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3 Squadron Memories in Cutella, Italy


Bruce flew Kittyhawks in 3 Squadron. 
After consulting his log-book, he recalls his flying operations whilst at Cutella:

In early January 1944, 3 Squadron moved to 'Cutella' a newly-constructed strip right on the beach just south of Termoli.  We were greeted by very strong winds, making erection of our tents a problem. 

On 6 January, snow fell intermittently and we did not get airborne for Ops until 9 January.  Then followed armed reconnaissances: Chieti/Teramo,  and Aquila/Casoli.  Attacked gun positions in Ortona area, railway yards Popoli, anti-shipping along Yugoslavian coast, freight trains Arsoli area, etc.

8th Army were attacking along Sangra River (pretty tough going) and we were doing strikes during February in the following areas: Rieti, Aquino, Terni, Avezzano and the Anzio bridgehead (Rome area) as well as anti-shipping in the Zara area (Yugoslavia).

March:  Road sweeps east and south-east of Rome, close support for the attacks on Cassino, anti-shipping strikes along Yugoslav coast, long-range strikes on Rimini and Forli aerodromes (edge of Po valley) after Junkers Ju88 photo reconnaissance aircraft - 11 aircraft destroyed.

April started much the same, but yours truly out of action from Malaria (had the first attack in Sicily in the previous September).

May:  Several long-range trips to Iesi and Ancona and heavy concentration on close-support in Cassino area - the Monastery captured on 18 May 1944.  Shortly thereafter, the Squadron moved over the mountains to a 'drome north of Naples, called San Angelo, for the final attack on Rome by 8th Army and US Army.

A Horrible Smell of Burning...

A more personal experience: My diary records, 10th January 1944: our six aircraft were strafing German motor transport.  I was 3rd down this valley, had some success and, weaving along the valley, I passed over two armoured cars off the road and on a slope.  Climbing away, bingo! ... holes in starboard wing, two more through the engine and plenty of wind behind my head - a shell had taken my radio right out - about 18 inches to the rear of me!

The motor was spluttering, engine gauges crazy, black smoke in abundance and I was too low to bail out.  Undid my harness - mouth very dry - and the landscape most inhospitable to crash-land.  Rocked the aircraft, jiggled the throttle and mixture controls - motor picked up in spasmodic bursts and air speed recorded a very slow 120 mph.  Weaved along a valley to the Adriatic coast near the city of Pescara and noticed that my landing flaps had dropped to about 30 degrees - no hydraulics.

The AA batteries on the coast gave me a warm welcome - a ponderous smoking aircraft - but perhaps my laboured progress upset their aim, for the "black stuff" was bursting well ahead.  More splutters, so down to water level to ditch...

Motor picked up - by this time I was over friendly waters and could see our coastal landing strip ahead.  Coaxed the aircraft to about 800ft, still barely airborne - a horrible smell of burning...

The Duty Pilot at the strip could see me - fired a green flare - a great sight.  Stuffed the nose down and came into friendly territory, landed with a thump - too fast for landing flaps - they wouldn't lower fully anyway - and at about 40mph the fire in the engine manifested itself.

I had switched off everything, pointed the plane to a sand dune on the beach and went out of the cockpit onto the wing and - bingo - onto "terra firma", a great feeling!  

- A momentous happening for me, maybe; but there are many other aircrew who would have been less fortunate; I salute them.

Incidentally, that aircraft was a 'Warhawk' - powered by a Packard-manufactured "Rolls Royce" Merlin.  There was a fist-sized hole in the supercharger housing which exuded fuel mixture into the exhaust stack.  Whilst the aircraft was moving at some speed the fire could not take control because of slip-stream.  One engine mounting and one ignition bank had been shot away as well...

I will always have a soft spot for Packard Merlins!

Fitters and flight mechanics of No. 3 (Kittyhawk) Squadron RAAF, working on two damaged Kittyhawk aircraft with Packard-Merlin engines.  [AWM MEA0385]

Bruce also recalled that the airstrip at Cutella was a convenient take-off point to attack Yugoslavia.  Also conveniently, the Royal Navy had captured the island of Vis, which was about halfway to the target area, and this allowed quite a few shot-up aircraft to crash-land on Vis.

At Cutella there were six squadrons flying P40 Kittyhawks (3 and 450 RAAF, 112, 250 and 260 RAF, and 5 SAAF) plus several Spitfire squadrons and an air-sea rescue Walrus (the pilot of the Walrus was killed when USAAF P-47 Thunderbolts mistakenly shot-up the airfield).

See also Guiseppe Marini's beautiful colour photos of the Cutella landscape today. 

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