Personal Stories

At War — Corsica


The Group was still in the Naples area when Operation Strangle started but to more effectively accomplish the mission, a fighter outfit was needed that could strafe and bomb at low altitude, could do so from a base close to the targets, and could defend itself. To accomplish the mission of disrupting the enemy’s vital communication and supply system, smashing railroads, locomotives, rolling stock, motor vehicles, tunnels and bridges, the Twelfth Air Force selected the 57th Fighter Group as the first separate task force in the United States Army Air Forces.

While the Germans were still solidly entrenched at Cassino, “Operation Strangle” entered its active phase. The Group moved to Corsica, deep in the enemy’s right flank. And soon after arriving at Alto they were joined by the famous French Lafayette Squadron, veterans of four or five years of combat flying.

Corsica was in many respects a huge aircraft carrier anchored off Italy and the French Riviera. Surrounded by picturesque mountains on one side and the Ligurian Sea on the other, the 57th operated from the dusty, sun-baked field at Alto, near the town of Folleli. The scenery, however, was beautiful and plentiful and from the field the islands of Elba, Pianosa, and Monte Cristo could be seen plainly in the distance.

After elements of the British 8th Army moved into Cassino, May 18, and the U.S. 5th cracked the Adolf Hitler line, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring called desperately for reinforcements. How important the Germans deemed the Italian front was seen in the dispatchment of the crack Hermann Goering division to bolster their faltering defense lines. But before the Goering division could reach the front, 57th pilots strafed and bombed them unmercifully. Harassed continually during daylight, the Nazis attempted to move forward at night. Nevertheless, the Thunderbombers slashed and cut the division to ribbons. By the time they hit the front their troops were bomb and machine gun happy, their motor vehicles were crippled and smashed, their supplies depleted, and their morale shot. During the month of May, pilots flew more sorties, expended more ammunition, and dropped more bombs than in any other similar period.


Stationed far above Rome, the Group was vulnerable to air attack from the Italian mainland. In an effort to counteract the Allied aerial strangle hold over northern Italy, the Luftwaffe, in the middle of May, mustered together the remnants of their once proud Italian based air fleet, and for the last time in the European war, the Group heard the wavering drone of Jerry planes and saw enemy flares. Starting late at night and continuing until early morning, the attack concentrated its blows several miles to the south.

After a tediously long hot day on the line, ground crews and pilots relaxed in the cool invigorating mountain stream. Improvised diving boards were constructed. Life in the mountains afforded a great many men a chance to rest in quiet and take things easy for a while but for others who craved excitement, the complaint was that life was growing monotonous and dull. For those who wanted to get away from camp, passes were issued to the towns of Bastia, seaport on the northeast part of the island, Ajaccio, birthplace of Napoleon, and Corte. The Group B-25 flew personnel to Naples and from there they sailed by ferry to the exotic Isle of Capri for rest leaves. After Rome was taken, passes were issued to the Eternal City where soldiers could view for themselves the ancient and fabulous sights of St. Peter’s Cathedral, Vatican City, the Colosseum, the Forum, and the Pantheon.

Anywhere a GI traveled on the island he encountered prohibitive prices on food and drink. Those large unwieldy franc notes eased away rather rapidly after he left camp. In camp the enlisted mens’ bar did a thriving business. Cognac, rum, wines, and gin were brought in regularly from Catania, Sicily, and Alexandria, Egypt. The officers received a regular ration of good old American liquor. The men sopped up the almost lethal Eau de Vie, which is described as containing 180-octane gas. The juices of the anise plant furnished the fiery base of the drink.

In the evening, Special Services supervised a softball league and presented films three times a week. Squadron personnel, sitting on bomb fin crates and tops of trucks, sweated out darkness by playing cards and reading three or four months old newspapers and magazines. Once in a while a good entertaining film came around the circuit but usually a great many men left the premises before the first reel was over. It was not unusual for the projection machine to cut out a dozen times a night. Sprockets were often torn on the film or the generator would run out of gas.

On July 1, the Group began its third year overseas. In commemoration of the anniversary, the Group held a festive party, but not before Sixty-Six pilots had scored a triumph to shove all subsequent anniversary events into the background. On a morning mission Exterminator airmen encountered what was now a rarity – enemy planes in the air. They shot down six Me-109s without a loss – most appropriate to punctuate the opening of the 25th month in foreign service.

During a Group formation, Maj. Gen. John K. Cannon, commanding the Twelfth Air Force, formally presented the Group’s two War Department Distinguished Unit Citations. Following the ceremony, food and drink were served. Barrel after barrel of cool, thirst-quenching beer was consumed.

Less than a month after smashing the Hitler Line, 5th Army troops entered Rome on June 5, 1944. When Elba was invaded on June 17 by French Colonials, the Group provided close aerial support almost within sight of their base. As supply stockpiles began to mount on the island fortress, wagers were made on D-Day for southern France.

Tension mounted as the Western Front became more fluid. The men were becoming restless; everyone was talking about moving. Life on the island was now dull and boring. When were the Allies going to crash into southern France? Would the outfit move to France and get an opportunity to judge the merits of the Mademoiselles, perfumes, and wines? As rumors multiplied and an air of expectancy pervaded the Group, enlisted men who qualified for B-29 crews left the outfit for the United States. New bubble canopy long range P-47 Thunderbolts began coming into the organization.


“Operation Strangle” had been so notoriously successful that the story was filmed by William Wyler, a celebrated film director. Thousands of feet of film were shot and several movies were created. “Operation Strangle” was produced involving all of the participants in the operation and was shown within the Air Force principally. “Thunderbolt” was produced covering the 57th Fighter Group’s part in the operation only. It was distributed to the public in theatres throughout the country shortly after the war. William Wyler and his crew spent several weeks with the Group in Corsica shooting the raw film. Col. Archie Knight was technical advisor for the film “Thunderbolt.” In the film, the action was introduced by Jimmy Stewart and the action was narrated by Lloyd Bridges. All “actors” in the film were members of the 57th.


Two months after the invasion of the coast of Normandy, the rumors were strong that the invasion of southern France was imminent. Several missions had been sent into France from Alto, Corsica on attacks against ground targets, and sweeps to find any presence of enemy fighters. Other fighter groups were also working in the area.

Then on August 15, 1944, the long awaited jump-off into southern France took place. On the preceding night, the Army Liaison Officer briefed the Group on the plans and operations for the new invasion of Fortress Europe. Before dawn, pilots, crew chiefs, armorers, radiomen, truck drivers, and clerks were starting a grueling day on the line. Taking off in the dark was the first mission into the air to dive bomb gun positions and then patrol the beachhead. By 0730 hours, five flights of each Squadron were in the sky; and this was only the beginning. Planes of every type and description filled the sky as they flew over the field toward targets in southern France. On the ground one could hear the continuous drone of aircraft until nightfall.

As the U.S. Seventh Army raced forward against token resistance, the Group began priming for a move. Informed that they would go into southern France, the spirit in the camp area rose. But as days passed into weeks and September came, the Group still watched the war from Corsica. Enemy resistance collapsed and adequate fighter support was forthcoming from fields in western France. The bomb line was out of range of the Squadron’s aircraft – it was easy to see that the war had moved surprisingly fast in southern France and the Group was no longer essential to operations there. By September 1, the campaign was going into its last phase.

In any radio communication by a pilot, ground points were not to be identified except by code, which was provided by the grid map he carried. A pilot needing to report or identify a target, a downed pilot, a massing of armor, an enemy movement etc. conveyed it by giving the square location by coordinates and the location in that square. Such a map “Grid Map (Air) is presented here. As soon as the southern beaches of France were liberated, the beautiful French Riviera became available for visits and members took advantage of this opportunity whenever they had a rest leave.

Pic from www.alto-casinca.fr/accueil.html


Co-Ordinates : 42° 27’ 00” N. 09° 31’ 35” E.
ALTITUDE : 70 feet
MAG. Variation : 5° 04’ W. (1944)
Annual change : 8’ E.
MAP Reference : G.S.G.S. 4398. CORSICA (1:50,000) Shett 5, Borgo
Grid reference : 320365ting Cock et le 66th FS Exterminator.
Local position : 18 miles S. of Bastia on the East coast. Folelli
Landmarks: Village and large mill at SW. corner. Alto River lies 1000 yds. To the South
Obstructions : Power line below 1-50 glide angle to N., 0° glide angle to S.


Surface: Semi-all weather. Good drainage. Boundary markers.
Circle marked ‘ALT’ at NE. corner of runway

Runways :

One pierced steel plank runway with compacted earth and gravel base. N/S 6,000 ft.
2 pierced steel plank aprons connected by taxi-track to runway
A perimeter track encircles the runway and dispersal areas

Facilities :

(a) Fuel and Oil : Fuel tank fed by pipeline
(b) Water : Main water supply
(c) Telephone W/T. etc. : U.S. Army Signal Corps installations
U.S. Army Met. Station at Bastia

Pic from www.alto-casinca.fr/accueil.html

Pic from www.alto-casinca.fr/accueil.html