For the Italian population there was little to look forward to. They suffered under the Germans and they suffered under the bombs and shellfire of the Allies. Even in areas liberated from the Germans the government was weak and the economy struggling. Many relied on handouts from Allies in order to eat. Yet those who chose to help themselves were equally a problem for the Allies. In Naples British Intelligence officer Norman Lewis, attached to the American Fifth Army, had just been ordered to participate in a new crackdown on the looting of military supplies. The problem was knowing where to start:
The impudence of the black market takes one’s breath away.
For months now official sources have assured us that the equivalent of the cargo of one Allied ship in three unloaded in the Port of Naples is stolen.
The latest story going the rounds is that when a really big-scale coup is planned and it is necessary to clear the port to handle bulky goods, someone arranges for the air-raid sirens to sound and for the mobile smoke-screens to provide their fog, under the cover of which the shock-troops of the black market move in to do their work.
Stolen equipment sold on the Via Forcella, and round the law courts — where one-man-business thieves without protection are tried and sentenced by the dozen every day for possession of Allied goods – is now on blatant display, tastefully arranged with coloured ribbon, a vase of ﬂowers, neatly written showcards advertising the quality of the looted goods.
COMPARE OUR PRICES . . . WARRANTED PURE AUSTRALIAN WOOL . . . MONEY BACK IF FOUND TO SHRINK . . . YOU CAN MARCH To KINGDOM COME ON THESE BEAUTIFUL IMPORTED BOOTS . . . IF YOU DON’T SEE THE OVERSEAS ARTICLE YOU’RE LOOKING FOR, JUST ASK US AND WE’LL GET IT.
Tailors all over Naples are taking uniforms to pieces, dying the material, and turning them into smart new outﬁts for civilian wear. I hear that even British Army long-coms, which despite the climate still ﬁnd their way over here, are accepted with delight, dyed red, and tumed into the latest thing in track suits.
In the ﬁrst days the MPs carried out a few half-hearted raids on the people specializing in these adaptations, but they found too many smart new overcoats made from Canadian blankets awaiting collection by Italian friends of General this and Colonel that to be able to put a stop to the thing.
Last week the Papal Legate’s car, held up by pure accident in some routine road-check, was found to be ﬁtted with a set of stolen tyres. Many apologies and smiles and His Reverence was waved on.
Other than commando daggers and bayonets, they don’t display looted weapons in the stalls, but the advice from my contacts is that there is no problem except the cash in arranging to buy anything from a machine-gun to a light tank.
The trouble now is that certain items which can be freely and easily bought on the black market are in short supply in the Army itself. This applies currently to photographic equip- ment and materials, practically all of which has been stolen to be sold under the counter in shops in the Via Roma, and to certain medical supplies, in particular penicillin. Every sick civilian can go to a pharmacist and get a oourse of penicillin injections at a time when supplies in the military hospitals are about to run out.