The supplies

The extent of the concrete commitment of Allies in helping Italian partisans can be assessed by examining the data related to the goods actually dispatched through air missions in the only period between August 1944 and February 1945. They are listed below:

Items Quantity
PIAT or launcher, grenade, rocket 326
Mortars 214
MMGs 260
LMGs 3,679
SMGs 18,306
Rifles 15,565
AT rifles 70
Pistols 1,044
AT Ammo 390
Mortar bombs 16,619
PIAT bombs or rockets 10,729
SA Ammo 25,118,137
AT AP Ammo 17,104
Grenades 114,808
Mines 9,006
Explosives and accessories 497,282
W/T (Wireless Telegraph) sets 63
Batteries 134
Electric generators 65
Receivers 44
Ration packs 1,046
Bulk food [lb] 183,887
Battledress or trousers & jacket 13,658
Greatcoats 6,270
Capes, G/sheets or raincoats 899
Pullovers or sweaters 12,011
Shirts 24,474
Underwear 10,191
Socks 31,896
Boots or shoes 19,510
Blankets 5,175
Medical 10,160

Total amount of supplies launched to Italian partisans by the Allies from August 1944 to February 1945 [1].

The deployment of logistic units and packing stations dedicated to the supply of Italian partisans took considerable organizational effort on the part of the Allies. There were many issues: first of all, there was a chronic shortage of parachutes. Furthermore, the low number of available bombers set a limit to the supply rate of delivery [2].

The materials and the goods to launch were packaged in two different ways: for the most fragile goods it was necessary to perform a braked launch and they were packaged in special cylindrical steel containers (British made “C” and “H” type containers), in which even a small folding motorbike could be placed [3]. Less sensitive goods (such as footwear, blankets and clothing) were packed in semi-rigid bundles which were dropped freely (in the case of footwear, blankets and clothing) or with a parachute as well.


British “C” type container.

The containers were equipped with a percussion pad which served to dampen the impact to the ground.

Despite the care in packing the goods, one of the most frequent complains by allied missions was about the damaging, during the launches, of the sensible radio equipment which constituted a unique and vital channel of communication with the headquarters [4], [5].

Although the most critical aspect of the supply of partisans was undoubtedly the one of transport and launch, deciding about the exact goods to send and about their amount proved equally difficult.

Within the huge variety of weapons available to partisans [6], the problem of standardization of the supply of ammunition and spare parts soon arose. A significant episode is the one concerning an allied liaison officer who was forced to deliver back to his command a few samples of the ammunition that he actually needed for his group, since all the cartridges sent with previous launches were of the wrong type [7]. This was such a problem that the British had to print a real ammunition catalog for their liaison officers, so they could be able to choose on the field and order the right items [8].

It became clear to Allied commands, moreover, that in the selection of the goods to be sent attention to the smallest details was of the utmost importance [9], [10].

For example, most of the complaints about the clothing that was dropped were about the regular military boots, which proved to be useless to the Italian mountain life: even the Finnish thermal boots and ski boots, both of which were usually supplied to the allied troops, had proven to be totally inadequate for use in alpine environment [11], [12]. To be suitable to mountain use, as a liaison officer detailed, boots would have to be of the highest type and should have been reinforced with steel nails. On the other hand it was also observed that nailing caused a sound patter while walking in rocky areas, as well as generating sparks; this made it impossible for the men to keep their movements unnoticed and to take advantage of the surprise [13].

Furthermore, it was often necessary to the Italian partisans to remain indistinguishable from the local civilian people; special operations headquarters were therefore forced to buy stocks of Italian-made clothes and to send them to the fighters.

While sending food could be of doubtful priority, except for some cases of obvious necessity, between allied liaison officers it was a widely shared belief that some goods like cigarettes, tobacco and coffee, considered downright luxury goods at the time, were absolutely essential. This was not only for the comfort that they could give to the fighters, but also because they were very useful for barter and for diplomatic negotiations [14].

Medical supplies, as well as intended to raise the morale of Italian partisans, were a vital necessity to them: hardly ever they could rely on the care of doctors, nurses or hospitals. In the Friuli area the closest partisan hospital was Franja [15] (Partizanska bolnica Franja) operated by the Slovene IX Korpus, over 60 miles (96 km) far from Udine and accessible only with many hitches. In general, the healing hope of an Italian partisan injured or suffering from a disease depended essentially on his resilience and on the rudimentary cares that he could receive from his companions.

Among the goods that were regularly launched, finally, there was always a considerable amount of propaganda leaflets, called ‘nickels’, which contained various messages, news, information and propaganda aimed both to friends and foes. This activity (nickeling) was considered extremely important by the Allies, as part of the psychological warfare [16].

The amount of the supplies was the subject of constant complaints by the leaders of the Italian National Liberation Committee, first of all those sent to the Allies by the leader Ferruccio Parri. In August of 1944 the question rose to such fiery tones that the tension between the Allies and partisans leaders came to very high levels [17].

The amount of the aids, especially those consisting of arms and related material, was often judged entirely inadequate to the needs of guerrilla warfare even by partisans leaders operating in the field, as Francesco de Gregori, Commander of the East Osoppo Brigade, wrote on his diary on January 10, 1945 [18].

The fighters who received the supplies on the ground and used them tended to be grateful, rather than critical. The written reports and complaints about the quality of the supplies, in fact, came almost exclusively from the allied liaison officers.

On the other hand, allied liaison officers exercised careful control over the needs of partisans and watched in order that all the provided material was used in the most efficient way and exclusively in order to damage the common enemy [19].

[1] Condit (1954), p. 36.
[2] Ivi, p. 14.
[3] It is the Welbike, the smallest ever motorcycle  provided to the British Army. It had been specially designed for SOE in 1942 from the Inter Services Research Bureau of Welwyn, United Kingdom.
[4] Condit (1954), p. 14.
[5] Brown (1987), p. 5.
[6] Hargreaves (1990), p. 168.
[7] Condit (1954), p. 14.
[8] Ivi, p. 15.
[9] Ibidem.
[10] Condit (1954), p. 15.
[11] Brown (1987), p. 7.
[12] Condit (1954), p. 34.
[13] Ibidem.
[14] Taylor and Godwin (1945), p. 12.
[15] Hargreaves (1990), p. 169.
[16] Warren (1947), p. 135.
[17] Piffer (2010), p. 76.
[18] Angeli [a cura di] (2002), p. 80.
[19] Vincent (1944), p. 9.