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Short Rounds

The Allied Airman's "Escape Purse"

Before setting out on a mission during the Combined Allied Air Offensive against Festung Europa, Allied airmen were regularly issued an “escape kit,: which included standard “escape and evasion” items, such as a pistol, a compass, a map printed on silk, and a phrase book appropriate to the areas over which airman was to be flying.  It also included an “escape purse.”

For airmen operating in northwestern Europe, that is, out of Britain on missions over the occupied territories of France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, and on into Germany, two different escape purses were issued, designated by color.   

ColorContents
Red 2,000 French francs
Yellow 1,000 French and 350 Belgian francs, plus 20 Dutch guilders

In terms of purchasing power, the Red purse was worth about 400 Reischsmarks at the official exchange rate, roughly $160, and the Yellow about RM 375, or some $150, substantial sums by the standards of 1943-1944, easily equal to $1,800-$3,500 today .

Note: For more information on arrangements to help downed Allied airmen elude capture, see Sherri Green Otis' Silent Heroes: Downed Airmen and the French Underground (Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 2001)

 

The Papal-Perugian Salt War, 1540-1541

For centuries after the collapse of Byzantine power in Italy in the eighth century, the Umbrian city of Perugia was legally a dependency of the papacy.  But papal authority waxed and waned, and at times the city was virtually independent. 

Like many Italian cities, Perugia had a pretty homicidal domestic political life, with the great families indulging in frequent assassination, murder, and massacre.  By the onset of the sixteenth century this struggle culminated in the primacy of the Baglioni, a family so blood-thirsty that when not slaughtering their enemies they did away with each other, culminating in the  “Wedding of Blood” in July of 1500, when one faction of the family took advantage of the marriage of the head of a rival faction to massacre him and virtually all his close kin.  By 1532 the place was under the control of Rodolfo Baglioni (1512-1554).  A typical representative of his family, Rodolfo had been a condottiero with his own command since he was about 17, and gained power in the city through a coup in 1533 that had the blessings of Pope Clement VII.

Clement died in 1534, the new pope, Paul III (r. 1534-1549), found Rodolfo a recalcitrant vassal, and after the man had a papal legate murdered, ousted him from Perugia at the end of the following year, restoring to the city its ancient liberties, within the framework of papal overlordship. 

Now this was the era of the Franco-Spanish "Italian Wars," of which there were eight in all covering about 35 of the years between 1494 and 1559.  While Spain generally prevailed, the French proved slow learners.  Naturally these wars put quite a strain on Italian states and rulers.  When Paul came to the papacy, the church's finances were in dire straits, so in 1538 he imposed a tax on salt in the papal dominions.

Most of the papal dependencies protested, citing legal precedents reaching back into the dimmest ages; Perugia, for example, claimed exemption under agreements made in 1379 and 1424.  In March of 1539 Paul put Perugia and several other uncooperative cities under the interdict, that is, he barred the clergy from celebrating mass or administering the sacraments.  This brought most of the states to heel.  But not Perugia

The Perugians restored Rodolfo to power and continued to defy the pope.  So in March of 1540, Pope Paul levied an excommunication on Rodolfo and the city itself.  Meanwhile, he had mobilized an army under the command of his son Pier Luigi Farnese (1503-1547), the "Captain General of the Church," who had been soldiering since first taking up arms at the age of 17.

Early in April Farnese invaded Perugian territory with some 8,000-10,000 Italian troops, some 3,000 Spaniards, and about 400 German mercenaries.  The army advanced quickly against slight resistance.  Rodolfo had hardly 2,000 troops, mostly infantry, both poorly equipped and short of ammunition.  After some limited skirmishing, Rodolfo fell back on the defenses of Perugia.  Farnese invested the city in May.  A desultory siege followed, while various notables attempted to effect a peace agreement.  Finally, the Perugians folded, and on March 26, 1541 surrendered to the pope, while Rodolfo once more went into exile.      

This ended any pretense the Perugians had to independence.  And just to emphasize his victory, Pope Paul razed the Baglioni palace and some others to raise the Rocca Paolina, a great fortress on the site. 

In vengeance, the Perugians essentially began to boycott salt.  Even today, bread there is traditionally made without salt, with dire consequences to its taste.

As for Rodolfo Baglioni, he returned his trade as a mercenary, serving mostly the Duke of Florence, until he was killed in an ambush in 1554, reportedly going down still swinging a halberd. 

 


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