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USAAF Tactical Ground Attack in Southern Europe

The 12th Air Force was the U.S. Army Air Forces' tactical arm in southern Europe from 1943 to the end of the war in 1945. The 12th Air Force played a key role in the success of the four major amphibious landings in southern Europe and in breaking the enemy's entrenched defensive lines in Italy.

Twelfth Air Force fighter-bombers and medium bombers supported the Allied invasions of Sicily in July 1943 (Operation HUSKY), the Italian mainland at Salerno in September 1943 (Operation AVALANCHE), and at Anzio (Operation SHINGLE). At Anzio, strong counterattacks by enemy ground forces nearly pushed the Allies off the beachhead. Heavy air attacks by both tactical and strategic aircraft helped relieve the desperate situation.

In March 1944 Operation STRANGLE aimed to cut off supply to the enemy's Gustav Line from the air. The enemy's rail net was destroyed, and the trucks they relied upon were easy targets for 12th Air Force fighter-bombers. Starved of fuel, ammunition and reinforcements, the Gustav Line collapsed and Rome fell.

In August 1944 the 12th Air Force supported Operation DRAGOON, the invasion of southern France. After the landing, they smashed enemy columns as they retreated northward -- in one spot, more than 2,000 destroyed enemy vehicles clogged up a stretch of road.

Twelfth Air Force air crews continued to wreak havoc on enemy troops and the transportation system, helping to break the Gothic Line in the fall of 1944 and to achieve victory in the final Italian ground offensive in April 1945. On May 2, 1945, German forces in Italy surrendered unconditionally.

Click on the following links to learn more about tactical ground attack in southern Europe during WWII.

Steadfast to the End: 1st Lt. Raymond L. Knight
Lt. Anthony Savoca Uniform
Lt. Max Lewis Uniform

Click here to return to the Tactical Strike Overview.


Find Out More
Other Resources
USAF Historical Study No. 37: 9th and 12th AF in the Sicilian Campaign (Provided by AFHRA)
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