Article and Photos by Amn Tebogo E. Kekana, AD ASTRA
The annual Alpine 44 family memorial service to commemorate
the loss of six B24 Liberators of 31 and 34 SA Air Force
Squadrons in the Italian Alps on 12 and 13 October 1944 was
held at Bays’ Hill on 12 October 2008. Friends and families
gathered to remember their loved ones. The theme of the day
was brought forward as Build and Protect by Cpln Addie Burt
(Air Command Chaplain).
The impetus of the association that is now called “Alpine 44
Club” owes its existence to the tragic events of a night
over 60 years ago. 16 B24 Liberator heavy bombers of 31
Squadron and 4 of 34 Squadron from the SA Air Force were
detailed to drop supplies to Italian partisans in North-West
Italy on the night of 12 October 1944.
The weather unexpectedly turned very bad, with a change in
the wind direction and very heavy clouds and rain. Of the 20
planes, only 3 located their drop zones and delivered their
cargo successfully. 11 aborted the mission and returned to
base safely and 6 were lost. 5 crashed into the Alps, and
one was presumed lost off the Ligurian coast between Genoa
and La Spezia. This was the single largest loss of aircraft
and men in a single day in the history of the SAAF - there
were 8 men per crew, with a total of 48 men who paid the
The members of the Alpine 44 Club are all surviving family
members of men who died in October 1944, or ex members of 31
and 34 SAAF Squadrons. Their goal is to make sure that the
men who died that night are not forgotten and that their
sacrifice will continue to be appreciated in the future.
This service has become a tradition, as 2008 marked the 7th
service. The past two services were graced by the presence
of Chief of the Air Force, Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano and Mrs
Gagiano amongst others.
Due to the involvement of these 2 Squadrons in the heroic
Warsaw supply missions; they have forged a firm friendship
with the Warsaw Flights Commemoration committee. They have a
close bond with members from the Zonderwater Block POW
Association, the Associazione Nazionale Alpini and the
Assciazione Nazionale Carabienieri.
AD ASTRA has to say that even though this gathering was so
sentimental, one could just feel the tight bond of people
who have come together because of one reason – the loss they
suffered. Another highlight of the day was the Corale Valli
Alpine (Alps Valley choir), when they sang Nkosi sikeleli
WE SHALL REMEMBER THEM!