Battipaglia, the Italian Guernica. Norman Lewis witness in “Naples 44”

Battipaglia was one of the main objectives of the operation Avalanche. The British Army landed on the Battipaglia Beaches in the center of the landing front. The English writer Norman Lewis, an officer of the Security Field in transit through the city in the immediacy of its final liberation, called it ‘The Italian Guernica’ in his masterpiece ‘Naples 44’, which rendered the jealously guarded diary during the Italian campaign in a literary form.

Norman Lewis is undoubtedly one of the most eminent witnesses of those months of war and despair. In 1943 he serves the Eighth Army in the Security Field Police and he describes his Italian experience in a book which will later become one of the most renowed accounts of the war: “Naples 44”.

Lewis will become a much esteemed writer, so much so that Graham Greene himself places him among the greatest British writers of our century. His account is obviously focused on his personal experience with the vivid yet tragic scenario of Naples under the Allied occupation, but he also dedicates a long prologue to the experience of the landing.

One of the most relevant memory of the war time is the the air-raid shelter in the square overlooking the town hall. The Municipal Administration has restored and secured it, the air-raid shelter has been chosen as a symbol the Operation Avalanche for the European Heritage Label application.

The underground tunnel was originally more than 500 metres long and reached the building housing the Town Hall from the railway station, extending as far as what is now Piazza Conforti, where there was an entrance that has now unfortunately been closed off. During the renovation of the square above, consolidation work that allowed the restoration of this first area was carried out, walling off access to most of the rooms. 

The shelter is in the centre of an area that lends itself to its enhancement thanks to the structures in the vicinity. The Town Hall, in front of which the shelter is located, is equipped with large spaces that have already been used to integrate services on the occasion of initiatives linked to Avalanche Day: exhibitions, conferences, shows (two editions of Radio Onda on War music and Terra Mia on popular music before the war).