WWII U.S. Pilots Downed Outside of Rome: Photos

Evidence of a dogfight near Rome reveals a 69-year-old story of courage and survival.

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Lt. James Dealy as he escaped capture in 1944. A group of amateur researchers have discovered dramatic evidence for one of World War II's “Aces of Spades” dogfights, revealing a 69-year-old story of courage and survival.

Involving U.S. pilots and Italian civilians, the story mainly centers on Lt. James Dealy, one of three American pilots shot down in the mountains near Rome during an aerial fight in 1944.

Above: Lt. James Dealy as he escaped capture in 1944.

The team, led by Marco Ballini, a wreck hunter from Montelanico near Rome, unearthed the remains of a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, an American single-engine, single-seat fighter and ground attack aircraft, in the Lepini mountains near the village of Gorga, some 50 miles from Rome.

The plane found by Ballini was identical to the one shown in this image taken by Lt. James Dealy.

“We found parts of the engine, sheets of metal and the remains of ammunitions belonging to a M2 Browning machine gun up high in the mountains,” Marco Ballini told Discovery News.

Archival research and witnesses revealed the plane crashed on May 13, 1944. The pilot was 23-year-old Lt. Arthur F. Kusch.  

Kusch was flying with seven other pilots from the 324th Fighter Group. They took off from Pignataro Maggiore, near Naples, for an armed reconnaissance mission near Rome.

As they were looking for possible targets, they were caught by 8-10 German Messerschmitt fighters. In the fight that followed, three P-40 American planes were shot down. The first to be hit was Kusch’s aircraft, followed by that of Lts. Mathtew O’ Brien and James Dealy.

Kusch, who had remained inside the plane, crashed from about 10,000 feet. His body was first buried by local civilians near the crash site and later moved to Saint Louis County cemetery.

Lt. James Dealy was undoubtedly the most famous of the three shot down pilots. Born in Nashville, Tenn., he was one of five brothers -- all members of the U.S. Army Air Corps during 1942-1944.

“James (‘Jim’), Robert (‘Bob’) and John (‘Jack’) were pilots, Arthur (‘Art’) was a bombardier and William (‘Bill’) was a technical sergeant. All five brothers served in the Italian theater and all came home alive,” Dan Dealy, James’s nephew and a former U.S. Navy pilot himself, told Discovery News.

While identical twins John and Arthur were captured and taken into German POW camps, Robert and James were lucky enough to be helped out by Italian families after they were shot down.

The image shows (left to right) James, John and Robert Dealy receiving awards during the ceremony where they were given their pilots' wings. Arthur Dealy is obscured at right.

Dealy was saved by Enrico Onorati, who at hat time was just 8 years old. “I was just a child, but I knew exactly what to do,” Onorati, who is now 77, recalled. "I hid the pilot and his parachute in a nearby haystack. Had the Germans found out we were hiding the American pilot, they would have shot us all."

Dealy was then hidden from the Germans by another Italian family, the De Angelis, until he was able to return to his squadron. It was actually his brother Robert who picked him up to return him to their fighter group base.

This picture shows James Dealy as he returned to the U.S. squadron.

“He had picked up a German machine gun and an officer’s dagger while riding the donkey with the army troops that were escorting German POW’s back towards the allied lines -- just before being picked up by my dad,” Dan Dealy said.

In the early 1990s, Dealy donated his evasion clothing and a German machine gun to the Air Force museum at Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.

After the war, James Dealy and his brother Robert became engineers and had long careers in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Jim died in 2009, at age 93. In this picture, taken on his 90th birthday, he is seen with his nephew Dan.

During his WWII missions, James Dealy took many pictures. In this his image, for example, he captured an American fighter aircraft Lockheed P-38 Lightning (nicknamed Gabelschwanzteufel, the fork-tailed devil, by the Germans) which is about to crash, possibly because the pilot maneuvered too close to the ground.

“We are planning to donate most of our family's WWII documents, photos and letters to the National World War II museum in New Orleans,” Dan Dealy said.