Il bombardamento aereo di Cassino
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Cronologia ufficiale dell'USAAF:
WEDNESDAY, 15 MARCH 1944
MEDITERRANEAN THEATER OF OPERATIONS (MTO)
STRATEGIC OPERATIONS (Fifteenth Air Force): In Italy, 300+ B-24s and B-17s bomb Cassino, the area S of Cassino and areas near Venafro in support of the US Fifth Army; 250+ other heavy bombers return to base without bombing because of complete cloud cover of their target areas; extensive fighter cover over the Cassino area is provided by P-38s, and P-47s fly 2 sweeps over the Viterbo-Canino area; there is no fighter opposition. ...
TACTICAL OPERATIONS (Twelfth Air Force): In Italy, medium and fighter- bombers, together with Mediterranean Allied Strategic Air Force (MASAF) heavy bombers and other aircraft of the Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force (MATAF) in the greatest air effort yet made in the MTO, rain bombs upon enemy concentrations in Cassino and surrounding areas as the New Zealand Corps begins the third battle of Cassino; light and medium bombers also hit a command post E of Ceprano and the town of San Benedetto de Marsi; fighters on patrol and a sweep over Anzio, Cassino and Rome meet no air opposition.
[...] First to arrive at 0830 were the medium bombers, B-25's and B-26's, in flights of a dozen or more, escorted by fighters flying high above them and
marking the sky with vapor trails. The bombers approached the target, almost passed, then turned left. The bellies of the planes opened, and the bombs tumbled
out. Then the planes wheeled again, this time to fly home.
About 80 percent of the bombs dropped by the aircraft in the first wave fell into the heart of Cassino. The others landed nearby, a few short ones coming to earth on the Allied side of the Rapido River. As the bombs struck, "stabbing flashes of orange flame" shot through a holocaust of erupting smoke and debris.
Next, at 0845, came the heavy bombers, the Flying Fortresses, along with the dive bombers. As the pilots roared over the town, already obliterated from left with any fight in them. Surely it would be but a question of bodies and prisoners, perhaps very few of either.
Between 0830 and 1200, 15 March, 72 B-25'S, 101 B-26's, 262 B-17s and B-24's-a total of 435 aircraft-bombed the Cassino area. The planes dropped more than 2,000 bombs, a total weight of almost 1,000 tons, in an unprecedented bombardment of awesome proportions.
There was little flak at Cassino, and no German planes appeared to oppose the bombing. The Allied aircraft suffered no losses.
The medium bomber attacks were generally punctual, their bombing concentrated and accurate. The heavy bombers were often at fault on all three counts. Thus, the target received less than the full weight of the bombs dropped. Only about 300 tons fell into the town of Cassino. The remainder landed on the slopes of Monte Cassino and elsewhere. Only half in all found the target area. In addition, there were frequent and long pauses between the attacking waves.
Even this imperfect bombardment demolished Cassino, toppling walls, crushing buildings, and covering the streets with debris.
Some heavy bomber pilots were unable to identify the target, and twentythree returned to their bases with their bombs intact; two jettisoned their loads in the sea. Rack failure on the leading plane of one formation sent forty bombs into Allied-held areas, killing and wounding civilians and troops. These short bombs and others inflicted about 142 casualties-28 were killed-among able the Allied units in the Cassino area.
Ten air miles away, several planes bombed Venafro by mistake, killing 17 soldiers and 40 civilians, and wounding 79 soldiers and 100 civilians. The bombing errors were an "appalling" tragedy that General Clark attributed to "poor training and inadequate briefing of crews. [...]
More aircraft 120 B-17's and 140 B-24's arrived over Cassino early on the afternoon of 15 March to help the ground troops, but heavy cloud formations covered the area and prevented the pilots from finding their targets. They returned to their bases without releasing their loads. Lighter planes had better success. Between 1300 and 1500, 49 fighter-bombers dropped 18 tons of bombs on the railroad station in Cassino. Between 1345 and 1630, 96 P-47's, A-36's, and P-40's struck the base of Monte Cassino with 44 tons. Between 1500 and 1700, 32 P-40's and A-36's hit the forward slopes of Monte Cassino with 10 tons. And 66 A-20's and P-40's loosed 34 tons on various targets at different times during the afternoon.
On the morning of 15th March air power, terrifying when used against material targets, struck the town of Cassino from which, most fortunately, the civilian inhabitants had been removed during the closing months of 1943. All the serviceable heavy day bombers of Mediterranean Allied Strategic Air Force and almost all the medium bombers of Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force were engaged, in all 164 Liberators, 114 Fortresses, 105 Marauders and 72 Mitchells, a total of 455 aircraft. The attacks began at 8.30 a.m. and ended at noon, and in these three and a half hours the aircraft dropped 2,223 one-thousandpound bombs, or 992 tons of high explosive.l The bomb plot confirmed that 47% of the bombs fell within one mile of the centre of the town and 53% near the town and on Monastery Hill. Some other aircraft went astray and four Fortresses and thirty-nine Liberators bombed Vcnafro, Pozzilli, Montaquila, and other places, all situated, as was Cassino, on the western side of a river. The similarity may have misled the pilots. Ninety-six Allied soldiers and one hundred and forty civilians were killed in these mistaken attacks. So much for the cold figures. On this morning in roaring explosions and invisible blast, under clouds of black smoke and yellowish dust the town of Cassino was blown asunder and beaten into heaps of rubble studded with the tottering remains of houses. [...]Although the weather became dull and overcast during the afternoon of 15th March the Allied air forces were not yet finished with Cassino town and its neighbourhood. One hundred and twenty Liberators and Fortresses were unable to bomb because of poor visibility, but between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. a formation of eight fighter-bombers became airborne every ten minutes and, flying below the overcast, attacked targets west, southwest, and south of Cassino. In these attacks 32 Mustangs, 16 Thunderbolts, and 140 Kittyhawks, all from U.S. XII Air Support Command, dropped 69 tons of bombs. Twenty-four Boston light bombers from this Command joined in with eight tons of bombs as did 48 Mitchells from M.A.T.A.F. with 75 tons. In addition 59 R.A.F. Kittyhawks of the Desert Air Force dropped 41 tons of bombs at Aquino in the Liri valley. Although the German Air Force had not been much in evidence of late and in fact did not appear on 15th March, its interference was guarded against during the bombing of Cassino by 200 Lightning fighters from M.A.S.A.F. and 12 Spitfires from U.S. XII A.S.C., while a further 100 Thunderbolts swept the sky between Viterbo and Cassino. The 15th March was a day of large, complex, and entirely successful air operations. [...]
C.J.C. Monoly, The Mediterranean and the Middle East, (History of the Second World War), Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1973 - pp. 785, 786