Unpublished documents from the archives of the Pontifical Gendarmerie reveal the secret plan put in place to defend the Holy See and smuggle Pope Pius XII out in the event of the Vatican’s occupation.
Between September 8, 1943—the date of beginning of the German occupation of Rome—and the liberation of the Eternal City on June 4, 1944, the Vatican found itself in the eye of the storm. This period is highlighted by the historian Cesare Catananti in his book Il Vaticano nella tormenta [The Vatican in the Storm] published by San-Paolo editions, January 17, 2020.
Through the exceptionally access to documents which he was able to consult at the headquarters of the Pontifical Gendarmerie, the historian demonstrates that the German Chancellor had planned the invasion of the 44 hectares of the Vatican, as well as the kidnapping of the Sovereign Pontiff. He was to have been deported either to Munich or to Liechtenstein.
The secretariat of state, having been informed of this project, put a real war plan in place. The Vatican barricaded itself: reinforcing the large doors with enormous bars and sandbags, organizing a defense by the Swiss guard, and laying in a supply of water and food in order to prepare for a long siege.
If Hitler would not back down and had decided to send his panzers to break through the wall, no problem, the defense plan provided for a tactical redeployment in the apostolic palaces, with, as its final phase, a bloody hand to hand combat with the noble guard, at the door of the pontifical apartment, where the aggressor would have thought to find the sovereign pontiff.
The time gained by such an heroic and desperate battle would be used to allow the successor of Peter and his companions to get to the Gregorian tower—also called the Tower of the Winds—located north of the Vatican Basilica. Then through secret passages, everyone could quickly reach a safe place, with the support of the British MI9.
The invasion did not take place, but the story is full of twists and turns. In June 1944, at the time of the liberation of Rome, Pius XII opened the Leonine wall to the German soldiers—the very ones who had to remove it a few months earlier—so as to protect them from the reprisals of population infuriated and drunk with revenge.