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Dam-Busting!

- Pescara River, Central Italy, 5 May 1944. 
(Behind the German "Gustav Line".)

A question from Alessandro Patroncino, whose home is in Pescara on the east coast of Italy, (150km east of Rome) led Neil Smith to compile the following interesting story:

3 Squadron had been based at Cutella on the Adriatic Coast for five months since early January 1944 (experiencing a particularly savage winter).

MEC1364
Cutella, Italy.  April 1944.  Ground crew personnel of No. 3 Squadron RAAF,
working on one of the squadron's Curtiss P40 Kittyhawk aircraft.  [AWM MEC1364
]

On the 5th of May 1944, a major bombing action was carried out by 239 Wing in order to breach the hydro-electric dam on the Pescara River.  The task-group comprised three dozen aircraft from three separate squadrons: 260 Squadron RAF (flying Mustangs), RAAF 3 Squadron (flying Kittyhawks), and SAAF 5 Squadron (flying Kittyhawks).

It was thought that the German Army intended to open the sluice gates of the Pescara Dam and flood the countryside to impede the advancing Allied troops after the new assault had commenced.  Allied Command decided to strike first, prior to starting their advance.


Dive-Bomber's eye view of the Dam!  (From Google Earth).  The major E80 Expressway runs along the edge of the gorge today.


Modern-day view of the floodgates (via Google Earth).

Our good friend Giuseppe Marini, the Italian historian who re-discovered the abandoned location of the Cutella airstrip, has provided the following background information:

The dam is that of the village of Alanno; 18.26 miles south-west from Pescara city.  The geographical coordinates are:

- Latitude: 4215' 51.06" N. Longitude: 13 57' 36.91" E

- Height of the dam = 371 ft.

This dam is around 2.5 miles north-east from the town of "Torre dei Passeri" (Abruzzo region).  The 3SQN Operations Record Book mentions the town of "Torre".

The fighter-bombers passed over the city of Torre to go down to the dam.  An old woman living in the town of Alanno remembers this event at the beginning of May 1944, she has seen the airplanes pass overhead and then she saw the dam burst and the aftermath in the valley.

Today there are five hydroelectric dams in that area still in operation.  The target dam is called: "Pescara River No.3", built in 1928-1931.  The original operating company was "SME" (today "ENEL") and the construction project was managed by Ulisse Del Buono.

Today the dam provides a very important wildlife refuge of around 38 hectares, thanks to an agreement between the World Wildlife Fund Italy and ENEL energy.  This reserve was inaugurated the 6 July of 2002.  

 

Twelve  3 Squadron Kittyhawks participated, led by the new C.O., Squadron Leader Rex Bayly.  The Kittyhawk IVs were armed with one 1,000 lb bomb and 2 x 500 lb. bombs each.  It was the first time the Squadron's new Kittyhawks had carried a 2,000 lb bomb load.  (Kittyhawk IIIs could only carry loads of 1,000lb.)  The result was that the immediate area, containing German supply and troop concentrations, was flooded and one of Italy's main sources of hydro-electric power was temporarily disabled, which helped the Allied advance.  The town of Pescara was reported to be under four feet of water.  The Squadron's Operations Record Book ("ORB") describes the mission as follows.

The individual pilots involved on the mission are also listed in the ORB. 

Contemporary Photos:

MED1867
Italy.  23 May 1944.  RAF P51 Mustang aircraft and SAAF and RAAF P40 "Kittybomber" aircraft of the Desert Air Force successfully attacked the great Pescara Dam on the Pescara River, by dive-bombing.  The iron sluice gates were breached by Flight Sergeant Alexander Duguid of Dyce, near Aberdeen, and water immediately poured through the gap.  Flight Lieutenant (Flt Lt) Ken Richards, an Australian pilot of Warragul, Victoria, saw the bombs from his Kittybomber smash another break in the iron walls of the dam.  Colonel Laurie Wilmot, the South African Commanding Officer, who led the attack, said, 'Upstream the dam emptied and we could see the stream narrowing, while below the sluices the water was running at high level'.  
Group portrait of some of the pilots after their return from the dam-busting exploit:
Left to right: Captain H. Odendaal of Free State, South Africa; Lieutenant W. J. Lombard of Johannesburg; Flying Officer B. Page of NSW; Flt Lt L. S. Sheppard of Newport, Monmouthshire; Warrant Officer A. Macdonald of Sydney, NSW; Pilot Officer D. Short of SA. 
[AWM
MED1867
]

 

SUK12216
Italy. C. 1944-05. Group portrait of three of the pilots who took part in the "dam busting" operations against the Pescara Dam.
Left to right: Flight Lieutenant Ken Richards of Warragul, Vic; Colonel Laurie Wilmot DFC of South Africa; Flight Sergeant A. J. Duguid of Dyce near Aberdeen, Scotland.  [AWM SUK12216
]

MEA1645
Italy. May 1944.  Group portrait of pilots of No. 3 (Kittyhawk) Squadron RAAF in Italy.  These pilots took part in the Pescara Dam busting exploit.  
At present they are pulling their weight in the new offensive which is throwing the Germans back to Rome.  [AWM MEA1645]

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