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THE CRASH LANDING

September 9th, 1943. 10 o’clock in the morning and a large formation of US North
American B-25 Mitchell twin-engined bombers was cruising in at 15,000 feet towards the
southern Italian coastline. Mission objective the railway marshalling yards in Potenza,
important junction for Germans troop movements both to and from the large land battle that
was about to take place in the nearby coastal city of Salerno.

Down below, on the ground, in the dusty village of Sanza, the local inhabitants were still
stunned by the news announced 12 hours earlier on the radio by General Badoglio: Italy
had made peace with the Allied forces and was out of the war. The war was over! Long live
the King of Italy and long live Badoglio!
The villagers had hardly slept: first the shouting and the shooting – some Italian soldiers
nearby had immediately left their barracks and began firing wildly in the air with their
antiquated rifles, an act of celebration. The local population, mainly old men, women and
children had cheered loudly, and then gone to bed. They had been woken by the ominous
sound of heavy artillery out beyond the Bay of Salerno round about 3 in the morning. They
had run out into the streets towards the caves just outside the town. There was no knowing
what would happen next.

Aircraft no. 42-63584 was carrying a crew of five; pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, radio
operator and top turret gunner. They had taken off from Menzel Temime air base in Tunisia
an hour and a half earlier, fully aware of the Armistice signed with the Italian government
but unaware of the consequences for them: would the Italian anti-aircraft batteries still be in
use? Or would they have been taken over by German crews?

About 30 miles south-west of their objective, as they crossed over the Italian coast, some of
their questions were answered; the anti-aircraft fire was fast and accurate. The Germans
had certainly reinforced the batteries with some mobile 88 flak guns of their own. Suddenly
the plane was rocked violently, and the starboard engine cut out, a thick plume of black
smoke trailing out behind them. The pilot cut the fuel and feathered the propellor. With
only one engine left to fly on, their only hope was to leave the formation, jettison the bomb
load and make towards the nearest friendly aerodrome.
The crew had no idea where this might be – Italy had only left the war 12 hours earlier and
nobody knew what was happening on the ground.
The pilot decided to drop the bombs over open countryside and make for the open sea.

From the relative safety of the small family farm just outside Sanza, Giuseppe, 15 years of
age, was watching in fascination as the formations flew ovehead The peace of the summer
morning was shattered by two explosions as two 1,000 lb bombs screamed to earth half a
mile away, landing on either side of the main road. Then Giuseppe heard the sound of aero
engines, quiet at first as the plane approached from behind the looming mass of the
moutntain, but then bursting into a roar as it just missed the ridge, heading out over the
open countryside beyond. Giuseppe could clearly see the faces of the pilots, who had
spotted a flat field nearby, and gradually brought the plane down to within 100 metres, and
then 50 and then …… all of a sudden a thick clump of chestnut trees appeared out of the
morning mist. There was no way they could avoid it. Maybe they could have cleared the
heavy branches, but they couldn’t and the plane struck the clump, cartwheeling up into the
air under its own momentum, before plummeting into the ground. There was a loud
explosion and a fierce fire.

Giuseppe ran down towards the crash. All of a sudden he noticed other people running out
of the nearby homesteads. He could not get that close for the heat.
One of the airmen had got out of the plane. Incredible! He was walking, staggering, away
from the inferno. He was taken, roughly, by some of the locals, who pushed him away
towards a small well. Was the US airman friend or foe? Italy was no longer at war with the
US, since 12 hours earlier, but this pilot had still come to drop bombs on their country. The
farmers were unsure what to do. Some started to manhandle the airmen roughly, demanding
that he be taken to the German HQ nearby. Others wanted to take him to the local police
station. In the end the issue was settled by the arrival of the local police themselves, who
took the man away for safe keeping.
The other crew were all killed. Their four bodies were laid out by the side of the small
chestnut grove and buried in the field nearby until US military authorities came by a month
or two later to take possession of the remains.
Walking near the scene of the accident some days later, Giuseppe came across a US Air
Force wrist watch. He picked it out othe damp grass and put it in his pocket. Maybe one
day, somebody would come by to claim it……….