Italian volunteers find U.S. Army DUKW 67 years later

By Joyce CostelloDecember 26, 2012

DUKW at Lake Garda
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Sonar image
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Final battles at Lake Garda
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Witness of World War II DUKW sinking
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Press conference
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RIVA DEL GARDA, Italy (Dec. 26, 2012) -- During World War II, days before German forces in Italy surrendered, conflict was still strong in the northern area of Italy at Lake Garda. During the last week of April 1945, three DUKWs, the U.S. Army's six-wheel amphibious truck, were lost and Col. William Darby, first commander of the U.S. Army Rangers, and later 10th Mountain Division assistant division commander, was killed by enemy artillery.

According to historian Ben Appleby, due to the tunnels being blocked, the 10th Mountain Div. was using DUKWs to move supplies up and down the lake.

"On April 30, 1945, under the shroud of night, a DUKW was traveling up Lake Garda with 25 Soldiers and an anti-tank weapon (a 75mm Howitzer) and ammunition," said Appleby. "The DUKW never reached its destination of the small town of Torbole and the circumstances and location of its disappearance have remained a mystery."

Carlo Bombardelli, who was seven years old at the time, recounted his memories of that fateful day.

"We lived about 50 meters from the lake and I was with my father when we heard Soldiers talking to each other via radio that day. I didn't know English, but later we heard someone yelling for 'help,'" said Bombardelli.

The lone survivor, Cpl.Thomas Hough, of Ohio, held unto driftwood and cried out for help when he saw the village's lights in the distance. Two American Soldiers on the shore commandeered a fisherman's boat and eventually were able to pluck Hough from the water.

"When we approached the Soldiers, some of them spoke Italian; they must have been sons of Sicilian immigrants. They told us that everything was OK," said Bombardelli.

In 2004, a research team from the University of Texas came to Lake Garda, which covers and area of seven million square meters, to try to locate the wreckage. They conducted 17 different search sessions.

"The Promare Project team had assumed it might have sunk near the mouth of the River Sacra, therefore over the years could have become buried, but they were not able to locate the wreckage," said Appleby.

Bombardelli, however, stood by his childhood memories of the incident and insisted the tragedy took place near the town of Torbole.

"Until the researchers came to look for the wreck, I thought that everyone survived. I was very sorry to learn that only one Soldier survived," said Bombardelli. "When the rescue team from the University of Texas came to look for the wreck, I realized they were looking in the wrong direction, so I called the newspaper to advise them not to look near the coast and gave them the right direction from what I remembered."

He said he remembered the area because on May 1, 1945, he and his father found U.S. Army backpacks washed up on the shore. The research team did not find the wreck though.

Appleby added that the difficulties in locating the DUKW was due to the fact that two sank on the same day, but fortunately in the other case nobody was hurt, and that for years there was uncertainty where the DUKW had departed and what route it followed.

In November 2011, the Gruppo Volontari del Garda (an Italian organization that responds to emergencies on the lake or natural disasters) began their search. Several dozen volunteers performed 1,000 sonar scans with a radius of 50 to 200 meters at a depth of 60 to 300 meters. In December 2012, at 270 meters, the remains of what is believed to be the missing DUKW were found, according to Luca Turrini, head of research for the Gruppo Volontari del Garda.

"I was happy they (Gruppo Volontari del Garda) found the vehicle, but very sorry to learn that only one Soldier survived. I can completely relate to that as one of my brothers died in Germany on April 14, 1944. It was very hard for me and for my mother, who cried for years every evening for her lost son," said Bombardelli.

At a press conference Dec. 15, Turrini said, "the Italian divers team will obtain more sonar scans this week to see if the Soldiers' remains are in the hull or if the sonar echoes coming from near the vehicle are compatible with buried human remains."

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Additional photos

U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza