Death of the Kabarett Wintergarten

Step into the roaring twenties and experience the vibrant nightlife of Berlin’s Central Hotel and Wintergarten

The Wintergarten (Friedrichstraße Nr 143-149) was one of Berlin’s best-known variety theatres located in the heart of the city, a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. 

Owned by Hermann Gebers, this important theatre located north of the Unter den Linden boulevard opened originally as a recreational hall part of one of the most iconic hotels in the Berlin-Mitte district: the Central-Hotel (built in 1877-78). The large and cosmopolitan hotel, located very close to the Friedrichstraße Bahnhof (known then as the ‘Central train station’) and similar to London and Paris neo-Renaissance and luxury-style hotels of the time, runned almost 100 meters long from the Dorotheenstraße corner to Georgenstr. In the inner courtyard, the hotel had a palm garden with a glass roof and vaulted ceiling dome, a place for guests to relax and for music concerts (a winter garten, quite popular in Wilhelmine Germany) as well as a café-restaurant.

Photo: Fritz Eschen/ df_hauptkatalog_0034911

[This street map, dated 1940, shows the large property occupied by the Central-Hotel and its close location to the Friedrichstraße train station. The hotel had three street facades (Dorotheenstraße-Georgenstr-Friedrichstr.) with several entrances and two corner turrets topped with cupolas. The elongated inner courtyard which housed the Wintergarten is clearly seen in this plan view.]

Source: Histomap/Landesarchiv Berlin

[The original Wintergarten des Central-Hotels, photographed here by Hermann Rückwardt in 1881, was an elongated room with a total area of 1,700 square meters, a vaulted glass roof, palms and a stage for music performance: a real place for guests to relax.]

Photo: Landesdenkmalamt Berlin (Ed.), Denkmale in Berlin, Bezirk Mitte, Ortsteil Mitte, Petersberg 2003

Berliner actor Franz Dorn and Hungarian Julius Baron took over the winter garden and, after heavy renovation work opened as a theatre in 1887: the new Garten hall had a multi-use variety as a venue for concerts adding theatrical performances, shows, revues and operettas through the combination of band, singers and dancers to the famous hotel. The Skladanowsky brothers showcased the first short movie presentation ever here in November 1895, making it the first movie theatre in history too (“the first projections of film in Europe to a paying audience”). Against a background of inflation and depression, Berlin drew the talent and energies of the rest of Germany towards its glittering cabaret shows and burgeoning sex-tourism industry, which attracts artists, writers, and intellectuals from around the world. The hall was rebuilt again in the 1930s under the new direction of Ludwig Schuch, becoming one of the largest and most modern theatres in Europe.  

[View of the large auditorium and stage of the Wintergarten theatre, 1940. Based on an idea by Bernhard Sehring, light bulbs were attached to the ceiling to imitate a starry sky.]

Photo: Architekturmuseum TU Berlin TBS 047,17

Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1988-035-15 / Mäschke, Friedrich

[Some views of the exterior facade of the Central-Hotel and the WinterGarten (note the station’s railway bridge in the background) in the 1930s, when the German capital was run by the Nazi regime.]

Photo: Landesarchiv Berlin

Photo: Stadtmuseum Berlin SM 2012-3765

Photo: Stadtmuseum Berlin/ CronerNeg1937 026

Bombenkrieg 1940-1945
The Wintergarten was hit several times during the war by Allied air raids. Its proximity to the important Friedrichstraße Bahnhof as well as the government district of the capital —where Hitler’s Chancellery was located, caused that this area would be fiercely bombed by the enemy. The train station was marked as ‘primary target of opportunity’ in the case the bombers encountered Berlin covered by clouds or smoke so, not surprisingly, bombs fell close of the hotel on every British and American bombardment. Anyway, the Central wasn’t hit until March 1943, when the RAF resumed its bombing campaign on the Nazi capital. Incendiary bombs dropped on that night by 251 British bombers (1/2 March, 1943) caused minor damage on the building’s roof and left several adjacent houses at Dorotheenstr. in flames. 

[1940: the Wintergarten’s facade of Georgenstraße, running along the train station. Note white-painted kerbs and vertical signs to follow the city’s blackout procedures during the war to ‘protect’ Berlin from air-raids.]

Photo: Architekturmuseum TU Berlin BS 500,105

[Public and workers take cover during an air-raid alarm at the Hotel’s cellar, used as an improvised bomb shelter (‘Luftschutzkeller’) during World War IIDecember 1940.]

Photo: fg_sta_0730157

Photo: fg_sta_0730158

Nearly a year later, when the British air offensive reached its maximum level (the so called ‘Battle of Berlin’) the Hotel was hit again by the RAF on 28/29 January 1944 (608 Bomber Command aircraft dropped their bombs on that night over Berlin), causing fire-damage on the building, especially on the roof. City records reported numerous areas of damage on both sides of Friedrichstraße, especially by incendiary bombs.

Finally, the theatre collapsed under the carpet of bombs dropped by the Americans during the last year of the war. After some close calls, the southern part of the building was hit by US bombs and destroyed on June 21, 1944 during a big daylight raid by 606 Eighth Air Force heavy bombers: it was the 211th air-alarm of the war on Berlin and the attack left the ‘Zentral-Hotel’ in ruins and gutted by fire (Friedrichstraße Bhf received a direct hit too). In the spring of 1945 this popular area was totally wiped out during the large US attacks on Berlin-Mitte, especially by the February 3rd and March 18th raids.

Following the destruction of the original Wintergarten by Allied bombers, the Café-Restaurant was briefly reopened a few metres away in the Georgenstraße facade. 

[A wartime Wintergarten advertisement dated September 1941 published on Signal magazine: the Central-Hotel kept the famous Berliner night life and pleasures despite the war and the Allied air bombings on the city.]

Photo: Signal,  French edition, 2nd year, issue 17, 1941, p. 31

[Zerstörungen in der Friedrichstraße, Frühjahr 1945: this extraordinary series of photos was taken by a German photographer on March 21, 1945, in the aftermath of an Allied air raid. Civilians and soldiers can be seen working on a big bomb crater and clearing debris from the street in front of the destroyed Central-Hotel southern cornerMakeshift signs were placed to indicate the ‘new’ location of the Café-Restaurant at Georgenstraße and other displaced restaurants.]

Photo: Bundesarchiv_Bild 183-J31405

Photo: Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-J31404

Photo: Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-J31399

Wann kommt der Russe? The final battle
Further damage was inflicted during the Soviet armies’ assault on the Third Reich’s capital in late April-May 1945. Howitzer shells, bomb splinters and small-arms fire added more rubble to an already ruined spot, located a few blocks away from the Reich’s Chancellery, one of the main targets of the assaulting Red troops. Surviving pictures show that heavy street-fighting took place all over the Friedrichstraße, one of the several breakout attempts by the last survivors of the bunker started next to the WinterGarten, with around thirty vehicles (with ‘Nordland’ SS troops and numerous civilians) trying to escape northwards across the Spree at the height of Friedrichstraße and the Weidendammebrücke, which left the area full of wrecks and dead bodies on the night of May 1/2. Finally, on the next morning the German garrison surrendered to the Red Army: the war in Berlin was over. 

[Two scenes from a Russian newsreel following the storming battle, the still burning remains of a German (or Russian?) truck convoy one of them loaded with jerry cans— lays next to one of the Wintergarten-Central Hotel entrances, most probably at the Georgenstraße side, May 1945.

Photo: still from film, Archive British Pathé 1157.02

Photo: still from film, Archive British Pathé 1157.02

[What was left of the elegant facade of the hotel: the Friedrichstraße with Dorotheenstraße corner had collapsed under the bombs, here seen a few months later following the end of the war, summer 1945.]

Photo: Martin Badekow/AKG10291729

[Götterdämmerung, 1946: an aerial view of the Friedrichstraße Bahnhof area from the northeast, with gutted and roofless buildings everywhere. The red contour marks where the Wintergarten and Hotel were until being flattened by Allied bombs. Note the elevated S-Bahn bridge and Spree river at right.]

Source: still from film, Archive British Pathé 1157.02/ Berlin LuftTerror

[The bullet-riddle and burnt out northern facade of the hotel and the adjacent Café Bauer at Georgenstraße, seen from the Friedrichstraße station a year after the end of the war, Berlin-Mitte 1946.]

Photo: AKG-images (AKG60909)

[Two postwar views of the Friedrichstraße between Dorotheenstraße and Georgenstr. (note Wintergarten ruins at left), where no building was left intact by Allied bombs, 1946.]

Photo: bpk/Max Ittenbach

Photo: Harry Croner/Stadtmuseum Berlin SM 2013-2108

Post mortem and new life
The ruins of this popular hotel and café, now part of the Soviet occupation sector in Berlin, weren’t blown up until 1950. In September 1946 a second Wintergarten (in der Neuen Welt) was opened at Hasenheide in Berlin which mainly showed films preceded by a stage show, closing its gates finally in 1955.

[Life goes on: now part of East-Berlin, rubble and ruined buildings still can be seen at the famous corner where Dorotheenstraße meets Friedrichstr. in May 1950.]

Photo: Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-S95055

Photo: Bundesarchiv_Bild 183-S96696

Following the city’s reunification in the 1990s, a new-born theatre built at Potsdamer Straße Nr 96 took the name of the former Wintergarten Varieté-Theater (the third one), opening in September 1992 with nearly 500 seats and runned by Deutschen Entertainment AG with André Heller and Bernhard Paul. Threatened with bankruptcy in 2008 and closed during nearly a year, since then the theatre has been managed by the owner of the building, Arnold Kuthe Entertainment GmbH. The show must go on.

[The new Berlin: modern buildings stand today where the former Central-Hotel and Wintergarten were located at Friedrichstraße. In the background, the station’s railway bridge —rebuilt after the war— can be seen in its original location.]

Photo: Philipp von Bruchhausen

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Sources and bibliography:

  • Archer, Lee. Panzers in Berlin 1945. Panzerwrecks, 2019
  • Beevor, Anthony. The Fall of Berlin 1945. Viking, 2002
  • Berliner Morgenpost. Berliner Wintergarten-Varieté hat neuen Betreiber. 18 Nov. 2009. (accessed May 2024)
  • Demps, Laurenz. Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag, 2014
  • Jansen, Wolfgang und Leif, Erich. Festschrift 50 Jahre Wintergarten 1888-1938. 2. Auflage. Olms, 1994
  • Landesarchiv Berlin: LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 701, Bl. 34 ff; LAB, A Rep. 005-07, Nr. 559, o. Bl; LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 702, Bl. 99 ff.; s. a. LAB, A Rep. 005-07, Nr. 559, o. Bl
  • Moorhouse, Roger. Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, 2011
  • Neckelmann, Harald. Friedrichstraße Berlin zu Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts, Berlin Story Verlag, 2012
  • von den Hude. Der Bau des Central-Hotel in Berlin. Drei Beiträge zur Berliner Geschichte um 1880. edition.epilog.de, 2022
  • Wildt, Michael and Kreutzmueller, Christoph. Berlin 1933-1945 - Stadt und Gesellschaft im Nationalsozialismus. Siedler Verlag, 2013

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Previous post >


The Fifth Raid: 3/4 September

BERLIN BOMBED AGAIN Power stations and armament works attacked

– The Times, September 5, 1940 –

Photo: © IWM (CH 15644)

With the arrival of the new month of September a new phase in the air war was about to begin between Berlin and London. The invasion menace across the Channel forced Churchill and the War Cabinet to maintain the pressure over the enemy, with a vast list of territories and targets to be attacked by the RAF.

After a brief pause of two nights without being on the target lists (you can read more about the previous raid here), RAF’s Bomber Command effort included the ‘Big City’ again on the night of September 3/4, 1940, in what would be the British fifth raid on the German capital. On the first anniversary of Britain’s declaration of war, a mixed force of light and medium bombers from all Groups were sent to “Berlin, Magdeburg, the Ruhr and the German forests, and to airfields in France.”[1] As on previous nights, the bombing effort was hampered by clouds and haze.

Again, the bombing force was sent to destroy “industrial and military targets” located in and around Berlin. Main effort was focused on the western part of the city with the Hampden squadrons (No. 5 Group) being dispatched to bomb the West power station in Berlin-Spandau and the Rheinmetall Borsig factory, meanwhile No. 4 Group’s mission was directed against a transformer station and gasworks in the Tegel area too.[2] The Wellington group for its part was assigned a special task on this night: to raise fires on Grunewald, the largest wooded area in Berlin (For further info see Razzles - Firing the Grunewald Forest) dropping incendiary bombs “where, among other things, it was thought that the Germans had established enormous military storage facilities”.[3][4] Similar raids were made on previous nights (to the Black Forest or to Falkensee near Berlin), but this was the first one of this type on the capital.[5]

[Wellington crews being interrogated by an RAF intelligence officer after returning from a raid, 2 September 1940.]

Photo: © IWM (HU 104660)

Exact figures about how many bombers attacked Berlin on that night are impossible to come by, because known documents (mainly each squadron’s ORB — operations record books) are not so precise as in late war years, but an estimate is between 17-21 aircraft dispatched until more detailed data surfaces.

As with the rest of early raids on Berlin, this one was mostly obliterated by aviation historians and authors. Even the most recent Martin Bowman’s work, a specialized book narrating the RAF’s early years bombing campaign against Berlin published last year, doesn’t mention it.[6] Just brief descriptions can be found in the available literature, for example Bomber Command’s reference book (Middlebrook, 1985) “90 Blenheims, Hampdens, Wellingtons and Whitleys to Berlin…” or in 4 Group’s chronicle by Chris Ward. Former 10 Squadron air-gunner Larry Donnelly writes in his book a more detailed breakdown of the operation, meanwhile author Paul Tweddle gives us a deeper narration of the raid.[7] On the German side, Prof. Demps in his research of the air bombardments on the city lists this raid as been made by just eleven British aircraft.[8]

‘Bombs on Woods’
Bomber Command’s 3 Group assigned the mission to two of its units, both equipped with Wellington medium bombers. Order Form B.259 was received at RAF Marham, Norfolk, earlier that day where Nos 38 and 115 Squadrons were based at the time. Six bombers were prepared to attack the Grunewald woods, with twelve more intended to bomb the Schwarzwald (Black Forest in Southwest Germany). Another four crews would target marshalling yards at Hamm and Schwerte with the north and western forests areas of Berlin as alternative targets.[9]

The bombers attacking the forests would be loaded with six containers of 25 lb parachute incendiary bombs each and several 250 lb light case incendiaries.[10]

Photo: TNA AIR 27/894 © Crown Copyright

At Marham, 115 Squadron put up four bombers from 20.41 hrs intended for Grunewald. Crews reported that many explosions were caused and fires started at the target area.[11] However according to author Steve Smith just two a/c from this squadron were assigned Berlin’s forests on this night.[12] Shortly thereafter No. 38 Squadron’s two bombers took off for their targets (off eleven attacking Germany) to fire Grunewald’s woods too, arriving over target area at 00:34 hrs. The squadron’s combat log recorded that “many fires were started and many white and red explosions were seen, and much damage is believed to have been done.” By 04.43 hrs all aircraft had returned safely.[13]

[A fine study of Wellington bomber X3662 KO-P assigned to No. 115 Squadron RAF seen at Marham, Norfolk, in 1940.]

Photo: © IWM (CH 16994)

For their part, No. 5 Group — then under Air Vice Marshal Harris’ command — sent Order Form B.212 to Scampton and Waddington stations. Attacking orders planned “To destroy power station at X Target B.56.” (the West power station located at Spandau/Siemensstadt) with eight aircraft from Nos 44 and 83 Squadrons, both equipped with Hampden bombers. Loaded with 250- and 500 lb GP bombs, in the case crews didn’t find it they would proceed to target G.69 (the Deutsche Industriewerke AG) and the Rheinmetall Borsig AG factory (coded E.15) at Berlin-Tegel where the company built guns and ammunition among other many things substantial for the German war effort. Another four Hampdens were to attack an oil refinery in Magbeburg with one Berlin target as the secondary (an oil storage coded A.160).[14]

Operating from RAF Feltwell as advance airstrip the Scampton crews (No 83 Sqn) are to lead the attack with five bombers, however results were poor: two of the bombers returned to base early due to engine trouble and the remaining three reached the German capital but just one reported to have identified and attacked the target, with other claiming to drop bombs over a “large factory west of Spandau”, none of them seen their effects.[15] The three 44 Squadron bombers arrived at the target area between 23.45 and 00.40 hrs and dropped their bombs in a swallow dive but results were not seen owing to intense searchlights and A.A. fire. By 04.45 all the aircraft were back at their bases in England safely.[16]

Photo: TNA AIR 27/453 ©Crown Copyright

Finally, No 4 Group’s contribution to that night included just one of its units, in this case No 10 Squadron based at RAF Leeming, North Yorkshire. The night before the squadron had been sent to attack a power station in Genoa, Italy, a very long trip at the limit of the Whitley’s endurance losing two crews. (see Richard Worrall, The Italian Blitz 1940–43: Bomber Command’s war against Mussolini’s cities, docks and factories. Osprey, 2020, for further information)[17]

Earlier that day the crews had been briefed to raid targets in Italy again, but at mid-morning new orders reassigned the Group to Berlin. The seven bombers detailed were to attack targets in west Berlin area, with the power plant as primary target and the coal gasworks in Berlin-Tegel as secondary objective. Their Whitley bombers would be loaded with 2x500 lb plus 6x250 lb high explosive bombs.

Leaving RAF Leeming from 20.30 hours, the seven bombers dispatched by the squadron reached the Reich’s capital, but only one claimed to have bombed the primary target (“one large fire was started”) and another the secondary, rest of the crews attacked targets of opportunity due to total darkness: a marshalling yard, a factory near Stendal, and an aerodrome south of the capital, with the last one dropping bombs over an aerodrome at Magdeburg. Returning crews reported ten-tenth clouds and intense Flak over the target. At 06.20 the last aircraft landed after completing operations.[18] 

[A Whitley bomber from No. 102 Squadron RAF moments before departing to a night sortie over the Third Reich, 1940.]

Photo: © IWM (C 835)

‘crashed against a tree’
RAF intruders suffered no losses over Germany on that night but one bomber crash-landed on the return journey due to fuel exhaustion. This aircraft, bomber Whitley P4967 ZA-J J for Johnny’ of No 10 Sqn, made two attacks on a marshalling yard two miles from the primary target and returned to Yorkshire but ran low on fuel, the pilot (Flight Lt D.G. Tomlinson) was forced to make a ‘wheels-up’ landing at 06.45 hrs five miles of Northallerton in North Yorkshire. All crewmembers escaped unhurt.[19] Another Whitley (serial P4994) from the same unit suffered Flak damage over the target when a piece of shrapnel damaged the bomber’s windscreen but returned without problem to England.[20]

[Whitley P4967 ran out of fuel and crashed in a small field at Hall Farm, 5 miles of Northallerton. The bomber, piloted by Flight Lt D.G. Tomlinson, was a total wreck.]

Photos: © Brian Rapier/yorkshire-aircraft.co.uk

Mass Bombing of Secret Targets
On the next day, press reports and the official Air Ministry communique resumed the operation with high claims: “British planes last night bombed electric power stations, lighting installations and an armament factory. Other planes attacked military objectives in the Harz Mountains and in the Grunewald Forest north of Berlin, starting fires and causing explosions.”[21] Pilots returning reported fierce blazes “seen from 100 miles on their homeward flight” with squadron’s log records narrating explosions and large fires seen too. British and American press highlighted even more the bombing effects on Berlin that night: “a devastating attack with incendiary bombs” wrote for example The New York Times two days after the raid.[22]

Reality was far from that and results were poor. Just nine crews (of 19 that probably reached the Great Berlin area) returned claims of have bombed their primary target, with two others attacking the secondary. Heavy clouds and ground haze over the targets were encountered, which made it difficult to locate them and to observe the immediate effects of the swallow attacks.[23] Almost all returning crews reported intense German Flak and accurate fire, with a high number of searchlights over the target area; one crewmember remembered that “searchlights were very active… two of these were red, but changed to yellow” meanwhile another one stated that “the Black-out in Berlin was very poor.”[24]

On the other hand, the Luftwaffe continued its aerial campaign against the Thames estuary, resulting in heavy air combats over Kent and Essex during the day. On the evening, small German bombing formations attacked the Midlands, the Wash area and Merseyside, offensive described as “widespread over many parts of this country, but reports indicate that the general damage was slight”, losing two to RAF night fighters.[25]

[Bombing news headlines at The Times, Thursday, 5 September 1940, page 4]

Photo: airminded.

As seen before, with the arrival of the new month the air bombing campaign continued, although with less intensity, the Reich’s capital being targeted regularly through the autumn and winter of 1940. This new attack by RAF raiders, overclaimed by the British, left a small tonnage of bombs dropped and minimal damage on the city but achieved its main purpose of keeping the pressure over the Nazi authorities and reminded the German people that they were at war also. 

On the next post we will explore the effects of this bombardment on the city, its people and its terrible consequences… London would soon suffer the power of the German air fleet.

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Notes:

[1] MIDDLEBROOK, Martin. The Berlin Raids. R.A.F. Bomber Command Winter 1943/44. Cassell & Co, 1988, p 79
[2] see TNA: AIR 27/453 and AIR 27/147. The National Archives of the UK (TNA) © Crown Copyright
[3] TWEDDLE, Paul. The Other Battle of Britain: 1940: Bomber Command’s Forgotten Summer. The History Press, 2018, p 195
[4] YOUNG, Neil. The Role of the Bomber Command in the Battle of Britain. Imperial War Museum Review No. 06, 1991 (accessed December 2023)
[5] see TNA: AIR 27/894/2
[6] BOWMAN, Martin W. The BERLIN BLITZ by those who were there. Pen & Sword Books, 2022
[7] MIDDLEBROOKop. cit. p 79; WARD, Chris. 4 Group Bomber Command: An Operational
Record
, 2012; DONELLY, Larry. The Other Few: The Contribution Made by Bomber and Coastal Aircrew to the Winning of the Battle of Britain. Red Kite/Air Research, 2004, p 128; TWEDDLEop. cit. pp 196-8
[8] DEMPS, Laurenz (Hrsg). Luftangriffe auf Berlin: Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle 1940-1945. Ch. Links Verlag, 2014, p 238
[9] see TNA: AIR 27/894/2
[10] ibid; SMITH, Steve. Before the Dawn No. 38 Squadron 1935-1940. Aviation Books Limited, 2023, p 200
[11] see TNA: AIR 27/887/22
[12] direct message with the author. [September 25, 2023]
[13] see TNA: AIR 27/397/21 and AIR 27/887/22; SMITHop. cit. p 200
[14] see TNA: AIR 27/453/2
[15] see TNA: AIR 27/686/18
[16] see TNA: AIR 27/453/2 and AIR 27/447/24
[17] Percival Knauth wireless to The New York Times, “RAF RAIDS BERLIN AND FRENCH COAST, Wednesday, September 4, 1940, page 4; TWEDDLEop. cit. pp 195-6
[18] see TNA: AIR 27/147/2 and AIR 27/141/26
[19] DONNELLYop. cit. p 128; CHORLEYWR. RAF Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War. Volume 1 1939-40. Classic Publications, 2013, p 199; Middlebrook for his part doesn’t consider this crash as a “combat loss”, see 1988, p 79. For further info visit Aircraft Accidents In Yorkshire. Whitley P4967 at Nether Silton, Osmotherley (accessed December 2023)
[20] Piloted by W/Co Sydney Osborne Bufton, see Aircraft Accidents In Yorkshire. Whitley P4994 damaged by flak, returned to Leeming airfield (accessed December 2023)
[21] New York Post, “Arms Factory Is Target Of Raiders”, Wednesday, September 4, 1940, page 1
[22] The New York Times, “R.A.F. FIRES GERMAN FORESTS PLANS”, Thursday, September 5, 1940, page 1
[23] TWEDDLEop. cit. p 197. Tweddle incomprehensibly stated that “good, clear weather… and, for once, [the bombers] had no difficulty in locating the targets.”
[24] see TNA: AIR 27/141/26 and AIR 27/141/26
[25] DONNELLYop. cit. p 128; AIRMINDED, Wednesday, 4 September 1940 (accessed December 2023)

Bibliography:

  • BRITISH BOMBING SURVEY UNIT. The Strategic Air War Against Germany 1939 - 1945 - The Official Report of the British Bombing Survey Unit. Frank Cass, 1998.
  • Churchill, Winston. Their Finest Hour. Houghton Mifflin, 1949.
  • Tress HB. Churchill, the First Berlin Raids, and the Blitz: A New Interpretation. Militaergeschichtliche Zeitschrift, Volume 32, Issue 2, Pages 65–78. 1982. 
  • Ward, Chris. 5 Group Bomber Command: An Operational Record. Pen & Sword Books, 2007.
  • Ward, Chris and Smith, Steve. 3 Group Bomber Command: An Operational Record. Pen & Sword Books, 2009.
  • Williston, Floyd. Through Footless Halls of Air: The Stories of a Few of the Many who Failed to ReturnGSPH, 1996.

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Previous post >


The First Raids On Berlin

Our numbers were small and there is no claim that much damage…

resulted from our bombing but it’s very likely these raids had a consequential effect; triggering a most profound change of strategy by the enemy.’

Photo: 115 Squadron Association/ Scottish Saltire Aircrew Association.

On the 83rd anniversary of the first RAF raids on Berlin, it is very interesting to note what remembered one of Bomber Command’s boys (those which some authors call ‘the Many’) years later, in this case Sqdn. Ldr. Andrew Jackson (DFC, AE, MID.) who participated in several of the attacks against the Third Reich capital in August 1940 (see previous posts here).

Jackson, who completed his first operational tour flying Wellington bombers with RAF Nos 115 and 149 Squadrons and volunteered for a second tour (joining No 49 Squadron to fly Hampden and Manchester bombers and later Avro Lancasters with No 207 Squadron), was a major contributor to the memory of RAF Bomber Command and was the author of ‘The First Raids on Berlin’ and ‘Flying 40 missions with Red’ among other books telling his personal eye-witness accounts of the air war. He died in Edinburgh on January 31, 2009, aged 91.

Here is his account of the events and how crucial he thought the Berlin raids were in changing enemy’s tactics during the Battle of Britain:
“On the 28th August 1940, we took off from Norwich Airfield, as an advanced base from Marham to attack BERLIN, on the first operation by Wellington bombers (actually two squadrons of Wellingtons participated on the first raid also, not only Hampden bombers, author’s note). An earlier raid by Hampden aircraft was made on the 25th August 1940. The target was considered to be at the extreme operational range of the Wimpey; hence the use of Norwich Airfield. To further conserve fuel, we began a very gentle climb over the North Sea, which was covered by low cloud. Without warning we were under attack from anti-aircraft fire coming from our own ships below, presumably protecting an allied convoy. Having escaped serious damage, we continued on our long flight to the German capital.

Searchlights and heavy flak were encountered on our flight, but over the actual target there was very little opposition - not what we expected. We had a clear view of the city and the marshalling yards were easily identified and attacked. Two nights later (August 30, author’s note) we returned to be met by numerous searchlights and well-directed and intensive flak. The enemy was learning fast!

The target this time was Templehoff (sic) Airfield. Our numbers were small and there is no claim that much damage resulted from our bombing but it’s very likely these raids had a consequential effect; triggering a most profound change of strategy by the enemy.

In retrospect, it seems the raids destroyed the myth of German invincibility; causing embarrassment and considerable anger against those who had openly boasted that such raids would never happen. It’s widely believed the attacks on the German capital infuriated Hitler and prompted him to seek an alternative strategy. In future, the Luftwaffe would concentrate their bombing on British cities in a renewed effort to achieve a quick victory.

[Wellington Mark IC, R1593 coded OJ-N, of No 149 Squadron RAF, being loaded with 250-lb GP bombs at Mildenhall, Suffolk, for the forthcoming night raid.]

Photo: © IWM CH 2705.

At that time, Fighter Command was in dire straits. Biggin Hill, Tangmere, Manson (sic) and other airfields were being subjected to a terrible pasting. In some attacks, 100 bombs would be dropped on one single airfield and their viability, as an operational unit, was dubious at best. The sudden change of targeting by Goering’s Luftwaffe gave Fighter Command the respite it so desperately needed. A.C.M. Lord Dowding described it as a miracle! The daylight attacks on our cities were undertaken at high level, giving our C.H.L.’s the opportunity to detect the approach of enemy aircraft at an early stage, and to give our fighters enough time to reach optimum height. London was at the extreme range of the deadly Bf109’s and this undoubtedly contributed to higher enemy losses. Historians can regard these early raids on Berlin of immense importance since they resulted in changing the enemy’s tactics from a winning formula - to one that denied them victory. Fighter Command was able to recover from the former onslaught of airfields and aircraft – going on to defeat the Luftwaffe in one of the famous aerial battles of all time.

For the first time in World War Two, Hitler’s rampage through Europe was checked. His plans concerning the invasion of the United Kingdom required an early decision as regards the date of invasion but the heavy losses incurred by the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain raised serious doubt whether a position of air superiority could be attained. Operation ‘Sea Lion’ was initially postoned then later cancelled.

The raids on Berlin helped shape aerial battlefields of the future and helped to shape future strategy and effort. They destroyed the mythology of German invicibility and illustrated the possibility of victory at a time when news and events pointed towards darkness and defeat. It was not achieved without cost. That cost is correctly recorded in the Roll of Honour in the Battle of Britain Memorial Chapel within Westminster Abbey in London.”

Photo: still from film, Blitz on Britain/ Telemovies (Projects) Ltd.

Bibliography:

  • Donnelly, Larry. The Other Few: The Contribution Made by Bomber and Coastal Aircrew to the Winning of the Battle of Britain. Red Kite/Air Research, 2004.
  • Middlebrook, Martin and Everett, Chris. (1985). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation. Reprint Edition 2014.
  • Napier, Michael. Vickers Wellington Units of Bomber Command. Combat Aircraft 133. Osprey Publishing, 2020.
  • Scottish Saltire Aircrew Association. The First Raids on Berlin, Library Reference Number: 002. (accessed Sept 2023)
  • The Tiller. RTB Mrs. Lavinia Flint - Leonard Ing - Andrew Jackson. Newsletter of 115 Squadron Association, April 2009. (accessed Sept 2023)
  • Ward, Chris and Smith, Steve. 3 Group Bomber Command: An Operational Record. Pen & Sword Books, 2009.
  • Ward, Chris. 115 Squadron Profile. Mention the War Ltd, 2019.

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Previous post >



Razzles - Firing the Grunewald Forest

R.A.F. Fires German Forests

– The New York Times, September 5, 1940 –

Photo: John Frost newspapers.

In the late summer of 1940, while the Battle of Britain was raging overhead, Commander-in-Chief of RAF Bomber Command Air Marshal Charles Portal directed a new strategy to his squadrons. So, following the first “retaliation” bombing offensive against Berlin during the last week of August [see previous posts posted here], London tested new ways to strike the heart of the Reich.

The idea behind Operation Razzle, one of the lesser known campaigns of the Second World War, was to burn Germany’s forests and crops with a new —and simple— weapon known as ‘calling cards’ (small treated cardboards) which, once dry ignited in contact with air exposure and burn rapidly with a hot flame. British aircraft would scatter these incendiary ‘leaves’, usually dropped by Whitley or Wellington bombers by night at low level, over areas of the Black Forest and other large forests where it was believed by British Military Intelligence that weapons and other military stores were being concealed, as an Air Ministry communique released on those days related: “are designed to get fire to military stores standing in the open at arsenals and ammunition factories or to supplies in open railway cars or trucks and similar objectives. It is know that the enemy has concealed such targets in woods.”[1] 

In reality, this new tactic was part of the British economic war against the Reich, intended to destroy the enemy’s crops, grain fields and lumber-producing woods. With the imminent German invasion of the British Isles Bomber Command’s number one priority was the struggle against the enemy landing fleet menace across the Channel, however, in directives issued by the Air Ministry throughout the summer attacks were ordered on the Nazi oil industry, communications, forests and crops.[2] Moreover, as early as June the bombing force was warned to be ready to set alight forests and woods using a new incendiary device soon to be available.[3] 

First ‘Razzles’ were dropped on the night of 30 June. That first night nearly ended in tragedy when one of the RAF raiders, after first bombing their primary target, proceeded to the Black Forest area in southwestern Germany and drop the cards. However, some of the leaves caught in the aircraft’s slipstream, were blown onto the tailplane elevators causing minor fires with the bomber returning with severe damage to base.[4]

First specific raid was on 2/3 September night when ten Wellingtons of No 214 Squadron were sent to fire bombings in an area forests between the Havel lake and Falkensee and NW of the Tegel sea outside the German capital.[5] Interestingly, looking into the Group’s Orders a clear recommendation can be found: “attacks on forests areas to be made in such a manner as will be best helped by prevailing wind conditions.”[6] On the next night, six sorties were made attacking the Grunewald Forest in Berlin too, while six others bombed the Black Forest.[7] These fire bombings were repeated again on the next night, September 5th.[8]

[‘Razzles’ were usually dropped through the flare chute of the aircraft, same way that leaflets were on ‘Nickelling’ sorties. Here, one of the aircrew of a Whitley bomber of No 102 Squadron demonstrates how propaganda leaflets are dropped.]

Photo: © IWM (C 826)

Incendiary cards ‘a British weapon’
This new weapon was developed in 1938 by London scientifics (others say it was an American idea) but resulted in a great failure due to German forests and fields were too green and moist, they did not catch fire cause they required tinder-dry vegetation and the northern European weather wasn’t very favourable either.

Three types of these fire raising’ devices were used: ‘calling cards’ (chemically treated cardboard sizing 75x25mm), ‘Razzle’ (small plates of cellulose nitrate plastic) and ‘Decker’ (same but larger size). All of them worked in the same way: after several hours on the ground the phosphorous dried out and ignited the celluloid, which burned for thirty seconds and so set on fire its surroundings. Furthermore, in the case if was dropped during wet weather it was believed that these cards may not ignite until several days after they hit the ground. As long as the cards were immersed in water they were incombustible, so usually were stored in tins of alcohol or water inside the bomber[9] about 450-500 to a tin.

British authorities admitted their use and described the weapon at the time just as a “self-igniting leaf”[10] but we can find a deeper description on the Popular Science issue of October, 1942: “scatter-type phosphorus missiles have been designed by the British to set fire to enemy crops and lumber-producing forests. German patience, so often exhausted, must have plumped to a new low when R.A.F. raiders began sowing these incendiary ‘calling cards’ over the countryside a couple of years ago. A single plane carries as many as a quarter of a million of them. Each three-inch-square card contains a pad impregnated with phosphorus, moistered to delay its taking fire, which it would otherwise do immediately. The resulting flame, about eight inches long, suffices to touch off grain or forest undergrowth within its reach.”[11]

Photo: Popular Science. A Technical Journal of Science and Industry. VOL 141, No 4. Oct 1942. Popular Science Publishing.

[A German propaganda picture showing a pair of incendiary cards dropped by RAF aircraft, September 1940. The original caption reads: “These are the weapons of the British night pirates! Enormous amounts of detonating leaflets dropped over German areas - since August 11, 1940, so-called incendiary leaflets were first scattered and then in enormous quantities by English planes on their cowardly night flights over Germany over long distances of our country.”]

Photo: akg-images/Sammlung Berliner Verlag.

BRITISHCALLING CARDDROPPED BY R.A.F. IN GERMANY”:  the picture was published in some US papers in the following days too, describing the weapon and its effects to woods and fields. It seems however, that the innocent-looking discs caused, according to the Neue Frankfurter Zeitung, much more damage to people than to crops: many souvenir-hunting Germans received an unpleasant shock after placing the leaves in their trouser pockets. In fact, Nazi authorities described the tiny cards as “poisoned” with the admonition to mothers that they should warn their children against picking them up and accused the new British weapon to be “directed against the German youth, the German harvest and the hard-earned property of the German people.”[12]

Photo: The New York Times, September 13, 1940, page 4

On these Razzle sorties British bombers dropped the fire-cards mixed with ordinary incendiary bombs (on some raids only fire bombs were dropped), usually the early 25-lb type parachute bomb as we can read on some of the Squadrons’ ORBs describing the required bombload: “six containers of 25 lb parachute incendiary bombs, the maximum load being made up with 250 lb light case incendiary bombs.”[13] Similar in shape to the 250-lb GP bomb and considered a large incendiary bomb, the 25-lb ‘Firepot’ was very unsatisfactory and quickly replaced after the first year of use by new and more effective IBs as was the 4-lb weapon.[14]

[The 25-lbs (12,5 Kg) incendiary bomb seen here in both German (at left) and British (right) drawing diagrams made during the wartime years.]

Photo: Hilske, M/ Bolan, GT, 1946.

This is an original ww2-footage showing an unexploded incendiary 25-lb bomb (“English fire bomb fell into the open field”)  after being dropped by British bombers during a raid on Germany on September 6, 1940, with the bomb falling on open field. The video was part of German propaganda newsreel which shows bomb damage in the city of Bruchsal following an attack by the Royal Air Force on the night of September 20, 1940. A soldier kneels next to a bomb stuck in the ground and pulls out the unopened parachute of the bomb.

Video source: Haus des Dokumentarfilms. Kinemathek Oberrhein.

Bomber Command’s campaign to drop firebombs over German forests and crops was limited to a few isolated raids during the late summer of 1940. Although British and American press defined the operation as a “mass firing” and “new secret weapon dropped in millions”, describing the effects of the fires during those raids as very successful (“Damp Discs, Dropped by R.A.F. by Thousands, Dry and Ignite–Nazis Incensed” can be read on a New York Times headline)[15] the true was that just a few fields had been burnt and that the fire didn’t spread much and as fast as desired and following the first sorties, London quickly decided that Razzle did not possess war-winning potential, and was consigned to the ‘It was worth to try’ file. The strategy was tried again on 1941 but was disappointed one more time and was abandoned.

With the invasion of England being threatened, Nazi barges in the Channel ports were a much higher priority target and so were the focal point for the Command’s attention during September.[16]

_______________

Notes:

[1] The New York Times, Associated Press, September 11, 1940, page 1
[2] YOUNG, Neil. The Role of the Bomber Command in the Battle of Britain. Imperial War Museum Review No. 06, 1991 (accessed June 2023)
[3] ibid
[4] DELVE, Ken. Vickers Armstrong Wellington. The Crowood Press, 1998, p 28. See also The Battle Of Britain Weather Diary, 11th August 1940 (accessed June 2023)
[5] see The National Archives of the UK (TNA): AIR-27-1235 © Crown Copyright
[6] ibid
[7] see TNA: AIR-27-894_2
[8] see TNA: AIR-27-1235
[9] Command and General Staff School Military Review. “Plastics in new uses”. Volume XXI 1941. Number 83, March 1941. p 55; DELVEop. cit. p 28
[10] The New York Times, Associated Press, September 11, 1940, page 1
[11] Popular Science, “Phosphorus”, Vol 141, No 4, October 1942, pp 108-112
[12] The New York Times, Associated Press, September 11, 1940, page 1; RICHARD, Denis. Royal Air Force, 1939-1945, Vol I: The Fight at Odds. German Blockade, British Bombing, p 238
[13] see TNA: AIR-27-894_2
[14] BOLAN, G T. The development of British incendiary bombs during the period of the 1939-45 World War. Armaments Design Establishment Technical Report. Ministry of Supply.
December 1946; nearly 20,000 of the 25-lb bomb were dropped during the war: BURLS, Nina. RAF bombs and bombingROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009
[15] The New York Times, Associated Press, September 11, 1940, page 1
[16] Britain at War. From First to Last. (accessed June 2023)

Bibliography:

  • Air Ministry. RAF Armament Volume I: Bombs and Bombing Equipment, 1954.
  • Blank, Ralf. Germany and the Second World War. Vol. 9/1, German wartime society 1939-1945:
    politicization, disintegration, and the struggle for survival
    . Clarendon Press, 2008.
  • Bowman, Martin W. Voices in flight: RAF Night Operations. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2015.
  • Falconer, John. Bomber Command Handbook. The History Press, 1998.
  • Hilske, Michael. Beschreibung der englischen Bomben und ihrer
    Vernichtung. http://michaelhiske.de/Wehrmacht/Luft/Luft/LDV_0764_1/Zeichnungen/Zchng_16.htm
  • Middlebrook, Martin and Everett, Chris. (1985). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation. Reprint Edition 2014.
  • Napier, Michael. Vickers Wellington Units of Bomber Command. Combat Aircraft 133. Osprey Publishing, 2020.
  • Overy, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane, 2013.

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Previous post >


Bomb shelter in Prague

‘We were impressed by the absence of flak on the bomb run.’

– Howard Pinner, Pilot, 603rd Bomb Squadron, USAAF

Photo: praguemorning.cz

During our recent trip to Prague last week we had the opportunity to visit a very interesting air-raid shelter, part of a guided tour itinerary about the Second World War in the Bohemian capital led by World War II in Prague

The city, occupied by the Nazis from March 1939 (six months before the war started), was raided just four times during the fighting with devastating effects, all by the Allied air forces being the first one in October 1941.

The shelter is located on a shallow underground floor, not very deep and is accessed via stone stairs. Seeing the type of construction, it is actually a basement or room, possibly dating from the 12th-century that was used during the war to protect the nearby citizens during bombing alarms. The walls and floor are made of stone as well as the vaulted ceilings and there are a couple of ventilation portholes that make visible the interior from the street. Nowadays, there is a brewery upstairs (named U Kunstatu - Řetězová street 222/3) where you can also taste many local craft and traditional Czech beers.

Photo by the author, 2023.

Photo by the author, 2023.

Photo by the author, 2023.

Photo by the author, 2023.

Photo by the author, 2023.

Photo by the author, 2023.

Photo by the author, 2023.

“Why us?”
The heaviest and deadliest bombing which suffered the city of Prague was on February 14, 1945, following a terrible mistake, which left 701 dead and around 2,600 houses destroyed or damaged. On that day the US Eighth Air Force sent nearly 500 B-17G heavy bombers to raid a marshalling yard in Dresden, part of the combined Anglo-American small air campaign to destroy the enemy’s concentration at the German city and to help the Soviet advance to Berlin. Prague is nearly 150 kms from Dresden, and heavy clouds and a malfunctioning radar unit (both lead and deputy Gee and H2X failed) made the lead bombardier of the 398th Bomb (Heavy) Group to mistake the Czech city and its river for Dresden and the Elbe. The confusion was started when several navigation errors due to heavy winds blew away 115 bombers of the 1st Bomb Wing from the formation on a southern path missing some route checkpoints. The 398th Group, led by Colonel Lewis P. Ensign, followed by two squadrons of the 91st Group (62 bombers in total) dropped 152 t of bombs (414 HE bombs) from 25,000 feet around 12.35 pm over the built up area hitting the centre of the city on residential areas. Fortunately the rest of the formation, realizing they were far off course bombed targets of opportunity.

[Fortress 44-8771, a lead PFF ship from the 398th Bomb Group (Heavy), 1st CW, was captured in colour film on the return flight after bombing Prague on February 14th. Note the ‘Mickey’ H2X radar unit instead of the usual ball turret. This bomber led the Higher Squadron during the raid and was piloted on that mission by Lt R.E. Steele.]

Photo: Bob Welty/398thBomb Group Memorial Association.

The official USAAF chronology describes Mission 830 with primary target being Dresden on that day: “461 B-17s are dispatched to hit the marshalling yard at Dresden (311); targets of opportunity are Prague (62), Brux (25) and Pilsen (12) in Czechoslovakia and other (25); they claim 1-0-0 aircraft; 5 B-17s are lost, 3 damaged beyond repair and 54 damaged; 4 airmen are KIA, 15 WIA and 49 MIA.” Curiously, the report refers to Prague as “target of opportunity” as well as other cities like Pilsen or Brux. 

Another raid was made by Fifteenth Air Force bombers based in Italy on March 25, 1945, when about 650 bombers attacked the ČKD factories (where Hetzer light tank destroyers among other military vehicles were built until the last day of the war) on the northeastern side of Prague and several nearby airfields. This bombing left 235 dead and 417 injured.

The Dancing House - 14 February 1945
Several important buildings in Prague were destroyed during these two air bombardments, some were later rebuilt others were not so lucky. Among several monasteries, synagogues and residential houses (such as the 14th-century Emmaus Monastery in Vyšehrad and the 17th-century Faust House), stands out Jiráskovo náměstí no. 1981 in the New Town. Here, 50 years later it was built the Dancing House, one of the most famous modern landmarks of the Czech capital due to its unusual shape where a 14th-century house that originally stood before the raid was totally destroyed by American bombs. This modern building, also known as the Nationale-Nederlanden, was designed in a deconstructivist style by architects Vlado Milunić and Frank Gehry in 1992 (former ruins were finally cleared in the 1960s) and finally completed in 1996. 

Photo by the author, 2023.

[The smoking ruins of the original building on the corner of Rašínova nábřeží and Jiráskova náměstí, destroyed by bombs during the accidental US air bombing on February 14, 1945, today this spot is where the famous Dancing House stands. A few metres to the left beyond view is the Ss. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral, another WW2 spot where the Czech commandos who killed chief of the Reich Main Security Office Reinhard Heydrich in 1942 were hidden and finally committed suicide after being surrounded by SS troops.]

Photo: iprpraha.

Photo: iprpraha.

[This closer view of the post-strike moments shows also that the next block was also hit by the bombing on the same day, in this case No. 1969 at the corner of Resslova and Gorazdova streets. Badly damaged, it had to be demolished two years later and in 1956 a new house was built here. Note in the foreground the damaged street-clock equipped with an air-raid alarm on its top.]

Photo: iprpraha.

In 2000 a visit to the Czech city was made by some veterans of the US 398th Bomb Group Tour and Pryor Englehardt of the Emauzy Monastery welcomed the American group to Prague with the following reconciling words: “No need to apologize,” he said, “our church building suffered more from 40 years of Russian occupation than from your bombs.”

_______________

Bibliography:

  • 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association. 398th Combat Mission 14 February 1945
    Target: Prague, Czechoslovakia
    <https://398th.org/Missions/Dates/1945/February/MIS_450214.html>
  • Allen Ostrom. Dresden-Prague Mission Examined <https://398th.org/FlakNews/Articles/Mission_14Feb1945/14Feb1945_Examined_Ostrom.html>
  • Freeman, Roger. The Mighty Eighth: A History of the Units, Men and Machines of the US 8th Air Force. Cassell, 2007.
  • LivingPrague. Prague World War Two Bombings <https://livingprague.com/politics-and-history/prague-world-war-two-bombings/>
  • McKillop, Jack. Combat Chronology of the USAAF. United States Air Force <http://paul.rutgers.edu/~mcgrew/wwii/usaf/html/>
  • Pinner. Howard. Dresden-Prague Mission Recollections - 14 February 1945.  398th Bomb Group Memorial Association <https://398th.org/FlakNews/Articles/Mission_14Feb1945/14Feb1945_Pinner.html>
  • Prague Institute of Planning and Development. Air Raids on Prague in 1944-45.  <http://en.iprpraha.cz/airraidsonprague>
  • Uhlíř, Jan. Bomby na Prahu. Prostor, 2011.

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Previous post >


Wittenbergplatz post-1945

Year Zero: the sea of rubble and ruins that Tauentzienstr. has become by war’s end, seen from Wittenbergplatz with the heavily damaged Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the far background.

Photo by Walter Gircke/ullstein bild.

At the end of the Second World War in Europe in May 1945, Berlin became not only a defeated capital but also a ruined and divided city. From that year until 1949, Wittenbergplatz (you can read more about the war years on previous posts) and the Schöneberg district were inside the British occupation sector as well as Tiergarten, Wilmersdorf and Spandau, all part of West Berlin controlled by the Western Allies. The underground station was reopened in late June 1945, following the reactivation of part of the underground trains service in the city. 

In 1950, with the reopening of the KaDeWe department at Tauentzienstraße the area became a symbol of Western Berlin’s ‘Wirtschaftswunder’ (economic miracle) economic boom. At least in the western sectors life returned to ‘normal’, and the influx of foreign money allowed the area to be rebuilt and new shops and places to open, led by the US support. From 1980 to 1983 the subway station and the hall were renovated again. The underground lines closed by the division such as the U2 from Wittenberplatz to Nollendorfplatz were not reopened until 1993, following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the German reunification in October 1990.

[Cleaning work at Wittenbergplatz, 1945. In the background are the ruins of the former KaDeWe, with a burned out roof and twisted structure where the RAF bomber crashed onto the department’s roof a year before.]

Photo: Arthur Grimm/ullstein bild.

[An aerial view of war-damaged Tauentzienstraße in Schöneberg looking east with U-Bhf Wittenbergplatz’s hall at middle right and Kurfürstenstraße at left, July 1945.]

Photo: Life Magazine © Time Inc.

[Wittenbergplatz, September 1945: Berliners placed signs in front of the ruined houses to make known the fate of its former residents.]

Photo: Wolf Lange/getty.

[These signs were used not only to locate people but also for new businesses, reopened once peace came as shown in this picture, Wittenbergplatz, 1946.]

Photo: ullstein bild.

[Life goes on among ruins: a striking scene at the British-US border with the destroyed Kaiser-Wilhelm church and the now famous ‘You are leaving the American sector’ sign in the foreground, Tauentzienstraße, 1946.]

Photo: getty.

[Flattened and ruined houses along Kleiststraße in this picture taken in 1946, with the destroyed KaDeWe store in the background.]

Photo: bpk/Liselotte Orgel-Purper.

[Postwar life at Wittenbergplatz: mountains of rubble and bricks at Keithstraße Ecke Nettelbeckstraße (today’s An der Urania) looking into the square, summer 1947.]

Photo: SLUB/ Deutsche Fotothek.

[Badly hit by Allied bombs during the war, reconstruction work of the U-Bhf Wittenbergplatz entrance hall started in 1947-48.]

Photo: bpk.

[Three years after the end of the war Wittenbergplatz area was still full of debris and scars from the fighting, with the titanic KaDeWe building left in ruins in the background, 1948.]

Photo: bpk/Kunstbibliothek, SMB, Photothek Willy Römer.

[Local children are seen here playing on a wrecked car left at Kleiststraße looking into Wittenbergplatz’s ruins, 1947.]

Photo: Deutsches Historisches Museum.

[Reconstruction of the entrance hall at U-Bahnhof Wittenbergplatz moved forward during 1948. Note at far left the weekly street market has come to life again too.]

Photo: akg-images (AKG390002)

[Kaufhauses des Westens building seen in 1949: reconstruction work took almost a decade and a half and the first floors were at first reopened in July 1950, meanwhile many houses were still in ruins in the Schöneberg district and became a symbol of the new beginning.]

Photo: bpk/Carl Weinrother.

[A view of the ruined Wittenbergplatz 4 Ecke corner Bayreuther Straße 8, taken by Herwarth Staudt in October 1950. This building was destroyed by a bomb dropped by an RAF Mosquito on the night of 29/30 January 1945, wounding four people.]

Photo: Museen Tempelhof-Schöneberg/Archiv.

[In the 1950s the new and vanguardist Philippshaus am Wittenbergplatz building was built at the former Nr 11, heavily damaged by war’s destruction. Note the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche in the far background.]

Photo: ullstein bild.

[Photographer Fritz Eschen took this B/W artistic picture of the rebuilt Wittenbergplatz hall building and the KaDeWe, view from Bayreuther Str. corner in the 1960s.]

Photo: Fritz Eschen/Altenburg Photographie Auktionen.

[The rebirth of Tauentzienstraße as a commercial area part of West Berlin brought back life and colour as we can see here in the 1950s in this colour slide, with the KaDeWe and Leiser store departments at left.] 

Photo: Sobotta, West Berlin Farbdias aus den 50ern bis 70ern, Sutton Verlag, 2019.

Today, Wittenbergplatz has become more than a underground station: it is a memorial place to remember the Holocaust and to not forget the dark years ruled by the Nazis and its horrors: a memorial plaque signpost with the names of several concentration camps with the text “Places of Terror We Must Never Forget” was erected in 1967 in front of the main hall (eastern gate) and in recent years a capital “B” sculpture in the name of the International Auschwitz Committee was placed here too.

Photo: flickr/photos/gabrilu.

_______________

Bibliography:

  • Berliner-Untergrundbahn.de. Die U-Bahn im 2. Weltkrieg. <https://www.berliner-untergrundbahn.de/krieg.html>
  • Broadbent, Philip and Hake, Sabine. Berlin Divided City, 1945–1989. Berghahn Books, 2010.
  • Das Berliner U-Bahn-Archiv. Wittenbergplatz. <http://u-bahn-archiv.de/aufnahmen/wittenbergplatz.html>
  • Demps, Laurenz. Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag, 2014.
  • Hildebrandt, B and Haiger, E. Kriegsende in Tiergarten: Die Geschichte des Kriegsgräberfriedhofs Wilsnacker Straße. Lehmanns Media, 2009.
  • Janus, Urte. Das Kaufh aus des Westens („KaDeWe“) in Berlin. Technische Universität Berlín, Magisterarbeit, 1995.
  • Meiners, Antonia. 100 Jahre KaDeWe. Nicolaische Verlagsbuchhandlung, 2007.
  • Sobotta, Michael. West-Berlin. Farbdias aus den 50ern bis 70ern. Eine spannende Zeitreise in die bewegte Vergangenheit der Hauptstadt. Sutton Archivbilder, 2019.

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Previous post >



August summary - The early days

In case there is an attack on the centre of Government in London,

it seems very important to return the compliment the next day upon in Berlin. I understand you will have by the end of this month a respectable party of Stirlings ready. Perhaps the nights are not yet long enough. Pray let me know.’

– Winston Churchill in a letter to the Chief of the Air Staff, July 1940 –[1] 

Photo: Rigsarkivet.

The first attacks on Berlin in August 1940 by British forces created a new scenario at the Third Reich’s capital. Bombing raids were quickly increasing, turning Berliners’ nights into a nightmare. Only the RAF’s limited capacity and resources at the time and the powerless capacity of their medium bombers gave the city time to improvise protection and a defense staff to organize countermeasures on the ground. How the RAF is striking back at Germany was an important propaganda and morale-payback for British citizens, hitting the Nazi homeland after the Luftwaffe bombed their cities. Strategic bombing would be the only battle fought inside the Reich, after the British continental army no longer exist since the evacuation at Dunkirk early that year.[2]

Churchill, alive to the political and propaganda possibilities, has been already briefed of the capability to reply immediately against Berlin a month before the first bombs targeted London.[3] By August 22, the week when the RAF’s offensive started, Bomber Command had 31 squadrons with 491 twin-engined bombers available, a small bomber force (furthermore, this figure includes the Blenheim and Battle light bombers of Nos 2 and 6 Groups, both types inadequate to participate on the attacks against the Reich capital).[4] 

[Nazi authorities made air-protection drills since well before the war, but the truth is the capital was poorly defended and ill-suited to protect its citizens against the enemy bombers. Here, barrage balloons are raised at Wilhelmplatz in front of the Reich Chancellery in March 1939.]

Photo: Popperfoto.

As we have seen in previous posts, following the bombing of London’s suburbs and the Prime Minister’s order to unleash a retaliation attack, RAF Bomber Command sent its crews to raid Berlin four times three of them in consecutive nights (you can check the complete list of raids here). 

According to our records, during these four air-strikes the Command made 202 sorties aimed on targets in or around Berlin although less than a hundred of those were effective. In exchange, the British lost ten bombers with three more crashed or ditched but recovered.[5] Seven of them were lost due to fuel shortage (one forced landed in Germany and the rest ditched on Britain’s waters) and two were missing. The RAF personal losses accounted for 11 airmen killed and four prisoners of war.[6]

Of the three types of bombers sent (Wellington, Hampden and Whitley), the Hampden was the less effective: losses during the August 1940 raids against the Reich capital totaled eight. No 5 Group’s 83 Squadron at Scampton with four aircraft lost suffered the highest losses. Targets such Berlin or Stettin were at the very limit of the Hampden’s range, and severe wind or minimal navigation error could make force landing on the return flight.[7]

[A recently published picture of Hampden P2070 (P/O Wawn crew) VN-X of RAF 50 Squadron which ran out of fuel after being hit by Flak on the return flight on August 26th and force-landed near Lautersheim in Rheinland-Platz. They were the first aircrew to go into captivity whilst engaged on a bombing raid to Berlin.]

Photo via Graham Warrener.

The August raids were an early failure due to ineffective tactics and the lack of intensity mainly, causing little damage to the city. Bomber Command raiders made individually attacks, dropping bombs in swallow dives in darkness but depended to target identification on early navigation as were dead reckoning and ETA Estimated Time of Arrival [to target], something openly recognized: “Fliers tell, in Air Ministry statement, of spotting target at German capital by means of each others’ explosives recent”.[8] The RAF, unlike the Luftwaffe, had no electronic navigation aids yet and bombing over blackout targets was a major problem at the time. Main targets were Tempelhof airport, the Siemensstadt factory complex and power stations like Klingenberg, also visiting aviation plants as were BWM Spandau and Henschel in Schönefeld. Although most of them can be classified as military/industrial and were located at the outskirts (the exception was Tempelhof) many bombs fell on the city’s centre and open fields with a few on the factories only, the British failing to hit specific targets at night. 

[Nazi propaganda led by Goebbels took advantage of every snapshot of destruction on German cities by RAF bombs, trying to stress how ineffectual were the raids and complain that civilian targets were hit every night.]

Photo: Rigsarkivet.

Even so, the morale and psychological victory was great: In Britain, following very optimistic reports from the Air Ministry and the press, there was a misleading feeling that the RAF’s raids on Berlin were putting the Nazis on the ropes.[9] Mass daylight raids against London had yet not started (first one would be on September 7th) but to show that the Empire was hitting back was very important, although there little chance for the crews to find among the clouds and darkness.[10] These reports exalted the discomfort and shock felt by German civilians, something emphasized by the British press even when there were many more articles relating to the bombing of Britain and the enemy’s activity in the air. Churchill himself had written a letter to congratulate the bombing force on its work in raiding Germany and Italy. He made special mention of the fact that on the first raids on Berlin ‘the great majority of pilots brought their bombs home [If they failed to find their primary targets], rather than loose them under weather conditions which made it difficult to hit the precise military objectives in their orders’ something that will end on September 10th following political pressure to retaliate from Luftwaffe raids.[11]

[Right Unter den Linden”: a very optimistic cartoon by Illingworth printed on the Daily Mail edition of September 28th, shows Berliners taking cover on the city’s subway tunnels from RAF bombs next to the Brandenburg Gate.]

Photo: Daily Mail, 28 September 1940, page 2.

During these first four air strikes around 60 tons of bombs were dropped on Berlin, mainly explosives[12] and hundreds of propaganda leaflets too. German casualties amounted 14 killed and 52 wounded, some of the latter hit by shell splinters from the anti-aircraft (Flak) guns of the city.[13]

The Nazi-regime was so surprised that at first it was hesitant to hide it so as not to show weakness or to emphasize the bombings to accuse London of war crimes. In fact, there was no mention at first of such raids in the “Die Deutsche Wochenschau”, the Nazi newsreel (August 29, 1940, episode Nr 521), we have to wait until the first September reel (September 4th, Nr 522 “Bombardierung der Reichshauptstadt Berlin”) to watch some Berlin air raids footage, using the results of the British bombing of German cities: we can see destroyed buildings in Weimar, followed by bomb damage at Berlin with ruined houses and broken windows, all recorded after the August 31 raid mostly in Kreuzberg. At last, Goebbels’ propaganda took the opportunity to emphasize that the British had attacked civilian areas mercilessly and under cover of the night outside international laws, calling them ‘Luftpiraten’ (“air pirates”).[14] To the contrary, just military objectives were bombed by Luftwaffe bombers according to Germans reports. 

[31 August 1940: this picture showing a destroyed residential building was published by the Berliner Zeitung newspaper.]

Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann/ullstein bild.

Hitler was so shocked after the second raid that he returned immediately to Berlin from his headquarters. German people anxiety, demands on retaliation and the attacks and the first casualties gave the Nazis, in opinion of Dr Overy, the opportunity to present the planned attack on London to German people as a reprisal.[15] In fact, plans for the first major daylight raid on the British capital were given the title of “revenge attack”, although as he correctly asseverates, this change was a decision taken long background of British raids on urban targets in German and not an infuriated decision after the Berlin strikes. Most British historians have defined the first RAF’s bombings of Berlin as not the only but the critical point of the Battle of Britain, forcing Germans to abandon the repeating pressure on Fighter Command’s airfields and switching to raid London. Tweddle defines it as “a key moment in a gradually shifting balance of power.”[16]

[Still from film: A badly damaged block of houses after being hit by British bombs on 28/29 August 1940. In the foreground a German Polizei places a signal with the warning Blindgänger!! Lebensgefahr! (Unexploded ordnance’).] 

Photo: Cities At War - Berlin: The Doomed City Timeline © Little Dot Studios Ltd. 2019.

This air assault by RAF aircraft prolonged in time led into two major measures by Nazi authorities to mitigate the impact of the attacks in the following months: first, the intensification of the blackout policy (a regulation which already started in September 1939) and secondly, the design and introduction of the Luftschutz-Sofortprogramm’ which included the construction of hundreds of public air-raid shelters to protect Berlin’s population and the Flak towers (three in the case of Berlin), massive concrete-structures intended to repel the enemy bombers with their deadly AA guns.[17] 

How people were adjusting to life under the bombs was something different. The Berliners are stunned. They did not think it could happen’ recorded American journalist William L. Shirer in his diary.[18] Although damage was slight, the raids left the first death casualties on the capital, a ‘new’ experience for a population living thousands of miles from the battlefront. More importantly, those night’s sleep was stolen by the RAF intruders, affecting the workers’ effectiveness on the next day at their factories. Again, Shirer resumed the situation perfectly: ‘the main effect of a week of constant British night bombings has been to spread great disillusionment among the people here and sow doubt in their minds.’ [19] 

[Berlin’s cellars became ‘Luftschutzkellern’: improvised and uncomfortable air raid shelters where the population tried to take cover from the RAF’s bombs. Of course, these underground shelters would not have protected them from a direct hit.]

Photo: Scherl/SZ.

[German workers securing windows with sandbags at the city’s Museumsinsel as a protective measure following the first air raids, August 1940.]

Photo: bpk/ Bayerische Staatsbibliothek/Heinrich Hoffmann.

[Berliners’ sense of humor came to rescue even during the opening phase of the air bombings on the capital. Here is shown a ‘cellar party’ invitation and program written in August 1940. Note that although this is a joke item, Third Reich regulations are still in force and Jews are not allowed to assist.]

Photo: Zeitungsauschnitte zur Berliner Kriegschronik/ A Rep. 021-02 Nr. 123.

[Churchill had high hopes for the arrival of the ‘heavies’ to intensify the campaign against Berlin, such the big Short Stirling (pictured here) which was the first of the RAF’s four-engine bombers to enter service (August 1940) but its production and combat debut was delayed nearly half a year (February 1941) due to the German bombings in Britain and the type teething troubles.] 

Photo: © IWM (H 10314)

Berlin, feared by RAF crews as the most defended target at the time with hundreds of AA guns and searchlights (more a conviction than a reality) was about four hours and 600 miles of flight from Britain which forced the British bombers available to carry a small payload, but most important it was as simply that Bomber Command lacked enough strength (and technology) at this stage to inflict serious damage to the German capital; their psychological consequences were far greater, though.

On the other hand, although the material and the loss of human life in these attacks were small compared to what was to come later, it became clear that the capital was completely inadequately defended. Much too late began with improvised protective measures, and as a report by the security service (SD-Sicherheitsdienst) described ‘the expectations for the capital’s defence had clearly not been fulfilled.’[20] 

The September bombing escalation would change everything.

Video Source: Netfilm.

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Notes:

[1] Quoted in BOWMAN, Martin W. Voices in Flight: the heavy bomber offensive of WW2. Pen & Sword Aviation, 2014
[2] BIDDLE, Tami. Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare: The Evolution of British and American Ideas about Strategic Bombing, 1914-1945. Princeton Studies in International History and Politics, 2004, p 187
[3] ‘Secretary of State for Air Sir Archibald Sinclair replied [to Churchill] on 23 July that a limited capability was available at once, but from 2 August the whole of the heavy bomber force could be employed. With 12 hours’ notice, 65 to 70 tons could be dropped and repeated every night for a week. With 24 hours’ notice the bomb lift could be increased from 130 to 150 tons, repeated every alternative night for a week. If a heavy single blow was desired, the bomb-load could rise to 200 tons.’ in YOUNG, Neil. The Role of the Bomber Command in the Battle of Britain. Imperial War Museum Review No. 06, 1991 (accessed Jan 2023)
[4] CHURCHILL, Winston. Their Finest Hour. Houghton Mifflin, 1949, p 880
[5] a detailed chronicle of the RAF’s early bombings can be found in TWEDDLE, Paul. The Other Battle of Britain: 1940: Bomber Command’s Forgotten Summer. The History Press, 2018, pp 160-85; and DONELLY, Larry. The Other Few: The Contribution Made by Bomber and Coastal Aircrew to the Winning of the Battle of Britain. Red Kite/Air Research, 2004, pp 110-22
[6] CHORLEYWR. RAF Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War. Volume 1 1939-40. Classic Publications. 2nd edition, 2013; pp 191-96
[7] The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Operations Record BooksAIR 27; Detailed info about the Hampden operations and figures can be found at THE LAST FLIGHT OF AD730 by Colin Hill. Appendix 2  (accessed Jan 2023)
[8] The New York Times, Friday, August 30, 1940
[9] Airminded. Saturday, 28 September 1940 (accessed Jan 2023)
[10] TWEDDLEop. cit. p 184
[11] Airminded. Monday, 2 September 1940 (accessed Jan 2023); YOUNGop. cit. 
[12] DEMPS, Laurenz. Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag, 2014, p 285
[13] MOORHOUSE, Roger. Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, 2011, p 155
[14] MOORHOUSEop. cit. pp 141-45
[15] OVERY, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane, 2013, pp 100-101
[16] TWEDDLEop. cit. p 166; Donelly for his part concluded that ‘Fighter Command was given a chance to get its second wind’ DONELLYop. cit. p 111; ‘More raids in the same week and the general damage caused to German cities by the air offensive were contributory factors in the Luftwaffe’s change of air attack priority from Fighter Command’s airfields to London on 7 September, the turning point of the Battle of Britain.’ in YOUNGop. cit.
[17] ZALOGA, Steven. Defense of the Third Reich 1941-45. Fortress 107. Osprey Publishing, 2012, p 27
[18] SHIRER, William. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941. Taylor & Francis, 2002. p 416
[19] SHIRERop. cit. p 112
[20] quoted in MOORHOUSEop. cit. p 142

—————–

Bibliography:

  • Blank, Ralf, et al. Germany and the Second World War: Volume IX/I: German Wartime Society: Politicization, Disintegration, and the Struggle for Survival. OUP Oxford, 2008.
  • BRITISH BOMBING SURVEY UNIT. The Strategic Air War Against Germany 1939 - 1945 - The Official Report of the British Bombing Survey Unit. Frank Cass, 1998.
  • Groehler, Olaf. Bombenkrieg Gegen Deutschland. Akademie Verlag, 1991.
  • Middlebrook, Martin and Everett, Chris. (1985). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation. Reprint Edition 2014.
  • Tress HB. Churchill, the First Berlin Raids, and the Blitz: A New Interpretation. Militaergeschichtliche Zeitschrift, Volume 32, Issue 2, Pages 65–78. 1982. 
  • Wildt, Michael and Kreutzmueller, Christoph. Berlin 1933-1945 - Stadt und Gesellschaft im Nationalsozialismus. Siedler Verlag, 2013.

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Wittenbergplatz im Krieg

Crashed at Wittenbergplatz, Berlin

Photo: akg-images (AKG55275).

Located between Nollendorfplatz and Auguste Viktoria Platz (today’s Breitscheidplatz), Wittenbergplatz is one of the best known plazas of the city of Berlin. It was laid out between 1889 and 1892 in the course of urban development in the western suburbs of Berlin’s Wilhelmine Ring. The square was named after the adjacent Tauentzienstraße (from General Bogislav von Tauentzien) who had received the honorific title von Wittenberg after the storming of the French-occupied town of Wittenberg in February 1814. With the Berlin’s municipal reform effective in April 1938, Wittenbergplatz became part of the Schöneberg district.

The underground station U-Bahnhof Wittenbergplatz was opened in March 1902, part of the original U-Bahn Berlin network, years later it was expanded becoming a major subway connection of the western part of the city. Together with the underground station, another major landmark here is the KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens), the large West-Berlin department store located at Tauentzienstraße 21-24 in the southwestern side of Wittenbergplatz. Owned by Adolf Jandorf, it opened its doors in March 1907 with five floors, the largest department store in continental Europe at the time which transformed the surrounding area into a shopping zone. Furthermore, on the north side of the square there are very popular weekly street markets. 

[Wittenbergplatz and Tauentzienstr. seen in 1904, before the famous KaDeWe was built at the southwestern corner of the square. Two of the original underground stairway entrances can be seen, placed between the streetcar tracks.]

Photo: Landesbildstelle Berlin_ZI-0180-01-Th178075.

In 1912, a major redesign of the square was made, with a cross-shaped entrance building to access the U-Bhf underground station in the centre of the plaza, designed by Alfred Grenander (1863-1931) with neoclassical elements. The hall, built by Konstruktionsbüro Siemens & Halske AG, exits the underground train platforms to Tauentzienstraße and Kleiststraße both and became its most distinctive element, dominating Wittenbergplatz. A conical lantern would be added atop of the roof in the 1930s.

[Wittenbergplatz, construction work of the new access building in 1912-13. Note the already built KaDeWe store department at left behind the hall. This picture was published by the ‘Berliner Allgemeine Zeitung’ in 1919.]

Photo: Haeckel collection.

[Designed by Swedish architect Alfred Grenander, the cross-shaped hall building dominates Wittenbergplatz, Berlin circa 1920.]

Photo: Bildarchiv Foto Marburg.

[The main entrance hall, seen here a few years after its opening. The building is adorned with ceramic and neoclassical elements, mixed with some Art nouveau design.]

Photo: stadbild-deutschland.

[A propaganda truck with a huge bust of former general Paul von Hindenburg passed by Wittenbergplatz during the Reich presidential election in 1925.]

[An aerial photograph of the western Berlin square (looking south) taken in 1928. The cross-shaped entrance building and the circling tram tracks are shown to good effect here.]

Photo: postkarte.

[Nazi-supporters saluting to Goebbels in the fascist way before this gave a speech protest at Wittenbergplatz against the anti-war film ”Im Westen nichts Neues”, written by Erich Maria Remarque, December 9, 1930.]

Photo: akg-images (AKG3955536).

[A Nazi boycott demonstration at the gates of the closed Berlin KaDeWe store at Tauentzienstraße in April 1933. The famous department store was owned by jewish family Tietz from 1927 until it was expropriated by Hitler’s regime.] 

Photo: bpk/Herbert Hoffmann.

[As early as 1933, Nazi authorities started to execute air-raid drills in Berlin and other major cities in Germany to prevent its citizens from the risk of an incoming bombing war, here a ‘mock’ bomb was placed at Wittenbergplatz as an advertisement of the Luftangriff-Schutz-Ausstellung (‘Air Raid Protection Exhibition’), celebrating during those days in the Reich capital.]

Photo: Clarence W. Sorensen Collection/University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries.

[Wittenbergplatz, early 1936. Note the Christmas Trees and the Olympic rings with swastika on the KaDeWe facade.]

Photo by Roman Vishniac.

[A peaceful view of pre-war Wittenbergplatz and its surroundings taken in 1937, taken from the westside. Note the KaDeWe lettering and facade at right.]

Photo: stadtbild.

[A lottery seller next to the Kaufhaus des Westen department store on a rainy day, Berlin 1939. Note the swastika on white circle that adorned the kiosk and the lantern atop of the U-Bhf entrance hall.]

Wittenbergplatz in the Bombenkrieg, 1940-1945
Wittenbergplatz was located in one of the most bombed areas of the German capital, between the Charlottenburg and Schöneberg districts. The once highly illuminated square, the main shopping area of the western part, now looks dark due to the imposing blackout regulations which already started on the first day of the conflict in September 1939. The RAF bombing campaign hit hard the area in late 1943 and early 1944, with continuous air raids that severely damaged Wittenbergplatz and its surrounding streets. The square appears several times on the city’s bombing damage reports. The first one, on December 16, 1940, when a British HE bomb penetrated the tunnel between U-Bhf Wittenbergplatz and Zoologischer Garten train stations, traffic on line A I has to be temporarily shut down. 

[View of the scarcely illuminated Tauntzienstraße, circa 1940. The city’s wartime blackout regulations make Wittenbergplatz station barely discerned in the background.]

Photo: Weltbild/Vintage property.

[Deutsches Rotes Kreuz collection for the war winter relief organization in front of the KaDeWe at Wittenbergplatz during the Tag der Wehrmacht’, March 1941.]

Photo: akg-images (AKG7413444).

Photo: akg-images (AKG7413442).

[A July 1942-view of Ansbacher Straße Nr 11 corner with Wittenbergplatz, where the Singer sewing machines company and the Rackow-Schule had their homes before the war. According to an US newspaper of the time, the ground floor now walled up for protection against bomb splinters, was supposed to be an elite guard air raid shelter. Compare this picture with the above shown taken in 1934 and the ‘mock’ bomb.]

Photo: ebay auction.

[Wittenbergplatz, 1942: a Red Cross helper with a donation box makes collections for the war effort accompanied by a marching band of Hitlerjugend boys.]

Photo: gettyimages.

In fall 1943, British aircraft made two huge air raids which wiped out the southwestern part of the city on the nights of 22/23 (696 RAF bombers) and 23/24 November (337 bombers), part of the ‘Battle of Berlin’, the RAF’s air campaign focused on the Reich capital. Massive damage to the underground tunnel and tracks was reported after these attacks, some parts collapsed due to direct bomb hits and fire damage was done to the entrance hall on Wittenbergplatz. Two months later, the KaDeWe store department was badly damaged and left in ruins after an RAF Halifax four-engined bomber crashed onto its roof in the early hours of January 29, 1944, during another British raid, as we have researched in our previous post that describes the terrific crash, the seven-man crew were all killed.

[The calm before the storm: Part of an aerial picture of western Berlin taken on September 6, 1943, by an No 542 Squadron (RAF) PR Spitfire, it shows the so called ‘Zooviertel’ and some of the most important landmarks of this area before the November 22/23 destruction, including Wittenbergplatz (at right) and the mighty Zoo Flakturm (top left).]

Photo: NCAP [http://ncap.org.uk/NCAP-000-000-008-945].

[A young woman posing beside the entrance of an underground air-raid shelter at the northern side of Wittenbergplatz square. The relatively intact U-Bhf entrance hall and the already ruined KaDeWe store indicates that the picture was taken in 1944.]

Photo: ullstein bild.

[A woman walks through Wittenbergplatz with the ruins of the Kaufhaus des Westens store department and debris as background, circa 1945.]

Photo by Henrik Gaard/ullstein bild.

Furthermore, the square was hit by the USAAF daylight offensive too, when the underground tunnels between U-Bhf Wittenbergplatz and Zoo were penetrated by direct hits on May 8, 1944 (403 American heavy bombers attacked), which left subway’s Linie A out of service for several days. 

From March 1944 onwards, Mosquito fast bombers of the newly created RAF’s Light Night-Striking Force (LNSF) visited almost nightly Berlin to harass the capital and its citizens. Bomb damage on Wittenbergplatz was reported on August 19, 1944, when an explosive bomb landed here bursting a pipe, and again on the night of 29/30 January 1945 when Bomber Command sent 59 Mosquitoes to attack the city. Two high-explosive bombs (most probably air-mines) landed here: one broke through the roof of the subway tunnel meanwhile the other destroyed the building at Nr. 4, on the north side of the square. Four people were injured during the attack, which also destroyed the station’s signal box and buried some of the tracks, causing the interruption of the BVG train service between Zoo and Bülowstraße. Other sources refer to a direct bomb hit which caused severe damage to the entrance hall again and to the underground platform.

[Berliners draw water from a public water pump located at Wittenbergplatz in the chaotic aftermath of another enemy air raid on the city, 1945.]

Photo: ullstein bild.

[RAF’s Mosquitoes nuisance raids were made with the aim of keeping the enemy on alert for long periods of the night. In this series of photographies taken in 1945 at Wittenbergplatz, we can see the clean-up work after an air raid, some direct bomb direct hit has already destroyed the main entrance to the underground station.]

Photo: ullstein bild.

Photo: Arthur Grimm/bpk.

[Curious Berliners take a look into the hole that an RAF high-explosive bomb has made penetrating into the underground tunnel, next to the U-Bhf entrance at Wittenbergplatz.]

Photo: ullstein bild.

[This detail from an PR image of the western Berlin districts shows Wittenbergplatz and the damage already done by the Allied air bombardments; it was taken by an USAAF 7th PG reconnaissance aircraft on March 22, 1945.]

Photo: NARA US7/0072/D; frame 3175.

[Wittenbergplatz and the Schöneberg quarter seen before (left) and after the US carpet bombings that devastated some parts of the capital in 1945. Note at bottom of the image the roofless condition of the Schöneberg gasometer at Bayreuther Str., today’s Welser Str. This picture was released for propaganda purposes in May.]

Photo: NARA/ 342-FH-3A20832-51322AC.

[Berliners walk through the ruins and a burned out tram at Tauentzienstraße after an American daylight air raid, circa March 1945.

Photo: Archiv Golejewski/ullstein bild.

Photo: still from film, Berlin 1945, BBC.

The 1945 battle
From March 1945, Berlin and its citizens prepared for the final battle with the advancing Soviet troops, strongly supported by VVS aircraft. The shelling and house-to-house street fighting would add furthermore destruction and death to the area. On April 28, 1945, a heavy fighting developed around Bayreuther Str. and Marburgerstraße, the German resistance stopped the Red Army advance through Kürfurstenstr. and Tauentzienstr. towards the Zoo area here. Soviet ground-attack planes bombed and strafed the German defenders fighting here repeatedly, and finally the Soviet 21st Guards Mechanized Brigade, part of the 8th Guards Mechanized Corps and supported by the 1st Guards Tank Brigade advanced Tauentzienstr. westwards reaching Wittenbergplatz on the 30th. 

One of the last remaining subway trains ran from Wittenbergplatz to Kaiserdamm in shuttle service, until the BVG-Kraftwerk Unterspree was under fire on the 25 April afternoon and all train services were finally stopped. Small skirmishes in the area with the German garrison lasted until the final surrender on May 2nd.

[Summer 1945, this Sd.Kfz 251/21 ‘Drilling’ from German 18.Panzergrenadier-Division was left after the battle at Tauentzienstr. next to the KaDeWe’s western corner, a few metres away from Wittenbergplatz. Note the triple-AA 2cm guns.]

Photo: Panzers in Berlin, 2019.

[British engineer Cecil F.S. Newman took this picture from Nettelbeckstraße looking into Wittenbergplatz in the summer of 1945. Mountains of rubble and bricks were piled up in front of the ruined houses and the heavy damage taken by the KaDeWe building is evident.]

Photo by Cecil F.S. Newman ©Stadtmuseum Berlin (SM 2011-1695,15).

Our next post will cover and describe Wittenbergplatz after the end of the Second World War, with several pictures to make sense of the damage taken by this area and its reconstruction, then part of the newly created Western occupation sectors of the divided city.

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Bibliography:

  • Antill, Peter. Berlin 1945: End of the Thousand Year Reich. Campaign 159. Osprey Publishing, 2005.
  • Archer, Lee. Panzers in Berlin 1945. Panzerwrecks, 2019.
  • Beevor, Anthony. The Fall of Berlin 1945. Viking, 2002.
  • Berliner-Untergrundbahn.de. Die U-Bahn im 2. Weltkrieg. <https://www.berliner-untergrundbahn.de/krieg.html>
  • Das Berliner U-Bahn-Archiv. Wittenbergplatz. <http://u-bahn-archiv.de/aufnahmen/wittenbergplatz.html>
  • Demps, Laurenz. Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag, 2014.
  • Hildebrandt, B and Haiger, E. Kriegsende in Tiergarten: Die Geschichte des Kriegsgräberfriedhofs Wilsnacker Straße. Lehmanns Media, 2009.
  • Janus,  Urte. Das Kaufh aus des Westens („KaDeWe“) in Berlin. Technische Universität Berlín, Magisterarbeit, 1995.
  • Landesarchiv Berlin: LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 702, Bl. 79 ff.; s. a. LAB, A Rep. 005-07, Nr. 559, o. Bl; LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 702, Bl. 134; LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 703, Bl. 11 f.
  • Meiners, Antonia. 100 Jahre KaDeWe. Nicolaische Verlagsbuchhandlung, 2007.
  • Middlebrook, Martin and Everett, Chris. (1985). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2014 Ed.
  • Wildt, Michael and Kreutzmueller, Christoph. Berlin 1933-1945 - Stadt und Gesellschaft im Nationalsozialismus. Siedler Verlag, 2013.
  • _______________

    Previous post >


    Crashed at Wittenbergplatz, Berlin

    Tonight you are going to the Big City. 

    You will have the opportunity to light a fire in the belly of the enemy that will burn his black heart out’
    – Sir Arthur Harris, Commander-in-Chief Bomber Command –

    Photo: Wings Aviation Museum.

    At around 03:20 hrs, amongst a wave of planes, flak bursts and falling parachutes, and illuminated by big fires on the ground, a British Halifax heavy bomber overflies the Nazi capital during another RAF Bomber Command air raid on the city. Seconds later and hit by enemy fire, the four-engined bomber fell in a steep dive from a height of 17,000 feet and crashed onto the KaDeWe building, the famous West-Berlin department store which still exists today at the same location at Wittenbergplatz.

    This story, a real story from World War II, has been told many times and by many sources, but never before in the right way. 

    According to the KaDeWe website: “During the Second World War, an American plane crashed onto the roof of the building causing a major fire[1] meanwhile the store’s official chronology states that [in 1943] An American airplane crashes into KaDeWe.”[2] Another source, in this case a German author described the dramatic action and dates it also: During the war, KaDeWe experienced its blackest day on November 24, 1943, when an American bomber crashed into the atrium of the building, which burned out completely”.[3] Other sources state that this happened on the night of 22/23 during the attack which wiped out the southwestern part of the city.[4] This is most likely due to the fame that the raid achieved after the war, the best known of the British bombardments on Berlin and of devastating effectiveness.

    Actually, this deadly crash happened not in November 1943 but three months later, on the night of 28/29 January 1944 during a lesser known but also heavy RAF air attack on Berlin. Primary sources and official documents from those days allow us to match the actual date with the bomber and the men that starred this amazing but terrible incident, which caused both the death of the seven-man crew aboard the downed Halifax and the end of the original KaDeWe department. 

    [Ruined but not destroyed: Kaufhaus des Westens after being damaged by Allied bombs in World War II in 1943, says the original caption of this picture.]

    Photo: © KaDeWe.

    The crashed plane was bomber Halifax HR841KN-T’ from No 77 RAF Squadron and piloted by Pilot Officer Duncan, which the official RAF loss report listed as Collided with an enemy night-fighter”.[5] Another record, based on German reports, states that the bomber crashed at WITTENBERG PLATZ, BERLIN” detailing that the aircraft crashed with a German plane and then crashed on a large building”, the large building being without any doubt the KaDeWe store at Tauentzienstraße.[6]

    Which was the origin of the wrong assertion and which was the first source that created this ‘urban myth’ is unknown to us, a mistake increased even more when the crashed plane is described as an American bomber (or fighter), an air force that was still months away from starting to fly and to fight over Berlin (March 1944) and always on daylight raids.[7] Sadly, internet sources often copy each other and with same mistakes, the unaccurate information and year being copied and circulated by most of the German media, newspapers (Der TagesspiegelDer Spiegel…) and tourism websites (tip-berlin, the Culture trip…).[8] Of course, the Wikipedia page referred to the KaDeWe also repeated this.[9] 

    But what was the backstory?

    28/29 January 1944 raid
    On that night, Commanding-in-Chief of Bomber Command Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris put his sights on Berlin again, to keep the aerial offensive and pressure on the Nazi capital. It would be a maximum effort raid that includes the Halifax-equipped squadrons again, left on stand by on the previous operations against Berlin by Harris order due to the type’s lower ceiling and performance, which soon became intolerable losses. 

    In the early afternoon, No 4 Group sent new mission orders via teleprint to its assigned squadrons. At RAF Elvington in Yorkshire, home of the No 77 Squadron, the incoming operation was prepared as the squadron would dispatch twenty-one Halifax heavy bombers to bomb the city targets, part of the 677 aircraft attacking force that Bomber Command sent to destroy Hitler’s home one more night.[10] 

    [RAF 77 Squadron crews at the briefing room at Elvington prior of the incoming operation to the German capital, in this case the opening raid of the ‘Battle of Berlin’ on August 23, 1943.]

    Photo: 77 Squadron Association.

    The night before 515 ‘heavies’this time only Lancasters, preferred by Harris and accompanied by 15 Mosquitoes had visited the ‘Big City’ in a bombing raid that had achieved medium success only, losing 33 of the bombers[11] most to German night fighters. This time, the bombers would fly to Flamborough Head as usual and from there to Berlin following a long route through northern Denmark and the German Baltic coast for more than 3 hours, inside the bomber stream and protected by large amounts of Window (stripes of metal used as radar countermeasures).

    Following the usual operation briefing, P/O Duncan and his crew went to dinner and finally to the ‘dressing-room’ to prepare before boarding their assigned aircraft for the mission, serial HR841 coded ‘T’. ‘T for Tommy’ was their usual ‘kite’ at the squadron, a Handley Page Halifax heavy bomber in which the armourers had loaded a mix of 1,000-lb bombs (long-delayed fuses) and canisters of 30-lb and 4-lb incendiaries, as the Squadron’s ORB shows.[12] By Harris order, the load weight on some squadrons of the Halifax force had been increased, which led to some aircraft crashing during take off and higher figures of early returns. Furthermore, bad weather made that time ops was delayed twice and the bombing force didn’t take-off until midnight, which only get the crews more tired and nervous. This delay also made ineffective the ‘spoof’ raid on Hannover by four Mosquitoes to confound the Nazi defenses a few hours before the Main Force attacked Berlin.

    Minutes later, after taxiing in and wait for their turn to take off, Duncan opened the throttle and the four 1,280 hp Rolls-Royce engines roared, the bomber lifting off Elvington’s runway at 00.07 hours[13] in complete darkness and radio silence. The pilot circled the airfield to gain height before turning on to a heading across the North Sea. No one would see them alive again.

    The crew of Halifax HR841 consisted of:
    - Pilot Officer Robert McI Duncan, RCAF, from Ontario, Canada, aged 25, the ‘skipper’.
    - Sergeant William Cannon, aged 20, from Great Crosby, Lancashire, Flight Engineer.
    - Flight Sergeant Kenneth W Chalk, aged 21, from Wiltshire, Air Gunner.
    - Sgt Geoffrey M Jandron, RCAF, aged 32, from Quebec region, Canada, Air Gunner.
    - Sgt Frank Jarvis, aged 21, from Clayton, Manchester, the Wireless Operator.
    - Flight Sgt Henry H Streeting, aged 22, from West Hartlepool, Co. Durham, the navigator.
    - Warrant Officer II William C Thom, RCAF, aged 21, from Ottawa, Canada, bomb aimer.[14]

    [Portraits of the three Canadians part of the crew of Halifax HR841KIA on the early hours of 29 January 1944 over Berlin: (L-R) Pilot Officer Duncan, Warrant Officer Thom, and Sergeant Jandron.]

    Photos: The Canadian Virtual War Memorial (CVWM).

    Duncan seven-man crew had been in combat for just two months. They were posted to 77 Squadron after passing through the OTU and the 1652 Conversion Unit, arriving at Elvington in September 1943.[15] Their first operation together was on the night of November 3rd (in Halifax LW341, target was Düsseldorf) and this would be their second visit to the Reich capital, having already completed the same mission on 22/23 November 1943 flying HR841 too.[16] The 77th was one of the original Bomber Command squadrons, flying Whitleys from the early days and converting to the more capable Halifax bomber in early 1943. Now, lead by Wing Commander John Roncoroni, the squadron was in the middle of Harris’ ‘Battle of Berlin’.[17]

    The crew had missed the previous show over Berlin (20/21 January) and ‘their’ Halifax HR841, assigned to another crew on that night (P/O Hogg’s crew) finally did not leave for the German capital either.[18] The next day, the crew was ordered to fly to Magdeburg as part of 648 bombers that bombed the city.[19] On Friday the 28th, Duncan and his men were detailed to bomb Berlin again.

    [The 77 Squadron combat log (ORB) listing January 1944’ operations show the fate of Halifax HR841 and the Duncan crew following their depart from Elvington: This aircraft failed to return from operation”.]

    Photo: TNA AIR-27-657-2 © Crown Copyright.

    ‘T for Tommy’ 
    This Halifax, serial HR841, was built by Handley Page under contract No. A/C 1688 as a HP59 B.Mark II in late 1942. The bomber had served before with No 35 Squadron during 1943 but it was reassigned to the 77th at Elvington station at the end of October as ‘KN-T’, being flown in most of her combat ops by Duncan’s crew. This would be her third trip to bomb Berlin, being manned by another crew on the previous 29 December raid. By the time of her loss, and from comparing pictures of closer serial Halifaxes, HR841 had most probably been already modified with the new glazed nose section, improved Merlin XX engines too and/or squared ‘D type’ tail fins to improve directional stability. Sadly, there are no known photos of HR841 to confirm the configuration during her last sortie over Berlin.[20]

    [The closest serial number we have found picture is Halifax Mk II HR846 of No 35 Sqn, seen here taking off from RAF Graveley in July 1943. Part of the same construction batch as HR841, this plane was modified with the one-piece nose section and a H2S radar unit in mid-1943 although retained the original rounded tail unit. She was also lost on 23/24 August 1943 on a Berlin raid.]

    Photo: © Ron Gayner Collection (Courtesy of Dick Gayner).

    [The crew of Halifax Mk II HR723 KN-M’ from No 77 Sqn, posing at Elvington with their aircraft in November 1943. This contemporary aircraft shows how Halifax HR841 should have looked at the time: plastic nose section and Rolls-Royce XX engines fitted with improved exhaust shrouds].

    Photo: 77 Squadron Association.

    Shot down in flames
    It is unclear what was the actual cause for the bomber loss. As we have mentioned early, this bomber was reportedly lost in a collision[21] over the target area, although modern research has established it was shot down by a night fighter. Thanks to Theo Boiten’s excellent research work about the German Nachtjadg during the war, we know that Oblt. Werner Kucharsowsky, a 9.Staffel pilot of ‘Wilde Sau’ unit JG301 claimed an enemy “4-mot” (four-engined bomber) over Berlin at 03.21 hrs whose description and time matches with our fallen bomber, crashing into a store at Berlin-Schöneberg (according to the OKL/RLM victory lists).[22] The victory was confirmed by the Abschusskommission on 9 September 1944.[23] 

    [Silhouetted against the glare of incendiary fires and German searchlights, a Halifax bomber of RAF No 4 Group releases its bomb load on Leipzig in 1944. The Mattscheibe” (ground-glass screen) is shown to good effect here: the silhouettes of the bombers against the illuminated cloud cover allowed  ‘Wilde Sau’ fighters to make contact and attack the enemy bombers.] 

    Photo: © IWM (C 3972).

    [A Bf 109G-6 ‘Wilde Sau’ fighter pictured here at Bonn-Hangelar with Ofw. Bremer (left) and Uffz. Schiffer. Part of the original Luftwaffe’s Wild Boar unit, Jagdgeschwader 300, this night fighter was equipped with additional 20mm cannons and wears a heavy black oversprayed over the camouflage finish and the German crosses. Note the flame dampeners added over the exhaust stacks, a night fighting modification. This unit was very active against the November 1943-early 1944 RAF raids over Berlin.]

    Photo: Lorant. Jagdgeschwader 300. Eagle Editions, 2003.

    Nevertheless, there are no further known records or maybe they were lost during the war, so we cannot confirm if the German Jadgflieger shot at the bomber or if he collided with it in the thick of aerial battle. Perhaps he rammed it intentionally as other ‘Wilde Sau’ pilots did, or misjudged the distance following a ‘corkscrew’, an evasive action used by British pilots. Anyway, the Germans recognized as an aerial victory whether by shot or by ramming, as long as the enemy plane hit the ground so both options could be right.

    What is certain is that the Halifax, mortally wounded and with its crew on board (who knows if wounded, already dead or trying to escape from the bomber) fell on the southwestern part of the capital. Did the crew see the attacker? did the tail gunner return the fire?

    Combat reports from that night confirmed that the relative immunity from fighter attacks ended abruptly when the bombers reached Berlin and a fierce air battle developed over the city during the bombing run.[24] Returning crews reported over 150 sightings of enemy fighters in the target area which indicates the defenders’ high degree of response. Another crew from No 77 Sqn (F/Sgt Robertson and flying Halifax LK728) reported slight damage on their plane by fighter attack just before the bombing run and HR841 must be close at the time.[25] Around twenty-five bombers were destroyed over the Great Berlin area[26] with JG 301 claiming two of them one the Kucharsowsky claim— and JG 300 eleven more, although none of these claims later were filled or confirmed by the RLM. The Germans paid a high prize too: ‘Wilde Sau’ units lost nine fighters with 3 pilots killed and another wounded on this operation.[27]

    [Two Bf 109G-6 ‘Wilde Sau’ fighters, in this case from 1./JG300 at Bonn-Hangelar, early 1944. The pilot is probably Hermann Wischnewski, a German ace who claimed two enemy bombers destroyed on this night over Berlin, although none of these claims were confirmed by the OKL. Note the special light blue finish, intended to chase RAF Mosquito intruders at high altitude.] [28]

    Photo: asisbiz.

    The KaDeWe
    The Kaufhaus des Westens („KaDeWe“ for short or Department Store of the West), the majestic department store located at Tauentzienstraße 21-24 next to Wittenbergplatz, was the adventurous idea by Berlin businessman Adolf Jandorf. Designed by architect Johann Emil Schaudt, when the store opened its doors on March 27, 1907, it was a massive building with five floors and 26,400 square meters, which immediately had an impact on its surroundings transforming the street into a shopping area. Acquired by the Hertie-Konzern in 1927, the KaDeWe was expropriated by the Nazi regime in 1933, just after it had been expanded into a six-story building with 40,000 square meters, the largest department store in continental Europe at the time.[29]

    [A peaceful view showing Wittenbergplatz and Tauentzienstraße in the 1930s looking west, with the KaDeWe store at left and the imposing Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche in the background, both would be hit hard during the RAF air bombings.]

    Photo: rbb/KaDeWe.

    The crash caused a major fire and severe damage to the upper floors and atrium of the building, which until that night had survived barely intact from destruction. It was left abandoned in ruins until the post-war years, reconstruction work took almost a decade and a half. KaDeWe was the first of the war-damaged department stores to be rebuilt in West-Berlin: it was reopened on July 3, 1950, meanwhile many houses were still in ruins at the Schöneberg district and became a symbol of the new beginning.[30]

    This map shows Wittenbergplatz, Tauentzienstraße and the KaDeWe location (marked in red), the Berlin-Schöneberg area where Halifax HR841 crashed on that night.

    Souce: Histomap/BerlinLuftTerror.

    [By war’s end, ruins and debris were the terrible panorama at Wittenbergplatz, with the destroyed U-Bahnhof entrance and the burned out KaDeWe store as background.]

    Photo by Fritz Eschen/ullstein bild.

    The impact of the falling bomber, a large and heavy aircraft (the Halifax had a wingspan of 31,75 m and a maximum weight of 55,000-lb, including its bomb load) had to be very loud and violent and, of course devastating for the building’s structure. As the bomber did not return to its base nor did any of the crew survived, it is not possible to confirm if it was shot down with the full bomb load aboard or had already been dropped bombs on the city. Known photos of the square taken during the last year of the war —although often wrongly captioned as 1943—shows the building badly damaged, with a burned out roof and the structure totally twisted at the impact point, but still standing. If the aircraft would exploded on impact little or nothing have remained from the famous store after the violent deflagration.

    [A Halifax bomber, in this case an early variant with the original nose turret, being bombed up at a Bomber Command station in England. The maximum bomb load of the Handley Page heavy’ was 14,500-lb.] 

    Photo: RAF Museum.

    At least six returning crews from the squadron reported to have seen a big explosion with large fires (“big red-orange glare”, “terrific glow, violent explosion”)[31] in the city area which by the hours noted could be related to the impact of the Halifax onto the Kaufhaus, although most likely it refers to a direct bomb hit on the Tegel gasworks which was destroyed on that night too. There is also no record of any personal losses at the building or in the vicinity because of this, whether civilians or members of the city’s emergencies services, although the rain of bombs and fire that the city was taken at the time was outstanding and would last until 03.30 hrs, which makes almost impossible to discern death causes here.[32]

    Remarkably, not the crash or the KaDeWe itself are mentioned in the city bombing reports: the reason behind could be that these January 1944 raids were so devastating (75% of the previous November raids damage) and the extent of destruction was so huge that the city authorities were no longer able to compile detailed air raid reports as previously with singled out damage areas or buildings, as the report itself noted.[33]

    [A 1945-picture of the ruined KaDeWe building. Taken from U-Bhf Wittenbergplatz and looking southwest, we can appreciate the burned out roof and smashed structure where the British bomber hit the large building that night.]

    Photo: ullstein bild.

    “Case closed
    Following the end of the war, the Allied Grave Registration Unit (GRU) tried to locate, register and identify the fate of the dead or still missing airmen, especially casualties on the enemy territory; sometimes the information was obtained several years after the death of those men. In March 1949 the case related to the crew of Halifax HR841 was registered and finally, closed. After the crash, two of the bodies were brought to the Olympiastadion for identification and initially buried at the Döberitz-Elsgrund cemetery (where the Germans concentrated the fallen Allied soldiers, mostly airmen) as the Missing Research & Enquiry Service (MRES) report states. Later identified as the remains of Sgt Jandron and Sgt Jarvis, when the area became part of Eastern Germany in the post war years reburials were carried out to the British cemetery in Charlottenburg, the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery at Heerstraße (part of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) where both airmen laid to rest today.[34]

    No trace or burial of the other five airmen was found however, so their names are recorded on the Runnymede War Memorial at Englefield Green in Surrey, England (32 kilometers west of London). 20,450 RAF airmen are commemorated there.[35]

    [A composite image of the headstone graves of RAF airmen Sergeant Geoffrey M Jandron (left) and Sergeant Frank F Jarvis at the war cemetery at Heerstraße, which were killed when Halifax HR841 crashed on that night.] 

    Photos: Findagrave.com

    [A view of the 1939-1945 War Cemetery at Heerstraße, Berlin-Charlottenburg. 80 per cent of the total buried here were airmen who were lost in the air raids over Berlin. The two graves from the HR841 crew are located on the left hand side from the main entrance.]

    Photo by the author.

    [The Air Ministry’s Post Presumption Memorandum No. 990/49 File Number P.413172/44, relating to the crash of Halifax bomber HR841 and the missing crew, registered and finally closed in March 1949.]

    Photo: Operation Picture Me.

    The British lost 46 bombers (6.8%) on this raid and six more crashed on the return flight due to bad weather on England. Back to Elvington, four 77 Squadron aircraft were missing. One was Halifax HR841 with Duncan’s crew. 

    _______________

    Notes:

    [1] „Im Zweiten Weltkrieg stürzte ein amerikanisches Flugzeug ins Dach des Hauses und löste einen Großbrand aus. Der Wiederaufbau zog sich über fast anderthalb Jahrzehnte hin”. Signa Unternehmensgruppe, 21. Dezember 2019(accessed Oct 2022).
    [2] The KaDeWe, State for more than 100 years(accessed Oct 2022).
    [3] „Im Krieg erlebte das KaDeWe seinen schwärzesten Tag am 24. November 1943, als ein amerikanischer Bomber in den Lichthof des Hauses stürzte, das daraufhin völlig ausbrannte“, quoted in: Hans Aschenbrenner. “3. Juli 1950: Das KaDeWe meldet sich zurück”. ©Edition Luisenstadt, Berlinische Monatsschrift Heft 3/2001.
    [4] Andreas Abel: “Als die Gedächtniskirche in Trümmern lag”Berliner Morgenpost, 22. November 2018. (accessed Oct 2022).
    [5] International Bomber Command Centre. Jandron, Geoffrey Maynard(accessed Oct 2022).
    [6] see Post Presumption Memorandum No. 990/49, File Number P.413172/44.
    [7] The US Eighth Air Force first raid on Berlin was on March 3rd, 1944. Although recalled due to bad weather, some bombardment squadrons reached the German capital.
    [8] Cay Dobberke: “Geschichte des KaDeWe in Berlin: Von Hand zu Han”, Der Taggespiegel, 17. September 2013 (accessed Oct 2022);  Rosanna Steppat: “KaDeWe: Was ihr zum Kaufhaus des Westens wissen müsst”tipBerlin, 14. July 2022. (accessed Oct 2022).
    [9] <https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaufhaus_des_Westens> (accessed Oct 2022).
    [10] A complete description of the 29 January raid can be found at BOWMAN, Martin. RAF Bomber Command: Reflections of War. Volume 3. Pen & Sword Aviation, 2012, pp 203-205; and MIDDLEBROOK, Martin. The Berlin Raids. R.A.F. Bomber Command Winter 1943/44. Cassell & Co, 1988, pp 239-247. The Germans reported the enemy’s Main Force coming from the northwest and the raid inflicted heavy damage to the city with western and southern districts suffering most of the hits. According to Bomber Command mission report 1,887 tons of bombs were dropped during the raid.
    [11] MIDDLEBROOKop cit, p 239.
    [12] see TNA AIR-27-657-2. The National Archives of the UK (TNA). © Crown Copyright.
    [13] ibid.
    [14] The personal information of the HR841 crew was obtained from Bomber Command veterans and memorial associations: Canadian Virtual War Memorial, Pilot Officer Robert Mcintosh Duncan. International Bomber Command Centre, DUNCAN, ROBERT MCINTOSH. (accessed Oct 2022).
    [15] 77 Squadron RAF, Canadian Roll of Honour 1939-1945, available online at <https://77squadron.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/77-Sqn-Canadian-Roll-of-Honour-Merged-Final-Reduced-v7.pdf>
    [16] see TNA AIR-27-657-2.
    [17] JACOBS, Peter. Bomber Command Airfields of Yorkshire. Pen & Sword Aviation, 2017, pp 43-50. Detailed info and stats about the 77 Squadron can be found at: WARD, Chris. 4 Group Bomber Command: An Operational RecordPen & Sword Aviation, 2012.
    [18] see TNA AIR-27-657-2.
    [19]  when 648 aircraft were dispatched (55 lost, four a/c from the 77 Sqn failed to return). The crew dropped bombs over the city at a height of 18,000ft at 23.05 hrs. ibid.
    [20] Ted Church,Tail End Charlie(accessed Oct 2022).
    [21] Royal Air Force Commands, Halifax II HR841. (accessed Oct 2022).
    [22] BOITEN, Theo. Nachtjagd Combat Archive. 1944. Part one: 1 January - 15 March. Red Kite, 2019, p 58; MURAWSKI, Marek and NEUWERTH, Peter. JG 301 Wide Sau. Kagero, 2003, p 21; FOREMAN, John and PARRY, Simon. Luftwaffe Night Fighter Combat Claims, 1939-1945. Gardners Books, 2003, p 145.
    [23] ibid. A low-profile Luftwaffe pilot, Kucharsowsky was most probably flying a Bf 109G modified for night fighting but there is no known picture of him. He would be killed on 20 June, 1944, during aerial combat at Bernburg.
    [24] BOITENop. cit. pp 56-62.
    [25] see TNA AIR-27-657-2.
    [26] BOITENop. cit. p 56; Middlebrook for his part listed 27 bombers shot down, MIDDLEBROOKop cit, p 246.
    [27] BOITENop. cit. pp 56-62.
    [28] Falke Eins, “1./ JG 300 wilde Sau Bf 109s at Bonn Hangelar, late 1943 or early 1944 - Ebay win! - Day fighter aces of the Luftwaffe”, 21 October 2014. (accessed Oct 2022).
    [29] Compiled from The KaDeWe. State for more than 100 years, and DAS KADEWE(accessed Oct 2022).
    [30] ibid.
    [31] see TNA AIR-27-657-2.
    [32] the preliminary report listed 531 killed and 206 missing (see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 702, Bl. 31; s. a. LAB, A Rep. 005-07, Nr. 559, o. Bl) and nearly 80,000 people homeless (LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 702, Bl. 59 ff). The combined three raids total was estimated on 1,341 Berliners dead and a further 1,090 missing with 4,061 injured, MIDDLEBROOKop cit, p 257.
    [33] see LAB, A Rep. 005-07, Nr. 559, o. Bl.
    [34] see Air Ministry Post Presumption Memorandum No. 990/49, File Number P.413172/44. Many graves were damaged or even destroyed during the Soviet activities there, the cemetery was completely abandoned in 1948, after all the graves found had been relocated at Charlottenburg. More info at Aircrew Remembered. (accessed Oct 2022).
    [35] Government of Canada, Memorials in the United Kingdom, Runnymede Memorial(accessed Oct 2022). 

    Bibliography:

  • Bond, Steve, Darlow, Steve and Feast, Sean. Bomber Command: Battle of Berlin Failed to Return. Fighting High Ltd, 2017.
  • Falconer, Jonathan. Bomber Command Handbook 1939-1945. Sutton Publishing, 2003.
  • Janus,  Urte. Das Kaufhaus des Westens („KaDeWe“) in Berlin. Technische Universität Berlín, Magisterarbeit, 1995.
  • Lorant, Jean-Yves. Jagdgeschwader 300 “Wilde Sau” Volume 1. Eagle Editions, 2003.
  • Meiners, Antonia. 100 Jahre KaDeWe. Nicolaische Verlagsbuchhandlung, 2007.
  • Middlebrook, Martin and Everett, Chris. (1985). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2014 Ed.
  • Scutts, Jerry. Halifax in action. Squadron/signal publications. Aircraft Number 66, 1984.
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    Luftangriff – 1 September 1940

    ‘Berlin has Alarm in new R.A.F. raid’ 

    British Formation Reported Broken Up at Elbe Before Reaching the Capital.’ 
    The New York Times, Sunday, September 1, 1940 –

    Photo: ullstein bild.

    On the night of 31 August / 1 September, 1940, RAF Bomber Command aircraft overflew and dropped bombs on the Third Reich’s heart again, less than twenty-four hours since the previous raid and for a fourth time in a week. Berliners ran to their cellars and shelters to take cover meanwhile the anti-aircraft defences and searchlights of the city tried to repel the British air raiders.

    As we have seen on a previous post, London sent twenty-eight medium bombers to hit military and industrial targets in and around the capital in what the British claimed as “an offensive”. Bad weather prevented some of the bombers to reach their targets, in this case Tempelhof, the BMW factory and a gas work; most of the crews were somewhere on the Berlin area but failed to see under the cloud cover.[1]

    The German capital was mostly obscured by clouds and rain (returning crews reported 10/10 clouds over the target) with some witnesses reporting as nearly impossible for the flyers above to mark out any definite target’[2] with bombers coming later than on previous raid. The first air sirens of the city were heard at 00.03 hours of that Sunday in what would be the tenth air alarm of the war in Berlin since the war began a year before, which lasted an hour and thirty-six minutes until the all-clear alarm (‘Entwarnung’) finally sounded at 01.41 hrs.[3] 

    [UFA-Wochenschau photographer Karl-Arthur Petraschk captured this scene of destruction after the RAF visited the Great Berlin area.]

    Photo: Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

    Sirens Sound in Capital After Heavy Bombing of Previous Night
    The bombardment caused little and minor damage and most of the bombs —relatively few compared to the previous raid fell quite scattered throughout the city. British crews reported considerable Flak (anti-aircraft fire) and adverse weather with dense haze over the target which made that night the bombing pattern was very scattered. The Air Ministry communique noted that the raid had taken Berliners by surprise on account of the thick rain cloud prevalent over the city.[4]

    For his part, the official Oberkommando der Wehrmacht report, released on September 20th, summed up the events of the attack: ‘During the night, British planes flew into the Ruhr area and towards Berlin and dropped bombs in several places, but they caused only minor damage. Military targets were never hit. Some bombs fell on open ground outside the city.’ [5] 

    As on previous air attacks, German records listed every damage reported and bomb hit noted in the Greater Berlin area in the following hours after the British raiders left the city. At the city centre, the Berlin-Mitte administrative district reported slight damage with just one bomb hit at Alte Jakobstraße 93-95 where a gas candelabra was damaged.[6]

    Meanwhile, at Lichtenstein-Allee in the Tiergarten district, three incendiary bombs were reported to have fell on the road but no damage was caused to the adjacent Spanische Botschaft (the Spanish Embassy in Berlin). In the middle of the Tiergarten park, at Bellevue-Allee approx one hundred metres north of the main avenue Charlottenburger Chaussee three high-explosive bombs hit the ground causing severe damage to the road, curbs and light pipes; one of those was found unexploded. Gardeners working in the park discovered the craters and this section of the Tiergarten was closed by the police because of the danger.[7] A bit further in a southwestern direction, three more incendiary bombs landed at Budapester Str. Nr 36 next to the famous Elephant Gate of the Zoologischer Garten, without damaging it.[8]

    [In this aerial view of the Auguste-Viktoria-Platz (today’s Breitscheidplatz) taken just before the war and its destruction, we can clearly see the grand Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche at centre with the Zoo’s main entrance and Budapester Straße running to the top of the picture.]

    Photo: stadtbild.

    Moreover, mentioned on the damage reports was the impact of eight explosive bombs, listed as 100 kg bombs, at Rieselfelder Gatow in Spandau district. Some more explosive bombs fell on forest or open country areas as it was the case of Stadtgut Blankenfelde in Pankow district or Kietzer Feld at Köpenick, where caused minor property damage and no personal injuries. As on previous raids, shells from the anti-aircraft guns defending the capital fell on several Berlin streets (exploding or not) as noted on the city’s bombing report, was the case of Thiemannstr. 36 in Neukölln and some others at Prenzlauer Berg and Wedding, where a gas candelabra was damaged at Afrikanische Str. Ecke Transvalstraße.[9]. No personal losses or injured people were reported by the German authorities.[10]

    [Debris and bomb damage left by a British RAF explosive on a Berlin street, an image published on several foreign newspapers after being passed by the German censor.] 

    Photo: bpk/Carl Weinrother.

    [Berliners inspecting the bomb damage and debris left by the previous night raid, 1 September 1940.] 

    Photo: ullstein bild.

    [A German PK photographer captured this burned-out barn in a northern suburb of the city after the British bombing visit which struck the Third Reich’s capital again.]

    Photo: Sammlung Berliner Verlag Archiv/AKG5571009.

    [This is an overall view of the locations where British bombs fell on that night superimposed to a 1940-map of Berlin. In this case the numbers refer to the amount of bombs (HE– black colour; incendiaries– red; ‘duds’ and Flak shells– orange) reported on every district. The scattered pattern of the bombing is clearly evident.]

    Source: LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 12. Map design by Pablo Minuti.

    Berlin unscathed in raids, Nazis say
    International press reports described the raid as a failure (a first), with most of the British attacking formation unable to reach Berlin due to the bad weather found reporting just a pair of bombers succeeding in getting as far as the outskirts of the capital. It was noted that the solitary bombers ‘attacked the city from two directions, were met by thunderous anti-aircraft fire’  and that ‘from one of the western city districts police reported that a handful of incendiary bombs had fizzled out harmlessly’ [11]. Most articles concluded that no damage was done to military objectives and that German police only recognized that ‘three bombs had exploded in the vicinity of the capital and these in open fields, doing no damage.’ [12]

    New York Times correspondent in Berlin Percival Knauth in his wireless to the paper reported the failure of most of the raiders to reach the city too, but described how loud the noise of approaching planes and the whistle of falling missiles [sic] were heard in his office at Wilhelmstraße adding in the chronicle that ‘in the intervening period the most that could be heard was the occasional far-off grumbling of guns.’ [13]

    [R.A.F. planes renew attack on Berlin’ reads the frontpage headline of the American The New York Times newspaper the following morning of this raid, September 1, 1940.]  

    Photo: The New York Times, Sunday, September 1, 1940.

    Regarding the attacked targets, it does not appear that any bombs caused damage or fell near the BMW factory, or at least the Nazi authorities did not mention it in any of their reports. Interestingly, author Paul Tweddle in his Bomber Command summer of 1940 chronicle book, states that the Berlin correspondent of the Swiss Basler Nachrichten newspaper reported that ‘a large aero engine factory in the north-east of the city had come attack soon after 23.20 hours, as had a power plant in the western part of the city.’ [14] Something rather dubious, as Spandau where the BMW works is located still today is on the opposite side of the city (northwest), and even more difficult: at that time the RAF had not even reached Berlin much less had dropped their bombs. Also, another main target of the planned attack the Tempelhof airport facilities, did not suffer any damage on that night.

    [The BMW Flugmotorenbau factory at Berlin-Spandau, shown here in this Christmas view in 1939, was one of the assigned targets but not a single bomb landed there on this raid. Note the air raid siren at right to alert the employees and workers from an incoming air attack.]

    Photo: BMW Group Archiv.

    City Pounded, British Say
    This fourth air raid on the capital of the Reich left poor results in the bombing. The few bombers that managed to overcome the bad weather and reach the city limits were unable to find their targets in the clouds and darkness. The damage in the city was minor and many bombs fell again in sparsely inhabited areas and open fields, with no military interest. Once again, despite the city’s powerful defences, the anti-aircraft guns failed to bring down any of the raiders.[15] Dr Laurenz Demps, in his extensive study about the bombing war over the German capital, listed the amount of bombs dropped on that night on the city as 5,5 t of explosives and around 552 units of incendiaries of the small 4-lb type, compared to the more than 19 t of HE bombs dropped on the previous raid.[16]

    The RAF offensive on Berlin, slowly and with few aircraft, was not achieving material effects, but it would achieve another one of much importance: on this day, Hitler gave orders to prepare for major air attacks on London, which led to a directive issued by Göring two days later. Both leaders present the planned series of raids against the British capital as a revenge attack, a deadly reprisal from the RAF bombardment of Berlin.[17] 

    The air war has entered a new phase, with raid alarms sounding almost nightly, and September would see a rising number of men and machines involved and destruction inflicted.

    _______________

    Notes:

    [1] see Berlin Luftterror, Four in a row: 31 August 1940; The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Operations Record BooksAIR 27.
    [2] Percival Knauth wireless to The New York Times, Monday, September 2, 1940, pages 1-2.
    [3] see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 12; DEMPS, Laurenz. Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag, 2014, p 238.
    [4] TWEDDLE, Paul. The Other Battle of Britain: 1940: Bomber Command’s Forgotten Summer. The History Press, 2018, p 185.
    [5] OKW report, dated September 20, 1940, see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 12.
    [6] ibid.
    [7] Percival Knauth wireless to The New York Times, Monday, September 2, 1940, pages 1-2; see also LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 12. Shirer wrote in his diary: Tiergarten was roped off today and this evening the press admits that “several bomb craters” were discovered in the park after last night’s raid. SHIRER, William. Berlin Diary - The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-41. Alfred A Knopf, 1941, pp 493-4.
    [8] see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 12.
    [9] ibid.
    [10] ibid.
    [11] Associated Press to the New York Times, Sunday, September 1, 1940, page 1.
    [12] ibid.
    [13] Percival Knauth wireless to The New York Times, Monday, September 2, 1940, pages 1-2.
    [14] TWEDDLEop. cit. p 185.
    [15] see CHORLEYWR. RAF Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War. Volume 1 1939-40. Classic Publications. 2nd edition, 2013; and BOITEN, Theo. Nachtjagd Combat Archive. The early years Part 1. 1939-12 July 1941. Red Kite, 2018.
    [16] DEMPSop. cit. p 285.
    [17] OVERY, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane, 2013.

    Bibliography:

  • Donelly, Larry. The Other Few: The Contribution Made by Bomber and Coastal Aircrew to the Winning of the Battle of Britain. Red Kite/Air Research, 2004.
  • Frankland, Noble. Bomber Offensive - The Devastation of Europe. Ballantine Books, 1970.
  • Middlebrook, Martin and Everett, Chris. (1985). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation. Reprint Edition 2014.
  • Moorhouse, Roger. Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, 2011.
  • Tress HB. Churchill, the First Berlin Raids, and the Blitz: A New Interpretation. Militaergeschichtliche Zeitschrift, Volume 32, Issue 2, Pages 65–78. 1982. 
  • Wildt, Michael and Kreutzmueller, Christoph. Berlin 1933-1945 - Stadt und Gesellschaft im Nationalsozialismus. Siedler Verlag, 2013.
  • Young, Neil. The Role of the Bomber Command in the Battle of Britain. Imperial War Museum Review No. 06, 1991.
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