On the third day of September the
British Eighth Army, still under “Monty,”
crossed to the toe of the Italian boot and the
battle on European soil had begun. The news of
the Italian Government’s capitulation made
everyone’s spirits rise, but the reports
from the bloody beaches at Salerno proved that
the Rome-Berlin Axis was still a strong war machine.
Soon afterward, half the Group was on the move
again, crossing the Straits of Messina and driving
through Calabria Province on the heels of the
fast moving Eighth Army to Rocco Bernardo L.G.
The huge Italian Naval Base at Taranto was soon
taken and the Group was flying from a really modern
airfield at Gioia del Colle. On the same field
were a number of Italian aircraft, flown and maintained
by Italian personnel, and the bombers were reputed
to be the same aircraft that bombed the Fifty-Seventh’s
field at El Djem in the spring, so disastrously.
Not far from the field was the comparatively unscathed
city of Bari, and it soon became a Mecca for the
men off duty. Wine shops were plentiful in town
and five shillings (about one dollar) would buy
a quart of sparkling champagne reminiscent of
prewar days. Beautiful women were lonesome only
until the wolves of the Group reached Bari. After
that romances flourished under starlit skies in
typical Italian fashion. That charming city with
its well-stocked shops and “well-stacked”
signorinas cast its spell on the men for only
a short time however, and the Group was on the
road once more.
Its destination had been anticipated for a long
time and the move to the Foggia airfields surprised
no one. From here the radius of aerial cover spread
deep into enemy territory embracing western and
eastern Italy and also Yugoslavia. The Group entered
the city of Foggia three days after its capture
and found that a thorough job of paralyzing the
railroad network in the area. During the next
two months the Group was based on three different
fields on the Foggia plains, flying in close support
of the Eighth Army. This period was an uncomfortable
one in many respects. No American service units
were in the area yet; British rations comprised
the menu again; in addition, the weather was bleak,
and chilly nights and rainy days found the men
shivering with cold. After two hot summers, first
in Egypt and second in Sicily, this autumn really
affected the men. Everyone dug deep into his barracks
bag and came out with an assortment of clothing
which, although hardly regulation, kept him warm.
On one mission over Yugoslavia the “Exterminators”
upped their total of victories by destroying six
Stuka dive-bombers in a fast five minutes of action,
these being the first enemy aircraft destroyed
over Yugoslavia by an American fighter unit. The
next day General Doolittle decorated several of
the Groups pilots.
After a successful summer of operations with hardly
an airman lost, the Group began to feel the brunt
of German anti-aircraft fire and many pilots were
lost in action over the heavily defended enemy
territory. Operations were divided between dive-bombing
of Jerry positions on the Sangro River and reconnaissance
over Yugoslavia with exceptional results. The
pilots became deadly marksmen with their bombs
and messages of commendation from Army Headquarters
were frequently received after the pilots had
knocked out enemy strong points only a few yards
from friendly troop positions.
December found everyone building plywood walls
around his tent and making homemade stoves from
old gasoline tins to keep warm during the rainy,
cold nights. Movies were shown several nights
weekly at an Italian theater in nearby Manfredonia
and the Group movie projector worked overtime
on those occasions. Early in December Christmas
packages began to arrive in numbers, and after
having received last year’s packages four
months after Christmas, every mail call brought
whoops of joy and midnight feasting. German aircraft
visited the area nightly but no attacks were made.
However, all were prepared for the worst and foxholes
were dug near every tent. With the unit under
American Air Force command, the clerks found their
work doubled as many forms, which were non-existent
under Desert Air Force regulations, now had to
be kept, including flight reports and aircraft
maintenance form booklets.
Thanksgiving Day found the cooks taking advantage
of the American food (which was at last available)
to make a turkey dinner fit for the proverbial
king. A few days later the Group received 12 new
Thunderbolt aircraft, each Squadron got four,
and several of the best mechanics checked them
over. This new airplane was huge compared to the
Warhawk, weighing almost seven tons. The plane
was powered by a Pratt & Whitney radial engine
and mounted eight fifty-caliber machine guns.
Although originally designed for high altitude
escort flying, the ship was to be initiated as
a low altitude fighter and dive-bomber. This Fifty-Seventh
was given the task of pioneering this new technique,
and many modifications were required.
New Year’s Day brought rain and a gale that
tore most of the tents to shreds and thoroughly
drenched everyone’s bedding and equipment.
Cans of cold C-rations were passed out and comprised
the holiday meals instead of the turkey and pie
dinner, which had been planned. The aircraft fared
the weather well, except for the “captured”
German Fiesler Storch, which was badly damaged.
The field was a huge mud puddle, which cancelled
flying, but the time was needed for drying blankets
and clothing and setting up more tents.
Many changes were taking place now, and with the
passage of time the camp became more elaborate.
The officers built brick buildings, which they
used as a combination mess hall and club, and
the enlisted men acquired Niesen huts for their
mess and recreation room. A war weary B-25 was
given to the group and was helpful in bringing
in canteen supplies and liquor, for all motor
transportation was curtailed to comply with regulations.
Too, no longer were the men forced to perform
the unpleasant detail of kitchen police as a number
of Italian laborers were hired in exchange for
their meals and a few liras per day, which the
men cheerfully contributed.
Operations, though light, continued despite adverse
weather conditions, which grounded other units.
The Group flew anti-shipping missions along the
Yugoslavian coast with great success. It was here
that Benedict and Leaf pioneered skip bombing
in the Mediterranean Theatre.
On January 22, the faithful Warhawk, 60 of them,
took of for the last time under Group colors.
As they formed up and passed low over the field
for a final salute, everyone felt a choking sensation
for their old departing friend. That same evening
new P-47’s flew in and the next week was
spent in making the required receiving inspections
and necessary modifications.
THE SCORE WITH P-40’S:
The score as given by Col. Salisbury for the period
from the entering of the action until December
31, 1943 is as below. This is essentially the
record while equipped with P-40 aircraft. The
last mission by the Group with the P-40 was on
January 22, 1944. During the period between December
5, 1943, the date of the first mission with a
P-47 Group, and January 22, both planes were used
as the P-40 was phased out and the P-47 took over.
| Total number
of missions flown
| Total number of sorties flown
| Approximate number of
combat hours flown
| Approximate number of gallons of gasoline
| Total number of enemy
|Total number of enemy aircraft probably
| Total number of enemy
|Approximate number of vessels sunk or damaged
| Approximate number of
locomotives destroyed or damaged
|Approximate number of railroad cars destroyed
|Approximate number of motor
transport vehicles destroyed or damaged
|Number of 500 lb. bombs dropped
| Number of 250 lb. bombs
| Number of 40 lb. bombs dropped
|Number of 20 lb. bombs
|Total weight of bombs dropped in pounds
|Total weight of bombs dropped
| Total number of rounds of ammunition expended
| Month that greatest weight
of bombs were dropped –August 1943
|Month that most rounds of ammunition
was expended – November 1943
| Most combat hours on any
| Most combat hours on any one engine
| Total number of engines
changed by Group
| Group serviceability in Africa
|Group serviceability in
|Group serviceability in Italy
| Number of days operated
| Number of days operated in Africa
| Number of days operated
| In addition to the above, numerous
gun positions, supply dumps, and personnel
have been destroyed or damaged.
February was notable for its consistently
poor flying weather, which kept the aircraft grounded
for days in succession. The forced inactivity
made everyone restless and proved that the men’s
lives revolved about the aircraft. The food improved
considerably, and eating real pork chops or steaks
in the comfort of a Niesen hut was a distinct
pleasure. On the night of the 26th, the enlisted
men held a dance in Foggia and several girls of
the WAC Detachment attended. This was the first
social event attempted, not too successfully though.
After six months in the Foggia area, the Group
moved westward across the Italian Peninsula to
Cercola Landing Ground, four miles from Naples.
The purpose of moving across the country was to
support the American 5th Army in its drive toward
Cassino and Rome. Several days of rain dampened
everyone’s spirits, but early in March the
outfit set up camp in the muddy flats, and the
officers moved to a villa on the slopes of Mount
Vesuvius, the first time that any personnel had
lived in a building overseas. Here at Cercola
the men drank their first Coca Cola in two years.
The Thunderbolts flew several missions, carrying
a 500-pound bomb under each wing and wreaked havoc
on enemy gun emplacements and military installations
in the Cassino area. The P-47’s were proving
their worth as dive-bombers and low altitude fighters.
Soon several American staff officers from England
came down to fly with the organization. Their
job was to learn about tactical support of ground
forces, dive-bombing techniques, and mobility
of an air unit during an offensive. The lessons
learned by the Fifty-Seventh Fighter Group were
to point the way for successful tactical air operations
in the proposed invasion of Europe from the west.
Now the situation was somewhat reversed: The boys
in the Group were in a position to Impart their
knowledge to other Air Force units less than two
years after they had been “green”
The map “The War in Italy up to January
23, 1944" shows the battle lines of the ground
With the Squadron based so close
to Naples, the men took advantage of their free
time to visit this famous city and many trips
were also taken to nearby Pompeii for some interesting
sightseeing. History was in the process of repeating
itself as Mount Vesuvius began erupting in the
middle of the month. Molten lava flowing down
the slopes of the volcano engulfed several villages
in its path.
Sand, very fine sand (gritty dust), blinding dust
storms, rain, wind, mud, camp destroying high
wind storms, and then came lava flowing towards
their quarters as Mt. Vesuvius erupted. That’s
what the Group faced on March 19th. Some who had
set up camp in a picturesque spot on the side
of the quiet mountain found it wasn’t so.
At least one encampment hurriedly evacuated at
two in the morning – wisely so – as
their quarters were ashes a few hours later. With
all of their own personal needs, many found time
to help the local citizens.
Several of the organization’s trucks assisted
in the evacuating of civilians from the threatened
hamlets in the area. Camera bugs went wild over
the splendid shots of Vesuvius in action and the
men trudged up to the active crater to take pictures.
German bombers took advantage of the illuminated
landmark made by Vesuvius and the massed shipping
in Naples harbor to make nightly raids, and the
fireworks made beautiful night displays for those
who admired that type of spectacle. The ashes
from the volcano threatened the aircraft and they
were flown to another field north of Cercola for
Nazi transport was going full swing before the
Allied drive north. Then Operation Strangle went
to work. In less than a month, German supply lines
had been severely cut.
One of the most bitter complaints you’ll
get from Jerry prisoners taken during the drive
on Rome and the push north is the Nazi failure
to get desperately needed supplies.
“For every 200 shells the Allies fired at
us,” said one Nazi prisoner, “we were
only able to reply with two or three.”
Another prisoner was completely exhausted when
captured, even though he had seen little fighting.
He explained that his unit had to walk more than
100 miles from the Adriatic Coast. There was no
German transportation of any kind on the move.
These statements give you a fair idea of the deadly
effectiveness of the new air technique, the officially
termed “Operations Strangle.” Before
this technique was put in use the Germans in Italy
had no trouble getting all the supplies they wanted.
They had seven rail systems bringing in more than
43,000 tons of supplies daily.
But on February 28, MAAF began to apply the Strangle.
In two weeks every large and medium-sized railroad
yard in northern Italy had been immobilized, and
by March 24 not a single railroad car could enter
Rome. The railroad centers of Florence, Rimini,
Ancona, Pisa, Arezzo, Foligno, and Viterbo had
That was the first phase of the “Operations
Strangle.” The second and final phase was
applied by Maj. Gen. John K. Cannon’s Tactical
Air Force, a significant member of which was the
The TAF first knocked out the German marshalling
yards in central Italy. Then they cut the bridges
to force Jerry to lean on motor transport. Next
they smashed enemy ports to force him to depend
almost entirely on motor transport. Finally, TAF
went after the roads and motor transport.
When Jerry tried to bring in supplies by sea,
the TAF smashed his ships and ports. When he switched
to transshipping from rail to road, the TAF blasted
his yards and rail lines, and every enemy road
became a graveyard for hundreds of motor vehicles.
Then the TAF wound up the operation with direct
support of Allied ground troops, hitting roads
and vehicles and strafing troop concentrations
with deadly efficiency. The Nazis forced Italian
laborers to dig slit trenches all along the roads
so that Jerry drivers could hop for ready shelter
from the steady rain of hot lead.
The Nazis themselves concede the complete success
of the Operations Strangle. The Munich newspaper
Neuste Nachrichten reported, “Allied airmen
not only dominate the battlefield, but are complete
masters of the skies behind our lines. German
transports are cut off far behind the German lines.