Did the Italian army kill the Loch Ness Monster in World War II?

Black and white photograph with ruined castle on a rocky outcrop, with lake and mountains behind it.

Could there by any truth to the claim in Mussolini's newspaper that his army killed the Loch Ness Monster?

Beth Daley (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)

Some creatures of folklore are made of myth alone - mermaids, unicorns, werewolves, leprechauns. But there are some for whom not quite enough evidence exists to disprove their existence and so they remain at large - at least in our imaginations. For some people, anecdotal evidence, old grainy videos or blurry photographs taken from long distances do indeed prove the existence of the likes of the yeti, Bigfoot, the chupacabra, or indeed a giant sea serpent lurking among the deep dark waters of Loch Ness, Scotland.

Painting of Loch Ness (in foreground), with ruined Urquart castle in the mid-ground and mountains and sky behind.

First sightings of the Loch Ness Monster

‘Nessie’ the Loch Ness Monster came into the public consciousness in 1933 when George Spicer and his wife claimed to have seen the monster cross the road in front of their car and head into Loch Ness - Scotland’s largest lake.

This story was published in December 1933 by local Scottish newspapers like The Falkirk Herald and taken up by English publications like the London Weekly Dispatch and the Sunday Mirror. It captured imaginations far beyond its native Scotland as you can see in this image by Danish cartoonist, Herluf Jensenius, from 1934.

Cartoon of a figure in a boat lassooing a sea monster.

But this story goes back further, to the sixth century CE, and involves an Irish monk called St Columba, and a confrontation with a water beast in the River Ness (which feeds into Loch Ness). This beast is said to have killed one man, but to have been warded off another by Columba making the sign of the cross and banishing the beast into Loch Ness.

Drawing of St Columba

A beloved Scottish icon

Centuries later, Nessie is a much-loved Scottish icon, well woven into folklore, popular culture, tourist trails and gift shop merchandise.

The heads of the main characters, below a green giant lizard from the lake and the figure of a man in a spacesuit.

Listen to children from 1954 singing ‘I’m a monster o’ Loch Ness’:

I'm the monster o Loch Ness,
My name shall never guess
I shall twirl in a ring
And do the Highland fling,
I'm the monster o Loch Ness.

Hunting for Nessie

Black and white photograph of children on a boarded platform

People continue to hunt for Nessie even now, using new technology as it evolves - from photographs to video, sonar, and even satellite imagery and DNA identification technology. So far, no conclusive evidence has been found to say for sure that a monster exists. Is that because the search area is so large? Loch Ness contains more water than all the lakes, rivers and reservoirs in England and Wales put together!

Or, could it be because Nessie was killed in the 1940s by the Italian army?

Killing the Loch Ness Monster

I was alerted to this ridiculous story by a line in a children’s history book. In a chapter about Urquhart Castle, the remains of which lie on the banks of Loch Ness, this Horrible Histories book (Crackin’ Castles, by Terry Deary, Scholastic, London, 2016, p143) reports that ‘In 1941 an Italian newspaper reported that the bombing of Scotland was so heavy, the Loch Ness Monster was killed by a direct hit.’

Could there be any truth to this at all? Was it merely a silly joke, or was there something more sinister behind the story?

It turns out, there is some truth to the story. That is to say, it is true that Nessie was the subject of debate and propaganda in World War II. And that there were media reports of the Italians claiming to have killed her. But before that, Nessie had already raised her watery head within the fascist regime - Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels cited the British people’s belief in the monster as a sign of their weakness and inability to win the war (see

Perhaps the regime thought that news of Nessie’s demise would demoralise the country, because in December 1940, Scottish newspaper the Aberdeen Press and Journal presented ‘GOEBBELS' "MONSTER" FAIRY TALE’, reporting as follows:

HERE is Dr Goebbels' latest whopper, given out by the Nazicontrolled Radio Paris yesterday:— "It is reported from Glasgow, via Stockholm, that the Loch Ness monster has struck a mine, and its body has been found washed ashore in pieces on the West of Scotland." Speyside Masonic appointment—Br. Alexander Millar, who has been appointed Right Worshipful Master of Lodge St John (No. 1021), Aberlour.

But Nessie must have had a reprieve because the following year, in mid June 1941, the story goes that Mussolini’s Italian newspaper Il Popolo D’Italia took this idea further and published an incredible report claiming that an Italian pilot had dropped a bomb on Nessie herself, asserting that the pilot even saw her body float to the surface. As yet, I haven’t found a copy of the original story - perhaps the whole story is as much a myth as the monster itself - but Australia’s The World’s News reported it as follows, illustrated with cartoons by Phil Litchfield:

The Italian paper, “Popolo d’Italia,” solemnly announced that one of Mussolini’s big planes, while raiding England, had bombed and destroyed a huge, serpent-like animal on the surface of Loch Ness.

But rather than dissuade, demoralise or embarrass the Brits, this story was seized upon by those Allied newspapers around the world with a sense of humour - if not a good knowledge of the distinction between England and Scotland. The media soon added an epilogue in which a local man and his son saw Nessie alive and well not long after the alleged bombing, turning Nessie not into a symbol of weakness but into a veritable war hero. The World’s News continues:

Possibly scarred and even shell-shocked, he seems to have returned perhaps from repairs at some deep-sea wetdock, and outwardly as good as ever. "Stout fella!" say the English, pleased as well as amused. He may be a monster, but he has some sturdy, bulldog characteristics which the British admire.

Newspaper page with the headline 'Italian says he bombed Loch Ness Monster'

What do you think? Is Nessie out there? And if she is, what is she? Some kind of gigantic eel? A prehistoric reptile descended from dinosaurs? Or is she a mirage? Simply some tourism-boosting propaganda?

For now at least, the mystery and the legend continue.