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BATTLE OF EUROPE: Beneath Benito’s Moon

2 minute read

Clouds shrouded the Alps and, with the cold of the high altitudes, made icing a constant hazard. Mists lay in the valleys. But when the British bombers came within sight of Genoa the clouds had gone. Italy’s old and historic city, lying at the foot of the Apennines at the sea’s edge, was a perfect target under the bright moon.

Flares dropped by the first wave of planes illumined the Genoese forts and the armament and shipbuilding plants which were the R.A.F.’s objectives. Huge two-ton bombs plummeted down. Genoa lighted up in flame.

Wave after wave, altogether some 200 planes, roared across the famed port. A communique admitted that near panic in a public shelter helped swell casualties to 354 killed, 3000 injured. To Genoa, pockmarked with ruins, rushed little King Vittorio Emanuele III, 72, and large Queen Elena, to bolster Italian morale.

The British gave the Italians no rest. On three successive nights they made the 1,400-mile round trip to Italy’s industrial north. They hammered again at battered Genoa. They pounded Turin, home of the royal arsenal. They made a daylight raid at Milan, which they visited again at night, dropping more bombs into the widespread fires. It was the heaviest, and most businesslike, aerial plastering Italy had got since the war began, and it would probably continue. British losses in the three days: eleven planes.

It was little consolation to the Italians to know that they had momentarily diverted some of the R.A.F.’s biggest night bombers from attacks on Germany. Western Europe caught it anyhow: from fast Mosquitoes that flew in daylight, unescorted, over northwest Germany; from Mustang fighters that machine-gunned an army camp; from Spitfires that strafed canal barges and locomotives; from U.S. Flying Fortresses that made their longest excursion to pound the Nazi submarine base in Lorient, France.

One reason for the sudden aerial onslaught on Italy was to blast supply bases and communication lines that serve Erwin Rommel, as Montgomery in Egypt started his attack (see p. 26). But probably far more effective was the shaking it gave to Italian nerves under Benito’s waning moon.

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