|Part of the Italian Campaign of World War II|
|Italian Social Republic||Vatican City|
|Commanders and leaders|
Pope Pius XII|
|Single Savoia-Marchetti SM.79||Undefended|
|Casualties and losses|
The Bombing of The Vatican during World War II happened on the evening of 5 November 1943 when a Fascist Italian aircraft, departing from Viterbo, dropped five bombs on Saint Peter's Basilica. Only four out of the five bombs detonated.
The Vatican City was neutral during the whole of the war; both Allied and Axis bombers were told not to attack the Vatican when bombing Rome. Two months before the bombing, the Kingdom of Italy signed an armistice with the Allies. Nazi Germany responded quickly by driving the royal government from Rome, freeing Benito Mussolini, and establishing the Italian Social Republic (RSI). The bombing occurred while the city was under German occupation.
It was discovered in 2010 that the attack was a deliberate attempt to knock out the radio station, but the raid did not succeed. The Fascists were under the impression that Vatican radio was sending coded messages to the Allies. The attack was allegedly orchestrated by leading Italian Fascist politician and anti-clericalist, Roberto Farinacci, who supposedly wished the bombing to remain anonymous, so as not to give the nascent RSI a bad name. Damage from the raid can still be seen today, but it is not signposted in any way.
The attack was the only breach of Vatican neutrality during the Second World War.
Just who was responsible for the bombing was all the international press had to talk about for days after the attack. The raid was shrouded in mystery and received responses from various world leaders.
Some international members of the Catholic community, such as Bishop Joseph Lynch of Dallas and Edwin O'Hara of Kansas City, defended the bombing, claiming that holy sites were not deliberately attacked. Assuming that the Allies were responsible, they also claimed that the attack was necessary to overcome the Axis powers.
Response of the Pope
Pope Pius XII was basically silent about the raid, seemingly acknowledging British claims that the bombing was a genuine accident. Although the Papal Swiss Guard and other units of the Vatican military were on high-alert during the whole of the war, no movement towards mobilizing them was made. The pope claimed that he did not want the perpetrators brought to justice, but rather a simple cessation of violence.
Response of Mussolini
The Italian dictator, possibly unaware that his forces were responsible, blamed the Allies for the attack, attempted to gain international support and turn other countries against the Allies. He received little external encouragement.
Response of Roosevelt
U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, upon hearing the Pope's plea for an end to violence, promised that no American aircraft would enter Vatican airspace for the remainder of the war. Roosevelt intended to stick to his promise, well aware of the many Catholic members of the US armed forces.
Just who was responsible for the bombing remained largely unknown until around 2010 when an Italian journalist unearthed photos and documents from the Vatican archives which shed light on the events. Before this discovery, it was widely believed that the bombs had been dropped by a British aircraft, possibly by mistake.
- Murphy and Arlington, p. 222
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