World War II Italian Air War: Bombing Italy (1940-44)

Naples air raid rubble
Figure 1.--Italy was one of the three major Axis powers. All three fter declaring war on America were subject to U.S. stratehic bombing. Of thethree, Italy was most exposed to Allied bombing. It was not far away in the middle of Europe or protected by the vast Pacific. Even so Italy was not subjected to the same level of bombing delivered to Germany and Japan. Here we see Naples children pssing by the ruins of their coty as they reyurned to school once the ermans were driven north. The press caption read, "Vacation over for Naples kids: Naples children, who have had a long holiday from the classroom as they hid from both Allied and Nazi bombs, now file back to school, passing war ruins on the way. Many Neapolitan families moved into hillside caves as war rocked their city." The photograph was dated February 14.1944.

Italy with France preparing to surender joined NAZI Germany and entered the War (June 10). Italy unlike Germy was not set in th middle of Eutope, It was a peninsula and thus vulnerable to naval and air attack. Mussolini did not consider this. He thought that the War was won. The British begn bombing Italy early in the War with a raid on Turin in the north (June 11, 1940). The British bombed Palermo in the south (Sicily) with bombers from Malta (June 23). These were pin pricks. Naples was struck for the first time (November 1, 1940). This was a more important raid by RAF and Fleet Air Arm Bristol-Blenheim twin-engine light bombers flying out of Malta. It was part of a coordinated British effort to reduce the supply of Italian forces in North Africa. Naples and Brindisi were important ports used by the convoys to Tripoli. Strategic bombing in earnest did not begin until America entered the War anbd the massive build up of Allied air forces. The fall of Axis air bases in North Africa after El Alamein meant that the United States could begin bombing Italy (1943). And by this time the entry of America into the War was massively increasing the striking power of Allied air forces. The RAI had played a major role in bombing Malta which was protected by only a small force of British fighters. The badly outclassed RAI, unlike the Luftwaffee, was unable to offer effective resistance to the massive air power being assembled by the Allies. One of the major targets was Naples, the largest port in southern Italy and important for getting supplies through to the shrinking Axis bridgehead in Tunisia. The fall of Tunisia and then Sicily further increased the ability of the Allies to bring the War home to Italy. Many Italian cities were bombed. Heavy raids started with the American bombings as the 9th Air Force became established. Naples was struck in force (December 4, 1942). The American sent the long range B-24 Liberators. The first raid killed 900 people. They were daylight raids so the bombers could find the port and other targets. Compared to the British raids on Italy the American raids were massive. Naples aqnd other Italian cities were not well-prepared for such intense air-raids. Most of the al anti-aircraft fire cane from ship-mounted guns at the port. There were air-raid shelters, but only because a network of underground train stations, quarries and caverns already existed. (photo, left), including sections of the old Roman aqueduct. One author writes, " The honeycomb of caverns and passageways below were converted into air raid shelters under Mussolini's UMPA or civil defense program. Whole families spent weeks below ground, often emerging into daylight to find their homes and entire neighborhoods turned to rubble ... so they returned to the cavernous shelters to survive. Evidence of DC battery power, showers and crude health and kitchen facilities can still be seen in many of the shelters." [Ray] Foggia was another important target vecause of the major air base there. The Allies also bombed Rome with several raids before the Italians surrendered (1943). The Germans also bombed Rome to a much lesser extent as the Luftwaffe was ovrealmed by Allied air power. Hitler appear to have ordered the detruction of the Vatican. The Allies flew 110,000 sorties against Rome. Some 600 aircraft were lost and 3,600 air crew members died. Some 60,000 tons of bombs were dropped. Pope Pius XII suceeded in having Rome declared an open city, through negotiations with President Roosevelt via Cardinal Francis Spellman. Rome was declared an open city (August 14, 1943). The Allied bombing of Zadar, an Italian enclave in Dalmatia (Yugosalvia) is a little known acrion in the air war (November 1943 - October 1944). While a relatively small city, it is notable because of the intensity of the bombing. There is no defenitive accounting on the impact and results vary substantially. The Allies report 30 raids. The Italians claim that there were 54. Reports of the fatalities also vary from 1,000-4,000 people. Zadar only had 20,000 inhabitants. American bombings of Italy never took on the massive scale of the strategic bombing campaign against Germany, but they dd wreak considerable damage on Italian cities.


Ray, Larry.


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Created: 5:45 AM 8/20/2014
Last updated: 5:45 AM 8/20/2014