This Day In History: The Americans Bomb Rome (1943)

Boeing B-17E. (U.S. Air Force photo)

This day in History the Americans bombed Rome.  The USAAF heavily bombs railway yards and other logistics targets in Rome in an attempt to break the will of Italy to continue with the war. The allies know that the Italian people had become disillusioned with the war and with the once popular Mussolini. They had been engaged in wars since the mid-1930s and many of these had been disastrous. Only recently they had been ejected from their colony in North Africa. Many Italians resented the fact that Mussolini was only seen as a puppet of Germany. The morale of the people had also been undermined by shortages.

Mussolini giving a speech

On July 16, Roosevelt and Churchill appealed to the Italian civilian population to reject Mussolini and Hitler and once more rejoin the family of nations. They bombing of Rome was seen as a way of encouraging the population to reject Mussolini and Hitler or they would face terrible air raids. The Romans had never expected the allies to bomb Rome because of the Vatican and the presence of the Pope. The bombing of Rome exposed the weakness of Mussolini and his earlier boasts about the invincibility of his air force. The bombing made Il Duce even more unpopular and he was increasingly despised. The Romans in panic streamed out into the countryside during the raids, as they had not been accustomed to raids. They were angry scenes and the local Fascists feared that events would spin out of control.

Hitler and staff (1943)

Hitler was very worried that Italy would sue for a separate peace. This would leave the Germans alone to face the  Allied forces in the Italian peninsula. Hitler decided to meet Mussolini in person, his former idol, to fortify him in his resolution to continue with the war. Mussolini at this meeting promised Hitler that he would continue the fight and fight indeed until the death. Hitler and the Germans were not simple and they did not believe Mussolini. Rommel, the Desert Fox, was ordered to the Greek Islands and to prepare to invade Italy if Mussolini tried to sue for a separate peace with the Allies. In effect, Berlin had drawn up plans to occupy Italy.

The air raids on Rome were not particularly destructive and they were merely a warning. They were as much symbolic as strategic. They were a warning to Italians to change allegiance and to remove their leader or face the consequences. However, the Italians did not have much time to reflect on their choices as the Allies launched an invasion of Sicily. Soon the Germans had effectively occupied the country after a coup had deposed Mussolini from power.