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Department 1

Italian Studies


During the German occupation of Northern Italy (1943-45), the Italian populace lived under the grip of fear as Allied bombardments pummeled towns, Nazifascists raided villages looking for partisans, and food grew ever more scarce. When night fell many Italians had to contend with another menace, a mysterious aircraft that they were sure was specifically after them and their loved ones. So real and yet mysterious was this aircraft that they gave it a name: Pippo. No one was quite sure if it was German or Allied, single-engine or double-engine, if it dropped bombs, or what its primary mission was, but Pippo loomed as a nocturnal specter, instilling order and terror in the Italian towns below. Scant official documentation exists on Pippo, and references in literature are even scarcer. But Pippo lives in the popular memory of the World War II generation. In 1990 RAI Tre sponsored a television series called La mia guerra [My war] and invited Italians to send in letters documenting their memories; in these testimonials Pippo comes to life. Perry's essay integrates oral histories of both Italian civilians and former American night fighter pilots, an analysis of over a hundred letters sent to the RAI Tre commission sponsoring La mia guerra, and a study of German propaganda. Finally, it weaves official U.S. Army Air Corps documents into the inquiry. All venues of analysis shed light on how Pippo served many Italians as a means to concretize their fears.

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This article was published as Perry, Alan R., "Pippo: An Italian Folklore Mystery of World War II," Journal of Folklore Research, 2003 40(2):115–148. No part of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted, or distributed, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photographic, or otherwise, without the prior permission of Indiana University Press. For educational re-use, please contact the Copyright Clearance Center (508-744-3350). For all other permissions, please visit Indiana University Press' permissions page.