The AACCS Naples Detachment of the Army Air Corps, 1943-1947.
Communications have been an integral part of the United States Air Force from its beginning in 1926, when the Army Air Corps was created from the Army Signal Corps. The early Army aviators were aware that the advent of radio offered the potential for air-to-ground and ground-to-air communication, but it was not until the 1930's that radio equipment for aircraft was developed to shield the equipment from engine interference, minimize its size and weight, and eliminate the danger of fire from inadequate wiring. In 1934, then Lt. Col. Henry H. (Hap) Arnold, led a flight of ten B-10 bombers on a round trip flight to Alaska from Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., demonstrating the dependability of newly developed radio equipment. More importantly, the flight demonstrated the Air Corps' need for airways communications dedicated to national defense requirements. Following his flight, Arnold advocated the establishment of a separate communications system for military aircraft. The system would provide point-to-point communications stations for the transmission of flight plans and operating orders, with any one of several stations capable at any time to establish radio contact with aircraft in flight. The network would also broadcast weather information and provide control for all arrival and departure traffic at military airfields.
Initially, the AACS was charged "with the operation of all fixed Air Corps radio facilities installed for the purpose of facilitating air traffic between Army Flying Fields in the Continental United States." Air-ground and ground-air contacts, point-to-point messages relating to the movement of aircraft, control of military air traffic, and the provision of navigational aids were among the new system's responsibilities.
This all changed with the advent of World War II and the resulting increase in Army Air Corps operations. For the AACS, its challenge was to establish a network of over 700 detachments providing fast and reliable communications connecting the United States to all theatres of operations. The resulting system provided unified command, centralized flight control, and flexibility in the employment of tactical aircraft. The system also accommodated the movement of ferried and transport aircraft along military airways and provided data on which dependable weather predications could be made. Radio and wire facilities circled the globe, providing point-to-point, air-to-ground and ground-to-air communication. Transmission of the human voice, homing signals for aircraft navigation and coded messages were also among the system's functions.
Each AACS detachment connected a variety of commands and theatres, in some instances reaching into forward areas of combat. These detachments varied in scope and complexity, but whatever their capability, it was each unit's officers, radio and teletype operators, cryptographers, equipment maintenance and control tower personnel and other support staff who were responsible for operating and maintaining an uninterrupted worldwide military communications system that was critical to the success of the nation's war effort. (1)
This is the story of one of these detachments, the Naples AACS Detachment at Capodichino Airfield, Italy. It was established as a temporary station in late 1943, but was destined to become a permanent Class A station, the largest and most important in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations (MTO). It was the first AACS detachment to be established on the European mainland.
Its story began in North Africa in late 1942, when the 18th AACS Squadron landed at Casablanca, French Morocco. The 18th Squadron had been activated in October 1942 at AACS Headquarters in Asheville, North Carolina and assigned to the Twelfth Air Force. Following the American invasion of North Africa on November 8, 1942, the 18th landed at Casablanca in December and established its headquarters at Algiers, with an operational detachment located at the Maison Blanche airport outside Algiers.
Maison Blanche was the main airfield for Twelfth Air Force units supporting the North African campaign against the German Afrika Corps. Its fighter and bomber groups operated from that location from November 1942 until July 1943. Maison Blanche was also a major hub for the Air Transport Command. In March 1943, the 18th Squadron was transferred from the Twelfth Air Force and placed under control of the AACS African Airways Communications Area. (2)
With the successful completion of the North African campaign, the American and British armies invaded Sicily on July 9, 1943, and by September 6 the 18th Squadron had located operational detachments at Palermo and Catania. On September 8, Italy and the Allies announced an armistice, the result of secret negotiations. The German army then occupied all of Italy. On September 9, American forces invaded the European mainland at Salerno and began their advance up the western side of the Italian Peninsula. They arrived in Naples on October 1 and by the twelfth the German defenses on the north bank of the Volturno River had been breached. The following day Italy declared war on Germany and was admitted into the United Nations as a co-belligerent.
As American and British forces continued their advance north, up the Italian Peninsula, the Twelfth Air Force was moving its fighters and bombers to the airfields of southern Italy. It was time for the 18th Squadron to establish its presence on the Italian mainland. The Squadron's first step was to locate a small detachment of communications specialists and equipment at Capodichino Airfield, located in the Naples suburb of San Pietro a Paterino on the main road north to Caserta and Rome. The group arrived there on November 30, 1943, on a flight in three C-47s from 18th Squadron headquarters at Algiers. The group was organized from the Squadron's smaller units; it included First Lt. Charles Moxley, MSgt. James Dalzell, station chief, TSgt. Richard Horton, cryptographer chief, TSgt. Fred Gereschied and Staff Sergeants Raymond Hammond, Charles Bennett and W. E. Williams, radio men, William Geiger, maintenance chief and cryptographers Cpl. David Fowley and Ralph Dawson and Pvt. Robert Nichols. First Lt. Joseph E. Ash, the detachment's commanding officer, had arrived in Naples several days earlier.
The Capodichino Airfield had served both Italian civil and military aviation and in early 1943, as many as 175 German and Italian military aircraft had been located there. Support facilities included hangars, repair shops, administrative buildings and personnel quarters. Despite having been heavily damaged by Allied bombers and having a grass runway the facility was considered capable of accommodating as many as 150 Twelfth Air Force aircraft. The field's proximity to the battle-front, then south of Rome, was an additional benefit despite its exposure to German air raids. The 18th Squadron's team was confronted with a challenging set of circumstances. Their generator equipment had been damaged on arrival; the only space available for installation and operation of their equipment was in the airfield's headquarters building. Although damaged by both Allied and German airstrikes, the building had been declared safe for occupancy. Windows had been blown out and replaced with temporary translucent coverings; at night, tar paper provided blackout covers as a precaution against German air raids. Anti-aircraft batteries ringed the field.
Operations and housing were located on the third floor. Initially, cryptography and radio were located in the same room, divided by blankets hung on a clothes line for security. Mess and shower facilities were provided by the 38th Repair Squadron, one of the several Twelfth Air Force units located at the Capodichino Airfield. (3)
Despite these primitive conditions, the Naples detachment was operational by December 3; its first communications were with 18th Squadron headquarters in Algiers. Over the next few months, the unit maintained reliable communications between the battlefront south of Rome and the rear areas in North Africa.
The unit's proximity to Naples provided little support. The citys railroad yards and port facilities had been heavily damaged by Allied bombing and when the Italian Resistance liberated the city September 27-30, the retreating German Army destroyed and booby trapped much of the city's infrastructure. By the time the American Fifth Army arrived, some 800,000 of Naples' citizens were without food and shelter and public health was an increasing problem. They were dependent on the Allies for survival.
Lt. Ash and his men were not alone in dealing with the damaged facilities at Capodichino. The Twelfth Air Force had been repairing the field and support facilities and mobilizing the personnel and equipment necessary to support the unit's combat operations. Perforated steel planking was installed i" to strengthen the grass runway and by early January 1944, the 79th Fighter Group was operating from Capodichino, including its 99th Fighter Squadron, one of the famed Tuskegee airmen squadrons. The 79th was joined by the 47th Bombardment Group and the 33d Fighter Group in March and April. By the end of May, the three units had moved north to provide closer support to the American Fifth Army and the British Eighth Army.
The Air Transport Command (ATC) initiated operations into the Naples area on March 7, 1944. Its first flight was into the Pomigiliano Airport northeast of Capodichino and was subjected to antiaircraft fire which fortunately was inaccurate. Thereafter, all operations were conducted from Capodichino and by June the base had become one of the two most important in the North African air transport system, the other being the base at Casablanca. (4)
Mt. Vesuvius, which had been inactive since 1926, erupted on March 18, continuing until the 23d. While readily apparent from Capodichino, the molten lava and ash resulting from the eruption had little impact on the airfield and its operations. The Twelfth Air Force base at Pompeii was not as fortunate. There the volcanic ash destroyed eighty-eight B-25s of the 340th Bomber Group.
Following the establishment of the Naples detachment, 18th Squadron continued to expand and, by early 1944, had established detachments at Bari and Foggia on the Italian mainland and on the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. When combined with its existing detachments in Sicily and North Africa, Squadron headquarters in Algiers found its command, control, and communications overextended. As a result, the African Airways Communications Area divided the 18th Squadron, creating the European Sector with headquarters in Naples. The new Sector was responsible for eight detachments, numbered as indicated: Palermo (eight) and Catania (nine), in Sicily, Naples (eleven), Bari (twelve) and Foggia (sixteen), in Italy, Cagliari (thirteen), in Sardinia and Ajaccio (fourteen) and Borgo (seventeen) in Corsica. (5)
Implementation of this organizational change had begun in January 1944, when Capt. Alfred C. Shephard, a veteran of AACS operations in northwest Africa was assigned to the European Sector. In February, Shephard made a preliminary survey of Naples and in the first week of March returned to the city and set up Sector headquarters in a villa at No. 8, Via Gian Domenico D' Auria in the Vomero district of Naples.
Captain Shephard's next task after establishing the European Sector's headquarters was to rebuild and strengthen the limited capabilities of the Naples detachment and convert it from a temporary facility to a Class A Station. In this assignment he was assisted by a twelve-man team from the U. S. Army Signal Corps' Army Communications Service Plant Engineering Agency (ACS-PEA).
During February and March, 1944, this team, led by Lt. Joseph J. Fortunato, engineered and installed the communications equipment required for the Naples detachment to implement its mission of providing communications from the battlefront to various Air Force commands throughout the Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MTO), to aid in the extension of air transport into Italy and beyond, to provide navigational aids, aircraft control and weather information and liaison with the Mediterranean Allied Air Force (MAA) headquarters at Caserta, Italy. Support of tactical air operations by the Twelfth and Fifteenth Air Forces was limited, principally to liaison projects. (6)
The permanent facility designed, constructed and equipped by Lieutenant Fortunato's ACS-PEA team at the Capodichino Airfield became the largest and most important AACS detachment in the MTO. The detachment's headquarters, point-to-point and air-to-ground radio operations, teletype equipment and cryptography machines were located in an existing multi-story building near the main entrance to the base. The building also provided housing for personnel and recreational facilities.
The ACS-PEA team also built and eqmpped the detachment's remote facilities. The control tower and radio transmitters building were located on the west side of the runway at the north end of the field. The radio receivers building and the radio range navigational aid were located off the field. Diesel generators provided the primary source of power for the headquarters building and the remote facilities. The Italian commercial system provided a limited backup source. (7)
The Naples detachment as a unit of the 18th Squadron's European Sector was short lived. On May 15, 1944, the world wide AACS organization was reorganized into wings, groups and squadrons. The 18th Squadron European Sector was designated the 58th Group and remained in Naples. Its higher headquarters was the 2d Wing located in Casablanca. The 58th Group included two squadrons, the 116th and the 117th, but only the 116th was activated on May 15. (8)
The 116th Squadron was commanded by Capt. Claude Waters with headquarters at Capodichino Airfield. The 116th inherited the European Sector's eight detachments. Naples became Detachment 5, with Joseph Ash remaining in command. Ash had been promoted to captain and was later reassigned to the States, with Captain Waters taking on the additional assignment of Detachment commander. The detachment's strength had increased significantly since its arrival in Italy and by May 15, 1944, it included four officers, a warrant officer, and ninety-one enlisted men. By the end of 1944, Captain Waters' detachment numbered eight officers and 129 enlisted men; the unit designation had been changed to Detachment 155. (9)
Detachment personnel included radio and teletype operators and mechanics, cryptographers, control tower operators, diesel and automotive mechanics, and clerks. Radio operations were conducted by voice or coded carrier wave (CW) procedures in sending and receiving air-to-ground and point-to-point messages. Teletype messaging was in code using land lines connecting 58th Group headquarters and its detachments. Cryptographic operations were located in a separate secure room and used machine cypher (SIGABA), board cypher (strip) and RAF movement (code) systems in coding and decoding messages. Radio mechanics staffed the detachment's remote transmitters, receivers and radio range stations. Aircraft arrivals and departures were controlled by voice or light gun instruction. Equipment for navigational aid and transmission and reception of all radio messaging was located in the remote facilities. It was the time of vacuum and cathode ray tubes, resistors, condensers, light guns, telegraph keys and manual typewriters.
One of the Naples Detachment's early assignments was to assist in the implementation of a concerted around the clock air assault on Germany, the Eighth and Fifteenth U.S. Air Forces by day, the RAF by night. Planning had begun in February 1944; its objective was to eliminate the Luftwaffe, cripple Germany's weapon production, and destroy the transportation network and oil fields in the German conquered areas of eastern Europe.
The assault was based on a "shuttle system" which would allow Eighth Air Force and RAF bombers from England to attack targets in eastern Germany and then fly on to the USSR, eliminating the long return flight through German air space back to England. In the USSR, these planes would be refueled and rearmed and fly to bases in southern Italy, bombing enemy targets in Austria, the Balkans and southern Germany along the way, From Italy, the Allied bombers would reverse the route. The Fifteenth Air Force would operate from Italy to the USSR to England and then reverse their route.
Critical to the plan was a reliable radio navigational-weather data network to guide the bombers to their targets and bases in England, the USSR and Italy. The AACS was responsible for building and operating this triangular network. Two corners of the network were in place: a detachment of the 24th AACS Squadron at Widewing, near London in England, and the Naples detachment at Capodichmo. The Soviet corner of the triangle was located at Poltava, north of Moscow. This station had been established by a team of AACS and ACS-PEA personnel. By May 1944, communications had been established between the three stations. (10)
The first shuttle mission was launched on June 2, 1944. Lt. Gen. Ira C. Eaker, commanding the MAAF, led four Fifteenth Air Force Groups of B-17's, escorted by P-51s, on a mission to bomb the railroad yards at Debrecan, Hungary, continuing on to Poltava. On June 6, Eaker's mission left Poltava, bombing the airfield at Galatz, Romania, on its return to Italy.
The Eighth Air Force flew its first shuttle mission from England on June 21, 1944; 114 B-17s, escorted by seventy P-51s, bombed a synthetic oil plant south of Berlin and proceeded to Poltava. An undetected German aircraft followed the American planes. Later that night, the Luftwaffe bombed and strafed the Poltava airfield, destroying forty-three B-17s and fifteen P-51s, igniting ammunition dumps and 450,000 gallons of gasoline. The next night the Germans raided other secret shuttle airfields at Poltava.
Although later shuttle bombing missions were generally unsuccessful, the Naples detachment continued to provide critical weather and communications to the American and British air forces until the shuttle bombing system was cancelled in late 1944. (11)
Naples Detachment personnel were never confronted with the dangers and hardships endured by the soldiers of the Fifth Army in their torturous advance up the Italian Peninsula against strong resistance by the German army. Other than the threat of German air raids, their only contact with combat operations was the constant movement of trucks on the highway passing Capodichino Airfield, carrying men and supplies to the front at Monte Cassino. Monte Cassino was the anchor of the German Gustav Line defenses where the Fifth Army advance had been halted in December 1943. Sounds of the fighting there could be heard at Capodichino until May 15, 1944, when the Allies broke through the Gustav Line. When the Fifth Army broke out of the Anzio beachhead four days later, the Germany army, escaped being trapped by the two forces and began a slow retreat north to the new Gothic defense line, stretching across the Italian peninsula from Pisa on the west coast to Rimini on the east coast. There, in late September, 1944, the Germans halted the advance of the Fifth Army and the British Eighth Army, Thereafter military activity was limited by winter weather until the spring of 1945.
In addition to their concern for the combat forces along the Gothic Line, AACS personnel at Capodichino and Group headquarters in the Vomero were concerned for the people of Naples as they suffered through the winter of 1944-45. The 58th Group historian described conditions in the city in the following manner. "Walking in the streets was dangerous; walls of gutted buildings collapsed without warning. Shabby figures lay stretched in alleyways, dying from hunger and exposure. The city was filled with refugees from the war zone, with their pitiful carts full of household goods. On the heels of this dislocation of life came a threat of typhus. For three months the city became "off limits" to all outside troops. AACS was not included in this restriction. Thus, our men caught glimpses of official "dusters," armed with blowers and stationed at important intersections, spraying civilians daily with white anti-typhus powder." It was a heart-wrenching situation for many of the American soldiers stationed in the Naples area.
Throughout 1944, the men of Detachment 155 had handled an ever increasing volume of messages connecting the battlefront with the MAAF headquarters at Caserta and higher AACS headquarters in Naples, Casablanca, and Asheville. The major increase in these operations was the result of the ATC's expansion of its services into the areas liberated by the Allied armies. Beginning in June 1944, Capodichino became a major transshipment hub for ATC cargo and passenger operations in the MTO. During that month almost 12,000 passengers passed through the base, many using the three daily flights scheduled into Rome. In July, this schedule was increased to five daily flights. By September, ATC was flying into Marseilles and in mid-November regularly scheduled flights were initiated between Capodichino and Athens. ATC service also extended into England, with flights scheduled through Paris, Marseilles, Rome, Capodichino, Athens, to Cairo. In early 1945, Capodichino became the starting point for limited service through Bari to cities liberated by the Soviet armies, Belgrade, Bucharest, Tirana and Sofia. In addition, a twice weekly direct flight was made to Budapest. (12)
The Naples Detachment's capabilities continued to be upgraded during late 1944 and early 1945. Four radio teletype channels, twelve point-to-point frequencies and three air-to-ground channels were in operation. The air-to-ground operating position had been improved and the aircraft distress frequency was being monitored on a 24-hour basis. Two new generators were installed at the headquarters building, replacing existing generators which had become unreliable. Italian commercial power remained available for emergency use.
The Detachment's code and radio rooms were the proving ground for all new equipment developed by the Signal Corps and adopted by the 58th Group. In August, the first radio teletype equipment was placed on line, connecting Naples and Algiers, and, in December, new type teleprinters were installed on the Foggia circuit. To accommodate an increase in radio teletype transmissions to France, the ACS-PEA installed a rhombic antenna array at the Remote Transmitters station. Receiving antenna at the Remote Receivers station were replaced to provide optimum reception. The Detachment's experience with both landline and radio teletype equipment and operations set the pattern for detachment operations throughout the 116th and 117th Squadrons. The 116th had added stations at Caserta, MAAF headquarters, and Athens. Its sister squadron, the 117th, had become operational in June 1944, and by the end of 1944, it had stations at Rome's Ciampino airport, Pisa, Florence and had inherited the 116th's stations at Borgo in Corsica and Cagliari in Sardinia. (13)
The surrender of Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945, led to major reductions in the size, composition and capability of the U.S. Army Air Corps in the ETO and MTO. Plans were made to transfer many units to the Pacific to assist in the war against Japan. Other units were to be disbanded and personnel levels reduced as Air Corps operations transitioned from combat to occupation.
In May, the Detachment assisted in handling the communications for the men and planes being deployed to the U.S. via Casablanca and in the operation of the aircraft salvage dump at Cercola, two miles from the Capodichino Airfield. That same month the Naples detachment became one corner of a triangular teletype and facsimile network connecting Caserta and Pomigalino for the operation and maintenance of a teletype and facsimile network for transmission of weather maps. The following month, Naples supported the Bari detachment in relaying teletype communications in the redeployment of Fifteenth Air Force Liberators and Flying Fortresses from the Gioia Airfield at Foggia to the Pacific. (14)
The surrender of Japan in mid-August 1945, led to major changes in the plans to transfer units to the Pacific. The MAAF had been dissolved on July 31, its functions taken over by a new command, the Army Air Forces in the MTO. This command was discontinued on October 1, 1945, and its activities placed under a new command, the United States Air Forces in Europe. Formed on August 16, 1945, its headquarters were located in Wiesbaden, Germany. (15)
These changes in the Air Force command structure naturally impacted the 58th Group, its squadrons and detachments. The 58th Group had been transferred from the 2d Wing at Casablanca to the 5th Wing in Wiesbaden on June 1, 1945. The Naples detachment was redesignated Detachment 605 on July 1, remaining a part of the 116th Squadron. The location of Group and Squadron headquarters were unchanged.
The transfer to the 5th Wing resulted in several inefficiencies, the most significant being the impact on cryptographic operations. The majority of coded traffic at Naples used the RAF Movement which was not held by the 5th Wing. This required Naples to substitute the more complex Sigaba and Strip systems, resulting in delays in processing coded traffic.
Despite the minor inconveniencies experienced in the changeover to the new command structure in Wiesbaden, the volume of ATC passenger and cargo traffic through Capodichino to and from Europe and the Balkan countries was largely unchanged. The Naples Detachment experienced little change in its workload, operational efficiencies and staffing levels. The services provided by the Detachment were even increased with the addition in late June, 1945, of an aircraft control center at Capodichino. The center used the Detachment's air-to-ground and voice communications facilities and was operated from the control tower on the radio range frequency. (16)
This situation changed drastically in mid-August, 1945, when the Air Corps implemented its post war demobilization policy, giving first priority to the discharge of its most experienced and expert men, continuing until March 1946, when men with two years' service were scheduled for discharge. The loss of the more experienced and expert men compromised the effectiveness of every Air Corps unit, none more so than in the Naples detachment. (17)
The exodus of the Detachment's senior staff began in September 1945, with their replacements beginning to arrive in November. These men, though trained and qualified in the different AACS communications disciplines, lacked operational experience. Many were scheduled for discharge in March 1946, when they had completed two years' service. The brief interval between their arrival and the exodus of the senior staff left insufficient time for adequate on-the-job training in the Detachment's ongoing operations.
The exodus of experienced personnel continued into June as the remainder of the experienced staff reached the two-year service level and were returned to the U.S. for discharge. Their replacements, scheduled for discharge in the fall of 1946, had arrived in February and, like their predecessors, were trained in AACS technical disciplines, but lacked practical experience.
As a result of the Air Corp's demobilization policy, the number of personnel who arrived between September 1945 and June 1946, were never sufficient to offset the departure of the more experienced men. By mid-June 1946, there were only twenty-seven men on the Detachment's permanent roster, which in September 1944, had numbered nearly 170 officers and men. It was a critical situation. Double shills and no weekend passes were the order of the day.
Several experienced communications technicians joined the Detachment at this time. They were veterans who had decided to remain in Italy as civilians following their discharge or had reenlisted in the Air Corps. Their expertise and experience with the operation and maintenance of control tower, teletype and diesel generator operations were invaluable in alleviating the unit's lack of numbers and experience.
In addition to the continuing loss of its more experienced men, the Detachment faced other challenges. The most significant was the lack of stability in the Detachment's postwar leadership. Between June 1945 and October 1946, there were thirteen different commanding officers, the majority serving for only one month. There were also equipment problems. Following the German surrender, the Air Corps cancelled many procurement contracts and replacement of all types of communications equipment from vacuum tubes to teletype machines to diesel generators had become a serious problem. Detachment personnel devised many unique and imaginative repairs to worn out equipment or, when all else failed, they turned to the old Army procurement method of scrounging or requisitioning from unofficial sources.
That the Detachment was able to continue to operate successfully during the postwar period was a testament to the diligence and dedication of the young replacements in maintaining and upholding the unit's tradition of providing timely and reliable communications for its many users.
The constant changes in the U.S. Army Air Corps command structure in 1946, extended from major commands to the smallest unit, including the Naples Detachment. In February, Rome, Athens, Vienna and Marseilles were designated the 58th Group's major communications centers. As part of a plan for the orderly liquidation of surplus property, the Naples Detachment, once the aristocrat of the 58th Group, and those at Pisa and Foggia, were relegated to a lesser responsibility and included with the facilities to be sold at a later date to the Italian government through the Foreign Liquidation Commission. (18)
On March 21, the Air Corps was reorganized with the ATC designated as one of its eight major commands. The AACS lost its status as a separate command and was assigned to the ATC as the Air Communications Service (ACS). (19)
The 116th Squadron was relocated from Naples to Vienna on June 6. The Naples and Foggia detachments were then reassigned to the 117th Squadron headquartered in Rome. The 117th's other detachments were Rome Ciampino (702), Pisa (703), Poretta in Corsica (707) and Madrid (727). Naples was designated Detachment 725 and Foggia 724. (20) Naples Remote Receivers station was closed and all radio teletype operations terminated. The Detachment's teletype transmitters were shut down and the point-to-point transmitters were reduced from twelve to three. The hourly broadcast of the latest Capodichino weather continued and the radio range, control tower, teletype landlines and air-to-ground operations remained in operation. (21)
Even with a reduced capability, the Detachment continued to provide reliable communications services to the ATC passenger and cargo operations at Capodichino. In July 1946, the demand for the Detachment's services increased when the European Air Transport Service (EATS) established its headquarters and operational and maintenance facilities at Capodichino for its Mediterranean operations. The EATS had been formed October 1, 1945, from the squadrons of the 51st Troop Carrier Wing to operate passenger and cargo services for the Army of Occupation. It was deactivated on September 30, 1946.
EATS services in the Mediterranean were provided by the 51st Wing's 305th Troop Carrier Squadron. From its base at Capodichino, the 305th connected Vienna, Udine, Pisa and Rome. The 305th was not exactly welcomed with open arms when its personnel settled into the lower floors of the Detachment's building. Despite this rocky beginning, the two units developed a mutual respect for each others operations, often evidenced by less than formal communications between the control tower operators and the 305th's pilots. Each was likely unaware of the potential danger involved in the flights between Udine in northern Italy and Vienna where their flight plans carried them close to communist Yugoslavian airspace. The danger became a reality when Yugoslavian fighters shot down a 305th C-47 on August 9 and another on August 19. The first reaction at Capodichino was for the safety of the two aircraft crews, which later turned to anger when it was learned that while the pilot of the August 9 flight was able to land his plane safely in Yugoslavia, he, his crew, and passengers were imprisoned before being released. Sadly, all members of the August 19 flight were killed. As a result of these two incidents, EATS cancelled all flights between Udine and Vienna. (22)
Capodichino aircraft control operations were overwhelmed later that month when the aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived in Naples as part of a Mediterranean goodwill tour by the U.S. Sixth Fleet to show the flag and to later cruise to Piraeus outside Athens to support pro-western forces being opposed by the communists in the ongoing civil war in Greece. Before docking at Naples, the carrier's full complement of aircraft was sent to Capodichino were they remained until the FDR departed. The Navy pilots and their high performance Corsairs, Avengers, and Hellcats offered new challenges for the Detachment's tower operators. Despite uncoordinated radio frequencies and failure to observe light gun controls, the Navy planes arrived and departed without accident.
August 1946, marked the beginning of the end of the American military mission in Italy and the Mediterranean. The first evidence of the planned sale of many Air Corps facilities to the Italian government was the assignment of four Italian soldiers to Remote Transmitters for training in Air Corps communications operations. Success of the training was marginal, principally due to the language barrier. (23)
On September 11, 1946, the command designation of the Naples Detachment was changed from ACS (Air Communication Service) back to AACS (Airways and Air Communication Service). The Detachment's numerical designation was not changed. At the same time, the men who had arrived as replacements in February began to depart for the U.S. and discharge. Their replacements were three-year Regular Army enlistees, increasing the Detachments strength to seventy men.
By the end of 1946, negotiations were underway for signing the Peace Treaty with Italy, scheduled for February 10, 1947. The Treaty, the result of the Paris Peace Conference which had been in session from July 29 until October 15, 1946, required that "all armed forces of the Allies and Associated Powers shall be withdrawn from Italy as soon as possible and in any case not later than ninety days from the coming into force of the present Treaty." (24)
Well in advance of treaty requirements, the Naples Detachment, together with the 117th AACS Squadron's detachments at Rome Ciampino, Pisa, Poretta, Foggia, and Madrid, were deactivated on March 15, 1947.
The Air and Airways Communications Service mission in Italy had ended and the AACS Naples Detachment at Capodichino Airfield, like so many of the United States Army Air Corps' World War II units, large and small, heralded, and obscure, each faithful to its mission, had passed into the "wild blue yonder."
Commanding Officers, Naples Detachment 116th Squadron Nov. 1943-Jun. 1944 1st. Lt./Capt. Joseph A. Ash Jul. 1944-Mar. 1945 Capt. Claude G. Waters Jun-45 Capt. Mario F. Guarcello Jul.-Aug. 1945 Capt. Herbert M. Pasewalk Sep. 1945-Oct. 1945 Capt. Lewis A. Pitruzzello Nov-45 1st. Lt. Charles H. Peters, Jr. (acting) Dec-45 1st. Lt. Roger H. Cough Jan.-Feb. 1946 1st. Lt. Abraham 1. Perl Mar-46 1st. Lt. Wilbur W Mears Apr-46 1st. Lt. Robert E. Clark (acting) May-46 1st. Lt. Gardiner W Spring 117th Squadron Jun-46 1st. Lt. Jerome A. Wetter Jul-46 2d. Lt. Robert A. Maddux Aug-46 1st. Lt. Merle A. Schultz Sep-46 1st. Lt. Paul E. Mulrenin
The writer acknowledges with thanks the advice and assistance of Colonel J. A. Saavedra, USAF (Ret.), Office of Air Force History, Washington, D. C. in making this brief history possible.
(1.) Craven, Wesley Frank, and James Lea Cate, Eds., The Army Air Forces in World War II, Volume Seven, Services Around the World, (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1958) pp. 339-42.
(2.) Ibid. p. 359.
(3.) 59th Group Histories, 15 May-31 Aug. 1944, pp. 37, 38.
(4.) Craven and Cate, pp. 84, 85.
(5.) 18th Squadron History, April, 1944, p. 15; Craven and Cate, p. 360.
(6.) 58th Group Histories, 15 May-31 Aug. 1944, p. 11; 18th Squadron History, April 1944, pp. 16, 17.
(7.) Dodds, Lloyd B., History of Plant Engineering Agency, Army Communications Service, Signal Corps, United States Army, 1941-1946, (Carlisle, Pa.: U.S. Army Military History Institute, 1946), pp. 333-37; Thompson, George Raynor, Harris, Dixie R.; United States Army in World War II, The Technical Services, The Signal Corps: The Outcome (Mid-1943 Through 1945), (Washington, D.C.; Center of Military History, 1966), p. 602.
(8.) Craven and Cate, pp. 346, 347, 360; 58th Group Histories, 15 May-31 Aug. 1944, pp. 6, 31, 34.
(9.) 58th Group Histories, 15 May-31 Aug. 1944, pp. 34, 38.
(10.) Shores, Louis, Major; Highways in the Sky, The Story of the AACS, (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1947), pp. 174-76.
(11.) Russell, Edward T., Leaping the Atlantic Wall, Army Air Force Campaigns in Western Europe, 1942-1945, (Washington, D.C.: Air Force History and Museums Program, 1999), p. 28.
(12.) Craven and Cate, pp. 85, 109.
(13.) 58th Group Histories, 15 May-31 Aug. 1944, p. 30; Dec.-May 1945, pp. 36, 37.
(14.) 58th Group Histories, Dec.-May 1945, p. 5; June 1945, p. 3.
(15.) Craven and Cate, p. 573.
(16.) 58th Group Histories, June 1945, pp. 4, 5.
(17.) Craven and Cate, pp. 566-69.
(18.) 58th Group Histories, 1 April-30 June, 1946, p. 4.
(19.) Craven and Cate, p. 576.
(20.) 58th Group Histories, 1 April-30 June 1946, pp. 5, 6.
(21.) 725th Detachment Histories, June 1946, pp. 14, 15.
(22.) New York Times, August 21, 1946; Chicago Tribune Press Service; 58th Group Histories, 1 July-30 September, 1946, p. 2.
(23.) 58th Group Histories, 1 October-31 December 1946, p. 6.
(24.) Paris Peace Treaty, Part V, Article 73; 5th Wing History, 1 July-30 September, 1946, p. 34.
John R. Hildebrand of Salem, Virginia, was assigned to the Naples Detachment from February until October, 1946. During that period he was promoted to sergeant and served as NCOIC of the Remote Transmitters station. Hildebrand is a retired civil engineer, a 1950 graduate of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Blacksburg, Virginia. After forty-one years as a consulting engineer, retirement afforded the opportunity to examine the history of Virginia and the larger events surrounding his military service in the US. Army Air Corps, including the organization and country in which he served.
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|Title Annotation:||Army Airways Communications Service|
|Author:||Hildebrand, John R.|
|Publication:||Air Power History|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2013|
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