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Thread: Submarine Sinking in the Adriatic

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    Default Submarine Sinking in the Adriatic

    Only for those who don't mind a long story.( A good one )

    I was part of an all Australian crew flying MKX1V Leigh Light Wellingtons with RAF 38 Squadron. We were one of 3 Australian crews left at Foggia when 38 took over from RAAF 458 Sqdn when it moved to Gibraltar. 38's main force operated from Foggia but our "B" Flight was sent on detachment to Rosignano on the east coast of Tuscany. Our main operations were to patrol an area in the Gulf of Genoa to keep the German E Boat crews on their toes while they were endeavouring to get supplies along the coast to their troops at the front in Northern Italy. It was not until many years later that I realised this area from Genoa to Spezia was the Italian Riviera.

    A Baltimore bomber( possibly from the RAAF Sqdn operating in this area) had spotted a small submarine surfaced at dusk. This was in the Adriatic on the west side and a call went out for a Leigh Light Wellington to seek and destroy. Our crew comprising F/O Jack Hamilton{ Pilot,NSW} F/O Tom Johnson{2nd Pilot Q.}F/Sgt John Griggs{Navigator S.A} and 3 WOP/ Airgunners. These were F/Sgts Alan Smith, Jack Powers NSW,George Farry Q.
    We were selected to fly across to Ancona, bomb up with depth charges to go on the operation.The W/AGS rotation on each operation had Farry on the wireless, Smith in the turrett and Powers on the ASV Radar.

    We were directed where the shore radar had last received a return. I then picked up a blip which was likely to be the intruder as there was no other traffic in the area. We then went into our well rehearsed routine where the radar operator directed the pilot on a course to the target and informed the navigator when to activate the light. The light revealed nothing and my screen revealed the quarry behind. Three times we made runs on the target without success and I concluded the the radar was incorrectly calibrated and informed the pilot. He and the navigator conferred and decided that, if I could keep some reading on the screen, we would circle until the moon would appear in a couple of hours.

    The plan worked. With the locality I could give them, they spotted our quarry down the moon path and made the visual attack. Depth charges were dropped and, after making the full ciircle, we saw the ripples on the water but no sub on the surface and no blip on my radar screen.

    We returned to base exhausted but excited. We had makeshift beds on a hangar floor and the next thing I heard was an intelligence officer waking our pilot with the words " John , you got him." He then told us that a Catalina had been dispatched at daybreak and had located and rescued 6 survivors{ see later in story }

    We had some engine problems and did not return to Rosignano for a week. We were told nothing about the survivor's interrigation or anything about their origin or mission. In recent years John recalled being told that one of the survivors had spat in the face of his interrigator. I had a talk with the Canadian Flight Sergeant in charge of radar maintenance and he confirmed my set was unserviceable. He apologised and would reprimand the mechanic responsible and expressed surprise that I had got any useful readings at all.

    In later years I had given up hope of ever learning anything more about the events on the night of 2/3 April 1945 but that was before I got some computer skills. On a popular website Uboat.com there are lots of enthusiasts swapping stories of Hitler's underwater fleet. I joined a topic about activities in the Adriatic.I gave a short account of our action and received a reply beyond my wildest dreams.

    I will not give the name but a medico from Northen Italy and whose father fought as a partisan in Jugoslavia and their foe was the Repubblica Sociale Italiana comprising the remaining faithful of the deposed Mussolini.My medico told me that hey had a fleet of midget submarines and CB 17 was our victim. It had set out from Jugoslaviaon on the 23rd March and their task was to set down 2 saboteurs in the Ancona area. This they did and their task was carried out and were on the return trip when they met their fate.

    This is my friend's translation from an Italian magazine giving details of this and other operations of the flotilla.

    " On March 23rd 1945, two CB Class midget subs went to deliver four agents to Ancona area. One operation was successful in landing 2 agents but the sub was sunk on its way back, all hands lost. A plane hit the other CB sub but the 5 people on board survived the attack. They were Commander Battistini, skipper,two navy ratings and 2 agents from the "Ceccacci" special unit. One was Cucchiara, an Italian national from Malta{ thereafter British citizen} the other Pino Lombini, nephew{ in-law } of Mussolini, the Italian Dictator.

    I believe these men survived because they realised we were not going away and it would have been wise to abandon their craft because a moon path attack was inevitable. The fact that these " five "survivors are identified gives credence to the number and contradicts our original information that there were six. I understand that the crew of the CB sub was 4 but, with the 2 saboteurs on board, space may have been a problem.

    The previous CO of 38 Sqdn had promised that the first pilot involved in sinking a submarine would get a DFC but alas, our gallant captain's skill that night went unrecognised. Being the kind of man he is that would have been the least of his worries.

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    Default Submarine Sinking

    Having no replies to my story I have to accept that the readers were bored and had little interest in my long account of the action but I would like to add another fact.

    The only history of 38 sqdn on a Google search mentioned that, late in the war, they were engaged in sinking " German midget submarines" with some success. The Germans had NO midget subs and ours was the only sinking.
    Last edited by Jack Powers; 21st December 2012 at 09:47.

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    I enjoyed your story, but didn't have anything to add. I can however now say that the Germans did indeed have midget subs, but not in the Adriatic. You will find quite a lot about their operations in the North Sea. Most of not all of them were smaller than the Italian ones described.

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    Bored? Good grief no. Wonderful to hear a first hand account of action from an area which doesn't get a lot of historical coverage. Thank you for posting it, Jack.
    Ian Macdonald

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    One measure of interest in a posting is the number of views (as opposed to the number of replies), particularly in a short time period - and I would conclude from the count that the story will likely be revisited by many.

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    Default Submarine Sinking

    Thank you Graham, Ian and Hugh.

    I should have mentioned the 38 sqdn history was about the Adriatic and Gulf of Genoa and that is what I meant about the German midget subs.

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    G'Day Jack,

    Firstly, Season's Greetings !

    Your exploits have not gone unrecorded:

    No.38 Squadron, RAF.

    In the last month of the year (1944), No.38 flew a record number of sorties (210) of which 128 were A/S patrols, 64 on offensive strikes in the Aegean and 18 were mining sorties.

    These operations were not without loss, usually about two aircraft per month being lost. The pattern through 1944 was much the same, the Squadron being actively involved in the liberation of Greece and being stationed there for a short while at the end of the year. Torpedo operations were now a thing of the past, the Squadron having become a normal maritime Wellington unit. In November, 1944, control of the Squadron was transferred to the Balkan Air Force and No.38 was involved in supply-dropping and leaflet-dropping in Greece and the Aegean Islands. In 1945 it transferred its attention to the Adriatic Sea as the land forces advanced up Italy. In April it concentrated in attacking midget submarines, scoring one confirmed and two probables. As the war ended the Squadron flew more ASR sorties and was also involved in minespotting.

    Commanding Officers:
    W/Cdr W Appleby-Brown DFC - Jan 1944 - Jan !945
    W/Cdr R R Banker DSO, DFC - Jan 1945 - May 1945
    W/Cdr J H Simpson DFC - May 1945 -

    See:
    Coastal, Support and Special Squadrons of the RAF and Their Aircraft.
    Rawlings,John D R.
    London:Jane's Publishing,1982
    pp.62-3.

    No.458 Sqn RAAF "Orphans" !

    It is necessary to glance back to Foggia and the main party of the Squadron who had a longer trip to Gibraltar - longer, more leisurely and very uncomfortable. Several crews were left behind at Foggia where they were to join 38 Squadron, when it later arrived there. One of the pilots, R N McPhee, of the RAAF, described their feelings. "I remember the feeling of desolation experienced by us when left behind by the Squadron, to move into 38 Squadron when it arrived at Foggia. I think that we all later thoroughly enjoyed 38 Squadron and continuing work in Italy." Other crews who felt themselves abandoned by the squadron were piloted by Clive Wyman, John Hamilton and Barry Menser (In post-war years, warmly reunited with 458).

    See:
    We Find and Destroy:A History of 458 RAAF Squadron
    Alexander,Peter.
    Loftus:A.M.H.P. Publications,2002.
    p.176.

    Jack, Could you kindly confirm/correct the following for the 2/3 April, 1945:

    AUS428960 F/O (Pilot) Jack Hollibone HAMILTON RAAF
    AUS434697 F/O (2nd Pilot) Thomas Gordon JOHNSON RAAF
    AUS428496 F/Sgt (Nav.) John Vernon GRIGGS RAAF
    AUS428936 F/Sgt (W.Op./Air Gnr.) Alan Frederick SMITH RAAF
    AUS432674 F/Sgt (W.Op./Air Gnr.) Jack Milton POWERS RAAF
    AUS426423 F/Sgt (W.Op./Air Gnr,) George Missen FARRY RAAF

    An aircraft serial/letter, would also be most welcome.

    All the best, Mate.

    Col.
    Last edited by COL BRUGGY; 22nd December 2012 at 05:02.

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    Default Confirmation of Crew Names

    Col,
    Season greetings to you and thanks for all that information. The crew names are correct.

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