The base of the 340th Bombardment Group AAF, Alesan Airfield, Corsica, was attacked
under a waning moon in the early hours of 13 May, 1944, by the German Air Force.
Extensive damage to planes and other equipment and many personnel casualties
resulted. The operation gave every indication of being thoroughly planned and carried
out accordingly. The gun control room of the anti-aircraft units defending the airfield
reported the first enemy plane was plotted at 0335 hours. Aircraft spotters identified the
craft as Beaufighter (presumably captured by the enemy for pathfinder use.)
Some few minutes after this craft was plotted, it dropped flares on the airfield and
almost immediately other enemy planes attacked, dropping more flares, which
thoroughly illuminated the area, and loosing demolition and anti-personnel bombs,
including delayed action as well as butterfly bombs. As the attack progressed the enemy
resorted to strafing, dropping down to within a few feet of the ground. The enemy planes
were identified as JU-88's, FW-190's and possibly ME-109's, DO-217's, and HE-111's.
Some of the fighters strafed ack-ack positions on the beach bordering the airfield and on
the ridges north and west of the field. The attacking force was estimated at from twenty
to thirty planes. The specific targets attacked were the airfield proper, the gasoline dump,
and the ground radio station trailer due west of the center of the field and the adjacent
highway, the operations intelligence building close by, and the 489th. squadron area
about three quarters of a mile north of the field. A pattern of fragmentation bombs
intended for the Headquarters tent area a mile and three quarters north of the field, fell a
few hundred yards off shore into the sea.
The attack lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes, which was from the time that the
first enemy aircraft was plotted to the time that the last one departed. Attacking the
airfield the planes seemed to come over first at about three thousand feet, but when the
field was well lighted by flares dropped by the pathfinders and by burning aircraft, and
when the anti-aircraft barrage was found to be ineffective, they dove down as low as
fifty feet on strafing runs. Two courses were flown in the attack. Although some of the
planes seemed to come in from different directions after circling off the target. These
courses were approximately northwest-southeast and southeast-northwest. Most of the
340th Engineering personnel, armament men, and ordnance men had their tents on the
airfield proper, and although many had slit trenches to use, casualties were exceedingly
high from the bombing, from the strafing, and from our own planes blowing up, many of
them with a full bomb load. Some men did not wake up in time; others who did
regarded the air alert as just another nuisance raid similar to those to which we had been
subjected to for so long - many of them were killed in bed. Some took shelter in slit
trenches, ditches or under vehicles. Others were to terrified to run a few feet to shelter
once the devastating anti-personnel bombs began to explode all around them. Still others
were even injured or killed in their slit trenches as a result of the thick carpeting of the
area with these bombs. Personnel detailed to the airfield crash truck started to put out
fires before the last attacking planes left.
The attack was preceded by a raid on the Poretta Airfield about fifteen miles north of
Alesan Field at 1000 hours, during which twenty-five Spitfires were knocked out and a
number of men killed. Other casualties in the raid on the 340th Group included dead and
wounded in the 324th Service Squadron, which had been doing third echelon
maintenance for us, and also dead and wounded in the anti-aircraft organization
protecting the area.
From report of flashing lights in the hills south of the village of Cervione and west of the
airfield, both on the night of the attack and in the weeks previous, it appears that enemy
agents aided or attempted to aid the attackers. It is known that German paratroopers had
been landed on the island in considerable number earlier in the year.
Anti-aircraft artillery personnel defending the field claim to have shot down two of the
aircraft in the attack. Allied Beaufighters report destroying two other planes.
Regularly each night for weeks before this heavy attack which was reminiscent of an
earlier and more competent era in the G.A.F. history, air raid alerts were the accepted
nightly routine. An hour or two after midnight the sirens broke the deep silence of the
Corsica night with their screaming warning. Most of the men in complete darkness
groped for helmets, gas masks, and guns, and then, scantily clad, stumbled out of their
tents and into slit trenches. This was a nightly occurrence with Jerry overhead taking
pictures. It was evident that a day of reckoning would come.
(Collected from budslawncare.com via http://web.archive.org on February 27, 2010.)
More details of the raid from the point of view of the men on the ground can be found on Quentin
Kaiser's web site: http://www.warwingsart.com/12thAirForce/raid.html
Lt Angelo Adams first day with the 486th, 13th May 1944 - The day of the Raid
First day with outfit
Also Jerry raided the hell out of us.
Landed at field at about 6PM. After eating, were assigned to tents, Being new and eager, I asked my "veteran" tent mates if I should dig a fox hole.
"Hell no," says my "veteran" tent mates. "Jerry won't come over."
At about 9PM Jerry hit the night fighter field up the line.
"Wasn't that a sight?" said my "veteran" tent mates, "maybe tomorrow we'd better dig fox holes."
At about 11PM Jerry visited us. The ack-ack woke me up; but since it didn't seem to disturb the snoring of my "veteran" tent mates, I tried to go back to sleep. However a few seconds later, the ammo dump went up and we all got out to see the show.
We stood in the company street so we wouldn't miss anything. Jerry laid a string of frags about a hundred yards away. Up until then I had done everything my "veteran" tent mates had--I figured they knew what they were doing--but after that I hit the biggest hole I could find, and beat all the "veterans" to it.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The next day I found out that the outfit hadn't been raided in over a year--therefore none of the "veterans" had ever been in one---and they didn't know anymore about what to do than I did---the damn fools!
From Joni Adams Sesma - Honeylights Letters
From: Die Geschichte des Lehrgeschwaders 1 – Band 2
[The History of Lehrgeschwader 1 – Volume 2]
By Peter Taghon
Translation by Daniel Setzer
May 12th and 13th 1944
On the airfields of Corsica there were a large number of two-engine bombers and Allied fighterbombers stationed. They made runs on the supply lines in mid-Italy and did considerable damage. The chief of the 2nd German Air Force, General Field Marshal von Richthofen, had, after much effort, received permission from Hitler to attack the airbases on Corsica.
In the first half of the evening all of the combat crews in the 1st and 2nd groups of Lehrgeschwader 1along with another 53 JU 88's flew a successful sortie against the Airbase Borgo Poretta near Bastia on Corsica. The crew of Lt. Gert Winterfeld was on the mission from 20:35 hours to 23:36 hours. They served to mark the target and to illuminate it. The destination lay southwest of the Mediterranean coast and could not be mistaken. They dropped a 500 capacity ABB canister with firebombs to mark the bomb run and lit it with 10 LC 50 flares. There was only moderate anti-aircraft fire. Due to the good illumination, the majority of bombs AB500 canisters with 37 SD10 and SD50's fell on the intended target area. Some of the bombs were set to tumble and they set off big fires. Flak of all calibers hindered the mission. After the attack 16 to 18 fires were counted. Gert Winterfeld recalled: “The attack on the airfield at Borgo Poretta on Corsica on the evening of May 12, 1944 is still fresh in
my memory. It was my crew and I who had the responsibility for the entire combat group to find the the target and to illuminate it. Radio navigation and radar was not available to us. So we used dead reckoning and landmarks to reach our destination. In this case it wasn't too difficult since our documentation indicated that the Borgo Poretta airbase lay about 4 – 5 km west southwest of the southern point of lake Biguglia, a long lagoon near the coast not far from Bastia. An earlier lone sortie over Bastia gave us information about the area. The course of the attack was planned in advance by Helbig's combat team. After our take-off from Ghedi around 20:35 hours we flew to Modena where the group would assemble. About five minutes
before the major assembly departure time, we left the group, flying over the Apennines toward Florence and from there in the direction of the jumping-off point on the coast south of Livorno. The weather south of the Apennines was good and the astronomical twilight was not quite ended so we still had good visibility. Over the hilly country that runs from Florence to the coast we could fly quite low, perhaps 100 to 150 meters above the ground in order to avoid giving the radar on Corsica a target. At the coastline we dropped to 20 meters altitude and followed a direct course to our target. Just off the coast of Corsica we came up to 50 meters. Suddenly the coast of Corsica was in sight with its white beaches, and we were already over our destination, Lake Buguglia, which was very easy to spot. Then we made a right-turn in the direction of Bastia so as not to arrive at the target too soon and in order to
gain our attack altitude. Our timing was perfect. During our climb we made circles so that we kept our 'pond' under us. Near Bastia we saw sporadic heavy flak. Finally, after about 12 minutes we reached our attack altitude of 3,000 meters. Now back to the south of the lagoon and – about four minutes prior to X-hour – with course 250 degrees to the target. After about a half-minute we let loose the first flare. We made a full circle to get ourselves 'behind' the flare and to figure out were it stood. It stood over the northern edge of the base and the base was well lighted and to the left under us. We could see the parked aircraft. Now it was high time to deploy the rest of the flares in a curve to the left, west and south, around the base. In the meantime light flack began to fire at the flares. After the last flare drifted off to the left it was exactly X-hour and the first wave of the formation took aim on the center of the airbase. At 2,000 meters we dropped the ABB 500 firebomb canister to mark the target. On our climb we saw that it was burning in the center of the field. Now below us the dance began; when we turned into our climb we could see flashes everywhere. At 2,500 meters we saw the second wave who went for the parked aircraft with AB 500 fragmentation bombs at about 1,200 meters. As we flew away toward the south we could still see in the light of the flares smoke and fires. We continued on to about 3,000 meters and from the northwest we crossed the
mountains whose peaks we could see on our left in the wan night light. After that we dropped down to the sea under us and headed directly toward Genoa. Around 23:30 we landed in Ghedi. We felt really good. The attack had certainly come together well. It was too bad that for the second sortie of the night, to the airfield at Alistro [Alesani], we had to give our L1+AK [their airplane]to a young flight crew.”
Sargent Piechottka's crew was in Group II. In the crew was Sgt. Klaus Lompa who wrote in his diary: “Today we have a 'ricochet' night before us. We will fly two sorties. At 20:45 hours we will begin our first attack. We have 2 AB500 bombs and 10 SD50's loaded. We are flying over the Apennines and then go to low-altitude to avoid the English radar. We are now flying over the sea and have just passed Elba. Now we are nearing Corsica and begin, with sharp defensive movements, to climb high. We must watch out for night fighters because our target airfield, Borgo-Poretta, could be home to them. We have reached our attack altitude, it is X-hour and the illumination of the target is beginning. The target can be made out clearly. “Prepare for bombing run!” “Bomb bay open!” We are bouncing about in the light flack that whizzes by us. Dieter hits it, bombs away! There go our strikes. Under us now it is burning like wild, and 200 to 300 meter high columns of fire tell us that the fuel dump has been hit. We continue flying away and around 23:35 hours we land at our home field. We give our combat report, get something to eat and get back to our machines. In that time they had been refueled and reloaded”
In the same night, between 02:15 hours and 06:12 hours, groups 1 and 2 of the Lehrgeschwader along with more bombers from Kriegsgeschwader 76 repeated the attack against the air bases on the east coast of Corsica. Altogether 59 JU 88's were in the raid. This time the target was the airfield at Alistro [Alesani], far to the south of Bastia. The JU 88's were provisioned with two AB 500's and ten SD 50 or ten AB 70 bombs that were dropped from about 1,000 meters. The crews reported numerous fires and many aircraft destroyed.
The two sorties were a total success and inflicted major damage to the Allied bombers and fighter bombers stationed there. Out of the parked aircraft 23 were totally destroyed and roughly 90 were damaged. For some time after the attack the diminished flight activity out of Corsica was very noticeable. Because of these sorties the squadron commander, Joachim Helbig, was, for the second time, named in the German Armed Forces Report [broadcast to the nation].
In his memoirs Helbig wrote about these
two raids: “It was a matter of two night attacks that, by German standards of the time, must be considered as large-scale operations. There were nearly 90 JU 88's involved. First wave over the target at 22:00 hours, second wave using the same aircraft at 04:10 hours. The targets were first the airbase at Borgo-Poretta, and in the second part of the night, Alistro [Alesani]. Both places were over-staffed by the Allies.
The outbound journey on the first mission followed the usual low-altitude flight over the
Apennines near Florence, then down to the water for a low-altitude flight over the sea to the coast. Then a short climb approaching the target with a final glide attack. Due to the flight path over the mountains and the low-altitude flight over the sea the enemy radar system had considerable difficulty. The surprise was totally on the German side. Not a single loss over the target, devastating hits on more than 200 parked aircraft and material stores. All during a crystal clear night. The bomb selection for the JU 88's was optimal. It was mixed like a cocktail, made up of fragmentation bombs, both normal and incendiary, 500 kg and 1,000 kg bombs together. It was about two tons per JU 88. After releasing the bombs at about 1,300 meters altitude a flyover at about 350 meters over the aircraft mooring areas revealed optimal destruction.
We flew out along the east coast of Corsica toward the south at full throttle and climbing as fast as possible. Then we went to the west coast and over the Corsican mountains, dropping finally to sea level headed toward Genoa. This terminated with the flight over the Apennines and our landing in Italy. For the second sortie the course was simply reversed. The fires started during the first attack were still visible during the second attack.” Junker 88, Medium Bomber
Excerpt from Die Geschichte des Lehrgeschwaders 1 posted on http://home.comcast.net/~dhsetzer by permission of the
publisher, VDM Heinz Nickel 2004. Translation copyright © 2007 by Daniel Setzer
The following video from Deke Kaiserski shows the 489th squadron and the aftermath of the Alesani Raid at the 5:13 mark