This column is indebted to Corporal Roger P Flaherty for a copy of “Stars and Stripes”, Italy edition, which carries the account of Captain George Lee’s P-12 Squadron over the 5th Army beachhead.
Reads Stars and Stripes account: “Allied Air Forces of the Mediterranean, in their busiest day since the Salerno landings, flew 1300 sorties yesterday (January 23) in their contribution to the land-sen-air operation that brought American and British soldiers within the shadow of ancient Rome. The role of the Air Forces was three fold, to protect the convoy bearing the assault, troops, to cover the landings and beachhead, to paralyze the movement of German reinforcements into the new combat area “At least 600 fighters and fighter bombers of the Tactical Air Forces kept up constant patrols over the 5th Army beachhead. In contrast, the Germans were able to put up no more than 100 light aircraft over the whole of land and sea areas involved—and these planes concentrated most of their efforts against Allied shipping “German bombers with fighter escort attempted to break through six times throughout the day and on at least one occasion succeeded But several times their hit-and-run dashes were intercepted and in one formation of more than 20 FW-100s, six were shot down by a P-40 squadron of the famed 79th Fighter Group. One P-40 was downed in this mass dogfight but the pilot is safe.
“This was the same P-40 squadron, now commanded by Capt. George Lee, Norwood, Mass., which destroyed 17 enemy planes in one day in fighting over Cape Bon last year.
“Two other German planes were shot down over the beachhead area yesterday, for the loss of one Allied aircraft, making a total count for the day of 14 to 9.”
The account continues “Light, medium, and even heavy bombers throughout the day struck at key road junctions over which the Germans might send reinforcements. Targets were at Velletri, 20 miles south of Rome on the Appian Way; at Frascati, ten miles south of the capital on the inland road; at Valmontonc, Fro- «¡none and Cassino, on the same road and Terni, important junction for railroads joining central Italy and the Adriatic coast with Rome. Other targets were Ccprano, Fondi, Ferentino, Priverno, Kuperia und Palestria
“There were no bombing of targets immediately adjacent to the landing area.
“Heavy bombers of the 15th Air Force also struck north of Rome to cut the main arteries of communications leading to the capital and beachhead Main targets were in the Florence area and around Rome, where unescorted Flying Forts did the damage
“Yesterday’s all-out air offensive in support of the landing was made possible by the closeness of lighter strips and bomber bases, one authority pointed out. Fighter fields are within 15 minutes of flying time of the disputed areas.
“Preparations for the landing had been going on for weeks, with systematic bombings of German bomber bases in southern France, of fighter bases in northern Italy and especially around Rome, the ¡severing of all possible communications, and the smashing of military concentrations wherever they formed in the landing area.
“All air forces joined in the pre-invasion assaults, and all types of aircraft took part in the attack Aviation engineers worked day and night to finish needed lighter strips, and mechanics spent the eve of D-day tuning tip motors for “the big day ”.
“A few hours before the start of the landings all men of the 12tn Air Support Command were briefed at the special insistence of their commander, Maj. Gen. Edwin J. House Cooks, crew chiefs, pilots, and ground officers—all were informed of the importance of their part in the operation.
“This is the first time that everyone knows a bit about the big show, and I think that knowledge is going to pay dividends said one air officer.
“Even as the briefings were being given, night bombers were over the beaches to soften up any last-minute defenses, while night fighters patrolled over the invasion fleet. And before the dawn of D-day, P-40s and Spitfires were taking off, the flames of their exhaust flashing in the darkness, to take over the patrol ”