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Messina Witches' Cauldron

by BRUCE BURCHFIELD.


The Drive for Messina 10 July - 17 August 1943:  The successful German rear-guard action towards the end of the campaign enabled over 100,00 Axis troops and a large quantity of equipment to be evacuated to Italy from Messina.
An aerial photograph shows one of the last German ships to leave Messina on fire after being bombed by the Royal Air Force off the Sicilian coast.  [IWM C 3733.  Note the flak bursts on the right-hand side of this photo.]

A Storm of Flak over Messina:

Momentous, indeed incredible.  The might of the German Army (which had almost cracked the gate to Egypt, the Suez and the Far East) was now, in August 1943, hell-bent to get away to Messina (in the NE tip of Sicily) and evacuate across the Straits of Messina to Regio on the Italian mainland.

We, for our part, had to inflict as much damage as we could in daylight hours.  In the closing days of August, the narrow Straits of Messina and the air space above was an incredible sight.  It was estimated that there was more AA fire concentrated in this tiny area than in the Ruhr valley.  88mm, 40mm and 20mm guns were spewing out metal, RN cruisers at a respectable distance were softening up the Regio area; Spitfires, Kittyhawks, Boston bombers and German FW190s and JU88s were in the melee.

We flew into this madness, dive bombing port installations and quite frankly we were very relieved to break away and head for home.  Regrettably His Majesty's Kittyhawk CV-L was modestly holed.

Italy capitulated on 3/9/43, her navy went to Malta, her Axis partner Germany dug in and fought a tenacious retreat throughout Italy over many months.

MEA1759
San Angelo, Italy. c. May 1944.  The camp site of No. 3 (Kittyhawk) Squadron RAAF in Italy is pitched among shady trees.  Seen here is a typical tent, with the occupants enjoying an idle hour off operations.  
[
Left:] Warrant officer A. McDonald of Sydney, NSW; [Canvas chair:]  Flight Lieutenant Ian Roediger; and [Right]  Flying Officer (FO) Bruce Burchfield of Deniliquin, NSW[AWM MEA1759.]

Later I did a Fighter Pilot Instructors' course at Point Cook and was posted to Mildura as an Instructor.  

It was here that I heard of the end of the war and in the celebrations that followed, many of us paused to recall the mates that did not make it and also pay tribute to the efficiency of our ground staff, both at home and abroad.

In Memory of Bruce Burchfield. 13/1/1920 - 18/7/2012

Bruce died after a long period in home-nursing care.  He was cremated in a well-attended ceremony at Macquarie Park Crematorium in Sydney on Monday 23rd July 2012.  Bruce contributed significantly to the running of the 3SQN Association over many years and he also became a very respected figure in the banking industry. 

Bruce’s career as a Kittyhawk pilot had many eventful moments.  Another of his stories, describing his operations from Cutella on the Central Italian coast, is available on our website - click here.

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