A Volcano Eruption In Middle Of World War II-Mount Vesuvius
The Mount Vesuvius eruption in World War II led to the loss of 80 B25 bombers of the US Army Air Force. The volcano temporarily stalled the Allied advance in Italy
Mount Vesuvius fumed with smoke and fire. It was a beautiful natural phenomenon and was a blessing in disguise for Germany.
Right at the bottom of the volcano sat an entire US heavy bomber division of 80 aircraft. The volcanic eruption caused more damage to the US Army Air Force that day than Luftwaffe air raids. Nazi propagandists applauded the event by saying, “We got the colonel, and Mount Vesuvius got the rest.”
History of Eruptions:
Mount Vesuvius is the largest volcano in Italy and the only active volcano in Europe.
Mount Vesuvius erupts once in a while and causes massive devastation. In 76 BCE, Pompei, a town at the foothills of Mount Vesuvius, was burned to ashes killing many citizens.
Even though Mount Vesuvius was harsh, people loved to settle next to it. Naples, one of the largest cities in Italy, is very close to Mount Vesuvius.
For the 1908 Olympics, Italy won the bid, and Rome was supposed to host the games. Unfortunately, Mount Vesuvius erupted and the Olympic committee changed the game venue to London.
The 1908 eruption devastated Naples city. For the next few decades, Mount Vesuvius remained calm, but World War II was about to wake it up.
World War II:
With the fall of France, Italy joined the Axis powers. Italy started its expansion into North Africa on the pretext to restore the former Roman empire.
The Commonwealth Forces halted the Italian expansion in Africa, and Germany came in to help Italy. Germany sent its Ace panzer general Erwin Rommel to tackle the situation.
Even Rommel was not able to contain the British and American forces, and the Axis forces retreated to Europe. The Allied forces started the European invasion with Operation Husky by landing in Sicily.
As the Allied troops pushed towards Rome, the Italian government sought to wake up Mount Vesuvius by a bomb blast but eventually dropped the plan due to rapid allied advance.
The US Army Air Force stationed in North Africa shifted to Europe as Italian airfields fell under Allied control.
An airfield was constructed quickly in Pompei. The US Army Air Force’s 340th division landed 80 of their B-15 Mitchell medium bombers at the Pompei airfield and coordinated bombing raids on Axis positions.
On March 10, 1944, the unit commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles D Jones was caught by German forces as his aircraft crashed into Axis territory. The capture affected the morale of the 340th Division.
To make matters worse, Mount Vesuvius started to emit smoke. The US personnel in the region were alerted to the situation. After a few days, Vesuvius erupted and spewed hot gas and lava.
For many US personnel and war correspondents, this was their first visit to Europe. A volcanic eruption in the middle of it was an exciting experience.
The Pompei airfield was not evacuated on time, leaving the 80 aircraft at the mercy of Mount Vesuvius. As lava from Mount Vesuvius spilled out, it destroyed the village of San Sebastino.
War correspondents took a break from their war reports and gave a vivid account of the volcano eruption. The smoke made it difficult for both Axis and Allied forces to fly their aircraft
The eruption lasted five days and caused minor injuries, but the explosion damaged most of the B-25 bombers. The entire bomber squadron received a replacement by mid-April and continued their offensive.
The total loss to the US Army Air Force due to Mount Vesuvius was around 25 million dollars. As the volcanic ashes turn barren land, fertile, vegetation sprung around the Pompei airfield.
The US Army Air Force lost more aircraft to Mount Vesuvius than to Luftwaffe on that day. It prompted Nazi propagandists to comment, “We took colonel, and Mount Vesuvius took the rest.”