Thelepte airport was vacated and both groups retreated to Tebessa
and on February 21 relocated to Du Kouif airfield. On March 8, after repelling the last German offensive in Africa, they returned to
Thelepte. For the rest of March and April they continued escorting
the bombers. On April 6, the re-equipment to Spitfires Mk.IX and
Mk.VIII started, however the individual Spitfires Mk.Vb and Vc remained in the 31st and 52nd FGs inventory well into 1944. On May
10 and 11 the German and Italian armed forces in Tunisia unconditionally capitulated and fighting in North Africa ceased.
After the end of fighting in North Africa, 31st FG and 52nd FG parted their ways. The 52nd FG, together with No. 322 Wing RAF were
transferred under the Mediterranean Allied Coastal Air Force (MACAF) command. The mission of this Allied command was the convoy
protection in the Mediterranean Sea, anti-submarine patrols, ports
patrols and attacks on the enemy shipping in the Mediterranean.
While completing their missions the 52nd FG squadrons were gradually moving among the airports in MTO. On June 17, the group
hosted the visit of King George V, Winston Churchill, and General
de Gaulle. On July 23, the unit relocated to Sicily, Boca di Falco
airfield, where it also dedicated itself to the night interception. In
November 1943 it relocated to Corsica, where 2nd and 5th FS flew
out of Borgo airport and 4th FS out of Calvi. During this period, the
unit also performed dive bombing on enemy shipping and ports and
while doing it frequently engaged the Luftwaffe aircraft in combat
and recorded several kills. In the beginning of April 1944, the re-equipment to P-51B Mustang was commenced. On May 1, the 52nd
FG was integrated into the 15th AF and on May 10 performed its
first mission escorting B-17s on their raid to Nice in France. While flying Spitfires, 52nd FG scored in total 164 victories over the
enemy aircraft. Flying P-51 Mustangs of all versions the score was
increased by another 257 kills.
The 31st FG in Italy
After the fighting in Africa ceased, the preparations for landing in
Italy commenced. As a part of the preparations intense bombing of
Pantelleria island, which is located midway between Cape Bon in
Tunisia and Sicily and served as an Italian Air Force base, was performed. The air attacks on Pantelleria were under way from May 14
until June 11, 1943, and the 31st FG participated in both bomber
escorts and strafings of Korba airport.
Sicily, Operation Husky
In June 1943 31st FG was transferred under 64th Fighter Wing
command led by Col. Hawkins and relocated to Gozo island
northwest from Malta. Gozo is the second largest island of the Malta archipelago. On 10 and 11 June the group provided air cover
for the invasion convoy which was accompanied by heavy shelling
from the invading ships. On June 11, the group shot down 7 enemy
aircraft attacking the Allied shipping. On June 14, the unit relocated to Ponte Olivo airport at little town of Gela and became the
first Alllied fighter unit operating from the Italian territory. On June
23 the national insignia was changed, white rectangles were added
to the sides of the blue circle and red outline was introduced. On
August 14 it was replaced by blue one. In the end of 1943, the color
of propeller spinners was changed from white to red. On July 26
Benito Mussolini resigned. On August 2 31st FG relocated to Termini
airport southeast of Palermo and on August 17 the Sicilian campaign was completed after the Allies occupied the whole island. On
August 31 31st FG aircraft escorted the airplane bringing the Italian
delegation to the armistice negotiations held in Rimini which was
concluded on September 3. As of September 1, the 31st FG was
based at Milazzo airport on Sicilian east coast.
Operation Avalanche, landing at Salerno
On September 9, the Allied forces invasion of Italy at Salerno
commenced resulting in a week-long bloody fighting. As early as
September 11 the preparation of the airfield at Monte Corvino started which was however subject to heavy shelling. On September
18, the artillery fire destroyed a B-25 and killed III. Air Support
Command inspector preparing the airport for the operational use.
On September 20 the 31st FG landed here. On October 14, the unit
relocated to Pomigliano near Naples and even though this airport
Supermarine Spitfire Mk. Vc JK707 of 307th FS, 31st FG shot down by return fire of of the KG 100 Do 217. Pilot Major Virgil C. Fields Jr.
claimed the Do 217 as damaged, but crash landed on beach off Salerno on September 9, 1943 (Photo: US National Archives, Fold3).
INFO Eduard - August 2021