Monday, May 28, 2012

Corsica in World War II

Resistance Memorial in Ajaccio
The liberation of France did not begin on June 6th 1944 as many believe, but rather commenced on September 15, 1943.  The first Department of France to be liberated was Corsica in September-October of 1943 with operation FIREBRAND.

Maquis near Calvi
The English referred to Corsica as the "Perfumed Isle" because of its fragrant maquis.  The maquis is a dense undergrowth of mixed vegetation up to 10 feet high that covers nearly half of the surface area of Corsica.  It is made up of various plants and trees including myrtle, oregano, rosemary and mint.  "Maquis after all is the Corsican name for the thick local brushwood, and partisan forces made extensive use of it."  (SOE in France, M.R.D. Foot, 1966 http:/ The term Maquis was later generalised to represent all resistance activity throughout France.

The SOE -- Special Operations Executive (HQ on Baker street in London) -- had been charged by Winston Churchill during World War II to "set Europe Ablaze."  Twenty-six SOE agents sent in from Algiers, three SOE instructor officers and the SOE-trained Free French battalion de choc landed at Ajaccio on September 15, 1943.  Italian fascist troops had been occupying the island.  Germans units that had been based in Sardinia were attempting to retreat back to the continent through Corsica.  The last Germans were chased out of Bastia on October 4, 1943.

General George S. Patton visited Corsica and made the pilgrimage to Napoleon's home town of Ajaccio in late 1943 after the invasion of Sicily.

The island was then transformed into a massive airbase for the allied air forces.  The allies referred to the USS Corsica -- an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean.  Many allied bombing missions originated out of Corsica.  Joseph Heller (, author of Catch 22, was a bombardier in a B-25 based on Corsica and flew 60 missions (see earlier post, Duxford and George Carlin 4/30/12).

It is interesting to note that Heller, in spite of having authored Catch 22, had no real complaints about his time spent as a bombardier in the Army Air Corps.  He was, of course one of the "lucky ones" who survived the war and even actually benefited from the experience.

Catch 22 in 1 minute

The 57th Bomb Wing was stationed on the east coast of Corsica from Bastia in the north to Solenzara in the south.  The island was also used as the staging point from which Operation Dragoon (commencing on August 15, 1944) was launched to liberate the south of France.

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