Prigionia – Diaries of an Italian POW

by Mark Markov
Brooklyn College, Archival Studies and Community Documentation Minor
Intern at the Brooklyn College Archives and Special Collections

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The purchase of this diary was made possible by Mrs. Frances A. Hess who has endowed a fund to care for and enhance the collection of her late husband Dr. Robert L. Hess.

Prigionia (Imprisonment) contains the diaries and notes of Vincenzo Marini, an Italian Cavalry Captain who was a prisoner of war during World War II.  Vincenzo Marini was captured in East Africa in 1941 and remained a POW until 1944. The collection is composed of a notebook and 23 loose pages. The notebook contains the description of the surrender of the Italian forces, their imprisonment and transport as well as drawn maps showing Marini’s transport from Africa to India to America and finally back to Italy. The loose pages contain diaries written during imprisonment in India and lists of officers. Conservator Slava Polishchuk constructed a protective box for the collection.

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Photograph of Italian soldiers at Gambut Airport, Marmarica, Libya (28 October 1940). This photo was found inside of Marini’s diary.

In East Africa, Marini served as Liaison Officer to General Gazzera. The war was not going well for the Italians in 1941 as city after city was falling to the British and Ethiopian rebels. On April 6, the Allies took the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. Gazzera’s forces in southern Ethiopia were forced to flee their stronghold of Jimma and try to organize a mobile defense. However, due constant British bombing and lack of supplies, the Italian forces were forced to surrender to pursuing Free Belgian forces. The terms of the surrender (in French) were copied by Marini in his diaries.

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“Maps of Imprisonment” showing Marini’s movements

By the end of 1941, the British had captured hundreds of thousands of Italian servicemen in both North and East Africa. Many were sent throughout the Empire to the India, Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom itself. Marini was sent first to India, where he was moved from camp to camp. Many soldiers did manual (especially agricultural) labor for the Allies during the war. Officers, such as Marini, were kept separately. After the United States joined the war, Britain asked that America take in some captured Germans and Italians, as there were too many for the British to handle. A couple thousand Italians, including Marini, were sent to US before Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943 and became a co-belligerent against Germany. Slowly, Italian POWs were transported back to Italy. Marini himself arrived in Naples on February 6, 1944.

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Related materials at the Hess Collection

Great Britain. War Office. The Abyssinian campaigns … The official story of the conquest of Italian East Africa. London: H. M. Stationery Off., 1942. Hess – D766.84 .G7 1942h
Mockler, Anthony. Haile Selassie’s War. New York: Olive Branch Press, 2003. Hess – DT387.8 .M53 2003
Amedeo, duca d’Aosta. Da Addis Abeba a Nairobi. Pozzuoli: Arti grafiche D. Conte. Hess – D766.92 .A55x 1942ah
Barker, A. J. Eritrea 1941. London, Faber, 1966. Hess – D766.84 .B3h
Tedone, Giovanni. I ricordi di un prigioniero di Menelik dopo il disastro di Adua.  Roma: Il Sottufficiale italiano, 1915. Hess – DT387 .3 .T436x 1915h
Del Boca, Angelo. The Ethiopian War, 1935-1941. Chicago, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1969. Hess – DT387 .8 .B5513 1969h

 

Further Reading

Keefer, Louis E. Italian Prisoners of War in America, 1942-1946: Captives or Allies? New York: Praeger, 1992.
Moore, Bob, and Kent Fedorowich. The British Empire and Its Italian Prisoners of War, 1940-1947. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave, 2002.
Moore, B. “Turning Liabilities into Assets: British Government Policy towards German and Italian Prisoners of War during the Second World War.” Journal of Contemporary History, 1997, 117-36.
Bersani, Ferdinando. I Dimenticati: I Prigionieri Italiani in India : 1941-1946. Milano: Mursia, 1975.
Ceragioli, Leone. Uomini soli, impressioni vissute di un prigioniero di guerra. Milano, E. Bestetti, c1946.

5 thoughts on “Prigionia – Diaries of an Italian POW

  1. My father was a POW in,North Africa for 5 years. How do I find more info,about specific dates and,location .
    Thank Phil

  2. Hi Paul,
    Below are my answers to your questions. If you would like more detail or have any further questions, you can email me at marianne@brooklyn.cuny.edu.

    #1
    This photo was found inside of Marini’s diary. It is not a photo of captured officers, but of Italian soldiers at the airport in 1940.

    #2
    We corrected the name of the airport to Gambut. Many thanks for providing the correct spelling.

    #3
    The photo was taken by either Marini or someone in his unit before Operation Crusader.

    Best,
    Marianne

  3. Hi Marianne;
    Thank-you for your response.
    The reason for my original post is because the picture may be related to my research but not as it’s labeled. If you would be able to share anything that is know Lin about the photo, it would be greatly appreciated

  4. Thank you for your comments. We will review the site and make corrections. This will take about a week since we will need to review the documents used to write the post.

  5. Inquiring on the Photo labeled Guarbut Airport, Marmarica, Libya (28 October 1940)
    #1 Why is a photo of Italian officers captured in Libya, part of a collection of an Officer captured in Ethiopia?
    #2 There is no information an airfield in Marmarica called Guarbut. Could this be Gambut?
    #3 the date of 28 Oct 1940 does not seem correct. British forces did not enter Libya under operation Compass until Dec.1940 and in Oct 1941, most of Marmarica was under Axis control until Operation Crusader Nov 1941. (Including Gambut airfield)

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