On the 30th April 1945 an American amphibious craft (DUKW) sank with the loss of 25 men.
From the 28th September to 5th October 2018, at Riva del Garda in northern Italy, a team from ProMare, a non-profit underwater archaeology foundation led by Brett Phanuef and Fredrik Soreide (two of the founders of ProMare) will be conducting an extensive survey of the DUKW and the area around it in Lake Garda in a three-man mini submarine. ProMare is a non-profit corporation and public charity established in 2001 to promote marine research and exploration.
On the 30th April 1945 this American amphibious craft, known commonly as a DUKW, left the little town of Torbole on the northwestern shore of the lake, heavily overloaded with 26 men, a 75mm howitzer gun, and ammunition. It was part of a convoy of DUKWs travelling under the cover of darkness to the town of Riva del Garda.
During the lake crossing, thevehicle’s engine quit and a sudden violent storm whipped up large waves, causing the DUKW to sink. When the vehicle sank, twenty-five of the twenty-six men on board perished. The only survivor of the fateful night was Cpl. Thomas Hough, a former lifeguard from Dayton, Ohio.
This is not the first time Brett Phanuef and ProMare have come to Lake Garda. In 2004 they undertook a mission to find the sunken vehicle, but were unable to locate it. Only many years later in December 2012, after many hours of searching (17 sonar outings, covering an area of over 7 million square meters), a local volunteer group, Gruppo Volontari del Garda, located it lying at the depth of 276 meters.
The Association Benàch, the local history society based in Torbole, has been researching this event and the liberation of Torbole by the men of the U.S. 10th Mountain Division. Through their research they have traced a number of relatives of the DUKW victims, some of whom even visited Torbole.
In 2016 under the initiative of U.S. Army Ranger Rick Tscherne, Ranger Perry Doerr and Ron Hudnell Special Forces, Ben Appleby from the Association Benàch, and thanks to the success of a crowd funding campaign, a monument was put up in memory of these 25 men who are still listed as missing in action. Antonella Previdi and Ben Appleby from the Association Benàch have been in contact with Brett Phanuef and are organizing local support for the underwater survey and a commemoration ceremony at the end of the week.
The objectives of this new operation are to undertake a full inspection of the DUKW, conduct a detailed survey around the vehicle, and locate any associated objects, such as the howitzer or traces of the soldiers who drowned aboard it.
This expedition will be non-invasive and everybody involved will act with the highest respect for those men who died. Should any remains be discovered, the appropriate procedures will be followed to contact American and Italian authorities. On hand will also be former Air-Attaché to Rome (2001-2004) Col. Jeff Patton, who has been following this story for many years and will be reuniting with Brett.
Antonella Previdi, head of communications for the Association Benàch, will be organising a press briefing at the final week where results of the research and some film footage will be shown.