No. 255  NAI DFA Secretary's Files P12/8

Extract from a letter from Michael MacWhite to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(Personal and Confidential)

ROME, 19 December 1942

Since the British Prime Minister 's threat that all Italian cities of industrial or military interest would be bombed everybody here is asking if Rome was included.1 Many have already taken for granted that it was and left for country places while at the same time numbers of refugees from the bombed cities have been arriving. Air raid shelters are being hurriedly put in order and the usual precautions for rescue and fire extinction work are being taken. People are also being encouraged to betake themselves elsewhere for food reasons as much as anything else, perhaps. While it has few industries the Eternal City is the seat of Government and of all services connected with the conduct of the war as well as being the main centre of railway communications which includes almost all north and south bound traffic whether military or civil. It could not therefore be said to be of no military importance.

After the bombing of Genoa, Milan and Turin some hundreds of appeals were addressed to the Pope from all parts of the country beseeching him to use his influence to stop the indiscriminate bombing of civilians, historic monuments, museums, etc. and to secure a guarantee for the security of Rome from air raids. These appeals were strongly supported by the Hierarchy including the Cardinal Archbishops of Genoa, Turin, Milan and Naples. It is well to remember that all these Prelates are Italian before everything else. In a previous letter I referred to a report that His Holiness had spoken to the British and American representatives on the matter. It has since transpired that he has made representations to the four principal belligerents suggesting to Great Britain and America on the one hand to refrain from bombing Rome and to Germany and Italy on the other hand to transfer from the City everything that might justifiably provoke attack such as the Headquarters of the Armed Forces and the associated Government services.

According to rumour the Italian Military would be prepared and are said to have already taken the initial steps to transfer their General Headquarters elsewhere. They may have other reasons, also, for making a change but the Germans are believed to be decidedly opposed to the suggestion. The Duce himself who is Minister for War and nominally head of the Armed forces is also believed to be most reluctant to abandon the Capital as the decline in prestige likely to follow such a step would be incalculable. Besides, as a good historian he knows that whenever the head of the Government, be he Pope or King, abandoned the city an opposition Government almost invariably took its place. In the event of Rome being declared an open city the Pope would get all the credit which would be equally displeasing to Nazis and Fascists.

For a variety of reasons it is unlikely that the Allies would bomb Rome. Because of reactions in the Dominions Churchill dare not and Roosevelt would not undertake the responsibility. Besides he has to keep an eye on the Presidential election which is to take place within twelve months from now. The bursting of an allied bomb on Rome would place a trump card in the hands of Axis propagandists. I am convinced that the Pope has had some private assurance that the Holy City will not be subject to Air raids although Cardinal Maglione, in reply to a question on the subject, from the Portuguese Chargé, said a couple of days ago that representations had been made to the belligerents to that effect but that no reply was, so far, forthcoming.
[matter omitted]

1 On 29 October 1942 Churchill warned the Italian government that the RAF would continue to bomb Italian cities whilst Italy remained a member of the Axis.

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