Did you know that the USAAF was attacked by a volcano?

Planes from the 321st Bombardment Group flying past Vesuvius during the eruption (Photo: U.S. military)

The German military was not the only thing the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) had to contend with during the Italian Campaign; the forces of nature also opposed American aircraft on one occasion. The USAAF established a temporary airfield for the 340th Bombardment Group, flying B-25 Mitchells, at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that famously destroyed the Roman city of Pompeii (and other settlements) in 79 AD. The volcano built up a history of eruptions over the centuries, and became active once again in March 1943. The 340th did not take the tremors and the explosions seriously at first, and only began evacuating on the 22nd, the fifth day after the volcano's crater opened up. The men were taken to safety, but there was no time to save the 88 bombers on site.  Volcanic ash piled up on top of the planes, the extra weight causing many of them to tip over on their tails. The ash also burned off fabric-covered control surfaces, and glazed, melted or cracked plexiglass windscreens and turrets. An Axis propaganda broadcast boasted "We got the Colonel, Vesuvius got the rest," referring to the downing and capture of the group's commander, Colonel Charles D. Jones, earlier in the month.
 
As a testament to the might of American industrial power, however, the 340th started flying again a mere week later, first using older "cast-off" bombers received from other units, then brand-new aircraft. Even some of the damaged B-25s were repaired and set into service again.

A man digging a tail gun out of the volcanic ash (Photo: U.S. military)

You can visit the ruins of Pompeii, not far from the site of the 340th, as well as numerous other sites of the Italian Campaign and ancient Rome, on our 11-day Italian Campaign Tour starting in 2023.

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Save 10% now either way...

Please remember that our 2022 list prices are 10% lower than in 2023, so if you book your tour for this year, you can still enjoy the hotel and bus transportation services we purchased before inflation came. If you are planning to travel in 2023 or 2024 for the 80th anniversary of D-Day, but still want to save 10% from our list price, book now by paying the registration fee and the tour price together. 

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