B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group

 

Return to Florence
by Benjamin C. McCartney, 443rd Bomb Squadron

 

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Art Treasures Saved Many Famous Cities from Bombing

 

Because of the sentiment among the American people for the old and culturally rich cities of Europe and for the religious shrines so numerous in Italy, certain cities were spared from air bombardment.

Rome, Florence, Siena, and Pisa were serving German supply systems and military purposes. But for fear that some precious building, art treasure, or religious monument dear to the Christian tradition might be destroyed, these cities for the most part were spared.

After the Allies landed on the Italian mainland and as the tempo of the fighting increased north of Naples during the winter, it became apparent that some measures would have to be taken to deny the Germans the use of such valuable supply links and storage facilities as the great marshaling yards of Rome. So, in March, our groups were sent against the Tiburtina, Littono, San Lorenzo, and Ostiense marshaling yards.

So close to the heart of Rome were these yards that we had to make a bomb run which skirted Vatican City. For a time the Colosseum and the great white monument to Vittono Emanuele II were actually under the cross hairs of my bombsight.

As we broke from our target and the flak fell off to the right, I called out over the interphone to Captain Ackerman the historical buildings below.

In this succession of raids all four yards were so completely wrecked as to be useless longer to the Germans, and more than a thousand units of rolling stock choking the yards and packed with war material were destroyed. Yet we did not hit any other part of the city and we left untouched every cultural and religious monument!

Afterward, when Rome had fallen, technicians examining the yards were amazed at the accuracy of bombing which wrecked every single object in the yards, twisted the huge gun barrels in the freight cars, and yet did not touch houses lining the slopes above.

When finally it was determined that an attack on the Monte Cassino Abbey was unavoidable because of military exigencies, all types of bomber aircraft were sent against the abbey and it was completely destroyed.

Only our groups of Marauders were sent against the heart of Siena, cultural and historical center famous for its fine examples of 13th- and 14th-century Italian Gothic architecture.

Florence, the source and center of the Renaissance, had never been attacked by Allied bombers. Smaller than Rome, and more compact, the beautiful city along the Arno presented targets that seemed impossible to attack without causing irreparable damage to things long precious to all humanity.

In the case of Florence, the military nature of the target seemed less actual and more remote. Florence was hundreds of miles from the fighting, hundreds of miles from Allied soldiers struggling before Cassino. It was hard to see how bombing the city would save American lives.

Yet Florence was serving the German military purpose far more than the abbey above Cassino. Shells that killed Allied soldiers behind the broken walls of the Continental Hotel in Cassino and on the bomb- and shell-pocked slopes above the town were routed daily through Florence.

At night freight cars filled with shells creaked heavily through the blacked-out marshaling yards of the famous and beautiful city. Far to the north of Cassino, the other city, so ancient and lovely, so outwardly innocent, was actually an instrument of war. (Continued)


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