PG 78 - Sulmona

Sheet by: Costantino Di Sante

General data

Town: Sulmona

Province: L'Aquila

Region: Abruzzo

Location/Address: Fonte d’Amore - Sulmona

Type of camp: Prisoner of War camp

Number: 78

Italian military mail service number: 3300

Intended to: Officers; NCOs; Troops

Local jurisdiction: IX Army Corps

Railroad station: Sulmona

Accommodation: huts

Capacity: 3000

Operating: from 10/08/1940 to 08/09/1943

Commanding Officer: Artillery Col. Giulio Mazzucchetti (10 August 1940 – March 1941); Lieut. Col. Of the Carabinieri Renato Bonichi (8 March 1941 – 2 April 1941); Grenadier Col. Mario Damiani (2 April 1941 – December 1941); Col. Giuseppe Santoro (December 1941 – 12 September 1943).

Brief chronology:
10 August 1940: the camp opened; French PoWs were transferred to the camp.
9 September 1940: the first British PoWs captured in Libya arrived at the camp.
2 December 1940: two English PoWs escaped, dressed as Italian soldiers. They were recaptured soon after.
2 February 1941: three English officers escaped dressed as Italian soldiers.
26 May 2941: two English officers were wounded while attempting to escape.
14 August 1941: The Italian guards discovered an escape tunnel 22 meters long.
21 December 1941: Brigadier General Reginald Miles arrived at the camp and was imprisoned in Villa Orsini.
12 February 1942: 41 Serbian officers came from PG 71.
26 February 1942: 83 Montenegrin and 63 Dalmatian officers arrived from PG 83, Fiume.
16 March 1942: 4 English generals were transferred from Villa Orsini to PG 12, Candeli (Florence).
26 April 1942: arrival of 13 Yugoslavian officers.
30 June 1942: five English generals were transferred from Rome.
1 July 1942: 200 British PoWs were transferred to PG 69, Vetralla (Viterbo).
20 July 1942: 16 Indian officers were transferred to the camp.
24 July 1942: 200 British PoWs were transferred to PG 102, L’Aquila, to work in the local camp.
20 February 1943: 350 British PoWs were assigned to the Alba company to work in the Acquafredda mines in Roccamorice (PE).
25 May 1943: 54 British PoWs were tranferred to Ortucchio (AQ), to work as farmers in Principato di Torlonia del Fucino
2 June 1943: the guards discovered an 18 meters long tunnel dug by Australian prisoners.
2 July 1943: two English officers were recaptured after an escape attempt.
16 July 1943: the guards discovered a 17.5 meters long tunnel dug by French PoWs.
9-10 September 1943: a divisional general, nine brigade generals and nine privates escaped from Villa Orsini.
10 September 1943: the PoWs cut the camp’s fences.
12 September 1943: the majority of the PoWs fled to the nearby hills
16 September 1943: the camp became a German transit camp for PoWs to be deported to Germany.

Allied prisoners in the Sulmona camp

Date Generals[1] Officers NCOs Troops TOT
1.3.1942 4 186 228 1697 2115
1.4.1942 184 228 1686 2098
1.5.1942 184 223 1673 2080
1.6.1943 94 229 1681 2004
1.7.1943 1 89 228 1693 2011
1.8.1942 8 119 228 1366 1721
1.9.1942 8 124 244 1457 1833
31.10.1942 11 204 309 1872 2396
30.11.1942 11 203 358 2353 2925
31.12.1942 11 207 363 2369 2950
1.1.1943 10 209 398 2486 3103
28.2.1943 11 219 398 2488 3116
31.3.1943 13[2] 229 390 2443 3075
30.4.1943 11 223 361[3] 2271 2866
31.5.1943 11 225 386 2700 3322
30.6.1943 11 226 358 2706 3301
31.7.1943 11 68 2681 2760
31.8.1943 10 33 379 2293 2715
  [1]  Generals were hosted in Villa Orsini. [2]  Including 2 american officers. [3]   Including 2 americans.

Note: 50 posti del campo erano riservati ad ufficiali.

Camp’s overview

PG 78 Sulmona, was the first PoW camp to be opened on Italian territory during the war. The camp was organised in 1940, partially using a previous structure erected during the First World War to house Austro-Hungarian prisoners in Fonte d’Amore. After the end of the war, the huts were used by the Italian army as a depot for the local «artillery field».
On 16 July 1940, the works to prepare the camp began, as the Ufficio lavori of the Bari military engineers asked the town hall for eight hectares of land in «Marane», near the old PoW camp. Officially, the camp was opened on 10 August 1940, and, during the first weeks, it housed a few hundred French soldiers. When these PoWs arrived, the works on the camp’s structures were not yet finished.
On 9 September of the same year, the first British PoWs arrived from the Libyan front. The soldiers were transported by train to the Sulmona railway station and then escorted by the local Presidio militare for 5 km to reach the camp in Fonte d’Amore. The camp was placed on a slight slope at the foot of mount Marrone, 350 meters above sea level. It was divided into two sectors: the upper one for officers and the lower for the NCOs and privates. To house the Generals, the Italians used Villa Orsini, near the town of Sulmona.
On 18 September 1943, the president of the inter-ministerial commission and some representatives of the International Red Cross visited the camp to inspect it. They noted that, despite the works not being complete, the structure «was good» overall, and soon «it could be visited by the Protecting power’s representatives». On 8 October, Mr H. De Pourtalés, a Swiss citizen, visited the camp as the delegate of the Geneva Red Cross International Committee (IRCC). Apparently, he did not note anything about the prisoners’ conditions or the camp’s organisation. On the contrary, according to Medical Lieutenant Giovanni Perrilli and commentator Guazzoni (member of the IRC PoW office) who were with him, «he expressed his unconditional appreciation and called the Sulmona camp “a model camp”». These observations were later confirmed by Apostolic Nuncio Bergoncini Duca and by 13 foreign journalists who visited the camp in mid-December. However, the conditions in the camp were not as good. During the same period, the IRCC delegate, Pierre Lambert, and the military attaché of the United States embassy in Rome, Lieutenant Colonel Fiscke, received multiple complaints from the PoWs’ representatives. Besides the slowness of the postal and pay services, the most common complaint was the lack of heating in the dormitories since the temperature was very low during the winter. The cold was a problem because the PoWs did not have woollen clothes and their shoes were not adequate for the climate. Many PoWs had been captured in Libya, and their battledress was insufficient to face the frigid winter in the Abruzzi region.
Moreover, PG 78 became overcrowded as Yugoslavians PoWs were transferred to the camp in the following months. The huts, some of which were in a deplorable state, could accommodate some 60 prisoners each in theory. In practice, even 80 prisoners were housed in them. This led to a consequent deterioration of the camp’s hygienic conditions, as bedbugs infested the dormitories, and the outhouses were not fully functional. Often the sewers ended up overflowing. After some escape attempts and even a riot in December 1941, sedated by the Italians using weapons, surveillance became stricter.
To improve conditions and combat overcrowding, the camp was enlarged at the end of January 1943, bringing its capacity to 3,000, up from 2,000. During the year, some PoWs were used to build the new sector, while others were sent to two work detachments: in Ortucchio nel Fucino, where they worked as farmers, and in Roccamorice (Pescara), where they worked in the Acquafredda mines.
Despite these attempts, the conditions in the camp remained less than optimal. The camp, in fact, was located in an area which was torrid during the summer and frigid during the winter. After the war, the British authorities conducted some investigations on the Pows’ treatment, particularly on the death and wounding of two of them.
After the Armistice, the PoWs were unsure of what to do. On 12 September, the Germans reached the camp, and it is likely that less than half of the 600 PoWs who had escaped in the meantime, also thanks to the local population, managed to evade recapture. The officers in Villa Orsini managed to escape as well and, thanks to the cooperation of the local population, were not recaptured despite the German rastrellamenti in the area. In the following weeks, under German control, PG 78 became a transit camp to reach the Third Reich for recaptured PoWs and those of the nearby PG 21 Chieti.
After the war, the Italian Army used the camp as a military base for training purposes and as an ammunition depot. As time passed, the huts built upon an archaeological site were mostly demolished. Only one row has been preserved as it was. Inside, besides the roofs sustained by their original beams, there are drawings and graffiti on the walls, representing the various battalions and the authors. On some walls, there are still visible the cleaning schedules and various writings made by the PoWs. In December 2020, the Italian State gave this area of the former PG 78 to the Sulmona township to preserve and valorise it and its history.
Since 2022 the association «Il sentiero della libertà-Freedom trail» has organised a three-day trip from Sulmona to Casoli to retrace the escape route of the former PoWs on the Maiella mountain paths.

Archival sources