World War II Italian Air War: Allied Air Operations (1943-45)

B-24s in Italy
Figure 1.-- The B-24 Liberator because of its long tange was extensively used by thev 15th Air Force. Herean Italin boy uses the side of a B-24 as a blackboard to give U.S. airmen a lesson in Italian. The photograph was probably taken about October 1944, perhaps at Foggia. You can see by configuration of the fuselage why the B-24 was more difficut to fly thanthe B-17, the other American heavy bomber.

The Allies invaded Italy (September 1943). The Italians surrendered and the German seized control of most of the country. One of the early prizes was the developed Italian air base at at Foggia in the South. The United States used the Italian bases. Allied air forces were reorganized. The two major commands were the 12th and 15th Air Forces. Jimmy Doolittle temporarily commanded the new 15th Air Force before going to England to command the 8th Air Force. The 12th Air Force transferred all of its heavy bomb groups and its B-26 Marauder medium bomb groups to the 15th Air Force and the 12th became strictly a tactical air force and the 15th became a strategic air force (November 1, 1943). Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz, the previous Northwest African Air Forces (NAAF), 12th Air Force, and 8th Air Force commander, took over the new United States Strategic Air Forces (USSTAF) consisting of Doolittle's 8th Air Force and Twining's 15th Air Force. Cities in southern Germany also now came within the range of Allied bombers. This opened a new front in the strategic bombing campaign. Spaatz often used the the 15th in Italy for long-range strategic bombing of European targets when inclement weather in England prevented the 8th Air Force from flying missions against the Reich. Heavy bombers took off from Italy, bombed German targets, and landed in England. Similarly, some flew the opposite route. A few overnight stops in Russia were also made by some of the long-range bombers of the 8th and 15th Air Forces. Targets in the Reich were not the only target. The highest priority target was the the Romanian oil fields (Germany's primary source of petroleum). This complicated the Luftwaffe's problems in defending the Reich and defending Ploesti became impossible. Attacks on the vital Ploesti oil fields would be much shorter range attacks that tghe 9th Air Force operating from North Africa had been forced to conduct. Ira Eaker who had commanded the 8th Air Force was given command of the new 15th Air Force. One of the most famous fighter units were the Red Tails, formed from the Tuskeegee Airmen the first black flying squadron. They compiled a well-earned record of bomber escort missions.

Allied Invasion

The Allies invaded Italy (September 1943). The Italians surrendered and the German seized control of most of the country. One of the early prizes was the developed Italian air base at at Foggia in the South. The United States used the Italian bases. Allied air forces were reorganized.\

Allied Commands

The two major commands were the 12th and 15th Air Forces. Jimmy Doolittle temporarily commanded the new 15th Air Force before going to England to command the 8th Air Force. The 12th Air Force transferred all of its heavy bomb groups and its B-26 Marauder medium bomb groups to the 15th Air Force and the 12th became strictly a tactical air force and the 15th became a strategic air force (November 1, 1943).

Strategic Operations

Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz, the previous Northwest African Air Forces (NAAF), 12th Air Force, and 8th Air Force commander, took over the new United States Strategic Air Forces (USSTAF) consisting of Doolittle's 8th Air Force and Twining's 15th Air Force. Cities in southern Germany also now came within the range of Allied bombers. This opened a new front in the strategic bombing campaign. Spaatz often used the the 15th in Italy for long-range strategic bombing of European targets when inclement weather in England prevented the 8th Air Force from flying missions against the Reich. Heavy bombers took off from Italy, bombed German targets, and landed in England. Similarly, some flew the opposite route. A few overnight stops in Russia were also made by some of the long-range bombers of the 8th and 15th Air Forces. Targets in the Reich were not the only target. The highest priority target was the the Romanian oil fields (Germany's primary source of petroleum). This complicated the increasinly over-streached Luftwaffe's problems in defending the Reich and defending Ploesti became impossible. Attacks on the vital Ploesti oil fields would be much shorter range attacks that the 9th Air Force operating from North Africa had been forced to conduct. Ira Eaker who had commanded the 8th Air Force was given command of the new 15th Air Force. One of the most famous fighter units were the Red Tails, formed from the Tuskeegee Airmen the first black flying squadron. They compiled a well-earned record of bomber escort missions.

Tactical Operations

The Luftwaffe from the onset was a tactical air force designed to provide close air support to the Heer. This was an immportant aspect of Blitzkrieg. It was not that the Germans were not interested in strategic bombing, but the country did not have the industrial base to build both a tactical and strategic air force. America and Britain duid. Despite this, neither the British or Americans made any effort to copy the German Close Air Support (CAS) tactical doctrine. The American and British air chiefs even before the outbreakm of the WAr were fixated on strategic bombing. There was as a result no CAS training in either America or Britain, with the exception of the small U.S. Marine Corps naval arm. Some efforts began in the British in the Western Western Desert on an informal level. British planes played an important role in the success of thE Desert Army, but it wa mostly pilots seeking out exposed German targerts rather than any CAS system. It was only in Italy that the USAAF and RAF commanders began to develp an actual CAS doctrine. American and British forces, working in close cooperation, exchanged CAS tactics and ideas. The USAAF's XII Air Support Command and the Fifth U.S. Army shared headquarters, facilitating a closer examimatiom of how to coordinate air and ground operations. They hld joint meetimngs every evening to plan the next day's strikes. They established a network of liaisons and radios for communication links. Friendly fire incides, however, continued to be a serious problem. Pilots both because of the lack of training and still imperfect system all too often hiit their own or other Allied ground units. The system of recognition signals was not yet well worked out. An incident where an A-36 Apache (ground attack version of the P-51 Mustang) was shot down by Allied tanks prompted increased to thoroughly efforts to brief the pilots. Experiebxes in Sicily and Italy prompted the Overlord planners to adopte black and white invasion stripes for Allied aircraft from 1944. When the men landed on the beaches, however, thaere was still no CAS system in place. This could have savecmany lices, especially on Omaha.

Civilians

Some 150,000 Italians are believed to have been killed during World War II. Most or some 125,000 Italiam civilians were killed after the Armistice and with the German occupation and Allied invasion (September 1943). The ensuing fighting took a heavy tole on civilians as fighting took place up the Itlalian Peninsula as the Allies fought their way north toward the Reich. The Germans were not gentle, seeing the Italians as trecherous for pulling out of the Axis Alliance and switching sides. German and Allied artillery also took a heavy tole. A sizeable amount of those losses, approaching half were due to air strikes. Sone 60,000 Italians were killed by air strikes, over 40,000 after the Armitice. [Instituto Centrale Statistica] The Allies began bombing Italy (1942). After the Armistice, tactical air operations commemnsed (1943). Unlike the Germans, the Italians had few air raid shelters, even in Rome and the other large cities. After the Armistice, tactical operations became increasingly important and unlike strategic operations were not largely resricted to cities. As the Germans turned small towns and village into fortified posutions, the Allied air forces began hammering them. As in other areas, this created a huge problem for the Italians. World War II air operations were notoriouisly inaccurate. Few bombs fell any where near the target which is one reason the RAF turned to area bombing. And even tactical bombing resulted in heavy civilian losses. The Allies unlike the Lufwaffe which just beginning to develop a CAS doctrine.

Sources

Instituto Centrale Statistica. Morti E Dispersi Per Cause Belliche Negli Anni 194045 (Rome: 1957).







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Created: 8:59 PM 5/17/2013
Last updated: 5:30 AM 8/20/2014