Bombing of Rome in World War II

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]

Bombing of Rome
Part of the Winter Line and the battle for Rome
Date16 May 1943 – 5 June 1944
(1 year, 2 weeks, 6 days)
Result Allied victory
 United Kingdom
 United States
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[citation needed]
Bombing of Rome in World War II is located in Italy
Bombing of Rome in World War II
Location within Italy

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 RooseveltEdit

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:

Attacks against Italy are limited, to the extent humanly possible, to military objectives. We have not and will not make warfare on civilians or against nonmilitary objectives. In the event it should be found necessary for Allied planes to operate over Rome, our aviators are thoroughly informed as to the location of the Vatican and have been specifically instructed to prevent bombs from falling within Vatican City.[5]

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 raidsEdit

July 19, 1943Edit

On July 19, 1943, Rome was bombed again, more heavily, by 521 Allied planes, with three targets, causing thousands of civilian casualties (estimates range between 1,600 and 3,200 victims).[8] 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 lire to the crowds.[9][10] 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, 1943Edit

Three weeks later, on August 13, 1943, 310 Allied bombers again bombed the city, targeting San Lorenzo and Scalo del Littorio.[11] The surrounding urban districts were also badly hit, and 502 civilians were killed.[8]

September 17, 1943Edit

55 USAAF bombers attacked the Ciampino Airport.[8]

September 18, 1943Edit

Ciampino was attacked again, this time by 35 bombers.[8]

October 23, 1943Edit

73 RAF bombers attacked the Guidonia air base.[8]

November 22, 1943Edit

Ciampino was bombed by 39 RAF aircraft.[8]

November 28, 1943Edit

Ciampino was bombed again, by 55 RAF aircraft.[8]

December 28, 1943Edit

Ciampino and Guidonia were bombed by the 12th USAAF.[8]

January 13, 1944Edit

USAAF bombers attacked the Guidonia and Centocelle airfields.[12]

January 19, 1944Edit

147 USAAF bombers attacked the Guidonia and Centocelle airfields, but the surrounding city was also hit.[12]

January 20, 1944Edit

197 USAAF bombers attacked the Guidonia and Centocelle airfields, but the surrounding city was also hit.[12]

March 3, 1944Edit

206 USAAF bombers attacked the Tiburtino, Littorio and Ostiense marshalling yards; these were hit but so were the surrounding urban districts, with 400 civilian deaths.[12]

March 7, 1944Edit

149 USAAF bombers bombed the Littorio and Ostiense marshalling yards, hitting both their objectives and the city.[12]

March 10, 1944Edit

The 12th USAAF bombed the Littorio and Tiburtino marshalling yards, but bombs fell also on the city, killing 200 civilians.[12]

March 14, 1944Edit

112 USAAF bombers attacked the Prenestino marshalling yard; the objective was hit, but the surrounding districts also suffered damage, with 150 civilian casualties.[12]

March 18, 1944Edit

The 12th USAAF bombed Rome, causing 100 civilian casualties.[12] This was the last major air raid over Rome.

Bombing of Vatican CityEdit

Vatican City maintained an official policy of neutrality during the war.[13] 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.[14] There were no fatalities.[14] Damage from the raid is still visible.[15][16]

March 1, 1944

There is no obscurity about the identity of the British plane that dropped bombs on the edge of Vatican City on 1 March 1944 as this was explicitly acknowledged, at least in private, by the British Air Ministry as an accidental bombing when one of its aircraft on a bombing raid over Rome dropped its bombs too close to the Vatican wall. Who Bombed the Vatican?: The Argentinean Connection


  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. ^ a b c d e f g h (PDF). February 2, 2014 Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-02-02. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ Murphy and Arlington, p. 212–214
  10. ^ Trevelyan, p. 11
  11. ^ Murphy and Arlington, p. 214–215
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h
  13. ^ Chen, C. Peter. "Vatican City in World War II". Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  14. ^ a b Murphy and Arlington, p. 222
  15. ^ Jpsonnen (31 May 2008). "ORBIS CATHOLICVS: WWII: when the Vatican was bombed..." Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-06-11. Retrieved 2010-11-27.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)


  • 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 readingEdit

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

External linksEdit