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February 9, 2011

Amelia, Umbria: An Eyewitness Account Recalls the Allied Bombing of Amelia in 1944

By Francesca Rossi, Guest Contributor

During the World War II, people in Amelia felt quite safe from the fighting because there was no reason for them to suppose Amelia would be considered a military target. But they were wrong. On the 25th of January in 1944, on a beautiful winter day in Amelia, no one could have predicted what would happen that morning, especially not Umberto Cerasi who at the time was just a young boy. In his book “Amelia – Un anno di storia dal 25 luglio 1943 al 13 giugno 1944: ricordi, testimonianze, documenti”, Mr. Cerasi tells us also about that day (translated from the Italian):
“I remember that morning because I was there and because you can’t forget those kind of facts. I was an apprentice at a typography studio nearby the Public Gardens and I was working when I heard the sound of the warning siren located on the top of the Cathedral bell tower. I started to run, trying to find a shelter, but I could already hear the rumble of the B-29 and when I looked up, I saw the training aircraft above me. There was a weird twinkle under the fuselage: cluster bombs were being dropped over us!”

“The bombs exploded on the ancient polygonal walls and again on Via Cavour hitting the elementary girl’s school, the church of Saint Elisabetta, the house of the parish, a house owned by Mr. Ammaniti, and other nearby houses. It was a massacre! An unknown number of people were severely injured and twenty-six people died including the Director of Education Ms. Iole Orsini, twelve little girls and three nuns. It was terrible!”
“When the explosions stopped, I could hear only people crying. So I came back home, actually hoping to still find my home and terrified not to find my family anymore. Fortunately there it was, and so was my mother and my father. Then I reached Via Cavour, the most damaged area, and as I approached the area I could realize the magnitude of the tragedy: parents holding in their arms the little girls who had been in the school, with tattered clothes and faces covered in white dust. There were a lot of people in front of heaps of rubble from where dead bodies were beginning to be extracted. I was just a kid but I could realize my presence was a hindrance, so I went away with my eyes full of tears and my heart pounding in my chest."
No one ever knew the real reason for this act of war: there are different hypotheses but the most probable is that it was just a tragic mistake in the attempt to hit the bridge on the nearby Rio Grande. What we know is that on January 25, 1944, all those innocent people died and since then, every year, everyone in Amelia attends Mass in the church of Santa Lucia, built on the ruins of Santa Elisabetta, to commemorate the 26 victims:

Orsini Iole, 40 years old: Director of Education
Bertini Quinta, 25 years old – Sister (nun and religious educator)
Bolli Teresa, 74 years old- Sister
Martini Jolanda, 23 years old – Sister
Paolocci Fiorella, 10 years old – schoolgirl
Ciancuto Graziella, 10 years old – schoolgirl
Silvani Paola, 6 years old – schoolgirl
Fiorucci Maria Teresa, 12 years old – schoolgirl
Barcherini Graziella, 7 years old – schoolgirl
Lanfaloni Consiglia, 10 years old – schoolgirl
Proietti Rosella, 6 years old – schoolgirl
Suadoni Geltrude, 11 years old – schoolgirl
Proietti Palmira, 10 years old – schoolgirl
Botarelli Maria, 12 years old – schoolgirl
Corvi Fedina, 8 years old – schoolgirl
Marzoli Rossana, 4 years old – schoolgirl
Servi Nazzareno, 67 years old – worker
Esposito Pasquale, 28 years old – worker
Grisci David, 68 years old – farmer
Castellani Emilia, 54 years old – housewife
Tinarelli Castorino, 36 years old – worker
Grilli Enzo, 13 years old – apprentice
Quadraccia Ferrero, 14 years old – apprentice
Margheriti Gregorio, 64 years old – shoemaker
Fabrizi Agenore, 39 years old – farmer
Olivieri Palmira, 77 years old - housewife

(Source: “AMELIA – UN ANNO DI STORIA DAL 25 LUGLIO 1943 AL 13 GIUGNO 1944: ricordi, testimonianze, documenti” di Umberto Cerasi)

Francesca Rossi will be writing about the history and culture of Amelia as a guest writer for the ARCA blog. Ms. Rossi graduated from the Universitá degli Studi di Siena in Arezzo with a degree in biomedical laboratory techniques. She is an interior designer and responsible for the identify brand for an interior design studio in Amelia. Although born in Terni, Francesca was raised in Amelia, the summer base for ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.


There appear to be some problems with Sr. Cerasi's account. B-29s were just barely operational in January 1944, didn't fly in Europe and didn't go on their first combat mission until June 1944 (in India). And why would he call it a training aircraft? It was more likely a B-17 or B-24 separated from its formation.

Also, the AAF wouldn't have employed cluster munitions against a factory or bridge (two theories advanced on this blog). They would've been entirely ineffective; clucter munitions are used against vehicles or personnel. Were there German or Italian Fascist troops in the area, or bivouacked in the town?

I don't doubt something awful happened in Amelia in January 1944; I do wonder whether Sr. Cerasi's account is the full story.