‘This is how we changed the face of Italy, from the air…’
So declares the narrator, famed actor and United States Air Force hero James Stewart, of this iconic 1947 color film created by multi-Academy Award winning director William Wyler.
Though Wyler is remembered for directing actors the likes of Charlton Heston in Ben–Hur and Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, this film made for the United States Air Force on site in Corsica was no scripted scene.
Featured in Thunderbolt! are the real servicemen of the indomitable United States Air Force 57th Fighter Group and its three legendary squadrons, the 64th ‘Black Scorpion’, 65th ‘Fighting Cocks’ and 66th ‘Exterminators’ filmed in action in 1944.
This triumphant film features on-aircraft camera filming the exhilarating missions of the United States Air Force 57th Fighter Group P-47 Thunderbolts during Operation Strangle, leading up to the fall of Rome in 1944.
We begin on French-liberated Corsica, at Alto Air Base, now but a ghost on the picturesque Corsican countryside. Director Wyler may be better renowned for his famous documentary The Memphis Belle that celebrated the mighty Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, but Thunderbolt! is the dramatic true story of the three legendary P-47 Thunderbolt squadrons engaged in Operation Strangle.
Join Stewart as he talks us through day-to-day life at Alto Air Base, with intimate portraits of the airmen in the 57th Fighter Group and the camaraderie between pilots, ground staff, officers and the friendships between Allied servicemen of American and French units. Life was not all roses at the Air Base, however, as this film gruesomely depicts; the reality of casualties was ever-present.
Watch with the onboard cameras, as the men we met at Alto take to the air in stunning formation over some of Europe’s most epic landscape to perform some of the most important air interdiction runs of Operation Strangle. With such explosive accuracy cutting off the Axis supply lines to the front lines, the air superiority of Operation Strangle was a significant factor in the success of the ground operation Diadem that advanced upon Rome.
As the servicemen celebrate with a jovial rendition of ‘Little Brown Jug, How I Love Thee’, one cannot help but wonder if they, at least in part, refer to their Thunderbolts – nicknamed Jugs – that had flown with such ferocity. As Stewart narrates, ‘this is no desk job.’