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October, 1943, Capt. Howard Chappell was assigned as Executive Officer to the Operational Group (OG) for Germany of which the CO was Col. Casper. Casper resigned and was replaced by Capt.Chappell. The Group was comprised of 30 men and two officers. All were qualified parachutists and trained in guerrilla warfare. The unit was sent to Africa where orders were lost and the group was assigned to a replacement depot in Oran. Capt. Chappell succeeded in having his unit transferred to the OSS base in Algiers but here was unable to arrange a mission to Germany. After two trips to Caserta for this purpose he managed to have his group moved from Algiers to Siena, the Italian OG base. Chances for a German mission faded but in November came opportunity to work with the Italian Groups in Northern Italy.

TACOMA, the mission assigned to Capt. Chappell and his section, was to join Capt. Hall in the NE part of Italy, to transmit information, and to investigate the possibility of using Operational Groups near Udine and farther north in the zone from Cortina di Ampezzo to Brunico and the area near the Brenner Pass.

December 26, 1944 Capt. Chappell with Sgts. Fabrega and Silsby flew from Bari by British Halifax bomber to the vicinity of Belluno and at about 2220 hours jumped at the signal fires at Drop Zone (DZ) Margie, near the small mountain village called Val Mavil, about 20 kilometers southeast of Belluno. They were met by Checco, CO of the 7th Alpini, and led about ten kilometers to an isolated house where they were received by Capt. Benucci of the AZTEC mission. He had them meet the rest of the AZTEC mission, well hidden in the mountains, and provided them with a dwelling about 6 kilometers from Trichiana.. Their musette bags along with most of their other equipment including battery and charger for their two radios did not catch up with them.

They spent the following weeks with Capt. Benucci, snow preventing foot travel, preparing for their move farther north to the area of Cortina . Capt. Chappell added to his group a young Italian partisan named “Brownie” whose parents had been killed. He proved to be of great value.

Thinking that if transportation became available to travel north and that German language would be necessary to pass German road blocks, Capt. Chappell took on two Austrian deserters from the 20th German Luftwaffe who had been working with the Partisans. .They were provided with food and clothing but they became furtive and refused to work. They were found to have stolen and hidden food, clothing, cigarettes and ammo. The 20th Luftwaffe was reported to have moved into Trichiana and Capt. Chappell suspected they were planning to turn the Americans over to the Germans. Keeping them seemed too much of a risk so the decision was made to execute them.

In early February Capt. Chappell with Fabrega and Silsby started north for Cortino on foot but after two nights over rough terrain in snow that reached 5 feet they learned the passes ahead were blocked and they returned to a squad of the 7th Alpini. The TACOMA men took over training the partisans in sabotage and the Captain planned operations. These did not take place after the partisans failed to participate in an attack on a fascist garrison at Tarzon. Capt. Chappell was disappointed with the 7th Alpine.

Capt. Chappell had been having discussions with Capt. Brietsche who had been working with the Nannetti Division and was now in the area of the Tollot and Massini Brigades commanded by Paolo and Bruno respectively, both outstanding leaders. He left the 7th Alpini and took over these brigades, allowing Capt. Brietsche to return to Division Headquarters at Consiglio. With Capt. Chappell the brigades’ activities included blowing several small bridges, booby-trapping roads, destroying several trucks, killing eight Germans and, with the help of eight downed airmen, building an airstrip for Lysanders and C47s. The airstrip project had to be abandoned because of German attacks about Feb.24.

Arriving by parachute on Feb. 21 were three more of TACOMA’s personnel: Sgts. Buchhardt, Delainie and Ciccone with equipment including parts greatly needed for adequate radio communication. The drop also included an excellent supply of arms and ammo. Sgt. Buc hhardt set up aid stations throughout the area and assigned partisans with some training to care for the sick and wounded.

On Feb. 21 the group moved to a secluded place north of Tarzon. The following day the Fascists moved a force of about 120 men into a garrison in the small town of Chison, the source of bread and wine. On the night of the 26th the OGs eliminated the guards, fired two bazooka rounds and called for the fascists to surrender. When a fascist came to the door with a white flag a partisan moved forward and was caught in a burst of machine gun fire. The OG unit opened fire with four Brens, two BARS and 18 rounds of Bazooka ammo. The OGs withdrew to the mountains and learned the following day that of the eighty men stationed in the building many were dead and the rest seriously wounded.

On March 5 Capt. Chappell, anxious to have the remaining personnel of the original 30-man TACOMA group join him, moved to the region of DZ “Azure.” This was on a long east-west ridge of mountains with highways on the east and west leading to the Brenner Pass and Vienna. On this date the Captain learned that General Kesselring would be in the vicinity and set out with Fabrega, Delaini and Brownie to ambush him. Kesselring moved quickly from garrison to garrison and could not be found.

With increasing German troops moving through the area Capt. Benucci requested Capt. Chappell to meet him in San Antonio on the night of March 5 to discuss plans. When their meeting approached daylight they moved to Capt. Chappell’s location in a well-hidden ravine. At about 0700 they were interrupted by a woman telling them that a large German force was in San Antonio. Benucci immediately climbed to an observation point and Chappell roused the men and had their equipment hidden. The Captains found they were surrounded by German troups. The only alternative was to try to escape down the ravine.

The group of the two Captains, five men and five Partisans moved rapidly in single file down a creek bed in icy water. Silsby fell and was covered by Germans as Chappell came to rescue him calling “Kamerad.” As the two prisoners were being led by a guard past some buildings along the road to Trichiana Chappell made a dash through the buildings down a hill beyond them. After moving about 2 kilometers he caught some fire and hid behind a snowbank till dark. A bullet grazed his leg. On reaching a friend in Morgan he was told that except for Capt. Benucci the others had been taken prisoners. Brownie , who had carried a BAR, had been tortured.

Capt. Chappell searched in Trichiana for the others till an early hour of March 7 when he found a deserted stable and slept. He was awakened by a patrol and in trying to escape was caught by a guard who led him toward the commander. In crossing a ravine he disarmed the guard, possibly breaking his neck and left him in a culvert. Chappell crossed a snow-covered field, apparently unobserved, and hid in a creek bed under an overhanging rock.

In the following week the German mop-up slowed and Capt. Chappell’s hazardous search found that only Silsby and Fabrega were in prison and the rest were brought together. Some had experienced hand-to-hand fighting. Partisans who were captured were killed. All equipment was lost.

After a 3-day trip toward Feltre where a mop-up was continuing Capt. Chappell found no drops had been received, and food and arms were practically non-existent. With a radio and operator, Gi-Gi, that had been secured from another Italian mission, a drop of supplies and the help of 40 partisans and much firing in which no one was hurt, the Germans withdrew.

With additional drops Territorial Partisans were supplied with equipment. Sabotage, including destroying bridges, spiking highways, cutting communication lines, and taking German lives continued.

Capt. Chappell felt he should return to check on his earlier Brigades. He contacted Capt. Benucci and learned that he had in his custody the Swiss Countess and Ettore, the Commander of the Val Cordevole Brigade, both of whom had worked with Capt. Hall of the EAGLE Mission and who had been sentenced to death by the Zone Commander. It was such an obvious scheme to place Communistic leaders over non-political brigades that Benucci and Chappell summoned the commander and quashed the whole plan. Capt. Chappell signed an affidavit assuming responsibility for them and they were liberated.

To extend the good work of the Mazzini Brigade, Capt. Chappell’s next move was to promote partisan activity farther north. With Buchhardt, Ciccone and Gi-Gi concealed in a truck he started for Marasone, his destination; passed three road blocks, the third, at Mezza Canal barely; reached Maresone; contacted the Brigade Commander, Ettore, and checked on the partisans in the area.

On the night of April 24 they destroyed several small garrisons containing about 20 Germans, On the 25th Chappell, his men and several dozen partisans attacked a garrison at Mezza Canal, pinned a large force of Germans down and forced them to surrender. On the 27th after blowing a bridge and setting up road blocks on a narrow tortuous road cut into the mountainside the OGs fired on a German convoy and in a few minutes 130 Germans were killed. The convoy was unable to move on and attempts at truce failed. In addition to the SS troops were members of the 504TH Panzer Division, about 600 men of the 26thArmored Division and 900 men of TODT. Prisoners numbered about 3500 men.

After this date there was little resistance, guards were posted, contacts with American forces were made, German forces were confused or didn’t know about the May 3rd Armistice. Fabrega and Silsby were released from concentration camp and the unit returned to the Siena base May 20.

Members of the original German-Italian group who didn’t catch up were re-assigned to other units.




Capt. Howard W. Chappell; CO
S/Sgt. Charlie Ciccone; weapons and demolition
S/Sgt. E. Delaini; weapons and demolition
T/5 Salvadore Fabrega; weapons
T/3 Eric Buchhardt; medic
Sgt.Oliver Silsby; radio operator





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