‘Black Monday’ in Gelsenkirchen – ‘Hell on Earth’

Only 3 or 4 days after the two major attacks on November 6, 1944 rescue teams entered the basement of the collapsed drugstore Schmitz (Kaiser street corner and street Grillo, left two houses from the fire brigade museum) and brought out a woman. She lay in front of the ruined house and was totally black, burnt, charred, sooty, her face unrecognizable: But I noticed, as I bent over her, that she – stinking of burnt flesh and feces – still breathed weakly.

The oil plants of the Ruhr had been targets since the  beginning of the bombing campaign. Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark V, N1463 'GE-L', of No. 58 Squadron RAF, takes off on a night sortie from Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. This aircraft later went missing during a bombing sortie to Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on 17/18 June 1940.
The oil plants of the Ruhr had been targets since the beginning of the bombing campaign. Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark V, N1463 ‘GE-L’, of No. 58 Squadron RAF, takes off on a night sortie from Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. This aircraft later went missing during a bombing sortie to Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on 17/18 June 1940.
Close up of the nose insignia on Handley Page Halifax B Mark III, LV907 'NP-F' "Friday the Thirteenth", of No. 158 Squadron RAF, after returning to Lissett, Yorkshire, from its 100th operational sortie, a night raid on Gelsenkirchen, Germany, flown by Flight Lieutenant N G Gordon and crew. LV907 was so named because it was delivered to the Squadron on 13 January 1944, and was accordingly painted with depictions of various unlucky omens. However, it completed 128 successful sorties before being struck off charge in May 1945.
Close up of the nose insignia on Handley Page Halifax B Mark III, LV907 ‘NP-F’ “Friday the Thirteenth”, of No. 158 Squadron RAF, after returning to Lissett, Yorkshire, from its 100th operational sortie, a night raid on Gelsenkirchen, Germany, flown by Flight Lieutenant N G Gordon and crew. LV907 was so named because it was delivered to the Squadron on 13 January 1944, and was accordingly painted with depictions of various unlucky omens. However, it completed 128 successful sorties before being struck off charge in May 1945.
A pilots map of the route taken by No 408/426 Squadrons RCAF from Linton on Ouse on 6th November 1944.
A pilots map of the route taken by No 408/426 Squadrons RCAF from Linton on Ouse on 6th November 1944.

As the Allied Air forces returned to the destruction of the Ruhr, the town of Gelsenkirchen was high on the target list. Not only was it an industrial town but nearby lay a synthetic oil facility, creating fuel oil from coal. Air warfare strategists had argued that these synthetic oil plants should be the very top priority. Post war analysis suggested that their comprehensive destruction across Germany, beyond the very considerable levels of damage that were achieved by the bombing that did take place, might well have hastened the end of the war.

Very probably many of the German civilians here would have welcomed the Allies as liberators, just as they had at Aachen. When the Scholven oil plant had been hit in September dozens of Jewish slave workers from Hungary had been killed. Seventeen injured women survivors had been treated by doctors from Gelsenkirchen, and the hospital medical staff had collaborated to hide them from the Gestapo, enabling them to survive the war.

It made no difference where their loyalties lay. The people of Gelsenkirchen were in the firing line for more than one reason.

Joseph P. Krause was 12 years old at the time, living in the Schalke area of central Gelsenkirchen. He vividly remembered “Black Monday”, November 6, 1944 when at 13.47 o’clock, they heard on the radio:

“Strong enemy bomber formations on the approach to Gelsenkirchen” Even while this message was being broadcast all hell broke loose. We fled before the carpet bombing, with the public sirens of “acute air threat” heard in the open.

This air warning automatically turned my stomach, and I always felt a painful diarrhea. I went down the spacious staircase, sprinting from the 1st floor, then, with the smashing of windows and doors by the air pressure of the first bombs, along with my 13 year old sister Hildegard, was thrown on the ground floor. In the hail of bombs and between flying debris and flak shrapnel we got in the public air raid shelter under the Fire Museum at the Kaiser Street, the second house to the left of the Imperial Road 71. Between them was the house with the practice of Dr. med. Kirch Meyer.

My sister Genoveva (19) ran with two children in a panic to the Church of St. Joseph and took refuge in the crypt there. Under the Fire Museum we suffered the ultimate doomsday. Tens of thousands of explosive and incendiary bombs rained down on Schalke. All supply lines were interrupted immediately. No water. No power. No radio signals or warnings. Someone in the basement lit a taper, but immediately it went out by air pressure.

The only orientation offered were some stripes on the walls, which were painted with fluorescent paint. The bombs were fitted with rattling and whistling air screws to increase the horror effect among the civilian population. By the perfidious acoustics of the descending carpet bombing we sensed in advance, when and with what weight, a bomb would hit our neighbourhood, and we ducked instinctively and crouched on the floor. Continually we pressed our fingers in our ears and opened our mouths, so that the tremendous air pressure did not tear the lungs and eardrums. The basement swayed and shook.

From everywhere came animal screams of agony. Children and women were crying hysterically, cursing and praying loudly, threw themselves on the ground, whimpering, pleading in vain for mercy of the invisible God. We were prisoners in hell. Smoke. Heat. Then an infernal roar and crackle. The building had collapsed on us. Smoke crept in through cracks in the walls and shattered doors. The house collapsed on us and burned like tinder. The heat was unbearable.

Through an opening in the back part of the basement staggered in blackened shapes, covered with wet blankets. One of the fugitives voice choked with tears: “Schalke street no longer exists.”

This was Dante’s “Inferno” pure and simple. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth. The battered people roared and sobbed in despair and fear of death. Horror and shudder came from every joint. After the first assault wave, with 738 aircraft, abated after an hour, we wanted to leave the shelter, but above us were burned ruins.

The basement entrance (staircase) to Emperor street was half buried by glowing rubble and burning beams, blocking the opening to Schalke road as an escape route, through an infinite sea of flames and was impassable. My mother Mathilde Krause quickly realised the situation and organized the totally desperate, distraught women into a rescue party. She grabbed the still burning parts of the planks and beams and quickly threw them sideways away from the basement entrance.

The rest of us managed the smoldering wood further back, to keep the area passable. My mother threw smaller debris in a high arc through gaps in the barrier upwards to the blazing heat of the fire. So they managed to create a narrow escape hatch, through which we survivors crammed with our scorched, smeared clothes and found the way to freedom. That is, to a roaring hurricane of fire and smoke, while above and around us outstanding beams fell crashing, burning and glowing down from the rubble.

Smoldering pieces of wood rained down. All around blazing Schalke an infinite shower of sparks was drifting. Mothers cried their despair with the deadly fumes into the sky. Then our paralyzing horror: The houses on the street were tipped into huge piles of debris on the road. In the smoldering window holes gaped ghastly horror.

From our house, whose interior was thrown through the perforated façade across half the roadway, struck the blazing flames. Other houses were burning like giant torches. The fire sites produced a terrible undertow as biblical pillars of fire: “The earth was formless and empty,” she was covered with flames. We, a party of crazy desperate people, clung to each other and climbed over the chaos of the burning wreckage towards Schalke market; because in the opposite direction fiercely burned the spiers of St. Joseph, threatening to topple into the street. …

In the maelstrom a fleeing old woman stumbled upon the blazing timbers and lost her hat. She wanted to run after and rush to the rescue of her hat in the flames. I – 12 years old – held her back and instinctively pulled her by the hand away from the fiery storm, and we staggered together over the blazing ruins.

On windows on the first floor of this house or next door, a brightly burning woman with raised arms gesticulating wildly and shrill voice in agony, begged in vain for help.

The Schalke market, enclosed by huge torches of fire degenerated into a single chaotic, Nero-Churchill pyre. Near the restaurant “Bei Mutter Thiemeyer” (of Schalke-04 legend), the old “Imperial Hall”, and in the house next door desperate and completely crazy people – obsessed with naked madness – in the mad hope of being able to save anything, threw pieces of furniture out of the windows of the burning room onto the sidewalk, where they crashed.

The Gewerkenstrasse only consisted of huge, brightly burning or smoldering rubble heaps, which were thrown from all sides criss-crossing each other: An apocalyptic mountains under the deadly sun of Satan. Again and again detonated [delayed action bombs ?]. The air was filled with swirling deadly showers of sparks. The industrial facilities to the north and west of Schalke market mutated into the Hellfire of Lucifer. Everything burned and crackled and roared, people screaming, shaking bitter and desperate. We found emergency shelter in the overcrowded Spitzbunker (“Schalke Sugarloaf”), crammed with bloody people and thick with fumes – in the middle of the Schalke market, which was covered with bomb craters and littered with countless smoldering ruins.

My mother immediately went to help work the pump units which by manual operation supplied fresh air for us, otherwise the occupants were hermetically sealed-off from the outside world by the power cut. Inside, it was stuffy and overheated. We sat on floors and stairs, crammed in like sardines.

The British increased the horror by another, perverse attack wave. So we experienced and survived the second major attack in the evening on the same day, November 6, 1944 at 19:25 o’clock.

Death returned. Schalke was the necropolis, the field of blood, the blast furnace for human flesh. The Evil One again grabbed greedily for us survivors of the earlier disaster.Again the horror returned and cruel destruction was repeated. The “Sugar” was hit twice by bombs in the evening after the second alarm. Our misery was multiplied. We shot through. The “Sugarloaf” shook constantly, so that we thought it would topple over.

Again crying and desperate people, a bunch of lunatics in fear of death, shaken again within a few hours and harassed, blaring or whining children with full SHITTY pants without food and water, without electricity, adults who urinated as infants in their underwear. That’s not to surpass the horror that had befallen Schalke. It smelled of burnt flesh and filth. Where – the hell !!!! – was God on this November 6, 1944?

Even today, after more than 60 years, I weep as an old man, when the calendar indicates the 6th of November. We were driven by the inflamed and uninhibited horror and terror, had survived the eruption of hell, volcanoes of phosphorus, attacks of fire accelerants, the mighty blasts of air mines, the roar of a thousand fires.

Late in the evening a treacherous peace arrived, and before the forces of order arrived, individual groups in the bunker made their way in succession over a still intact emergency stairs to the entrance, to go for “fresh air”. This however, had ​​a penetrating stench of fire, burning and filthy flesh. Around us only debris and conflagrations were seen. Some women stood silently in front of endless suffering, some sobbed, others went mad and roared desperately their pain against the brutal, merciless, bloody sky.

The people shouted in horror, fell weeping into the arms: Schalke was erased, the district smashed, in the cellars burned stinking corpses or the dying. Buried like Pauline Hengsbach who – trapped between fallen beams – was cremated alive.

Konrad Hengsbach was injured in the ear by phosphorus. It was raining fire from the sky – as in Egypt of the Old Testament…. In phosphorus-spray people were charred and cooked at 1300 degrees Celsius, roasted alive.

The unpleasant smell of phosphorus caused nausea. When I today I smell carbide or garlic, the images of the phosphorus-burned strike me again. …

Many had lost their belongings on November 6, 1944, were homeless. God had turned away from Schalke. Our sister Genoveva we thought was dead. Eventually she came back distraught to us, with the two sisters. She had been rescued from the crypt of St. Joseph – the burning Schalke parish church. …

Later, my mother and Mrs Kassner (wife of Dr. med. Hans Kassner) found that the upper house of the Study Director of Adolf Hitler school, despite a hit by an incendiary bomb, offered temporary accommodation. So we lived there temporarily.

Only 3 or 4 days after the two major attacks on November 6, 1944 rescue teams entered the basement of the collapsed drugstore Schmitz (Kaiser street corner and street Grillo, left two houses from the fire brigade museum) and brought out a woman. She lay in front of the ruined house and was totally black, burnt, charred, sooty, her face unrecognizable: But I noticed, as I bent over her, that she – stinking of burnt flesh and feces – still breathed weakly.

Where roads were paved, you could not go, because the tar was swollen by the heat of the fires to a viscous mass. In the gym of the high school (entry in Schalke road), which was only partially destroyed, the bodies and body parts were collected, burned, shrunken, shredded. 518 bombing victims were identified. Later statisticians calculated for that day of horror on the battlefield of Gelsenkirchen, the dropping of 6460 bombs and 167,131 incendiary bombs. 17880 houses were bombed to rubble.

The original account can be found in German at Gelsenzentrum. This was just one of 184 bombing raids that the town suffered during the war, killing over 3,000 people in total, with over half of the town destroyed.

From the RAF Bomber Command Official History:

6 November 1944

Gelsenkirchen: 738 aircraft – 383 Halifaxes, 324 Lancasters, 31 Mosquitos.

3 Lancasters and 2 Halifaxes lost.

This large daylight raid had, as its aiming point, the Nordstern synthetic-oil plant. The attack was not well concentrated but 514 aircraft were able to bomb the approximate position of the oil plant before smoke obscured the ground; 187 aircraft then bombed the general town area of Gelsenkirchen.

The synthetic oil plant near Gelsenkirchen, probably photographed at the end of the war.
The synthetic oil plant near Gelsenkirchen, probably photographed at the end of the war.

10 thoughts on “‘Black Monday’ in Gelsenkirchen – ‘Hell on Earth’”

  1. I read the account of the bombing of Gelsenkirchen, and I wonder whether the author has the same concern for those to which his country brought and death. The author’s experiences were horrific, but were they different or worse than those experienced by young people in countries that his country invaded and invaded?

    I noted the author’s comment “The bombs were fitted with rattling and whistling air screws to increase the horror effect among the civilian population.” Interesting. This is the first instance that I have ever read that mentions that the Allies employed the techniques employed by Stukas bombing refugee columns throughout Europe. I think the author is confused as to who did what.

    Despite those criticisms, the description of what occurred at Gelsenkirchen and other cities during World War II should be a lesson to armchair generals and war fanboys regarding the horrors of war. War is nasty, dirty, horrible . . . . a monster that once let loose consumes all in its path until it burns itself out.

    Lastly, we need to recognize this. Not one single crew member flying in the bombers wanted to be there. Not a single one of them.

  2. On 5/3/1945 a Lancaster 775 of 514SQN crashed at Bunsbeek near Tienen on his way back from bombing Gelsenkirchen .The crew of 7 were all killed.THEY WILL BE REMEMBERDED NEXT YEAR SEPTEMBER 2017 AT GLABBEEK.
    André Bruyninckx

  3. Agreeing with Rich Sloma. To his list, add Rotterdam, Leningrad, and hundreds of villages in Belarus and Ukraine that were simply erased. What Germans suffered was a **fraction** of what they inflicted on people all over the world. And it’s simply laughable that Germans didn’t know the true nature of the Hitlerite order, what it did, years before this bombing.

  4. An amazing account of the battle. HP Halifax “Friday the 13th” is depicted by a Halifax at the former RAF Elvington airfield, now a museum with not only with a Halifax, but several other aircraft too. There are some pictures of it in my flickr account under Yorkshire air museum if anyone wishes to see it. This account shows the horrific ‘other side’ of the bombing mission often something that is forgotten about.

  5. January 13, 1944 was a Thursday. How do I know. That is my birthday. But I guess there was a little poetic license used here.

  6. Everyone in power before WWII erupted was responsible or was a victim of the power struggle that was going on after WWI.

    This kind of power struggle is still going on.

    God help us!

  7. On the contrary, if one needs a proof of the nonexistence of a God – this is it. Either there is no God – or if there is one he/she/it is a monster

  8. Again, really great and well-balanced portrayal of the horrors of war.

    However, I would like to help Joseph P. Krause find an answer to his question, “Where – the hell !!!! – was God on this November 6, 1944?” But I’m the wrong person to ask. He must ask the citizens of Warsaw who were indiscriminately bombed in September of 1939 (my dad was living there at the time) and then in August-October of 1944, the inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943, the citizens in Coventry during the Blitz of 1940 and in London together with the recipients of the V1 and V2 bomb attacks, the handicapped and mentally ill in Germany who were euthanized, and especially all of the millions of people, predominantly of course European Jews – men, women, and children – crammed into gas chambers and murdered by the vile Nazi criminals that the German people, implicitly or tacitly, allowed into power. If asked, they may tell you that God was there on that day, and he was exacting justice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.