Archive for March 18th, 2008

It has often been said that volcanoes wait for no man.  Well, it hasn’t been said all that often…ok, it probably hasn’t been said at all.  But, while I’m no expert, it’s pretty safe to say that volcanoes do run on their own timetables.

Anyways, if you’re like me (and I know I am), you’ve been fascinated with the beauty, majesty, and deadly power of volcanoes, and today marks an anniversary of sorts in volcano history.  At about 4:30pm on March 18, 1944, Mt. Vesuvius erupted.  That wasn’t all that rare an occurance, as the mountain had blown its top many times since its most famous eruption back in 79 A.D., which claimed the city of Pompeii.

But in 1944, there was a war going on in Italy.  Allied troops had landed and were pushing towards Rome in an effort to free the city and tie up large numbers of German soldiers and equipment which couldn’t be shifted to Europe when the invasion of France commenced.  The main eruptions lasted only a week (with the last gasp from the mountain on March 29th) and they were, on a relative scale, minor.  But to the war effort, Mt. Vesuvius was a mountain-sized headache.

Falling ash made breathing difficult.  Nearly every motor vehicle was halted by the fine dust, which clogged air filters and destroyed engines.  Rail lines were clogged and many had to be cleared by hand.  Ships in the harbor at Naples had to move out to sea for fear of the engines injesting the ash.  And then the rains came, and turned the ash to a scouring mud that destroyed brake drums on the vehicles.

In the end, twenty-six lives were lost, many of them killed when roofs collapsed from the weight of volcanic debris.  Much war material, including nearly one hundred B-25’s, was ruined, and a war effort, already moving more slowly than commanders had hoped, fell further behind schedule.

Recommended Reading: The Day of Battle – The War in Italy and Sicily, 1943-1944 – The second book in Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy is a great account of the Italian campaign. I finished it a couple months back, and I heartily recommend it.

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