Many Ducati fans, curious
and at the same time keen on our Company's history, asked us why Ducati,
born as an electrotechnical company, right after World War II decided
to start production of four-stroke engines for motor vehicles and
therefore to make its debut in the world of motorcycles.
From the testimonies of old "Ducatiani" employees (i.e. those of the time of Società Scientifica Radiobrevetti Ducati), the choice made by the Ducati brothers was strongly influenced by the need to find an alternative to production of equipment manufactured by the Company before the war. The extensive damages suffered by SSR Ducati on that October 12, 1944 were so huge that the capital the Ducati brothers subsequently invested did not suffice to heal those wounds, and production of Dufono, Raselet, microcameras and other Ducati parts would not allow a quick return to normality.
We can therefore believe that if on that day those bombs did not fall on the Borgo Panigale Factory, at this moment Ducati wouldn't likely be manufacturing motorcycles!
On September 9, 1943 German troops, following the armistice signed on the previous day, occupied the Ducati factories. One of the first orders by the occupation forces, which Bruno, Marcello and Adriano Cavalieri Ducati were compelled to respond to, was to hand over the plant with its machinery. The Wehrmacht knew the importance of Ducati's products very well. Moreover they had already been employed for war purposes in Italian and German armed forces (on the other hand, many other companies like Piaggio, Fiat, Breda, Pirelli had been ‘militarized' as soon as the war broke out).
At Ducati, most machinery had already been hidden by the Ducati brothers themselves, but the few remaining machines were converted for production of
detonating fuses and shells. The allied secret service, informed by the Resistance, thus identified SSR Ducati as a "munition factory". The American secret service classified the plant as "Target 18 at 830513".
July 24, 1943 the raids of Flying Fortresses and Liberators had been
incessant until the end of the war, to weaken German and Fascist armies,
and especially to make railways and roads unusable, as well as all the
plants that might somehow supply enemy armies.
In the Autumn 1944 the high command of General Clark, commander of the U.S. Fifth Army issued the order to strike Bologna with heavy bombing, to enable its conquest before Christmas 1944.
The bombing operation, which was ordered to the U.S. 15th Air Force, included a series of bombing raids over warehouses, bivouac areas, fuel and ammunition depots, and on a munition factory located north-west of Bologna: that factory was SSR Ducati.
In the Borgo Panigale area it was not at all difficult to confuse that factory with another firm: Ducati was the largest building which would come into the bomber crews' sight. Borgo Panigale was repeatedly targeted by the B17 raids, especially in the areas of the nearby airport, of the railway station and of the road and railway bridges on the Reno river.
On Thursday October 12, 1944, 697 four-engined planes of the 15th Air Force took off to carry out an operation code-named "PANCAKE". The name PANCAKE was not accidental, as the intention of the raid on the city was to weaken and definitely stop war production, by reducing the factories to a pancake status, i.e. razed to the ground. The operation consisted in bombing several targets under German control, located in different areas in Northern Italy and Central Europe (Czechoslovachia and Austria).
SSR Ducati was indeed one of the targets, indicated as "Munition factory at 830513, target 18", and it was assigned to the 304th Wing. SSR Ducati was
assigned as a target to two Bomb Groups of this unit, the 455th and 456th Bomb Groups, respectively based in Villa San Giovanni and Cerignola, near Foggia.
The 455th Bomb Group, with a formation of 40 B24 Liberators, took off at 9:05 a.m. under the command of first lieutenant Hoaglan, escorted by a group of 12 P38 fighters, heading to Bologna. The 456th Bomb Group, commanded by Captain Corran, took off from Cerignola at 9:15 a.m., also with a 40 B24 Liberator formation, but with no escort. The first group to arrive on the target was the 455th, around 12:52 p.m. Two of the 40 bombers were compelled to return to base because of engine troubles, but the remaining 38 started to unload the first explosive devices. In total, in the first assault against SSR Ducati, 374 500-pound bombs were launched, from an altitude of 22000 - 24000 feet.
The second strike, by the 456th Bomb Group, arrived about an hour later, at 01:43 p.m. Three out of the 40 Liberators that took off had to return, because of engine troubles as well, while another one went missing on the return flight from the mission. 358 500-pound bombs were launched over Ducati, after which the raid ended. The second raid was not as accurate as the first one, also because the sight was blurred by the smoke of the explosions caused by the first raid.
SSR Ducati was not the only damaged building. The two raids struck the Via Emilia road, some houses in the area and the Borgo Panigale Church. On the Ducati premises alone, not less than 25 bombs devastated the warehouses, the personnel buildings, the production shops and the large headquarters building facing Via Emilia, which at that time was being used as a hospital by the Bologna Municipality. At least one hundred bombs exploded near the plant, actually isolating it. Fortunately, on that day the factory was deserted and therefore nobody perished during the raid.
However, operation Pancake did not achieve the results the Allies expected. Because of reduced visibility, inflicted damages were heavy, but they were deemed to be insufficient to grant the capture of Bologna.
The city was subsequently liberated on April 21, 1945, by Polish, American and Canadian troops. The October 12 air raid was the sole strike on Ducati, albeit a devastating one. The last redevelopment works were completed only in 1962 and the 450 million liras in damages suffered from the raid were never granted to the Ducati family.
If one observes the present factory, the areas where the bombs fell are still clearly visible today. The most damaged areas are the sites of the present warehouses, of the new canteen and of the buildings surrounding the old tank tower, which still exists. Maybe for sheer luck the building where Ducati Motor Holding is located was struck by just one bomb, which did not explode inside the building, but on the roof of one of the rooflights on top of the plant. The light damage was subsequently surveyed by an air reconnaissance describing the area in about these words:
"On a single hazy print the factory appears to have seriously damaged ... Two of the small shops have been destroyed ... a direct hit on the top of the large flat topped building caused light roof damage, but failed to penetrate the roofing ... "