Escape from Vesuvius

In October 1943 the Allies liberated the area around the infamous volcano in the Bay of Naples. Its sudden eruption in March 1944, as war in Italy raged, stretched the resources of the combined services to the limit. What followed was an exemplary emergency operation.

Vesuvius is best known for the lives of the Romans it claimed in AD 79, when Pompeii and other southern Italian towns were engulfed by the volcano. Less well known is the smaller but nevertheless destructive eruption of March 1944 when the Bay of Naples, which the volcano dominates, was under Anglo-American control following the successful Allied invasion of Italy in September 1943.

Over a period of more than a week, falling volcanic ash inflicted a heavier loss of US Air Force planes than the Japanese at Pearl Harbor and parts of surrounding towns were destroyed. But the death toll was kept to a minimum thanks to the efforts of Allied personnel and by one man in particular, US army officer, Lieutenant-Colonel (James) Leslie Kincaid. He coordinated the evacuation, then the rehousing of more than 13,000 people, as well as the subsequent rebuilding of communities threatened with starvation by ash-covered fields of crops. It was an excellent example of crisis management.

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