Page last updated: 7 September, 2020

View if Gaeta
Gaeta, Italy

Homeport of USS Little Rock CLG 4 / CG 4
Flagship of the U.S. Navy's Sixth Fleet

Gaeta is a charming little town of about 24,000 people who are known as Gaetani. It is situated in the Lazio region in the province of Latina. Man has inhabited the Gaeta area since prehistoric times. This theory has been confirmed when they found in a cave of San Felice Circeo, a town near Gaeta, the cranium of Circeo man, close to Neanderthal Man. Caveman relics can be seen in the Local San Felice Circeo Museum.

Greek civilization greatly influenced the people in this area, although Gaeta was not a Greek colony. A vase was found containing figures from the myth of Dionysus, and sculpted by Salpion, a Greek who lived in the first century B.C. The bowl was used as a mooring for ships in ancient times. This special bowl and many other artifacts can be seen in The National Archaeological Museum of Naples.

The origin of the name Gaeta is from a book written by Virgil who lived in the 29th century B.C. This book is the source of the stories of the birth of Rome. The story tells of Enea, who was a refuge of Troy, who came to this area looking for new land, as Troy had been destroyed. He came here in a ship with the survivors. Among these survivors was his wet nurse whose name was Gajeta. She died in this area, Gajeta, later changed to Gaeta.

During Roman times, Gaeta was known as a famous resort with a good harbor for ships. The Via Flacca, (known as Rome Road) leading towards the town of Sperionga was lined with beautiful villas, gardens, swimming pools and mausoleums. The best preserved villa is Villa Tiberio, located just below the Sperlonga Museum.

Two mausoleums are still in Gaeta: Plancus Mausoleum on Monte Orlando, which is the best preserved one in all of Italy, and Atratino Mausoleum, just a block off "Rome Road" on Via Atratina, which is in poor condition because many of the stones were removed during the middle ages in order to build local churches.

During the middle ages, Gaeta became a fortified city. It was naturally fortified because of its position on a promontory of land jutting out into the sea. Towers and walls were built around it and it became a castrum. These medieval walls can still be seen today on the promenade to the old Gaeta. At one time you could not see the sea from the waterfront road.

In the ninth century, Gaeta separated from the Byzantine government and became an autonomous Dukedom. It successfully fought the Saracens. It was ruled by the Norman Dukes in the 11th century, by the Sicilians in the 12th century, and then had Anjou and Aragonese rulers. It was the northernmost line of the Bourbons during their reign over the Kingdom of Naples. In 1848, Pope Pius IX took refuge here. He coined the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in the Annunziata, a local church. He also elevated the status of Gaeta to an Archbishop.

In 1870, Gaeta came a part of Unified Italy. It was heavily damaged during World War II, but has since been rebuilt and is presently a fishing center and a resort town because of the beautiful Serapo Beach and marvelous shores.

Gaeta is also home to the United States Sixth Fleet Command Ship. In 1967, the French government withdrew France from NATO's military command structure and forced all US forces to leave the country. At that time, the Commander, United States Sixth Fleet (COMSIXTHFLT) was based out of Villefranche-sur-Mer, France, located on the French Riviera, just west of Monaco.

The current Sixth Fleet Command Ship is the USS Mount Whitney (LCC/JCC20). It concurrently serves as the Command Ship for Commander, SIXTH Fleet / Commander, Joint Command Lisbon /Commander, Striking Force NATO. (USS Little Rock CLG 4 / CG 4 served as the Sixth Fleet Flagship from 1967 to 1970 and from 1973 to 1976 and alternated with the USS Springfield CLG7.) Whereas the Sixth Fleet ship is based out of Gaeta, the NATO components are located in Naples. The Gaeta American Community is part of the greater Naples Military Community.

Fishermans Cove

Photo submitted by and copy©right by eCorbin Internet Services, Inc.

Gaeta with it's many beautiful landscape scenes. No wonder she was the homeport of The Sixth Fleets Admiral's Flagship. .Here is a fisherman's cove just south of the pier where the Rock tied up. Man, I'd love to go back to Gaeta someday. I never knew what I was missing until after I was gone. I miss Vic's Pizza's and the Peroni Beer. The well dressed people and the food was outta this world. Paradise on earth , you bet.

Monte Orlando, the Blue Oasis and the Park Monte Orlando are located between Serapo beach and the ancient quarter of Sant’ Erasmo. This fascinating historic area has recently been turned into a wildlife reserve; access to it is only allowed to visitors who come on foot, or by shuttle-bus. * The Park contains examples of the Mediterranean vegetation, in particular dwarf palm trees, carobs, Jerusalem pines, mastic trees and myrtles.

Looking down from the Monte Orlando, one can see a series of buoys, which indicate the location of l’Oasi Blu (the Blue Oasis). This marine reserve, with its spectacular cliffs and several marine grottoes, protects the local undersea flora and fauna.

Monte Orlando also hosts the Sanctuary of the Holy Trinity located on what is known as la Montagna Spaccata (Split Mountain), a natural phenomenon surrounded by legends of deep religious significance.

Tradition holds that at the moment of Jesus’ death an earthquake split the mountain forming three deep vertical crevices, one of which is known as the Turk’s Grotto.

Another legend recounts that a Turk (Saracen pirate) refused to believe in Jesus’ deity, and in the fact that the split of the mountain was caused by his death, unless he could put his hand into the rock. The hand print of the disbelieving Turk is still visible in the main split.

In the 15th century a large stone precipitated into the next crevice remaining lodged there; it is on this rock that the little Chapel of San Filippo Neri stands. The top of Monte Orlando is dominated by the Mausoleum Lucius Munatius Plancus, Roman Consul (20 BC).

Split Mountain , Gaeta , Italy
Photo submitted sy and copy©right by 
eCorbin Internet Services, Inc.

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"LITCOMS"  is the quarterly newsletter of the U.S.S. Little Rock Association. All submissions are reprinted for the purpose of keeping the Association membership informed. Anyone wishing to submit articles for publication, should forward those articles to Don Schuld, 3 Mildred Terrace, Flanders, NJ  07836-9231, Phone: 973-584-9634, Fax: 973-927-2264, E-mail:
USS Little Rock Association
Gaeta Harbor Gaeta Harbor,  looking east along Via Bausan
on a quiet afternoon. 
MAP OF GAETA USS Little Rock Association

The U.S. Navy and Gaeta, Italy

Since leaving Villefranche-sur-Mer, France in 1967, the US Sixth Fleet flagship has been based in Gaeta, Italy. The Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea encompasses task forces, battle groups, amphibious forces, support ships, land-based surveillance aircraft, and submarines. Its role has been important since the early 19th century to the US Navy’s commitment to forward presence. The Sixth Fleet Flag Ship Command Ship is the USS Mount Whitney (LCC/JCC 20) is homeported in Gaeta. As homeport to its flagship, Gaeta hosts the staff of Sixth Fleet as well as US Naval Support Activity, Gaeta.

Gaeta’s relationship with the US Navy did not start in 1967. Long before the USS Little Rock sailed into Gaeta’s harbor, Pope Pius IX and Ferdinand II, King of the two Kingdoms of Sicily, paid visit to the USS Constitution in 1849. Eight flagships later, the ties between the Italian and American communities have strengthened as Americans come to Gaeta eager to experience a new culture and make new friends.

As a forward-deployed unit, the USS Mount Whitney’s primary mission is to provide command ship facilities and support to Commander, Sixth Fleet (COMSIXTHFLT), and his embarked staff. The
Mount Whitney assumed the role of command ship for the US Sixth Fleet on 25 February 2005, bringing expanded capabilities to the fleet. With the ability and space available to embark a Joint Task Force staff, when necessary, Mount Whitney greatly increases the flexibility of the US Sixth Fleet commander and his staff. Additionally, Mount Whitney has been outfitted with state-of-the-art communication, command, and control electronic equipment. Any operation or exercise involving sea, air, land, and amphibious forces can be controlled and directed from the flagship while at sea or in port. This further increases the US Sixth Fleet’s capability to respond to crisis or contingency operations.

The primary mission of Naval Support Activity Gaeta is to provide and maintain facilities and services to support the Sixth Fleet Staff and USS
Mount Whitney personnel, along with their families stationed in the Gaeta area. In addition, Naval Support Activity Gaeta also supports a NATO telecommunications school (NCISS) located approximately 50 miles north of Gaeta in the province of Latina.

The Naval Support Activity is located in the town of Gaeta, which is situated between Rome and Naples. Formerly a detachment of Naval Support Activity Naples, Naval Support Activity Detachment Gaeta began operations on January 13, 1967. On January 28, 1994, the establishment of Naval Support Activity Gaeta as an independent command on site in Gaeta became official. Today, base support facilities are located on a hill called Monte Orlando overlooking the Gulf of Gaeta.

The majority of American personnel and families live in town or in the nearby vicinity (Formia, Itri, and Vindicio) in apartments, and in some houses although yards are rare. Prices range anywhere between Lit. 400.000 to 1.500.000 ($280 to $1000 and more per month). Gaeta is by no means a poor area in fact it is a European seaside resort, therefore prices are rather steep as well. Stock up on your favorite items especially women's lingerie and children's clothes and bring plenty of catalogs. This sleepy town (in the winter) pushes people towards the mountains to enjoy "la settimana bianca" which is a week of skiing, and its rainless summers attract people to its numerous beaches along the coastline. Gaeta is nearer to Naples than to Rome, and it is situated in the middle of both cities. People who are used to a metropolitan lifestyle will find these two cities a home away from home. The American community also enjoys the luxury of listening and viewing AFN radio/TV (the only American station available) while stationed in Gaeta. In order to alleviate the discomfort of transferring to an overseas duty station, the Family Service Center offers monthly installation and community orientation classes.

Downloaded from which can be found at:
(Since modified to show USS Mount Whitney as current Command Ship)

The Crew of the Little Rock Remembers......

John Meyers on 03 Dec 07 contributed the following story:

Suitcase Getaway


Ship’s scuttlebutt had it that the prison in Old Gaeta held a single prisoner, a Nazi SS officer convicted of war crimes.  By 1972, after more than 23 years behind bars, the man had outlived the other prisoners and by default spent his days alone, with only the prison guards for human contact.  The Italians reviled the man and vowed to keep the prison operating, no matter the expense, until he died there.  I left Gaeta in 1975 and from time to time have wondered if the story was truth or fiction.  Recently, I went on a web search for information about Old Gaeta’s prison.


It appears the man I'm looking for is Herbert (Hubert) Kappler.  He was an SS colonel in March 1944, when a partisan bomb killed a 33-man German patrol near the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy.  He was the officer in charge of the reprisal killing of 335 Italian civilians, for which he was convicted by a military court in 1948 and sentenced to life imprisonment.  A movie based upon the story of Kappler and the massacre in Rome was released in 1973 and starred Richard Burton.  


As Kappler’s health declined, the German government began making requests for his release on humanitarian grounds, but the Italians declined.  Kappler did manage a prison wedding in 1972 to a German woman named Anneliese, a nurse.  I don't know about the timing, but it seems a little too convenient that Kappler’s new wife was a nurse and a full 18 years younger than he was.  It might be that the marriage was arranged as a compromise between the Italian and German diplomats as they argued over his release, with the woman more of a nurse and paid companion than wife, or possibly a secret operative for the Germans.


Sometime in 1976, Kappler was transferred from the Gaeta prison to a Rome hospital ( Celio Military Hospital ) for cancer treatments.  Kappler’s wife was allowed almost constant access to his hospital room.  One night in August 1977, around 1 a.m., Kappler’s wife went to his room, stuffed him into a large suitcase and wheeled him out. (Can you hear the music playing à la Mission Impossible?)  The carabinieri guard on duty even helped her roll the suitcase onto the elevator.  She had a car waiting and drove him to a town in West Germany to hide out.  In order to provide more time for their escape, she put a “Do Not Disturb Until 10 a.m.” note on Kappler’s hospital room door.  As a result, the hospital nurses did not find he was gone until late the next morning when they discovered an old wig and pillow in his bed.  Kappler died within six months of his escape.


There are other interesting elements to this story, but this writing is too long the way it is.  You can find additional information by searching for Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty of the Vatican and CIA notes.  For a Time magazine story visit the web site:,9171,915344,00.html.


I never went to see to the prison while living in Gaeta and suspect that tourists were not allowed very close in any case.  Since Kappler’s escape, I would guess relatives are no longer allowed to bring Samsonite luggage filled with goodies when they visit an inmate in Italy.     


Do you remember hearing this story?  Does anyone have some additional “inside” knowledge, or a picture or two of Gaeta’s prison?


I disavow any information you have read here that might be attributed to me.

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More info and pictures of Herbert Kappler

(Added 29 Mar 2013)

Kappler Front
Kappler Side
Kappler in Hospital Kappler & Wife
Herbert Kappler
after his capture.
Front view

Herbert Kappler
after his capture.
Side view
Herbert Kappler during
his hospital stay in
Rome, Italy.
Kappler with his wife Anneliese after his
escape to Germany.

The first and second photos above were taken shortly after Kappler's capture by the British in 1945 after he tried
unsucessfully to seek refuge in the Vatican. He was subsequently turned over to the Italian authorities in 1947.

The third photo shows Kappler during his in-patient stay at the Celio (Caelius) Military Hospital, in Rome ca. 1976-77.

The fourth photo was taken in Soltau Germany in August 1977.  It shows Herbert Kappler in his bed, with his
wife Anneliese at his side shortly after his daring escape from Italy. This photo became a historic cover of "Today"
 which told the exclusive details of evasion of the Nazi Executioner.

(Click on photos to enlarge them.)

Extracted from Wikipedia...

As Rome fell to Allied forces, Kappler unsuccessfully tried to seek refuge in the Vatican, but he was arrested by British authorities in 1945 and later turned over to the Italian government in 1947. Kappler's second in command in Rome, SS-Captain , did manage to escape and it was not until 1996 that Priebke would face justice.

In 1947, Kappler was tried by an Italian  and sentenced to life imprisonment in the military prison of . Kappler and his first wife divorced while Kappler was serving his sentence, but he was married again to Anneliese Kappler, a nurse who had carried on a lengthy correspondence with Kappler before marrying him in a prison wedding ceremony in 1972. By this time Kappler had also converted to , partly due to the influence of his war-time opponent, the Vatican diplomat Mgr , who often visited Kappler in prison, discussing literature and religion with him.
By 1975, at the age of sixty-eight, Kappler was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he was moved to a military hospital in Rome in 1976. Appeals by both his wife and the  to release him were denied by Italian authorities.

Because of Kappler's deteriorating condition and his wife's nursing skills, Anneliese Kappler had been allowed almost unlimited access to him during his time in the Italian hospital. On a prison visit in August 1977, Kappler's wife carried him out in a large suitcase (Kappler weighed less than 105 pounds at the time) and escaped to , assisted by apparently unwitting.

The  unsuccessfully demanded that Kappler be returned, but the West Germany authorities refused to extradite him and did not prosecute Kappler for any further war crimes, reportedly due to his ill health.

Six months after his escape, Kappler died at home on February 9, 1978, aged 70.

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