Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, now leading Bomber Command was determined to prove that his force was a war winning weapon that could bring Germany to her knees. The strategy had now moved over to area bombing, destroying swathes of industrial infrastructure, in which industrial workers, and their families, would be ‘dehoused’ – there was a tacit admission that many would be killed during this process.
Not surprisingly, after the Luftwaffe had destroyed the fine old medieval city of Coventry, there were no scruples about attacking a similar target in Germany. Like Coventry, Lubeck was also an industrial centre of some importance.
Harris was to record his reasons for the choice of the first target in his memoirs:
On the night of March 28th-29th the first German city went up in flames. This was Lubeck, a rather distant target on the Baltic coast, but not difficult to identify because of its position on the River Trave, by no means so well defended as the Ruhr, and from the nature of its buildings easier than most cities to set on fire.
It was a city of moderate size, of some importance as a port, and with some submarine building yards of moderate size not far from it. It was not a vital target, but it seemed to me better to destroy an industrial town of moderate importance than to fail to destroy a large industrial city.
However, the main object of the attack was to learn to what extent a first wave of aircraft could guide a second wave to the aiming point by starting a conflagration: I ordered a half an hour interval between the two waves in order to allow the fires to get a good hold before the second wave arrived. In all, 234 aircraft were dispatched and dropped 144 tons of incendiaries and 160 tons of high explosives. At least half of the town was destroyed, mainly by fire. It was conclusively proved that even the small force I had then could destroy the greater part of a town of secondary importance.
In the attack on Lubeck 13 aircraft were missing, most of them being shot down along the route, a loss rate of 5.5 per cent, and no more than could be expected on a moonlight night and with the target at so great a distance from base.
For Harris this was an unsustainable rate of loss. See Arthur Harris: Bomber Offensive.
A few days later Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister was to acknowledge in his diary the impact that the raid had made on the population:
The damage is really enormous, I have been shown a newsreel of the destruction. It is horrible. One can well imagine how such a bombardment affects the population. … Thank God, it is a North German population, which on the whole is much tougher than the Germans in the south or south-east. We can’t get away from the fact that the English air-raids have increased in scope and importance; if they can be continued on these lines, they might conceivably have a demoralising effect on the population.