After the RAF mounted their largest attack yet, in terms of tonnage of bombs, the city of Dortmund had been blown apart. It had taken little more than an hour to drop 2000 tons of bombs. The strategy was designed not only to devastate the German war industry but to undermine morale in the German population, and perhaps provoke a rebellion against the Nazi regime. But the Allies were to underestimate the tenacity of the Nazis and their ability to cling to power even when large tracts of Germany were turned into a wasteland.
Yet the shock of the raids did have an impact at the highest levels in Germany. Goebbels, the German Propaganda Minister was to write in his diary:
May 25th 1943
The night raid by the English on Dortmund was extraordinarily heavy, probably the worst ever directed against a German city. . . . Reports from Dortmund are horrible. The critical thing about it is that industrial and munitions plants have been hit very hard.
One can only repeat about air warfare: we are in a position of almost helpless inferiority and must grin and bear it as we take the blows from the English and Americans.
One can now see what a very short-sighted proposal it was of Goering’s to evacuate bombed-out people to Burgundy and other sections of occupied France. In Dortmund, between eighty and a hundred thousand people are homeless. Let the Reich Marshal go to Dortmund himself and propose that they evacuate to France! Decisions of this kind can be made at the conference table, but they cannot be put into effect in practice.
The English are naturally putting out a lot of propaganda about Dortmund. They have every reason. The one redeeming feature about all this misery and distress is the fact that a respectable number of planes was brought down. If that had not happened, we would hardly know what to say about such a dilemma.
Schaub telephoned from the Obersalzberg in great distress. He had received reports from Bochum and Dortmund indicating that morale was lower than ever before. The reports are somewhat exaggerated, but we must recognize that the people in the West are gradually beginning to lose courage.
Hell like that is hard to bear for any length of time, especially since the inhabitants along the Rhine and Ruhr see no prospect of improvement.
In the evening I received a report on the extent of the damage in Dortmund. The fires were under control by the afternoon. Destruction, however, is virtually total. Gauleiter Hoffmann informed me that hardly a house in Dortmrmd is habitable.
He expressed the opinion that the other big cities on the Rhine and the Ruhr can work out for themselves what is soon in store for them. The fact is that the Royal Air Force is taking on one industrial city after another and one does not need to be a great mathematician to prophesy when a large part of the industry of the Ruhr will be out of commission.
We must now face the problem of evacuating the population. I believe we shall be more easily able to keep our industry going if we move such sections of the population as are not necessary for industrial production and maintenance away to other parts of the Reich.
See The Goebbels Diaries, London, 1948