In the preparations for the
advance to Rome, the USAAF asked for an escorting force for their
technical intelligence teams and 2721 Squadron landed at Anzio on 30th
May 1944 to carry out this task. During the advance from Naples the
squadron occupied Ciampino airfield, ten miles south-east of Rome,
before becoming the first Allied troops to enter Ostia and Fiumicino.
Then, with their American companions, they entered Rome on 6th June 1944
and were thus among the first British units to reach the Eternal City.
As the Allied armies continued their advance, some bombing attacks on
German forces in the forward battle zone had fallen short of the Allied
front line and hit friendly troops instead. Following a review of ways
in which attacks on Allied ground forces might be avoided in future, RAF
Regiment squadrons were tasked to co-operate with flying squadrons by
laying out navigation aids on the ground to mark the forward line held
by the Army.
3" Mortar flight in action near Monte Cassino (click picture to enlarge)
In November 1943 2906 Field Squadron began this task, using marker
panels by day and flares by night to indicate the bomb line. In January
1944 they were relieved of this task at Montenero Petaciato and St Vito
Chiento by 2857 LAA Squadron, who were themselves replaced in this role
by 2856 LAA Squadron at Castel Frentano. Within a few days, 2856
Squadron were the victims of a USAAF bombing attack by Flying Fortresses
which had mistaken the navigation aid markers for target indicators.
Fortunately, there were no casualties on that occasion.
However, the single incident which caused the largest loss of life in a
Regiment unit in Italy had occurred in August 1943 when a USAAF aircraft
with an engine on fire attempted a crash landing on the airfield at
Tortorella and slewed off the runway into tents occupied by No.2933 LAA
Squadron. The ensuing fireball killed 15 squadron personnel, as well as
the pilot, and injured many more Regiment NCOs and airmen.
On 1st January 1944 the Air Ministry ordered the reduction of the RAF
Regiment force level in the Middle East and Central Mediterranean
theatres to 8,500 officers and men. This was apportioned between the
Middle East (5,000) and the Mediterranean (3,500) — which limited the
Regiment combat units in Italy to five field and 15 LAA squadrons. This
was achieved by disbanding 2904 and 2906 Field Squadrons and 2925 LAA