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Exploration

Surveying and Identifying a Sunken JU 88a German WWII Aircraft

Italian explorer Fabio Giuseppe Bisciotti reports on finding a sunken German WWII aircraft in the South Adriatic Sea and identifying its original airport base and crew. Shades of Deep Sea Detectives! He and his team are also part of a larger operation working with the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) Mediterranean Directorate to identify U.S. military wrecks in the area. Watch this space.

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by Fabio Biscotti

InD: Fabio, how often are you and your team out looking for shipwrecks?

Fabio Biscotti: Very often, due to our partnership with the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) Mediterranean Directorate, and the presence of many shipwrecks in our zone, which was the theater of some of the major battles during the two world wars.

How did you and your colleagues hear about the German sunken aircraft?

Thanks to previous expeditions of other teams that we read about in the newspaper, we decided to give our support to this history.

The planes were not very deep. What diving equipment did you use? Open circuit? Closed-circuit?

We made the dives with open circuit nitrox.  

What do you plan to do with the information and photos of the Ju88A4 

that you have obtained?

We are confident that we have correctly identified the pilot and the crew. We are simply happy to have been able to document this history, and we’re not going to stop. We have many wrecks to study to add to the big puzzle of human history and also to help the families of those lost. It is our pleasure.

You mentioned to me before that your group has partnered with DPAA to help screen and identify U.S. military wrecks in the South Adriatic Sea. Have you started any work with them yet?

We had our first contact with them thanks to Luigi Lacomino from Gruppo modellistico ricerche storiche Foggia (Foggia Historical Research Modeling Group), one of the best military historians in our area. He has written many books and publications about Italy’s military history. When DPAA  arrived to talk with him, he immediately contacted us with the objective to create an operative squad. Our first task was to create a complete map of the aircraft crash sites around our area (Gargano-southeast Italy, Adriatic side) and take photos of the various airplanes found in the area. We have much to do and the work will be long and passionate.

I also understand that you established a Project Baseline project in Tremiti Islands National Park, Italy, in 2017. Please tell me a little about the project.

We started this project with the objective to protect our rich sea life environment by monitoring the beauties in the deep. It’s a worldwide treasure that must be preserved and protected. Our diving center organizes daily dives in fabulous places, to help people understand the kind of treasure that surrounds us.

What’s your next big project?

Actually, we are organizing some recon dives on various wrecks and plan to photograph them. We will keep in touch; I am pretty sure there will be a big surprise. 


Operations Report 

Date: March-July 2019

Location: Santa Caterina di Nardò, Italy

Objective: Recovery of WWII German aircraft/crew identity information

Depth: 36.0 m/118 ft 

Wreck length: 14.40 m/47 ft 

Wingspan: 20.00 m/66 ft 

Height: 4.85 m/16 ft 

Wing area: 54.50 m2 /178 ft2

The operational plan was based on information from previous teams that had visited the aircraft wreck site. Its location is 3.3 miles, 282 degrees WNW on a sandy bottom of 36.0 meters/118 feet.

The plane rests in flight attitude and perfectly lies on the sandy bottom broken into two sections, which was certainly caused by its impact with the sea surface. The team made a perpendicular descent on the plane, which was clearly marked by the divers who discovered this aircraft.

The remaining aft part of the plane (easily traceable tail and wheel planes) lies 15 m to SSE from the main body. Its surfaces are completely covered with incrustations due to its lengthy submergence.

As a further confirmation of the origin of the plane, there are traces of swastikas on the stern. On earlier reconnaissance, the previous team found a nameplate with engine identification numbers.

All in all, the wreck appears to be in fair condition despite having been prey to predatory acts against it. What immediately stands out at first sighting is the total lack of propellers and machine guns near the plane. The former were made of wood, which were likely damaged on impact and have likely been eaten away after being submerged for more than seven decades. 

March 30, 2019:

The team of four operators conducted a survey of the wreckage and recovered a new element of study, which has been identified as an EZ6-type condenser used in German aviation during World War II.

After carefully studying the right wing, the team found that the holes discovered on the first dive were nothing but small, growing structural failures due to the salt water, demolishing the team’s original hypothesis that the plane was strafed by gunfire. Another hypothesis  was based on the lack of exit holes, suggesting that the loss of the aircraft was due to other factors. After careful studies and washes on the recovered parts, we found a total absence of bursts or burns on the condensers.

The EZ6 capacitors appear, from the moment of recovery, in good condition. They are formed by a ceramic base on which the various “elements” rest. Inside the cylinders, the plastic-copper parts appear to be in good condition and, after careful attention, they are almost like new.

June 20, 2019:

Our descent was scheduled for 2 p.m., with almost no current, and we easily reached the plane. The goal of the day was to track down and identify the color of the sunken aircraft. Despite difficulties due to corrosion, we were able to study three samples at different points on the plane. The color identification confirms that it is the classic Luftwaffe green, similar to aircraft green #74 used by various services.

July 3, 2019:

EZ 6 Fragment.

We identified and confirmed traces of the yellow letter on the right side of the fuselage that previous surveys had witnessed. With the help of various historical groups engaged with us in the operation, we were able to identify the letter R, given the angle and breadth of the semicircle found. Immediately to the right a double trace was found that was most likely the letter W. 

This thesis is supported by two factors. First, the characters used by the Luftwaffe on its appliances are unmistakable, and W is the only letter that displays the angles of the lines found. The second factor was the discovery by our historians of particular documentation attesting to the loss of three German aircraft in the Ionian, right in the area in front of Gallipoli where the Ju88A4, a World War II Luftwaffe twin-engined combat aircraft, rests. The documents provided a complete identification of two of the aircraft by their side tags, but we knew the third belonged to the KG54 12 Staffel (squad).

We understood immediately that the other aircraft could not be the Ju88 in question, given the fact that they belonged to different staffels where the coloring of the third character was not yellow, but another color. The only aircraft in the area belonging to the 12 Staffel was our object of study; further confirming the hypothesis was the perfect combination of the camouflage pattern found belonging to the KG54 and the yellow letter R.

Furthermore, the discovery of the letter W gives the total confirmation that it is a 12 Staffel, as this letter was used to identify this group.

We concluded that the plane in question is a Ju-88A4 under the KG54 12 Staffel. As a result, we were able to obtain the following information:

Airport base: Grottaglie Airport, Italy

Kampfgeschwader 54, Group IV, 10th/11th/12th Staffel

Crew: unknown

Ofw Brasas: He appears to have been mortally wounded. No other data is currently available.

Uffz Withalm: He was mortally wounded and subsequently died on May 5, 1942. Post-war memorialized in the Cassino Cemetery Block 15 Tomb 179. The same name is mentioned on the plaque of the Graz Cemetery with the degree of Fl.Lt. Flieger Leutnant (Second Lieutenant) and died on April 14, 1942. In both cases the date of birth coincides with the same person.

Gefr Eichhorn: He was mortally wounded and remembered in the gravestone of the lost at sea of ​​the German army and aviation of Kiel-Laboe. Available data: Crashed in the “Mediterranean,” near Isola della Malva. 

Gefr Stegmüller: He was mortally wounded and memorialized in the post-war period in the Cassino Cemetery Block 15 Tomb 109.

Mission: Unfortunately, it is not possible to know if it was a training flight or a war flight. Testimonies of the time attest to the presence of two bodies of German pilots in the trap adjacent to the crash site. Furthermore, the 12 Staffel of the KG54 was precisely in the Grottaglie area, thus further confirming this thesis.

Team members: Fabio Bisciotti (team leader), Alfonso De Filippo,Alessandro Aulicino (Poseidon Systems Italia), Rosy De Renzo, Michele Del Vecchio, Simona Pagano,    Giustino Riccio, Vincenzo dell’Isola, Matteo Spada

Historical research team: Luigi Iacomino. GRUPPO MODELLISTICO RICERCHE STORICHE Foggia, Elena Zauli delle Pietre (aerei perduti Polesine), Andrea Raccagni (aerei perduti Polesine), Alessandro Zannoni 


Recent law school graduate Fabio Giuseppe Bisciotti is a RAID instructor who has long been interested in natural and maritime history. Based at the Aquodiving Tremiti Diving Center in Foggia, Italy, Fabio joined Project Baseline in 2017 to help protect and monitor the underwater environment in Tremiti Islands National Park. In 2018, he partnered with the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) Mediterranean Directorate, to help screen and identify U.S. military wrecks in the South Adriatic Sea. He is currently preparing for a pilgrimage to Scapa Flow for the 100thanniversary.

Exploration

Stefano Carletti: The Man Who Immortalized The Wreck of the Andrea Doria

Poetic Italian explorer and instructor Andrea Murdock Alpini reveals the inside story of Italian adventurer Stefano Carletti, who wrote the first book—Andrea Doria – 74—on the wreck of the Doria. Carletti penned his work after participating in the first expedition to film the failed luxury liner in 1968, led by Italian cinematographer Bruno Vailati, along with cameraman Al Giddings.

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Text and archives research by: Andrea Murdock Alpini

Header image: The dive deck of the Narragansett used by Vailati’s expedition.

Restored Images from the Book “Andrea Doria-74” (2021, new upcoming press by Magenes Editoriale). Courtesy of Luca Maresca

Original images from Ansaldo Archive based in Genoa: Antonio Pacucci, chief curator of Archivio e Fototeca Fondazione Ansaldo

Stefano Carletti is an adventurer, scuba diver, aviator, fisherman, and storyteller. He has told many stories about his great love, the sea; he has searched for hidden treasure on the seabed; and he is a man with a soul that mirrors the many moods of the sea—sometimes calm and placid, and other times stormy and unpredictable. The story of Stefano Carletti’s life is an extraordinary tailor-made adventure illustrated by sea life and narrated with books and articles which have fascinated audiences in the past as well as today. One of the stories he is likely known best for is that of the ship the SS Andrea Doria. 

The Andrea Doria was a fascinating ocean liner that sailed from  Italy to New York City. She was a symbol of class, taste, and refinement. The ship was launched on June 16, 1951, for its maiden voyage crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Genoa, Italy, to New York City on January 14, 1953. Andrea Doria remains a symbol of a bygone era. To travel on the Andrea Doria was a dream for many—from the anonymous third class passengers to the rich and famous first class voyagers whose names were well known: Magnani and John Ford, Orson Welles, Cary Grant, and Spencer Tracy, amongst others.

Andrea Doria in the shipyard – Archive Rare Image Fototeca Fondazione Ansaldo

On a damned night—July 26, 1956, to be precise—the magnificent ocean liner sank off the Nantucket shoal after a long, agonizing struggle in the ocean’s current. The cut in her hull made by the MS Stockholm tore apart the right side of the Doria. Commander Piero Calamai was the last man to disembark from the doomed ship, the accident having struck his soul so deeply that he spent the rest of his life obsessed by the event. 

As the Atlantic Ocean closed up its waters, surface foam was all that was left of the most beautiful ship ever built in the modern era. Nationwide, TV channels broadcast scenes of the abandoned dreams of a nation as the muddy seabed of the ocean welcomed the magnificent Andrea Doria vessel and transformed it into a myth. 

In the summer of 1968, Bruno Vailati, the Italian film maker and scuba diver, gathered a crew of adventurers to travel to the USA to film the wreck of Andrea Doria. They were the second film crew to visit the wreck, though the first led by James Dugan, a colleague of Jacques Cousteau reportedly were not successful. Vailati’s crew was composed of Mimì Dies, Arnaldo Mattei, Al Giddings, and finally Stefano Carletti: the man who made  Doria’s wreck immortal. The expedition was “provocatory” and demanding.

Coming back from the expedition to Rome, Stefano Carletti wrote the first book ever about the wreck of the Doria entitled, Andrea Doria -74 (the -74 refers to the depth of the shipwreck in meters). The book is a collection of feelings and rare images caught during scuba dives onboard the expedition’s side ship, Narragansett, where Stefano and the crew spent a month. 

Historic poster

The first edition of the book has now become treasured possession for collectors world-wide, and a new updated edition with restored images, a new introduction from the author, including a critical essay from me (Andrea Murdock Alpini) will be soon available. The book will be a stunning new opportunity for wreckers and historians to own a re-edition of the extraordinary book into their private library. 

Similarly, more than fifty years later, Bruno Vailati’s documentary by the same title, Andrea Doria -74, has become a cult classic. Thinking of the Andrea Doria invokes hundreds of emotions for Italian scuba divers. History, for us after all, is a foundation on which we build our lives. In the end, the wreck of the Doria will disappear into the Atlantic seabed, but her story will live on. After all, immortality is a destiny reserved only for the great beauty of the world.

I was honored to be able to interview Stefano and bring his thoughts and words about the Doria, which had been hidden by time, to a new audience.  

Interestingly, the Doria was, of course, launched in Genoa in 1951. Two decades later, in 1971, a son of the same city, Fabrizio De André, composed a vinyl album inspired by The Spoon River Anthology from the American poet Edgar Lee Masters. The disc title, “Non al denaro non all’amore nè al cielo” (Nor to money, not to love, or the heaven) well describes the pure spirit of Stefano Carletti. [Listen to the track here] He loved, dived, flew, discovered, wrote, explored, and bequeathed his stories throughout his life. Here is the story that he told to me.

Andrea Murdock Alpini: Who is Stefano Carletti, today?

Stefano Carletti: Stefano Carletti is an eighty-year-old man, a kind of living anecdote. In fact, on May 1 [2021], I will turn 82 years old.  

Congratulations! Do you remember the winter evening dinner we had in Rome with Paolo Barone? He granted us a small ink bottle which he had taken from the wreck of Laura C., sunk off Calabria’s shore. Our story started with an ink pen and some stories to be remembered and told.

Of course, I remember that great dinner we had together in Rome. One of the first ice-breaking questions was about my writing practice, a world we both love. Writing is an activity that has been with me all my life, and by the way, one I never gave up to go to the Sea. 

Stefano Carletti entering the water to dive the Andrea Doria

At present, I own a small fishing boat that makes me happy during the summer time, from early June to September. Usually, I sail the central and southern Mediterranean Sea: Sicily, Sardinia, Tunisia, and Libya are favorite spots where I have fished for decades. Fishing is an expression of freedom to me. This activity allows me to return to a special place where I have been going for forty years.

I am also still a scuba diver. I haven’t abandoned diving, I don’t miss an occasion to go scuba diving with good friends. However, I look at the sea with different eyes from the ones I had as a boy.  

Before we started our interview you said, “The sea is a kind of amniotic fluid.” Can you tell me what you mean by that?

The sea has a moral and aesthetic sense for me. It has become a primary biological requirement over the years for my state of mind. It enables me to tell sea-based stories in my novels, and in this way I feel that the sea loves me.

Do you think of yourself as a scuba diver or a fish hunter with scuba gear?

Stefano Carletti sull’Andrea Doria

The world has changed.  Once a long time ago, the main goal of scuba diving was hunting fish. All was born by the limits that freediving imposed at that time, but scuba gear opened a new world, and we went deeper and for a longer time. We had, for the first time, a chance to catch huge-sized fish. We saw ourselves as hunters more than scuba divers. 

Fifty-sixty years later I am aware that I have taken advantage of the Sea. My confessions are not those of an old man, for I was aware of what I was doing at those times too, but surviving to live this long has allowed me to admit my transgressions.. I wrote a book some decades ago titled “Naumachos”, and one chapter reads as a sort of regret. By the way, it was another time with different rules. 

Sponges, red coral, fishes, ancient Roman urns and wrecks—that was what I hunted in my life to earn my daily bread. We did things that were so close to being illegal that probably today if you tried them, you would go to jail. The sea belonged to all who were crazy enough and brave enough to explore it.  Wrecks? Those were considered “Res Nullius” (nothing) as ancient Latin people used to say, wrecks never belonged to anybody. There were no rules on this matter.

So what is a shipwreck to you today?

A wreck, first of all, is a terrible loss. Economical, psychological, and human. The wreck signifies the loss of mortal human beings who end up on the seabed. 

How did the idea to film Andrea Doria’s wreck come about?

That is a very funny story that occurred while Bruno Vailati was onboard the Giaggiolo minesweeper, a ship which belonged to the Italian Navy. In 1967, Bruno was sailing onboard the Navy ship and went to Lampedusa Island (a remote and small Italian island close to Tunisia’s shores). At that time, I was living on the island and working as a shark hunter, and you know the Doria is famous for sharks. Bruno Vailati was preparing a set of documentaries about sea life titled, “I Setti Mari” (The Seven Seas) and was interested in filming some wrecks from WWII that I had discovered on the seabed that were unknown.

Bruno Vailati filming Stefano Carletti on the Doria’s wreck, photo by Al Giddings

One evening Bruno invited me onboard the Giaggiolo to meet with him. He told me that a group of French explorers who worked with J.Y. Cousteau did not succeed in filming the wreck of the Doria, and had lost an ROV off Nantucket shoal. Intrigued by this little-known information, I played a joke on him and told him that I had a connection with a member of Cousteau’s crew and boasted that “If the Andrea Doria were here, I would be able to break her down, bolt-by-bolt,” as I had dived many, many wrecks

Some months later, during winter time, I saw Bruno and we worked together on the film we had planned since summer. Once again, Bruno Vailati caught me by surprise, “Stefano! Set up a press conference, and we will announce that we are planning an expedition to Doria’s wreck!”

You were surprised?

I was. I didn’t know anything about this beautiful ocean liner except the chronicles of its sinking. I didn’t even have an exact idea of where it was. The Expedition Board asked us to provide accurate historical research and to write a report after each scuba dive we made on the wreck. As I began to work on this matter, I found an air of mystery about the sinking and the wreck. 

We had the Doria’s Loran coordinates which were taken by Doria’s Commander Piero Calamai, and we had been secreted by the American Coast Guard and Marine Navy. However, most of the information I found about the wreck was inaccurate; articles were in contradiction with one another, and a lot of the details were wrong. We spent almost a week at sea trying to get a signal from the wreck, while calculating currents, fog and wind, before finding the Doria on the bottom.

I believed the whole story must be told. Our expedition was known to history as a large-scale expedition, but in truth we sailed only for a great adventure. 

So how did you feel about the expedition? Were you drawn by the Doria or the shipwreck itself? 

The Andrea Doria expedition was born as kind of an afterthought. I merely followed the intention of the filmmaker, Bruno Vailati, to film an Italian wreck that had sunk in difficult conditions—not only the sea’s surface conditions, but also the surrounding waters. All contributed to the factors that piqued our interest about the wreck. 

Our goal was to produce good quality images of the luxury liner on the seabed as an episode for the “I Sette Mari” Italian TV series. At the time, we were not yet fascinated by the Doria; we simply went to the US to do a job. Emotions initially played little part in our trip. We were not engaged with either the ship or the wreck. 

Stefano Carletti si prepara all’immersione sull’Andrea Doria.

Every time I watch the movie Pulp Fiction I love the way Samuel L. Jackson says, “Hamburger: The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast!” Stefano, nowadays, as I’m sure you know, decompression diving is to tech diving, what hamburgers were to Jackson’s Pulp Fiction breakfast. LOL! Please tell me a little about your nutritious decompression diving.

Ha! Well Andrea, first I do remember our expedition breakfasts onboard the Narragansett quite well. I can tell you we had a black coffee, milk, and a healthy Italian breakfast prepared by Chef Mimì Dies and his assistant. After breakfast, we made two consecutive dives on the wreck of the Doria, which we planned according to the tides, fog, swell, and current.

We dived on air with 12-liter twinsets, wetsuits, deco tables, and watches with a bottom timer. We didn’t carry any deco cylinders. I used to drag a hemp rope to the bottom as a main line to find the way back to the boat.  Typically, we spent 20 minutes on bottom each dive with an average depth of 55-75m (179-245 ft), and our decompression times varied from 35-45 minutes breathing air and later oxygen, which was supplied by the surface at 9 meters, 6 meters and 3 meters. Sometimes we spent that deco time inside a shark cage we built. 

Stefano Carletti revealing the name Andrea Doria one letter at a time.

Diving the Doria was hard; the ocean was cold, visibility was often poor, and our lamps seemed like candles in the night. Of course we were also carrying heavy movie equipment. We recorded more than 2km of film, and made thousands of photos. We each spent about 21 hours diving the wreck in the month we were there! We had a great expedition.

The Doria has been called a death wreck, a fatal scuba dive, the Mount Everest of scuba diving. What is your perspective?

Today, you can see videos on YouTube of scuba divers diving the wreck of the Doria. Most of them carry large amounts of equipment they may consider necessary; whereas simpler, more streamlined technology would be more efficient and might even save lives. The excess equipment itself makes Doria’s dive dangerous, not the wreck. 

I’m also sure, in some cases, inadequate skills and lack of fitness put many divers at risk. It’s true, too, that so many divers are interested in retrieving artifacts from inside the wreck, which puts them in danger. They have transformed a mid-level difficult dive into a “fatal dive.”



And that’s why it has a bad reputation?

The Andrea Doria does not deserve to fill the black chronicles of scuba diving. Too many poor souls have lost their lives, which is why it has been called “fatal dive.” I trust that the Doria is not a “fatal” wreck, and not even a difficult dive; however I think it is necessary to rethink the current way to approach diving this amazing wreck. If this were done, lives could probably be saved. A dive becomes “fatal” if the scuba diver makes it so. The wreck has no responsibility at all. 

The Andrea Doria, what an amazing fate; from Dolce Vita’s luxury liner to a shipwreck. People say that today there are more Doria artifacts stored in American households than there are on the Nantucket shoals seabed. Each year the Doria is cannibalized by scuba divers from around the world. Did you keep any memorabilia from your exploration?

I have never removed any relevant memorabilia from the Doria’s wreck. Most of our scuba dives took place in the exterior part of the ship. I have gone inside the wreck only a very few times. I went to the commander’s deck, and I remember the helm and the stunning windows. To tell you the truth, I dived the Doria to tell a story, to write a book, and to make a film—that is to do a job—not to gather souvenirs. During my dives, I took just five or six First Class forks from the Doria’s dining room, and I gave them all to special friends. All I have left are my memories.

At the end of the final dive, filmmaker Bruno Vailati said, “We turned back and we looked at her.” For the first time he appears melancholic. It seemed like the great filmmaker finally put aside the job and revealed his feelings about the ship. 

The last dive we made was during incredibly flat and calm sea conditions with no current. The visibility for the first time was stunning. I can say it was the only dive I had on Doria with crystal-clear visibility. It seemed that the wreck showed herself to us. During the previous 21 dives we had never really seen the Andrea Doria; we had only an idea of it because the strong current and the cold water with tons of plankton had hidden the wreck from our gaze. In fact, the majority of our dives were more tactile than visual. 

Those times, what was in front of our eyes could have been a common ship. But on our last dive, when I brushed away the silt from her beautiful name letter-by-letter, I will never forget when the name “Andrea Doria” finally appeared to me. Yes, it is true, when we did the last amazing dive, we turned in awe, and said, “Arriverderci” to the ship.

The commemorative plate that Carletti placed on the wreck of the Doria. It says, “We come here to do a job, to enable the impossible and the Andrea Doria turns back to the light”

Additional Resources:

LA Times (1990): Bruno Vailati; Producer Known for Sea Footage

Bruno Vailati’s Andrea Doria-74 (In Italiano)

Andrea Doria-74 is a 1970 documentary directed by Bruno Vailati, a film director specializing in marine and underwater films. The film was the first documentary able to show, in an organic and complete way, the wreck of the Italian ship Andrea Doria, which sank 14 years earlier. He received the David di Donatello Critics’ Award and the “Jury Prize at the Paris Film Technology Congress.” Filming took place in July 1968, during 21 dives on the wreck, with a diving group composed of Bruno Vailati, Stefano Carletti and Al Giddings, while the surface assistance group was composed of Mimì Dies, Arnaldo Mattei and the crew. ship Narragansett, chartered for the purpose. Source: Wikipedia.

Newsreel: Divers Go Down to Andrea Doria One Week After Sinking

Alert Diver (2016): Remembering the Andrea Doria by Michael Menduno


Andrea Murdock Alpini is a TDI and CMAS technical trimix and advanced wreck-overhead instructor based in Italy. He is fascinated by deep wrecks, historical research, decompression studies, caves, filming, and writing. He holds a Master’s degree in Architecture and an MBA in Economics for The Arts. Andrea is also the founder of Phy Diving Equipment. His life revolves around teaching open circuit scuba diving, conducting expeditions, developing gear, and writing essays about his philosophy of wreck and cave diving. Recently he published his first book entitled, Deep Blue: storie di relitti e luoghi insoliti.

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