on Naples in WWII
In Naples, the
primary targets were the port facilities at the extreme eastern end of
of Naples as well as the rail, industrial and petroleum facilities in
eastern part of the city and the steel mill to the west, in Bagnoli.
That attack, itself, was part of a broader
against the Italian armed forces in the southern Mediterranean.
British focus in the summer and autumn of 1940 was primarily on the
front—the great air war (The "Battle of Britain") against the
Luftwaffe—Britain had an important second war going in the south. Italy
declared war on June 10 against Britain and France; then, Italy invaded
on September 13 from the Italian colony in Libya, and then invaded
October 28. A British failure to meet Italian moves in the
have led to Axis control of the eastern Mediterranean, including loss
Suez Canal and the British air and naval facilities on Malta and in
The initial air strikes against Naples were strategic and effective in disrupting the Italian war machinery in the south. [The strikes against southern Italy included the bold—and unprecedented—attack on November 11, 1940, against the large Italian naval facility in Taranto. British Fleet Air Arm planes from the aircraft carrier Illustrious, 170 miles out in the Ionian sea, successfully attacked the port, devastating the Italian fleet. That attack was the first major victory for naval air power in the history of warfare and has been called "the blueprint for Pearl Harbor".] The air-raids were coordinated to assist the British desert war against Italian forces in North Africa, an offensive that would begin in December, 1940. British air raids on Naples were night-time raids that lasted until November of the following year. The attacks trailed off in 1942, when the British attacked Naples only six times in the entire year. The air strikes were intended to be against precise targets and, revisionist historians to the contrary, can in no way be described as random "terror" raids against a civilian population, much less "carpet bombing" of the entire city.
B-24s in formation
Heavy raids started with the American
bombings on 4 December
1942. They involved great numbers of four-engine B-24 "Liberator"
long-range bombers from the US 9th Air Force flying from
North Africa (and, later, from Sicily). The initial attack killed 900
The raids were in the daylight and were massive. The raids lasted until
armistice with Italy on August 8, 1943.
honeycomb of caverns and passageways below were
converted into air
raid shelters under Mussolini"s UMPA or civil defense program.
families spent weeks below ground, often emerging into daylight to find
homes and entire neighborhoods turned to rubble. . . so they returned
cavernous shelters to survive. Evidence of DC battery power, showers
health and kitchen facilities can still be seen in many of the
Port section of Naples
Capodichino airport in NaplesThe largest raid was on August 4, 1943 when 400 planes of the US Mediterranean Bomber Command dropped bombs for one and one-half hours, an attack that destroyed the famous church of Santa Chiara. Again, some people who write about this claim that they were random raids on no specific targets, meant simply to terrorize the population and destroy the city. I don"t believe a word of that. [Here"s something else I don"t believe a word of. From Breve Storia della città di Napoli (Short History of the City of Naples) by Giuseppe Campolieti, Mondadori Editore. 2004: "They say that in those days, bombing Naples and other Italian cities had become a kind of very exciting sport for American pilots, to the point where the pilots" gracious wives would accompany their husbands on flights and thus taste the thrill of the atrocious entertainment." (My translation.) That"s right, the 9th Air Force flew in wives from Omaha and Hoboken so they could get in on the fun. Even as a "They say-" anecdote, anyone who lends credence to a fairy-tale like that is giving gullibility a bad name.]
(photo: H. Chanowitz)
of Santa Chiara. (The
After the Allied invasion of North Africa in
it became evident that Italy, itself, would have to be invaded. Naples was an important node of Axis naval
and land communication and there was a large and very potent German
presence in southern Italy. It was crucial for the Allies to
if possible—Axis supply lines in and around marshalling points such as
Naples, Foggia, Bari, Manfredonia —those places that kept German and
machinery moving up and down the boot of Italy. Naples was, quite
target. Can you aim for a rail line, factory or electrical sub-station
20,000 feet and hit a hospital or church instead? Of course you can.
Loreto hospital, for example, was obliterated—but that hospital was 100
yards from the port. All
all, there were 180 US air-raids on
Naples in 1943. Estimates of civilian casualties run to about 20,000
have read one estimate that says 10,000 homes were destroyed.
Herman Chanowitz, veteran of the Italian
long-time resident of Naples [and the source of some WW2 oral history pages in
this encyclopedia] reminds me that even after Naples fell to US and
Forces at the beginning of October, 1943, shortly
after the invasion of Salerno, the bombing didn"t
continued for weeks as the retreating Germans tried to destroy what
missed in their "scorched earth" retreat from the city. German
teams had removed or destroyed all communications, transportation,
power grids; they mined buildings, blew bridges and tore up railroad
Ships in the harbor were sunk, adding to those already destroyed.
Amazingly, the Allies had the port of
Naples open to
traffic again within a week of its capture.
The greatest symbol of the rebirth of Naples
after WW2 was surely the rebuilding of
the church of Santa Chiara.