An excerpt from ...

'AT WAR IN ITALY 1943-1945,
TRUE ADVENTURES
IN ENEMY TERRITORY'

by Malcolm Tudor
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Secret Air Missions

In September 1944 the partisans had liberated a large area of the Langhe, north-west of Mondoví, between the rivers Tanaro and Bormida. On 10 October the Autonomi forced the surrender of the Fascist garrison in the hill town of Alba, now best known for its annual white truffle fair. Garibaldi and Justice and Liberty partisans helped the independents to defend the citadel. But on 2 November the enemy counter-attacked in force, crossed the Tanaro River and re-occupied the town.
     Mopping up operations continued in the rest of the liberated zone. The German 34th Division and Republican units engaged the partisans along the banks of the river, drawn there by two daylight airdrops of multicoloured parachutes on 11 and 12 November.
     At the height of the fighting, 'Major Temple' was killed as a result of a tragic accident on the 15th. He was aged 31. The CLN of Piedmont paid tribute to the agent in a special order of the day addressed to all partisan groups. General Pensa recalled: 'We had lost a brave officer and a great friend.'
     The next day, 'Major Mauri' made a personal call for help to the head of SOE in Italy, Commander Gerard Holdsworth in Monopoli. He relayed the request to Major Macintosh at forward headquarters (TAC HQ) near Florence. A special flight was then ordered to check on the safety and viability of the new airfield.
     At 8.30pm on 17 November a single-engined Westland Lysander army support aircraft landed successfully on Excelsior. The plane left fully laden for the south with a wounded man and two members of a British mission on board. The pilot reported that the Germans had sent in Tiger tanks. A colonel in command of one of the attacking regiments had been killed in desperate fighting.
     Early on the morning of 19 November, a B-25 Mitchell bomber and eight P-47 Thunderbolt fighters took off for Vesime from the 12th USAAF's base near Florence. The aim of Operation Blanche was to insert new agents and evacuate other personnel including downed airmen and escaped prisoners of war.
     The Mitchell was flown by a Texan lieutenant colonel. He was accompanied by the Lysander pilot. His role was to locate the tanks so that they could be attacked by six of the Thunderbolts. The planes reached the airfield without incident…
     When the aircraft taxied to the take-off position and the colonel opened the door, he was faced by more than 30 people waiting to board. At the time the enemy was engaging partisans on the perimeter of the field. The pilot finally admitted the maximum number of passengers he could pack into the aircraft - 13 - and took off, a dangerous manoeuvre in the circumstances. Those on board, according to the general, included the crew of two American bombers hit by flack and saved by the partisans, British agents, Lieutenant Giacomino Murgia who was on an assignment to the south, and a Polish informer.
     When he was safely back in Florence, the pilot told Major Macintosh what had happened:

    It was hell. The ground was soft from the rains and I didn't think the old kite would make it over the hill at the other end. We slowly picked up speed and I could not try and take her off until the very end. I pulled the stick back and she came off the ground shuddering and about to stall. Luckily, we just cleared the hill and I rammed the stick forward to pick up some speed, nearly hit the trees, pulled back once more as we shaved them. Then we were away.

     The co-pilot added that as the aircraft cleared the trees his colleague had said: 'Thank you, God. I'll take over now.'

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