Major Amedeo Quillet- Badass of the Week

Italians have been the butt of many a joke.  “Why are Italian rifles so expensive?  Because they’ve never been fired and dropped only once.”  Not so Major Amedeo Quillet who may well be voted “Badass of the Century”.

Lieutenant and Major Quillet

Born into Italian aristocracy on February 7th, 1909, young Amedeo led a pampered life and became an excellent horseman.  He was to have been part of the Italian Equestrian Team for the 1936 Olympics, but Italy’s war with Ethiopia in 1935 quashed those plans.  Using family connections, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant and raised a force of over 2000 African cavalry.  After several successful engagements with Ethiopian forces, he was asked to join the Black Flames.  This was a unit of volunteers sent to fight in support of France in the Spanish Civil War.

Quillet then accepted a posting to Italian East Africa and planned to have a quiet life.  This ended abruptly when Italy joined World War Two as part of the Axis.

Surrounded by British forces, the Italian Army fought a defensive campaign. Quillet was again commanded a force of African calvary “Gruppo Bande a Cavallo”. Using sabers, rifles and hand grenades , once again he led horseback attacks successfully against his enemies.  His exploits led him to be named The Italian Lawrence of Arabia, The Knight from Another Time and the Black Commander. 

The Black Commander

THE BATTLE OF CHERU (Keru)

His most legendary battle occurred January 1941 as Italian forces were in full retreat.  In a rear guard action to give the Italian Army time to escape the British and regroup, Quillet led a series of attacks on the British Army.  This cumulated in the last charge of Horse cavalry faced by the British Army and the last horse charge in history.

Quillet attacked with 1500 horsemen against infantry, machine guns and tanks.  Flanking the heavy weapons, the cavalry cut into the British camp tossing hand grenades and slashing down survivors.  The focus of the attack was the British Headquarters which was defended by a line of artillery.  The panicked gun crews zeroed their guns and fired point blank into the Africans.  Many shells missed the attackers and caused severe casualties among the British.  Suffering heavy losses, Quillet’s cavalry destroyed the gun crews, many hacked to death.

The attack left chaos and death in its wake and Quillet escaped with most of his men.  The action did in fact by the time for the Italian forces to regroup.  Their defensive positions held the British force in check preventing the loss of Italian East Africa and saved thousands of lives in the process. For this action, Quillet was promoted to Captain.

Despite this success, the Italian General surrendered to the British.  Thousands of Italian soldiers, including Quillet refused to surrender and took to the mountains. 

The “Gruppo Bande a Cavallo ” suffered 826 deaths and more than 600 injured from the beginning of WW2; it had no deserters and received the gold medal in the memory of the heroic Togni, and high praise from their enemies, written on the official reports of the British High Command.

NOW IT GETS GOOD

Dressed as natives, Quillet led his horsemen in eight months of attacks, ambushes and sabotage against the occupying British.  Supplies were plundered, trains derailed and bridges blow up.  The British placed a bounty of Gold on Quillet’s head, dead or alive.  He evaded every effort to destroy his force.  Reduced to be armed with only pistols and hand grenades, Quillet forced the British to divert significant forces from the main battles in North Africa.

With the defeat of Axis forces in North Africa, Quillet escaped to neutral Yemen and stowed away on a Red Cross ship to get back to Italy.  Promoted to Major and still not admitting defeat, he requested men and supplies from the Italian War Ministry to continue the fight in East Africa. Unfortunately, Italy surrendered shortly after his return and declared war on Germany.  With the blessing of the American Army, Quillet conducted guerilla warfare against the Germans.  This continued until the end of the Second World War in Europe.

Although wounded several times, Quillet survived the war having survived three wars and fighting on both sides of World War Two. Amedeo married Beatrice Gandolfo in 1944. The couple subsequently had two sons; Paolo and Alfredo. Beatrice died in 1990.

 Following the war Quillet entered the Italian diplomatic service where he represented Italy in Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Morocco, and finally as ambassador to India until 1975. In 1971, he was in Morocco during an assassination attempt on the King.

On June 20, 2000, he was awarded honorary citizenship by the city of Capua, which he defined as “highly coveted”.

On 4 November 2000, the day of the Festivity of the Armed Forces, Quillet was presented with the Knight Grand Cross of the Military Order of Italy by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. This is the highest military decoration in Italy. Quillet is one of the most highly decorated (both civil and military) people in Italian history. In 2001, Quillet  visited Eritrea and was met by thousands of supporters. The group included men who previously served with him as horsemen in the Italian Cavalry known as Gruppo Bande a Cavallo. The Eritrean people remembered Quillet ‘s efforts to help Eritrea remain independent of Ethiopia.

2000

Since 1974 Quillet had been living in retirement in Kentstown, County Meath, Ireland although latterly he had spent his winters in Italy. For some years he was a member of and hunted with the Tara Harriers and the Meath Hounds.

In 2009, his 100th birthday was celebrated with a special concert at the Palazzo Barberini in Rome.

Amedeo Quillet died on June 16, 2010, in Rome.

ATTACK ON THE LIBERTY

The USS Liberty (AGTR-5) was the sister ship of the USS Pueblo. It was an intelligence gathering ship. Auxiliary Technical Research ship (AGTR),[9] a cover name for National Security Agency (NSA) “spy ships” carrying out signals intelligence missions. On 8 June 1967, during the Six-Day War, the Israelis did their best to sink her.

USS LIBERTY (AGTR-5)

BACKGROUND

Fresh back from a deployment, the USS Liberty was ordered to proceed to Rota, Spain and await further orders., By order of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as Russian speaking Marine was assigned to the Liberty at Rota. They then proceeded to a station 15 miles off the coast of Israel.

At this point in the war, Israel had destroyed the Egyptian Air Force and recaptured the Sinai peninsula. They were in the process of secretly moving their army North to meet the threats there. The Liberty posed a threat of disclosure by monitoring Israeli communications. The Liberty therefore needed to be sunk.

With the outbreak of war, Captain William L. McGonagle of Liberty immediately asked Vice Admiral William I. Martin at the United States Sixth Fleet headquarters to send a destroyer to accompany Liberty and serve as its armed escort and as an auxiliary communications center. The following day, Admiral Martin replied: “Liberty is a clearly marked United States ship in international waters, not a participant in the conflict and not a reasonable subject for attack by any nation. Request denied.” He promised, however, that in the unlikely event of an inadvertent attack, jet fighters from the Sixth Fleet would be overhead in ten minutes.

TIMELINE

0600HRS* Liberty is overflown several times by Nord Noratlas aircraft bearing Israeli markings.

0900HRS Two unidentified delta winged fighter jets were seen orbiting the ship.

1000HRS Two unmarked, rocket-armed, delta-winged jets circle Liberty three times. Liberty officers can count rockets and see the pilots, but see no identifying marks on the plane. The jets radio Israeli headquarters that the ship is flying an American flag.

1015HRS Captain William L. McGonagle orders crew to openly sunbathe on deck. He joins them.

USS LIBERTY

1030HRS Israeli C-119 “flying boxcar” with Israeli markings circles Liberty at about 200 feet. Crew member Larry Weaver says, “I was actually able to wave to the co-pilot, a fellow on the right-hand side of the plane. He waved back, and actually smiled at me.”

ISDFA C-119’s

1357HRS Israeli Mirage jets attack Liberty with 30mm cannon fire. Eight crewmen were either killed immediately or received fatal injuries and died later, and 75 were wounded.[39] Among the wounded was McGonagle, who was hit in the right thigh and arm.[40] During the attack, antennas were severed, gas drums caught fire, and the ship’s flag was knocked down. McGonagle sent an urgent request for help to the Sixth Fleet, “Under attack by unidentified jet aircraft, require immediate assistance”.

ISDFA Mirage IIIC

1409HRS- The carrier USS America immediately launched the F-4 Phantom II aircraft that were on Alert 5. Unfortunately, these aircraft were armed with nuclear weapons and were recalled by SECDEF McNamara, personally, on the radio to the flight commander.

1424HRS Three French-built 62-ton Israeli motor torpedo boats approach Liberty in attack formation. Because the Israeli fighters had destroyed the American flag, Captain McGonagle orders the signalman to hoist the “holiday ensign,” the largest flag the ship has.

Photo Taken from aboard USS Liberty.

1435HRS Torpedo boats launch five German-made 19-inch torpedoes at Liberty. One torpedo strikes starboard directly into NSA area, accounting for 25 of the 34 men who would be killed. Torpedo boats then circle, machine-gunning the ship with armor-piercing projectiles for another 40 minutes.

1455HRS Unidentified aircraft drop napalm canisters on the Liberty, setting the ship on fire.

1500HRS NSA Sigint Command Center receives first notice of the attack from either the America or Saratoga: “USS Liberty has been reportedly torpedoed by unknown source in Med near 32N 33E. Request examine all communications for possible reaction/reflections and report accordingly.”

1515HRS Lifeboats are lowered into the water. The gunboats close and destroy them with cannon fire. Two Israeli SA-321 Super Frelon Hornet assault helicopters carrying soldiers in battle dress circle ship several times, then depart.

1520HRS The USS America has steamed out of range of the USS Liberty. However, volunteer crews including all four squadron commanders launch on a one way mission to defend the Liberty.

1530HRS Phantom II’s are recalled a second time.

1532HRS President Johnson is informed of the attack on the Liberty.

1535HRS Commander of Sixth Fleet announces that 12 aircraft will be launched at 1545 to arrive near Liberty at 1715.

1545HRS Third flight of Phantoms launch from the America.

1600HRS Liberty transmits: “Flash, flash, flash. I pass in the blind. We are under attack by aircraft and high-speed surface craft.” Deputy Director Louis Tordella is informed by Deputy Director of Joint Reconnaissance Center, Captain Vineyard, that “consideration was then being given by some unnamed Washington authorities to sink the Liberty in order that newspaper men would be unable to photograph her and thus inflame public opinion against the Israelis.” Tordella makes an “impolite” comment about the idea, writes a memo of the conversation for the record, and stores it away.

1614HRS American embassy relays Israeli apology to White House, Department of State, and Sixth Fleet that an unidentified “maybe Navy” ship has been erroneously attacked.

1630HRS Israeli jets and three torpedo boats return, offer assistance. Captain McGonagle refuses their help. Boats leave after 12 minutes.

1639HRS Secretary of Defense McNamara again orders rescue planes recalled; order is confirmed by President Johnson because “we are not going to embarrass an ally.” Naval Air Attaché at U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, Commander Ernest Castle, is summoned to Israeli Defense Forces headquarters.

1729HRS Rear Admiral Lawrence Geis, commander of the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, protests decision to recall rescue planes to Secretary of Defense McNamara. At that point President Johnson comes on the phone and says he didn’t care if the ship sunk, he would not embarrass his allies. Admiral Geis tells Lt. Commander David Lewis, head of the Liberty’s NSA group, of the remark, but asks him not to repeat it until after he dies. It is a promise Lewis will honor.

MOH

1915HRS Captain McGonagle, wounded and exhausted, dictates first report on estimated casualties: 10 dead; 15 severely wounded; 75 total wounded; undetermined missing. His estimates would prove low. Wounded early in the attack, McGonagle ordered that he be lashed to the wheel. For this action he will be awarded the Medal of Honor. On 11 JUN 1968, Captain McGonagle is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The Medal, usually presented by the President of the United States at the White House, is presented by the Secretary of the Navy during a hastily arranged ceremony at the Washington D.C. Navy Yard. Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, the Chief of Naval Operations, calls the way the Medal is presented a back-handed slap. “Everyone else received their medal at the White House,” Moorer will later observe. “President Johnson must have been concerned about the reaction of the Israeli lobby.”

AFTER THE ATTACK

9 June 1967:

After midnight: Soviet guided missile destroyer sends flashing-light message in English: “Do you need help?” Liberty responds: “No thank you.” Soviets answer: “I will stand by in case you need me.”

0600: USS Navy destroyers Davis and Massey arrive.

Mid-morning: Dead and wounded are evacuated by helicopter. Thirty four Americans were killed in the attack and another 174 were wounded.  

Damage can be clearly seen in this picture. Click to enlarge.

The crew of the Liberty effect damage control on their ship and sail her to the Port of Valletta, Malta, under its own power. Of a crew of 294 officers and men (including three civilians), the ship suffered thirty four (34) killed in action and one hundred seventy three (173) wounded in action.  The ship itself, a Forty Million ($40,000,000) Dollar state of the art signals intelligence (SIGINT) platform, was so badly damaged that it never sailed on an operational mission again and was sold in 1970 for $101,666.66 as scrap.

*Local Time

References

Two 12-page articles have appeared in AMEU’s bimonthly publication The Link:

  • “The USS Liberty Affair,” by James E. Ennes, Jr. This issue is available in PDF download from the AMEU website. Search by author or year (1984).
  • “Remember the Liberty,” by John Borne, with an introductory memorandum by Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This issue is available in PDF download from the AMEU website. Search by author or year (1997).

Ennes, James, Assault on the Liberty, 2002 edition. Available from AMEU, $25.00 Ennes was the lieutenant on watch at the time the Israelis first attacked the Liberty. A full chapter is devoted to Israel’s motives for knowingly attacking the ship.

Bamford, James, Body of Secrets, 2001 edition. Available from AMEU, $19.95. Bamford offers several important pieces of information previous classified. On page 226, e.g., he tells of President Johnson’s reaction:

The official web site for the USS Liberty is: www.ussLiberty.org.