Military Wiki
Vatican Bombing
Part of the Italian Campaign of World War II
VaticanCity Annex.jpg
Date5 November 1943
LocationVatican City
Result Fascist Italian operational failure, strategically inconclusive
 Italian Social Republic  Vatican City
Commanders and leaders
Italian Social Republic Roberto Farinacci Vatican City Pope Pius XII
Vatican City Giovanni Montini
Single Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Undefended
Casualties and losses
None None

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.[1] Only four out of the five bombs detonated.[2][3]

The Vatican City was neutral during the whole of the war;[4] 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[5] 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.[5][6] 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.[7][8]

There was no actual loss of life during the raid but several windows and a mosaic were destroyed, there was also severe damage to the Vatican's train station and water-system.[1][9]

The attack was the only breach of Vatican neutrality during the Second World War.

International response

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.[3]

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.[5]

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.[9] 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.[3]

Recent research

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.[5] Before this discovery, it was widely believed that the bombs had been dropped by a British aircraft, possibly by mistake.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Murphy and Arlington, p. 222
  2. Matthieson, Romuald (2010-11-23). "CHURCH HISTORY: Who Bombed the Vatican in WWII 1943?". Retrieved 2013-09-14. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 09:00:34. "ITALIAN FASCIST ARMY AIR-BOMBED & ATTACKED THE VATICAN in 1943 in History Forum". Retrieved 2013-09-14. 
  4. C. Peter Chen. "Vatican City in World War II | World War II Database". Retrieved 2013-09-14. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 ROME REPORTS TV News Agency. "Discover who bombed the Vatican during World War II". Retrieved 2013-09-14. 
  6. Sabaoth (2011-01-16). "World War 2 Trivia: Vatican Bombing". Retrieved 2013-09-14. 
  7. JPSonnen (2008-05-31). "ORBIS CATHOLICVS: WWII: when the Vatican was bombed". Retrieved 2013-09-14. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Catholic Fire: Who bombed the Vatican during World War II?". 2010-11-16. Retrieved 2013-09-14. 

Coordinates: 41°54′8.25″N 12°27′13.98″E / 41.9022917°N 12.4538833°E / 41.9022917; 12.4538833

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