At 10am on Thursday, 3 July 2014, a new World War II monument will be inaugurated at Rossano in Zeri. The monument commemorates the SAS mission, Operation Galia, and the seven aircrew – five Americans and two Brits – who died when their Dakota supply aircraft crashed at La Dolce on 30 December 1944 while on a mission to drop supplies to the partisans and the SAS operating in the area. The plane was part of a Special Forces unit, staffed mainly by the USAAF, based at Malignano airfield near Sienna, to the south of Allied lines.
The monument is being erected by the Comune of Zeri, and there is an open invitation to the inauguration. Present will be a number of dignitaries of various nationalities, local historians, interested parties, relatives and local expats, as well as those participating in the 2014 Rossano Freedom Trail led by Brian Lett. To ensure a good balance of nationalities, it would be very much appreciated if as many US citizens as possible attend the ceremony.
The plane that crashed was part of a flight of US Dakotas engaged in a drop of supplies in the Rossano Valley. The Douglas C-37As belonged to the 4th Troop Carrier Squadron of the US62 Troop Carrier Group, the same group that made a drop in the area three days earlier. Having passed over the dropping zone not long before midnight, plane number 42-92680 encountered extreme turbulence as it attempted to clear the mountain ring. The valiant attempts of the pilots could not save the plane, which came down in a small wood on a farm at La Dolce, on the north side of the road that led from the Rosanno Valley to Coloretta. The plane instantly caught fire.
All seven of the crew were killed. They were: the pilots, First Lieutenant Don Alan Ray and Second Lieutenant Earl S. Hurlbut, both from Illinois; Staff Sergeant William H Close Jr from Baltimore, Maryland; Staff Sergeant Israel Goodman from New London, Connecticut; Staff Sergeant Fred Reyther from Fort Worth, Texas; and Corporal William Oldershaw, RASC, and Driver James Wilfred Cox, RASC, from Nottingham, who were the British despatchers responsible for the supplies that were dropped.
The joint grave of four of the US airmen at Louisville, Kentucky
The bodies of the crew were recovered by the local contadini and buried in the small cemetery at Chiesa di Rossano on 2 January 1945. All the partisan bands in the area sent representatives and the SAS paraded as a guard of honour. After the war, the bodies of the crew were moved. The British rest in the Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa. The Americans were repatriated to the United States. Earl S Hurbut was laid to rest at the Lincoln Memorial Park in Oswego, Illinois, and the other four Americans were buried together at the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery at Louisville, Kentucky.
About Operation Galia
Operation Galia took place in December 1944. The emergence of bands of Italian partisans as well as the efforts of the Special Operations Executive had a significant impact on the conditions in Northern Tuscany. Major Gordon Lett was the British Partisan Liaison Officer in the Rossano Valley, and he arranged for the men of Operation Galia to land in the valley. Operation Galia was an enormous success, despite the most extreme winter weather conditions. At one point, the 33 men of the SAS tied up thousands of enemy troops, as the Germans unsuccessfully attempted to hunt them down and to curtail their sabotage operations.
For more information on the SAS in Lunigiana during World War II, Operation Galia and the crashed Dakota, I highly recommend Brian Lett’s book, SAS in Tuscany 1943-1945.