|Haystack for scale!|
On April 18th 1943, which was also Palm Sunday, a large flight of Ju 52's (around sixty five in number) was returning from unloading its supplies in Tunisia. I say around as some of these planes were Italian SM.79 bombers that had been pressed into the transport role. The swarm of transports was at just 100 ft as it plodded home late in the day. As they neared the coast they were spotted by allied fighters, 47 P-40 Kittyhawks of the USAAF's 57th Fighter Group were at 4000 feet, and dove onto the vulnerable transports. Some reports say that passengers opened windows and fired small arms at the attackers. However this could have just been normal defensive guns or the SM.79's firing back.
In a very short order thirty one Ju 52's were hacked out of the sky, with a further three being badly damaged, six damaged, and finally three just lightly damaged. One account says that large sections of the sea were a raging inferno from so many crashed Ju 52's. There's also reports that some passengers waited until the plane was near the sea before jumping, hoping to survive.
The next attempt at an air bridge was the following day, this time the Me 323's were into the breech. However this time the mission went off without an enemy contact.
As the lumbering giants approached Cap Bon on the Tunisian coast the Allied air forces appeared. The mix of South African, Polish and British piloted Spitfires and Kittyhawks appeared in two groups. One engaged the fighters, forcing them away, the others swarmed into the all but defenceless Me 323's. Most were shot down in very short order, with several pilots claiming multiple kills.
This massacre caused the halt of the German relief efforts, although a "gunship" version of the Me 323 was envisaged bristling with guns to provide cover for the transports. Allied intelligence had been the key. A spy in Italy had a radio transmitter hidden in a church tower and from there he could see the German transports taking off. As he radioed that message through to the Allies there was a short space of time before the German giants would appear near Tunisia, and so the Allies could be waiting for them. On the day of the Me 323's last flight, the radio transmitter was discovered, but by then it was too late.
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