
The Agamemnon set a course so that it could silently lay in wait for the frigate. Four tubes had been loaded with torpedoes and with the boat at electronic periscope depth, Commander Dobiecki patiently waited. When the sensors told him the frigate would be within effective firing range in the next minute the boat’s captain had already visually identified that the frigate was about 500 metres ahead of where the sensors said it was. Two torpedoes were launched at the actual frigate and two hits set it ablaze and broke its back. The abandon ship klaxon was sounding when Dobiecki sent a flash message to the Northwood Command Centre to send rescue boats and slipped away to resume his patrol.
The first thing Jinnie did when her alarm went off at 6:30 was to turn on her portable radio to see what was happening in Italy. The half-hour news bulletin led on the landings and how the Italian people and armed forces were assisting and that prime minister was to make a statement in the House at two that afternoon. The only opposition was coming from German forces and this was currently very limited. At last, Jinnie got a little news of the Livorno area when she leant that, overnight, a German frigate that threatened the local landings had been sunk.
Joey Jones troop of 3 Chieftain 3 tanks lead the squadron of 14 with the squadron commander’s tank, making number 15 at the rear, out from Malpensa Airport and onto the A8 to Milan. The road was designated “secure” so he was riding with his helmeted head out of the turret enjoying the early morning fresh air. The pathfinders, another of the regiment’s squadrons and loads of infantry had already passed this way. His squadron was tasked with racing through Milan and then through the units ahead of him, which were tasked to hold the city, and grabbing the city’s Linate metropolitan airport before the Germans had a chance to take it. Behind the tanks were the Warrior AFVs with his supporting infantry aboard. The plan was that once the runway was secure, C130s would make the short hop from Malpensa, bringing in more troops and the RAF Regiment with its Rapier anti-aircraft launch stations.
As Joey passed through Milan, the crowds of civilians at the side of the road got denser and denser and progress was being threatened. Fortunately the nearer they got to the centre of the city, British infantry and Italian police who were holding the crowds back on the pavement, became more and more regular. Then they were past the first squadron tanks and Joey knew he was in the vanguard of the advance and he had to be much more careful. He dropped into the turret and pulled the lid shut. He had learnt a lesson back in the War of Liberation when he had a close thing with a sniper.
Joey knew that his tank charge was nearly over when he started spotting royal blue cloth triangles on buildings and hanging on road signs. With the agreement of the squadron commander, he spilt the column into two and headed for the maintenance buildings and control tower while the commander took the other half towards the terminal buildings and offices. As the column approached the control tower a man came out of the control tower waving a royal blue triangle. The man approached the tank with his hands raised and explained in quite good English that the airport was in the hands of the resistance and the airport police and was fully operational. He continued that he was an aircraft controller (explaining his good English) and everyone at the airport was at the military’s disposal. Within the first twenty minutes of arriving at the airport, the first of the C130s was unloading troops and the plane carrying the RAF Regiment with the anti-aircraft missiles was on its final approach.
Jinnie took her portable radio into the bathroom with her but she only heard how the resistance had cleared the way for the beach landings and had signalled the pathfinders ashore. How the Italian army, navy and airforce had removed German officers and stayed in their barracks, but put themselves at the Allied force’s disposal. She heard how the Allied forces where spreading out from Turin, Milan and Rome airports and were in complete control of the cities. In Sicily, the American troop’s landings at Cefalu had already taken Palermo and with it the port and airport, while Australian troops that had landed at Giardini Naxos had both gone north and south along the coast taking Messina, with its port for crossing to the mainland, and Catania with another port and airport.
Jinnie made her breakfast, made a fuss of and fed Larry, and took her bowl of cereal and soft boiled egg and soldiers into the living room where she put on breakfast TV. A reporter was standing in front of a big break in a railway track, where a bridge had once stood, and explained how the Italian resistance, who had been responsible for this action at Ventimiglia on the Italian Rivera, had stopped Germany bringing in reinforcements by train from the South of France along the coastal railway line. Larry joined Jinnie in front of the TV where he wasn’t interested in a boiled egg but the dregs of sugary milk in her cereal bowl were a different matter. The programme momentarily switched back to the studio, and the normal breakfast presenters, who passed over to another live satellite report showing ships unloading supplies in a port. Jinnie was only half watching as she was busy tickling Larry’s ears but she suddenly saw the caption “Live from Livorno” pop up. Now alert, she listed as the reporter talked of the landing on the beaches north of the port and how the British troops had quickly moved into the port and the huge oil depot and refinery which had already been secured by the Resistance.
Suddenly the reporter was talking to Paolo, who in his broken English, was telling how the refinery guards had been waiting for them when his team had arrived and had handed control to him and he had simply held on until the Allied troops had arrived. He added that the refinery and port were working as normal and that people were turning up for work. Jinnie found she had tears of joy and relief running down her face as the programme went back to the studio.
A map of Italy filled the screen. Large areas were shown in red where the Allies had taken vast tracts of the country. After only a few hours, more than half of Italy was red, the red blob over Rome had reached up and down the west coast, the red in the north showed that the air landings at Turin and Milan had merged into one contiguous area and that the landings at Livorno and Rimini were threatening to meet across the country and cut it in half. Only 12 hours after the landings, the Allies had consolidated their landing zones, were bringing in more troops and materials and clearly had the Germans on the back foot, unable to bring in reinforcements and without any serious support in the country.
In Chapter 26 – Jinnie makes a trip to the eternal city.
© WorthingGooner 2021