740.0011 EW 1939/33820: Telegram

The Minister in Switzerland ( Harrison ) to the Secretary of State

2067. Tittmann’s 101, March 25.

(1) I trust Department has received my British colleague’s telegrams reporting air attacks on Rome of March 14 (my 89, March 1523) and of March 18 (my 97, March 2023) which I asked to have repeated to Washington.

Many civilian lives were lost when bombs were dropped during these raids in residential districts. From all reports military effects were negligible especially in March 18 raid when only two bombs fell within enclosure of Macao barracks which apparently was main target. This last raid was carried out by waves of medium or light bombers between 3 and 4 o’clock in afternoon when population accustomed to morning intrusions was not expecting and latter circumstance may have had something to do with large number casualties. Some witnesses suggest that one wave ran into cloud over target but this has not been confirmed. Although from point of view of civilian devastation this was most severe of recent attacks on Rome, it has never been mentioned insofar as I am aware in all Allied communiqué or commentary.

While it is of course impossible for me to pass judgment on military value of such raids I do feel it my duty even at risk repetition to report that in opinion of our best friends here moral damage done to our cause for [far] outweighs possible military advantages. These friends insist raids of this nature in which the people are unable to perceive any military gain for Allies in compensation for their sufferings have to a large extent already turned public opinion against us and have thus played squarely into hands of our enemies. They feel much same way even with regards to our earlier attacks on marshalling yards, et cetera, in periphery of the city where military objectives although sometimes obtained were reliably reported to have suffered far less than surrounding civilian quarters.

Rome has now become practically a besieged city over-populated with insufficient public services and a food problem that is daily causing increased alarm (bread ration was reduced to 100 grams per day as of March 25). Prolongation of this situation, our friends say, has brought on state of demoralization and exhaustion among population and as a result there is grave danger that desire for liberation by Allies will give way to longing for relief from present troubles no matter by what agency. Our friends conclude that under these circumstances continuation of air attacks in which civilian populations [Page 1293] are principal sufferers can only lead to complete collapse of pro-Ally sentiment. While much of pessimism in foregoing picture is undoubtedly well founded I nevertheless feel confident once Allies are here spirits will rise again and past disappointments will be forgotten.

(2) On March 20 Germans here announced steps would be taken to avoid still further use of Rome as transit center for their troops and material (see my 101 [102])24 and according to reliable reports since then far fewer German soldiers and less material have in fact been noticed in streets. Since then also there have been no air attacks on Rome district and air alarms which previously were averaging 4 or 5 daily have practically ceased. Even Fascist plane popularly known as “Black Widow” and which is believed to have been responsible for bombs dropped on several occasions in past in and around Vatican City seems to have abandoned its frequent “terroristic” night flights over Rome and Vatican City.

The concurrence of German announcement and absence of raids has had [led?] population to assume that some sort of agreement has been concluded whereby Rome will no longer be bombed. However, evidence so far available suggests German action was unilateral. Cardinal Secretary of State today told my British colleague and myself that about fortnight ago German Ambassador had brought him message from Kesselring25 that Germans were taking steps to make Rome an open city. Cardinal said that he had asked Ambassador to obtain confirmation of this from his Government but that he had heard nothing further. [Tittmann.]

  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. See infra.
  4. Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, German Commanding General of the Southwestern Theater of War.