Under the Red Eagle – 239 Wing DAF

Italy World War II
ISBN 1-903953-34-0
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by Frank Pearce
An eyewitness account of the activities of 239 Wing of the Desert Air Force in North Africa and Italy 1942-45

As a Member of the Headquarters Staff of 239 Wing during the Sicilian and Italian campaigns of World War II, the author was uniquely placed to record the history of the Wing's activities for posterity. His recollections contain a wealth of detail that provides a valuable resource for historians and researchers, although his compelling narrative is also an adventure story in its own right that can be enjoyed by any reader with an interest in the history of World War II. The book is illustrated with a number of excellent photographs from the author's own collection.

In this entertaining memoir Frank Pearce looks back on an eventful overseas tour of duty with the RAF in the Middle East, North Africa and Italy during World War Two. Along the way he had a wide variety of experiences, from the hair-raising to the hilarious – and he shares these with his readers in a well-written and entertaining narrative in which he vividly recaptures the sights, sounds and sensations of North Africa and Italy over 70 years ago.

His first posting was to Iraq with 24 Wireless Unit, a signals detachment sent to the region as part of a taskforce charged with protecting a vital oil pipeline from enemy attack. He gives a fascinating insight into the difficulties of operating in this country’s remote desert regions, now very much in the news again after a gap of 60 years. His unit was then posted to northern Persia (Iran), again as part of a force protecting vital oil reserves from a possible enemy attack. But soon he was on the move again – to the Western Desert to join the 8th Army.

After a spell at Western Desert HQ, Frank was posted yet again, this time to join  the headquarters staff of 239 Wing of the Desert Air Force, a unit he was to remain with for the rest of the war…

The largest wing in the Allied Air Forces, 239 Wing was primarily equipped with Curtis Kittihawks, augmented later with P-51 Mustangs. Its squadrons were a mix of British, South African and Australian airmen – Nos 3 and 450 squadrons RAAF, No.5 squadron SAAF and Nos. 112, 250 and 260 squadrons RAF.

Two invasions followed almost immediately after Frank joined the Wing; the first being the ‘Sicilian Slaughter’ and the second the Allied push into Italy.

Supporting the Eighth Army, the Wing moved slowly north up the Italian peninsula and on its way was involved in the Salerno landings, came under American ‘friendly fire’, bombed the Pescara Dam with resounding success, was involved in attacks on Cassino, entered Rome two days before the Normandy landings took place, detached squadrons to assist with the Southern France landings, and strafed and bombed various northern Italian towns, including the famous "Bowler Hat" operation to Venice harbour.

Frank documents the Wing’s progress with tales of their successes and failures and anecdotes about the many colourful characters with whom he served, paying tribute to their dogged determination in uncomfortable conditions during many tough military engagements.

Sadly, many of his colleagues would never return from Italy and it is to the memory of these brave men that Frank dedicates his book – those so-called "D-Day Dodgers" who, in fact, fought and won one of the toughest campaigns of the war.