During the first two weeks of February, winter storms assaulted western Europe, bringing record low temperatures and snow as far south as Sicily. In Rome, snow accumulated to a depth of eight inches. Twelve straight days of snowfall in the Italian peninsula isolated more than 600 communities as drifts blocked mountain passes and avalanches buried roads. Record-breaking winter weather left 634 persons dead and brought snow to places where it had never before been recorded.
The Italian government requested international assistance, a request which the U.S. ambassador, Clare Boothe Luce, relayed to the State Department. President Eisenhower promised aid to the president of Italy, Giovanni Gronchi. The United States Air Forces in Europe, working with the U.S. Army, organized Operation Snowbound, the largest humanitarian airlift in Europe since the Berlin blockade.
Operation Snowbound lasted from February 12 through 19. The 322d Air Division used at least 40 C–119 Flying Boxcars from the 60th, 317th, and 465th Troop Carrier Wings in France and West Germany. Flying in weather severe enough to ground domestic aircraft, the Boxcars airlifted at least 332 tons of Army relief supplies from Landstuhl AB in West Germany to various locations in Italy, including Rome, Naples, and Pisa, and Catania in Sicily. A few planes also carried relief cargo to isolated communities in northern Greece. Airlifted supplies included 60,000 C rations, 10,500 blankets, overcoats, shirts, pants, overshoes, socks, and medical supplies.
The Italian government awarded the “Star of Solidarity Towards Italy” to more than 400 Air Force personnel who participated in Operation Snowbound. Pope Pius XII held a private audience with about 150 members of the 322d Air Division to express his appreciation.