Tag Archives: WWII

The Macchi C.202 Folgore of the National Air and Space Museum

The picture shows the aircraft Macchi C.202 Folgore marked 9476 exhibited at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. The aircraft is one of the few Italian WWII fighters that escaped the conflict and, in particular, one of the two MC202 sent to USA at the end of the war to be tested. With the help of Italian Air Force and Aeronautica Macchi, in 1974 this aircraft was given to Smithsonian Institute.
The aircraft, that I had the opportunity to see in 1994, during my visit to the Museum, sports the colours of the 90^ Squadriglia of the 4° Stormo “Francesco Baracca”, when it was operating in North Africa in 1942. Even if the aircraft was perfectly restored,  the serial “9476″ is not correct since the original Folgore belonged to the serie III and not serie IV and was actually marked 7796.
The pictures were taken by Simone Bovi in 2008.

The Anzio Beachhead Museum – Il Museo dello Sbarco di Anzio

Some weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the Anzio Beachhead museum. Opened in January 1994, in the 50th Anniversary of the Allied landings, the Anzio Beachhead Museum is hosted at the ground floor of Villa Adele, a 17th Century mansion house located at Anzio, 57 kilometers to the SW of Rome. The Museum, made by voluntary and no-profit members is diveded into four sectors (American, British, German and Italian), contains exhibits with authentic uniforms, patches, badges, documents, pictures, articles, etc all generously donated by other Museums and by Veterans’ Associations and, of course, veterans and their families. Many exhibits come from sea in front Anzio where remains of aircraft, war and merchant ships, landing craft are still lying at various depths: many of these wrecks still have the crew on board, like the H.M.S Spartan, H.M.S. Janus and the Hospital ship St. David.

But what about the battle?

The Allied amphibious landing in the coastline area between Anzio and Nettuno, Italy, dubbed “Operation Shingle” was intended to outflank German forces and enable an attack on Rome. Towards the end of 1943, Allied forces that had invaded Italy were blocked at the Gustav Line, the main line of fortification which ran across Italy from north of the Garigliano River outlet in the Tyrrhenian Sea to the mouth of the Sangro River on the Adriatic coast in the east. The Germans, headed by Field Marshal Albert Kesselring had found the terrain of central Italy ideal to provide a natural defense of the most important strategic target: Rome. In order to break the defensive line, many proposals were made, the most important of which was Winston Churchill’s “Operation Shingle”. The idea behind the amphibious operation was that a major attack from the south by the Fifth Army commanded by Lieutenant-General Mark W. Clark would push the Germany’s forces away from the area around Rome and from the hills between Rome and the coast a condition that would create the perfect scenario for a surprise landing in the Anzio and Nettuno area. The beachhead would prelude to a quick advance to cut the German communication lines and to capture of Rome. The Southern attackAnzio 1944 was performed by the Fifth Army’s on the Gustav Line on Jan. 16, 1944, at Monte Cassino. As a result of the attack, Gen. Heinrich von Vietinghoff, commanding the Gustav Line, asked for reinforcements, and Kesselring transferred the 29th and 90th Panzergrenadier Divisions from Rome. The door was open.
Fifth Army’s U.S. VI Corps under the command of Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas could land on the beaches of Nettuno and Anzio to secure a beachhead in the vicinity of Anzio to advance and secure Colli Laziali in the outskirts of Rome and to prepare the advance on Rome. Allied forces involved in the attack consisted of 5 cruisers, 24 destroyers, 238 landing craft, 62+ other ships, 40,000 soldiers, and 5,000+ vehicles. The landing took place on Jan. 22, 1944. Initially the Allied Forces did not find any opposition and were able to penetrate a few kilometers inland. Even if Lucas’s superiors expected an aggressive offensive action from him and a quick run towards Rome, he stregthened the defenses around the beachhead and did not advance. This represents a most controversial decision in the history of Operation Shingle since, according to many Op. Shinglehistorians, Lucas (that was later replaced) exposed his forces to risks without imposing any on the enemy. In fact, the Axis forces’ reaction was quite rapid: even if Kesselering did not expect the landing to take place in that way, he had prepared a series of contingency plans; in a few days Anzio area was surrounded by three divisions that outnumbered the two Allied ones. The most detailed analysis of the Anzio beachhead and subsequent offensive actions and counterattacks I found was in an Osprey Publishing book: Anzio 1944. Osprey is an independent England-based book publisher specializing in military history, that runs several military and aviation series. Every book contains everything I and many other military experts or enthusiasts look for: data, diagrams, maps and pictures. The “Anzio 1944” (Paperback; August 2005; 96 pages; ISBN: 9781841769134) analyzes the questionable decisions by the Allied leadership that led to three months of World War I-style trench warfare, and provides the chronology of the operations, a description of the opposing plans, forces and commander, the in-depth description of the whole campaing and a “picture” of how the battlefield appears today. Containing the beachheadI suggest you reading this book to fully understand how the the beachhead survived three violent attacks in February 1944, the largest German counter-attacks in the west until the Ardennes offensive ten months later. By March, Anzio had degenerated into an agonizing stalemate. Operation Diadem (which was later to be called the fourth Battle of Cassino), intended to trap the bulk of the German Tenth Army between the Allied forces advancing through the Gustav Line and VI Corps thrusting inland from Anzio, had the aim to fully engage Kesselring’s armies with a major offensive preventing Germans withdrawing forces from Italy to redeploy elsewhere. However because of another controversial decision made by Gen. Clark Operation Diadem (that cost U.S. 5th and British 8th Armies 44.000 casualties) failed in its objective of destroying the German 10th Army and enabled the Allied to enter Rome on Jun. 4, 1944. As Steven J. Zaloga, author of the Osprey’s “Anzio 1944″ commented: “Ironically, an operation that had been launched to redeem the Gustav line operation in the end depended on a successful conclusion of the Cassino breakthrough before the bridgehead could be exploited. To further add to the controversy of the operation, Gen Mark Clark decided to focus the advance out of Anzio in the direction of Rome rather than eastward to trap the German forces retreating from the Cassino sector. Rome fell to the Allies on 4 June 1944, but it was a bitter victory that was quickly forgotten when the main Allied campaign opened in Normandy two days later”.

The following pictures show the Anzio Beachhead Museum exhibits. As you can see, there are also some aircraft parts and a propeller belonging to an SM79 downed near Anzio.

Airspace violations – Episode 1

The USAAF faces Yugoslavian Yak-3s

The years following the end of WWII were very controversial and did not bring to a real peace for those territories claimed by two or more parts.

Just to remain in the old continent, the political tension between Italy and Yugoslavia for the brand-new border was followed by a deployment of military forces and by the continue use of them as a way of threat.

The modeling of borders under the control of the new world superpowers was on the way and the aim to reach the maximum sphere of influence on the satellite countries brought to some inevitable incidents.

After the end of World War II many C-47s remained in the USAAF, participating in the Berlin airlift and in other flights to bring supplies to the allied countries.

In particular, since 1946, the USAAF C-47As made some regular transport flights between Wien and Udine and, in order to avoid lengthening their route, it was a habit for the crews to fly through a portion of the Yugoslavian airspace.

Alarmed by the continuous intrusions of foreign planes, Dictator Tito ordered a reinforcement of the new born air force (Jugoslovensko Ratno Vazduhoplovstvo or JRV) on the Lubiana-Polje airport, deploying the 3rd Aerial Division equipped with Russian Yak-3 aircrafts.

Yak 3, Belgrade Aviation Museum, Serbia. Author: Marko M.

Yak 3, Belgrade Aviation Museum, Serbia. Author: Marko M.

The incidents did not wait too long to occur. One of the most significant ones occurred in July, 1946 when two fighters of the 254° Regiment intercepted an American transport C-47 that managed to avoid the contact by disappearing in the thick clouds. Another USAAF Douglas C-47 (Registration marks 43-15376) had not the same lucky destiny the following Aug. 9. The plane was shot down over the actual Slovenian airspace by pilot Dragomir Zacevic, who although fortunately survived and performed an emergency landing at the Belgrade airport. Onboard there were four American crewmembers (including William Crombie, the pilot) and four passengers – three Americans, two Hungarians, and a Turkish officer. Everybody onboard survived and after ten days was released – and could take possess again of their plane – by the Yugoslavian authorities. The Turkish officer was badly injured in the incident and was released after everybody else.

Ten days later the worse occurred.

Lieutenants Mirolad Knezev and Vladimir Vodopivec were on duty on the Radovljca airfield that late morning, when the air siren rang over the ghostly sound of war.

They pitched their Yak-3 fighters at maximum speed on the runway and shortly they intercepted the intruder, another USAAF Douglas C-47, which was shot down in flames, killing all the crew onboard: Harold Schreiber, Glen Freestone, Richard Claeys, Matthew Comko and Chester L. Lower.

In the Western world the reaction was unanimous against the ruthless act perpetrated by the Yugoslavian air force but Tito’s dictatorship soon justified their action providing some figures: during the months of July and August 1946 alone, more than 170 violations of his airspace had occurred!

This statement encountered the complete disagreement of the counterpart.

The United States asserted the plane had received by the authorities before the flight a specific order to avoid the Yugoslavian airspace;  the unintended violation happened only because the crew – due to very bad weather conditions – diverted the course from the one they previously planned.

The United States criticised how the Yugoslavian fighters attacked the transport plane with repeated gun shots without any request of immediate landing. C-47s at Tempelhof Airport Berlin 1948

This is the statement made by the Department of State following the incident:

“[The Yugoslavian fighters]…made no signal which could be interpreted as a landing signal but had merely wobbled their wings – which, according to United States practice, was the accepted signal to attract attention; and that the plane was again fired on while rapidly descending in an effort to land.”

This incident was interpreted by the United States and most of the international community as a clear and evident violation of international rules, regardless of the exact territory over which the plane was flying at the time of the incident.

Through the words of their Ambassador in Belgrade, the United States highlighted the gravity of the situation by stating how the incident represented a specific violation to article 51 of the Chart of the United Nations:

“…Regardless of whether the planes were a short distance within or without the corridor, they were unarmed passenger planes en route to Udine, in Italy. Their flight in no way constituted a threat to the sovereignty of Yugoslavia. The use of force by Yugoslavia under the circumstances was without the slightest justification in international law, was clearly inconsistent with relations between friendly states, and was a plain violation of the obligations resting upon Yugoslavia under the Charter of the United Nations not to use force except in self-defence. At no time did the Yugoslav government advise the United States Government that if one of its planes should, because of weather conditions, be forced a mile or two outside of the corridor or, because of mechanical troubles, should find itself outside of that corridor, the Yugoslavian Government would shoot to death the occupants of the plane. The deliberate firing without warning on the unarmed passenger plane of a friendly nation is in the judgment of the United States an offence against the law of nations and the principles of humanity.”

Yugoslavian Government never challenged the US thesis regarding the need to protect the safety of the aircrafts – both civilian and military – flying over a foreign territory on a situation of distress due to bad weather conditions, engine failures or space disorientation.

Nevertheless, the Yugoslavian Ambassador in Washington declared that during the period of time from July to August 1946, more than two 278 non-authorized flights took place over the Yugoslavian territory and, in most of the cases, they were flights made with the purpose of violating Yugoslavian sovereignty.

On August, 31th 1946, Marshall Tito wrote a note to the US ambassador, asserting the complete disposal of its government to cease any military activities that could prejudice the safety of flight crews over the Yugoslavian territory; at the same time, he kept on refusing the responsibility for the event.

C-47Incidents did not stop completely in the following years. At the end of 1948 the situation slowly calmed down, but only in appearance: it was time to shift the range of operations in a larger theater.

Cold war had just started and the whole world, from the Alaskan border to the far South east of Asia was the playing scenario for the two nuclear superpowers.

The era of countless secret air battles through the skies of the world had just begun, often needing the efforts and the sacrifices of unknown and forgotten heroes.

© David Cenciotti & Simone Bovi

Parachute jumping from inside a C-130J

Stefano Romito (who I met for the first time during a flight inside a P-180 of the 71° Gruppo – his previous unit), a C-130J pilot of the 46^ Brigata Aerea of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) based in Pisa, sent me the following pictures he took during a paradropping mission with the Folgore. The picture show the parachute jumping from a different perspective: not, as usual, from the outside, but from the inside of the aircraft fuselage. The Folgore Parachute Brigade is the largest paratroopers unit of the Esercito Italiano (Italian Army, ItAy) made of 6 battalion-sized Regiments based in Livorno and stationed in Livorno, Pistoia, Siena, Pisa and Legnago (Verona), including also the Pisa Parachute Training Centre. Being on the same place of the C-130J and C-27J of the 46^ Air Brigade, the Folgore often trains together with the Italian transport aircraft jumping inside one of the dropping zones next to Pisa.
The Folgore, is also the most famous Italian paratroopers unit. During the WWII, in the second battle of El Alamein, the Folgore Division resisted the attack of the British 131st (Queen’s) Infantry Brigade: London Radio, at the end of the battle reported: “The remnants of the Folgore division put up a resistance beyond every limit of human possibility“. The remnants of the Folgore Division surrendered without being defeated, after having exhausted all the ammunitions, without showing the white flag or raising their hands.