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Bombing of the Vatican

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Bombing of the Vatican

Map of Vatican City showing the buildings of the Governatorate, the Tribunal, and the Archpriest, and the railway station, which were damaged on 5 November 1943. The mosaic workshop, which received a direct hit, is positioned between the railway station and the residence of the archpriest.

Bombing of Vatican City occurred twice during World War II. The first occasion was on the evening of 5 November 1943, when a plane dropped bombs on the area south-west of Saint Peter's Basilica. The second bombing, which affected only the outer margin of the city, was at about the same hour on 1 March 1944.[1]


Vatican City State was neutral throughout the war.[2] Both Allied and Axis aircraft were told to respect its neutrality even when bombing Rome.

On 23 July 1943, after Allied forces had conquered the Italian possessions in Africa and had taken Sicily, the Fascist Grand Council removed Benito Mussolini from power. The Kingdom of Italy at first remained an ally of Nazi Germany, but in less than two months secured an armistice with the Allies, signed on 3 September and announced on 8 September. Germany, which had discovered what was afoot, quickly intervened and took military control of most of Italy, including Rome, freed Mussolini and brought him to the German-occupied area to establish a puppet regime known as the Italian Social Republic.

Both bombings occurred while Rome was under German occupation.

Bombing of 5 November 1943

Palace of the Governatorate of Vatican City State, one of the buildings damaged by the 5 November 1943 bombing

Account by Monsignor Domenico Tardini

An undated eyewitness account written by Monsignor Domenico Tardini in 1944 states: "The (first) bombing of the Vatican occurred on 5 November 1943 at 20:10. It was a very clear and cloudless evening. The moon made visibility excellent. For over half an hour an aeroplane was heard circling insistently over Rome and especially the Vatican. At about 8:10, while an Allied squadron passed over the Vatican, the aeroplane that until then had been circling over Rome dropped four bombs and flew away. The bombs fell in the Vatican Gardens: the first near the receiving Radio, another near the Government building, a third on the mosaics workshop, the fourth near the building of the Cardinal Archpriest. If they had fallen a very few metres off, they would have hit the Radio, the Government building, that of the Tribunals (where the diplomats were housed), and that of the Archpriest. They caused considerable damage, for all the windows were blown to pieces. There was no human casualty."[3]

The future [5] in which it was stated clearly that the bombs had been dropped by an American. 5 November is for England, Father Hughes told me, an anti-Pope day.[6] When Monsignor Carroll came to Rome in June 1944, he answered a question of mine by telling me that the American airman was supposed to have acted either to make a name for himself or out of wickedness. Monsignor Carroll did not know whether the delinquent had been punished. Perhaps we will know, when the war is over, what really happened."[3]

Statement by Monsignor Walter S. Carroll

The message from Monsignor Walter S. Carroll that Monsignor Tardini spoke of as addressed to Monsignor Montini was in reality addressed to Cardinal Secretary of State Luigi Maglione. It read: "In a conversation with the American Chief of Staff during the past week I was informed very confidentially that they feel that the bombing of the Vatican is probably attributable to an American pilot who lost his way; in fact, another American pilot reported seeing an Allied plane dropping its load on the Vatican. The General expressed his sincere regret and gave assurances that strict precaution would be taken to avoid a repetition of this incident "[3]

Official assurance that no American plane had in fact dropped bombs on Vatican City was given by the United States authorities.[7]

The German[8] and British[9] authorities gave similar assurances regarding aircraft of their countries.

Recent books

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

Augusto Ferrara's 2010 book 1943 Bombe sul Vaticano,[10] declares that the attack was orchestrated by leading Italian Fascist politician and anti-clericalist Roberto Farinacci. The aim was to knock out Vatican Radio, which was suspected of sending coded message to the Allies. The aircraft that delivered the bombs was a SIAI Marchetti S.M.79, a three-engined Italian medium bomber known as the "Sparviero", which had taken off from Viterbo, some 80 kilometres north of Rome.[11][12]

One piece of evidence on which Ferrara bases his account of the responsibility of Farinacci was a telephone call from a priest called Giuseppe to the Jesuit Pietro Tacchi Venturi. In fact, a note on page 705 of volume 7 of the Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale cites Eitel Friederich Moellhausen[13] as stating that rumours in Rome immediately blamed Farinacci and spoke of Viterbo as the base from which the plane must have flown. Tardini's note quoted above also says that, from the start, it was the general opinion that the Italian Republican Fascists were to blame, a view that Tardini himself discounted on the basis of the information given by Monsignor Carroll. Owen Chadwick also reported that Farinacci was rumoured in Rome to have arranged the raid from the Viterbo airfield, something that Farinacci, who was killed together with Mussolini on 28 April 1945, never denied, but Chadwick consider the story "very unlikely".[14]

In Ferrara's account, five bombs were dropped, of which one did not explode. According to the Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale,[15] the report of an examination carried out by Vatican authorities after the event spoke only of fragments that made it difficult to determine whether the high-explosive bombs, which had been of 100–150 kg weight and produced small craters over a wide range, were of English, German or Italian manufacture.

The 2007 book Venti angeli sopra Roma by Cesare De Simone[16] speaks of a supposed admission of responsibility by the RAF in the postwar period.[17]

The article by Raffaele Alessandrini on the 10–11 January 2011 issue of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano says that the identity of those responsible has still not been completely clarified.[1]

Bombing of 1 March 1944

There is no obscurity about the identity of the Italian plane that dropped bombs on the edge of Vatican City on 1 March 1944. It caused human casualties, killing a workman who was in the open and injuring a Dutch Augustinian in the College of Saint Monica. The six low-calibre bombs dropped also caused physical damage to the Palace of the Holy Office, to the Oratory of Saint Peter, and to the Pontifical Urbanian College on the nearby Janiculum Hill. The plane was seen to strike an obstacle, perhaps a tree on the Janiculum, after which it jettisoned its bombs, but crashed after hitting a house on Via del Gelsomino with its wing. The Italian authorities quickly removed the wreckage and the dead pilot.[1][17]

Monsignor Giulio Barbetta, who recounts his experience of this bombing, says that, while almost all the windows of the Holy Office building were shattered, the glass covering an image of Our Lady between it and the entrance to the Oratory of Saint Peter remained intact and the oratory itself suffered no more than the effects of shrapnel against its wall. This led to the placing of sculptures of two shield-bearing angels to right and left of the image above an inscription that states: AB ANGELIS DEFENSA KAL. MART. A.D. MCMXLIV (Protected by angels, 1 March 1944 AD).[1][18]


  1. ^ a b c d , 10-11 January 2011L'Osservatore RomanoRaffaele Alessandrini, "Bombe in Vaticano" in
  2. ^ C. Peter Chen. "Vatican City in World War II | World War II Database". Retrieved 2013-09-14. 
  3. ^ a b c , vol. 7, pp. 688-689Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale
  4. ^ On this American priest, see Joseph Bottum, David G. Dalin (editors), The Pius War (Lexington Books 2004 ISBN 978-0-73910906-9), p. 276 and a newspaper article by Anna B. Crow.
  5. ^ A reference to the Vatican Information Bureau, which provided information on prisoners-of-war held by both sides (cf. reports from Monsignor Carroll in Algiers to Monsignor Montini in (Gracewing Publishing 2000 ISBN 978-0-85244365-1), pp. 303-307Pius XIIMargherita Marchioni, ).
  6. ^ A reference to Guy Fawkes Day
  7. ^ Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale, vol. 7, pp. 695-696 and 702-703
  8. ^ Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale, vol. 7, pp. 697-698
  9. ^ Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale, vol. 7, pp. 703-704
  10. ^ Augusto Ferrara, 1943 Bombe sul Vaticano (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2010 ISBN 978-88-2098435-9)
  11. ^ ROME REPORTS TV News Agency. "Discover who bombed the Vatican during World War II". Retrieved 2013-09-14. 
  12. ^ Mariaelena Finessi, "Book Features 1943 Bombing of Vatican" (ZENIT News Agency, 12 November 2010)
  13. ^ Moellhausen, La carta perdente (Rome, Sestante 1948), pp. 151-154
  14. ^ (Cambridge University Press 1988 ISBN 978-0-52136825-4), p. 278Britain and the Vatican During the Second World WarOwen Chadwick,
  15. ^ Volume 7, p. 705
  16. ^ Cesare De Simone, Venti angeli sopra Roma. I bombardamenti aerei sulla città eterna (il 19 luglio e il 13 agosto 1943) (Ugo Mursia Editore 2007 ISBN 978-88-4253827-1)
  17. ^ a b Bunker di Roma, "Città del Vaticano"
  18. ^ Giulio Barbetta, Un cardinale tra "li regazzini"(Rome, Città Nuova Editrice, 1966)

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