The Opera - Hitler’s favourite

If there was a building at Berlin favourite for the Führer that was the Opera

Its importance and history, its location in Berlin Mitte in the middle of Unter den Linden Avenue, and its musicians, made it a symbol of the city. A symbol raised to the altars by the Nazi regime, encouraging the radical enhancement of Wagner’s work along with the Aryan ideals. 

Its long history from its construction would live extensions, a fire and reconstruction, four wars and an almost total annihilation by air bombings, as well as its use as political and cultural weapon with the arrival of the Iron Curtain and the new Communist regime.

[A pre-war view of the Staastsoper at Kaiser-Franz-Joseph-Platz (today Bebelplatz), this picture was taken in 1938.]

[Photo: Landesdenkmalamt Berlin, Fotoarchiv.].

The Staatsoper was built in 1741-43 as the Hofoper (‘Court Opera’) commissioned by King Frederick II of Prussia with design by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff. In 1843 the building lives its first reconstruction after suffering a serious fire, supervised by architect Carl Ferdinand Langhans. A year later it was renamed Königliches Opernhaus (Royal Opera House) and took an extension of the theatre and the stage.

After the collapse of the German Empire in 1918, the Opera was renamed Staatsoper Unter den Linden, highlighting a major renovation in the twenties to adapt to the standards of the time, and with the arrival of the Third Reich lived a time full of lights and shadows: on the one hand, the glorification of the operatic work and its authors, on the other, the condemnation and expulsion of many of the best directors and musicians of the moment, for being Jewish.

[The Staatsoper Berlin during the celebration of the Heldengedenktag (‘Heroes Memorial Day’) in February 1934. In the front row among others Adolf Hitler and the former President Paul von Hindenburg.]

[Picture by Heinrich Hoffmann. Picture alliance / Heritage Imag.]

During the 1930’s, subordinated to the Preußisches Staatstheater, concerts there became major party events, due to the Nazi regime fanfare for Imperial traditions. The Führer had an almost fanatical devotion to the work of Richard Wagner, which to Hitler represented everything that was good about culture in Nazi Germany. The new regime forced that music had to conform to the Aryan ideal. Hence some composers were tolerated and even elevated to a status of pure Nazism, while other composers, frequently Jewish, were shunned and censored. During the Third Reich, Robert Heger, Herbert von Karajan and Johannes Schüler were Staats Kapellmeister (the conductor of the orchestra) at some time.

[Herbert von Karajan at a concert in the Berlin State Opera in 1941].

[Photo: Knorr + Hirth/Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo (00115664).]

The outbreak of World War Two would cause the almost total destruction of the Opera, being one of the key-point buildings of the aerial bombing campaign suffered by Berlin, appearing in every writing of every press correspondent hosted in the city as well as in the official parts after each enemy’s raid. Destruction falling from above was a real threat since the start of the war, evidence of this is the warning text that appeared on every program (“Bei Fliegeralarm ist den Anordnungen der Logenschließer unbedingt Folge zu leisten” - In the event of an air-raid alarm, the instructions of the ushers must be followed) to alert the audience before the performance from 1940. 

But the origin of the destruction of the Berlin’s Opera would be thousands of kilometers east of the Reichshauptstadt, exactly in Yugoslavia…

BRAND DER STAATSOPER - 10 APRIL 1941

The night before RAF Bomber Command raided the city dropping several sticks of bombs at Unter den Linden and Mitte. The attack was made by 80 medium bombers (nearly half of them reached the city) and the attacking force bombed Berlin illuminated by moonlight conditions. The British lost 5 aircraft and minor damage was made to the capital.

Some sources indicates this attack was ordered by Britain’s War Cabinet in retaliation for the bombing of Belgrade by the Luftwaffe on 6 April [‘Operation Retribution’ (Unternehmen Strafgericht)]. That day, 160 medium bombers dropped 215–360 tons of bombs and incendiaries in four air strikes on the Yugoslav capital. Hitler had given orders for the city to be annihilated but the order was changed in the last minute by the Air Staff into an order to attack military objectives within the city area. Prime Minister Churchill said that Germans killed twelve thousand souls in his statement for BBC London on the very next day.

[6 April 1941. Luftwaffe bombs devastated Belgrade. German estimates of the Yugoslav casualties were between 1,500 and 1,700. The precise figure of victims was never discovered.]

[Photo: belgradenet.com.]

[Brand der Staatsoper. 10 April 1941. Feuerschutzpolizei Berlin tries to extinguish the fire, with the roof engulfed in flames, after several British incendiary bombs targeted the building the night before. In the background can be seen the St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale with her big dome.]

[Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek / hoff-33992.]

[10 April 1941. Several trucks from Feuerschutzpolizei Berlin in front of the main entrance of the Staatsoper den Linden during the fire-extinguish works. This time the picture is taken looking west, notice St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale at left.]

[Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek / hoff-33991.]

The worst part of the raid damage goes to the Staatsoper theatre. The roof construction was partially plunged into the auditorium, the head building in front of the massive stage house actually ripe for the demolition. The correspondent from US news agency United Press reported to New York: “Berlin’s large opera house at Unter den Linden, in which Adolf Hitler often heard Wagner, his favorite music, today lies in smoldering ruins.”

According to the city’s municipal report, “she was hit by a large number of incendiary bombs. Burned out theatre building, stage house badly affected. Heavy property damage.”  Heinrich Hoffman, Hitler’s official photographer, was there and took a series of dramatic photographies of the Opera engulfed in flames after the attack. 

[10 April 1941. Columns of smoke and fire rises from the theatre hit by bombs as seen from the equestrian statue of Frederick the Great at Unter den Linden.]

[Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek / hoff-33993.]

[Destruction, fire and chaos scene seen in this picture taken from the Humboldt-Universität front garden on that morning.]

[Photo: AKG images AKG395173.]

[A closer look at the Feuerschutzpolizei firemen work to extinguish the flames with their ladders extended to reach the Opera’s roof after the Bombenangriff.]

[Photo: Bundesarchiv_Bild_121-0546.]

[Photo: Bundesarchiv Bild 121-0545.].

[A chaotic scene at the Opera: instruments and accessories are taken out the building to avoid being victims of fire during the extinguishing works.]

[Photo: LAB, F Rep 290, Nr 275294.]

[Firefighters working on the extinguishing at the walkaway lodges inside the burned out building after the April 1941 British air-raid.]

[Photo: Scherl/Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo.]

After the raid, Nazi leadership took advantage of the apparent non-military targets of this air attack. ‘Angriff auf das Berliner Kulturviertel’ was the name given to this propaganda campaign led by Propaganda Minister and Gauleiter of Berlin Joseph Goebbels. Official German agencies exaggerated the destruction and spread Goebbels’ speach throughout the world.

He noted in his diary about the destruction of the Opera: “A serious loss. Apparently he actually felt struck: “I look at the damage in the Staatsoper. She is lost. The whole interior completely burned out. There is hardly anything to save… How many happy hours have I already experienced in this house. And now this ruin.”

[Here we can see the Nazi-leader visiting the damage of the city after a British night bombing, the so called ‘Terror-attack’ , in October 1940].

[Photo by Heinrich Hoffman / Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.]

The attack on the cultural quarter of the city gave Berlin leaders a good counterargument to the bombing and destruction of Belgrade days before.


_______________

Source:

  • Aster, Misha. (2017). Staatsoper: Die bewegte Geschichte der Berliner Lindenoper im 20. Jahrhundert. Siedler Verlag.
  • Boog, H, Krebs, G and Vogel, D. (2006). Germany and the Second World War. Volume VII: The Strategic Air War in Europe and the War in the West and East Asia, 1943-1944/5. Clarendon Press.
  • Bowman, Martin W. (2015). Voices in Flight: RAF Night Operations. Pen & Sword Aviation.
  • Demps, Laurenz. (2014). Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag. 
  • Einhard, Luther. (2012). Oper in Berlin – Heiß umkämpft und stets unter Feuer. Pro Business.
  • Freydank, Ruth. (1988). Theater in Berlin: von den Anfängen bis 1945. Berlin.
  • Friedrich, Jörg. (2002). Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Propylaen Verlag, Zweigniederlassung der Ullstein.
  • Kellerhoff Sven F. (2011). Berlin im Krieg: Eine Generation erinnert sich. BASTEIBBE.
  • Middlebrook, Martin. (2014). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Casemate Publishers and Book Distributors.
  • Moorhouse, Roger. (2011). Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, London.
  • Overy, Richard. (2013). The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane.
  • SCHLOSSDEBATE. Wie wurde die Staatsoper in der DDR rekonstruiert? <http://schlossdebatte.de/
  • STAATSOPER UNTER DEN LINDEN <https://www.staatsoper-berlin.de>
  • The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels, Part I: Notations, 1923–1941. Saur Verlag. 1998.


_______________

Previous post >


Zerstörung am Haus der Schweiz

Here we can see the destroyed roof of the “Haus der Schweiz” and adjacent building at Unter den Linden 22/23 Ecke Friedrichstraße 155 on these two images taken from a video film. This original film-footage filmed on 10 April 1941 recorded the damage taken from the previous night raid by British RAF bombers over Berlin-Mitte, the one which destroyed the Opera building and several others too at Unter den Linden.

[Photo: still from film. Video credit: Worldfilmheritage.].

[Photo: still from film. Video credit: Worldfilmheritage.].

The Swiss House or ‘Schweizerhaus’ would be partly destroyed in 1945 the final Soviet assault to capture the city. Postwar, the DDR government reconstructed the building from 1950 but did not want to mess with Swiss banks. Nevertheless, they used the house for their own purposes.

[Still from film taken from a Russian newsreel following the end of the battle, May 1945. Soviet troops and vehicles (notice the American Jeep) at the ruined Friedrichstraße near Unter den Linden, the Haus der Schweiz can be seen at right.]

[Photo: Russian newsreel. Via Piet Vergiet.]

[Unter den Linden and the Haus der Schweiz in 1946 with burnt out facade and the ruined Café Viktoria at right.]

Photo: Photo12/Collection Bernard Crochet.

[The Friedrichstraße/ Unter den Linden corner in the East Berlin sector in October 1946. Notice splinter damage to the walls and columns of the building.] 

Photo: akg-images (AKG118790).

[1948: the ruins of the Schweizerhaus as a background at Unter den Linden avenue.]

Photo by Walter Schuze/ akg-images (AKG59043).

The junction of these two main streets was heavily rebuilt during the post-war years as we can see in this picture taken in September 1959. The Café Viktoria was demolished and the space left empty during many many years as was the case in several other locations in East Berlin. Note Bhf-Friedrichtraße’s bridge in the background.

Photo: Hailstone, Allan. (2017). Berlin in the Cold War: 1959 to 1966. Amberley Publishing.


_______________

Sources and Bibliography:

  • Donath, Matthias. (2006). Architecture in Berlin 1933–1945: A Guide Through Nazi Berlin. Lukas Verlag.
  • Hailstone, Allan. (2017). Berlin in the Cold War: 1959 to 1966. Amberley Publishing.
  • Landesarchiv Berlin. LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 698, Bl. 24 ff., s. a. Nr. 700, Bl. 171 ff.
  • Langbein, Lena (2011). Das “Haus der Schweiz” in Berlin wird 75 Jahre alt. <swissinfo.ch>. 

_______________

Previous post >


100 Jahre - Frieden und Revolution

Last week marked the end of the First World War, with the armistice signed in 1918. Thus ended “the war that was to end all wars”.

[Photo: Alamy.]

[Photo: TheChicagoDailyTribune.]

The world as we know, as historian Eric Hosbawms says, started that day. No other city was in the middle of the Twentieth century than Berlin. The Kaiser has abdicated, the Weimar Republic
started, the Spartacus Revolution triumphed… and Hitler and Hess waited for their time…

On 11 November 1918, Marshal Foch, as Supreme Commander, signed the armistice with Germany in the then-called “Wagon of Compiègne”. This agreement ended fighting in the First World War.

22 years later, in May 1940, Hitler forced the defeated France, the real enemy, to sign her surrender in that same car at the exact spot where it happened, Compiegne. Adolf’s revenge for the shame of 1918 was complete.

[Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann /© Deutsches Historisches Museum.]

Then he took the saloon car to Berlin, exposing it as a trophy at Lustgarten in front of the Dom, so that all Berliners could admire it as we seen in these photos during the Wehrmacht Day´s celebration on 23 March 1941. Notice in the second image at right the Löwenkämpfer statue (´The Lion fighter`) besides main entrance of the Altes Museum.

[Photo by Sobotta / Getty images.]

[Photo: Keystone.]

In 1944, the wagon was moved to Thuringia, and later to Gotha. In March 1945 it was destroyed by SS troops.


Der Schwarze Tod

THE SHTURMOVIK OVER BERLIN AGAIN 1945 - 2018

73 years later, a Soviet Il-2 Shturmovik flies again over Germany during ILA (Internationale Luft- und Raumfahrtausstellung) April 2018 Berlin air show at Schonefeld airport.


One of the outright show stars of this year event was the beautiful Ilyushin Il-2 from the Wings of Victory Foundation based in Russia.

This restoration is from an aircraft recovered in 2011 from the bottom of a frozen lake.

[A squadron of Il-2s from 16th Soviet Air Army flies in close formation over Berlin in May 1945.]

[Photo: Rastrenin, Oleg. 2008.]

The IL-2 was a ground-attack plane from 1941, designed by Sergei Ilyushin, it was very feared by German troops on the ground, who dubbed her “Der Schwarze Tod” (The black death).

It was an outstanding design thanks to its endurance, fire-power and heavy armor. With 36,183 units produced during the war, it was the single most produced military aircraft design in aviation history.

During the final Battle of Berlin in April 1945, Shturmoviks bombed and strafed the city and their defenders to aid the Soviet troops to conquer the Reich’s capital.

[Several Soviet Shturmoviks parked on the grass between Luftwaffe aircraft wreckage at Tempelhof Flughafen Berlin in May 1945. This airport was captured by the Russians on 26 April 1945.]

[Photo: Deutsch-Russisches Museum/Timofej Melnik.]



_______________

Source:

  • Rastrenin, Oleg. Il-2 Shturmovik Guards Units of World War 2. Combat Aircraft 71. Oxford, 2008.

THIS IS BERLIN!

In the last years Berlin city has undergone a radical transformation, with an influx of money from public institutions and private companies, far away from the cold days of the German reunification in 1990. This has benefited in the architectural modernization and services improvement for its inhabitants but in contrast led to the loss of its unique condition among other European capital cities: historical buildings, bridges, roads and streets, survivors of the 1939-1945 war years and its battle fires are all being refurbished to clean and nearly new condition (the Reinhardtstraße bridge of the Stadtbahn is one of the last examples of this). 

Berlin is now losing its value as a “time capsule” from the past.

[Photo by the author, August 2018.]

This battle-scarred building is located at Am Kupfergraben Ecke Dorotheenstraße nr 1 in Berlin-Mitte district, today home of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin School of Business and Economics.

With its walls full of signs of war, smoke and fire from Luftangriffe by British RAF and American air-raids, and shrapnel from howitzers and splinters due to street-fighting with the Soviets during the final Battle of Berlin in May 1945, it is an evident survivor of the destruction experienced by the city.

[Two pictures of this building before the restoration work, as viewed in 2008.]

Photo by the author, May 2008.]


Photo by the author, May 2008.

The heavily damaged building was restored and cleaned a few years ago, helping in preserve it but in the process erasing forever its original state, much more blackened and holed, a true-live survivor of the aerial bombings and battles suffered by the city during the Second World War which now has lost its past.

[This aerial view taken a few days after the war’s end in Berlin, clearly shows the devastation suffered by Mitte district. Museumsinsel with Altes Museum is in the foreground, Unter den Linden crossing from top to bottom, and other main sites like the Zeughaus, Staatsoper, Humboldt Universität, and the green Tiergarten park far behind. Our “time-capsule” building is seen at extreme right, marked with a red arrow.]

Photo: still from film. CHRONOS Media.

[New shots from Dorotheenstraße 1 taken last summer, in front of the Pergamonmuseum.] 

Photo by the author, August 2018.

Photo by the author, August 2018.

It has survived in those conditions due to its location in Berlin Mitte, near the Museumsinsel. During the postwar years, located at the Soviet Occupation sector, it was repaired by a number of securing provisions of concrete and brickwork, a patchwork which made extend its life until the end of the Cold War in 1990.

[Different views of today’s condition of the Humboldt building.]

Photo by the author, August 2018.

Photo by the author, August 2018.

Photo by the author, August 2018.

This building was built in 1879-83 with a four-storey sandstone facade in Italian Renaissance forms mixed with simple Prussian functional design. 

It was renovated in 2002 to be the Faculty of Economic Sciences and from 2009 started the restoration of the roof and facade in cooperation with the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege (the State Office for preservation of historic monuments), with emphasis in that the signs of war remain legible on its 1.200 m2 facade.

The work was made by Ellwart Steinrestaurieung, an experienced company focused on monument and ancient buildings restoration, in close cooperation with the architecture office Martin Focks. In their study they asked themselves before the restoration began: “…Can a façade repair appropriate to the monument be realized without neglecting the age value of the building and without distorting or even eliminating the historical traces of war damage?”

[Photo by the author, August 2018.]

Massive work was made to exchange the facade stones as well as a removal of post-war provisories, but not the projectile impacts. The final result is a mixture of two periods, with a facade full of holes in a secured and cleaned building. 

It costs approx. €2.5 million and ended in the Autumn of 2013. 

[Close view of one of the several graffities which ‘adorn’ the building before the 2009-restoration project.]

Photo by the author, May 2008.

It stands today under monument protection

[This view shows the building as it was before 2011…]

Photo by Andreas Steinmann.

[And compare it with a 2013-year view…Notice at upper right that the missing stone cornice of the facade seen in previous image has been retrofitted during the restoration project, and the overall condition is more clean.]

Photo by Sima Massah.

You can read a full report (in German) about the renovation process at: http://www.ellwart-steinrestaurierung.de/Firma/Resources/PeterParlerPreis_bew_2015_DINA3_1.2_red.pdf

Photo by the author, August 2018.

Photo by the author, August 2018.

In this image taken in 1947 by photographer Harry Croner can be seen the surviving building at Berlin Am Kupfergraben after the war’s fire and destruction with Pergamonmuseum and its entrance at left. Notice the ruined dome of the Stadtschloss in the background.

Photo: © Stadtmuseum Berlin SM (CronerNeg 108/B3).

East Berliner Am Kupfergraben as seen in 1979, an image taken by Chris John Dewitt.

Photo: © Chris John Dewitt.


_______________

Previous post >



Berlin blocked!

70 YEARS OF THE LUFTBRÜCKE 1948 - 2018

This week we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the start of the “Berlin Luftbrücke”. When the Soviets blockade Berlin on the night of 24 June 1948, the only way to supply the city from West Germany was by plane.

US President Truman and the National Security Council (NSC) formally stated America’s determination to remain in Berlin. They named it “Operation Vittles”, and began on 26 June with the landing of a Douglas C-47 Skytrain in Tempelhof.

American and British airmen made a risky non-stop work flying across Soviet East Germany in unarmed airplanes, and there was also a large supply of ex-Luftwaffe airplane mechanics available right in Berlin. Pilots from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa also joined the ranks.

The Allies used hundreds of transport and cargo airplanes from RAF Transport Command and the US Military Air Transport Service, and even private operators aid on the effort with their aircraft and cargo trucks. They included civilians as well as military personnel. Some facilities and airfields were improved to accomplish the operation, the old Berlin Tempelhof too, with the construction of a new runway and landing strip to the south of the airfield. A long distance radar was installed on the main building of the airport to guide the aircrews to West Berlin. Even a new air base was built, airport Tegel, with the French authorities ordering the construction of a 2428 m (7,966 ft) long runway, as Tempelhof was not big enough to accommodate all relief aircraft.

[Berlin’s Neukölln children watching from a pile of rubble an American transport Douglas C-54 in her final approach to landing at Flughafen Tempelhof.]

[Photo by Henry Ries / © NYT; Deutsches Historisches Museum Inventarnr.].

Why is the Berlin Airlift related to the bombing of the city during the war? The same young men that 3 years before flew through Flak and enemy fighters every day and night to bomb the Third Reich’s capital now make the same trip but to carry milk, coal and food to the blocked city. Many former US bomber pilots volunteered for duty in the Air transport command in the new born-USAF. This is how former enemies became friends in the Cold War.

[Here, three US airmen check the cargo load inside a C-47 Skytrain during the Berlin Airlift. Notice they even wear their WW2-era flying jackets, the patch on the shoulder on the men at extreme right identifies him as a China-Burma-India veteran.]

[Photo: Harrington, D. Pioniere der Luftbrücke. Nishen Kommunikation, Berlin 1998].

[Old foes become friends: the Handley Page Halifax, one of Bomber Command’s heavy bombers that raided and attacked Berlin during 1943-1944, joined in the combined effort to save the blocked city. This is G-ALEF ‘Red Eagle’ an ex-military plane now in civilian hands from the Eagle Aviation Company at Wunstorf, West Germany during the Berlin Airlift, 1948].

[Photo: IWM © (HU 98420).]

[An American Douglas C-124 Globemaster II, a massive-size cargo airplane, moments before landing at Flughafen Tempelhof. The Globemaster II entered service with the USAF in 1950, designed with the lessons learned from the Berlin blockade and airlift, so this pic was taken a few years later of the Berlin Luftbrücke operation. Notice that the last meters of the landing pattern were overflying several cemeteries at Leinestraße in Neukölln.]

[Photo: Harrington, D. Pioniere der Luftbrücke. Nishen Kommunikation, Berlin 1998].

[A group of curious Berliner kids and a woman with her little child are looking on as the cargo load is being lowered from a big US Air Force Douglas C-74 cargo plane, the only one used on the #berlinluftbrücke, as it was on trials. This photo was taken at Gatow airfield, on 19 August 1948. Note that some of the kids are barefoot, a post-war common sight in the defeated Germany.]

[Photo: National Archives and Records Administration.].

At the end, with almost 278,000 flights, more than 2.3 million tons of freight was transported, feeding 2 million people by air with 1500 flights landed in Berlin every day with enough cargo to supply the city indefinitely. 

31 US airmen and 40 British lost their lives during the Berlin airlift, and on 20 July 1949 the US Congress awarded the Medal for Humane Action to members of the US Army, Air Force, and Navy who served in support for at least 120 days during the period 26 June 1949 through 30 September 1949. Lest we forget.

[The breaking of the blockade of Berlin by the Allied airlift of 1948-1949. Produced by British Movietone News, GB, 1949.]

_______________

Source:

  • Harrington, D. Pioniere der Luftbrücke. Nishen Kommunikation, Berlin 1998.

Bombensturm! (Part III)

MC Bombs:

[Armourers from No 97 Squadron preparing MC-bombs on their trolleys to be loaded onto a Lancaster bomber on July 1943 at RAF Waddington.]

The limited and inadequate arsenal of bombs composed of the high explosive GP (general purpose) bombs (10-15% detonation failure rate) made British Bomber Command to develop a new range of explosives: these weapons were the Medium Capacity (MC) Bombs, which had improved metal to explosive ratios and also proved more reliability and generally exploded on impact, unless fitted with delayed action fuses. Basically, higher explosive into lighter cases to obtain a greater blast.

The analysis of the destruction inflicted by Luftwaffe’s bombers over Britain, particularly by the Germans’ SC (Spreng Cylindrische) series of bombs (usually filled with a mixture of 40% amatol and 60% TNT), with their higher charge to weight ratios and destructive power, marked the new requirement.

[This is a German SC 2500 ‘Max’ bomb (5,000-lb/2,300 kg), the biggest one of this series, ready to be loaded in a Heinkel He 111H-5 medium bomber at a Luftwaffe airfield during the final phase of the Battle of Britain in 1940. Due to its massive size, this weapon had to be carried externally attached to a reinforced ETC2000 bomb rack.]

[Photo: RAF Museum.]

The first bombs dropped on an air raid were high explosive bombs, to shook the people and lead the way to the incendiaries, the actual fuse of the destruction into the streets. Vast swaths of fire engulfed the town, and then the RAF attacked again with their MC-bombs, a last punch of destruction to spread fire and keep firefighters away and to avoid wardens and police officers to drawn out and assist the city and their people. The roads and streets, and water pumps were destroyed and harassed by craters and blows, incapacitating the workforce.

[This crater was made by an explosive bomb dropped by Bomber Command into downtown Berlin in October 1940.] 

[Photo: Everett Collection / Agestock Photo.]

The 500-lbs MC (227 kg) bomb was first introduced in to the Command’s inventory at the end of 1941, the bomb contained twice as much explosive of Amatol than its GP equivalent and became a mainstay for bombing operations due to its much greater blast effect. As the war progressed, the Air Ministry scientific advisors and experiments made by Solly Zuckerman (a scientific advisor to the Allies on bombing strategy) found that blast effect rather than penetrative power was more important in destroying buildings.

[Men from No 77 Squadron, based at RAF Elvington look on as the message ‘we hope this hurts’ is chalked onto a 500-lb MC bomb prior to their fourth attack, on Berlin on 30 January 1944.]

 [Photo: © IWM (CH 12232).]


However, they still lacked aluminized explosive like German bombs, which would have rise the effect more than three times. By March 1943, 19 firms were producing bomb bodies nearly at 18,000 a month and the MC bombs formed the main bulk of destruction tonnage dropped by Bomber Command on Germany, with the heavy 1,000-lb version being introduced in the spring of 1943 as a very effective weapon and about a quarter of a million were produced by the end of the war. It became the standard British bomb.

[Armourers prepare to load 500-lb MC bombs into De Havilland Mosquito B IV, DZ483GB-R’, of No 105 Squadron RAF at Marham, Norfolk, in preparation for a night raid on Berlin by aircraft of No 2 Group in 1942-43. At this time, Mosquitoes, flying alone in the dark, usually carried a bomb load consisted of four 500 MC, an explosive ‘present’ sent just to disrupt and keep the head of the enemy down.]

[Photo: © IWM (CH 18009).]

[British ‘1000-pounders’, MC bombs, await in their trolleys to be loaded into this No 76 Squadron Rolls Royce Merlin-engined Halifax heavy bomber, W7805/’MP-M’, being bombed-up at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire on 3 April 1943. This bomber failed to return to England that night, during the bombing of Essen, one of the 24 aircraft lost. W7805 was probably hit by Flak, four men of her crew perished on the crash.]

[Photo: © IWM (CH 9138).]

[..and the sight after being loaded in the bomb-bay. Here, we can see the usual load for industrial demolition, factories, railyards, dockyards (know as ‘Abnormal’), loaded in the bomb-bay of an Avro Lancaster of No 9 Squadron RAF at Bardney, Lincolnshire, before a night raid on Stettin. ‘Abnormal’ consisted of 14 x 1,000-lb MC high-explosive bombs. When RAF Bomber Command bombed Berlin the target wasn’t her factories, the aim was to destroy the city and the people’s morale, so only a few part of the attacking force carried this type of load during those raids, mainly some of the Pathfinders and the last squadrons to be scheduled over the target, with a mix of instantaneous (nose-armed) and long-delay (tail-armed) fusing-bombs.]

[Photo: © IWM (CH 18554)]

The explosive bombs shook everything around and fill the target with destruction, noise and dust into the streets. It is estimated that during the attacks on the Hauptstadt during the Winter 1943-44 by British Bomber Command, 9,390 Berliners civilians were killed. The city resisted and their defences inflicted a severe blow to the enemy campaign, but moral fell to a minimum.

[A shocked but alive family is helped by a young member of the Luftwaffe through the rubble on a street in Berlin from a demolished building, following Allied air raids during 1944.]

[Photo: Granger Historical Picture Archive. Alamy.]

During the war 758,408 tons of high explosive were despatched on Bomber Command aircraft, and would drop some 253,800 1,000-lb MC bombs along with 403,000 500-pounders

The research done by the USSBS (The United States Strategic Bombing Survey) and John Fahey’s paper indicate that on average, it cost the British Government £1.00 per 23.4-lb of HE bomb weight purchased. At this price, the total value of high explosive bombs despatched to targets by Bomber Command during the strategic air offensive was £72,599,749, but it is important to indicate that these figures were just the guesses of economic experts, due to the impossibility of getting reliable information.

This table shows, by type, the number of MC bombs dropped by RAF Bomber Command during World War 2. Source: Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.

Source: Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.


_______________

Source:

  • Air Ministry. RAF Armament Volume I: Bombs and Bombing Equipment. 1954.
  • The United States Strategic Bombing Survey. Air Studies Division Report: The Economic Effects of the Air Offensive Against German Cities, USSBS.
  • Bowman, Martin W. Nachtjagd, Defenders of the Reich 1940-1943. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2016.
  • Bowman. Martin W. Voices in Flight: the heavy bomber offensive of WW2. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2014.
  • Bowman, Martin W. Voices in Flight: RAF Night Operations. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2015.
  • Boyd, David. 1000lb Medium Capacity Bomb. <http://www.wwiiequipment.com>
  • Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.
  • Fahey, John. Britain 1939 – 1945: The economic cost of Strategic Bombing. University of Sidney. 2004.
  • Falconer, John. Bomber Command Handbook. The History Press. 1998.
  • Friedrich, Jörg. Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Propylaen Verlag, Zweigniederlassung der Ullstein. 2002.
  • Overy, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane. 2013.
  • The Strategic Air War Against Germany 1939-1945 – The Official Report of the British Bombing Survey Unit (Introduction by Sebastian Cox). Frank Cass. 1998.



Fliegerbombe am Berliner Hauptbahnhof!

This is a British 1000-pounder (500 kg) MC bomb from 1944 today at Berlin Mitte. Thousands of people around Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof (the main railway station in the city) were evacuated last week to allow disposal experts to defuse an unexploded World War II explosive dropped by Bomber Command and unearthed on a building site. It is one of the 253,800 bombs of this type dropped by RAF bombers during 1939-45 in all war fronts.

[Photo: DPA / Bild.]

In 2011 it was estimated that over 5,500 unexploded bombs or weapons from the war that need to be defused are uncovered each year. The daily average is 15, most of them aerial bombs. 

[Photo: ODD ANDERSEN / AFP.

German Polizei demolition experts succeeded in removing the detonator’s detonator from the explosive device.

[Photo: @PolizeiBerlin_E.)

————–


Bombensturm! (Part II)

The Incendiary Bombs

[Haus Vaterland (“Fatherland House”) burns following a night raid on 22/23 November 1943 by British RAF bombers. The building was a pleasure palace on the southwest side of Potsdamer Platz. At left, a S-Bahn signal post.]

[Photo: Ullsteinbild / Archiv Golejewski.]

Incendiaries (IB), usually small-sized weapons, were carried in an aircraft bomb-bay using Small Bomb Containers (SBCs) and were packed into clusters. The device was not aim able and once dropped often became effected by cross winds. This resulted in incendiary attacks become wide spread downwind of the target and also lead to other bombers being struck by falling bombs. Incendiary bombs function on impact. The heavy reliance of Bomber Command on highly inaccurate incendiaries shows that fire-raising was a major weapon in the strategic air offensive.

[British armourers preparing fire-bombs (of 4-lb incendiaries Magnesium) into Small Bomb Containers (SBCs) at RAF Marham, Norfolk, air base.]

[Photo © IWM (CH 10710).]

[Vickers Wellington B Mark IC (W5690, GR-W) of No 301 Polish Bomber Squadron awaits a mixed load of incendiaries and 500 pounds-GP bombs on trolleys at RAF Hemswell before a night sortie over Germany, July 1941.]

[Photo © IWM (MH 6254.)]

The mainstay of the Command’s incendiary devices was the 4-lb Magnesium (IB) bomb. RAF Bomber Command dropped 80 million of these small incendiary bombs during World War II. In May 1943 efforts were made to developed a delivery device for the ‘four pounder’  IB which would allow for them to be aimed and therefore more accurate during the raids.

[A member of the Luftschutz, Reich Office for Air Protection holds a stick-type incendiary bomb dropped by British bombers during a night raid in Berlin, March 1941. It seems to be a red nose colored 4-lb (1.8 kg) incendiary bomb made from magnesium and thermite.]

Photo: Scherl/Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo / ALAMY.]

Photo: akg-images (AKG212155).

 [A British 4-lb. Mk IV type incendiary bomb (“Brandbombe”). Top: complete device, nose is red colored. Middle: dud found without the tin plate tail, Bottom: the remains after burning. This bomb was made from magnesium in a hollow body made from aluminium with a cast iron/steel nose, and filled with thermite incendiary pellets. It was capable of burning for up to ten minutes. Its size was 54.35 cm long. This one was dropped over Würzburg in 1945.]

Photo: Wikiwand.

In April 1941, 12 millions incendiaries were ordered for the rest of the year and 36 millions for 1942, but because of magnesium shortages, production just reached ‘only’ 2.2 million in the ninth months of 1941, and 11.8 million in 1942, but these figures were more than enough for a force not yet converted fully to mass incendiary bombing. This very large numbers of production had enormous requirements on the Britain’s war effort.

[The bomb load most commonly used for ‘area’ bombing raids in the bomb-bay of an Avro Lancaster of No 57 Squadron RAF at Scampton, Lincolnshire. Her deadly cargo consisted of 12 SBCs each loaded with incendiaries, in this case, 236 x 4-lb incendiary sticks. In the centre can be seen a 4,000 impact-fused HC bomb (‘Cookie’).]

[Photo © IWM (CH 18371).]

[As war progressed, RAF Bomber Command used several types of containers to drop Incendiary bombs. These are Cluster Projectile 500-lb No.14 Mk I falling on Germany. Two 500-lb incendiary
clusters plunge toward their target over Kiel. At left, one of the containers has broke and scattered the incendiaries like match sticks. The other big bomb has not yet broken but will do so momentarily. They were Dull red overall, one of the tensioning straps painted bright red and each one contained two fagots of 53 bombs each, a total of one hundred and six 4-lb incendiary bombs. Later, Cluster Projectile 500-lb No.17 Mk II tailed bombs and US-made cluster containers were used too.]

[Photo: LancasterArchive.]

The other main type of incendiary-bomb dropped by Bomber Command was the 30-lb J-Type IB phosphorous. The Germans considered this a ‘morale weapon’ because it was impossible to extinguish with water due to its benzon-gel and was more stronger than 4-lb IB. Regardless of its short life span of this type of bomb on the war over 400,000 were dropped.

[The other British main fire-weapon: the 30-lbs. J-Type IB phosphorous.]

[Photo: LancasterArchive.]

[This still from a film shows a 30-lb incendiary bomb exploding over the centre of a factory taken from Avro Lancaster, DV380 AJ-N, of No 617 Squadron RAF, flown by the Squadron commander, Wing Commander G L Cheshire, during the low-level marking of the Gnome-Rhone aero-engine factory at Limoges, France, on the night of 8/9 February 1944. On this occasion, the incendiary bomb was used however as a precision target marker at night for the incoming main bomber force but shows to good effect how an IB explodes, Cheshire tried his low-level marking techniques on this raid, leading 12 Lancasters of the Squadron to the target.]

[Photo: © IWM (HU 93014).]

Handley Page Halifaxes usually carried the main bulk of incendiary bomb load on Bomber Command missions, so when they’re hold on reserve after high losses over Berlin in Fall 1943 the British offensive lost a high percent of fire destruction.

[Photo: © IWM (CH 17362).]

Breakdown, by type, of incendiary bombs dropped by RAF Bomber Command during World War 2. Source: Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.

Source: Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.

By 1944, the percent of total incendiary bomb load in a city attack by BC was around 70 percent and this support the claims made by Arthur Harris that the incendiary bomb was the most significant type of munition deployed by Bomber Command.

Of the total percent of bombs despatched by Bomber Command during the war 20.5 % (196,256 tons) were incendiary bombs. The economic cost to Britain of manufacturing incendiary bombs for BC was approximately £73 million, which means that those weapons cost slightly more than 50 percent of the total cost spent on bombs during the entire period of the campaign.

_______________

Source:

  • Air ministry. RAF Armament Volume I: Bombs and Bombing Equipment. 1954.
  • Air Studies Division Report: The Economic Effects of the Air Offensive Against German Cities,
    USSBS.
  • 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. <http://bulletpicker.com/pdf/Development%20of%20British%20Incendiary%20Bombs.pdf>
  • Bowman, Martin W. Nachtjagd, Defenders of the Reich 1940-1943. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2016.
  • Bowman. Martin W. Voices in Flight: the heavy bomber offensive of WW2. Pen & Sword Aviation, 2014.
  • Bowman, Martin W. Voices in flight: RAF Night Operations. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2015.
  • Boyd, David. 4lb Incendiary Bomb. <http://www.wwiiequipment.com>
  • Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.
  • Fahey, John. Britain 1939 – 1945: The economic cost of Strategic Bombing. University of Sidney, 2004.
  • Falconer, John. Bomber Command Handbook. The History Press. 1998.
  • Friedrich, Jörg. Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Propylaen Verlag, Zweigniederlassung der Ullstein. 2002.
  • Overy, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane. 2013.
  • Price, Alfred. Kampfflieger. Bombers of the Luftwaffe Volume Three January 1942-September 1943. Classic Publications. 2005.

Feuer!

Fire, as Bomber Command well knew, was the biggest destroyer of property.

On 23 September 1941, Britain’s Air Staff produced a report detailing the effectiveness of German incendiary attacks on Britain and recommending that fire be a central feature of Bomber Command attacks. The key lesson to be learned from the 1940 German ‘Blitz’ (as it was to become known in Britain the air bombing campaign, 7 September 1940 - 11 May 1941) was that concentrated use of incendiary bombs was the most effective form of annihilation.

In 1941, approximately just 12 percent of the total bomb loads despatched consisted of incendiary bombs. The response was the ‘Incendiary Plan Unison’ , issued on 25th October 1941 and first tested against the city of Lübeck on March 1942. That year the figure raised to a 42 percent of the bomb-load.

The RAF had to develop the required technique to burn out an entire city and the method was copied from the German raids and largely improved by British scientifics and physicists. The combined work of the Research and Experiments Department and the Air Warfare Analysis Section to estimate the nature of bomb damage and the vulnerability of German buildings made an essential contribution to what bombing could achieve. Led by Dr Reginald Strading, and with German-born Oxford physicist Frederick Lindemann among these top-men, this statistical research group produced from September 1940 accurate figures for air warfare operations from the damage done by Nazi bombs, and applied them into German cities in future attacks in terms of lives lost and houses destroyed.

New chemicals weapons and reactions had to be created to allow new Bomber Command fire-rising tactics and this let to a change in Britain’s industries and set as the most urgent problem to develop the technology to find an entire city at night and poor weather (mainly navigation aids). 

[Death from above • A British RAF four-engined bomber -a Short Stirling, overflies the firestorm during the bomb run on a night mission against a German city.]

Germans had well knowledge about fire-bombs and their destruction capabilities, as they had employed them in large numbers against Britain during the ‘Blitz’ attacks in 1940-41, and although well prepared for a fire-air attack, the defences and fire-fighting equipment of Berlin and other main Reich cities were well overwhelmed by the massive size of the RAF Bomber Command offensive.

In total around 110,000 tons of incendiary bombs were dropped during the ‘Blitz’ on England by Hitler’s Luftwaffe, twice the number of explosive weapons dropped. Fire was the biggest threat during the campaign and 95,000 Britons were drafted into the Auxiliary Fire Service.

[The Blitz’: Buildings burning in Manchester after a German air raid on the night of 23 December 1940.]

[Photo: © IWM (H 6318).]

Meanwhile, on Germany during inter-war years several drills were instructed as more evident became the idea that air power and air-raids against civil population and towns would be the main form of attack in the incoming war.

[Two shots of a Luftschutz fire brigade during an air raid drill in Berlin, circa 1941, training techniques to extinguish an incendiary bomb. The paper bags with sand should be burnt so that the content then smothers the fire.]

[Photo by Scherl. Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo.]

[Photo: Alamy.]

A colour footage of a demonstration to deal with a firebomb, during a Luftschutz event at Cardinalplatz in Köpenik (Berlin) before the war. 

[Video credit: AKH Archive (Nr M1965)].

This is a German newsreel film from civil defence showing how to deal with these new fire-threat, in this case the British 30-lb bomb, in the event that an incendiary device lands on an apartment building. 

[Video credit: this film is part of the Periscope Film LLC archive.]


The main objective of the use of incendiary bombs in a carpet-bombing was to create a Firestorm. Fortunately for Berliners, the German capital was too big in size (the third largest city in the world) and was a more modern city than Hamburg or London, with more wider residential districts and there are more open spaces. Berlin blocks of flats were also of sounder construction. Even the powerful RAF Bomber Command was ineffective in burning out such a large city from end to end. Instead, smaller cities like Hamburg, Dresden or Hanover would suffer this aerial punishment of fire.

The success of the Hamburg raids (‘Operation Gomorrah’) in July 1943, a textbook example of the incendiary attack planning, confirmed the theory of the superiority of incendiary over high-explosive bombs and impressed the Americans.

[This is a vertical photograph taken from 19,000 feet during a night raid on Hanover, showing an Avro Lancaster, silhouetted by the many incendiary fires below. That night 3,932 buildings were totally destroyed, and more than 30,000 damaged in varying degree, by the intense conflagration in the central and south central districts of the city resulting from this attack.]

[Photo by No. 460 Squadron RAAF © IWM (C 3898).]

[The deadly effects of incendiaries. Burnt out buildings and few roofs intact.- Part of a British vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial taken over Berlin showing an area immediately south of the Tiergarten (at left) and east of the Zoological Gardens. Lützowplatz is at centre, surrounded by a considerable area of buildings gutted by incendiary fires resulting from repeated raids by Bomber Command aircraft.]

[Photo Puttick G W (Fg Off): No. 540 Squadron RAF © IWM (C 4191).]

[Brände nach Luftangriff: Berlin engulfed in flames after an Allied night raid at Jerusalemerstraße Ecke Zimmerstraße in July 1944.]

[Photo: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J30142.]

Detailed evidence from Britain “blitzed” cities suggested that incendiary bombs had five times the destructive potential of heavy explosive per ton. It was estimated that an initial salvo of 30,000 4-lb incendiaries had to be dropped in 20 minutes as a minimum to produce a firestorm. High explosive was needed only to reduce water supply and ventilate the attacked buildings. 

_______________

Source:

  • Air ministry. RAF Armament Volume I: Bombs and Bombing Equipment. 1954.
  • Bowman, Martin W. Nachtjagd, Defenders of the Reich 1940-1943. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2016.
  • Bowman, Martin W. Voices in Flight: the heavy bomber offensive of WW2. Pen & Sword Aviation, 2014.
  • Bowman, Martin W. Voices in flight: RAF Night Operations. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2015.
  • Fahey, John. BRITAIN 1939-1945: THE ECONOMIC COST OF STRATEGIC BOMBING. University of Sidney. 2005.
  • Falconer, John. Bomber Command Handbook. The History Press. 1998.
  • Friedrich, Jörg. Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Propylaen Verlag, Zweigniederlassung der Ullstein. 2002.
  • Harris, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur. Despatch on War Operations 23 February 1942 to 8 May 1945. London, Air Ministry, 1945.
  • Overy, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane. 2013.
  • Price, Alfred. Kampfflieger. Bombers of the Luftwaffe Volume Three January 1942-September 1943. Classic Publications. 2005.
  • Smith, J Richard & Creek, Eddie. Kampfflieger. Bombers of the Luftwaffe Volume Two July 1940-December 1941. Classic Publications. 2004.


_______________

Previous post >

Using Format