23 March 1944: The revenge of Vesuvius


Recently there has been a great deal of journalistic importance to the 70 anniversary of the bombing of the Abbey of Montecassino.

We wish to recall here that a few weeks after that war mission, the last eruption of Vesuvius took place which canceled the Pompeii airport from which the bombers used for that mission departed, irreparably damaging an enormous number, comparable to the action of war against the most successful US aviation of the entire Second World War.

After the historic eruption of 79 AD, when Vesuvius reduced Pompeii and Herculaneum to the state we know well, the volcano was the protagonist of about eighty other eruptions worthy of memory, and only in the first fifty years of the twentieth century did we remember the violent eruption of the 1906, the moderate one of the 1929 and the last (consistent even if announced by an unequivocal seismic phase and such as to pre-alert with sufficient advance the population and the troops) of the '44, when it returned to eruption in a consistent manner.

Just this last eruption, which occurred a week after the Bombardment of Cassino (15 March 1944) which in turn took place one month after the bombing of the Abbey of Montecassino (February 15), canceled what had been called Pompeii Airport, prepared in '43 on land made of lava ash and previously cultivated with vineyards and other vegetables, in Terzigno (NA), home of the 12th Air Force, 57th Bombardment Wing, 321st Bombardment Group, and the 486 ° - 487 ° and 488 ° Bombardement Sq. , executors of the bombings on central-southern Italy of the '43-'44.

Despite the fact that the 23 March 1944 main eruption had been predicted and anticipated by minor eruptions and pre-eruptive seismic activity, about 88 B-25 "Mitchell" aircraft were present at the airport when the volcanic ash cloud of the last and most voluminous eruption he buried them.

Over 80 damaged airplanes (burnt surfaces, opacification of transparent surfaces, jamming of weapons and mechanical parts of aircraft, obstructions to static air intakes of flight instruments, failure of trucks for weight) of 25.000.000 US value $ 13 or 14 were saved, which were redeployed in Paestum, on a new airport prepared just as quickly and on which they were towed by trucks.

The action of Vesuvius destroyed in a single blow more USAAF aircraft than any enemy World War II action, more than those destroyed in surprise attacks, more than those lost in any mission.

To quote numbers in comparison, when the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor (7 December 1941) the Hawaiian Air Force lost 64 airplanes, 60 aircraft were destroyed in Regensburg-Schweinfurt (17 August 1943), 54 in Ploesti (1 August 1943) and 50 in Poltava (21 June 1944 by the Luftwaffe).

Andrea Troncone

Source / photo: The 57th Bomb Wing Association