Bombing of Rome in World War II

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Bombing of Rome
Part of the Winter Line and the battle for Rome of the Italian Campaign of World War II
Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-476-2094-17A, Italien, Rom, zerstörtes Gebäude.jpg
Inscription on the wall of a bombed building, translated as "Work of the Liberators" Rome, 1944
Date16 May 1943 – 5 June 1944
(1 year, 2 weeks, 6 days)
LocationRome, Italy
Result Allied victory
 United Kingdom
 United States
Kingdom of Italy Italy
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Arthur Harris
United Kingdom Arthur Tedder
United States Jimmy Doolittle
United States Henry H. Arnold
Nazi Germany Albert Kesselring
Kingdom of Italy Renato Sandalli
Casualties and losses

600 aircraft shot down

3,600 air crew
40,000 civilians
Bombing of Rome in World War II is located in Italy
Bombing of Rome in World War II
Location within Italy

The bombing of Rome in World War II took place on several occasions in 1943 and 1944, primarily by Allied and to a smaller degree by Axis aircraft, before the city was invaded by the Allies on June 4, 1944. Pope Pius XII was initially unsuccessful in attempting to have Rome declared an open city, through negotiations with President Roosevelt via Archbishop (later Cardinal) Francis Spellman. Rome was eventually declared an open city on August 14, 1943 (a day after the last Allied bombing) by the defending forces.[1]

The bombings of the "Eternal City" were controversial for several reasons. Rome had been the capital city of Italy for around 70 years, but large parts of the city were more than 2,500 years old. The neutral Vatican City sat within Rome, and the Vatican also owned many churches and other buildings outside its territory but within Rome city limits. Many Americans were against a major destruction of Rome. However, the British War Cabinet refused to see bombing Rome as a crime against humanity. The first bombardment occurred on July 19, 1943 and was carried out by 500 American bombers which dropped 1,168 tons of bombs. The entire working class district of San Lorenzo was destroyed, and 3,000 Italian civilians were killed in the raids over five residential/railway districts. The military targets were few, the largest Stazione Termini contained a marshaling yard, railways and industries that manufactured steel, textile products and glass. Winston Churchill approved the bombardment by the words "I agree, W.S.C. 16.7.43." [2]

In the 110,000 sorties that comprised the Allied Rome air campaign, 600 aircraft were lost and 3,600 air crew members died; 60,000 tons of bombs were dropped in the 78 days before Rome was captured by the Allies on June 4, 1944.[3]

Correspondences between Pius XII and Roosevelt[edit]

Following the first Allied bombing of Rome on May 16, 1943 (three months before the German Army occupied the city), Pius XII wrote Roosevelt asking that Rome "be spared as far as possible further pain and devastation, and their many treasured shrines… from irreparable ruin."[4]

On June 16, 1943, Roosevelt replied:

Bombing of Rome was controversial, and General Henry H. Arnold described Vatican City as a "hot potato" because of the importance of Catholics in the U.S. Armed Forces.[6] British public opinion, however, was more aligned towards the bombing of the city, due to the participation of Italian planes in The Blitz over London.[6] H.G. Wells was a particularly vocal proponent of doing so.[7]

Notable raids[edit]

July 19, 1943[edit]

On July 19, 1943, Rome was bombed again, more heavily, by 521 Allied planes, with three targets, causing thousands of civilian casualties. After the raid, Pius XII, along with Msgr. Montini (the future Pope Paul VI), travelled to the Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls, which had been badly damaged, and distributed 2 million to the crowds.[8][9] Between 11 a.m. and 12 noon, 150 Allied B-17 Flying Fortresses attacked the San Lorenzo freight yard and steel factory. In the afternoon, the second target was the "Scalo del Littorio" on the northern side of Rome. The third target was the Ciampino airport, on south-east side of Rome.

August 13, 1943[edit]

Three weeks later, on August 13, 1943, Allied planes again bombed the city, targeting San Lorenzo and Scalo del Littorio .[10]

Bombing of Vatican City[edit]

Vatican City maintained an official policy of neutrality during the war.[11] Both Allied and Axis bombers made some effort not to attack the Vatican when bombing Rome. However, Vatican City was bombed on at least two occasions, once by the British and once by the Germans.

November 5, 1943

On November 5, 1943, a single plane dropped four bombs on the Vatican, destroying a mosaic studio near the Vatican railway station and breaking the windows of the high cupola of St. Peter's, and nearly destroying Vatican Radio.[12] There were no fatalities.[12] Damage from the raid is still visible.[13][14]

March 1, 1944

On March 1, 1944, German airplanes dropped six bombs over the Vatican, littering the Court of Saint Damaso with debris.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Döge, p. 651–678
  2. ^ Vatican TV-documentary "Bombing of Rome", Road Television srl, Executive Prod. & Director Maurizio Carta, Producer Claudia Pompjli, CTV Centro Televisivo Vaticano. Historicans interviewed Richard Overy, Andrea Riccardi, Robert Katz, David Forgacs, Gaetano Bordoni and others
  3. ^ Lytton, p. 55 & 57
  4. ^ Roosevelt et al., p. 90
  5. ^ Roosevelt et al., p. 91
  6. ^ a b Murphy and Arlington, p. 210
  7. ^ "Crux Ansata". Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  8. ^ Murphy and Arlington, p. 212–214
  9. ^ Trevelyan, p. 11
  10. ^ Murphy and Arlington, p. 214–215
  11. ^ Chen, C. Peter. "Vatican City in World War II". Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  12. ^ a b Murphy and Arlington, p. 222
  13. ^ Jpsonnen (31 May 2008). "ORBIS CATHOLICVS: WWII: when the Vatican was bombed..." Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  14. ^


  • Döge, F.U. (2004) "Die militärische und innenpolitische Entwicklung in Italien 1943-1944", Chapter 11, in: Pro- und antifaschistischer Neorealismus. PhD Thesis, Free University, Berlin. 960 p. [in German]
  • Jackson, W.G.F. (1969) The Battle for Rome. London: Batsford. ISBN 0-7134-1152-X
  • Katz, R. (2003) The Battle for Rome: The Germans, the Allies, the Partisans, and the Pope, September 1943 – June 1944. New York : Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-1642-3
  • Kurzman, D. (1975) The Race for Rome. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company. ISBN 0-385-06555-8
  • Lytton, H.D. (1983) "Bombing Policy in the Rome and Pre-Normandy Invasion Aerial Campaigns of World War II: Bridge-Bombing Strategy Vindicated – and Railyard-Bombing Strategy Invalidated". Military Affairs. 47 (2: April). p. 53–58
  • Murphy, P.I. and Arlington, R.R. (1983) La Popessa: The Controversial Biography of Sister Pasqualina, the Most Powerful Woman in Vatican History. New York: Warner Books Inc. ISBN 0-446-51258-3
  • Roosevelt, F.D. Pius XII, Pope and Taylor, M.C. (ed.) [1947] (2005) Wartime Correspondence Between President Roosevelt and Pope Pius XII. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger. ISBN 1-4191-6654-9
  • Trevelyan, R. 1982. Rome '44: The Battle for the Eternal City. New York: Viking. ISBN 0-670-60604-9

Further reading[edit]

  • Carli, Maddalena; Gentiloni Silveri, Umberto. Bombardare Roma: gli alleati e la città aperta, 1940-1944 (in Italian). (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2007)

External links[edit]