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On the night between 12 and 13 July 1943, Turin suffered its worst bombing raid of the entire war – as well the heaviest bombing raid ever suffered by an Italian city up to that moment (but this ‘record’ would be beaten just six days later by the first bombing of Rome). 264 Lancaster bombers of the RAF Bomber Command, out of 295 that had originally taken off from bases in southern England, dropped 763 tons of bombs (478 tons of explosive bombs, including eight 8,000-lb and 203 4,000-lb “blockbusters”, and 285 tons of incendiary bombs) in an “area bombing” raid over most of the city. 792 inhabitants of Turin were killed (thus making the 12 July raid the bloodiest air raid in Italy until then, albeit this was also ‘beat’ by the bombing of Rome six days later), 914 were wounded, most of Turin’s districts were badly hit, especially in the city centre (the aiming point was the Porta Nuova railway station, in the heart of the city); most of Turin’s factories were hit, but so were thousands of homes and many landmarks. In the following days some 460,000 people, about two-thirds of Turin’s population, left the city; firefighters carried out some 1,100 interventions, hampered by the destruction of water pipes which often forced them to draw water from swimming pools or even from the sewers. (By the end of the war, 38 % of Turin’s buildings had been destroyed or damaged by air raids).
Alessandro Caldara, a seaman in the Italian Navy who was born in Turin, visited the city five days later while on leave and wrote the following description in his diary: “*…especially in the area where my family lives, the sight is terrifying: everything has been razed, the houses of my friends no longer exist. My parent’s home has been myraculously spared, but the craters left by the bombs that fell all around it are clearly visible. Wherever I look, I see nothing but ruins. It’s been a real “scientific bombing”. One can clearly see that they used the Dora river (lighted by the moon) as a reference point; flying along the river, the aircraft dropped their bombs over a vast area astride the river, starting upriver and ending where the Dora joins the Po. Dozens and dozens of bombs and hundreds of incendiary devices; countless homes have been razed, and many others have been gutted; a lot have been destroyed by fires. All the factories in this area have been hit, too. The bombs are now being dropped with a different tactic: instead of dropping them in sequence, leaving a furrow along the aicraft’s path, they drop them in clusters. Where the cluster falls there is total destruction of everything: it pulverizes everything. Unfortunately lots of people had remained in the city (deceived by a series of false alarms during the previous days), therefore there were many victims. Many had taken shelter in mere cellars. They say that 4,000 people have been killed and more than 6,000 wounded, so many that the hospitals are overflowing and so are suburban schools, which have been turned into emergency hospitals. The people have now resumed the practice of leaving the city at night, sleeping outdoors in the fields and the hills. Seeing the state of these people and the life they are living, I can’t help thinking that at this point all is lost, and that the war only continues for a matter of honor*”.