Like much of Europe and all of France, Corsica was occupied during World War II but on the 16 September 1943 it became the first part of Metropolitan France to be liberated. Some 12,000 local partisans known as the Maquis drove out the occupying German and Italian forces.
Following liberation the island became a key base for US air force operations. Some fifteen airfields were rapidly established making it a ‘carrier island’ hence, USS Corsica. The airfields were constructed and made operational in a short period of time by specialist engineering brigades designed for the task. Many of these 800 man strong units were comprised solely of black Americans reflecting the segregated nature of the US at that time.
The 812th ‘black’ brigade arrived in Corsica from Africa in late 1943 and set about the airfield construction task. The bases were primarily for B25 and B26 bomber aircraft. Serving with the 340th bomber group was one Joseph Heller, the soon to be author of Catch 22 which he wrote in the 1950’s and said, was influenced by and based on his time and experiences in Corsica.
Between 29 June and 1 July this year the Tour de France will weave its way past a number of these historic air fields – Figari, Basita, Ajaccio and Calvi – all commercial airports today and not forgetting Solenzara on the east coast which remains an active military airfield. Today there is little evidence of Corsica’s role in WWII however if you’d like to visit a unique relic of the era why not take a dive trip from Calvi and see the wreck of a B17 flying fortress bomber which has been lying on the seabed nearby since 1944.
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