Eighty years ago this week Britain tells Italy it won't be getting its PoWs back


The British government announced that Italy's declaration of war would not alter the status of the Italian prisoners of war it held. It was a purely utilitarian decision. Marshal Badoglio's government was of marginal importance only so there was little reason to give it the kudos of obtaining the return of PoWs, which would have consumed overtaxed shipping resources anyway. Most important, of the 80,000 Italian PoWs in Britain, 35,000 were already providing desperately needed labour in agriculture. More would join them. Italy's co-belligerence with the allies meant that the already minimal need to guard them or wear distinctive red patches on their clothing vanished. Many would settle in Britain and never go back to Italy.

The US 8th Air Force capped its losses of "black week" with "black Thursday", its second raid on Schweinfurt, Germany's ball-bearings capital. Its first strike in August had suffered 20% casualties but had reduced output at the factories by 40% albeit briefly. The October mission suffered similar losses. P-47s could only provide fighter escort as far as the German border, 200 miles short of the target. German fighters used 21cm rockets to break up the American defensive boxes which would have been hard put to provide adequate defence anyway. This time output was reduced by only 10%. 

Admiral Dudley Pound stepped down as First Sea Lord shortly before dying of a brain tumour. He had long been a tired and sick man. His tenure had brought little achievement and two severe and fatal  misjudgements: ordering convoy PQ-17 to scatter in a hasty reaction to intelligence of a sortie by Tirpitz; permitting Force Z to be sent to the Far East and rapidly sunk.  He had an almost impossible task in trying to persuade Churchill to give priority for the Battle of Atlantic over the bomber offensive. His successor A. B. Cunningham was probably the Royal Navy's most distinguished fighting admiral who established a strong working relationship with his Army and RAF counter-parts. He also succeeded in inspiring confidence amongst the Americans unlike Pound.