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Some context- Between 12 and 16 August 1943, Milan was targeted with three heavy “area bombing” raids by the Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force. These were part of a bombing campaign launched after the removal from power of Benito Mussolini on 25 July 1943, and aimed at persuading the new Badoglio government – that had declared “the war continues” – to surrender. Over three of these four nights, Lancaster and Halifax bombers dropped 2,268 tons of bombs over the city; the raid on the night of 12/13 August was the single heaviest air raid ever suffered by an Italian city, with 1,252 tons of bombs (including 245 4,000-lb “blockbusters” and 380,000 incendiary devices) dropped by 478 of the 504 bombers that had taken off from bases in England. These raids killed about 1,000 people, left some 250,000 homeless, and prompted over one million of Milan’s 1,150,000 inhabitants to leave the city (many of these had actually already left after previous raids), seeking shelter in the surrounding countryside and smaller towns and villages all over western Lombardy. Damage was especially heavy in the city centre, with all of Milan’s main landmarks suffering damage, including the Cathedral, the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie (where Leonardo Da Vinci’s last supper was saved by a wall that survived the collapse of much of the building), the Sforza Castle and the La Scala theatre.
See also: [Bombing of Milan in World War II](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Milan_in_World_War_II)
Not long ago I found this account, that I think fits the photo, in the memoirs by Aldo Cocchia, an Italian naval officer who at the time was hospitalized in Milan for treatment for serious burns he had received in action:
“*After 55 minutes of bombing the city offered a truly shocking sight; high walls of flame rose on every side, a black, thick cloud of smoke surrounded everything, rising towards the sky. From a nearby burning factory, explosions went off from time to time, and when this happened brighter sheets of flame shout out from the building; every now and then, the rumble caused by the explosion of a delay-action bomb; everywhere one looked, a sea of flames. (…) On that afternoon of 16 August 1943, it seemed that in Milan it was possible to witness one of the great biblical exoduses. Streams of people left the city, devastated and dangerous, heading towards the suburbs in search for a house, a hole, a barn, any sort of shelter. On the roads, holes dug by the bombs, extirped trees, tangles of copper cables, electrical conduits, lead pipes and everywhere rubble, huge piles of rubble. The crowd proceeded as it could, with the means it had been able to fetch. A few trucks and cars, some animal-driven carts, many hand-driven carts. But the great majority proceeded on foot, tired, exhausted, stunned, carrying the signs of dejection on their faces, as if the weight of the tragedy that had fallen upon them was too much to bear. They walked as if driven by destiny, dragging with them the few things they had been able to save from destruction: a few blankets, rarely a mattress, small suitcases inserted on a cane held by two people at its extremities. They walked, most of them did not know where, they would stop when they wouldn’t be able to walk anymore, or when the train that they were trying to get would stop. The North railway was interrupted between Milan and the suburb of Bovisa, and most of the crowd headed towards Bovisa, in the hope of finding a train that could take them somewhere else. I too decided to go there. I managed to obtain from the hospital a battalion cart with a mule, I loaded it with everything I had, including a radio, and Pinna [Cocchia’s orderly] with his suitcases, and on top of everything myself, with my face bandaged due to a recent surgery I had undergone in those days. As soon as we were on the road, people asked us if they could get on the cart. I let onboard as many people as I could, women with children, haggard men, all with their bundles, their misery. Had we not been in the middle of a tragedy, the sight offered by my cart would have been most comical*”.
Photo credits, Federico Patellani/www.milanostoriadiunarinascita.it.