Maps

The Mediterranean

The Drop Zones and Defensive Positions around the Aqueduct

Photos

An aerial photograph of the Tragino Aqueduct taken on the 12th February 1941

A pre-war photograph of the Tragino Aqueduct

The Tragino Aqueduct and the surrouding terrain

The western-most pier where the explosives were laid

Tony Deane Drummond returning to the Tragino Aqueduct in 1989

2nd Lieutenant G.R. Paterson

 

At 21:42, the first aircraft began to drop its men from a height of 400 feet. Lieutenant Deane-Drummond landed just 50 yards from the aqueduct, with the rest of his men no more than 200 yards away. The party was able to form up within a few minutes, except for Lance-Corporal Boulter who had the misfortune to land amongst the boulders on the banks of the Tragino and broke his ankle. Deane-Drummond was concerned at the absence of the rest of "X" Troop, but in the moonlight he could see that the aqueduct was not guarded, and so he sent two men to search the farm buildings next to the drop zone, while the others proceeded to the farm across the Ginestra stream. By 22:00, both groups had returned with two dozen men, women and children, as well as an Italian soldier who had been staying with them.

 

After an uncomfortable wait of half an hour, the remaining aircraft began to arrive over the drop zone and, though none came down as close to the aqueduct as Deane-Drummond's men, all landed within a respectable enough distance. There were no further injuries despite two near misses; Lance-Corporal Jones came down in the Tragino and, though soaked to the skin and exhausted from the effort, managed to extract himself safely, while Sergeant Clements nearly dropped prematurely due to a faulty jump light which repeatedly alternated between red and green; having committed himself to going just as the red came back on, he was grabbed by the next two men in the stick and held in mid-air until the light finally made up its mind. Several containers also failed to release from the aircraft which resulted in the loss of 7 Thompson sub-machine guns, and in addition to the absence of Captain Daly's containers, a number of those dropped could not be found and so less than half of the explosives were recovered.

 

Major Pritchard's stick landed furthest from the aqueduct, almost a mile away and very close to the River Ofanto, but when he arrived he ordered the Covering Party to take up their prescribed positions. Deane-Drummond's men guarded the area around the farm buildings to the west of the Ginestra; Jowett took up a position where that stream flowed into the Tragino; and Lea's party was divided between the western approaches of the Ginestra and eastern end of the Tragino aqueducts.

 

To save the strength of the sappers for the arduous march to the coast which lay ahead, Pritchard ordered the more capable of the Italian men to help carry the explosives; a task which they seemed very happy to perform, as this was probably the most exciting event to take place in this remote area since the aqueduct had been built.

 

Captain Daly was to have organised the Demolition Party, but in his absence Major Pritchard placed 2nd Lieutenant Paterson in command. His initial inspection was not promising, as the centre pier, which was the most effective for demolition, was found to be 30 feet high and quite beyond his reach. Only half of the explosives had been recovered from the drop, though this was not so very serious as the total brought in was more than double what was thought to be required. When Paterson began to chisel away at the piers, however, his private fears were confirmed as they were made of reinforced concrete rather than masonry, and so would require considerably more explosive to destroy. Their orders had specified that if this was the case then the piers were to be abandoned in favour of demolishing the waterway above, but Paterson was unable to make a sufficient impression on this to lay the explosive. With his options diminishing, he decided to concentrate 800 lbs of explosive on just the western pier, as this was the easiest to reach. Two necklaces each of 320 lbs were set against the top of the pier with the remainder at the base. Mud had to be used to create a firm base around the guncotton slabs of the upper necklace, as the concaved shape of the pier at this point made them difficult to attach.

 

While this work was going on, Lieutenant Deane-Drummond noted the small concrete bridge over the Ginestra, which had been erected to bring building materials to the aqueduct at the time of its construction. He reasoned that it could be used again to assist in the Tragino's repair, and so, with Major Pritchard's permission and spare explosive which Paterson did not need, he decided to destroy it, though he later admitted that his primary motivation for doing so was simply to have some fun. Within a few minutes, Lance-Corporal Watson had placed a few boxes of explosive under the bridge and had it ready for demolition.

 

By 00:15, Paterson's sappers had completed their work and withdrew to the safety of the Ginestra aqueduct, while the Italian men who had helped to carry the explosives were escorted back to join the others at the farm. Here they were locked in and told that there were guards outside, though there were in fact none, and that they would be shot if they tried to come out. To reinforce the point a few of the men were tied up.

 

At 00:29, Pritchard fired a 1 lb slab of guncotton to give the one minute warning to the covering parties, who immediately withdrew to the Ginestra aqueduct. He and Paterson then lit the fuses and beat a hasty retreat. After waiting for what seemed like several minutes without an explosion, they began to suspect that something had gone wrong, and cautiously made their way back to inspect the fuses. After covering no more than a dozen paces they heard a great crack, and immediately threw themselves to the ground just before the explosives detonated.

 

Thirty seconds later the Ginestra bridge also went up, which came as a surprise to everyone except Pritchard and Deane-Drummond's party, as there had not been time to warn anyone else about it. Deane-Drummond and Lance-Corporal Watson had a lucky escape as they had underestimated how far they needed to retreat, and had to endure several uncomfortable moments as large chunks of concrete and iron rails fell around them. One of the Italian women then ran screaming from the house with a child in her arms, and it was at this point that Deane-Drummond realised that he had completely forgotten about the civilians. Fortunately none had been hurt, but they were in a state of panic after all manner of debris had rained down on the roof. The pair swiftly returned the woman to the farm and gradually managed to calm the inhabitants, who had feared that their building might be demolished next.

 

Pritchard and Paterson immediately ran back to the aqueduct and were delighted to find that the western pier had collapsed, with its neighbour leaning at a dangerous angle, the waterway above quite broken, and water could be heard streaming down into the ravine. It might not have been as substantial a demolition job as "X" Troop had hoped for, but their mission was clearly a success. The two men quickly rejoined the rest of the force at the Ginestra aqueduct, and the expressions on their faces indicated that all had gone well. In response to the many questions thrown at him, Pritchard simply said, "Listen", and once the men heard the sound of rushing water a great cheer erupted. He let them enjoy the moment, but soon restored some order because, even if their celebrations had not been heard across the valley, the distant sound of barking dogs told him that the explosions certainly had been, and it was vital that they put as much distance between themselves and the aqueduct as possible.