Britische Luftangriffe über Berlin

‘Ten killed in Berlin raid’. ‘Berlin gets a taste of bombs…

…British bombers took a toll of ten killed and about thirty wounded in a workers’ section less than two miles from the Government offices in Wilhelmstraße. All the casualties were civilians. Preliminary reports gave no word of death or injury to soldiers.’ 

 – The Sun, New York newspaper, Thursday, August 29, 1940 –

[The deputy Gauleiter of Berlin Artur Görlitzer (centre), accompanied by NSDAP and Gestapo officers, inspects some damage caused by the second RAF Bomber Command air-raid of the war on the Nazi-capital.]

Photo: Keystone-France Gamma.

On the night of August 28/29, 1940, the Royal Air Force visited Berlin for the second time. As we have seen on the previous post, Berlin targets were Klingenberg power station at Rummelsburg (East Berlin), Tempelhof airport, and the Siemensstadt factory complex on the northwestern sector. From British bases, 35 RAF crews reached Berlin claiming more or less success on their bombing runs, but sadly their deadly payload hit a very different target on the city with devastating effects.[1]

[Two views of a destroyed roof in a residential building after receive a bomb-hit at Skalitzer Str. 24 Ecke Mariannenstraße during the RAF raid on 28/29 August 1940. The first image appeared on the frontpage of the Nazi newspaper ‘Der Angriff’.] 

Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann/ullstein bild.

Photo: Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo (00322884).

‘Three-hour raid on Berlin’

When the bombers arrived just after midnight normality reigns. The eighth air-alarm of the war sounded from 00.27 hrs in Berlin[2] and German searchlights and anti-aircraft fire soon began as the enemy raiders approached at intervals from the western route flying high over the capital.[3] Berliners’ reaction varied from the optimist mood of those closer to the regime to astonishment and inexperience in the air-thread by most of its citizens.[4] The all-clear alarm (‘Entwarnung’) sounded at 03.17 hours.[5]

The official OKW report summed up the events on the next day: ‘In the night, British aircraft systematically attacked residential areas of the Reich capital. High explosive bombs and incendiaries brought death and injury to numerous civilians and properties sustained roof fires and damage.’ [6] The exact degree of damage was reported, listing every bomb hit on each district and suburb of Berlin: roof fires, shrapnel, windows shattered and properties and of course casualties.[7] Prof Demps resumes in 22,2t of explosives and 1,260 fire-bombs of 4-lbs type the amount of bombs dropped.[8]

The eastern Kreuzberg district, a very populated residential area, was severely hit by British bombs. Several sticks of bombs dropped around U-Bhf Kottbusser Tor caused chaos and large fires there, and flying debris shattered the streets, hitting everything around. Almost all the windows between the train station and Kottbusser Brücke were smashed. Two high explosive bombs were dropped in front of Kottbusser Str. 25-26 causing severe damage to the pavement and the tram lines there. Another bomb hit Kottbusser Str. 21 destroying the roof structure and the last floor, and number 15’s roof was also destroyed by fire-bombs. Around the corner, the roof structure at Mariannenstraße 26 was thrown into the street by explosive bombs, with roof fires at numbers 24 and 42 corner Skalitzer Str. 24. Damage was inflicted by fires on Skalitzer Str. 122, Mariannenstraße numbers 11 and 9-10 (where the electricity plant was hit) and Oranienstraße 189. Further north, Waldemarstraße 43 near Oranienplatz reported fires on roof and one floor. Finally, two unexploded bombs were located in front of Kottbusser Str. 18-19, next to the tram track.[9] Curiously, all the foreign press mentioned Görlitzer Bahnhof as the worst hit area instead.[10]

[A view of the day after the strike at Kottbusser Str. 25-26, where two explosive bombs hit the pavement next to the tram lines causing damage. Note the alert sign behind and the Hochbahnhof U-Bhf. Kottbusser Tor (built in 1928) in the background where many civilians took shelter after the raid.] 

Photo: Associated Press.

[A few metres away German workers clearing away the debris where a high-explosive bomb hit Kottbusser Str., twisting and buckling the tram lines.]

Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann / Getty images.

[This is a warning sign of an unexploded bomb (‘dud’) at Kottbusser Str. 18-19 in the Berlin-Kreuzberg district (notice the U-Bahn highway in the distance). The notice advises the danger with the warning Blindgänger!! Lebensgefahr! which means “Unexploded ordnance”.]

Photo: Sammlung Berliner Verlag/Archiv.

Source: LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 8 f. Map design by Pablo Minuti.

Source: LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 8 f. Map design by Pablo Minuti.

The Prenzlauer Berg ‘bezirk’ (district) suffered minor damage when 7 incendiary bombs hit the area between Kurischestraße (today known as John-Schehr-Straße) and Woldenbergstr. (today’s Dietrich-Bonhoeffer-Str.), 4 of which fell on the street, 2 on open terrain and 1 in a roof structure without detonating.[11]

Source: LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 8 f. Map design by Pablo Minuti.

Meanwhile, at Wedding-Gesundbrunnen two explosive bomb duds were found at Böttgerstraße 31 and Hochstr. 4, next to Humboldthain park. More than 300 people were temporary evacuated from those streets to a cinema at Badstr. 58 and to Charlotte von Lengefeld school at Ecke Pankstraße/Böttgerstr. by the district’s NS administration. All the evacuates have returned to their homes after the ‘duds’ were blown up on the following week.[12]

Source: LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 8 f. Map design by Pablo Minuti.

Rest of the districts struck by bombs belonged to the outer areas of the German capital. At Treptow-Köpenick, located in the south-east of Berlin, the Grünau area was hit by 3 explosive bombs and 18 incendiaries on meadow and forest, one on a garden; property damage was insignificant. Nearby, 6 explosive bombs fell in Müggelheim on open terrain just causing window and walls damage. At Weißensee and Pankow districts around 15 high explosive bombs and some fire-bombs hit uninhabited areas causing just window damages on the surrounding houses. In the northern district of Reinickendorf, bombs were dropped on some residential colonies (Lübars-Mühlenberg, Neu-Rabehorst and Gießland) causing slight damage on many houses and the temporary evacuation of their residents and a neighboring factory building.[13] (see attached map).

[“Where British bombs fell on Berlin and where German bombs fell on London: A firemen looks down on a building, described in the Nazi caption as an apartment house in Kottbusserstrasse, Berlin, which was damaged in yesterday’s raid by the Royal Air Force” says the original caption of this image.]

Photo: Associated Press Radiophoto, via The New York Times.

Ten Berliners lost their lives and about 33 were injured, with three more dying in the following days of their wounds.[14] One of them died because of the injuries caused by a German flak splinter at Tiergarten district.[15] 

Should be noted that the Nazi regime far from protect their citizens, blamed them from not run to the few and rudimentary air-raid shelters and cellars of the capital: “Persons who failed to obey the air raid rules were hit by splinters from British bombs and also by unpreventable splinters from German anti-aircraft batteries”.[16] Days later, a “state” funeral was held at Friedhof der St. Jacobi-Gemeind in Neukölln where some of the victims were buried attended by the district authorities and a SA honour guard, in what would become a regular basis of the NS-propaganda during the early raids on the city.[17]  

[Cleanup work in an apartment building, which roof was destroyed by fire after being hit by incendiary bombs during the air raid. The M-34 helmet with black swastika on red shield decal on right side identifies him as a firemen, in this case a Feuerschutzpolizei.]

Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-L08521A.

British crews flying at intervals over Berlin were unable to identify the main targets or any landmark owing to darkness and haze. To pinpoint targets at night was very improbable at this early stage of the war because RAF bombers lacked any navigation aids or useful bombsights at night. Aircrews’ fear to German anti-aircraft fire, searchlights, and the long journey back home could made some of them to drop bombs anywhere too. Airmen who were sent that very night recognize years after the war that blackness made very hard to know where they were, although most of them reported back in England that the target areas had been hit. In contrast, they recognized that to identify the target was an intuitive task: “Fliers Tell, in Air Ministry Statement, of Spotting Target at German Capital by Means of Each Other’s Explosives” .[18] Of course, there is the possibility that the Nazi regime hidden the damage done to the RAF targets in the event that they were actually hit.

London included Berlin “on a series of carefully selected military objectives and on works vital to war production”[19] and declared the attack as effective and according to war’s law: “Right across the centre of the city they flew -but there was no indiscriminate bombing. The target and the target only was specific instruction” reported to the press the Air Ministry the day after.[20] It was the first time that the British press headlines emphasize the efforts of Bomber Command over those of Fighter Command.[21] 

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) reported on every spot. Some of the places, mainly those located on the northern surroundings are nearly out of the map, next to the Brandenburg-Berlin border. It is highlighted the scattered bombing pattern obtained by RAF bombers and the distance from the assigned targets (blue areas), far away from the places actually hit. None of the three “military” targets assigned received a single bomb on that night.

Source: LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 8 f. Map design by Pablo Minuti.

The German authorities admitted that eight districts of the Great Berlin had been struck in Wednesday night’s attack with minor damage[22] and claimed the British violation of international law (“We shall not forget this new crime by British pilots in contravention of all international law” declared the BZ am Mittag newspaper). They rushed neutral journalists to the Klingenberger electrical, Tempelhof and the Siemens factories to demonstrate that these strategic targets were undamaged by the RAF.[23] Nazi propaganda also highlighted the terrible fact that Berlin had suffered its first civilian deaths from the modern bombing war and used the controlled press to denounce that the RAF has attacked residential areas and killed “women and children”.[24] 

[Two scenes captured in original colour after the 28/29 August 1940 British raid on Berlin, with damaged buildings at the Kottbusser Straße numbers’ 21 (left) and 15 (at right) in Kreuzberg district.] 

Photos: AKG-images AKG5438572/3.

This night raid on the capital, the second one during the war, was a military failure to Bomber Command and the Air Ministry but it achieved an invaluable moral victory again for the British people. Berliners had seen how the first bombs fell on Berlin proper and the air war had obtained its first civilian casualties in Germany’s heart, and although British bombs caused slight damage and fires on residential buildings the inviolability of the Reich’s airspace has proved as mere Nazi propaganda. Military targets were not attacked not even hit by bombs but this was a serious warning of what to come to its residents: two night later Berlin’s air raid sirens would sound again.

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Notes and Citations:

[1] Berlin Luftterror. Bombing raid on Berlin - 28. Aug. 1940; The National Archives of the UK (TNA). Operations Record BooksAIR 27.
[2] DEMPS, Laurenz (Ed.).(2014). Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag. p 238.
[3] The New York Times, Thursday, August 29, 1940.
[4] according to the press, a neutral correspondent who was sitting in a café at Unter den Linden when the alarm sounded saw the head waiter and all other employees immediately pick up their steel helmets and air-wardens’ uniform before allowing the customers to pay the bills and go to the air shelter. Daily Mirror, Friday, August 30, 1940.
[5] see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 8 f; DEMPSop. cit. p 238.
[6] MOORHOUSE, Roger. (2011). Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, London. p 140.
[7] see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 8 f.
[8] DEMPSop. cit. p 285.
[9] see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 8 f.
[10] Daily Mirror, Friday, August 30, 1940; LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 8 f.
[11] see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 8 f.
[12] ibid.
[13] ibid.
[14] MOORHOUSEop. cit. p 140; LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 8 f.
[15] LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 8 f; Hl. end. F. v.16.9. Over 900 people were homeless by the raid according to city official records. Many of them congregated beneath the highway U-bahn line, or else made their way to accommodation points where makeshift kitchens and first-aid station had been stablished by NS-authorities. It was a new situation to local authorities and ration cards had to be distributed; MOORHOUSEop. cit. p 140.
[16] as declared by the Berliner Illustrierte Nachtausgabe newspaper to American correspondent C. Brooks Peters: The New York Times, Friday, August 30, 1940.
[17] LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 8 f.; MOORHOUSEop. cit. pp 141-142.
[18] The New York Times, Friday, August 30, 1940. Berliners reported the use the flares over the city on that night too, The New York Times, Thursday, August 29, 1940.
[19] the Air Ministry to The New York Times, August 30, 1940.
[20] Daily Mail, Friday, August 30, 1940.
[21] Brett Holman: Airminded. Airpower and British society. Friday, 30 August 1940. <https://airminded.org/2010/08/30/friday-30-august-1940/>
[22] The New York Times, Friday, August 30, 1940.
[23] Daily Mirror, Friday, August 30, 1940.
[24] Der Angriff, 30. Aug. 1940, Nr. 210.

Bibliography:

  • Bowman, Martin. (2011). Bomber Command. Cover of Darkness 1939 - May 1942. Volume: 1. Pen & Sword Aviation.
  • Bowman, Martin. (2015). Voices in flight: The Heavy Bomber Offensive of WWII. Pen & Sword Aviation.
  • Frankland, Noble. (1970). Bomber Offensive: The Devastation of Europe, Ballantine Books.
  • Friedrich, Jörg. (2005). Der Brand Deutschland Im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945, Verlag Ullstein.
  • Middlebrook, Martin and Everett, Chris. (1985). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation. Reprint Edition 2014.
  • Overy, Richard. (2013). The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane.
  • Shirer, William L. (1997). Berlin Diary: Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941. Galahad Books.
  • Tress HB. Churchill, the First Berlin Raids, and the Blitz: A New Interpretation. Militaergeschichtliche Zeitschrift, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 65–78. 1982.
  • Wildt, Michael and Kreutzmueller, Christoph. (2013). Berlin 1933-1945 - Stadt und Gesellschaft im Nationalsozialismus. Siedler Verlag.
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