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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
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112 squadron
29.08.1944 112 (Fighter) Squadron, Mustang III HB936, Sgt. Arthur Banks GC, MiD

Operation: Armed Reconnaissance

Date: 29th August 1944 (Tuesday)

Unit No: 112 (Fighter) Squadron, Desert Air Force

Type: Mustang III

Serial No: HB936

Code: GA:A

Location: Near Rovigo, Italy

Base: Iesi Airfield, central Italy

Pilot: Sgt. Arthur Banks GC, MiD 1607992 RAFVR Age 22. Murdered

Note: HB936 was built as a P-51C Mustang Serial no. 43-24928

REASON FOR LOSS:

On the 3rd mission of the 29th August 1944 Sgt. Banks took off at 16:45 hrs with five other Mustangs on an armed reconnaissance sortie.

The flew north from the airfield at 9000 ft to the south of San Marino and then along the coast. Making landfall they recce’d the main road between Ravenna to Ferrara and found nothing to attack. To the NE of Rovigo flak broke up the formation before they reformed and bombed the railway junction to the east of Rovigo.

At least one direct hit was observed with a jet of steam rising above the dust and smoke over the junction. Sgt. Banks radioed that he had been hit with engine temperature and pressure ’off the clock’. He flew in a SE direction and crash landed his Mustang at 19:00 hrs. He was seen to get out of the aircraft and being surrounded by local people.

He made contact with a group of partisans, among whom he became an outstanding figure for his advice and encouragement in action against the Germans. On the 8th December 1944, a crossing by boat into Allied territory was planned, but the whole party was captured.

The circumstances leading to the death of Sgt. Banks were determined by two British Military courts. The first was convened in Naples, Italy between 29th August and 25th September 1946. The second was convened in Padua, Italy on the 28th - 30th April and 1st - 2nd May 1947.

There was also a third trial convened by the Italian Authorities during June 1945.

First Trial:

At the first trial two German and nine Italian nationals were charged in that they at Ariano Polesine, Mesola in the month of December 1944, in violation of the laws and usages of war, were concerned in firstly the ill-treatment and secondly in the ill-treatment and killing of Sergeant Arthur Banks, Royal Air Force and a PoW.

Two German and two Italian nationals who were accused on the first part of the charge were:

Hugo Saggau who was a Wehrmacht Major (Maj) and the Commanding Officer (CO) of the Headquarters (Responsible for Coastal Defence) at Mesola;

Georg Joachim Geiger who was a Gefreiter (L/Cpl) in the Wehrmacht on detachment as an interpreter and driver to the 368th Front Reconnoitring Troop;

Ugo Lanuzezi who was a Capitano (Capt) in the Italian Milite;

Giovanni Bellini who was a Tenente (Lt) in the Italian Milite.

The seven Italian nationals who were accused on the second part of the charge were:

Mario Fabbri who was a Sergente (Sgt) in the Italian Milite;

Sergio Viegi who was a Soldato (Pte) in the Italian Milite;

Luigi Bordon who was a Soldato (Pte) in the Italian Milite;

Olimpio Ferracini who was a Soldato (Pte) in the Italian Milite;

Sara Turolla who was an Italian woman;

Anna Maria Cattani who was an Italian woman also known as Donna Paola;

Dino Maccapanni who was characterised as a spy for the Republican Fascist Party.

An individual named Maresciallo Santacrocce was cited as a suspect for this trial but had been executed for collaboration before he could be interrogated.

Note: Those in the Italian Milite are believed to have served in the Adria Company XIX Brigata Nera "Romolo Gori" (Rovigo Province) (Brigate Nere = Black Brigades who were the paramilitary groups of the Republican Fascist Party).

The court heard in which way and with which methods Sgt. Banks was tortured during his interrogation. This witness evidence will not be repeated here; suffice it to say that even more than one Defence lawyer characterized the methods used as "Those which were in use not worse and more horrible in the darkest Middle Ages”.

These authors, after having read and summarized scores of other trial files concerned with the lynching of Allied airmen, cannot but wholeheartedly agree.

The main tenants of what happened to Sgt. Banks is summarised by the citation of his George Cross (See below).

However, what should be added to the story is in regard to the alleged rape of which Sgt. Banks had been accused, which was categorically proven to be false. This accusation coupled with the fact that the Boccato partisans had themselves committed atrocities and that the family of one of the torturers had been victims of those atrocities was undoubtably a compelling factor in the treatment meted out to Sgt. Banks. It was stressed during the trial that these reasons did not in any way justify or excuse the ferocity of the actions taken against Sgt. Banks.

It was suggested that according to international law he therefore did not belong to the war belligerents but was in fact an armed insurgent. These facts were not altered because Sgt. Banks intended to cross, with the help of the partisans, German lines and to join Allied troops. He therefore had no claim to be regarded as a normal PoW. Furthermore it was suggested that the Wehrmacht had no interest in Sgt. Banks and therefore considered him equal to the other members of the partisans, leaving him to the Italian authorities.

This suggestion intimated that the death of Sgt. Banks may not have been a war crime. This prompted a statement from the President of the Court on the legal position for the guidance of the other counsel who had still to address the Court.

In his statement he reiterated the definition of a War Crime i.e. ‘a war Crime means a violation of the Laws and Usages of War committed during any war in which His Majesty has been or may be engaged at any time since the 2nd September 1939.’ He went on to explain that a state of war existed at the time of the commission of the crime when actual fighting was still in progress in Northern Italy. He then brought to the attention of the Court Article 2. of the Geneva Convention of 1929 which states that “Prisoners of War shall at all times be humanely treated”, a fact of which the Court was bound to take judicial notice.

He also examined the status of Sgt. Banks and reminded the Court that he came to Italy as a member of His Majesty’s Armed Forces engaged in active operations against the enemy and it was in that capacity that, due to the fortune of war, he found himself behind the enemy lines. At the time of his arrest he was officially deemed an evader whose duty was to return to Allied lines. Furthermore if Sgt. Banks was considered a guerrilla, because he was under arms and in civilian clothes, he should have been tried by a competent court but was killed without a trial.

Furthermore, both Maj. Saggau and Gefreiter Geiger had tried to request that Sgt. Banks be treated as a PoW but Magnati paid no heed, which confirmed that it was recognised at least by the two Germans that Sgt. Banks was a PoW.

One last fact to be added to the story was that Sgt. Banks was shot and killed by Rinaldi in the early hours of the 20th December 1944.

The court’s findings was that Bellini, Lanuzezi, Bordon, Turolla, Fabbri and Maccapanni were not guilty of either charge.

Note: Sara Turolla was before the Court of Assize of Rovigo during June 1945 charged with participating in several roundups and torturing a number of people including Sgt. Banks. She was found guilty and sentenced to 6 years 7 months imprisonment. By declaratory judgment on the 3rd July 1946 the charge and sentence were set aside.

The court found Saggau and Geiger guilty on the first part of the charge and sentenced them to 8 and 5 years imprisonment respectively. They served their sentences at the Hameln prison as prisoner numbers 576 and 574 respectively.

Cattani , Ferracini and Viegi were found guilty on the second part of the charge with the first two named sentenced to 20 years imprisonment each and Viegi to 5 years imprisonment.

Second Trial:

In the second trial Tenente (Lt) Giacinto Magnati was charged in that he at Ariano Polesine, Mesola in the month of December 1944, in violation of the laws and usages of war, was concerned in the ill-treatment of Sergeant Arthur Banks, Royal Air Force and a PoW.

Magnati was an officer in the Adria Company XIX Brigata Nera "Romolo Gori" (Rovigo Province) (Brigate Nere = Black Brigades who were the paramilitary groups of the Republican Fascist Party).

Magnati had sworn revenge on the Boccato based insurgents because they had murdered his relatives. Rinaldi had been described as the “dregs of mankind and the devil in human form” by those that knew him.

The court heard in which way and with which methods Sgt. Banks was tortured during his interrogation and finally killed. As with the first trial the witness evidence will not be repeated here.

However, those who were instrumental in the treatment and killing of Sgt Banks and brought to justice will be named. There were a number of other individuals who were also named but for reasons unknown were not brought before a court.

A Tenente (Lt) Antonio Rinaldi (See Third Trial) in his own testimony admitted that he ordered the men under his command at the prison at Ariano Polesine to interrogate and mis-treat Sgt. Banks. He claimed that Sgt. Banks was handed over to him by Maj. Saggau (See First Trial) who told him that the Englishman could not be considered a PoW because he was a member of a band of criminals.

Rinaldi had under his command Aldo Pavin, Mario Marzucchi (see Third Trial), Olimpio Ferracini and Luigi Bordon and also Maresciallo Santacrocce (see First Trial). All of these individuals were members of the XIX Brigata Nera "Romolo Gori" (Rovigo Province).

Apart from Magnati, Rinaldi and Marzucchi, also present at the interrogation was a Capitano (Capt) Zamboni and the individuals Fregnan, Pavinini, Mancini and Tampiere all of whom were members of the Italian Milite. These individuals were active participant’s in the ill-treatment of Sgt. Banks. It is not known if Zamboni and the four named men under his command were found or brought before a court.

Rinaldi ordered Santacrocce and Marzucchi to throw Sgt. Banks into the river Po to drown but Sgt. Banks managed to free himself from the weights they had attached and make it to the bank of the river. He was manhandled to the entrance of the prison where he was shot and killed by Rinaldi in the early hours of the 20th December 1944.

Magnati was found guilty of the charge and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. The final disposition of his sentence is unknown.

Third Trial

In the third trial convened at the Court of Assize of Rovigo during June 1945, Antonio Rinaldi, Aldo Pavin and Mario Marzucchi were charged as follows:

Rinaldi, in addition to other offenses, was charged with "having caused the death by means of pistol shots of a British soldier, Sgt. Banks, committing the act with premeditation, maltreatment and cruelty." On the 15th June 1945, he was sentenced to death by shooting in the back which was carried out on the 28th August 1945;

Pavin was charged, in addition to other crimes, with attempting to drown Sgt. Banks. On the 19th July 1945 he was sentenced to death by shooting in the back which was carried out on the 22nd February 1946;

Note: Execution by shooting a seated man in the back was an old Fascist custom. So in the cases of Rinaldi and Pavin they used a Fascist method to execute Fascists.

Marzucchi was charged with conspiracy to murder Sgt. Banks and had been sentenced by the Extraordinary Court of Assize on 18th December 1946 to 14 years imprisonment. He was was granted amnesty on the 28th March 1952.

Burial details:

Above: Argenta Gap War Cemetery (Courtesy of the TWGPP)

Above left: Sgt. Banks (By Unknown – original publication: unknown Immediate source); right Grave marker for Sgt. Banks (Courtesy of the TWGPP)

Sgt. Arthur Banks GC, MiD. Argenta Gap War Cemetery III, A, 7. Grave inscription: "THE RIGHTEOUS ARE IN THE HAND OF GOD AND THERE SHALL NO TORMENT TOUCH THEM." Born on the 6th October 1923 in Llanddulas, Conwy, Wales. Son of Charles Chaplin and Harriet Margaret (née Phibbs) Banks (His mother predeceased him in February 1929) of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England.

His father Capt. Charles Chaplin Banks was a WW1 flying ace credited with 13 aerial victories. He was awarded the Military Cross (MC) as a Lt. in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (London Gazette 8th February 1918) and the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) (London Gazette 7th February 1919) as an acting Capt. in the RFC.

Sgt. Banks was awarded the George Cross (GC) for his bravery which was promulgated in the London Gazette on the 5th November 1946:

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the GEORGE CROSS to: 1607992 Sergeant Arthur BANKS, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 112 Squadron, Desert Air Force. The citation reads:

“On 29th August, 1944, this airman took part in an armed reconnaissance of the Ravenna and Ferrara areas. During the sortie, his aircraft was damaged by anti-aircraft-fire and he was compelled to make a forced landing. After the aircraft had been destroyed, Sergeant Banks decided to try to reach the Allied lines. He made contact with a group of Italian partisans, amongst whom, during the following months, he became an outstanding figure, advising and encouraging them in action against the enemy. Early in December, 1944, an attempt at crossing into allied territory by boat was planned. Sergeant Banks and a number of partisans assembled at the allotted place, but the whole party was surrounded and captured. Sergeant Banks was handed over to the German commander of the district, who presided at his interrogation. During the questioning, Sergeant Banks was cruelly tortured. At one stage, he succeeded in getting hold of a light machine gun, with which he might have killed most of his captors, had not one of the partisans, fearing more severe torture, intervened and pinned his arms to his sides. Sergeant Banks was badly knocked about before he was taken to another prison. On 8th December, 1944, Sergeant Banks was taken, with a number of partisans, to a prison at Adria. He remained there until 8th December 1944, when he was handed over to the commander of a detachment of the ''Black Brigade''. He was then transferred to another prison at Ariano Polesine. Here, in the presence of Italian Fascists, he was stripped of his clothing and again tortured. Sergeant Banks was eventually bound and thrown into the River Po. Despite his wounds, even at this stage, he succeeded in reaching the river bank. The Fascists then took him back to the prison, where he was shot through the head. At the time of his capture, Sergeant Banks was endeavouring to return to the Allied lines, so that he might arrange for further supplies to the partisans. He endured much suffering with stoicism, withholding information which would have been of vital interest to the enemy. His courage and endurance were such that they impressed even his captors. Sergeant Banks' conduct was, at all times, in keeping with the highest traditions of the Service, even in the face of most brutal and inhuman treatment.”

Sgt. Banks was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) which was promulgated in the London Gazette on 13th June 1946.

Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive.

Thanks to ‘The War Graves Photographic Project’ (TWGPP) for their great work.

Other sources listed below:

RS & TV 08.08.2022 - Update and addition to trial narrative

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Acknowledgements
Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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