Formia During World War II

In June 1943 Anglo-American forces landed in Sicily having defeated the Germans in North Africa.  On the 25th July, King Vittorio Emanuele III relieved Benito Mussolini and the Fascists of all power and the monarch entrusted the country’s leadership to Marshal Pietro Badoglio.  In Sicily, on the 3rd September 1943,  Italy secretly signed an armistice with the Allied forces in Sicily. Soon after this the Germans took occupation of Rome.  The town of Formia had an important geographical location as it overlooked the sea and the mountains behind it, and was close to the Gustav Line, the German stronghold against  the advancement of the allied troops.  It was to be an important communication and supply line for German troops defending the western flank of the German front  along the border between Lazio and Campania.

On the 6th September, at 14.24 in the afternoon, B17 Fortress aircraft dropped about forty bombs on the port area, however many missed their target and fell into the sea.  Then, between the 8th and 9th of September, the town was subjected to a round of intense air bombardments. This was followed by more bombing on the 10th September which destroyed the entire Mola district, killing more than seventy people and about two hundred wounded. The Germans requisitioned buildings and plundered people’s homes and possessions.  The Germans destroyed the port and planted mines along the beaches to prevent any attempts of an amphibious landing by the Allies.  The railway was dismantled and the nine arched railway viaduct that ran between Formia and Gaeta was blown up. They also damaged several important Roman monuments such of the Tempio di Giano and  Cicero’s tomb.

Many families decided to evacuate to the nearby mountain villages of Maranola, Trivio and Castellonorato and to the hills of Santa Maria la Noce. However the bombing raids continued into 1944 and even these rural areas suffered from the bombs and nautical shelling of the Allies. The local people also had to endure persecutions and reprisals by the Germans and there was great famine.

Battles raged for many months along the German Gustav Line, particularly at Monte Cassino and along the River Garigliano before the American and British forces could make any advance towards Rome.  However following a particularly fierce and bitter three day battle, at the village of Santa Maria Infanta near Minturno, the Allies finally succeeded in breaching the German Gustav Line on the 14th May.  On the 18th May Polish soldiers finally took Monte Cassino. The Germans were forced to retreat.

On the 18th May 1944 the first patrols of the 85th Division of the American Armed Forces entered Formia and the town was liberated.  Gaeta, in turn, was liberated the following day.  However over a thousand people died in Formia and Gaeta during the German occupation.  Many were innocent civilians.  In their wake the Germans left many sea and land mines along the beaches and in the surrounding countryside which were to claimed yet more lives. The structure of the town had suffered enormous damage.

After the war both of the towns of Formia and Gaeta were awarded the Medaglia d’Argento al Valor Civile for the events of the Second World War.

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