Air Crash Po identifies location of long-lost Junkers Ju 88s in Italy
Despite the armistice of Cassibile between the Allies and the Kingdom of Italy in early September 1943, air battles still raged in the skies above the Po Valley for many months; Hitler’s Luftwaffe and the German-aligned Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (ANR) continued the fight… Many lives were lost (unnecessarily) as a result, both on the ground and in the air. Of those airmen who perished, a good number simply vanished, seemingly forever – buried deep in Italian soil amid the concertina wreckage of their aircraft. Even though the better part of a century has passed since those tragic days, some in Italy have not forgotten those missing leaflets. Indeed, several groups have emerged in recent years hoping to bring some sense of closure to the families of the missing by locating where their loved ones have fallen. Air Crash Po is one such team and last year our very own Moreno Aguiari interviewed one of its founding members, Luca Gabriele Merli (we published the resulting article HERE). More recently, the group discovered another lost plane and identified those who flew on it during a fateful night raid in November 1943…
One night in 1943
In the first minutes of November 10, 1943, about sixty Junkers Ju 88A-4s belonging to II./KG30, I./KG54 and II./KG54 took off from airfields in northern Italy at Villafranca, Cameri, Bergamo, Villaorba , and Aviano. The twin-engined bombers rode through the night to attack the port city of Naples, then under Allied control. Some of these aircraft were tasked with scouting the objective so that others could attack the ships in the harbor.
Although this attack force achieved its objective, it paid a heavy price, losing 28 airmen dead and 4 wounded among the eight aircraft that failed to return (five from KG 30 and three from KG 54). Five Ju 88s fell over the target area while three crashed on the way back: one at Grosseto, one near Fano and another on the slopes of Monte Amiata, near Abbadia San Salvatore. The surviving Ju 88s returned to their home bases in darkness between 05:30 and 06:15. Of course, the war quickly continued, with casualties on both sides at a breakneck pace; there was little time to grieve, and even less energy to locate the missing.
In the summer of 2021, Air Crash Po members Luca Merli, Agostino Alberti, Dario Colantoni and researcher Michele Mari explored the slopes of Monte Amiata, a preliminary inspection to locate one of the missing Ju 88s. During several exploratory missions, the group discovered significant fragments of aircraft wreckage – parts of the fuselage, engines, pipes, plates, glazing and even the remains of several cockpit instruments were among the discovered objects. Several items still retained their part numbers, and these were reviewed by Luca Merli, an expert on these details within Air Crash Po. Merli was able to positively identify the remains of the plane as coming from a Junkers Ju 88A-4.
The local information the team had gathered, however, was contradictory, indicating that the crash site belonged to an aircraft that crashed in April 1944. However, among the objects discovered by Air Crash Po at this location were the partial remains of a so-called dog. tag belonging to one of the airmen who died in the wreckage. This fragment bore part of the man’s military identification number, and with it the potential solution to the “mystery” including the missing planes and the military personnel they had found. With military details provided by the German Federal Archives, the Air Crash Po turned on its “investigation machine”. A search of Merli’s extensive Luftwaffe archives produced an answer. After going through these old and discolored mission reports, Merli concluded that this dog tag belonged to Obergefreiter Anton Mathia, air gunner on that fateful night in November 1943…
Alongside Mathia aboard this Ju-88 during the raid against Naples in the early morning of November 10, 1943, was its pilot Unteroffizier Georg Schäfer, observer Unteroffizier Fritz Klawitter and radio operator Unteroffizier Karl Schmidt. All four airmen died in the Ju 88, which apparently crashed due to a navigational error that took it into high ground.
Merli and his team are now trying to find the families of these airmen. However, the task is proving very difficult due to the paucity of Luftwaffe military unit associations of World War II, the lack of reliable records, and a lingering sense among many of forgetting the war and history. German involvement. If any readers have any concrete leads on how to reach the families of these airmen, they would be very grateful!
Air Crash Po expects a busy 2022, with several crash site excavations planned, as well as welcoming visits from the families of two deceased American airmen.
Reconstructing the history of the war years is not an easy task. Putting together the pieces that made up the puzzle of this recent but rapidly receding past involves a considerable expenditure of energy in every way. However, the desire to learn and understand the history of their home and the men who perished there during World War II inspires AirCrash Po to persevere in their efforts, and the commitment grows stronger every day.
For this reason, they invite anyone with a similar passion to join them. No matter where you live, anyone in possession of documents, photographs, stories or other information relevant to the Po region during World War II is encouraged to contact them. HERE.