2 January 1944
Pompeii L/G was a brand new field cut into the grape orchards and the vegetable farms of Terzigno at the base of Vesuvius and completely surrounded by hills. The group advance party had commandeered one whole street of the town, turned out the occupants after having them clean up the places for us. The buildings were volcanic stone and concrete with walls nearly three feet thick. In most cases the quarters of one former family was one large room perhaps twenty feet square with domed ceiling fifteen feet high. Most of them had probably been built by their occupants and had the usual individualistic designs of elaborate decorations in colorful motifs. Some had large fireplaces.
Wherever you lived, you had but to step outside your door to view old Vesuvius, the world's most publicized volcano. There was always a halo of smoke over it and at night the bubbling lava sent orange spurts skyward to illuminate the overhanging clouds and smoke. But we felt safer from Vesuvius than from the threat of German bombs which several times fell in Naples twenty miles away.
Then the Fifth Army opened up the Anzio beachhead and the wet, cold days at Foggia seemed idyllic by comparison. None of the combat crews will ever forget the "heavy, intense and accurate " flak over the "wooded area" or practically any part of the sector a plane ventured to visit.
At this period of operations, the Group as a whole lost better than a dozen planes on the beachhead operations.
After much hesitation because of political and religious complications, Monte Cassino Abbey was then given us for a target because the Germans were entrenched there and "it was causing the loss of too many American lives". We went at it with the heavies and 26's. The boys on the ground at the front were most enthusiastic and word was later passed to us that the B-25's had stolen the show. But according to our ideas, as usual in the publicity, the heavies got all the credit.
Rainy weather continued to force stand downs during much of February and in early March, but on the 10th we got a mission to Littoria M/Y. It was one of those days. The formation ran into flak. Two ships of the ---th collided but got back to the field. One of the ---th in the following box dove to duck the collision and in a hurry pulled up, two of the bombs pulled loose and went through the bomb bay doors.
The Colonel, riding Co-pilot with the ---th, went down. That was a real loss because in his short time with us, Colonel Tokaz had earned every one's respect and liking and had raised the morale of the outfit to its then highest peak.
On the 15th of March the Allies must have gotten mad at the Germans who in spite of bombs and shellfire were still holding out in Cassino and making it tough for our slogging infantry. We were told to level the damned place and four other medium and eleven of the heavy groups were sent along to help us.
That must have made the Germans mad in turn because that night some 35 of their bombers scooted low over our heads to bomb Naples.
Under cover of the excitement, our New C.O., Col. Chapman slipped in without fuss or fanfare.
For several days, Vesuvius had been acting up a bit more than usual and in the early hours of March 22, we woke up with its rumbling and roaring. It was snowing cinders about as large as BB shot with sprinkling of tennis balls which by mid morning were helped out by others sometimes as big as melons. Many of these latter, while ice encrusted outside, showed on the inside a white hot core when the force of their fall broke them open.
It was impossible to move the planes and early in the afternoon, when the roofs of buildings were going down under the weight of the stuff, preparations for evacuating were hurried and most of the personnel got out from under her. The rest left later.
Axis Sally and her boyfriend gleefully announced to the world that the 340th was finito. And so it must have seemed but she didn't know the 12th Air Force. In three days we were back in action fighting that much harder as "The Best Damn Group There is".
Enlisted Camp on the flight line at the base of Vesuvius
Out side of the farm houses before the eruption, Lt. Joe "Spider" McCormick is kneeling bottom right
In front of the operations building at Pompeii, January 1944
Outside the Operations building in Pompeii, January 1944
Swope, Cassidy, and Curt Sweating out a mission in Pompeii
During the eruption
Clean up after the eruption.