World War II Italy: Air War--Civilian Casualties

Italian civilian casualties from air operations
Figure 1.--The photo was taken in early December 1943, between Lanciano and Casoli (region Abruzzo), a region of south central Italy. The Itlaian civilians are fleeing from an Allied bombing raid. The Allies mafe heavy use of both artillery and air power in their drive north. The Allies struck an area between these two town (about 20 kms) to dislodge heavily dug in German troops. There were bombings on December 1 (RAF, RAAF and SAAF), December 2 (RAAF), December 3 (U.S. 12th AF), December 4 and 8 (RAAF). The people are leaving their homes. The buildings could be destroyed, or the people preferred go to some farm that were no bombing. We don't know why the girl is carrying her shoes in the mud, instead of wear them. Anyway we can think that she was used to walk barefoot anf probably she preferred to save her only footwear for the next snowfall. A reader writes, "The girl is carrying the shoes because they have already been sucked off by the cloying mud. They look as though they were made for a larger child and are a hand-down. It is easier to walk in a muddy road without shoes." Notice the road, it looks like many military vehichles have been through. Lanciano was a modern, industrial city that became famous in Abruzzo for resisting the Germans (October 6, 1943). The city including many teenagers rebelled against the Germans, helping a group of partisans. The sacrifice of 11 October Martyrs earned a golden campaign medal to the city.

Some 150,000 Italian civilians are believed to have been killed during World War II. Attacks on civilians began when the Italians Air Force joined the Luftwaffe in the Bttle of Britain (July 1940). The Italian air units experienced such heavy losses that they quickly withdrew from the campign. Allied bombing of Italy was during the first 2 years of the Warvery limited. This changed with the decisive British victory at r Alamein (November 1942) after which the Britis seized Libya with bases from which American bombers could reach southern Italy. The main target was Naples, the most important port in southern Europe. With the Torch landings (November 1942), the focus of the North African campaign became Tunisia and the campaign would turn on the ability of the Germans and Italians to reinforce and supply their forces in Tunisia. This made the Italin ports a major target and the Allies now had the bases and air units to strike at them. It is at this time that civilian casualties from air attacks began to increase. They were, however, fairly limited. Attacks were primarily limited to ports and transport nodes like rail yards. Unlike German cities. There were few war industries in southern Italy. Some 25,000 Italians are believed to be killed before the Armistice (September 1943). Most of the air caualties or some 125,000 ivilians were killed after the Armistice with the German occupation and Allied invasion (September 1943). The ensuing fighting took a heavy tole on civilians as fighting took place up the Itlalian Peninsula as the Allies fought their way north toward the Reich. The Germans were not gentle, seeing the Italians as trecherous for pulling out of the Axis Alliance and switching sides. German and Allied artillery also took a heavy tole. A sizeable amount of those losses, approaching half were due to air strikes. Sone 60,000 Italians were killed by air strikes, over 40,000 after the Armitice. [Instituto Centrale Statistica] The Allies began bombing Italy (1942). After the Armistice, tactical air operations commemnsed (1943). Unlike the Germans, the Italians had few air raid shelters, even in Rome and the other large cities. After the Armistice, tactical operations became increasingly important and unlike strategic operations were not largely resricted to cities. As the Germans turned small towns and village into fortified posutions, the Allied air forces began hammering them. The tenacity of the German resistance and the quality of their weaponry devestated whole units. The attacking Allies, unlike the Germans were not a battle-hardened professional army, but rather civilians in uniforms. And as casualties mounted, the Allied units demandedvmore artilleryn and air support before attacking. As in other areas of Europe, this created a huge problem for the civilians. World War II air operations were notoriouisly inaccurate. Few bombs fell any where near the target which is one reason the RAF turned to area bombing in the strategic bombing camapaign. And even tactical bombing resulted in heavy civilian losses. The Allies unlike the Lufwaffe were just beginning to develop a CAS doctrine.

Battle of Britain (1940)

Italian air attacks on British civilians began when the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Royal Air Force) joined the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain. The Germans launced the Battle Of Britain (July 1940). The Corpo Aereo Italiano (Italian Air Corps-CAI), however, did not begin arriving until much lter. The CAI was deployed to airfields in NAZI-occupied Belgium. The first CAI units began arriving (September 10). At the time the Germans and as aresult, the Italians, believed that the British Royal Air Force (RAF) were virtually defeated and on their last legs. It would be more than a month before the CAI would see action. As the campaign turned against Germany the CAI was not fully committed and would fly only a handful of sorties. Their primary bomber was the Fiat BR.20, a twin-engine, medium bomber. It was an effective aircrft in the 1930s, but largely obsolete by the time Mussolini brought Italy into the War. It was both slow and poorly defended, easy targets for RAF fighters. The Italians committed two fighters, Fiat G.50 Freccia and the Fiat CR.42 Falco--a surprisingly effective biplane. The CAI did not fly its first mission until 2 weeks after Hitler postponed Sea Lion. The first important Italian raids took place on Harwich and Felixstowe (October 24). Other small missions followed. These included an attack on Ramsgate and Deal (October29). The last Italian attack on Britain was a failure (November 11). Small missions were flown sporadically during the rest of November. Ironically the only important air enggement of any significance at the time was the Royal Navy carrier attack on the Italian fleet at Toranto (November 11-12). The Italians suffered casualties, but they were limited by the fact that they only stuck at ports along the southeastern corner of England (Kent and Suffolk) because they were flying from Belgium. They never ventured further inland. RAF fighters thus never had the time to get their teerth into the Italian raiders. The Italians withdrew the CAI and redeployed to the Mediterranean where they were being hard-pressed by the British (early 1941).

Initial Allied Air Campaign (1940-43)

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, believing that the Germans had already won the War declared war on Britain and France (June 1940) and a few months later attacked the British in Egypt from their Libyan colony (September 1940). Allied bombing of Italy was during the first 2 years of the War very limited. Italian cities for the most part were beyond the reach of Allied (British) bombers. This changed with the decisive British victory at Alamein (November 1942) after which the British seized Libya with bases from which American bombers could reach southern Italy. The main target was Naples, the most important port in southern Europe. With the Torch landings (November 1942), the focus of the North African campaign became Tunisia. Hitler rushed reinforcements to Tunisia. The campaign would turn on the ability of the Germans and Italians to reinforce and supply their forces in Tunisia. This made the Italian ports a major target and the Allies now had the bases and air units to strike at them. It is at this time that civilian casualties from air attacks began to increase. They were, however, fairly limited. Attacks were primarily limited to ports and transport nodes like rail yards. Unlike German cities. There were few war industries in southern Italy. Nales was an exception. Naples became the most bombed Italian city in the War. The Allies staged about 200 air strikes on Naples, mostly the Americans in 1943. The primary targets was the port facilities in the east. Other targets included rail, industrial, and petroleum facilities and the steel mill to the west, in near by Bagnoli. The largest raid was more than a month before liberation (August 4). A force of 400 B-17 Mitchells of the Northwest African Strategic Air Force (NASAF) hit the submarine base at Naples. World War II targetting wa primitive. The Church of Santa Chiara was destroyed. The Santa Maria di Loreto hospital was also destroyed in Allied raids. Some 25,000 civilians are believed to be killed in Allies air raids while the Italians were still in the War as a NAZI ally. The vast majority were killed in Naples.

Italian Armistice (September 1943)

Marshal Badoglio announced an armistice with the Allies (September 8). Fearing reprisals from the Germans, Badoglio with the King promply fleed Rome to reach Allied lines. The actual Armistice was signed on Malta. Most of the Italian Army was left without orders. A few units managed to stand together. Some went over to the Allies, such as the garrisons of Sardegna and Corsica. Others units stood with the Germans. A virtual Civil occurred within the military and the Fascist Government between pro-Axis cause and pro-Allied forces. The bulk of the Army wanted nothing more to do with the war. The Germans managed to disarm them and ship them north to POW camps in Germany before the Allies could land in force. Fascist Italy was the first Axis partner to fall to the Allies. The Armistice was unusual, because the Allies saw it as surrender, the Italians as an armistace. The most unusual part of it was usually an armistace ends the fighting. For the Italian people it was in many ways just the beginning of the fighting. German radio describes the "treacherous intrigue which for weeks had been enacted by an Italian clique, serfs to Jews and alien to their own people."

Subsequent Allied Air Campaign (1943-45)

Most of the air Italian caualties or some 125,000 civilians were killed after the Armistice with the German occupation and Allied invasion (September 1943). The ensuing fighting took a heavy tole on civilians as fighting took place up the Itlalian Peninsula as the Allies fought their way north toward the Reich. The Germans were not gentle, seeing the Italians as trecherous for pulling out of the Axis Alliance and switching sides. German and Allied artillery also took a heavy tole. A sizeable amount of those losses, approaching half were due to air strikes. Sone 60,000 Italians were killed by air strikes, over 40,000 after the Armitice. [Instituto Centrale Statistica] The Allies began bombing Italy (1942). After the Armistice, tactical air operations commemnsed (1943). Unlike the Germans, the Italians had few air raid shelters, even in Rome and the other large cities. After the Armistice, tactical operations became increasingly important and unlike strategic operations were not largely resricted to cities. As the Germans turned small towns and village into fortified positions, the Allied air forces began hammering them. The tenacity of the German resistance and the quality of their weaponry devestated whole units. The attacking Allies, unlike the Germans were not a battle-hardened professional army, but rather civilians in uniforms. And as casualties mounted, the Allied units demandedvmore artilleryn and air support before attacking. As in other areas of Europe, this created a huge problem for the civilians. World War II air operations were notoriouisly inaccurate. Few bombs fell any where near the target which is one reason the RAF turned to area bombing in the strategic bombing camapaign. And even tactical bombing resulted in heavy civilian losses. The Allies unlike the Lufwaffe were just beginning to develop a CAS doctrine.

Sources

Instituto Centrale Statistica. Morti E Dispersi Per Cause Belliche Negli Anni 194045 (Rome: 1957).







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Created: 9:31 PM 9/28/2013
Last updated: 2:39 PM 10/22/2016