Round the clock bombing pounds Pantelleria

USAAF photo of attack on the airfield on the German-Italian airfield on Pantelleria

USAAF photo of attack on the airfield on the German-Italian airfield on Pantelleria

Pantelleria, the small Mediterranean island between North Africa and Sicily was being subjected to some of the most intense bombing in history. It had been heavily fortified by Mussolini with a ring of gun emplacements around the coast but the Allies wanted to take it with minimum losses, a stepping stone on the way to Sicily.

On the 8th June 1943, just over a week after the bombing had begun, a Naval bombardment was added to the Italian’s torment. The Naval Commander, Mediterranean Admiral Cunningham and the Allied Commander, General Eisenhower, went along to observe the effect of the gunnery. They had had difficulty in persuading Churchill that he need not stay on in Tunisia just to watch the operation, designed to test the Italian’s reactions to the approach of invasion forces:

The Pantellaria rehearsal went according to plan. The air bombing was an impressive sight, and the reply of the batteries to the fire of the cruisers was wild in the extreme. It looked as though the Italian gun-control arrangements had been knocked out. The reception of the M.T.B.s at the harbour entrance was feeble enough, and had we had a few hundred troops in landing-craft I believe we could have taken the island there and then.

General Eisenhower and I were much encouraged, and in the event the island fell easily into our hands on June 11th, white flags being hoisted as the troops started to move shorewards in their landing craft. I need not describe it, as it had full publicity at the time; but the excuse given for surrender, i.e. that water was lacking, was incorrect. The truth was that the Italians, stunned by their defeat in Tunisia, had no stomach for further fighting. They had had enough, though some hours elapsed before all resistance ceased. Lampedusa and Linosa, of no practical value, surrendered to naval forces within twenty-four hours.

See Viscount Cunningham: A Sailor’s Odyssey, London, 1951

Martin Baltimores of No. 21 Squadron SAAF clear the target area as the smoke from burning oil dumps spreads across the airfield on Pantelleria, on the during three days of intensive air bombardment of the island by light bombers of the Desert Air Force.

Martin Baltimores of No. 21 Squadron SAAF clear the target area as the smoke from burning oil dumps spreads across the airfield on Pantelleria, on the during three days of intensive air bombardment of the island by light bombers of the Desert Air Force.

Operation CORKSCREW: a Douglas Boston of No. 24 Squadron SAAF flies over the target as bombs explode on the Italian gun battery on Monte San Elmo (bottom), during the intense aerial bombardment of Pantelleria, prior to the Allied landings there.

Operation CORKSCREW: a Douglas Boston of No. 24 Squadron SAAF flies over the target as bombs explode on the Italian gun battery on Monte San Elmo (bottom), during the intense aerial bombardment of Pantelleria, prior to the Allied landings there.

The island of Pantelleria in the Mediterranean, wreathed in smoke from bursting bombs during the Allied bombardment of June 1943. Capture of the island was a vital precursor to the invasion of Sicily in July.

The island of Pantelleria in the Mediterranean, wreathed in smoke from bursting bombs during the Allied bombardment of June 1943. Capture of the island was a vital precursor to the invasion of Sicily in July.

Bombs bursting on the docks and harbour of Pantelleria, as seen from on board the cruiser HMS ORION, in preparation for the allied invasion of the island.

Bombs bursting on the docks and harbour of Pantelleria, as seen from on board the cruiser HMS ORION, in preparation for the allied invasion of the island.

Operation CORKSCREW: a salvo of bombs from Douglas Bostons of No. 326 Wing RAF explode on the Bellotti Battery on the northern coast of Pantelleria, prior to the Allied landings on the island.

Operation CORKSCREW: a salvo of bombs from Douglas Bostons of No. 326 Wing RAF explode on the Bellotti Battery on the northern coast of Pantelleria, prior to the Allied landings on the island.

Contemporary film of part of the USAAf and RAF operation:

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