While many people remember Mount Vesuvius for its massive eruption in 79 AD, where it decimated Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, and Stabiae, the active volcano has caused plenty of damage throughout history, especially since it has erupted in the last 100 years.
After the Allies invaded Sicily in 1943, they moved into Italy. They began at Salerno on the beaches and moved to the north into Naples. However, the northern Italians put up a fight that stalled the Allies’ forward progress. But, they were not prepared for a non-military challenge.
Mount Vesuvius began spewing lava on March 17, 1944, and the waves came down the western side of the mountain heading in the direction of Naples. Telltale signs of an eruption began to show, such as cinders and smoke coming out of the top of the volcano, followed by the ground shaking.
According to a New York Times writer, “the sound was exactly like artillery fire.” Within two days, he updated the advance, saying it was “smashing through San Sebastiano and Massa di Somma on a broadening, though generally slowing, front, the Vesuvian lava flow tonight had resulted in the evacuation of this town of 7,000 two miles to the northwest.”
Due to the war, the Italian government was in no condition to help its people, so the U.S. military stepped in. They evacuated the citizens who were in direct danger.
The military was able to evacuate 12,000 civilians, but 26 lost their lives in the ordeal. The 2007 Journal of Historical Geography called the military effort during the evacuation, saying, “despite all the problems of wartime, management of the emergency by Allied Control Commission was both impressive at the time and holds important lessons about the manner in which eruptions may be handled in the future.”
The military did not lose any personnel in the eruption. However, they did lose some equipment. The 340th Bombardment Group was stationed with their B-25 Mitchell bombers at Pompeii Airfield.
Since the lava was flowing on the mountain’s western side, they did not evacuate. But, the lava flow shifted, coming down their side of the mountain on March 21st.
All military personnel was evacuated from Pompeii, taking shelter in a tobacco shed at an airfield close by. When they returned, they discovered between 78 and 88 bombers were lost and their tents destroyed, totaling $25 million in damages.