Claude Weaver

WO 208/3315/6

Claude Weaver, an American student from Oklahoma, is among the youngest escaped PoWs we know. He was born on 13 February 1923, was only 18 when he enlisted and 19 when he was captured on Italian soil. On 9 September 1942, almost exactly one year before the Armistice between Italy and the Allies, the Spitfire he was piloting was shot down by Italian anti-aircraft guns and crash-landed on a beach near the town of Comisio in southern Sicily. Weaver was quickly spotted and captured by the local carabinieri and spent the next few days in the Italian-German mess hall in the town before being moved to PG 50, Caserma Macao, at the time a transit camp, on 14 September. Here, Weaver spent roughly two weeks, was interrogated multiple times, and was put in a cell with an Australian prisoner who, however, he thought untrustworthy:

I suspected him from the start, as in talking about shows and women it appeared that he had seen no shows in England subsequent to 1937, and he used the expression “preservative” instead of “preventative”. He got nothing out of me.

On 29 September, Weaver was moved to PG 21, Chieti, where he attempted his first escape in March 1943.The plan was relatively straightforward: the PoWs wanted to cut a hole in the fence and escape. However, Weaver remained stuck in the wire and was discovered by the sentries who, as punishment, beat him savagely, «one of them breaking his rifle over me». Weaver was put in a cell for 30 days, but his companions managed to smuggle parcels to his cell.

Perhaps because of his escape attempt, he was transferred again, this time to PG 49, Fontanellato, in mid-March. During the transfer, with three other officers of the US Air Force, Weaver attempted to escape again, jumping from the moving train. However, they were forced to give that up, as the conditions to jump did not present themselves.

Nonetheless, Weaver did not give up, and while in Fontanellato, he teamed with an American officer, Seargent Wendt. They devised a plan to escape by using the camp’s sewer system. Initially, the plan seemed to work; however, after they managed to crawl for some distance in the pipe, they found it obstructed by an unexpected obstacle: «[its] contents had caked and blocked the exit». Weaver and Wendt, therefore, were forced to go back, but at least their attempt was not discovered.

After three months in PG 49, Weaver managed to be transferred again to Chieti with a group of American officers, and he returned to PG 21 in mid-June 1943. Here, he learned of the Armistice on 8 September 1943, and after an initial period of indecision, he escaped with Lt. Col. Rideout on the morning of 17 September:

By that time, the Germans had entered the camp. The Senior British Officer had given the all-clear, and the Italian guards had largely deserted. We went over two layers of wire and a 16 feet wall. We were challenged once from one of the raised sentry boxes (I think by a German), but we pretended to be drunk, called out “Amigo”, and were not fired at.

The two escapees were well-equipped. Another officer in the camp, Lieutenant Goldingham, had forged passes for them using the identification photos taken by the Italians. They masqueraded as Spanish workers. «We were wearing blue battle dress tunics when photographed, but we pared the photographs down to show only part of the collar». Moreover, the two had managed to obtain a tracing from a silk map each and home-made compasses.

Carrying this equipment, Weaver and Rideout headed south-west and soon reached the village of Farra San Martino, «which we found full of European civilian internees». A Russian woman gave them 100 lire for their journey, and two Italian youths joined them, hoping to cross the front line in the south. Thanks to them, Weaver and Rideout reached the railway station and managed to catch a train at dawn on 18 September. On the train, some civilians agreed to barter the military uniforms that the escapees wore with civilian clothing, as the former were much warmer than the latter. The group got off the train at one in the afternoon in Villa Santa Maria, walked to Agnone, and spent the night there.

The following days were spent marching: 19 September to Sant’Elena, the next to Campobasso, and then to Riccia, as the Germans still firmly held the city. On 21, they reached Motta, where Weaver and Rideout left their Italian companions. After two days, they were in Lucera «from where we could see Foggia. We heard that Foggia was still in German hands. We had acquired by now shepherds’ crooks, floppy hats, and a great growth of beard».

At midday on 24 September, the two were in Melfi, near the front line. However, their luck seemed to run out at the very last moment. While they were heading towards the village of Rionero, Weaver sprained his ankle, and the two were almost captured by a German patrol marching on the railway tracks. Luckily, they managed to reach Rionero, where they occupied an empty house. At this point, Rideout left Weaver to find some food; however, sizing an opportunity, he was able to cross the front line. He made contact with Canadian troops and returned to his companion the following day (25 September) with a mule to carry him back.

Without losing any time, the two retraced Rideout’s steps and reached a village in British hands, which Weaver claims was called “La Capiscola”.

After an interrogation, Weaver was transferred by plane to Malta on 27 September and rapidly re-assigned to his RAF squadron. However, we do not know if he returned to active duty, as on 6 October, he was shipped to the United Kingdom via Algiers (where he was interrogated again). On 15 October, Weaver was finally, officially, a free man again.


TNA WO 208/3315/6, M.I.9/S/P.G.(Italy) 1470: Name: Claude Weaver, Warrant Officer, R83374., 185 Squadron, Middle East Command. Captured: Comiso (Sicily), 9 September 1942. Arrived in UK: 16 October 1943.