Bombs and shells pound the surface of Iwo Jima

After the final mission over Iwo Jima on 15 February 1945, 1st Lt. Victor 0. Besche crosses off the most recent enemy base to enter "assignment carried out" ledger of this 7th Air Force 318th fighter group. Fellow P-38 pilots looking on are, left to right: Lt. Jack Yaeger of Tallahassee, Florida; Lt. J.T. Spivey of Suffolk, Virginia and Lt. R.G.O'Hara of Reading, Ohio. Lt. Besche is from Baltimore, Maryland. Saipan, Marianas Islands.
After the final mission over Iwo Jima on 15 February 1945, 1st Lt. Victor 0. Besche crosses off the most recent enemy base to enter “assignment carried out” ledger of this 7th Air Force 318th fighter group. Fellow P-38 pilots looking on are, left to right: Lt. Jack Yaeger of Tallahassee, Florida; Lt. J.T. Spivey of Suffolk, Virginia and Lt. R.G.O’Hara of Reading, Ohio. Lt. Besche is from Baltimore, Maryland. Saipan, Marianas Islands.
28th Photo Recon - In front of one of their first photo reconnaissance planes in the Marianas Islands, these six 7th AaF Lightning pilots indicate the 12-foot stack which the 17,170 prints from their pre-invasion photographs of Iwo Jima would make if assembled in one heap. Flying l,600 miles per round trip in their unarmed Lightnings to race across Iwo Jima 50 feet above Jap gun muzzles, these pilots took pictures for Army, Navy and Marine units planning the invasion of Iwo Jima. L. to R. on grounds 2nd_Lt. Floy Portor, Memphis, Tenn.; lst Lt. Lloyd Q. Mettes, Atlanta, Mo.; 2nd Marshall E. Mullens Omaha, Nebr.; and lst Lt. Alfred A. Wooton, Buckeye, Ariz. On shoulders; Capt. Bennie P. Bearden, Decatur, Texas. On nose; 1st Lt. Leo F. Wilkinson, Oxford, Ind.
28th Photo Recon – In front of one of their first photo reconnaissance planes in the Marianas Islands, these six 7th AaF Lightning pilots indicate the 12-foot stack which the 17,170 prints from their pre-invasion photographs of Iwo Jima would make if assembled in one heap. Flying l,600 miles per round trip in their unarmed Lightnings to race across Iwo Jima 50 feet above Jap gun muzzles, these pilots took pictures for Army, Navy and Marine units planning the invasion of Iwo Jima. L. to R. on grounds 2nd_Lt. Floy Portor, Memphis, Tenn.; lst Lt. Lloyd Q. Mettes, Atlanta, Mo.; 2nd Marshall E. Mullens Omaha, Nebr.; and lst Lt. Alfred A. Wooton, Buckeye, Ariz. On shoulders; Capt. Bennie P. Bearden, Decatur, Texas. On nose; 1st Lt. Leo F. Wilkinson, Oxford, Ind.
Bombs from U.S. Army 7th Air Force planes are seen here about to fall on Iwo Jima. Although tiny, the island is the only major airbase between the Marianas and Japan. It is the last air barrier before the home islands, guarding the southeastern approach to the Empire. U.S. planes bomb it again and again.
Bombs from U.S. Army 7th Air Force planes are seen here about to fall on Iwo Jima. Although tiny, the island is the only major airbase between the Marianas and Japan. It is the last air barrier before the home islands, guarding the southeastern approach to the Empire. U.S. planes bomb it again and again.

The US forces in the Pacific now moved onto another staging post on the route to the Japanese mainland. Iwo Jima was half-way between the Mariana islands, already in US hands, and Japan itself. Capturing it would prevent it being used by the Japanese to spot or intercept bombers en route to Japan and would halve the distance the US bombers needed to fly. The initial assessment was that it could be captured relatively easily.

On the 16th February 1945 Marine Brigadier General William W. Rogers held a press conference on the command ship USS Eldorado, telling those present that the coming invasion of Iwo Jima would take five days. Strong fighting on the beaches was expected followed by counter-attacks at night – suicidal Banzai charges. But once the initial resistance was over they could take the island quickly.

There were reasons to believe that the Japanese forces on Iwo Jima were seriously weakened, they had been subject to bombing since mid 1944, and they had been bombed every single day for the past 74 days, with a total of 6,800 tons of bombs. In addition there had been periodic, intense, naval bombardments, which started again on the 16th.

It seemed hard to believe that anything could survive on the island after this plastering – but the raids had served to encourage the Japanese in their new strategy of moving underground and waiting for the invasion troops to come to them.

The battleship USS New York firing its 356 mm (14.0 in) main guns on the island, 16 February 1945
The battleship USS New York firing its 356 mm (14.0 in) main guns on the island, 16 February 1945

Takahashi Toshiharu was a corporal in the Japanese First Mixed Brigade of Engineers, responsible for building some of the eleven miles of tunnels and underground bunkers on the island:

The guns that were trained on the island all spurted fire at the same time. On the island there was a huge earthquake. There were pillars of fire that looked as if they would touch the sky.

Black smoke covered the island, and shrapnel was flying all over the place with a shrieking sound. Trees with trunks one meter across were blown out of the ground, roots uppermost.

The sound was deafening, as terrible as a couple of hundred thunderclaps coming down at once.

Even in a cave thirty meters underground, my body was jerked up off the ground. It was hell on earth.

Next, large planes—many tens of them—came all together. They made a deep rumbling sound as they came. They were silver. Once over the island they dropped one-ton bombs — terrifying things. The sound they made as they fell, one after another, was terrifying. A timid man would go insane.

They made a whistling sound as they fell. Then the earth shook. There were explosions. Rocks, earth, and sand all flew up into the air. Then they fell back down. They made craters ten meters wide and five meters deep in the earth.

No one could survive in these conditions. Any Japanese soldiers, like the runners who went outside, were all killed. The only option was to take advantage of the night and go out then.

See Kumiko Kakehashi: Letters from Iwo Jima: The Japanese Eyewitness Stories That Inspired Clint Eastwood’s Film

The bombing was so intense that vast quantities of earth were dislodged from the summit of Mount Suribachi, the heighest point on the island was now somewhat lower.

Boeing B-29s from their new base on Tinian pound the air strip on Iwo Jima during the pre invasion "softening up" process. One of the two Jap airfields on Iwo Jima is shown here completely blanketed by 500 pounders dropped from the 21st Bomber Command Superforts.
Boeing B-29s from their new base on Tinian pound the air strip on Iwo Jima during the pre invasion “softening up” process. One of the two Jap airfields on Iwo Jima is shown here completely blanketed by 500 pounders dropped from the 21st Bomber Command Superforts.
The entire, tiny, eight-square-mile island of Iwo Jima in the Volcano Group, halfway between Saipan and Tokyo, is seen under attack by U.S. Army 7th Air Force Consolidated B-24 Liberators. A cross-like airfield is directly in the center of the island, beneath the smoke of bombs, and the triangular field is clearly visible to its right. 7th Air Force Liberators have pounded Iwo Jima since August.
The entire, tiny, eight-square-mile island of Iwo Jima in the Volcano Group, halfway between Saipan and Tokyo, is seen under attack by U.S. Army 7th Air Force Consolidated B-24 Liberators. A cross-like airfield is directly in the center of the island, beneath the smoke of bombs, and the triangular field is clearly visible to its right. 7th Air Force Liberators have pounded Iwo Jima since August.

Shot down and in the hands of the SS

A B-26 Marauder from the 444th Bombardment Squadron.
A B-26 Marauder from the 444th Bombardment Squadron.
A U.S. Army Air Force Boeing B-17G-50-VE Flying Fortress.
A U.S. Army Air Force Boeing B-17G-50-VE Flying Fortress.

Almost every German town and city was now damaged by bombing, many were completely laid waste, and still there was no end in sight. It was a perilous time for any downed aircrew who happened to fall into German hands. There were several incidents of mob lynching where the German military authorities either failed to intervene or openly provoked a crowd into attacking their prisoners.

As the situation in Germany deteriorated men who had been injured during their escape from their plane faced a very difficult time. James Romine had been a rear gunner in a bomber squadron in the 8th Air Force. He had been shot down on the 10th February, and was shot in the leg by small arms fire from the ground as he descended by parachute. Bleeding heavily, his attempts to evade capture did not last long, and he had the misfortune to fall into the hands of the SS:

I was taken prisoner by SS troopers who forced me at fixed bayonet to walk on my injured leg to a village about two and a half miles away. Had I at any point come across with the information they sought I’m sure they wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of taking me prisoner.

Before we got to the village I sat down and refused to walk further, so they held a confab and sent for transportation to carry me the rest of the way. There was a German first aid station in the village, but they merely took a look at my wounds and replaced the bandages I myself had put on.

Three SS officers proceeded to question me for several hours, then stripped me of all my clothing, wrapped me in a blanket and took me about 16 kilometres by horse and wagon to a point somewhere west of the Rhine. We arrived at a German evacuation hospital, where there were about 300 wounded Germans and where they left me for a day and a night with no medical attention.

Then we started on another trip further into Germany, to the finest hospital one could ask for anywhere — large, modern and shining. Here at last, I thought, was a chance to have my wounds dressed.

Instead, they tossed me into a small room in the attic of the three-storey hospital along with nine other American infantry boys, two of whom were to die during my three days there. There were four legs left among those nine men in that room, their stumps were raw and uncared for.

We lay on filthy straw mats, lice-covered and nauseous from the indescribable stench that hung over the room. The daily diet consisted of coffee and a piece of black bread in the morning and at night a small cereal bowl of potato soup. SS men came in periodically to question me further; how they could endure entering the room is beyond me.

The cruel deaths which those fellows were lefi to face, amid supposedly civilised surroundings where all medical facilities were at hand, is a testimonial to German brutality that will never be forgotten by those of us who lived to relate the facts.

After three days of futile questioning the Germans put me in an ambulance and drove me across the Rhine to a waiting train, the carriages of which were painted white with red crosses and which, I found out later, were loaded with ammunition for the Russian front.

I was laid in a carriage, with a foot—deep layer of horse manure and straw as a mattress. Inside with me they put a Polish pilot who spoke very little English and for six days we lay there with no water to drink and just two or three sandwiches during the whole trip. The train was stopped several times by American planes but they were fooled by the red crosses and it wasn’t strafed.

This account appears in War’s Long Shadow. The account states that Romine was with the 544th Bomb Squadron, flying B-26s. The 544th flew B-17s but the 344th flew B-26s – so one or other must be a misprint.

Berlin in Febraury March 1945
Berlin in February March 1945
Berlin, February 1945.
Berlin, February 1945.

Ash Wednesday in burning Dresden

The effects of intense heat which has killed a number of people in a shelter.
The effects of intense heat which has killed a number of people in a shelter.
An overview of the widespread destruction in the centre of Dresden.
An overview of the widespread destruction in the centre of Dresden, later in 1945.

For Victor Klemperer the bombing of Dresden had actually brought salvation. As one of the few surviving Jews in the city, he had spent the 13th February distributing official letters warning most of the remaining Jews to report for “deportation”. Few had any illusions about what this meant – they were either going to a concentration camp or they were going to be worked to death digging tank ditches somewhere on the outskirts of the city.

He had spent a terrifying night, separated from his ‘Aryan’ wife, the single factor that had prevented him from being sent off to the concentration camps before now. Re-united with Eva in the early morning she had immediately cut off the yellow star on his overcoat. From now on, in the confusion following the bombing, he would assume a ‘purely German’ identity. Like tens of thousands of others he had lost everything, including his identity papers, in the fire. Miraculously his diary, which chronicles life in wartime Germany in great detail, had survived.

Fortunately he was to survive the wave of USAAF bombers that raided the city just after midday and the random attacks of Mustang fighters that were sent to strafe and harass the rescue services during the day:

We walked slowly, for I was now carrying both bags, and my limbs hurt, along the river-bank [. . .]. Above us, building after building was a burnt-out ruin. Down here by the river, where many people were moving along or resting on the ground, masses of the empty, rectangular cases of the stick incendiary bombs stuck out of the churned-up earth. Fires were stilllburning in many of the buildings on the road above.

At times, small and no more than a bundle of clothes, the dead were scattered across our path. The skull of one had been torn away, the top of the head was a dark red bowl. Once an arm lay there with a pale, quite fine hand, like a model made of wax such as one sees in barber’s shop windows.

Metal frames of destroyed vehicles, burnt-out sheds. Further from the centre some people had been able to save a few things, they pushed handcarts with bedding and the like or sat on boxes and bundles. Crowds streamed unceasingly between these islands, past the corpses and smashed vehicles, up and down the Elbe, a silent, agitated procession.

Then we turned right towards the town again – I let Eva lead the way and do not know where. Every house a burnt-out ruin, but often people outside on the street with household goods they had saved. Again and again fires still burning. Nowhere a sign of attempts to extinguish them. [. . .] Not until we came to the hospitals, was I able to orientate myself.

An ambulance stopped on the open space in front of us; people surrounded it, stretchers with wounded lay on the ground nearby. On a little bench by the door of the vehicle an ambulance man was dispensing eye-drops; there were a great many people whose eyes were more or less badly affected. It was very soon my turn. ‘Now, dad, I’m not going to hurt you!’ He removed some dirt from the injured eye with the edge of a small piece of paper, then put stinging drops in both eyes.

Feeling a little relieved, I walked slowly back; after a few steps I heard the ugly hum of an aircraft above me coming rapidly closer and diving. I ran towards the wall, where there were already some other people lying, threw myself to the ground, my head against the wall, my arm over my face. There was already an explosion, and little bits of rubble trickled down on to me. I lay there for a little while longer, I thought: ‘Just don’t get killed now!’ There were a few more distant explosions, then there was silence.

… [They found an organised refuge …]

It was difficult to find a seat on the benches. The seriously wounded lay on the ground on stretchers, blankets or mattresses, some rooms were entirely organised as a hospital, filled only with people lying there. Soldiers and ambulancemen came and went, more stretchers were brought in. Where I found a place, it was perhaps in the middle room, there was a soldier on the ground groaning terribly, a strapping fellow with big legs and feet. Everyone who passed stumbled over his boots, the man, completely unconscious, was no longer aware of anything.

Much later, it was already late in the evening, a senior medical orderly called out that everyone would now get something to eat. Then a basin appeared with white packets of bread, two double sandwiches in each packet. But after a few minutes we were told: Each packet must be shared between two people. I shared with Eva. But what most people – though not, curiously enough, ourselves – missed more than food was something to drink.

At the beginning people had got hold of a little tea somewhere and distributed it by the mouthful. Soon there was nothing at all, not a drop of water, not even for the wounded and dying. The medical orderlies complained that they could not help anyone. The vigorous Waldmann felt tormented by thirst to such a degree that he literally began to fade away. He fell asleep, started up in a wretched state, he had been dreaming of drinking. New medical orderlies came. One put a bottle to Waldmann’s mouth.

Another, evidently a doctor, stood in front of the (wounded) man groaning on the floor. ‘The lungs?’ I asked. – Oedema, came the indifferent reply. After a while the groaning stopped, a little foam came from his mouth. But the man’s face went on moving for a long time, before he lay still. Later the corpse was taken out.

See Victor Klemperer: I Will Bear Witness 1942-1945: A Diary of the Nazi Years

A pile of bodies awaits public cremation in the aftermath of the Dresden bombing.
A pile of bodies awaits public cremation in the aftermath of the Dresden bombing.

Maximum Effort: USAAF send a 1000 B-17s to Berlin

The route taken by the B-17 crews to Berlin on 3rd February, out across Europe, back over the North Sea.
The route taken by the B-17 crews to Berlin on 3rd February, out across Europe, back over the North Sea.

When the RAF had launched their 1000 Bomber Raids in 1942 they had been epic endeavours that made history. Now the USAAF 8th Air Force was able to mount a 1000 bomber raid in broad daylight with its force of B-17s alone – at the same time 434 B-24s hit the Rothensee oil plant at Magdeburg and targets in the vicinity. On the night of 2nd/3rd RAF Bomber Command had sent 1,252 bombers to hit Germany and on the night of the 3rd/4th over 510 bombers would return.

A large attack on a city centre was unusual for the 8th Airforce – but this raid was undertaken in the belief that the Sixth Panzer Army was being transported by rail across the city, heading for the Eastern front. It was argued that the attack was necessary to support the Red Army.

This was the Mission Report of just one of the Bombardment Squadrons taking part, the 614th, part of the 401 Bombardment Group:

This was an attack on “Big B”, a visual attack for a change. Strikes by the 500 lb G.Ps were seen on the marshalling yards and its surrounding area not previously damaged. The 614th flew the High Element of each Box. There were no fighters but the flak was moderate to intense. Five of the nine 614th aircraft received battle damage. Aircraft 44-6508, piloted by Lt. King, was hit by flak and headed towards the Russian lines – later to turn up out of the blue in mid-March with an interesting story to tell.

This was a 1,000 B-17 attack on the German capital with a 500 escort of fighters – the biggest single raid by the 8th A.F. on a single target, the 401st furnishing a 36 aircraft Group flying as the 94th “B” Group. Captain J.R. Locher was the Air Commander of the Group. The specific target was the Tempelhof marshalling yards and the weather over the target was clear although the preceeding eight Groups left the target area completely covered with smoke.

The Group used the RF-Grid with outlying checkpoints and the Lead and Low Squadrons results were excellent. The High Squadron a little short but they were still in the immediate area of the MPI. There was no escaping the flak over the German capital and the Group found the flak moderate to intense and accurate. Twenty-two of the Group’s aircraft sustained battle damage with one aircraft MIA and two crew members wounded. The escort fighters made sure that the Luftwaffe stayed away from the bombers, shooting down 21 of them in combats. The 614th loading list was as follows: 42-97602 Stauffer, 43-38646 Thompson, 44-6508 King (MIA), 42-97395 Babcock, 42-97478 White, 43-38458 Hartsock, 43-38677 Moran, 42-39012 Richardson.

Details of any bombing missions can be found by searching at 8th Air Force Historical Society.

The first bombs fall on Berlin on 3rd February.
The first bombs fall on Berlin on 3rd February.

Leonard Streitfeld was a bombardier with the 398th Bomb Group, he describes how his own plane approached the target area:

Our group was to be ninth over the target and, as we approached the “IP”, all we could see was smoke and flak over the target area. The smoke had completely covered the city and the sky was peppered with flak bursts that we were going to fly through. As the flak increased in intensity, we were hit in the Tokyo Tanks (Auxiliary tanks for long missions) on the right wing, then the vertical stabilizer, followed by holes in the right waist and in the floor of the nose of the plane where Coy and I were sitting. The flak was stopped by armor plating in the floor. We could hear the pinging sound as the flak hit the plane and it’s a sound that you can never forget for all those who experienced it.

The fact that there were so many bomb groups on this mission one group blended in with the other and there seemed to be a continuous stream of planes close enough that we could see them dropping their bombs.

Due to the strong headwinds that day the true air speed on the bomb run was only 90 MPH. We were sitting ducks. We saw a few planes in the distance get direct hits and go down. One of them exploded leaving a large cloud of black smoke in it’s place.

Whenever a plane was going down we started to count the chutes. It was hoped that everyone would escape but many times the plane would blow up by the time we counted to four or five. It wasn’t pleasant to watch but there was nothing we could do about it except be thankful that it wasn’t our plane that was shot down.

I used to wonder what would happen to me if we were shot down and they saw the “H” on my dog tags. The dog tags had to be worn by everyone and identified their name, rank, serial number and religion. (C meant Catholic, P meant Protestant and H meant Hebrew.) If anyone did not have their tags on and were shot down and captured, that could have been reason to be shot as a spy.

I couldn’t wait until the lead ship dropped its bombs and it seemed like forever before they were released. All of the planes followed suit and unloaded their deadly cargo. The bomb bay doors on every plane began to slowly close as we headed away from the dangerously saturated flak area. The flak eventually thinned out and we were soon in the clear. Although there were enemy fighters in the air, we did not encounter any.

The mission lasted nine hours and most of us would have been glad to go back if we could inflict as much damage again. We would do anything to help bring this war to an end sooner.

See Leonard Streitfeld: Hell from Heaven

Smoke starts to cover the target as more bombers arrive.
Smoke starts to cover the target as more bombers arrive.

Robert A Hand was a bombardier on his 35th and last mission:

“Well goddamn it, Robert,” I thought to myself, “This is what you yearned for so badly, isn’t it? Life in the Army Air Force with all its thrills . . . . dusting off the clouds in a great airplane . . . . . flying combat as a crew member of a “Big Ass Bird” . . . . getting your jollies as a Bombardier with your very own $10,000 Norden “Bomb-Aimer-And- Dropper” and sitting up front with the most exciting, panoramic view in the airplane.

And how about those endless hours strapped up in heavy flying gear, under a flak suit, Mae West life preserver and chute harness, pulling your breath through five yards of hose, wondering where the next wall of flak will appear. Or enduring the endless throb of engine sound . . . . not daring to give in to fatigue . . . . or even hunger . . . . or the anticipation and dread of injury at altitude, hours away from medical attention . . . . or bailing out into that fifty-below-zero gale outside.

Or the horror of watching a formation buddy in a nearby B-17, throw smoke, drop from the squadron and only being able to count six chutes before he disintegrates into a giant smear of debris. Or the hair-raising episodes of close-formation flying when you’re on the bomb run, seconds before release and you look directly up into another B- 17’s open and loaded bomb bay doors and you know he is about to drop his bombs too.

Or how about the nightmare turned real of holding an injured crew member’s head in your hands while he froths at the mouth, babbling incoherently and bleeding profusely from a head wound. Or listening to the heavy breathing on the intercom of a shaken comrade as he asks his God for mercy. Or visions of torture and starvation in an enemy prison camp . . . .

But then you gaze downward at the frozen trenches of Holland five miles below and you thank your lucky stars that you’re up here relatively comfortable in a quartermillion- dollar airplane with nine other guys protecting your back side and with any luck you’ll be back at the base in four or five hours for a shower, something decent to drink and eat and maybe a couple of letters from home.

And you realize that a simple twist of fate . . . . being born a second earlier or later . . . . or to different parents, another country or world . . . . and you might have wound up a footsoldier, lying half-frozen in a lousy foxhole, waiting for an enemy shell to put you out of your misery . . . . or worse. Is this the war to end all wars?

See 303rd Bombardment Group for more about their involvement in this raid.

A post raid reconnaissance picture of Berlin.
A post raid reconnaissance picture of Berlin.

Casualties were relatively light, ‘only’ 36 planes were shot down. The bomb load had contained a high proportion of explosives to incendiaries – even so fires burned and spread for four days. 2,894 people were killed on the ground but 20,000 were injured and an estimated 120,000 made homeless. Diarist Ursula von Kardorff wondered why people did not go mad:

3 February 1945

Today the city centre had its heaviest raid yet. I would not have believed it possible for them to be worse. Luckily I was in the deep shelter, but even there people began to panic. Women started to scream when the lights finally went out for good.

Why does nobody go crazy? Why does nobody go out in the street and shout, ‘I’ve had enough!’ Why is there not a revolution?

‘Stick it out!’ What a stupid motto. So we shall stick it out until we are all dead.

See Ursula von Kardorff: Diary of a nightmare: Berlin, 1942-1945.

Part of the post raid bombing analysis fro 3rd February 1945.
Part of the post raid bombing analysis from 3rd February 1945.

V2 rockets bring sudden death to London

The mobile launchers for the V2 were extremely hard to track down - and would continue firing to the end of the war.
The mobile launchers for the V2 were extremely hard to track down – and would continue firing to the end of the war.

The German V2 rocket programme continued, with most rockets aimed at either Antwerp or London. The 4th January was a particularly bad day for casualties in London, with a number of rockets falling in heavily populated areas.

Fifteen V2 rockets are known to have been fired at England on 4th January 1945. They were all aimed at London but fell over a wide area from Hertfordshire in the north-west to Essex in the north-east and Surrey in the south. Several exploded prematurely in the air or fell in open countryside causing no casualties, but five fell within London causing fatalities. The worst incidents were in West Ham, (14 Dead, 30 seriously injured), Dalston (15 dead, 27 seriously injured) and Lambeth (43 dead, 26 seriously injured). V2.com has a comprehensive list compiled by a team of international researchers.

There was no warning, no sirens or even the sound of an approaching rocket. The sound of the rocket exploding was the first thing that survivors heard, then the sound of the sonic boom of the rocket, travelling faster than the speed of sound – and sometimes the brief roar of the rocket itself as it hurtled to earth caught up with it.

The aftermath of the rocket that hit Dalston Library on 4th January 1945.
The aftermath of the rocket that hit Dalston Library on 4th January 1945.

Minnie Rapson was a young mother in Dalston, London Borough of Hackney, north east London:

In January 1945 I was nursing my by-now four–month-old son by the fire when I suddenly felt a terrible crunch as if the walls had caved in.

The fireplace poured with soot all over us and for a time I could not get myself together. Then baby screamed and holding him tight I staggered dazed to the door. Passersby were as dazed as I was, and some of them were badly cut.

Help came from some American soldiers, who soon got busy helping us all. Then we realised what had happened. A V2 rocket had demolished our library in Forest Road, burying many people mostly children, who at four o’clock came out of Holy Trinity School and went to change their books.

There was a paper shop on the corner of Woodland Street, owned by Mr and Mrs Feather. Mrs Feather was killed – it was heartbreaking. Many of the children we knew so well were also killed.

All that sad night we could hear the rescue work going on and the ambulances coming and going. Holy Trinity Church became a mortuary.

To add to the misery it was snowing and bitterly cold. We laid down on our bed that cruel night: we had no roof and no windows but when we thought of the tragedy around the corner we knew how fortunate we were, because one of those poor children could have been my son who might have changed his library book that very time.

See Silent Cacaphoney, and also a subsequent newspaper article.

The site of the V2 rocket explosion which demolished Lambeth Public baths.
The site of the V2 rocket explosion which demolished Lambeth Public Baths.

Six year old Diane Hazelwood in Lambeth, south London, had a narrow escape. This was one of the worst V2 incidents in London, demolishing a block of flats and killing 47 people:

By the time the doodle bugs and rockets started, I suppose I was beginning to understand wartime.

My youngest brother John had gone off to the D-Day landings 8th June 1944, with the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders, and been killed on 19th June 1944. He was only 19 years old. He is buried at Banneville-La-Campagne cemetery just outside Caen, France. I loved John dearly, he had been on a short leave before going away and he couldn’t wait to go; I said goodbye before going to school and still remember the horrid feeling I had that day that I would never see him again. Can you feel that at 6 years old? well, I did and I can remember the empty feeling in my stomach when the telegram came and Mum just stood looking out of the kitchen window. I knew what it was and I ran to get a neighbour to take care of her, I’d never saw her cry before (or since) and God knows she had a lot to cry about.

I suppose the incident that really topped the lot was 4 January 1945 when the Lambeth Baths received a direct hit from a V2 rocket; 37 people were killed. Amazingly enough our little back room was not damaged at all but the white tiled wall adjoining it in the square of the flats was leaning at a very peculiar angle. I’d been in bed, was awoken by my Aunt Kit and Mum lifting me out very gingerly because once again the windows had blown in and my bed was full of broken glass! I was cut on the face etc and got taken to relatives along the Kennington Road for the rest of the night.

The wall eventually collapsed at about 4 o’clock in the morning. I can remember my sister Betty arriving in a near state of collapse, she had been to the Regal Cinema in Kennington Road and on hearing that the flats and baths had ‘caught it’ she had run all the way home, scared to death; I can remember her hugging me so hard that I couldn’t breathe. The Lambeth Baths were no more but the room was still used. That night also saw the end of the Ideal Methodist Mission where I had received many little wartime parcels from America.

See BBC People’s War for the full story.

The remains of Surrey Lodge, an apartment building destroyed by a V2 rocket on 4 January 1945, .
The remains of Surrey Lodge, an apartment building on the other side of the road from Lambeth Baths destroyed by a V2 rocket on 4 January 1945. The photograph was apparently taken on the following day and graphically shows how a 5 storey building was reduced to rubble.
A police officer examines the remains of a V2 that hit London in September 1944.
A police officer examines the remains of a V2 that hit London in September 1944.

Nuremberg – ‘a near-perfect example of area bombing’

RAF aerial view of Nuremberg, showing the winding lanes of the old medieval town in the centre.
RAF aerial view of Nuremberg, showing the winding lanes of the old medieval town in the centre of the city.

The RAF had begun the war with just light and medium bombers with limited range and poor defences – and the majority of bombs fell miles from the target. Half way through the war, with virtually no other means of hitting back at Germany, the expansion of RAF Bomber Command had been made a priority. The enormous heavy bomber fleet that could now be deployed regularly was a product of these earlier decisions. Bombing techniques had also become more refined and well practiced. When conditions were right, bombing could now be highly concentrated and utterly devastating.

Several German cities that had so far been relatively untouched would suffer as a consequence of this culmination of putting resources into bombing. Nuremberg, home of the Nazi mass rallies before the war, had particular significance on the RAF target list. Beyond that there was no consideration given to the historic value of any particular town or city – this well preserved medieval town within Nuremberg was, like most other towns, also close to an industrial centre and a rail hub.

The RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary records:

2/3 January 1945

Nuremberg: 514 Lancasters and 7 Mosquitos of Nos 1, 3, 6 and 8 Groups. 4 Lancasters were lost and 2 crashed in France.

Nuremberg, scene of so many disappointments for Bomber Command, finally succumbed to this attack. The Pathfinders produced good ground-marking in conditions of clear visibility and with the help of a rising full moon. The centre of the city, particularly the eastern half, was destroyed. The castle, the Rathaus, almost all the churches and about 2,000 preserved medieval houses went up in flames.

The area of destruction also extended into the more modern north-eastern and southern city areas.The industrial area in the south, containing the important MAN and Siemens factories, and the railway areas were also severely damaged. 415 separate industrial buildings were destroyed. It was a near-perfect example of area bombing.

RAF reconnaissance picture for post raid evaluation.
RAF reconnaissance picture for post raid evaluation.

In this raid 1,780 civilians were killed and an estimated 10,000 made homeless. The city would be revisited by the USAAF in February. The total casualties for the city were over 6,000 dead, 90% of the old city was destroyed, ultimately it was ‘easier to record the historic buildings that were just damaged’ rather than try to list all this that had been lost.

Bomb damage to the Nuremberg rail yards.
Bomb damage to the Nuremberg rail yards.

Not included in the casualty lists were the numbers of Russian POWS who were killed in the raid. They were already suffering murderous conditions at the hands of the Nazis, surviving in desperate circumstances where they were forced to work, on pain of being beaten or shot, in miserable conditions with inadequate food. George Beeston, a Belgium slave worker was friendly with the Russian POWs and saw how they suffered during the raid and after it:

The January 2nd 1945 [air] raid was also particularly mortal for the Russian POWs ‘surviving’ in the camp located somewhere near the Nuremberg railway marshalling yard and the MAN factory.

The camp had one air raid shelter, one trench covered with metal sheeting and a thin layer of soil. It was the same type of protection we had in the Suedfriedhoflager [forced labourers camp near the southern cemetery].

The drama that happened during the air raid was explained to me by a surviving POW: A petroleum incendiary bomb fell on the center of the trench badly burning some POWs. A number of them ran towards one end of the shelter, the others towards the other end. This is where the most unexpected happened. It does not occur once in a million times, two explosive bombs falling so close to one another and in a straight line. One bomb fell on one end of the shelter, the second bomb falling on the other end of the trench, leaving an horrible carnage of mangled bodies.

The following day the valid [fit] and the wounded were forced to come to work escorted by their guards pushing them along. It was a vision of hell: Men walking with self-made crutches, some of them had their wounds covered with filthy rags soaked with blood, the valid helping the wounded.

A Russian POW friend told me that the dead and the dying were incinerated, the dead and the dying being piled up on top of one another. A few days later some of the valid and the non-valid were employed on recovering the German victims from the ruins, others were digging mass graves.

The most dangerous activity Russian POWs were compelled to carry out was to remove un-exploded bombs and mines. An extra ration of food was their reward, one may call this “Price of Death”. The bombs bedded deep in the ground first had to be cleared.

This was the job of a team who was constantly exposed to an explosion. When the bomb was cleared a bomb disposal POW carried out the most critical part of the exercise, that is diffusing the detonator and making the bomb safe for removal. In some cases the bomb had entered a building which made the excavating more difficult.

See Soviet Prisoners Of War 1942-1945 in Nuremberg; An Eyewitness Report

The Allied entry into Nuremberg at the end of the war.
The Allied entry into Nuremberg at the end of the war.
Attempt to recreate the end of war view using Google Earth. Note the Opera (now State Theatre) and St Lorenz on the left, and the repaired Laufer Schlagtum in the centre. Thanks to Adam Lawrence.

Heavy bombers support US Army’s attack into Germany

Boeing B-17F radar bombing through clouds over Bremen, Germany, on Nov. 13, 1943.
Boeing B-17F radar bombing through clouds over Bremen, Germany, on Nov. 13, 1943.
Vertical aerial photograph showing six Handley Page Halifaxes flying over the blazing target area during a daylight attack on a rail centre north of the River Rhine.
Vertical aerial photograph showing six Handley Page Halifaxes flying over the blazing target area during a daylight attack on a rail centre north of the River Rhine.

With the British in the north completing the capture of Walcheren, and the Canadians rolling up the Scheldt estuary, the US forces further south were impatient to get going again after the supply problems began to ease. Now they would head across the Roer river to the Rhine itself.

Omar Bradley, commanding US 12th Army Group, was waiting for the beginning off the attack with Courtney H. Hodges, both of them as frustrated with the rain as Patton was becoming. They were both elated to find the sun shining on the morning of the 16th November so that the visibility was good enough for heavy bombers from England to launch the attack:

At 12:45 air thundered in on schedule. Twelve hundred bombers of the Eighth Air Force flying in box-tight formations, an equal number of RAF heavies, flying dispersed in the manner of night bombers.

To prevent a repetition of the short drop at St. Lo [in July], we had posted jeeps with vertical radio beams to mark the front lines by radar. For visual guidance to the target a line of barrage balloons with cerise panels aflixed to their backs had been hoisted 1,500 feet into the air. For added insurance the 90-mm. AA guns marked the front with a line of colored flak, 2,000 feet below the bombers.

Only two clusters of bombs fell behind our lines, the result of faulty bomb racks. One “friendly” casualty was reported; it was nothing more than a minor wound.

But though the air bombing had shattered an enemy division and churned up the neighboring terrain, it failed to tear a hole in his line through which our infantry and tanks could be pushed on to the Rhine. The German had skillfully laid out his defenses in depth behind a carpet of mines and field fortifications. With his back to the Rhine, he now fought for each grubby crossroads village as if it were the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

Meanwhile Goebbels had warned von Runstedt’s troops in the Rhineland that this was a fight to the finish, a fight in which weakness would bring defeat and eventual exile to the Siberian labor camps.

As the enemy fell back he left a trail buried in rubble, for he held grimly to each position until we pulverized it. When G-2 interrogated an intelligent young officer of the Wehrmacht to ask if he did not regret this unnecessary destruction of his homeland, the PW shrugged and replied, “It probably won’t be ours after the War. Why not destroy it?”

See Omar N. Bradley: A Soldier’s Story.

On the ground Belton Y. Cooper with the 3rd Armored Division was watching the launch of the offensive from Hill 287, where P-47 dive bombers followed up after the heavy bombers and then the tanks went in:

Simultaneously with the heavy air strike, the ninety battalions of field artillery opened up, concentrating particularly on the villages.

Combat Command B assembled just south and west of hill 287. As the task forces proceeded over the crest of the hill and passed through our infantry lines, they were exposed to the full effect of the German minefields.

Each task force had one flail tank. As the flail tanks crested the hill, they passed through our infantry line directly into the minefields. Although the tanks had to contend not only with mines but with an extremely soggy field, they made an initial good showing. The flying chains detonated several mines, and the explosions created additional craters. But finally, due to the combination of the muddy fields and the fact that the horsepower needed to turn the flail took too much power away from the tracks, both flail tanks became mired in the mud.

They made excellent targets and were soon knocked out. The second tank in each column had no choice but to go around the flail tanks and continue the attack. A tragic domino effect followed.

The first tank proceeded around the flail tank and made its own way for several yards before striking a mine and becoming disabled. The next tank bypassed the first tank and tried to go its own way for several yards, then it struck a mine and became disabled.

This process continued until eventually one tank got through the minefield and proceeded with the attack. The next tank behind it tried to follow the same path, and sometimes it would get through the minefield successfully. However, by the time the third tank tried to come through in the same tracks, the soft ground would mire the tank so deeply that it would stick, in spite of the “duck feet” we had bolted on the track connectors.

All the stuck tanks became sitting ducks for the murderous German anti-tank fire. The Germans continued to fire at the tanks until they set them on fire. When the crew tried to bail out, they immediately came under concentrated automatic weapons fire.

These brave tankers knew that the tanks would be at an extreme disadvantage in the muddy minefields, but they pressed on with the attack. This was one of the most courageous tank attacks of the entire war. It started with sixty-four medium tanks, and we lost forty-eight of them in twenty-six minutes.

A proportional number of soldiers died in this terrible fight. By nightfall, Task Force 1 had reached the vicinity of Hastenrath after taking tremendous losses. One column started out with nineteen tanks, including a flail, and ended up with four by the end of the day. The other fifteen were lost in the minefield.

The surviving tanks were further exposed because the infantry had a difficult time coming forward to support them. The minefields were also heavily infested with anti-personnel mines. These were deadly to the infantry, who were under extremely heavy small-arms, mortar, and artillery fire.

See Belton Y. Cooper: Death Traps: The Survival of an American Armored Division in World War II

Men of 2nd Battalion, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders hitch a ride on a flail tank, 22 November 1944
Men of 2nd Battalion, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders hitch a ride on a flail tank, 22 November 1944

Hitler faces the collapse of German industry

Albert Speer at a ceremony to encourage armaments workers earlier in 1944.
Albert Speer at a ceremony to encourage armaments workers earlier in 1944.
Verical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing a damaged section of the Dortmund-Ems canal near Ladbergen, north of Munster, Germany, following a raid by aircraft of No. 5 Group, Bomber Command, on the night of 23/24 September 1944. Breaches have been made in the banks of two parallel branches of the canal, causing a six-mile stretch to be drained. Most of the damage was caused by two direct hits by 12,000-lb 'Tallboy' deep penetration bombs dropped by No. 617 Squadron RAF.
Verical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing a damaged section of the Dortmund-Ems canal near Ladbergen, north of Munster, Germany, following a raid by aircraft of No. 5 Group, Bomber Command, on the night of 23/24 September 1944. Breaches have been made in the banks of two parallel branches of the canal, causing a six-mile stretch to be drained. Most of the damage was caused by two direct hits by 12,000-lb ‘Tallboy’ deep penetration bombs dropped by No. 617 Squadron RAF.

Few could now rationally believe that Germany could last much longer. With the Allies on or approaching the German borders, in both the east and west, Germany itself was under almost constant bombardment from the bombers. Even if many of the secret weapons programmes had moved underground and continued production, the basic necessities of coal and fuel were in such short supply that it was undermining the whole economy.

Among the the critical targets that had recently been successfully put out of action was the Dortmund Ems canal, a long term objective for the RAF.

Hitler did not need rational assessments, however, and they were unwelcome to him. All he needed was people to keep their faith in him. One of the few men who had come close to becoming his friend, Albert Speer, Armaments Minister, discovered how Hitler now preferred the unwavering zeal of his deputy, Karl-Otto Saur:

On November 11 a new note of alarm entered my frequent memoranda on shutdowns in the fuel industry. For more than six weeks, traffic to and from the Ruhr area had been blocked.

“It is self-evident, given the whole nature of the Reich’s economic structure,” I wrote to Hitler, “that cessation of production in the Rhine-Westphalian industrial area is intolerable for the entire German economy and for a successful conduct of the war… The most important armaments plants are reported on the verge of going under. Under existing conditions there is no way to avoid these shutdowns.”

Denied fresh supplies of Ruhr coal, I continued, the railroads were rapidly exhausting their stocks of coal, as were the gas works; oil and margarine plants were on the verge of shutdowns, and even the supply of coke to the hospitals had become inadequate.

Things were literally moving rapidly toward the end. Signs of total anarchy loomed before us. Coal trains no longer reached their destinations but were stopped en route by Gauleiters [the Nazi regional commanders] who confiscated it for their own needs. The buildings in Berlin were unheated; gas and electricity were available only during restricted hours. A howl arose from the Chancellery: Our coal authority had refused to let it have its full consignment for the rest of the winter.

Faced with this situation we could no longer carry out our programs, but only try to produce parts. Once our remaining stocks were used up, armaments production would cease. In drawing this conclusion I underestimated – as no doubt the enemy air strategists did also — the large stocks of materials that had been accumulated in the factories.

An extensive search showed that high production of armaments could in fact be continued, but only for a few months more. Hitler accepted a last “emergency or supplementary program,” as we called it, with a calm that seemed truly uncanny. He did not waste a word on the obvious implications, although there could be no doubt what these were.

Around this time Hitler, at a situation conference, commented in the presence of all the generals: “We have the good fortune to have a genius in our armaments industry. I mean Saur. All difficulties are being overcome by him.”

General Thomale put in a tactful word: “Mein Fuhrer, Minister Speer is here.” “Yes, I know,” Hitler replied curtly, annoyed at the interruption. “But Saur is the genius who will master the situation.”

Oddly enough, I swallowed this deliberate insult without any perturbation, almost indiiferently. I was beginning to take my leave of Hitler.

See Albert Speer: Inside the Third Reich

Hitler had not been photographed  in public since the July bomb plot, when images proving he was still alive were swiftly released.
Hitler had not been photographed in public since the July bomb plot, when images proving he was still alive were swiftly released.

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

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.

RAF Bomber Command’s last major raid on Bochum

Avro Lancaster B Mark II, LL725 'EQ-C', of No. 408 Squadron RCAF, on the ground at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. Armourers are backing a tractor and trolley loaded with a 4,000 lb HE bomb ('Cookie') and incendiaries under the open bomb-bay. LL725 was lost over Hamburg on 28/29 July 1944.
Avro Lancaster B Mark II, LL725 ‘EQ-C’, of No. 408 Squadron RCAF, on the ground at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. Armourers are backing a tractor and trolley loaded with a 4,000 lb HE bomb (‘Cookie’) and incendiaries under the open bomb-bay. LL725 was lost over Hamburg on 28/29 July 1944.
Handley Page Halifax B Mark V Series I (Specials) of No. 76 Squadron RAF lined up at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire.
Handley Page Halifax B Mark V Series I (Specials) of No. 76 Squadron RAF lined up at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire.
An image taken from one of the bombers over Bochum on the 4th-5th November 1944.
An image taken from one of the bombers over Bochum on the 4th-5th November 1944.

Once RAF Bomber Command had established itself with substantial numbers of aircraft it had turned its attention to the industrial heartland of Germany. The Battle of the Ruhr had begun in March 1943. From mid October 1944 both Bomber Command and the USAAF 8th Air Force were to revisit the Ruhr region as part of ‘Operation Hurricane’, intended to “demonstrate to the the enemy in Germany generally the overwhelming superiority of the Allied Air Forces in this theatre”. Both the RAF and the USAAF were now able to routinely mount raids of well over 1000 aircraft.

Towns and cities that had already been substantially damaged were now dealt even more devastating blows. Although much of the light industry had by now been dispersed it was impossible to move the heavy engineering and metal works, after the war Nazi Armaments Minister Albert Speer was to acknowledge that these raids had had a substantial impact on armament production.

435 aircraft had attacked Bochum on the 9th October in a raid that was not considered a success, destroying only 140 buildings because the bombing was very scattered in poor visibility. On 4th November 749 aircraft took part and the Pathfinders marked the centre of Bochum successfully – this time over 4,000 buildings were destroyed or badly damaged and nearly a 1000 people killed. It was the last major raid on the town during the war, in total it would be visited 150 times.

In a Halifax from No 408 RCAF Squadron was Bombardier Alan Stables, who wrote this account of the raid shortly afterwards:

Coming up to the Dutch coast we could see flashes of light flak and the beautiful trace it makes streaming upwards as if fired from a hose. It was dark now and every now and again we would see the loom of one of our own aircraft which was comforting because it meant we were part of the bomber stream

At this point we started climbing. We began to have difficulty at about ten thousand feet and by fourteen thousand feet Dick suspected that we had carburetor icing. We had gone on oxygen at twelve thousand feet and we had to climb to nineteen thousand which was our height to bomb. The aircraft at the head of the bomber stream were at the lowest level with those following stacked up increasing heights so as to lessen the danger of running into someone else’s bombs.

Sok came over the intercom ordering me to jettison some of the bombs as the aircraft just wouldn’t climb. I went back and jettisoned half the load but the best we could make was an extra 1000 feet. We were five thousand feet below everyone else, a very dangerous position to be in and we had at least another hour and a half to go to the target.

Scotty went back to shovel out the Window. Then he returned to his radio to receive the quarter-hourly broadcast from bomber command Then he backtuned his transmitter to German fighter vector-control frequency and broadcast static at full volume from a microphone next to our generator.

[Window was introduced in July 1943. It consisted of 9 inch strips of aluminum foil which showed up on the German radar screens rendering them virtually useless. The German response was to use various forms of illumination available at the target area to make the bombers visible to the night-fighters. Window was still useful in disguising the size of the incoming force and in blinding the radar controlled Flak guns.]

Ahead the searchlights, hundreds of them came to life, pointing accusing fingers against the black sky. I wondered how the hell we would get through them at this altitude without being “coned”, but I didn’t have much time to wonder as the rear gunner yelled “fighter port go”. Down we went to the left in a “corkscrew.” This was our evasive action, but very shortly the rear gunner called to resume course telling us that a Messerschmidt 210 had made a pass at us.

We were now starting into the outer defense of searchlights protecting the Ruhr industrial area. “Aircraft coned on our starboard beam up” I yelled I watched it for a few seconds struggling in the cone like a fly in a spider’s web, flak poured up at it and a Lancaster went down.

“Ready for run-up to the target” — “Christ” I yelled as a fighter came head on at us. The trace of his cannon seemed to be coming right at me . I closed my eyes and said a prayer. The engineer yelled “Port engine on fire Skip, let’s get the hell out.” The cannon shells of the fighter had hit our port inner engine and as I looked out I could see the flames licking back over the wing in which our gas tanks were stored. Sok’s voice came cool over the intercom “Feathering port inner, hit the graviner switches Dick, prepare to abandon aircraft, bomb doors open, drop your bombs bomb-aimer”

[The graviner switches controlled compressed incombustible carbon-dioxide which could be sprayed into the engines and hopefully serving as engine fire extinguishers.]

I looked out, my bombsight was on the target area now burning and smoking from the earlier bombs. The bomb doors were open and I pressed the release tit feeling the bump as the bombs left the aircraft. Then the searchlights coned us and flak started coming up.

What happened then was that as I was dropping the bombs the crew left their stations and went to the exits. Sok stayed at the controls but didn’t open his escape hatch but put the plane into a steep diveto put out the fire. I was in the nose trying to untangle my intercom cord from my parachute wondering if I would ever get them apart. I was about to give up when John signaled to me. He yelled into my ear, “Hang onto me and we’ll go together.” John knew as well as I did that this was crazy.

Finally we were down to four thousand feet and out of the searchlights. Sok called the gunners but got no reply. “Bomb-aimer please check the crew. Navigator give me a course.” The dive had put out the fire. I went back to the rear to see if Dave Hardy was hurt. I found the Baron by the rear escape hatch holding his head but not plugged in. “What the hell are you doing?” I yelled in his ear. “We’re OK, get back in the goddamn rear turret” “OK, Al, thanks” “What for you nut” I replied. Then I tried to get into the turret, but had to report to Sok that it was impossible.

The Baron wanted to talk but I was off to the rear turret which was jammed sideways and Dave Hardy was gone. This was serious because it meant that now we were defenseless against stern attacks.

Rear gunners baled out by rotating the turret and dropping out backwards. Unfortunately Dave Hardy had pulled out his intercom plug and hadn’t heard that we had got the fire out and when he baled out he jammed the rear gun turret sideways.

This account is just part of a longer piece by pilot David Sokoloff, written in 1996, describing the men who flew the Halifaxs of No. 408 RCAF ‘Goose’ Squadron, based at Linton-on-Ouse, England at the time.

The 70th anniversary of the raid will be commemorated in Bochum, the Bochum website has a sequence of before and after images of the town, which had cleared 2 million cubic metres of rubble by 1949.

Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial of part of Bochum, Germany, prior to major attacks by aircraft of Bomber Command. The large factory at upper left is the Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG steelworks.
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial of part of Bochum, Germany, prior to major attacks by aircraft of Bomber Command. The large factory at upper left is the Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG steelworks.
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial of part of Bochum, Germany, following the last major raid on this target by aircraft of Bomber Command on the night of 4/5 November 1944. Nearly all the buildings in the vicinity of the Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG steelworks have been gutted by incendiary fires or destroyed by high-explosive bombs, while the plant itself (upper left) has been severely damaged.
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial of part of Bochum, Germany, following the last major raid on this target by aircraft of Bomber Command on the night of 4/5 November 1944. Nearly all the buildings in the vicinity of the Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG steelworks have been gutted by incendiary fires or destroyed by high-explosive bombs, while the plant itself (upper left) has been severely damaged.