importnace of Panteleria Island resulted
from its location. It was right in the middle
of the Mediterranean Sea being 53 miles to
the east of Tunisia and 63 miles to the
southwest of the island was Sicily.
a result of a strategic decision made at the Casablanca
Conference in January, 1943, the invasion of Sicily
had been scheduled for July. But before such an invasion
could safely be launched, the Allied Commander-inChief,
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, felt that the Italian
outpost island of Pantelleria (and three smaller islands
to the south, Lampedusa, Lampione and Linosa) would
have to be taken.The result would be allied control
of the Sicilian strait. The operation was called Operation
CORKSCREW. The importnace of Panteleria Island resulted
from its location. It was right in the middle of the
Mediterranean Sea being 53 miles to the east of Tunisia
and 63 miles to the southwest of the island was Sicily.
a little over eight miles long and five miles wide with
lies fifty three miles southeast of Cap Bon, Tunisia,
and sixty three miles southwest of Sicily. A volcanic
island, it commands the passage connecting the eastern
and western basins of the Mediterranean and serves as
a stepping stone to Sicily and to the Italian Mainland.
by many to be an impregnable military fortress, Pantelleria
was studded with heavy gun emplacements and well-concealed
batteries. Indeed, Aerial reconnaissance over the 42-square
mile rock island revelaed more than 100 gun emplacements,
embedded in rock or concrete. It had a garrison of some 10,000 troops.
enemy had Freya radio direction finder stations on Pantelleria
with enough range to detect Allied planes taking off
from North African airfields. Those stations would prevent
tactical surprise for any Sicilian invasion. The Island
held an estimated eighty German and Italian fighter
planes on its Marghana
Airfield, along with a number of bombers. Its various
coves and grottoes sheltered motor torpedo boats and
submarines that would pose a serious threat to an Allied
in the hands of the enemy, Pantellena constituted a
grave menace to our Sicilian operation.
the other hand, the capture of the Island and its airfield
would provide an excellent base for Allied fighters
to protect our shipping and to furnish close support
for our landing forces on Sicily.
early May, 1943, plans to take Pantelleria had been
drawn up under the code name Operation CORKSCREW. An
amphibious assault was set for June 11th
before the enemy surrender in Tunisia on May 13th, Northwest
African Air Force (NAAF) attacks began against Pantelleria
and continued throughout that month on an increasing
scale. Fighter-bombers, mediums and heavies pounded
away at the Island's defenses.
and Demos Explode on Marghana Field
began by wrecking the airfield, destroying numerous
aircraft on the ground. Then they sank the ships in
the harbor. This done, they attacked the gun emplacements
one by one. A complete air blockade against supply and
reinforcement was accomplished.
June 7th, the aerial attacks went on around the clock
and a naval bombardment also began. With the weight
of bombs gradually stepped up each day, the NAAF delivered
its knockout punch June 10th following the refusal of
the Island's garrison to respond to demands for surrender.
day more bombs were dropped on Pantelleria than had
been dropped during the entire month of April on all
enemy targets in Tunisia, Sicily, Sardinia and Italy
put together.The Army Air Forces official history described
how "wave after wave of bombers swept over former
Tunisian battlefields and out across the Mediterranean."
Observers were "struck by the power of the aerial
weapon which the allies had forged."
Coastal Gun Positions Under Attack
1100 Hours on the morning of the 11th, with our assault
force off-shore, a terrific pre-invasion bombing silenced
the last of the Island's batteries. A final pounding
was delivered to the Pantelleria harbor area. "Suddenly
the whole harbor area appeared to rise and hang in midair,
while smoke and dust billowed high, dwarfing Montagna
Grande, Pentelleerias's tallest peak." Soon thereafter,
Allied planes spotted a white cross on the airfield.
Shortly after noon,
Vice Adm. Gino Pavesi, the Military Governor, surrendered
Pantelleria and British troops landed unopposed.
Axis Plantes at Marghana Field
Pantelleria harbor facilities had been badly damaged
and the town itself practically destroyed. Water mains
were broken, road were obliterated and electricity plus communcations
were cut off. The Marghana airfield was cratered and
except for two aircraft, all of the 80-plus aircraft
had been destroyed or damaged.
air offensive against Pantelleria was the heaviest concentrated
bombing, both in weight of explosives and number of
sorties, delivered against a single Axis target up to
that time. Surrender of the Island, after the aerial
assault rising in crescendo had battered it into submission,
marked the first instance of strongly-defended enemy
territory being conquered solely from the air in the
absence of an accompanying ground invasion.
The precision with which the operation was carried out
caused CORKSCREW to be considered a military classic.
bombing of Pantelleria was an effective
demonstration of what airpower could achieve.
It set the pattern for a strategy of increasingly
intensive air and naval bombardment to pave
the way for land forces