It has been suggested that Bombing of the Vatican be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since January 2024.
Bombing of Rome
Part of the Winter Line and the battle for Rome

Propaganda 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)
Result Allied victory
 United Kingdom
 United States
 Italy (from 8 September)
 Italy (until 8 September)
 Italian Social Republic
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Arthur Harris
United Kingdom Arthur Tedder
United States Jimmy Doolittle
United States Henry H. Arnold
Fascist Italy Renato Sandalli
Nazi Germany Albert Kesselring
Casualties and losses
600 aircraft shot down
3,600 air crew
40,000 civilians[citation needed]

Rome was bombed several times during 1943 and 1944, primarily by Allied and to a smaller degree by Axis aircraft, before the city was liberated 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 U.S. President Franklin D. 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 raid) by the defending Italian forces.[1]

The first bombing raid was on July 19, 1943, when 690 aircraft of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) flew over Rome and dropped 9,125 bombs on the city. Though the raid targeted the freight yard and steel factory in the San Lorenzo district of Rome, Allied bombs also struck the district's apartment blocks, damaging the Papal Basilica and killing 1,500 people. Pius XII, who had previously requested Roosevelt not to bomb Rome due to "its value to the whole of humanity", paid a visit to the affected regions of the district; photographs of his visit later became a symbol of anti-war sentiments in Italy.[2] The Allied bombing raids continued throughout 1943 and extended into 1944. In the United States, while the majority of the American media supported the bombing raids, many Catholic newspapers condemned them.[3]

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.[4]

Correspondences between Pius XII and Roosevelt

Following the first Allied bombing of Rome on May 16, 1943 (three months before the German Army occupied the city), Pius XII wrote to Roosevelt asking that Rome "be spared as far as possible further pain and devastation, and their many treasured shrines… from irreparable ruin."[5]

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.[6]

The 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.[7] 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.[7] H.G. Wells was a particularly vocal proponent of doing so.[8]

Notable raids

Date Description
July 19, 1943 On July 19, 1943, during Operation Crosspoint,[9] Rome was bombed by 521 Allied planes. 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 Littorio marshalling yard on the northern side of Rome. The third target was the Ciampino Airport, on the south-east side of Rome.

The raid caused thousands of civilian casualties (estimates range between 1,600 and 3,200 victims).[10] 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.[11][12]

August 13, 1943 310 Allied bombers attacked the city, targeting San Lorenzo and Scalo del Littorio.[13] The surrounding urban districts were also badly hit, and 502 civilians were killed.[10]
September 17, 1943 55 USAAF bombers attacked the Ciampino Airport.[10]
September 18, 1943 Ciampino was attacked again, this time by 35 bombers.[10]
October 23, 1943 73 RAF bombers attacked the Guidonia Air Base.[10]
November 22, 1943 Ciampino was bombed by 39 RAF aircraft.[10]
November 28, 1943 Ciampino was bombed by 55 RAF aircraft.[10]
December 28, 1943 Ciampino and Guidonia were bombed by the 12th USAF.[10]
January 13, 1944 USAF bombers attacked the Guidonia and Centocelle airfields.[14]
January 19, 1944 147 USAF bombers attacked the Guidonia and Centocelle airfields, but the surrounding city was also hit.[14]
January 20, 1944 197 USAF bombers attacked the Guidonia and Centocelle airfields, but the surrounding city was also hit.[14]
March 3, 1944 206 USAF bombers attacked the Tiburtino, Littorio and Ostiense marshalling yards; these were hit but so were the surrounding urban districts, with 400 civilian deaths.[14]
March 7, 1944 149 USAF bombers bombed the Littorio and Ostiense marshalling yards, hitting both their objectives and the city.[14]
March 10, 1944 The 12th USAF bombed the Littorio and Tiburtino marshalling yards, but bombs fell also on the city, killing 200 civilians.[14]
March 14, 1944 112 USAF bombers attacked the Prenestino marshalling yard; the objective was hit, but the surrounding districts also suffered damage, with 150 civilian casualties.[14]
March 18, 1944 The 12th USAF bombed Rome, causing 100 civilian casualties.[14] This was the last major air raid over Rome.

Bombing of Vatican City

Further information: Bombing of the Vatican

Effects of shrapnel on a wall of the Vatican City railway station, which is adorned with a sculpture of Elijah in his fiery chariot

Vatican City maintained an official policy of neutrality during the war.[15] 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 during the war, once on November 5, 1943, and once on March 1, 1944. There are varying accounts regarding which side was responsible for both incidents.

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.[16] There were no fatalities.[16] Damage from the raid is still visible.[17][18]

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.[19]


  1. ^ Döge, p. 651–678
  2. ^ Baily, Virginia (25 July 2015). "How the Nazi occupation of Rome has gripped Italy's cultural imagination". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 January 2022.
  3. ^ Hammer, Christopher M., The American Catholic Church's Reaction to the Bombing of Rome (February 26, 2008). Available at SSRN 1098343 or doi:10.2139/ssrn.1098343
  4. ^ Lytton, p. 55 & 57
  5. ^ Roosevelt et al., p. 90
  6. ^ Roosevelt et al., p. 91
  7. ^ a b Murphy and Arlington, p. 210
  8. ^ "Crux Ansata". Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  9. ^ Failmezger, p.29
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h "Bombardate l'Italia. Storia della guerra di distruzione aerea 1940-45" (PDF). February 2, 2014. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-02-02.
  11. ^ Murphy and Arlington, p. 212–214
  12. ^ Trevelyan, p. 11
  13. ^ Murphy and Arlington, p. 214–215
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 15 January 2022.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ Chen, C. Peter. "Vatican City in World War II". Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  16. ^ a b Murphy and Arlington, p. 222
  17. ^ Jpsonnen (31 May 2008). "ORBIS CATHOLICVS: WWII: when the Vatican was bombed..." Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  18. ^ "WW2 Italy". Archived from the original on 2008-06-11. Retrieved 2010-11-27.
  19. ^ McGoldrick, Patricia M. (2016). "Who Bombed the Vatican?: The Argentinean Connection". The Catholic Historical Review. 102 (4): 771–798. doi:10.1353/cat.2016.0207. ISSN 1534-0708. S2CID 159488757.


  • 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]
  • Failmezger, Victor(2020) "Rome: City in Terror". Oxford; Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4728-4128-5
  • 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