48 members of the South African Air Force (SAAF) who lost their lives almost 80 years ago during a mission to drop supplies to Italian partisans were recently commemorated at a memorial service in Pretoria. Reverend Trevor Slade said 78 years ago these men offered their lives and their future to bring relief and support to Italian partisans struggling against an evil enemy. He paid tribute to the Alpine 44 veterans association and the residents of the Italian Alps for keeping their memories alive.
Chairman of Alpine 44 Martin Urry, pointed out that many of those who died in the Italian Alps on the night of 12 October 1944, were little more than boys. This was the largest loss of life in a single day in the SAAF’s more than 100-year history.
Twenty B-24 Liberator heavy bombers – 16 from 31 Squadron and 4 from 34 Squadron – were to drop supplies to Italian partisans operating in the Po Valley, north of Genoa. However, unexpectedly bad weather forced 11 of the aircraft to turn back to base, while six were lost. Five of the aircraft crashed into the Alps. Only three were able to locate their drop zones and deliver their cargo.
After the main service, Emilio Coccia, President of the Zonderwater Block ex-POW Association laid a wreath at the SAAF’s memorial wall in memory of the South African pilots of Italian descent who gave their lives during the Korean War.