Europe took a beating during WWII, and many of its cities suffered severe and continuous bombings, even outside of the major players, Germany and England. Rome allied with Germany early on, and as such, incurred the wrath of Great Britain and its allies.
Even though Rome was seen by most as a culturally valuable and historic city, with 2,500 years of architecture, and the seat of Christianity at the Vatican in its midst, Rome yet suffered several bombings, by both the Allied and Axis aircraft.
Mussolini had allied Italy with Germany in the early part of the war. As a dictator himself, he supported Hitler and his goals. Because of the strategic importance of the city’s proximity to air fields, and to extensive road and rail systems, both Eisenhower and Churchill ignored the controversial nature of their decision and chose to strike, and did so with brute force, and on more than one occasion.
Playing Hot Potato
The religious importance of Rome to all of christendom made the decision to bomb the city a precarious one. Catholics within the Allied armed forces were conflicted at the notion. Leaders knew that an attack on the city could have a severe impact on morale in the armed forces.
General Henry Arnold, who was in charge of the United States Army Air Forces, key forces for strategic bombing in Europe through the Air War Plans Division, showed great concern over the notion of bombing Rome, saying that Vatican City was a “hot potato” because of the many Allied Catholics.
Civilians in Great Britain, however, were supportive of the idea of pelting Rome with TNT, as Italian planes had participated in the bombing of Great Britain on more than one occasion.
In spite of American civilians expressing disagreement with the idea of destroying Rome, the British War Cabinet, with the approval of Roosevelt, went ahead with plans to attack the Holy City.
Tons of Bombs
On July 19, 1943, five hundred American bombers carried out the first air raid on Rome by dropping 1,168 tons of bombs on the city. Some 3,000 civilians were killed in raids the hit five districts that were both residential and railway districts. The whole of San Lorenzo’s working district was also destroyed.
The city’s rail station, “Stazione Termini” was one of the targets, along with the associated railways and nearby steel manufacturing sites. Later on that same day, allied planes, B-17s that were called “Flying Fortresses”, also hit the Scalo del Littorio and the Ciampino airport on the south-east of Rome.
The Allies pounded Rome on a semi-regular basis throughout the remainder of 1943, flying over each month and dropping in the neighborhood of 60,000 tons of tnt. Most of the subsequent raids were for the purposes of hitting airfields, such as Ciampiano, Guidonia, and Centocelle air fields.
Though many times there were specific targets, the city itself also took charges. On August 13 of that year, 502 civilians were killed as a result.
The Raids Continued
Even though Mussolini was deposed in July of 1943 and a new leader, Marshal Pietro Badoglio, replaced Mussolini, negotiations to formally surrender the city to Allies did not stop the bombing raids. Because Badoglio entered negotiations however, the allies may have been more surgical in their strikes.
In 1944, the bombing raids were limited to the months of January and March, but were frequent, comparatively, and aimed at airfields and marshalling yards. A total of 600 civilians were killed in two of those strikes.
The Vatican itself had also taken hits. Even though the allies made efforts not to strike the Vatican, the city was bombed on at least two occasions, once by the Germans, and once by the British.
Four Allied bombs hit Vatican City on November 5, 1943, when a single plane flew over the Vatican railway station with its loosed cargo, and destroyed a mosaic studio, and the windows in the cupola of Saint Peter’s Basilica, and damaged Vatican Radio station as well.
Thank God for Occupation
Apart from an accidental bombing of the edge of Vatican City in March of 1944, after the city was declared “open” and Badoglio had severed Italian ties to Nazi Germany and joined Allied forces, Rome was finally in the clear. The last major air raid over Rome took place on March 18, 1944. Sadly, there were 100 civilian casualties, but they would be the last.