RAF bomb the medieval city of Lubeck

Vertical aerial photograph taken during the major raid on Lubeck on the night of 28/29 March 1942, showing the glare of incendiary fires in the Altstadt (upper left), illuminating the Klughafen on which a number of barges can be seen moored.

Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, now leading Bomber Command was determined to prove that his force was a war winning weapon that could bring Germany to her knees. The strategy had now moved over to area bombing, destroying swathes of industrial infrastructure, in which industrial workers, and their families, would be ‘dehoused’ – there was a tacit admission that many would be killed during this process.

Harris was to record his reasons for the choice of the first target in his memoirs:

On the night of March 28th-29th the first German city went up in flames. This was Lubeck, a rather distant target on the Baltic coast, but not difficult to identify because of its position on the River Trave, by no means so well defended as the Ruhr, and from the nature of its buildings easier than most cities to set on fire.

It was a city of moderate size, of some importance as a port, and with some submarine building yards of moderate size not far from it. It was not a vital target, but it seemed to me better to destroy an industrial town of moderate importance that to fail to destroy a large industrial city.

However, the main object of the attack was to learn to what extent a first wave of aircraft could guide a second wave to the aiming point by starting a conflagration: I ordered a half an hour interval between the two waves in order to allow the fires to get a good hold before the second wave arrived. In all, 234 aircraft were dispatched and dropped 144 tons of incendiaries and 160 tons of high explosives. At least half of the town was destroyed, mainly by fire. It was conclusively proved that even the small force I had then could destroy the greater part of a town of secondary importance.

In the attack on Lubeck 13 aircraft were missing, most of them being shot down along the route, a loss rate of 5.5 per cent, and no more than could be expected on a moonlight night and with the target at so great a distance from base.

For Harris this was an unsustainable rate of loss. See Arthur Harris: Bomber Offensive.

The burning cathedral in Lubeck - the Nazis sought to make a propaganda issue out of the burning of the historic heart of the city.

The first wave of bombs included blockbusters which blew apart buildings - into these ruins incendiaries fell, starting the firestorm that caused the greater part of the destruction.

A few days later Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister was to acknowledge in his diary the impact that the raid had made on the population:

The damage is really enormous, I have been shown a newsreel of the destruction. It is horrible. One can well imagine how such a bombardment affects the population. … Thank God, it is a North German population, which on the whole is much tougher than the Germans in the south or south-east. We can’t get away from the fact that the English air-raids have increased in scope and importance; if they can be continued on these lines, they might conceivably have a demoralising effect on the population.

Vertical photographic-reconnaissance photograph taken over Lubeck, Germany following the major night raid by Bomber Command aircraft on 28/29 March 1942. This shows the devastated western part of the Altstadt from the gutted cathedral (top left) to the Drehbrucke (bottom right) and Kanalstrasse (bottom left).

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

ian gray April 13, 2016 at 3:27 pm

So Lubeck and its citizens were seen as a sitting duck like Guernica. Was this not a warcrime then by Harris?

maia March 8, 2016 at 7:16 pm

thankyou so much, this helped me a bunch:)

Giovanni Mendicino August 2, 2015 at 8:16 pm

My dad was also stationed on Greek Island of Rhodes , captured by Germans 1943
sent by train to Germany (Not sure which place) but doing slave labor 12 hrs day
where they built plane bomb munitions , liberated 1945

Lou Colabella October 3, 2013 at 4:21 pm

During World War II, my maternal grandfather, an Italian soldier who fought with the 18th Gran Sasso Artillery Regiment of the 24th Pinerolo Infantry Division in Albania and Greece, was captured in Greece by German troops in mid-October 1943 following a month of resistance by the Pinerolo Division after Italy surrendered to the Allies in September 1943. He was sent by train to Lubeck, where he was stripped of his rights as POW under the Geneva Convention, starved and forced into slave labor for 19 months until he was liberated by the British 11th Armoured Division on May 2, 1945. He was a private, so I know he was not imprisoned in Oflag XC. Does anyone know of any other locations in Lubeck where Italian POWs were held during the war? Thanks!

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: