Grosseto bombed: rural Italy starts to feel the war

USAAF Liberators now operated from North Africa and targeted Italy and Sicily.

USAAF Liberators now operated from North Africa and targeted Italy and Sicily.

With the Allies now occupying several airfields in Algeria and Tunisia it was possible to bring more of Italy within bombing range. These operations were aimed at first at disrupting the supplies being flown to the Axis forces in Tunisia and then softening up the forces that would be opposing a later Allied landing in Sicily or Italy. A subsidiary objective was bringing the war closer home to the Italians in the hope that they would reject Mussolini’s regime.

Iris Origo was an Italian-American living in Italy during the war. Her diary records the war as experienced by ordinary Italians. Her 2nd May 1943 diary entry was about an incident that she learnt about from a fews days before, the bombing of the old port of Grosseto:

Within the last month a new factor has been introduced into Italian warfare: the day-bombing by the ‘Liberators’, Already after Cagliari, Naples and Trapani, the Italians had begun to realize that new daylight air-raids were different, not in degree, but in kind, from any experienced before.

And now, Grosseto. On Easter Bank Holiday at two pm, a squadron of twenty-six Liberators flew over Grosseto. Having dropped some bombs on the airport, they then proceeded to fly very low over the main street of the little town, leading from the central square to the ‘amusement park’; this was already crowded, with the merry-go-rounds in full swing.

Owing to the suddenness of the attack, the alarm did not sound until the planes were already overhead, so that the street was full of people in their Sunday best, and all the way down the street the crowd was machine-gunned.

The planes then went on to the amusement park, and machine-gunned the tents containing the merry-go-rounds, where children were riding, and even pursued some people who tried to escape into the surrounding wheat-fields, two cars racing down the road, and four children in a field, herding some geese.

Then, wheeling back over the town, they again swooped over the square. There a small crowd had gathered round the parish priest, who was giving absolution to the dying under the church porch – and this crowd was machine-gunned once again. One of the bombs fell upon the surgery of the hospital, destroying most of the first aid kits, so that as the wounded began to pour into the hospital the surgeons and nurses found themselves without bandages, swabs or ligaments.

Subsequently the wounded were moved to the hospital at Montepulciano; and their photographs (especially those of the wounded or mutilated children) have been published in the papers.

These tales have done great harm. Yet I do not think that, when all is over, the dispassionate historian will be able to maintain either the Fascist thesis – that these air-raids have at last aroused the Italian people to hatred of the enemy – nor certainly the Allied one, that they have only awakened resentment against Fascism.

I have met, of course, individuals who have bitterly felt one or the other of these emotions. But in the great mass of the nation, the keynote still appears to be a dumb, fatalistic apathy – an acceptance of the doom falling upon them from the skies, as men living in the shadow of Vesuvius and Fujiyama accept the torrents of boiling lava.

All this, they seem to feel, is merely part of war – of the war which they did not, do not want. But they are not ready to do anything about it – not yet.

See Iris Origo: War in Val D’Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943-1944

Whether the town was machine gunned is now disputed – this was not a tactic employed Liberators that bombed from height, and there were no records of people with bullet wounds amongst the casualties. Nevertheless bombs did hit the fairground and there were many children amongst casualties. Origo was recording how the local population reacted to the bombing and it had become a received fact that they had been machine gunned.

The daylight bombing mission was aimed at the nearby airfield which was used by the Germans, that the town was hit was not at all exceptional given the standards of bomb aiming at the time. About a month later, on 20th May, a second attack was made, hitting the airfield and killing as many as 1,600 German troops.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Ted G. September 6, 2015 at 6:00 pm

Her title is the Marchesa Origo. Val d’Orcia is the area in Tuscany where she and her husband bought property. It’s not part of her name.

Editor May 3, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Sorry – I misspelt the name Origo in the first draft from memory and somehow it stuck in the first publication of the entry.

Mark Brucker May 3, 2013 at 4:30 pm

It’s Iris Origo…
Iris Margaret Origo, Marchesa of Val d’Orcia, DBE (15 August 1902 — 28 June 1988), née Cutting, was an Anglo-Irish biographer and writer. She lived in Italy, and devoted much of her life to the improvement of the Tuscan estate at La Foce, near Montepulciano, which she purchased with her husband in the 1920s.

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