Dambusters hero wanted to bomb Mussolini

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BRITAIN'S wartime Bomber Command led by Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris asked Winston Churchill for permission to use the legendary Dambusters squadron to assassinate Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

Sir Arthur is viewed by some historians as controversial for his carpet bombing of the German city of Dresden, which led to 500,000 civilian deaths and which also earned him the nickname of "Butcher" Harris.

In fascinating documents released by the National Archive in Kew, Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden, writes to Churchill in a memo dated 13 July, 1943 outlying the plan – asking permission to "lay the operation on".

The memo reads: "Harris has asked permission to try and bomb Mussolini in his office in Rome and to bomb his residence simultaneously in case the Duce is late that morning."

According to the memo it was the second time that eager Bomber Harris had made the request but permission had been turned down in 1942 for fear of hitting Vatican and civilian targets. Sir Anthony added: "Harris would use the Squadron of Lancasters (No 617) which made the attacks on the dams. It is manned by experts and is kept for special ventures of this kind."

His aim was to take out Mussolini's office at Palazzo Venezia in the centre of Rome and his family home at Villa Torlonia.

The memo went on: "The attack would be made just above the rooftops and would give the only chance of destroying the two buildings without much other damage."

Sir Anthony also outlined how the targets were not "within 1,500 yards of the Vatican", as at the time there were strict instructions to Allied bombers not to attack the Pope or buildings of historical significance in Rome.

At the time this had outraged public opinion in Britain, as Italian bombers had taken part in the Blitz. Unlike in Germany, bombing in Rome was confined strictly to military targets.

Sir Anthony ended his note by writing that Mussolini's death or injury might help hasten Italy's early exit from the war.

But Churchill was not in favour of the plan as he feared the bombers would hit historical or civilian targets and it was vetoed.

Historian Eugenio Di Rienzo said: "This was a plan of fantasy and would never have succeeded because of the agreement of trying to avoid bombing the Vatican – even though the targets are nowhere near the Vatican.

"The chances of success if it had gone ahead would have been very slim – precision bombing is difficult even in present modern day warfare so imagine it in 1943.

"Precise information on Mussolini's whereabouts would have been needed and although there was no bunker at Palazzo Venezia there was one at Villa Torlonia as that is where his family lived.

"Churchill probably also considered the fact that Mussolini's death, contrary to what Eden wrote, would more than likely have had a negative effect on Italy at that time as many Italians still believed in him.

"One thing that is interesting to note is that Mussolini did fall less than three weeks after this request was made. There has been much speculation of the relationship between Churchill and Mussolini. Did Churchill know this was about to happen?"