Americans bomb Rome in 2-hour daylight raid (7-19-43)

The Pittsburgh Press (July 19, 1943)

Americans bomb Rome in 2-hour daylight raid

Waves of planes hit rail yards 4 miles from Vatican City
By Reynolds Packard, United Press staff writer


London, England –
The Vatican radio said tonight that Pope Pius visited the bombed districts of Rome.

Allied HQ, North Africa –
An All-American fleet of Flying Fortresses, Liberators, medium bombers and fighters raided Rome for the first time in history today, concentrating on railway and aviation facilities of the ancient city.

Promptly at 11:13 a.m. Rome Time (5:13 a.m. ET), the first wave of Flying Fortresses blasted the San Lorenzo marshaling yards – a big railroad switch yards where trains are made up – four miles from Vatican City, inaugurating the precision bombing by daylight of the Italian capital.

The raid lasted two and a half hours.

They were followed in by wave after wave of raiders in a 100% American show.

Teamed with the four-motored Boeing B-17s of the Northwest African Air Force were Liberator bombers of the Middle East Command, as well as Lt. Gen. Carl A. Spaatz’s Marauder and Mitchell medium bombers and Lighting fighters.

The long-planned and carefully executed raid on Rome was aimed exclusively at military targets. It was carried out by select crews, many of the man familiar with Rome at first hand, schooled to hit thew target and see that no explosions touched the Vatican or other non-military objectives.

All the targets were at least four miles from Vatican City, it was announced officially. The nearest was the San Lorenzo marshalling yards.

Forty-five minutes after the first wave of Forts hit the San Lorenzo yards, another fleet swept over.

Just as the big Boeings completed their assault on the yards, the first Liberators began bombing the Littorio marshalling yards.

They were followed in immediately by large formations of Marauders and Mitchells, escorted by Lightnings, which bombed the Ciampino Airdrome.

The Fortresses of the Northwest African Air Force flew unescorted to send the first bomb crashing on Rome, headquarters of the Fascist Party and prime military target despite all its historic shrines.

The utmost precautions were taken days in advance to “brief” the bomber crews with detailed maps so military targets

Various cultural, religious and historical monuments were circled in red on the maps. Four hospitals were marked with red crosses. These specified places were marked in large letters, “Must Not Be Bombed.”

U.S. raiders carefully avoid Vatican, Washington says

By Reuel S. Moore, United Press staff writer

Washington –
Allied medium and heavy bombers, carefully avoiding the Vatican, today bombed military objectives in the ancient city of Rome.

The action was announced in an extraordinary communiqué issued by the War Department at 5:30 a.m. It made good the threats of Allied leaders, especially Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain, that the Allies would bomb Rome in retaliation for the bombing of London.

Thousands of tons of bombs have been dropped on Berlin, the capital of Italy’s Axis partner. Tokyo has been bombed once by American airmen.

It was believed here that the raid on Rome probably occurred when troop trains were being made ready for departure to Sicily where great Allied armies are driving relentlessly toward the Italian mainland.

Prior to the raid, which was carried out by the Mediterranean Air Command, Allied planes dropped warning leaflets addressed to “the citizens of Rome.” They advised the Italians that the only objectives of the Allied airmen were military objectives, war industries, military installations and airdromes.

But the leaflets warned the people that their Fascist government “will say that we are trying to destroy cultural monuments which are the joy, not only of Rome, but of the civilized world.” They also warned that “to lend plausibility to their living statement,” the Italian government or its German accomplices might arrange to bomb Rome, “or even Vatican City.”

The Allies admitted that it was impossible to avoid destruction of civil buildings entirely, but that such destruction would be limited to a minimum and that the raid was occurring in the daytime so that the people could see for themselves whether the statement was true.

There has been speculation for many months whether Rome, which surrounds the historic seat of the Pope and the Catholic Church, and the age-old capital of Roman emperors, would be bombed by the Allies. But in recent weeks, there have been increasing signs that failing an Italian capitulation, it would suffer the same fate as Berlin.

A week ago last Saturday, after the Allied invasion of Sicily, President Roosevelt promised Pope Pius XII that during the invasion of Italy churches and religious institutions would “be spared the devastations of war” and that the neutral status of Vatican City, as well as of papal domains “throughout Italy” would be respected.

Last Sunday, Allied airplanes dropped millions of leaflets over Rome urging the Italians to abandon their Fascist leaders. The implication then was that the planes which dropped the leaflets could return with blockbusters.

Today Allied planes returned with both – bombs for the military objectives and leaflets for the civilian population.

The marshalling yard which was the objective was said to have been near government buildings and presumably some of them were targets of the mission.

It was believed that the bombing occurred at the same time that the communiqué was released to the press here, which would be about noon in Rome. That precaution was taken to offset any prior Axis claims that religious or cultural edifices were targets.

The Royal Air Force has previously engaged in minor raids in the suburbs of Rome, but no Allied planes heretofore have set out with Rome proper as the objective.

There was no indication of the size of the raid, but it was probably only a fraction of the size of the force of 500 bombers that attacked the port of Naples over the weekend in the largest aerial attack to date in the Italian war theater.

The assumption here was that the raid on Rome was as much for the psychological effect upon the Italian people as for the destruction of military objectives. It is hoped here that the morale of the Italians, already believed near the crumbling point, will collapse under the stress of incessant aerial poundings.

The bombing of Rome is expected to have an especially devastating effect on the Italian people who always have looked upon it as the seat of their religion, culture and glorious past history.

The Allies, in their propaganda campaign, have repeatedly stressed the great cultural heritage of the Italian people and have offered them a chance for “honorable capitulation” if they will abandon the leaders who have betrayed them.

The virtual ultimatum of the Allies is “Die for Mussolini and Italy – or live for Italy, and for civilization.”

The text of the communiqué announcing the Rome raid:

Military objectives in Rome and its vicinity have been bombed today by heavy bombers and medium bombers of the Mediterranean Air Command. The marshalling yard was the principal target. It is of greatest importance to the Axis war effort and in particular for the movement of German troops. Leaflets were also dropped over the city prior to the raid. Pilots and bombardiers employed on this mission were particularly instructed to avoid damaging religious and cultural monuments.

The leaflets dropped on Rome prior to the raid said:

To the citizens of Rome:

You have already been warned that military objectives in the vicinity of Rome are liable to be bombed by the Allied air force.

When this occurs the Fascist Government, who consistently conceal news about the war, will say that we are trying to destroy cultural monuments which are the glory not only of Rome, but of the civilized world.

It is possible, moreover, that in order to lend plausibility to their lying statement, the Fascist government or their German associates will themselves arrange that bombs should be dropped on the center of Rome, or even on Vatican City.

We leave it to your intelligence to decide whether or not we should waste our efforts on targets whose destruction is useless for our aims.

We have declared, and we repeat, that we shall be aiming at military objectives, war industries, military installations and airdromes, all of which work entirely in the interests of the Germans. These targets have been carefully chosen, and our pilots have been especially trained in precision bombing.

It is impossible, however, when bombing military objectives entirely to avoid destruction of civil buildings. It is our intention to limit these destructions to a minimum. Our raid will take place during the day so you will be able to see for yourself whether our statement is true.

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