20 April 1944: Air-to-Ground

 

 

Desert Air Force had not finished with Rieti. On 8 April, the airfield was bombed by 24 Baltimores whose crews reported numerous fires and explosions and by 24 Kittyhawks of 239 Wing who scored numerous hits on runway and dispersal area.

On 20 April, SG 4 took off at 11.00 hours, rendezvoused with its fighter escort and carried out an attack on vehicle concentrations in the Lanciano area. After the mission, which seems to have been without loss, I./SG 4’s Focke-Wulfs touched down at Rieti. This caused some consternation for the men of the Platzkommando, as one of their documents later acquired by MAAF Intelligence attests:

The von Speir lorries [petrol bowsers] were returned to their unit in Bolzena [sic] on the orders of Koflug.

At 11.50, 18 Fw 190s landed here to refuel. The machines had not been reported. Since only one K.K.W. Wagen [small truck] was available, we employed two trucks with barrels [drums] and handpumps.

Five minutes earlier, S/L G.J. Black had led 12 Kittyhawk IVs of No. 250 (Sudan) Squadron off from Cutella. They were carrying 250 lb bombs and long range tanks for an armed reconnaissance of roads around Avezzano, Orte, Terni and Rieti. The Squadron’s Operation Record Book describes how:

When over RIETI airdrome 15 F.W. 190’s and one unidentified single engined fighter were observed in the Western, Easterns [sic] and Southern dispersals. Bombs were dropped North of the drome and in the Western dispersal and then all aircraft strafed. In all, 11 enemy aircraft were set on fire, two of them blowing up. Spitfires provided cover throughout the operation.

Seen from the ground:

The K.K.W. had already refuelled four aircraft, the lorries didn't come into use.

At 12.20 about 20 fighter bombers attacked the airfield, the attack lasting 30 minutes. They attacked the field with bombs guns. Four fragmentation bombs were dropped but without causing any damage. The aircraft were set on fire by gunfire, because no defence was available. 13 machines burned out; 3 were lightly and 1 severely damaged.

A horse was also killed in the attack.

Ka[sch] Feldw. u. Kdo. Fuehrer

The I./SG 4 had been surprised by 239 Wing at Rieti for the second time in two weeks and this time the Kittyhawks had done even more damage than they thought. Desert Air Force HQ summed up:

The highlight today was a most successful beat-up of RIETI aerodrome by a squadron of Kittys. Fifteen aircraft were spotted on the ground and identified as F W 190’s. Bombs were dropped and repeated strafing runs made resulting in the complete destruction of eleven aircraft. An excellent show by 250 Squadron.

Next afternoon, 12 of the Squadron’s aircraft made a long-range reconnaissance of the Rieti-Foligno area area, strafing and setting on fire six vehicles near the former town. On the aerodrome, an Fw 190, parked in a burnt-out hangar was severely damaged. When the Allied advance allowed MAAF Technical Intelligence parties to examine Rieti in late June, they found no fewer than 16 wrecked Fw 190s there.

wholesale

The Schlachtflieger suffered heavy casualties in operations over Italy and I./SG 4’s experiences of April 1944 were especially bad with 25 aircraft lost to enemy action. Fifteen were completely destroyed in the Kittyhawks’ two big actions at Rieti and many more damaged, the saving grace being that only two pilots were killed. Replacement machines came through and the Gruppe began April with 44 aircraft on strength and ended with 33. By contrast, the II./SG 4 lost only six aircraft to enemy action that month.

SOURCES

UK National Archives: Operations Record Books of 239 Wing and 276 Wing; 112 Squadron; 250 (Sudan) Squadron; files of MAAF HQ Intelligence and Technical Intelligence; ULTRA decrypts for April 1944; MATAF Daily Intelligence/Operations Summaries.

Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv, Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Germany: strength figures of Luftwaffe units.

Luftwaffe claim and loss data from J. Richard Smith and Eddie J. Creek, Winfried Bock and Arno Abendroth via Ferdinando D’Amico. Tony Wood’s listings of Luftwaffe victory claims.

Jochen Prien: Chronik des Jagdgeschwaders 53 Teil 3 (Stuve Druck, Eutin, 1991) and Chronik des Jagdgeschwaders 77 Teil IV (Stuve Druck, Eutin, 1995).

 

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LOW NUMBERS

With the luxury of accounts from both sides of the same event, we can see that the pilots of No. 250 Squadron understated their achievements in their attack on Rieti.


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