| Naples: Life, Death & Miracles
|There is recent (2015) section called allegro ma non troppo
main index © Jeff Matthews entry Jan 2006
between the train station and the port
attacks were part of a broader British campaign
against the Italian armed forces in the southern
Mediterranean. Although the British focus in the
summer and autumn of 1940 was primarily on the home
front—the great air war (The "Battle of Britain")
against the Luftwaffe—Britain
had an important second war going in the south. Italy
had declared war on June 10 against Britain and
France; then, Italy invaded Egypt on September 13 from
the Italian colony in Libya, and then invaded Greece
on October 28. A British failure to meet Italian moves
in the Mediterranean might have led to Axis control of
the eastern Mediterranean, including loss of the Suez
Canal and the British air and naval facilities on
Malta and in Egypt.
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. These raids were crucial to the British effort to interrupt Axis movements of men and material to the war in North Africa. A report filed to the New York Times on October 27, 1941, said, in part:
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.
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 bases in North Africa (and, later, from Sicily). The initial attack killed 900 people. The raids were in the daylight and were massive. The raids lasted until the armistice with Italy in September, 1943.
photo from larryray.com
press is censored and, obviously, tries to put
the best spin on how the war is going. In the pages of
il Mattino, the large Neapolitan daily, the
features on the inside pages in early 1943 aim at
putting the enemy in a bad light, but are not that bad
to read: for example, the great apostle of peace,
Mahatma Ghandi, is near death from fasting in protest
of the British occupation of his nation; or even
amusing—American women have petitioned the US
government to forbid their G.I. boyfriends from
marrying English women, and the editor of the Chicago
Tribune has suggested the annexation of the British
empire by the United States. The pages are full of
praise for the great German partners: Hermann Goering
celebrates his 50th birthday; the Führer addresses
his people; and there is a straw-grasping report that
the new German bomber, the Heinkel 177, has the
capability to fly the Atlantic, bomb New York and
return. [Actually, that airplane was a poorly designed
dog, so prone to fire that German air crews, who
despised it, called it a Feuerzeug (lighter) instead of Flugzeug
Port section of
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 Allied invasion of North Africa in
November, 1942, 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 military presence in southern Italy.
It was crucial for the Allies to disrupt—destroy,
if possible—Axis supply lines in and around
marshalling points such as Rome, Naples, Foggia,
Bari, Manfredonia—those places that kept German
and Italian war machinery moving up and down the
boot of Italy. Naples was, quite simply, a target.
Can you aim for a rail line, factory or electrical
sub-station from 20,000 feet and hit a hospital or
church instead? Of course you can. The San Loreto
hospital, for example, was obliterated—but that
hospital was 100 yards from the port. Estimates of
civilian air-raid casualties in Naples run to
about 20,000 killed (although that estimate may be
too high. See note, below.) I have read one
estimate that says 10,000 homes were destroyed.
Chanowitz, veteran of the Italian campaign and
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 British Forces at the beginning of
October, 1943, shortly after
the invasion of Salerno, the bombing didn't stop; it
continued for weeks as the retreating Germans tried to
destroy what they had missed in their "scorched earth"
retreat from the city. German demolition teams had
removed or destroyed all communications,
transportation, water, and power grids; they mined
buildings, blew bridges and tore up railroad tracks.
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.
greatest symbol of the rebirth of Naples
after WW2 was surely the rebuilding of the church
of Santa Chiara.
other entries on WW2:I have recently come into possession of a diary kept by my father [T/5* Illinois Green], who served in the U.S. Army in WWII... It includes this entry for October 11, 1943:
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