25 April 1944. Aeritalia after a bombing raid
Being an industrial city, with its excellences in the automotive and aeronautical fields, Turin became a prime target in the strategies of war, and had the dubious distinction of being the most bombed city in Italy. The bombing began on the night of June 11 and 12, 1940 and continued until April 5, 1945, for a total of 40 raids.
The first bombing, which caused 17 dead and 40 wounded, was the work of 36 Whitley bombers took off from bases in Yorkshire in northern England laden with 500-pound bombs, but fortunately for Turin only 12 arrived.
Life in the the city, although unprepared for the tragedy of such events, tried to maintain a semblance of normality starting from the cinemas, schools and even the football championship, albeit with many limitations, continued until April 25, 1943 with the team known as “Grande Torino”, winning the second championship 1-0 against Bari.
The airport and adjacent to the fiat Aeritalia aircraft factory were subjected to a number of attacks including two particularly violent ones on December 8, 1942 and April 25, 1944. During this raid, the carpet bombing employed put more than 250 bombs on the target, putting totally out of use both the airport and the factories.
After the war, both the factories and the airport were fully restored and the Aeritalia airporyt became the city’s main civil airport for a number of years.
Major assembly factory following its bombardment in 1944
Unfortunately, we must never forget that the war brought many aeronautical tragedies. During those years there are at least a dozen dramatic stories of planes which disappeared or which crashed among the mountains, and whose remains emerged little by little, mainly thanks to the research by enthusiasts and associations created to seek for the aircraft that fell among the peaks of Northern Italy during and immediately after World War ii.
One of the many aerial tragedies in the Piedmontese Alps, often linked to bad weather, storms and navigational errors occurred on the night of September 10, 1944.
“Miss Charlotte” was the name of a Boeing B-17 belonging to the 885th Special Squadron of the us Army Air Force (USAAF), one of those “friendlyz” planes that did not drop bombs on targets, but parachuted in food, aid, weapons, ammunition, leaflets, medicine and, even, as the history of the Vesime airport in the Bormida Valley of Cuneo tells us, secret agents.
The first prototype B17
The B.17 “Miss Charlotte” (named by the Squadron Commander, Paul V. Callis, in honour of his future mother-in-law) also had a special mission. From the USAAF base in Algeria it had to fly to the Pesio Valley, in South-Western Piedmont, carrying a friendly load to those who were fighting against the Nazi fascists in the area.
The plane was entirely painted black, to minimize its visibility during night flights and the crew was composed of nine experienced men, well trained and prepared for difficult missions. The aircraft’s captain was Lt. John R. Meyers,with another 8 crew members aboard. For all of them it was their final mission, after which they would be taken out of action and returned to their homeland. The plane carried 14 cylindrical containers filled with food, weapons and leaflets. Its mission was to drop them in the Pesio valley. But it didn’t work out that way.
The plane flew across the Mediterranean, but, due to a snow storm, lost direction ending up in the wrong valley during a snowstorm compounded by high winds. The complications of the darkness and the navigation error prevented the pilot from realizing where he was, and he was unable to avoid a fatal collision with the Gran Mioul, in the Argentera Valley.
The Excelsior airport of Vesime
In the autumn of 1944, the partisans of the 2nd “Langhe” Division commanded by Piero Balbo “Poli” and by the major Enrico Mattidi known as “Mauri”, assisted by Neville Darewski, a British officer of the SOE (Special Operations Executive) known as Major Temple, together with the farmers of the Asti area of the Langa, bordering the province of Cuneo, built an airfield to facilitate the landing and take-off of Allied planes, used for secret missions, transport the wounded and paradrop weapons and supplies.
Lysander at Vesime
1944 – The crash of the B.24 Liberator on the Rous Point in the Lanzo valley
The B.24 Liberator No. KG.999 (a four-engined mid-wing heavy bomber) belonging to the 31st South Africa Air Force Squadron (incorporated in the 205th Bomber Group of the RAF) also participated in refueling missions to the partisans of Northern Italy.
After a takeoff in bad weather from the Celona airport of Foggia at 16.00 on October 12, 1944 it crashed, after some four hours of flight, just below the Rous Point (8,320 ft) in the Lanzo Valley at the watershed between the municipalities of Groscavallo and Ala di Stura.
The B.24 production facility
The next day the charred and mutilated bodies of the eight young members of the crew, aged between nineteen and twenty-nine, were recovered. The corpses were first laid in the cemetery of Ala di Stura, then were subsequently transferred to that of Ceres where they remained until the end of the war, to be finally buried in the British cemetery in Milan.
On June 2, 2002 at an altitude of 2450 m. on the ridge between Punta Croset and Punta del Rous, a few meters below the the point which the plane just failed to cross, the Municipality of Ala, the cai, the Alpini and the Pro Loco of Ala, placed a brass plaque on the impact site in memory of the sacrifice of those young men.
Memorial plaque for the B.24 Liberator placed by the Ala di Stura CAI at the crash site
At 2 am on November 1st 1946, a Boeing B.17 serial number 43-39338 of the u.s. Army European Air Transport Service (EATS) took off with 8 crewmembers from Capodichino airport in Naples, bound for Bovingdon, a small town near Southampton (England).
Over the Tyrrhenian Sea in full storm, the plane departed from its planned route to head for Genoa instead of Marseilles, flew over Piedmont and the Colle del Moncenisio in the direction of Mont Blanc, where it finally impacted, exploding, against the Aiguille des Glaciers at around 4 am .
The war had now been over for a year and a half, but at that time many warplanes continued to serve in various roles. This flight in particular was a simple ferry flight and had eight men on board, including three senior us military officers.
The aircraft was of relatively recent construction. It had not yet totaled 200 flying hours and the pilots were very experienced.
After having signaled its position near Pisa, the B.17 just appeared to vanish without trace.
It was only in the summer of 1947 that a French “chasseur des alps” patrol from the 99th Alpine Infantry Battalion stationed in Bourg Saint Maurice, patrolling the Aiguille des Glaciers southeast of the Mont Blanc Massif, discovered the wreckage of what was clearly a crashed aircraft.
The B.17 had struck precisely on the crest that marks the border between France and Italy, and for reasons attributable to bad weather and disorientation by the pilot, the plane was inexplicably 90 miles off its originally planned route.
Only in 1957, following the gradual melting of the glaciers, some traces of the aircraft began to emerge from the Estellette glacier, not far from the Elisabetta Soldini refuge near which, in 1979, some remains of the unfortunate crew were found.
From the early 1980s, on the French side, the retreating Glacier des Glaciers began to uncover other parts of the plane.