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“SUNK BY 3 SQUADRON!''

 
0.5in. cartridges and a bomb splinter from the 3SQN anti-shipping attack of March 17th, 1944.  [Photo Sime LISICA.]

Our good friend living on the Croatian Coast, historian and author Sime LISICA, has sent in a remarkable picture of a 3SQN bomb splinter and bullet casings that he recovered when diving in Petrcane harbour.

These are definitely the remains of 3SQN ordinance from the mission of March 17th 1944, in this small harbour. 
The bullet casings were likely ejected during the bomb-dive, as the Kittybombers usually strafed the target on their way down. 
[Mission description at the bottom of p189 of the 3 Squadron Operations Record Book.  - Their bombs were mostly 1000-pounders.]

Sime has also found another German Combat Report [reproduced below] of a very successful anti-ship mission undertaken by 3SQN four days later, on 21st  March, 1944. 

These missions were all flown from 3SQN's Base at Cutella in Italy.  To round-out our coverage we have attached a Letter from the same period, describing activities back at Base.

Firstly, Sime sets the scene:

On March 19th 1944, two German “Siebel Ferry” ships set out from Trieste, Italy, on a multi-night journey [using darkness as cover against air strikes] heading for Split, Croatia.  Each ship carried cargo of two 152mm-calibre heavy coastal guns, with 30 tons of boxed ammunition.  

Both ships also carried as passengers several soldiers from the Wehrmacht Artillery and several from the Luftwaffe.  On the morning of March 20th they anchored at the Island of Losinj.  That evening they commenced another night’s travel.  On March 21st at 0600 they anchored in a bay near the village of Tkon on the Island of Pasman.  The Siebel Ferries were already camouflaged, and the bay was known to both ship commanders, since they'd been there on previous missions.  The ships were anchored 150 meters apart.  The crews started working on additional camouflage.  

Around 0740 they saw two planes (Spitfires from No.241 SQN  RAF) which attacked them several minutes later.  In this attack the ships were damaged and their anti-aircraft guns were also put out of action.  Three crewmembers were wounded.  The crews tried to repair the ships and there was a plan to move them to another bay, but they were prevented by the constant sounds of nearby aircraft.” 

Below Sime has kindly translated the section of the German war diary describing the 3SQN attack…


Siebel Ferry” – A large German catamaran supply vessel.

10. LandungsFlottille  [GERMAN NAVY]
COMBAT REPORT

Loss of two Siebel Ferries. 21.03.1944.

...At around 1030, the air-raid alert was given again, since the sound of planes was increasing.  The commander of Siebel Ferry SF-277 ordered the entire crew to find shelter on the shore.  

Around 1045, six enemy fighter-bombers appeared from the South at altitude of 1,500 to 2,000 metres.  The commanders of the Siebel Ferries and engineers were still on the ships, and quickly disembarked.  

Immediately the air-attack followed, including strafing while bombs were being dropped.  The first bomb exploded on the right flank of Siebel Ferry SF-278, in front of the engine compartment.  The stern blew up into the air.  The second bomb fell on Siebel Ferry SF-277, just in front of the wheelhouse and into the stored high-explosive gun ammunition.  The explosion which followed blew the entire Siebel Ferry to pieces, with some parts of the artillery weapons thrown 120 meters onto the coast.  When the smoke from this explosion cleared, the Siebel Ferry was already underwater. 

The enemy planes continued with their aerial attacks dropping bombs and overflying Siebel Ferry SF-277 (submerged) and SF-278, on which a fire was burning.  Each plane dropped one bomb.  When the bombing attack was finished, the enemy fighter-bombers overflew the area several times at low altitude, firing machine guns, trying to liquidate the crews of the ships who were hidden in shelters on the shore.

After about 25 minutes the enemy planes left the area, flying south.  Further personnel losses were not suffered, although the bombs exploded very close and the hits from the strafing fell just nearby.  Naval Senior Corporal PILCH from SF-277, who was already wounded by strafing in the first attack, was heavily wounded again with bomb shrapnel.  

Once the enemy planes left the area, the commander of SF-277 conducted a muster, collecting together the crews from both Siebel Ferries, including the soldiers from the Luftwaffe and the Wehrmacht. 

Help arrived at the site of the battle, from the STASS squad from the Island of Pasman, which was stationed in Tkon.  The wounded were immediately sent to Biograd.  Since seats on the boat were restricted and explosions of ammunition had terminated, the commanders of SF-277 and SF-278, with the majority of the soldiers from their crews, headed towards the Siebel Ferries to examine the possibilities of rescuing equipment.

From SF-277 nothing could be saved, since the ship was completely broken into pieces.  All of the confidential items were recovered by the commanders.  All of the supplies, communications equipment and defensive weapons were lost, together with the ship.

From SF-278 there is the possibility to rescue two 152mm guns, with the help of tugboats and floating cranes.  The rescuing of these guns would be very difficult, since the stern and the middle part of the ship are submerged to a depth of around three metres.  Besides that the guns cannot be used.  One of them was thrown towards shore in the explosion and the other one is heavily damaged.  Guarding of these two weapons, which might eventually be rescued, was handed over to the STASS unit.

The crews of the Siebel Ferries SF-277 and SF-278 left on 22nd March to walk back across Zadar Island to the flotilla command post.  The crews arrived in the flotilla base on the night of 28 March.

- Commander SF-277, Staff Senior Sgt 1st class PAULIKAT.
- Commander SF-278, Senior Sgt 1st class BOGDAN.

Translated by Sime LISICA.  
See also
3SQN ORB p193. 

A short interesting video of RAAF Kittyhawks attacking Zadar harbour is on
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6GqGo7W05U.  This video was probably taken by 450 Squadron, most likely in January 1944. 

 

BACK AT BASE

75 YEARS AGO

A LETTER FROM PADRE McKAY IN CUTELLA

Dear Folks at Home,

This short note is being written from No.3 Squadron in Italy, where the well-known and desert-tested all-Australian team are still carrying on their good traditions.  You no doubt are proud to have a representative in this Squadron -- and part of my purpose in writing is to give you a personal assurance that he is well in health, and carrying your name into a far-away country with honour.

The conditions of service are totally different from what they were in the Desert.  It is no easy task to change from “sand and heat” to “mud and cold”, and to carry on as if nothing had happened.

As I write this note, a sleety wind is bellowing through our canvas community, and outside is the sound of the flapping of many tents.  


Tents and huts at Cutella, only a few metres from the frigid Adriatic sea.  [AWM ART23482]

Shirts and shorts have been replaced by heavy battledress, with the added proud adornment of the newly-issued ‘Africa Star’ ribbon and clasp, which identities this Squadron with the exploits of the Desert Air Force and the victories of the Eighth Army.

Daily Squadron Life sees everyone at his job.  Early and late, the trucks come and go to the dispersal area, where the Armourers seem constantly to be loading bombs to the bellies of aircraft, and where the Fitters, Riggers and Mechanics climb in and out of cockpits or with skilful hands fossick amid the maze of engine and airframe parts. The Cooks who rise with the dawn, the Medical Orderlies who pump typhus injections into us, the Equipment Staff who see that we have enough blankets at night, the Transport Drivers who keep the wheels moving in spite of mud, the Clerks who do the monotonously constant work behind the scenes, the Fabric Workers, the Instrument "Bashers," the Aircraft Hands, Telephone Operators, Mess Stewards, and the many others who go to make up the coordinated family of a full-time mobile squadron.  

- All carry on, day in and day out, at their specific tasks with an unassuming and quiet efficiency.  And our team of wizard Pilots, day by day as weather allows, poke the determined noses of their machines into daring places, and are known by the goods they deliver.


A red flare signals a landing Kittyhawk at Cutella to "go around".  Another Kittyhawk sits in the foreground,
(note the "Temperate Land Scheme" camouflage) guarded by an anti-aircraft emplacement. 
The airstrip was built from "Pierced Steel Plank" ("PSP") plates in a barren area of foreshore sand dunes. 

In the evening we often talk of our loved ones at home.  Even at our work, our thoughts travel to the familiar scenes as we recall them in our mind. Separation from our loved ones affects us all much the same - it cuts deep into the heart of any man who is devoted to his own kith and kin.  We long for that day of glorious reunion upon which so many of our dreams and ambitions are set.  No real man among us is ashamed to acknowledge that he is devoted to someone back home - and we build all kinds of hopes around the day of our return.

As practical and realistic men, we have no misgivings about the problems of war and separation.

May God bless you, day by day, in our earnest prayer. In the distance we share your loneliness and every other difficulty which, perforce, the war compels you to face.

As a Chaplain, privileged to serve among the gallant fellows of this Squadron, I send you this small token of our thoughts of you at home.  May it help to dispel any anxieties you may have, and may you be certain always that none of us forget the love that follows us everywhere we go.  Please do not think that you need to answer this note, but with it accept the warmest personal regards of…

Fred McKAY, Padre.
   Chaplain, No.3 Squadron, R.A.A.F., C.M.F.
   9th February, 1944.

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