PG 59 - Servigliano

Sheet by: Costantino Di Sante

Command building of concentration camp No. 59 in Servigliano (FM) - AUSSME Archive, Fototeca 2 Guerra Mondiale Italia 507/ 648

General data

Town: Servigliano

Province: Fermo

Region: Marche

Location/Address: Servigliano - Servigliano

Type of camp: Prisoner of War camp

Number: 59

Italian military mail service number: 3300

Intended to: NCOs – Troops

Local jurisdiction: IX Army Corps

Railroad station: Servigliano

Accommodation: Huts

Capacity: 2000

Operating: from 02/1942 to 14/09/1943

Commanding Officer: Col. Enrico Bacci

Brief chronology:
5 January 1942: the camp was opened officially ats the arrival of the guards arrived.
February 1942: the first PoWs arrived at the camp.
11 September 1942: 12 PoWs escaped.
February 1943: most of the PoWs were transferred to Sforzacosta camp.
14 September 1943: mass escape from the camp.

Allied prisoners in the Servigliano camp

Date Generals Officers NCOs Troops TOT
1.3.1942 3 221 1773 1997
1.5.1942 3 233 1713 1949
1.6.1942 2 233 1709 1944
1.7.1942 2 233 1709 1944
1.8.1942 3 226 1631 1860[1]
1.9.1942 1 203 2169 2373
30.9.1942 4 232[2] 1627 1861
31.10.1942 4 234[3] 1607[4] 1841
30.11.1942 5 234 1632[5] 1871
31.12.1942 5 263[6] 1744[7] 2012
31.1.1943 5 186[8] 1363[9] 1682
28.2.1943 5 212[10] 987[11] 1199
30.4.1943 5 308[12] 1591[13] 1899
31.5.1943 5 375[14] 1734[15] 2109
30.6.1943 5 406[16] 984[17] 1390
31.8.1943 6 460[18] 949[19] 1415
[1] Including one American. [2] Including two Americans. [3] Including four Americans. [4] Including one American. [5] Including four Americans. [6] Including six Americans. [7] Including seven Americans. [8] Including 56 Americans. [9] Including 319 Americans. [10] Including 59 Americans. [11] Including 357 Americans. [12] Including 89 Americans. [13] Including 411 Americans. [14] Including 156 Americans. [15] Including 750 Americans. [16] Including 188 Americans. [17] Including 790 Americans. [18] Including 236 Americans. [19] Including 814 Americans.

Camp’s overview

PG 59, Servigliano, then situated in Ascoli Piceno province but today in the province of Fermo, was the second PoW camp, after Sulmona, to open in Italy. Like Sulmona, this was also a camp previously used during the First World War. The plot for the site had been granted in 1915 by the then mayor of the town, and its MP, Guerino Vecchiotti.
The camp occupied an area of three and a half hectares and was divided into two sectors (A and B), surrounded by a three-metre-high wall. Inside, there were 32 wooden huts, which could hold up to 4,000 prisoners. The camp housed Austro-Hungarian prisoners from August 1916 until December 1919. After the war, it was used as a storehouse for the local detachment of the Ancona Artillery. After the mid-1930s, the B sector was given to the local dopolavoro to allow construction of a football field, which still exists today.
At the end of 1940, after some modifications of the old huts and the construction of new buildings, the camp was officially reopened on 5 January 1941. The first PoWs to arrive a few weeks later were Greeks, who were transferred again between the end of 1941 and January 1942, when 2,000 Allied PoWs captured on the Libyan front were brought to the camp. They were British, Australian, Canadian, New Zealander, Irish, Maltese, Cypriot, Norwegian, Palestinian and Polish. The British remained the majority until the spring of 1943, when many were transferred to other camps, especially Sforzacosta (Macerata) and to work detachment. Meanwhile, the presence of American PoWs in Servigliano increased and they outnumbered the British at the moment of the Armistice.
Since the 14 huts were pretty small (30x10 metres) and there was not enough room inside the military quarters, the High Command decided to reduce the camp’s capacity to 2,000, from 3,000. Inside the camp, two huts were used as a storehouse and a recreational space, respectively, while three other buildings housed the infirmary, the shower rooms and the kitchen. The huts on the outside of the camp were used to house the guards and the administrative offices.
On average, roughly 50 PoWs were employed to maintain and help run the camp, and these received a double ration of food. Others worked, and were paid, as carpenters, tailors, cobblers and barbers. Thanks to a collection, the prisoners managed to buy some musical instruments and set up a band. In November 1942, due to the arrival of thousands of books, the camp opened its library and even a school, which offered foreign language courses.
During the first months following their arrival, the British PoWs complained about the lack of heating, the outhouses, food, and the inefficient mail service. Packages often arrived late and with signs of tampering. Moreover, the open spaces were unusable on rainy days due to mud on the ground. More than anything else, however, the biggest issue was the hydro system, which was extremely inefficient. Sometimes, especially at night, the camp ran out of water entirely. This issue was solved only at the end of 1942, and other services were also improved, thus bettering the PoWs’ living conditions.
The American PoWs enjoyed better treatment. For a start, they were allowed to wear their uniforms without the red patches that denoted their status as PoWs. Moreover, they were permitted bed sheets, whereas the British had had their sheets confiscated months before. It is likely this difference in treatment was caused by the British PoWs’ escape attempts. The most prominent took place between 11 and 12 September 1942, when 11 PoWs managed to escape. They were soon recaptured and sentenced to 10 days in solitary. Because of the guards’ negligence, one of the prisoners fell ill and died in detention. Three more people died in the camp due to the difficulties in treating the sick. The camp’s commander, Bacci, was accused of being responsible for two of these deaths, especially that of an English sergeant, Riley Rudd, caused by a ruptured appendicitis. After the war, Col. Bacci was prosecuted but found innocent, thanks to the positive reports of the Red Cross inspectors.
Since the camp was close to the town centre, the prisoners had the chance to fraternise with the local population, mainly through the black market trade. The PoWs exchanged some of their packages’ contents (tobacco, soap and chocolate) with food. Despite these trades being illegal, they were tolerated. Moreover, Servigliano was also used as an internment camp for foreign civilians; many of them, who spoke English, managed to associate with the PoWs. The local authorities denounced this situation to the Ministry of Interior, which decided, in November 1942, to transfer the internees to other camps.
After the announcement of the Armistice, Col. Bacci opposed the idea of letting the prisoners go. However, Medical Captain John Dereck Millar took the situation into his own hands and, on 14 September 1943, organised the mass escape of the PoWs from the camp. Roughly 1,500 prisoners escaped, both through a hole in the outside wall and through the main gate, with the complicity of the Italian guards. They dispersed in the Tenna Valley. Local families housed many of them in the village of Monte San Martino (Macerata). One of the escapers was Keith Killby who, in 1989, founded the Monte San Martino Trust to preserve the memory of Italians who saved Allied prisoners after the announcement of the Armistice on 8 September.
After the prisoners’ escape and the desertion of the guards, the camp was plundered by the local population. On 22 September 1943, a German column arrived and occupied the site. On 5 October, the German Command ordered the internment in Servigliano of all the Jews in the province. After a few days, the camp reopened, under the control of the RSI (Italian Socialist Republic) as a provincial internment camp. Until 20 June 1944, it housed approximately 300 Jews, some hundred Italian «enemies», and about 20 relatives of draft dodgers. Local partisans frequently attacked the camp to help them escape. In May 1944, a Jew from Ancona, Vito Haim Volterra, together with other partisans and some former British PoWs who had taken refuge in Monte San Martino, organised the «Servigliano operation». The partisans, in fact, had learned that the Germans wanted to deport the internees to the north the next day and they alerted the Allies, who bombed the camp on the night of 3 and 4 May, allowing them to escape. Thanks to this action, a rare case in Europe, some Jewish internees managed to avoid deportation.
After the Liberation, the camp was used by Polish soldiers for military drills and later, until July 1946, to house Croatian refugees. It became a «Centro di raccolta profughi» and housed thousands of Italian refugees from the eastern border and the (former) colonies.
The refugee centre was eventually closed in the summer of 1955, and the huts outside the camp were sold to local families who live there to this day, while the rest were abandoned. In 1978, the Servigliano township, which bought the site in 1973, launched a requalification project. The huts inside the camp were demolished, and the «Parco della Pace» was built, with a gym and a football field. The outside wall and a plaque put there in 1993 by English soldiers were left as a memento of the events and the camp’s existence. In 2001, the Casa della Memoria Association was created to preserve and evaluate the camp's history. In 2012, Fermo province restored the old railway station next to the camp, and, on 2 March 2022, the site was declared a «National Monument» by Parliament.

Archival sources