Speaking of the Italian situation in the House of Commons on the 24th May, 1944, the Prime Minister put into memorable words the anxieties shared by so many. "Here is this beautiful country suffering the worst horrors of war, with the larger part still in the cruel and vengeful grip of the Nazis, and with a hideous prospect of the red-hot rake of the battle-line being drawn from sea to sea right up the whole length of the peninsula".
Since this ominous phrase was spoken the "red-hot rake" has ploughed its way northward from Cassino to a line just short of Bologna. The summary of information given here, which is based on the official reports issued by the Archæological Adviser to the War Office, has been compiled to present some idea of what has been lost and what is safe. Many of the particulars here given have already appeared in the Press, but it is thought that many who are deeply concerned for the safety of Italian monuments may find a compendium of this kind useful and to some extent reassuring.
On July 10th, 1943, the Allied forces landed in Sicily. The island was overrun in a little over a month, and on the whole the resultant damage was small. The great Cathedrals of Palermo and Cefalù and the Abbey of Monreale survived intact. The Cathedrals of Catania, Messina, and Syracuse received minor damage. The Greek temples and theatre of Agrigento, Segesta, and Syracuse were unharmed. Some of the villages of the interior and many baroque villas in the countryside suffered severely.
On September 4th the Allies landed on the mainland. Calabria was quickly occupied, and on the 8th Italy surrendered. The next day the Allies made a second landing at Salerno. This was strongly opposed by the Germans, who reacted swiftly to the danger elsewhere and on September 10th seized control of Rome. This coup de main was a tragedy, for otherwise the greater part if not the whole of Italy might have escaped the consequences of a long and bitterly contested campaign. In the fighting round Salerno the Cathedral, the Greek temples of Pæstum, and the near-by town of Amalfi escaped miraculously. But Benevento and Capua suffered severely, and the ancient Cathedral of the former was destroyed. Naples was taken on October 5th. It had already suffered severely from Allied bombing, and now was the victim of senseless German sabotage. Several churches, among them that of Santa Chiara, with its tombs of the Angevin kings, were wrecked, while the university library and the archives of the House of Anjou were wantonly destroyed by the enemy. The enemy had removed to Monte Cassino, and later to Rome, much of the contents of the National Museum.
The enemy now held us for four months in the narrow gorge of the Liri valley at Cassino. This was Hitler's Gustav line. The Allies spared the famous Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino as' long as possible, but eventually, after repeated warnings, were compelled to destroy it utterly, since it was being used by the enemy for military purposes. The Liri valley was forced on May 11th, and the Fifth Army was able to make contact with the force landed farther north at Anzio. A rapid advance followed and Rome was taken unopposed on June 4th.