Today marks the 76th anniversary of the great tragedy of April 4, 1944, when Bucharest was the target of a massive bombardment of American 449th Air Expeditionary Group from Grottaglie and 515th Bomb Squadron, after taking the usual route from Italy past Turnu Severin, across the Southern Carpathians, and up to Târgoviște and Snagov, bombed for two hours at midday. Civilian areas were also targeted, in particular, the Gara De Nord Station area, Cotroceni palace, Calea Victoriei, and the Spelndiid and Hilton hotels, as well as various other buildings of historical interest. USAF records state that high winds retreated the bombs from their intended target of the Railway Marshalling yards – the aim being of disrupting the railway systems used to move oil from the Ploiesti refinery around, used to support the Nazi war effort. Whether deliberate or not, the central part of the city was badly damaged, areas that had no military value. The war front was 300km north, on the Iasi-Chisinau line, and the fighting had ceased a week earlier.
The tragedy took place on a Tuesday at noon when a number of 220 B-17 bombers (called Flying Fortresses) and 93 B-24 bombers (called Libertadors) entered Romania’s airspace from the north-west.
A witness testimony from survivor, Mihail Sebastian in his diary, written the day after the massacre reads: “Yesterday afternoon I was in the Griviţa neighbourhood. From the Railway Station to the Basarab Boulevard, no houses – none – remained untouched. The view is heartbreaking. They are still dead, they are still heard from under the rubble. At one corner of the street, three women were moaning with sharp screams, tearing their hair, tearing their clothes, a charred corpse, just removed from under the rubble. It had rained a little in the morning and in the area, there was a smell of mud, soot, burnt wood, an atrocious sight, a nightmare. I was no longer able to pass beyond Bessarab – and I returned home, with a sense of compulsion, horror and powerlessness. ”
Officially, in the bombing of April 4, 1944, 2,942 people died and another 2,126 were injured. The dead were buried on the edge of the Calvin Cemetery, with ceremonies reminiscent of national funerals. The cemetery initially bore the text “April 4”, but was later removed in the years of communism.
The Americans lost 7 aircraft, according to USAF historical archives. Almost 3000 dead in a single day, all innocent civilians but strangely, there is no monument dedicated to this event.
April 4, 1944, was just the beginning. The capital was bombed heavily in the following days. A statistical report shows that during the 17 aerial bombardments, starting with the one of April 4, 1944, executed by Americans and allied partners with approximately 3,640 bombing aircraft of different types, accompanied by about 1,830 fighter jets during one day, 5,524 inhabitants were killed, 3,373 were injured, and 47,974 were homeless and became victims. 3,456 residential houses were destroyed, 3,473 were partially destroyed, 401 were damaged and 2,305 were set on fire. The defence of the Capital was provided by 601 Romanian aircraft and 709 German aircraft.
Let us today, remember the souls of those 2942 unfortunate victims, and 2582 more Bucharest inhabitants who died over the coming days and weeks. Rest in peace.