In A Nutshell
During World War II, when the Allied forces entered Italy in 1943, they knew they would face tough resistance from the Germans, but what they didn’t know was that Mother Nature had her own surprise for them. On March 22, 1944, Mount Vesuvius erupted and destroyed between 78 and 88 Allied aircraft stationed at Pompeii Airfield.
The Whole Bushel
On September 3, 1943, following Operation Avalanche, Allied forces entered mainland Italy. During the same year, the Allied forces made their bases in Italy and were ready to take on Germany and Hitler in their own backyard. The 340th Bomber Group, which happened to be stationed at Pompeii Airfield, just a few miles from the foot of Mount Vesuvius, saw with their own eyes when Mother Nature joined World War II.
On March 18, 1944, following smaller explosions, Vesuvius erupted and a two-week-long eruption started. The men stationed at Pompeii Airfield watched in awe as Mother Nature flexed her muscles. A path of molten lava, estimated at 1.5 kilometers (1 mi) long, 0.4 kilometers (0.25 mi) wide, and 2.5 meters (8 ft) deep, advanced down the mountain and was destroying everything in its path.
One man wrote in his diary, “To look above the mountain tonight, one would think the world was on fire . . . As the clouds pass from across the top of the mountain, the flame and lava can be seen shooting high into the sky to spill over the sides and running red streams down the slopes.”
The ground continued to rumble over the following days, and Vesuvius belched dense, billowing smoke thousands of meters up into the air. On March 22, volcanic stones of all sizes started falling from the sky, smashing everything in this new landing zone, ultimately forcing the men stationed at Pompeii Airfield to evacuate. Surprisingly, no US airmen were killed or seriously injured. However, when the volcano subsided and they returned to the base, they found about 80 of their planes destroyed beyond repair.
Today, Mount Vesuvius has slept peacefully in its fiery bed for 69 years, which is its longest lull in almost half a millennium. However, such a slumber will inevitably lead to a rude awakening, an eruption which will likely be far more violent then the one in 1944.