Korsika - The raids on Borgo-Poretta and Alesani from the German perspective
On the night of May 12, 1944 and the morning of May 13, 1944 the Luftwaffe dealt a devastating 1 -2 punch to the air bases at Borgo-Poretta and Alesani. Hitting the first one at about 10:00 PM then coming back a few hours later to hit the second target. The Allies were totally surprised and suffered heavy losses in men, material and airplanes.
My father, like the other headquarters staff and the ground crews enjoyed the luxury of being 100 miles behind the Allied battle lines during the war. But this was one night when the war was delivered to their doorstep. It was the most intense action my father experienced during his entire time overseas. The effects of the raid were considered to be a military secret and the soldiers were forbidden to speak about it to anyone. However, a year later, just a few days after V-E day and after the censorship had been lifted, it was the first thing he wanted to share with his brother. See his letter from May 14, 1945. Clearly the attack had made a deep impression on him.
There are a number of accounts of the raid made by the soldiers on the ground who witnessed it. A particularly good account can be found in the War Diary of the 340th Bombardment Group HQ Squadron: Alesan Field, Corsica
The attacks took place only about three weeks before the Normandy invasion. Once the Allies established themselves on the beachhead, fighter planes could be stationed on the continent and they quickly pushed the Luftwaffe out of the skies. Many German squadrons were shifted to the Eastern Front were they could be more effective.
The Borgo-Poretta and Alesani raids were probably the last major, unqualified success of the Luftwaffe during the war.
Who were the flyers that executed this nearly flawless operation? What did they see and experience?
It turns out that it was no ordinary unit that was given the task of performing these raids. The squadron given the job was the famous Lehrgeschwader 1. They were well known to the British as “The Helbig Flyers,” after Joachim Helbig their commander.
This squadron had given the British a very hard time in North Africa while supporting Rommel. The outfit was mentioned by name on the floor of the House of Commons by Churchill himself.
Helbig was an extraordinary pilot and commander eventually logging over 350 combat missions.
Peter Taghon has written a comprehensive history of Lehrgeschwader 1. It is comprised of a two volume large-format edition in German. The book consists of an almost day-by-day account of the activities of the squadron and it contains a large number of rare photographs of the men and machines that made up the outfit. “Die Geschichte des Lehrgeschwaders 1” by Peter Taghon was published in 2004 by VDM Heinz Nickel, Zweibrücken
They have generously granted me permission to print a translation of a few pages from that book that treat the events of the night of May 12th and 13th, 1944.
Destination: The Allied airfields at Borgo-Poretta
Joachim Helbig - Extended excerpts from his biography
Luftwaffe Drop Ordinance - Bombs and Drop Containers
Wikipedia - The Junker 88 Medium Bomber
Mork on Korsika - Alied Air Power as seen by a German foot soldier
In September of 1943 Werner Mork was in the 90th Light Infantry stationed on Sardinia. When Italy capitulated the new government joined forces with the Allies. The 90th Infantry was suddenly surrounded and outnumbered. They had to withdraw from Sardinia and cross Corsica in the hope of finding a way to the European mainland.
From the point of view of military history it is interesting to see how concerned the foot soldier was with the threat from the skies.
In Werner Mork's case the concerns were well justified...
Here is his story: Mork on Korsika - 1943
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