Last week I wrote about the 340th Bomb Group on Corsica after its capture during Operation Vesuvius. Well since then it has moved across to Italy and is now flying from an airfield near Naples. The airfield is named after a nearby settlement, which goes by the name of Pompeii.
Towering above Pompeii and Naples is the volcano Vesuvius. With a height of about 1260m above sea level this volcano had been mostly quiet since the 5th of July 1913, emitting a small plume of white smoke from a conelet. This plume of smoke was no more than you might see from a factory chimney. The first indication something was happening was when the conelet collapsed on the 13th of March 1944.
At 1630 on the 18th of March a flow of lava burst from the conelet and flowed out of the volcano's crater and down the sides like a fiery waterfall. Where it met trees they burst into flames filling the night sky with a red glow. Advancing at a speed of around 10 miles an hour the lava flow was a wall 30ft high. Two reporters from the Advanced Press Headquarters took a portable transmitter and climbed up the volcano. They arrived at the town of San Sebastiano but the lava had reached this town at about 0100-0200 on the morning of the 21st. The veteran war reporters who later visited the town were shocked by the power and utter destruction which was more complete and effective than all the best of man’s explosives. Walking round the town it was utterly silent except for the crackle of flames and the pop and gurgle as the lava advanced. The black crust with white hot edges sluggishly crawled towards the buildings, radiated heat caused the buildings to catch fire when it approached. When the lava reached a building it would flow treacle like through windows and doors filling the building like a mould, then the pressure and heat would cause the building to collapse into the lava and it is gone for ever.
The lava flow engulfing a village
In the early morning of the 22nd the volcano's rumbling and explosions began to change. At about 0115 it began in the words of one eyewitness to sound like it was panting, followed by a large explosion. This cycle of events carried on with increased ferocity through the rest of the night. The next morning a giant plume of ash reached up into the sky. Slowly it spread over Pompeii airfield, and the planes of the 340th Bomb Group. From the plume hot ash fell much like the occurrence that had buried the famous village in 79AD.
The B-25 bombers on the airfield became weighted down with ash and tipped up on their tails. Elsewhere tents began to collapse. The heat of the ash burnt the fabric of the planes, and crazed and cracked the plexiglass canopies. About 78 to 88 planes were destroyed, more than the number knocked out by the best efforts of the Luftwaffe the previous year.

Most people under the cloud were wearing helmets or other head coverings, some even used saucepans to protect their heads from the larger lumps of falling rock. Some were injured when lava entered a water tank causing it to explode, and some were killed when their houses collapsed under the weight of the ash fall.

Reported casualties included some who died of asphyxia in the smog of ash and rock that formed afterwards, but within the 340th Bomb Group injuries were minimal apart from a few cuts and one man suffered a sprained wrist.

Image credits:
All the images came from this website, and the site owner has gotten together a huge collection from the eruption. If you want to see me then head there. I'd recommend you do.