OPERATION STRANGLE –
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
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
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
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.
SOUTHERN FRANCE INVASION:
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
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
ALTO AIR BASE, CORSICA
Co-Ordinates : 42° 27’ 00”
N. 09° 31’ 35” E.
ALTITUDE : 70 feet
MAG. Variation : 5° 04’ W.
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
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
A perimeter track encircles the runway and dispersal areas
(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