Image: via War Wings Art
It was 1944 and the Second World War was raging. In Italy, American airmen were stationed at Pompeii Airfield when the debris started falling, but this was no ordinary wartime air raid. The cinder and rock dropping from the sky were being sent forth by the volcano dominating the horizon: Mount Vesuvius. Overhead, bombers wheeled in the air, their pilots’ minds turning from the threat of flack to an altogether more pervasive menace – but the damage the planes would be dealt was on the ground.
It must have seemed like the earth’s own call to arms in the face of the devastation taking place all around, and to the drafted witnesses it was difficult to describe. Some servicemen likened the mountain’s earthshaking eruption to bombs going off – ironic given the chronic danger of real shells exploding – while others evoked thunder to express the tremendous roaring noise made by the ground quaking. All comparisons to acts of both man and nature seemed to fail.
Image: NARA via War Wings Art
The signs were there during the opening months of 1944. Small lava flows appeared at the rim of the great volcano, with small outflows of the molten rock. Still, the enlisted men would have little known what was coming, and the volcano fell quiet through the end of February and first half of March. Then, on March 18, following a battery of smaller explosions over several days, Vesuvius erupted.