Allied War Crimes during WW2: Bombing of Zadar and French War Crimes

Allied War Crimes: Bombing of Zadar

The first post about Allied war crimes in World War 2 on European territory is on bombing of Dresden. Today I want to draw your attention on bombing on Zadar, Croatian city in Dalmatia region. The case is similar and equally tragic because of its absurdity.  

After Mussolini was demolished in Italy, the new Badoglio government on September 8, 1943 declared a truce and emerged from the war. Such a chaotic state was used by the Independent State of Croatia, which declared the Rome Treaty invalid and wanted to occupy Dalmatia with the support of the Germans. That scared the Zadar-based Italians who were without military protection. But, the Germans have their courtesy, and on September 10, the German 114th Division occupied Zadar.

It was forbidden to integrate Zadar into the Independent State of Croatia because the city itself was not the subject of a contract from 1941. Ante Pavelić who governed Independent State of Croatia, has given Zadar the residence role of the large parish Sidraga-Ravni kotari. Zadar remained under the local Italian administration and German military protection. His legal position was even more unusual - he has formally become part of the Mussolini's Social Republic in the north of Italy, from which he was completely cut off. In such atmosphere of complete uncertainty, with whole rows of civilian authorities and armies in the Zadar territory, the allied bombing of Zadar began.  

The course of the attack

The first major air attack allied forces did on Zadar was in the evening on November 2, 1943, when they destroyed a home for abandoned children. It was followed by a major attack on November 28 (over 200 victims), and on 16 and 30 December the same year. The first attacks marked many civilian casualties, but the city, although damaged, still functioned. Particularly difficult was the bombing on December 16 when they hit the shelters on city district Ceraria and in the city center. About 150-200 people died. In this strike attended 50 American bombers “Mitchell” (B-25), which dropped 90 tons of bombs.

Besides these most serious attacks, the metropolitan zone was to a lesser extent bombed during the other days as well. With the so-called “carpet” bombing tactics they destroyed entire housing blocks. The center of the city was under the greatest impact, around the Forum and Kalelarga, a main street in Zadar, where no objects were preserved. The greatest damage was not caused by the bombs, but by the fires they caused, transforming the city into tons of burnt houses skeletons. During each attack a certain part of the city was destroyed. Thus, on December 16, the space from the church Our Lady of Health through Kalelarga to today's People’s square was devastated, and on December 30 the New Waterfront and Green Square. The city hospital and most industrial facilities were destroyed on New Year’s Eve. Factory “Luxardo” (manufacturer of Maraschino) burned for three days.  

The attacks that completely devastated Zadar followed from January to March 1944. However, the number of victims was much smaller, because the population who remained without homes and means of living fled to the less heavily damaged suburbs and Zadar islands. It is estimated that in spring 1944 in Zadar, together with the suburbs, there were less than 4,000 civilians. Although all industrial facilities and piers were disabled, and the Germans were forced to set up auxiliary ports in Zaton near towns of Nin and Ražanac, the bombings continued throughout 1944.

By the summer the center of Zadar practically no longer existed: most houses are destroyed, their ruins clogged streets. The town was deserted. From June to October there were no bigger attacks. New strikes followed in mid-October 1944, during the retreat of the German army. The biggest bombings were on October 25 and 30 when the areas of Brodarica, Jazine and Nova riva were hit. The last allied bombing was carried out on October 31, 1944, on the day of the entry of partisans in Zadar. Zadar was released on November 1, 1944. The assumption is that it happened by accident because of poor communications. Several Partisans were killed.

Possible Causes of Attack

The duration of the attack (less than a year) and the supply of bombs (a figure of 400 tons of explosives is mentioned) thrown into Zadar, a relatively small city with limited strategic importance, led to the various theories and assumptions about the causes of the bombing. Many of them are related to the status of the city during that period and the political struggle for it.

In the circles of refugees (tal. esuli) and Italian right-wing politicians, the theory was that Josip Broz Tito, leader of the Partisans, ordered bombing of Zadar by the Allies to destroy the Italian character of the city and enable it to join Croatia or Yugoslavia. So he allegedly informed the British of German forces in the town and the importance of the Zadar port to move their forces, all to give them a pretext for the bombing. For all this there is no evidence and persuasiveness is questionable due to the political background of these claims and the reasons for their dissemination.

City of Zadar today
City of Zadar today

Much more likely is that Zadar was hurt because of its natural location. Unlike Split and Dubrovnik, whose bombarded ports Lora and Gruž were far from the city center, Zadar harbor and all the ports were located around the peninsula, the city's narrowest center. It has entailed much greater destruction with damaging port facilities. 

In relation to the number of air strikes, which ranges from 30 to over 50 (depending on the source), should not ignore the geographical position of Zadar, which is found along the route of the bombers on Allied airports in southern Italy toward their targets, cities in Central Europe. Zadar could then serve as the so-called secondary target for dismantling the bombs in case of bad weather or returning to the base.

Franch War Crimes

Occupation of France divided the French. Some obeyed the commandment of Marshal Petain, and the other by general de Gaulle. As the first ones were on the side of the defeated, they faced accusations of being traitors of homeland and collaborators. Some officials of Vichy's France have been shot or killed in a public lynch. Unhappy Frenchwomen who had a love affair with the Germans were publicly humiliated by cutting hair.

General Phillippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque
General Phillippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque

One of the most obvious war crimes involving senior French officials was the massacre of captured French members of the Waffen SS in Bad Reichenhall, Bavaria, at the end of the war in May 1945. French Lieutenant General Leclerc was deployed to a dozen members of the SS Division Charlemagne who were captured. Leclerc wanted to humiliate the captured soldiers by displaying them as servants of foreigners and asked them:

 Why are you wearing the (German) uniforms? 

The captured officer Briffaut answered: 

And you too wear a foreign uniform, my general.

Leclerc was really wearing side (US) uniform and was so infuriated he ordered the execution of the entire group of prisoners.

The Allied war crimes during WW2 are always interesting and controversial for bombing of various cities. The perpetrators never apologized or being prosecuted and different theories about reasons of attacks can be disputable. But, we must not forget the victims or these events to not repeat this kind of winner’s history.   

Resources and references:

1. Čogelja, Jerolim, Grgo Stipić i Vicko Zaninović, editors. Zadar: 1944-1954. (1954.) Zadar: Committee for the celebration of the ten-year anniversary of the liberation of Zadar


  1. This is a very interesting post. Love the theme of your website!

  2. This was a really interesting article indeed. Learning about ww2 is so thought provoking and riveting. Great job.