This post is part of an after-action report of Unconditional Surrender! (Salvatore Vasta, GMT Games) and therefore entirely fictitious.
Letter from Salvatore Graniti, Counsellor of Legation in the Italian diplomatic service, formerly posted as a liaison with the British Army in Germany, to Gianni Rossatti, Counsellor of Embassy, posted at the Italian embassy in London
Milan, August 13, 1942
Most esteemed Gianni!
You will have heard what has befallen the forces under the command of General Montgomery – and by extension, to our Italian division, and to me as liaison with the British Army in Germany. I am happy to tell you that I am alive, unwounded, and, unlike most others who served with that unit, not in captivity.
When General Montgomery’s headquarters came under attack by German forces, I happened to be on an errand to the 1st Italian division in Alsace. A stray artillery shell hit my jeep, and we crashed into the ditch. My driver was dead immediately. Poor Paolo! He’d been with my all this time since Sicily. Frankly, I write this letter to you so I can postpone writing the one to his parents. What am I to tell them that will not just give them grief?
I made my way out of the car and hobbled to the edge a nearby grove. There I climbed an oak – mostly with my arms and my right leg, as the left one had suffered during the accident – to gain some intelligence. I could see several German squads advancing, so I concealed myself as best as I could in the treetop. Most of them bypassed the grove, but one squad went through it, and all the time I felt like my heartbeat alone must alert them of my presence.
When I felt reasonably secure, I passed on through the grove, and, finally, across the grain fields. A blessing the campaigns in Alsace had prevented the harvest until then! So I could crawl through the fields unseen until I came close to a village. I dared not enter while there was light. Hours after nightfall, I finally sneaked in, hoping for a well to refill my canteen. Indeed, I found one – and then I was found! A small figure was on the other side of the well. However, she seemed as startled as I. I gambled on the French being still fonder of us than of their German masters and whispered to her that I was Italian. It seemed to calm her. She beckoned me to come along with her.
And what could I lose? If she wanted to turn me in, she could have done so that at the well. So I duly followed for a minute or two until we reached a small farmhouse. „Wait here“, she said. „I’ll get you other clothes. That uniform is going to get you killed otherwise.“ And so I was soon transformed, wearing the shirt and wide pants of the French villager. She took the uniform and promised to burn it the following day. I must confess, I did not feel much grief for it. After all, I am no soldier – just a diplomat who happened to go to war. (Similar things are true for most others who wear uniforms in this war, I guess.)
I would have liked to ask her for food, for shelter, for guidance, for her name. But I knew she had taken more of a risk for me already than I deserved. So I departed. For the next two days I trekked south in direction of the Swiss border. I crossed a few kilometers south of Basel and reached the city without being spotted by Swiss patrols. Crossing the Rhine on my way to our consulate Basel was the oddest thing. There I was, two kilometers away from Germany, and yet I was untouchable and everything seemed so peaceful.
There is not much more to tell. The colleagues at the consulate congratulated me on having made it out, gave me food and drink, and prepared the documents for me to travel to Milan. A longer and more formal version of this report has been sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So far, I have not received any new instructions which leaves me with plenty of time to sit in cafés and read newspapers. What is this new thing I read about a government crisis in Britain? Do enlighten me. The London correspondents of our papers do not seem to know much, and they fill the gaps with speculation.
And, most importantly: How are things with you?
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