Mussolini’s Massive Bunker Built During WWII

Bunker's image: Gregory paolucci / CC BY-SA 4.0
Bunker's image: Gregory paolucci / CC BY-SA 4.0

Twenty-seven miles north of Rome lies one of the most spectacular structures of WWII, but most people will probably miss it if they do not know where to look.

It is a bunker located under Mount Soratte, a 3.4-mile long limestone ridge north of Rome. The Mountain has six peaks, the tallest of which is 2,267 feet above sea level. The area also contains pits which can be up to 377 feet deep. They now sit in the middle of a nature reserve in what was once no-man’s-land during the war.

In 1937, Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator, ordered the construction of an underground bunker for the Italian government and military generals. The Mount Soratte complex became the largest bunker in Europe, at nearly three miles long and 300 yards underground.

150 acres were blocked off with barbed wire, and rumors spread that it was to be a factory for agricultural and military equipment. When Italy made peace with the Allies on September 8, 1943, the Germans took over the bunker and made it the headquarters of the Wehrmacht Command for Southern Europe, led by Field General Albert Kesselring.

Tunnels of the complex during construction between 1937-42.
Tunnels of the complex during construction between 1937-42.

The Germans housed over 1,000 soldiers in the bunker and provided them with restaurants, and a theater. They also covered the walls with paintings of German villages.

In 1944 the area was bombed by the Allies. Knowing they could not destroy the bunker, the squadron of B-17 bombers aimed for the tunnel entrances hoping the resulting firestorm would kill any occupants. However, Kesselring and his troops had already abandoned the bunker, but not before they had mined the galleries. To this day, you can still see the rubble piled up outside.

In the 1950s, the Italians used the bunker to store ammunition before abandoning it in 1962. It then lay vacant for years, until NATO refurbished it for use as Europe’s largest anti-atomic bomb shelter. If there were a nuclear attack, the President of Italy and his assistants would have been protected there. In 1989 it again fell into disuse which was kept secret until 2008.

To this day, rumors persist that there is 72 tons of Nazi gold buried somewhere in the bunker. According to various stories, German soldiers looted gold bars from the Bank of Italy after they invaded. There is some evidence the Nazis did hide gold in the bunker, according to Gregory Paolucci, Head of the Bunker Soratte Association. They provide tours of the Mountain and bunker and are making the entire complex into a museum, with help from European funding.

Mussolini inspecting fortifications, 1944. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-316-1175-25 / Vack / CC-BY-SA 3.0.
Mussolini inspecting fortifications, 1944. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-316-1175-25 / Vack / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

Multiple witnesses reported seeing trucks loaded with the gold drive into the Mountain and never came out again. The rumors were given some air of legitimacy when the Italian government spent millions of dollars searching for the gold in the 1960s, but the search failed to find anything.

There are also rumors that the gold is cursed. According to Paolucci, a German soldier who lived in the bunker during the war, returned afterward to search for the treasure. Days after he returned to Germany, he was discovered, beheaded and incinerated.

The curse did not stop Baron Giuseppe Fortezza trying. He obtained a permit from the Italian Defense Ministry and was helped in his search by officers of the Genio Militare (the Italian Engineering Corps). He spent thirty years unsuccessfully searching the bunker for the hidden treasure.

Over the years, Mount Soratte has attracted more than its share of rumors. Allegedly, it is also where Pope Boniface VIII hid his journals, and where the Roman Emperor Constantine was supposedly cured of leprosy.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE