During World War II, the Vatican City State followed Switzerland’s lead to a neutrality which means that Vatican would not be involved nor dragged to the consequences of the second World War. This decision of the pope (Pope Pius XII) was not meant to tolerate atrocities committed by the AXIS forces of Germany, Italy and Japan in invading countries but to shield the Catholic Church and its faithful for further persecution and destruction. Although the Catholic Church, via the Vatican State remained neutral, it was therefore sensitive in saving lives of the Jews against Nazi Persecution. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were kept by the Catholic Church hidden from NAZI authorities inside the Vatican city state, dressing them in Cassocks and habits in order to disguise them as Catholics. Also in this Neutral Position of the Vatican City State, it has acquired the privilege of not being bombed both by the Axis and Allied Forces in case bombing of Rome took place. But this neutrality was violated.
On the evening of November 5, 1943, Friday, five bombs fell over the Vatican dropped by a single unmarked plane flying low over the Vatican during that night. Four bombs exploded except for one. The plane, which has since been identified as a SIAI Marchetti S.M. 79, an Italian bomber known as a “Sparviero,” took off from Viterbo, Italy. It had been a gift to the Italian Social Republic. It was a top secret mission in which the intention was a mystery for decades. But in God’s mighty hand, those five bombs missed the target and only minor damages was incurred by the Vatican, which was the water reservoir in the railroad station and offices of the governorate were destroyed; the glass in the rear of St. Peter’s Basilica was shattered. The Museums, Interior of St. Peter’s Basilica, Sistine Chapel and other landmarks were spared. The event was quieted by an invitation of Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, who worked at that time in the Secretariat of State of Pius XII, so as “to not fuel the risk of a possible civil war.”
The event was covered both in L’Osservatore Romano as well as in Italian and foreign newspapers. To identify the perpetrator of the attack, the Vatican Secretariat of State asked for clarifications from the foreign ministers of the powers of the time: the United States, England and Germany. U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower, the English government and the government of the Reich all denied responsibility. The Italian Social Republic, led by Benito Mussolini out of Salo, accused the United States of the attack. The Fascist press speculated on the event, accusing the Allies of having violated the international norms and offending the symbolic place of Christianity.
But finally the mystery has been answered. The Person behind the bombing was Roberto Farinacci (1892 – 1945) from the Salo Republic who was a leading Italian Fascist politician, and important member of the National Fascist Party (PNF) before and during World War II, and one of its ardent anti-Semitic proponents.
The identification of Roberto Farinacci was made possible through a transcription of a telephone conversation, between a priest and Jesuit Father Pietro Tacchi Venturi, who was close to the Pope’s secretary of state (Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini – future Pope Paul VI) at the time, which suggests that Fascist leader Roberto Farinacci ordered the bombing. In the dialogue, the priest affirmed:
“It was the Italians. We were able to verify it through persons who were present at all points of the development of the maneuver. It was a Savoia-Marchetti plane, which had on board five bombs destined to strike the Vatican Radio station, because Farinacci was convinced that it was transmitting to the enemy news of a military character.”
The news was confirmed by the director of L’Osservatore Romano, Count Dalla Torre. For a week there was talk of nothing else in the press. Then silence fell.
The truth was uncovered through the efforts of Augusto Ferrara by gathering documentation made from newspaper clippings of the time and, above all, of images, to date unpublished that Ferrara found in a bookstall in Verona, Italy. In all there are some thirty photographs taken on November 6, 1943, the day after the bombing. A personal note of the photographer, also kept in the envelope, indicated the hour of the event.
Detailed account of this piece of untold history of the Catholic Church is published on the Italian book written by Augusto Ferrara entitled “1943 Bombe sul Vaticano” (1943 Bombs on the Vatican) which was presented Novevember 5, 2010, the 67th anniversary of the attack. The book, co-published by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana was delivered to Pope Benedict XVI on November 3, 2010.
Below are some photos and videos of the history: