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Posts Tagged ‘Strategic Bombing’

Happy New Year!!

I hope you all had a relaxing time between the holidays and will head back to work refreshed.  I ate way more than I should have, but fortunately for me, the weather remains relatively warm…30s and 40s.  That means I can ride my bike to work and burn off some of the extra calories I packed on.

If we had been around Nuremberg, Germany on January 2, 1945, New Year’s celebrations would not have been in order.  It was on this evening that more than 500 British Lancasters flew overhead and plastered the medieval city back to, well, the Middle Ages.

The attack itself wasn’t a huge surprise to the city’s population had experienced bombing before.  During the Second World War, Nuremberg was the headquarters of one of Germany’s military districts, which alone made it an allied target of some value.  Furthermore, there was some military production going on there, particularly aircraft and tank engines.

But Nuremberg was also something of a spiritual center of National Socialism.  The Nuremberg rallies of the 20s and 30s were a pretty big deal, and numerous other Nazi Party gatherings had been held there over the years.  Like Adolf Hitler’s desire to crush Leningrad (named after the first Bolshevist leader) and Stalingrad (named after the current leader), it’s at least plausible that Allied planners might consider making Nuremberg a target for more than just strictly military reasons.

Nuremberg, already damaged by previous attacks, was devastated.  The pathfinders were very accurate in marking their targets with the aid of a full moon, and the Lancasters (though not speedy, could carry a significant bombload) did their job with fiery efficiency.  Nuremberg’s center was almost completely destroyed.  Thousands of buildings were reduced to smoldering rubble, including age-old churches, homes, museums, and the like.  More than 100,000 townspeople were left homeless, and another 1,800 were left lifeless.

This was the age of area bombing, so discrimination between military and civilian targets was pretty badly blurred.  And for many other German cities, like Hamburg before and Dresden just a month later, this is how their wars would end.

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Revenge is a dish best served cold.

It’s an axiom long used and pregnant with wisdom.  If someone does me wrong, it’s best to walk away and give myself some time for reflection and thought before responding.  Otherwise, my immediate reaction, in the heat of the moment, is often more wrong than that which was done to me.

In my not-so-vast reading experiences, I’ve discovered that, where warfare is concerned, this wise old saying is usually written on the first piece of paper to be tossed out the window.  In most cases, war is an act of revenge.  And that revenge is almost always served steaming over a bed of white-hot coals.

Germany’s Luftwaffe spent much of 1940’s latter half bombing London in an effort to drive her people to despair and the country out of the war.  One evening, as the bombs fell, British Air Marshal Arthur Harris supposedly turned to the man standing next to him and said, “The Germans are sowing the wind.”

The statement is mysterious until you know that it’s part of a phrase taken from the book of Hosea in the Bible’s Old Testament.  In its entirety, it reads, “For they sow the wind, and they reap the whirlwind.”  It’s a statement of revenge.  “Bomber” Harris (as he was known) was laying the groundwork for payback.

And three years later, in the early morning hours of July 24, 1943, payback began with the commencement of (again, Biblically-sourced) Operation Gomorrah.  Gomorrah was an extremely heavy bombing campaign waged by large British air groups (at night) and small American forces (for daytime precision attacks) against Hamburg, Germany.

As one of Germany’s primary industrial centers and a major port city, Hamburg was home to many industries and a bunch of oil refineries.  All of this stuff was central to the German war machine, which made it a top target.  And as such, Hamburg had been a bombing target numerous times already.  But Operation Gomorrah was different.  The nighttime attacks would be carried out by formations of more than 700 aircraft.

The enormity of these raids leaves little doubt that Gomorrah was not just about bombing industrial and military targets, because previous attacks had been carried with much smaller bomber forces.  The city was home to a large civilian population, and WWII’s lack of precision-guided munitions (which were still 20 years away) meant they were going to suffer heavily as well.  Operation Gomorrah served the dual purpose of war-time raid and retribution for the bombing of London.

By the time it ended on August 3rd, there had been 4 major raids.  Hamburg was a shambles, with hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed, thousands and thousands dead, and upwards of a million people homeless.

I hadn’t planned on it, but we may visit this topic again in a few days.

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