Operation DOLOMITE

International Operation Name: N/A

International Operation Dates:  N/A

Mandating Organization: Government of Canada

Region Name:  Europe

Location:  Italy

Canadian Operation Name: Operation DOLOMITE

Canadian Operation Dates: 1976/05/07 – 1976/06/12

Mission Mandate: To provide humanitarian assistance to earthquake survivors in Italy.

Mission Notes: 

Italy lies at the convergence of the Eurasian and African tectonic plates. As the two plates collided, they have forced up the Alps and the Apennine mountains, and created volcanoes such as Mount Vesuvius and Etna. As a result, Italy has a long history of earthquakes. The magnitude 7.3 Messina Earthquake of 1908 in Sicily was one of the most severe such events in Italy’s history causing at least 70,000 deaths through the quake and the resulting tsunami. A 7.2 earthquake also hit Sicily in 1980, killing 3,000 and leaving 250,000 homeless.

Northern Italy has also been subject to many earthquakes. The worst in recent times occurred at 9:00 PM (local) on 6 May 1976 when a magnitude 6.1 hit Friuli in northeastern Italy, killing 976 people and leaving 70,000 others homeless.

Local and international aid quickly rushed into the region. At CFB Lahr, the tremors from the earthquake had shaken buildings. By 8:00 PM the next day, the operations order for Operation DOLOMITE, issued by the Chief of the Defence Staff, had arrived. An advance party was off to Italy within two hours. They were soon followed by a task force of 238 personnel from 4 Combat Medical Support Unit, a platoon from 1 R22eR, three Kiowa helicopters and crew from 444 Squadron, a logistics support group from 4 Service Battalion, an MP detachment from 4 CMBG and two long-range communications vans. They were soon followed by 54 engineers from 4 Field Engineer Squadron. The task force came by road and through 18 Hercules flights, with the main force centred in Venzone.

The military cooks were soon feeding people, while the doctors and medical staff were occupied treating the many casualties. The Vandoos assisted people in recovering their belongings while the MPs assisted Italian police with traffic control. By 11 May the operation switched from being medical assistance and recovery to one of removing obstructions and rebuilding. A major aftershock that day added to the misery and was followed by heavy rains that started on 12 May.

The Canadians now became involved in preventing the spread of disease. Typhoid inoculations were started and a potable water system was set up. The field kitchen remained in operation while the engineers assisted in rebuilding critical infrastructure. The most serious problem encountered was an unfortunate accident on 16 May. A Kiowa helicopter struck a steel cable. The ensuing crash killed the pilot and injured the other two crew members.

By 28 May, the need for external assistance had diminished. The bulk of the Canadian task force returned to Baden and Lahr. CF Hercules continued to fly in relief supplies from Canada until 3 June. A small rear party, including the field kitchen staff, remained in Italy until 12 June. Overall, about 350 people participated in the operation.

Venzone, Italy

A statue of Icarus, which was erected in Venzone as a tribute to Captain Ronald "Buck" McBride who died during Op Dolomite (earthquake assistance in northern Italy) on May 16, 1976. Captain McBride was a Kiowa pilot in 444 Tactical Helicopter Squadron in Lahr, Germany.

Photo by: Corporal Yves Gemus, TFBH Photographer.

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