“The Alpine 44 Story” by Martin Urry



The Alpine 44 story written by Martin Urry son of the pilot of Liberator HK158 on which Anne Storms father was Bombaimer. Martin has kindly given us permission to use his article. Robin Hollamby ISA Website Editor.

The Alpine 44 Story by Martin Urry

By October 1944 the Allies had pushed the German forces north of the Gothic Line running from La Spezia in the west to Rimini in the east of Italy. SAAF 2 wing, consisting of 31 and 34 squadrons, and part of RAF 205 bomber group under Maj. Gen. Jimmy Durrant, based in Southern Italy near Foggia, was tasked with a supply dropping mission to the Partisans operating in the Po Valley north of Genoa. Four drop zones were selected, code named Morris, Dodge, Parrot and Chrysler, with 5 Liberators assigned to each. Weather conditions during the beginning of October were terrible, but the forecast for the night of the 12th was for a break, and the mission was given the go-ahead. The aircraft took off at regular intervals from about 16hOO hours, the flights would be about 8 hours, and they would be back at around midnight. At the briefing the crews were told to return to base if they hit bad weather.

 

 

The flights encountered persistent, heavy rain, low cloud, and frequent flashes of lightning. Eleven aircraft turned around, only three found their target, and six aircraft failed to return, with the loss of 48 men. The meteorologists had forecast a westerly wind, but, unbeknown to all, the wind was now blowing from the east, resulting in the aircraft being roughly 60 km west of where they should have been, with disastrous consequences. Five aircraft crashed into the Alps and one, KH158, is missing to this day, presumed to have ditched in the Ligurian Sea off Genoa.

The local villagers had always known of the aircraft that had crashed nearby, and in 1999 the mayor of Ostana, the village below the crash site of flight KG874, decided to honour the airmen who had died that night.

They first contacted the United States Air Force, but were told that the aircraft must have belonged to the Royal Air Force. Enquiries here led them to the South African Air Force, and notices were placed in our newspapers and on the internet looking for the families of the crew. Contact was made with Barbara Brownrigg, sister of Bobby Whitelaw, crew member on flight KG874. Barbara and her husband, Glenn, attended the memorial service on 1 October 2000, when a plaque was laid on the crash site as well as on the Town Hall.

In July 2002, the village of Ala di Stura, 53 km North West of Turin, held a similar commemoration service to honour the crew of KG999, the pilot was 21-year-old Lt. Charlie Nel of Oudtshoorn. This was attended by Charles Nel, nephew of Lt. Nel, and his wife Helen, also Martin and Jean Urry, and a plaque was again laid on the crash site.

In 2011, a plaque was laid above the village of Neirone, to the North West of Genoa, in memory of the crew of KRI58. This was the Morris drop zone, as this plane has not been found it was deemed appropriate to honour these men here. The ceremony was attended by Anne and Roy Storm and their sons; Anne is the daughter of F/O Bob Millar, also Martin Urry, nephew of the pilot, Maj. Selwyn Urry, and his wife Jean.

In 2013, a commemoration service was held at the village of Pianetto near Valprato Soana, below the crash site of KG875, attended by Charles Nel, Martin and Jean Urry, Anne and Roy Storm, and relatives of crew member George Anstee from the UK. The monument consists of a granite block to which is affixed the wheel strut of the Liberator, found the previous year in a valley below the crash site.

Services have also been held annually at the SAAF memorial at Bays’ Hill, Pretoria, on the closest Sunday to 12th October. These have been well attended by family members and friends, members of SAAF and SAAF A, the local chapters of the Alpini and the Carabinieri, representatives of the Zonderwater Block, also the Warsaw Flights family.

 

Martin Urry

7 Comments

  1. Colleen Watson

    Hello,I am the neice of Flight Sergeant Desmond Vincent Watson 424243 RAAF ,Pilot of KH154 W,Crashed near the Village of Rora ,Piedmonte 12th Oct 1944.Warm Regards to all the relatives of the 48 young men who died that night.
    I visited my Uncle Des in the ”English Cemetery”Milan a few years ago.

    Reply
  2. Colleen Watson

    Hello,I understand that in 2000 or 2001 a Memorial Service was kindly held in the Town of Bra ,Piedmonte for the Crew of KH154 W ,attended by one of my cousins Susan Connor.I began searching for my Uncle Des in 2010.

    Reply
    1. Mrs Anne Storm

      I don’t think my first reply worked ??Sorry if it’s on twice or more
      Colleen
      I attended the April 2001 service in Bra Italy with other crew relatives.We were taken up to the quarry above Rora where KH154 crashed.My father[RAAF x 31 SAAF] was the bombaimer of Liberator KH158 with 8 crew, which also was lost on the same supply mission but wreckage has never been found

      Reply
  3. Mrs Anne Storm

    Colleen
    With other crew relatives I attended the commemoration in Bra Italy in April 2001 and we were driven up to a quarry above Rora , the crash site of KH154 for a memorial service.My RAAF x 31 SAAF father’s Liberator KH158 was lost on the same partisan supply mission but wreckage has never been found .My website —
    http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~stormrhb/genealogy/millar/millartrm.htm

    Reply
  4. Colleen Watson

    Dear Anne , thankyou kindly for your email.Since my search began in 2010 to locate my Uncle Des I have seen your search for your Father Bob ahead of me always.Dear Anne you are a beacon & an encouragement never to give up. I believe we will all meet our loved ones one day . I was able to find my Uncle Des through the Australian National Archives & Commonwealth War Graves,I also found other information about other family which was healing.GOD BLESS you and your Family Always ,warm regards Colleen

    Reply
  5. Deirdre Graham

    I have travelled from Scotland and am in a campsite near Ostana. Tomorrow I will drive up to hopefully see the memorial and I am hoping to find someone who might know where the crash site is as I would like to pay my respects to the crew who died, including my second cousin John (Jack) Smillie aged 20, a gun aimer. Tragic story.

    Reply
  6. Anne Storm

    Deirdre
    I’m a bit late with this as you may have found the crash site .I went to Ostana in 2010 but then the road up to the mountain was blocked with road works so couldn’t drive up.There was a small museum in the village but someone living there may be able to direct you .I presume the memorial will be able to be seen when she reach the top of mountain.I went to Bra in 2001 and there was a memorial service then for the crews who crashed on the 31/34 SAAF,12-10-44 mission but also one was held in Ostana in 2000.

    Reply

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