The first one: August 25th, 1940

They had bombed London, whether on purpose or not, and the British people and London especially should know that we could hit back. It would be good for the morale of us all’.

– Winston S Churchill – 

Photo: © IWM (H-3514).

The prelude: London
During the early phase of the ‘Battle of Britain’ in the summer of 1940, the Third Reich attacked RAF aerodromes and their personnel in order to annihilate Great Britain’s air defences and some industrial areas on British cities. Suddenly, on the night of August 24th, some Luftwaffe bombers drop, probably by mistake, some bombs over the City of London.[1] Next day, Prime Minister Churchill with full consent of the War Cabinet ordered an action to revenge the honour of the British citizens. He have warned the RAF to had the capability to reply immediately against Berlin in case of a German raid on London.[2]

How many aircraft subsequently participated in the actual raid on the night of 25/26 August 1940 has been open to speculation. The early campaign of Bomber Command has been rather neglected by aviation historians and this very first raid is often briefly cited on every RAF bombing war study as an introduction, usually with a few words and wrong description.[3] Records for that period not always make it clear exactly how many bombers participated so available sources gives us a variety of figures: Bomber Command’s operational reference book (Middlebrook, 1985)[4] shows an overall figure of the night sorties: ‘103 aircraft were dispatched on operations and approximately half of these were sent to Berlin.’  In the case of Donnelly, former RAF air gunner, shows a detailed breakdown of the night operations and every loss against Berlin, but exact distribution of the assigned forces with a total figure of 89 assigned bombers was inaccurate.[5] Author Martin Bowman gives us a more accurate chronicle of the night figures on his various books about Bomber Command operations, detailing ‘About fifty attacked, 7 aborted, 29 claimed to have bombed Berlin and a further 27 overflew the German capital but were unable to pinpoint their targets because of thick cloud.’ [6] For their part Tweddle[7], in one of the few books focused just about the RAF “bombing boys” during the 1940 summer days, only refers to the ‘twenty-two Whitleys tasked to attack the vast and crucial Siemens works’. On the German historians’ side, the most detailed study of the air bombings on Berlin, lead by Dr Laurenz Demp[8] referred the number of attacking bombers as just 22, meanwhile author Jorg Friedrich, in his bestseller ‘Der Brand’ stated that ‘he [Churchill] sent fifty Hampdens and Wellingtons [to Berlin]’.[9]

[No. 149 Squadron aircrews approach a line of Vickers Wellington bombers at RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk before a bombing sortie.]

Photo: © IWM (C 424).

Careful research of the primary sources of the period —the Squadron’s operations record books (ORBs)— allow us to determine for the first time the number of bombers that London sortied on that night to attack the Reich’s capital and their times over target.[10]

To reach Berlin, British aircraft had five times as far to travel as German aircraft had to bomb London, in a round trip of eight hours and 1,200 miles, close to the maximum range of the Wellington and Hampden bombers with full tanks and minimal bomb load. It was an ambitious raid and a very hazardous one: no one knew at the time what defences the bombers would meet over the ‘Big City’, so it was decided to make a total effort and Bomber Command assigned this operation to three of its ‘heavy’ bomb groups.

That afternoon, the different bombing groups based in East Anglia and Norfolk received its attacking orders: the crews of No 3 Group (equipped with Wellington bombers) received Order Form B.250 tasking:“To cause maximum damage to Targets given in Para ‘G’ and to create maximum disturbance over Germany during the hours of Darkness”.[11] Primary target for this force (17 bombers) was the Siemens & Halske works (coded as G.161 by the Air Ministry) in the northwestern part of the city. Their secondary target was A.389 (Tempelhof ‘s oil deposits).[12]

No 4 Group’s three squadrons, equipped with Armstrong Whitley long-range bombers, were given Operations Order No. 154 at 17.00 hrs “to inflict maximum damage on SIEMENS SCHUCKERT WERKE BERLIN” and readied twenty-four more bombers for this duty. Primary target was G.225 (Siemens Schukert works) with Tempelhof marshalling yards (coded M499) as alternative. Bomb load was two 500-lb, five 250-lb GP bombs (one of those with fused delay) and one container of incendiaries on each Whitley.[13]

Meanwhile the third group, the Hampden force under No. 5 Group received Order B. 201 tasking with “destroy power station B57 and aerodrome H324” which means that targets were the Klingenberg power station in the eastern part of the city and the main airport of the capital, Tempelhof.[14] This Group put up 46 twin-engined bombers from 6 squadrons for the mission, more than any other.

Photo: TNA AIR-27-793. © Crown Copyright.

 [This British vertical PR photograph shows the northern part of the Berlin-Tempelhof airport, which contains the main aircraft hangars and maintenance installations, next to the main airfield.]

Photo: NCAP hhttp://ncap.org.uk/NCAP-000-000-009-016.

‘Berlin arms factories bombed in three-hour raid’
Just before dust, No 149 Sqn sortied eight of its Wellington medium bombers from RAF Mildenhall led by Squadron Leader D A Kerr from 2050 hrs to hit the Reich capital but Squadron’s ORB just described “mission carried out safely” as mission report.[15] It would appear that one of them (T2459) had some trouble because of her early recorded landing time, which made impossible to have reached Berlin and back.[16] At RAF Newmarket aerodrome in Suffolk, nine more ‘Wimpys’ on 99 Sqn were also getting airborne between 20.15 and 23.27 hrs and bounded for Klingenberg power station. Six of them failed to locate any target under the thick clouds and brought back their bombs. Just one bomber (P9243, piloted by P/O Chown) bombed Tempelhof, dropping 250-lb bombs and 4-lb incendiaries on it. The remaining two attacked targets in Schwerte.[17] 

[A trio of Vickers Wellington Mk IC bombers of No 149 Squadron in flight in ‘vic’ formation, August 1940. The nearest aircraft, R3206 coded OJ-M and piloted by P/O Sherwood, was one of the participants in the first British raid on the Nazi-capital.]

Photo: © IWM (HU 107812).

Berlin was a familiar target for Whitley crews from 4 Group based in North Yorkshire, but this would be its first one onto the offensive dropping bombs and not only propaganda leaflets.[18] No 78 Squadron assigned five bombers to this raid: they began taking off from RAF Dishforth at around 20.00 but encountered 10/10 clouds and no targets were located; none of them dropped their bombs. F/O Robertson crew dropped some leaflets on the target area.[19] From this station, also departed eight Whitleys of No 51 Sqn to bomb Berlin with mixed results: one bombed “the Messerschmitt factory S.W. of Oranienberg (sic) prison camp” (there were no Messerschmitt facilities at Oranienburg, author’s note) and another attacked “a small factory 12 miles N.W. of Berlin”. The others bring their bombs back to base failing to locate any target, and another one had to abort the trip because of magneto trouble. All of them reported very poor weather and cloud cover. A ninth bomber failed to take off and abort the mission.[20]

[Bombing crews of No 58 Squadron undergo a briefing by the Station Commander in the Operations Room at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire, prior to a night raid in August 1940.]

Photo: © IWM (CH 218).

Finally, from RAF Linton-on-Ouse flying station took off ten Whitley bombers of No 58 Squadron from 20 hrs to attack “Seimens (sic) electrical works”. Two claimed to bomb the target on ETA (estimated time) and another attacked a flak battery NW Berlin, meanwhile another one bombed a concentration of lights in the woods NE of the capital. Two failed to recognize the target and brought the bombs back. All of them dropped leaflets and returned safely to base. A further three aborted their mission and returned early for mechanical failures. The tenth bomber attacked a target of opportunity in Bremen.[21] 

[A Whitley Mark V bomber of No 58 Squadron RAF being ‘bombed up’ with 500-lb GP bombs at Linton-on-Ouse station.]

Photo: © IWM (CH 227).

[As night falls a Whitley bomber, powered by two Rolls Royce Merlin engines, leaves its home station for its mission and set course for the target.]

Photo: © IWM (CH 244).

Adverse weather conditions hampered the main bombing effort by 5 Group’s Hampdens force. At RAF Scampton, 49 Squadron contributed 12 Hampdens and 83 Sqn, eleven more to the raid. Loaded with four 500-lb GP-bombs each and according to mission times planned, these two squadrons would be the first over Berlin on that evening.[22] 

No 49’s raiders arrived over the capital in poor visibility: four aircraft claimed to have made successful bombing runs on Klingenberg and rest of the force, unable to locate it, dive-bombed several SEMO targets. Mission leader Wing Commander Gillan, DFC, bombed a marshalling yard SE of the city and another crew attacked a furnace blast near B.57 area. None of them observed the results of their bombing; another crew returned to base with bombs aboard.[23] 

For their part, 83 Sqn raid was a total failure with just two crews claiming to have bombed the target; another attacked a railway line south of target. Two others dropped the bombs on Furstenwalde aerodrome (55 km east of Berlin) and on a viaduct at Westerhausen.[24] 

Stationed in Waddington, 44 Squadron was assigned “to destroy power station B.57 with 6 aircraft taking off at intervals from 21.15 hrs on that night. Four of those claimed to have bombed Klingenberg with 500-lb bombs with unobserved results and another attacked the secondary, Tempelhof. The remaining Hampden (P4371), unable to locate the target, finally bombed the aircraft factory in Berlin-Johannisthal.[25] 

[Hampdens Mk Is of No 44 Squadron in flight, note KM’ codes painted on the fuselage. This unit dispatched six bombers to attack the Reich’s capital on this night. Hampden AE257 KM-X was lost on the night of 21/22 October 1941 flying to Bremen.]

Photo: © IWM (CH 3481).

Further north, the Hemswell squadrons were to target Tempelhof, specially the important hangars along the North side of the aerodrome: 61 Sqn launched six Handley Page bombers as night fell with two of them claiming to have bombed the target without visibility, two more failed to locate it, and another one bombed Kangsdorf (Donnelly refers here to Pangsdorf aerodrome, 15 miles S of Berlin).[26] The remaining bomber was forced to return early due to aileron vibration.[27] The attack was coordinated with the 144 Squadron, whose six crews achieved poor results too: three of them reached the city but were unable to locate the targets due to 10/10 clouds and the other three back to base with mechanical troubles.[28] 

Finally, 50 Squadron would put up 5 aircraft from RAF Lindholme but just two of them claimed to have attacked target B.57 and another bombed a heavy flak site and searchlights NE of the city.[29]

First losses
This first Bomber Command raid on Berlin did not come away unscathed. Crews faced very adverse weather and strong head wind was encountered on the return flight[30] and no less than six ‘mediums’, all from the Hampden force (already at their range limit) failed to return to their bases: Hampden P4416 of 49 Sqn (P/O Fawcett crew) was lost without trace; this was the first Allied crew to lose their lives on a bombing raid aiming Berlin.[31] Fuel starvation made P/O Wawn crew aboard 50 Squadron’s P2070 to force-landed near Lautersheim in Rheinland-Platz and all were made prisoners by the Germans, meanwhile P2124 from the same unit ditched out of fuel off Scarbarough Pier at 07.50 h.[32] Finally, three bombers from No 83 were lost when they crashed (or ditched) back in England after ran out of fuel too (P1354, P4380 and X2895), with all their crew members rescued safely.[33] There was no Nachtjagd reaction to this first important raid due to adverse weather conditions.[34] 

[One of the Hampdens lost during this raid was P2070 VN-X of No 50 Squadron. They took off from RAF Lindholme at 21.58 hrs and is assumed that had to force landing due to fuel starvation near Lautersheim, Germany, during the return flight.]

Photo: Aircrewremembered/ Michel Beckers.

Photo: Aircrewremembered/ Michel Beckers.

While British air forces droned over Berlin, Luftwaffe bombers were heading to England where they made sixty-five raids attacking industrial centres in the midlands by midnight, bombs fell on forty places, including Birmingham, Coventry and towns in southern England, South Wales and Scotland without suffering any loss.[35]

Overall, 86 bombing aircraft took to the air on that evening to bring destruction to he Nazi’s heartland as part of a 103-aircraft force. Of these, it seems that 57 reached and overflown the city but just 35 claimed to have attacked their assigned target or an alternative in the Berlin area, the rest failing to locate their objectives due to the heavy overcast. The weather conditions made the attack almost fruitless and most of the crews reported heavy flak and searchlights. Bomber Command’s cost was six bombers, 4 airmen killed, two wounded, and 4 POW. 

On the next day, the Air Ministry made a communiqué about the operation which was repeated on every paper across the island: Operations in the Berlin area last night were hampered by poor weather conditions. Selected military objectives were attacked, as well as anti-aircraft batteries and searchlight concentrations on the outskirts of the German capital.‘ [36] The night raid has been mostly frustrating as Guy Gibson, then a young flying officer, resumed later: ‘The raid was in fact lousy. There was thick cloud over the target itself and I don’t suppose more than ten bombs actually landed in Berlin.’  Others were more excited about the action: 21-year old New Zealander James Bracegirdle wrote to a journalist: ‘We went over Berlin and, boy, am I proud! this was the first time Berlin had been raided and, though the RAF has been over since, I am able to say that I went on the first raid’ .[37]

It would be the first of many to Berliners and RAF crews.

[A fine study portrait of Squadron leader O E Wiltshear, DFC, who was a rear gunner in the first attack on Berlin on the night of 25th August 1940.]

Photo: © IWM (CH_012278).

But what happened in Berlin after the attack thousands of feet below the RAF crews and their bombing runs? In our next post we will describe the effects of the air raid and its consequences.

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Notes and Citations:

[1] This was probably not intentional, as it was in defiance of Hitler’s strict instructions that central London should not be attacked. There are some reports of Luftwaffe bombs hitting London suburbs areas a few days earlier. Birmingham, Portsmouth and Manchester were also bombed. SMITH, J Richard and CREEK, Eddie J. (2004). Kampfflieger Bombers of the Luftwaffe Volume Two: July 1940-December 1941. Classic Publications, p 109; History of Manston Airfield. Heavy Luftwaffe raids on Manston and Ramsgate on 24th August 1940 leave the airfield unserviceable <https://www.manstonhistory.org.uk/heavy-luftwaffe-raids-on-manston-and-ramsgate-on-24th-august-1940-leave-the-airfield-unserviceable/>; DONELLY, Larry. (2004). The Other Few: The Contribution Made by Bomber and Coastal Aircrew to the Winning of the Battle of Britain. Red Kite/Air Research, p 108.
[2] He wrote: (..) “The War Cabinet was much in the mood to hit back, to raise the stakes, and to defy the enemy. I was sure they were right, and believed that nothing impressed or disturbed Hitler so much as his realization of British wrath and will-power. In his heart he was one of our admirers.”  in CHURCHILL, Winston. (1949). Their Finest Hour. Houghton Mifflin.
[3] A good example of this is Osprey’s latest “Battle of Berlin” air campaign book, which reserves just one line of text to the 1940 summer raids on Berlin, focusing only in the 1943 bombings onwards. WORRALL, Richard.(2019). Battle of Berlin 1943–44: Bomber Harris’ gamble to end the war. Air Campaign 11. Osprey Publishing.
[4] MIDDLEBROOK, Martin and EVERETT, Chris. (1985). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2014 Ed, p 77.
[5] DONELLYop. cit. pp 110-1.
[6] BOWMAN, Martin. (2011). Bomber Command. Cover of Darkness 1939 - May 1942. Volume: 1. Pen & Sword Aviation, p 69.
[7] TWEDDLE, Paul. (2018). The Other Battle of Britain: 1940: Bomber Command’s Forgotten Summer. The History Press, pp 160-6.
[8] DEMPS, Laurenz.(2014). Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag, p 238.
[9] FRIEDRICH, Jörg. (2002). Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Ullstein Heyne List, p 52.
[10] The National Archives of the UK (TNA). Operations Record Books: AIR 27. © Crown Copyright.
[11] see TNA AIR-27-1005. In the order was also mentioned that “Minimum of two bundles and maximum of six Bundles of Nickels [leaflets, author’s note] are to be carried by each sortie and should be dropped in a Populous Area adjacent to the objectives of bombing.” 
[12] ibid.
[13] see TNA AIR-27-485-21.
[14] see TNA AIR-27-453_2.
[15] see TNA AIR-27-1000-22; NAPIER, Michael. (2020). Vickers Wellington Units of Bomber Command (Combat Aircraft Book 133). Osprey Publishing, p 32.
[16] ibid.
[17] see TNA AIR-27-788-20.
[18] On the night of October 1st, 1939, some Whitleys of No 10 RAF Squadron were sent to Berlin to drop thousands of propaganda leaflets over the city, the first aircraft that overflown it since the outbreak of the war. To read more see Barron Maps Blog: <http://barronmaps.com/flying-visit-of-truth-to-berlin-1939/>
[19] see TNA AIR-27-660-4.
[20] see TNA AIR-27-491-22.
[21] see TNA AIR-27-543-20.
[22] see TNA AIR-27-453_2.
[23] see TNA AIR-27-480-20. A SEMO (Self Evident Military Objectives) was the regular choice when crews were unable to locate the primary and secondary targets.
[24] see TNA AIR-27-686-16.
[25] see TNA AIR-27-447-22.
[26] see TNA AIR-27-453_2; DONELLYop. cit. p 110. The crew must be referring to the Rangsdorf aerodrome in Teltow-Brandenburg or the nearby Bücker Flugzeugbau aircraft factory.
[27] see TNA AIR-27-576-18.
[28] see TNA AIR-27-980-17.
[29] see TNA AIR-27-485-20.
[30] MIDDLEBROOKEVERETTop. cit. p 77.
[31] see TNA AIR-27-480-19. P/O N B Fawcett, Sgt J C Clarke, Sgt J Baker and AC1 G Reay were all declared missing in action. CHORLEYWR.(2013) RAF Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War. Volume 1 1939-40. Classic Publications. 2nd edition, p 192.
[32] CHORLEYop. cit. p 192. Wawn’s crew was the first one to go into captivity whilst engaged on a raid on Berlin during the war. See also Aircrew remembered <http://aircrewremembered.com/wawn-robert.html>
[33] DONELLYop. cit. p 111. The pilot of P1354 ditched off Grimsby and the crew spent 7 hours in a dinghy before being rescued. CHORLEYop. cit. p 192; TWEDDLEop. cit. p 162.
[34] BOITEN, Theo. (2018). Nachtjagd Combat Archive. The early years Part 1. 1939-12 July 1941. Red Kite, p 24. Interestingly there was no German Flak claim neither but Berlin reports the following day noted that one raider was hit and shot down by AA fire: see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 2 f.
[35] SUNDAY 25 AUGUST 1940. Battle of Britain Historical Society <https://battleofbritain1940.com/entry/sunday-25-august-1940/>; DONELLYop. cit. p 110.
[36] ‘Berlin arms factories bombed in three-hour raid’, The Guardian, Tue 27 Aug 1940.
[37] Quoted in TWEDDLEop. cit. p 165; in a letter to the Auckland Star newspaper, ibid.

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Bibliography:

  • Bowman, Martin. (2015). Voices in flight: The Heavy Bomber Offensive of WWII. Pen & Sword Aviation.
  • BRITISH BOMBING SURVEY UNIT (1998).The Strategic Air War Against Germany 1939 - 1945 - The Official Report of the British Bombing Survey Unit. Frank Cass.
  • Davis, Richard G. (2006). Bombing the European Axis Powers A Historical Digest of the Combined Bomber Offensive 1939–1945. Air University Press. Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.
  • Frankland, Noble. (1970). Bomber Offensive - The Devastation of Europe. Ballantine Books.
  • Hastings, Max. (2011). Winston’s War: Churchill, 1940-1945. Vintage Books
  • Hewitt, Kenneth. “Proving Grounds of Urbicide: Civil and Urban Perspectives on the Bombing of Capital Cities”. ACME · January 2009.
  • Koch, H W. The Strategic Air Offensive against Germany: the Early Phase, May – September 1940. In: The Historical Journal, Volume 34, Issue 1, March 1991, pp. 117 - 141.
  • Tress H B. Churchill, the First Berlin Raids, and the Blitz: A New Interpretation. Militaergeschichtliche Zeitschrift, Volume 32, Issue 2, Pages 65–78. 1982. 
  • Ward, Chris. (2007). 5 Group Bomber Command: An Operational Record. Pen & Sword Books. 
  • Ward, Chris and Smith, Steve. (2009). 3 Group Bomber Command: An Operational Record. Pen & Sword Books.
  • Williston, Floyd. (1996).Through Footless Halls of Air: The Stories of a Few of the Many who Failed to ReturnGSPH.

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Big X!

THE GREAT ESCAPE

Tonight marks the 75th anniversary of the famous Great Escape’, the massive jailbreak from a German prisoners camp by Allied airmen in Poland.

[Squadron Leader Richard Churchill, RAF bomber pilot, seen here through the entrance of one of the three tunnels digged. He was the last survivor of the escape, died aged 99 last February.]

[Photo: Meserole, Mike. The Great Escape. Tunnel to freedom. Young Voyageur. 2017.]

The plan, conceived by RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, in charge of ‘X’ Escape Committee, consisted on a mass escape from the North Compound of the prisoners camp Stalag Luft III at Sagan, Upper Silesia (today Zagan, Poland), about 100 miles southeast from Berlin. He executed it on the night of March 24/25, 1944.

Many of these airmen had been taken prisoners after being downed over Berlin in the previous months. That’s the case of P/O Alan Bryett No 158 Sqn, a bomb-aimer shot down by a German night fighter over the Nazi-capital on the night of 23/24 August 1943 in a Handley-Page Halifax Mk II bomber, piloted by Australian F/Lt Kevin Hornibrook. It was one of 62 bombers lost that night by Bomber Command. Bryett was forced by Luftwaffe members to walk through the smoking Berlin. Behind the wire, after arrive to the camp in October 1943, he became a ‘penguin’, strolling surreptitiously around the compound dispersing sand from the tunnels with a blooming great sock full of sand down each trouser leg. Bryett was in the queue of men waiting to escape the night of the plan by tunnel (the one nicknamed ‘Harry’, about 300-foot long) when the German guards discovered the tunnel entrance.

[A portrait of P/O Alan Bryett shortly after return from Stalag Luft Sagan in 1945.]

[Photo: BBC.]

Bushell’s plan was to get 220 out of the camp, but only 76 crawled through to freedom.

However, the escape plan was not without troubles. Flight Lieutenant Johnny Bull discovered that the tunnel mouth was some 15 feet short of the tree line and within 30 yards of the nearest watch tower. Also, an air raid on Berlin then caused the camp’s (and the tunnel’s) electric lighting to be shut down, slowing the escape even more.

This raid was the last RAF bombing on the capital during the ‘Battle of Berlin’. Bomber Command dispatched 811 bombers in bad weather to bomb the city; the big winds suffered, very bad bombing pattern and the great losses -72 aircraft- made the raid a disaster. The proximity of Sagan’s POWs camp to Berlin and the start of that air attack were the cause the Germans disconnect the lighting, as standard procedure for blackout says. The bombing force was so scattered by wind and fighter attacks that a total of 126 communities outside Berlin reported being bombed.

[A group of German officers look at the discovered entrance to a tunnel dug in hut 104 at Stalag Luft III.]

[Photo: Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund (RAFBF).]


Of 76 escapees, 73 were re-captured, and Gestapo murdered 50 of them following Hitler orders in the following days.

Bryett remembers: ‘My initial disappointment at not being among the 76 men to get out was transformed into a grim relief when news filtered back to the camp that 50 of the re-captured men had been shot, on Hitler’s orders. They were so young. Even our guards were shocked – they let us build a memorial to our friends.’ After “The Great Escape”, escaping was forbidden by senior British officers. Risk was so high.

In total, the camp ‘hosted’ 2,500 RAF officers, about 7,500 USAAF, and about 900 officers from other Allied air forces, for a total of 10,949 inmates. It was liberated in January 1945 by Soviet forces.

[A view of the huts and compound at Stalag Luft III camp.]

[Photo: Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund (RAFBF).]

Another one related with Berlin is Flight Lieutenant Denys O Street of RAF No 207 Squadron. He was shot down on 29/30 March 1943 flying a Lancaster bomber during that night raid over Berlin (one of 21 aircraft lost). He evaded from the camp on the famous night but to be recaptured near Sagan and later murdered. Street is the only victim whose ashes are not at Poznan; his rest are at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery.

[Photographic set of 25 images of Allied airmen, escapees from Stalag Luft III, recaptured and executed by Gestapo in March and April 1944. Flying Officer D O Street is number 43.]

[Photo: © IWM (HU 1592).]

[The grave of Flying Officer Denys O Street at the 1939-1945 War Cemetery in Berlin-Heerstraße.]

[Photo: Find a grave.com.]

This story was was later immortalized, very altered and fictioned, in the 1963 Hollywood film “The Great Escape” starring Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough, based on the book written by Paul Brickhill, one of the camp inmates.

Lest we forget them. 


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Source:

  • 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.
  • Bryett, Alan. (Oral history). Imperial War Museums. Item: 27051. © IWM.
  • The Part I Played in the Great Escape by Alan Bryett. WW2 People´s War. BBC. <https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/13/a3972413.shtml>
  • Falconer, John. Bomber Command Handbook. The History Press. 1998.
  • Lake, Jon. Lancaster Squadrons 1944–45. Osprey Publishing. 2002.
  • Middlebrook, Martin. The Berlin raids. RAF Bomber Command Winter 1943-44. Cassell & Co. 1988.
  • Overy, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane. 2013.
  • The Great Escape. Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund (RAFBF). 2019. <https://www.rafbf.org/great-escape/>
  • Wilson, Kevin. Bomber Boys: The RAF Offensive of 1943. Cassell. 2006.

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Evacuad Madrid!

Yesterday I had the honor to assist to the presentation of the map of “Madrid bombed. 1936-1939”, an initiative of the architects Enrique Bordes and Luis de Sobrón (@madrid1936_1939) of the UPM Universidad Politécnica de Madrid with the collaboration of the Madrid city council.

It is the first time that a map has been referenced and documented of each street and building in Madrid that suffered damage by bombing during the Spanish Civil War, whether artillery or aviation bomb, from the archives, photographs of impacts and testimonies from Madrid citizens, and especially the Fire Department work (Juan Miguel Redondo Toral). This is a great initiative that other cities such as London already have, which should have been done a long time ago, to try not to forget that Madrid was the first city in history to suffer a modern bombing campaign (apart from London in 1917) and served as an experiment for Luftwaffe and Mussolini’s Regia Aeronautica to learn how to bomb a large metropolis in an strategic role.

I wish that the past of years, does not erase our memory never more. Sadly, in these last 80 years, no institution or government has supported or organized anything like this until now.

Congratulations and thank you.

[Photo by Álvaro Minguito.]

[Photo by the author.]

[Photo by Álvaro Minguito.]

During November and part of December of 1936 Madrid was raided every day and every night by Franco’s aviation, with German and Italian crews and planes. Simultaneously, and during the rest of the war, howitzers and guns from the nearby front line at Casa de Campo, shells every morning civilian areas like Gran Via avenue, causing numerous victims.
Madrid was follow from the summer of 1937 by Barcelona, Alicante, Sagunto…

[A view of this fantastic map of Madrid´s bombings.]

[Photo by the author.]

[Madrid boys next to an unexploded Nationalist’s howitzer shell that landed at Gran Via avenue. 1937.]

[Photo by Mayo. Centro de Historia Social del siglo XX, Universidad de París-1, fondo André Marty.]

[Three Republican I-16 Mosca fighters, manned by Soviet pilots, flying over Madrid’s calle Alcalá during a patrol flight to defend the capital against enemy raids.]

[Photo by Robert Capa. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos.]

[Debris and destruction after an Italo-German air raid at Puerta del Sol in Madrid city. 1937.]

[A German Junkers Ju 52 bomber in flight, 3./K88, from Legion Condor, in 1937.]

[Photo: Thomas Gordon, Morgan-Witts Max. El día que murió Guernica. Plaza & Janés, 1976.]



www.madridbombardeado.es
Twitter: @madrid1936_1939


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‘Cookie’ delivery to Berlin

26 million of German people lost their homes during the war, just in Berlin 600,000 apartments were destroyed, half of all houses were damaged and around a third uninhabitable, as much as 16 km² of the city was simply rubble. When the war came to an end in May 1945, the ‘Big City’ had become a sea of destruction, death and debris. One of the biggest players in this panorama were the ‘Cookies’, or British HC-bombs.

[July 1945, work made by ‘Blockbusters’ and incendiaries: the total absence of roofs seen in this aerial view of the bombed-out Nollendorfkiez district after the war shows clearly the devastating effects of the Allied weapons on the German capital, maximized by these bombs explosion in built-up areas which obtain a huge ‘blast-effect’. Later, incendiaries burnt out everything around, it was the perfect ‘fire-storm’ created by RAF Bomber Command during fall 1943 and expanded in 1945 by USAAF raids.]

[Photo by William Vandivert. Life Magazine © Time Inc.]

[Another aerial view of bombed-out Schöneberg and Nollendorfkiez districts in Berlin. In this case Lützowplatz is shown looking south. This oblique shot and the previous one were taken by William Vandivert, famous American photographer and co-founder of Magnum Photos agency in 1947. In July 1945 he was the first Western photojournalist to photograph the ruined and defeated Nazi-Berlin and his photos were published in LIFE magazine.]

Photo by William Vandivert. Life Magazine © Time Inc.

As we have seen before, ‘Blockbuster’ bombs or High Capacity-bombs were first used on the night of 31 March/1 April 1941 in an attack on Emden when six Wellington of RAF No 149 Squadron were dispatched to drop them.

[Vertical aerial photograph taken from Vickers Wellington Mark II, W5439OJ-X’, of No 149 Sqn during a night raid on Emden, showing fires and smoke rising from explosions in the town, 31 March/ 1 April 1941. Two Wellingtons were modified to carry 4,000-lb HC blast-bombs that night.]

[Photo: © IWM (C 1888).]

These bombs were larger than any previously dropped by RAF Bomber Command, but can be used by medium bombers on service, namely the Vickers Wellington. The introduction of the new four-engined heavy bombers during 1941-42 (Halifaxes and Lancasters, as the big Short Stirling was unable to carry these dustbin-shaped weapons) just added even more tonnage of bombs carried on every trip to Germany.

First appearance of these huge weapons against the Reich’s capital was in September-November 1941 during the final raids of the first phase of RAF’s offensive against Berlin. After a November 1941 raid, aerial reconnaissance showed a large area in the Lichtenberg district totally disintegrated. In one of those attacks, one ‘blockbuster’ dropped in the Nordhaven sector killed twenty people on the street and many more in cellars by the effect of the blast. Mass use of HCs on Berlin had to wait nearly two years, on the night 1/2 March 1943, the worst raid suffered by the city during the first part of the war, and testimonies from Berliners reported huge fires never experienced before that night. One eyewitness experienced the blast of one of those weapons that night in the south-western suburbs: ‘a powerful, thunderous explosion…with a pressure wave that I had never experienced before, and which made me feel as a tiny ant (…)’ (Moorhouse, 2011.)

Also, the psychological effect of these weapons was tremendous, as we can read in this extract from RAF night operations (Bowman, M. 2015.): (…) When it exploded [these HC-bombs],’masses of debris’ said the official comunniqué, ‘flying through the air were outlined against the glow of fires and the results appeared to be devastating. Houses took to the air’ said the pilot who dropped it (…). In November 1941 there were reports of the terrible effects of these bombs in Berlin and of the fear they inspired; when one dropped in the Nordhaven district twenty people were found dead in the street and many people actually sheltering in cellar were killed by the effect of the blast alone”.

[Berlin 1944: A high explosive bomb, probably an RAF ‘Cookie’ has collapsed the flats in the foreground and the blast has stripped the tiles of the surrounding roofs; this is the ‘blockbuster’ aim, to aid in the penetration and ignition of the incendiaries’ wave.]

[Photo: Middlebrook, M. The Berlin Raids. RAF Bomber Command Winter 1943-44. Cassel & Co. 1988.]

The lethality of the ‘Blockbusters’ was well-known and very popular at the time. The efficiency of the new bombs was showed by many photographic reconnaissance missions, evidencing devastated areas and completely demolished buildings.

[HM King George VI (third from right) and Queen Elizabeth inspect how armourers fit a ‘Cookie’ into the bomb-bay of a British heavy bomber in a visit to RAF Witchford airbase in February 1944. TARGET: Germany.]

[Photo: RAF Museum.]

HC-bombs were usually dropped by the bombers comprising the initial waves of the attack, as they had to “make room” for the incendiary devices carried by the following bomber stream. British typical bomb-load for an ‘area-target’ bomber consisted of a 4,000-lb HC and 12 SBCs, these ones containing 2,832 4-lb incendiary bombs.

[This 4,000-lb ‘Cookie’ being manoeuvred into the bomb-bay wears an strike and self-explanatory message. The Lancaster bomber seen behind, W4198QR-H’ of RAF No 61 Sqn, was lost on her 75th mission (note bomb tally painted next to the nose art, 71 recorded) flying to bomb Berlin, on 26/27 November 1943, one of the 28 Lancasters failing to return of the 443 dispatched that night. Plt Off A J Eaves and his six-man crew were killed in the crash.]

[Photo: Lake, Jon. Lancaster Squadrons 1944–45. Osprey Publishing. 2002.]

During the ‘Battle of Berlin’ (August 1943 – March 1944) RAF Bomber Command dropped 6,811 of the 4,000-pounder version and 53 of the even larger 8,000-pounders ‘blockbusters’, in 19 major raids on the capital.

Some sources say that 500 people were killed when a 4,000 ‘pounder’ hit a public shelter in the basement of the Joachimstal Schule on 22 November 1943. The psychological effect and lethality of the ‘Blockbusters’ reached even their ‘droppers’: this is an extract from the memories of Sergeant O Roberts (Prisoner of War), a British gunner in No 49 Sqn shot down over Berlin on the night of 2/3 December 1943: “(…) I stayed in this hospital [the Hermann Göring Luftwaffe Hospital at Unter den Linden] for a further two weeks, and was there on the night of 16 December when Bomber Command paid another visit to Berlin. The sirens sounded and I was taken to the air-raid shelter with the other patients. I was sitting on a bunk bed in the shelter when a ‘Cookie’ dropped outside. It didn’t whistle; it rattled on the way down and shook all the building when it exploded.”

First use of those larger versions of the blast-bomb on or near Berlin was during this campaign, on the night of 2/3 December 1943 when six 8,000-pounders were dropped, carried in the extra-large bomb-bays of the Lancasters Mk II of No 115 Squadron.

[This Mark II DS689/’OW-S’, equipped with Bristol Hercules radial air-cooled engines and bulged bomb-bay doors to carry the large ‘Super-cookies’, flied with RCAF No 426 Sqn several missions over Berlin until it was lost during a raid on Stuttgart on 7/8 December 1943.]

[Photo: Lake, Jon. Lancaster Squadrons 1944–45. Osprey Publishing. 2002.]

[February 1944. Effects of an 8,000-lb ‘Super-cookie’ bomb dropped in a Berlin suburb during one of RAF Bomber Command’s attacks. This photograph, taken by No 106 (PR) Wing RAF a month after the bomb was dropped, shows the bombed site after considerable clearances. The ends of damaged buildings have been squared off and the crater surface levelled over. The visible area of destruction extends to approximately 14 acres over which buildings are seen to have been damaged by blast, as revealed by re-roofing and repairs.]

[Photo: Australian War Memorial (SUK11940).]

Another one of RAF’s ‘Cookies’ main droppers on Berlin was the De Havilland Mosquito, the twin-engined bomber flying alone in the dark to deliver the bomb thanks to her fast-flying and to be equipped with navigation and radar aids. It was used during the first raids as a spearhead of the main bombing force, and later, from March 1944 when BC campaign was over, acting as a ‘solo’ over the ‘Big City’. It could be said that every night from then until the end of the war at least one blast-bomb was released on the capital by a Mosquito, a true nightmare for Berliners.

First time for a Mosquito raid was on February 23/24th 1944, when a No 692 aircraft dropped one during the Dusseldorf raid, and ‘Cookies’ were dropped for the first time on Berlin on 13/14 April, again by a 692 Sqn crew. This squadron was part of the Light Night Striking Force of No 8 (PFF) Group [the Pathfinders], which specialized in these fast, high-flying night raids on Berlin during 1944-45. The specially-modified Mosquitoes were fitted with bulged bomb-bays and more powerful engines in order to accommodate the large ‘Cookies’. Each aircraft carried two 50-gallon drop tanks and a 4,000-lb bomb. Its crews dubbed these missions the ‘Berlin Express’.

[Armourers wheel a 4,000 ‘pounder’ for loading into a black-painted De Havilland Mosquito B IV (modified) of No 692 Squadron RAF at Graveley, Huntingdonshire.]

[Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (CH 12621).]

[Here we see another 692 Sqn Mosquito at RAF Graveley, showing the bulged bomb-bay, fitted to accommodate the 4,000-lb HC bomb, in preparation for a raid to the Reich’s capital. This aircraft was subsequently flown that night to Berlin by Canadians Flt Lts Andy Lockhart and Ralph Wood (navigator), one of the 18 trips to the city completed by this pair during the war.]

[Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (CH 12624).]

The legacy of these bombs in Germany is tangible yet. Today, we can see the remains of a 4,000-lb bomb with part of its steel case, on display at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin, Inventarnr. W 91/6.

[Photo by the author.]

[Photo: http://www.awesomeexplorations.com/hitlers-towers/].

As we can see in this image, taken in 2011 in Koblenz, British 4,000-lb ‘Blockbusters’ are still a truly live-danger nowadays for German people. In the second one, taken in 2017, about 60,000 people were ordered to leave in what was Germany’s biggest evacuation since the war because of an unexploded ‘Cookie’ was discovered in Frankfurt.

[Photo: Holger Weinandt / Wikimedia.]

[Photo: BBC.]


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Sources and Bibliography:

  • Airminded. Airpower and British society, 1908-1941. The first Blockbuster. <https://airminded.org/2012/11/14/the-first-blockbuster/>
  • 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. Mosquito Bomber/Fighter-Bomber Units 1942–45. Combat Aircraft. Osprey Publishing. 2013. 
  • 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. 4000lb High 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.
  • Johnson, George. The last British Dambuster: one man’s extraordinary life and the raids that changed history. Ebury Press. 2014.
  • Lake, Jon. Lancaster Squadrons 1944–45. Osprey Publishing. 2002.
  • Middlebrook, Martin. The Berlin raids. RAF Bomber Command Winter 1943-44. Cassell & Co. 1988.
  • Moorhouse, Roger. Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, London. 2011.
  • 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.
  • Worral, Richard. (2019). BATTLE OF BERLIN  1943–44. Bomber Harris’ gamble to end the war. Osprey Publishing. 

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Ruined Berlin in Valery Faminsky’s eyes (II)

Second part of the pictures taken by Soviet war photographer Valery Faminsky (1914–1993) during the Fall of Nazi Berlin in May 1945.

[Major S L Rogatchevsky, a Soviet medical officer, poses next to a propaganda slogan painted on a wall by SS members during the battle that reads: ‘Berlin stays German!’. Possibly located at Einbecker Straße.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Three ‘Ivans’ smile to camera with the Siegessäule column as a trophy background.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Soviet troops with a heavy tank IS-2 with Gen Albrecht Graf von Roon’s statue behind at Großer Stern, Straße des 17. Juni.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[The new conquerors of the German capital began their domain over the city, here we see the reading of the surrender in the streets, 8 May 1945.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[A group of Russian officers and soldiers at Oberbaumbrücke.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[A view of Falckensteinstraße after the war.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[A Soviet officer posing for a snapshot next to the Siegessäule am Charlottenburger Chaussee, heute Straße des 17. Juni.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[The same officer stands in front of the ruined structure of Alexanderplatz Bahnhof.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Another Soviet officer poses in front of one of the lion statues at Kaiser-Wilhelm-Nationaldenkmals. Notice bullet damage on the lion’s pedestal and the destroyed Dom at extreme left.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[More Soviet soldiers at the Kaiser-Wilhelm monument.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[A portrait of two soldiers at Kaiser-Wilhelm-Nationaldenkmals vor dem Stadtschloss near the Spree river. See at center of the image the Zeughaus building; out of picture at far left would be the Bauakademie (Building Academy) (info thanks to Jürgen Raddatz).]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Three Red Army members stands at Ebertstraße, posing in front of the remains of the destroyed Brandenburger Tor.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[A German FlaK 37/41 AA gun used as an anti-tank weapon in front of the Reichstag. Note that the barrel gun has been destroyed.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Unloading a wounded soldier at the field hospital at Friedrichstraße-Ritterstraße.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Soviet troops salutes their Red banner during a victory parade at Scheidemnanstraße, Platz der Republik, outside of the destroyed Reichstag on 20 May 1945.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Russian soldiers playing a captured piano in Berlin streets.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Berlin, Alexanderplatz, the Georgenkirche can be seen in the background of the photo.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]




All photos: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.


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Ruined Berlin in Valery Faminsky’s eyes

These pictures were taken by Soviet war photographer Valery Faminsky (1914–1993) during the Fall of Nazi Berlin in May 1945. This archive was discovered recently in Moscow. He photographed the Red Army’s combat from Ukraine to Berlin.

Photographer Arthur Bondar heard that the family of Faminsky was selling the album and negatives after his death in 2011, so he acquired the archive in 2016.

These amazing pics of World War Two were taken during April 22nd to May 24th 1945, as Faminsky accompanied Soviet troops during their final assault of Third Reich’s capital. One of the most valued aspects of this album is that they are recorded far away from Soviet propaganda: images showing the troops daylife during their march to Berlin, the population, the ruins of the big city…the true face of destruction accomplished by the Allies. He also documented the care of wounded soldiers in Berlin for the medical authorities.

A truly witness of the reality of war, enjoy it.

[The Reichstag’s burnt out main entrance and portico.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Another view of the destroyed Berlin Reichstag building, looking East.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Ruined Waldermarstraße.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Civilians and their families fled the city, Schlesischer Bahnhof, 1945.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Bomb craters and trenches among rubble near Kroll Opera, Berlin. Smoke columns rises from recent street fightings.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[An old-woman among destruction at Pfarrstraße, Berlin.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Roßstraßenbrücke at Wallstraße. Note bombed out apartments in the background.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[A panorama view of the ruined Roßstraßenbrücke at Wallstraße.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[A Berliner old man stands next to a warning from Berlin Wehrmacht’s Kommandantur.]

Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Berliner Frau sits next to her suitcase in an abandoned street.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Bombed out building and debris in the Nazi-capital.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[A lost horse in the middle of Falckenstein Straße, Ecke Schlesische Straße. Sadly, it would became soon food for Berliners…]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Helsingforser StraßeTwo images of destruction: the combined action of Western Allies bombing campaign and the final Russian assault.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[German civilians -notice they are all old men and women, abandoned the defeated city as Soviet troops conquered Berlin.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

Last summer we can saw all this impressive images in an exhibition in Berlin. Bildband Berlin opened this show during 12th May – 12th July 2018 at Immanuelkirchstr. 33 (Prenzlauer Alle). Also we can adquire this complete album in a fabulous German/English 184 pages-edition “Valery Faminsky – Berlin Mai 1945” at their bookshop.


All photos: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.


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Bombensturm! (Part IV)

HC Bombs:

[RAF ground crew push a 4,000-lb blast-bomb towards the bomb-bay of a Vickers Wellington of No 75 (NZ) Squadron at RAF Feltwell in 1941.]

Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (TR 11).

The strategic method to destroy German cities employed by Bomber Command in area bombings was based on fires caused by the incendiary bombs, and to ignite it, Great Britain had to devise a new type of weapon that would accelerate and facilitate its jump from house to house, block to block, eliminating also any obstacle that would stop it - walls and piles. A great power was necessary, which generated a formidable expansive blast wave.

In October 1940, the Air Staff required to design and develop this new range of weapons to “dehouse” the enemy’s cities: these would be named ‘High capacity’ bombs or HC.

Based on the Blitz experiences, the British learn how effective were the air-mines dropped by Luftwaffe bombers and their destructive effects in the city. An air-mine was a sea mine adapted to be dropped on land targets, usually attaching it to a parachute. A clockwork mechanism would detonate the mine 17-25 seconds after impact, detonating at roof level (the force of the blast would disperse laterally) to maximize the explosion in built-up areas and to obtain a huge ‘blast-effect’. The Luftwaffe used several types of these bombs, the most common were the 500 kg Luftmine A and the 1,000 kg Luftmine B and had a high charge ratio of 60-70 percent. They were first used against land targets on 16 September 1940 in the early stages of the air-assault against Britain.

[A German 1,000 kg-Luftmine B (LMB) fitted with a MA1 magnetic acoustic detonator (as
indicated on the nose) being loaded onto a transportation trolley prior to a bombing sortie from a French aerodrome.]

[Photo: Chris Goss. Heinkel He 111: The Latter Years - the Blitz and War in the East to the Fall of Germany. Pen & Sword Books Ltd. 2018.]

[In this photo we can see Police and Army bomb disposal officers with a defused German 1,000 kg Luftmine B during the Blitz in Glasgow, 18 March 1941. The image allows us to appreciate the size of this bomb.]

[Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (H 8281).]

The British idea was to create a blast bomb, in a certain way inspired by those German “air-mines”, filled with a high charge ratio in the lightest possible structure, a thin steel case. HC-bombs usually used high charge to weight ratios of 70-88%. The bomb was filled with HE Amatol and sometimes this one was also mixed with TNT and aluminium powder to form ‘Torpex’ and ‘Minol’. Their lightweight construction meant that they collapsed on impact so that they had to be instantaneously fused, delayed action not being an option here. In addition, its high weight made these bombs to fall straight, blowing off roofs and windows like paper so that the small 4-lb incendiary bombs could reach the building interiors, ignite and burn, and creating in the process a flue chimney to help fire to expand.

The HC series introduced the innovator concept of modular construction and all have a crude cylindrical shape with flat noses, resembling a dust bin. The absence of tailfins made these blast-bombs had no ballistic characteristics, so when dropped they could land anywhere. The parachute of the initial series was deleted after test runs proved no need to ‘soft’ their landing and also made more unstable the weapon from 800 to 2,000 feet.

These weapons were known unofficially as ‘Blockbusters because of the idea that they were capable of destroying a whole block of flats in a city. The earliest press reference of this term appeared in a US United Press report dated 29 July 1942, but it didn’t appear in British press until January 1943. The start of the association of this term with the cinema apparently dates back to May 1943, when ‘blockbuster’ was used for the publicity campaign of a RKO’s war film named Bombardier (The tagline of the movie reads: “The block-buster of all action-thrill-service shows!”), and in 1944 in another war documentary called Marines at Tarawa (‘It hits the heart like a two ton blockbuster!’ it said…) and press became to associate it with massive impact and success (Hall S, 2014).

Germans continued to referred to it as Luftminen. British crews called them Cookies, perhaps due to their shape, but it is unknown. Others says this was a codename for an usual bomb-load consisting of a large canister - the HC-, several HE bombs and a thousand incendiaries and for whatever reason the name ‘cookie’ became associated with the canister itself.

[Movie poster of the 1943 war-film Bombardier. Notice at upper left the strike message using the ‘block-buster’ term.]

[Photo: Movie poster 1943 / Traileraddict.]

First of the large HC weapons designed was the 4,000-lb HC bomb - the so called ‘Cookie, required initially as a mine-bomb to drop on naval targets such as harbours and ships. The device had to be able to fit into the Wellington medium bomber bomb-bay and was so big that no bomb trolley was capable of carrying such a bomb at the time. First bomb was ready in November 1940, and the great urgency for the bomb made that several were dropped already in February 1941 (first official use of these new 4,000-pounders were on 31 March/ 1 April 1941 on a raid on Emden). Initial installation of a parachute was dropped later by Air Staff but a nose spoiler was fitted to improve ballistic performance. By August, 226 bombs had been dropped but the type was not officially part of the Command’s inventory until January 1942. Their usual weight was 3,930-lb (1,786 kg). From February 1943 a new ‘proximity fused’ type of 4,000-lb HC bomb, with a wide blast-effect, was used when four Lancasters dropped them for the first time on La Spezia port in Italy. 

[An WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) tractor driver leaving the bomb dump with a 4,000-lb ‘Cookie’ bomb on a trolley, at RAF Feltwell station in 1942.]

Photo: © RAF Museum ID 707905.

During the war 68,000 of these bombs were dropped by Bomber Command, other sources indicates a nearly 93,000 figure but it is evident that the 4,000-pounder was the mainstream weapon of the HC range; it was estimated that these bombs were 1.4 times more effective as the same weight of medium bombs at causing structural damage. Each of these blast bombs cost the British Government £163 according to existing data.

[An RAF armourer working on an early variant of the 4,000-lb HC blast-bomb prior to a mission.]

[Photo: RAF museum.]

[In this original colour film we can see British RAF ground-crew around a trolley with a 4,000-lb HC behind one containing six American 500-lb bombs (note the tailfins), prior to be loaded into the bomb-bay.]

[Photo: still from film / Archive of War - Night Bombers. BBC.]

[An Avro Lancaster Mark I, NG128SR-B’, of No 101 Squadron RAF, piloted by Warrant Officer R B Tibbs, releases a 4,000-lb HC ‘Cookie’ (at right) and 30-lb incendiary bombs over the target during a special daylight raid on Duisburg. Notice the large aerials on top of the Lancaster’s fuselage next to the top turret, indicating that the aircraft is carrying ‘Airborne Cigar’ (ABC), a jamming device which disrupted enemy radio channels to confuse German nightfighters and air controllers. This is a still from film shot by the RAF Film Production Unit.]

[Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (CL 1404).]

[Still from film shot in an Avro Lancaster taken from the bomb-bay camera, by the RAF Film Production Unit, during a daylight attack on the Luftwaffe airfield and signals depot at St Cyr, France, by aircraft of No 5 Group. A 4,000-lb bomb ‘Cookie’ and a smaller 500-lb MC bomb are seen just after they were released over the target.]

[Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (C 4525).]

[A line-up of 4000-lb HC bombs waiting to be loaded on to RAF Lancaster bombers in September 1943.]

Photo: © IWM (CH_010937_1).

[This film was created by the US Ballistics Research Laboratory at Aberdeen, Maryland during the tests made of British 4,000 pound munitions. Video credit: Periscope Film LLC Archive.]


The 4,000-pounder was closely followed by the next variant of this type, the smaller one: 2,000-lb HC bomb. Their usual weight was 1,842-lb (837 kg). Subsequent Mark II and Mark III of this 2,000-pounders differed in detail; the conical nose was replaced with a domed nose and the number of fuzes was increased from one to 3 to guarantee detonation. This is the only ‘blockbuster’ bomb can be carried and dropped by the big Short Stirling heavy bomber due to its narrow bomb-bay.

The number dropped from a 194 figure in the year 1941 to a max point of 16,227 in 1944. Following development of larger bombs, this type was redesigned at the Command’s request and incorporated the use of a ballistic tall unit. The new variant became available for use in August of 1942 and remained a part of the RAF general inventory throughout the remainder of the conflict. A total of 28,633 of these weapons were dropped by Bomber Command during the war.

[Australian armourers load a 2,000-lb High Capacity bomb into the bomb-bay of an Avro Lancaster bomber of No 467 Sqn RAAF at Waddington air base in August 1944. Chalk inscription warning groundcrew that the weapon has her fuses inserted in the bomb dump.]

[Photo: Australian War Memorial (UK1771).]

In 1942, a larger version of the blast bomb was developed by joining together two 4,000-lb HC bomb sections, creating the 8,000-lb High Capacity bomb (‘super cookie’) which although similar in design to the standard ‘Cookie’  were actually shorter in length and of larger diameter, so even the Lancaster bomber had to be modified to carry this weapon (bulged bay-bomb doors).

Their usual weight was 7,860-lb (3,572 kg). Only the front section was fused and this in turn detonated the connecting section by blast wave. These bombs were deployed against similar targets but in shorter numbers, this was because when testing, the sections of the 8,000-pounder were found to be inferior to a single 4,000-lb HC bomb. 1,088 of them were used in combat during the war. 

[An armourer gets inside the fin of an 8000-lb bomb to make adjustments prior a mission.]

[Photo: © IWM CH 12591]

[An 8,000-lb HC bomb (‘super-cookie’) is brought by a David Brown tractor to a waiting Lancaster of No 106 Squadron RAF in its dispersal at Syerston, Nottinghamshire]

[Photo: © IWM (CH 12595).]

Finally, the RAF employed the biggest model of this series, the 12,000-lb HC bomb (5,425 kg was their usual weight) filled with Torpex explosive and fused with three nose position fuzes. This ‘Super-cookie’ bomb was developed in 1942 after a study of the Air Staff for a large weapon. It was created essentially with three 4,000-lb ‘Cookies’ bolted together with the addition of a six-finned ballistic tail, but actually the bomb was shorter due to the need to fit it into the Lancaster bomb-bay; loaded it took aprox. 35 minutes and four men to prepare it. 

But this weapon was rarely used against targets like cities, they were primarily reserved to special precision targets or factories. First use of this bomb was on 14 September 1943 when No 617 Sqn attacked the heavily defended Dortmund-Ems Canal. Just 193 of these big-size bombs were dropped by RAF Bomber Command during the war, most of them expended by the ‘special’ No 617 Squadron with not much success.

[An RAF armourer checks a large 12,000-lb HC device in her trolley before loading it on Lancaster B144/’KC-N’ in a dispersal zone at RAF Coningsby for an incoming bombing operation against the Third Reich on 15 September 1943. This bomber was lost during that very day in a disastrous raid.]

[Photo: Lake, Jon. Lancaster Squadrons 1944–45. Osprey Publishing. 2002.]

[Video credit: Buyout Footage Historic Film Archive.]

The following image summarized part of the RAF’s blast-bombs family: armourers show off bombs for a comparison in size at the bomb dump at RAF Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire. In the front are 1,000-lb and 500-lb MC bombs, behind them a 2,000-lb HC Mark I, then a 4,000-lb HC Mark III or Mark IV ‘Cookie’. Finally, at the rear, is a 12,000-lb HC ‘Blockbuster’. 

[Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (CH 12450).]

This table shows, by type, the number of HC-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.

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Sources and Bibliography:

  • Airminded. Airpower and British society, 1908-1941. The first Blockbuster. <https://airminded.org/2012/11/14/the-first-blockbuster/>
  • Air Ministry. (1954). RAF Armament Volume I: Bombs and Bombing Equipment.
  • The United States Strategic Bombing Survey. Air Studies Division Report: The Economic Effects of the Air Offensive Against German Cities, USSBS.
  • Bowman. (2012). Martin W. Bomber Command Reflections of War. Volume: 2. June 1942-Summer 1943. Pen & Sword Aviation.
  • Bowman, Martin W. (2014). Voices in Flight: the heavy bomber offensive of WW2. Pen & Sword Aviation.
  • Bowman, Martin W. (2015). Voices in Flight: RAF Night Operations. Pen & Sword Aviation.
  • Boyd, David. 4000lb High Capacity Bomb. <http://www.wwiiequipment.com>
  • Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.
  • Fahey, John. (2004). Britain 1939 – 1945: The economic cost of Strategic Bombing. University of Sidney.
  • Falconer, John. (1998). Bomber Command Handbook. The History Press.
  • Friedrich, Jörg. (2002). Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Propylaen Verlag, Zweigniederlassung der Ullstein.
  • Goss, Chris. (2018). Heinkel He 111: The Latter Years - the Blitz and War in the East to the Fall of Germany. Pen & Sword Books Ltd.
  • Hall, Sheldon (2014). Pass the ammunition: a short etymology of “Blockbuster”. In: Elliott, Andrew B.R., (ed.) The Return of the Epic Film. University Press, 147-166.
  • Johnson, George. (2014). The last British Dambuster: one man’s extraordinary life and the raids that changed history. Ebury Press.
  • Lake, Jon. (2002). Lancaster Squadrons 1944–45. Osprey Publishing.
  • Middlebrook, Martin. (1988). The Berlin raids. RAF Bomber Command Winter 1943-44. Cassell & Co.
  • Moorhouse, Roger. (2011). Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books.
  • Overy, Richard. (2013). The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane.
  • The Strategic Air War Against Germany 1939-1945 – The Official Report of the British Bombing Survey Unit (Introduction by Sebastian Cox). Frank Cass. 1998.
  • Worral, Richard. (2019). BATTLE OF BERLIN  1943–44. Bomber Harris’ gamble to end the war. Osprey Publishing. 

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The Opera - The Prussian statues

This is how the Staatsoper Unter den Linden area looked short time after the end of the war in the summer of 1945: a mass of ruin and rubble.

[Photo by Hildegard Dreyer. Deutsches Historisches Museum (GOS-Nr. BA010457)]

Before the end of World War Two, next to the main entrance of the Opera house at Unter den Linden were three statues of prominent Prussian generals in pedestals, installed in the 19th Century and commissioned by König Friedrich Wilhelm III.

Today, next to the Opera portico at left we see two majestic statues again, but actually they are not the same… why is this? Here is their full story…

[Here we see the same location before the destruction caused by bombings and street-fighting. These photos were taken in 1937 in colour film by Karl Lutz during a Wehrmacht parade at Unter den Linden. We can see a 3-statue set on pedestals, located next to the Staatsoper. Notice that the Zeughaus armoury (today the Deutsche Historisches Museum - German Historical Museum) and the Dom are at right behind the statues, this is because the images are flipped.]

Photo by Karl Lutz/Stadtarchiv Speyer.

Photo by Karl Lutz/Stadtarchiv Speyer

They were part of a 5-statue field commemorative monuments made in 1855. The trio of generals next to the Opera was composed by August von Gneisenau (1760-1831), Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (1742-1819) and Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg (1759-1830), all of them instrumental in the Prussian army during the European Napoleonic Wars.

The Nazi-regime tried to protect these sculptures from the Allies’ air-bombings by covering them with some urns made of bricks, and they get some protection during those terrible days, but by war’s end one of the statues is missing from her pedestal, as we can clearly see in one of the accompanying images.

[Hitler arrives at the state funeral for Admiral von Trotha (1868-1940) in Unter den Linden, 11 October 1940, with the Prussian statues and the Staatsoper as a background.]

[Photo: Hoffmann NY Public Library.]

[April 10th, 1941. The Opera was hit by some incendiary bombs during an attack by British bombers the night before. The bombs narrowly missed the trio of Prussian statues on this time, seen at left of the image].

[Photo: Scherl/Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo (0011586).]

[In this Hoffmann photography we can see the securing work following Luftschutz instructions to protect the Staatsoper’s statues at Unter den Linden from the Allied bombing raids in late 1940.] 

Photo: Heinrich Hoffmann/ Bayerische Staatsbibliothek - hoff-32757.

[This is “Berlin, Opernhaus und Unter den Linden, 1845”, oil on canvas by Eduard Gaertner (1801–1877), a painting in which we can get an idea of how the site was in Prussian times.]

[Photo: © Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid.].

Until Cold War-year 1950, the statues of Generals von Wartenburg, von Blücher and von Gneisenau stood at this point surrounded by ruins and rubble. The statues were dismantled in the postwar period by the new socialist government, during the reconstruction of the theatre that year as the symbology of the war heroes did not fit with the ‘3rd World Festival of Youth and Students’ (Weltfestspiele der Jugend und Studenten), an international event that was to be held in East Berlin in 1951.

[Another view of the battle-damaged Staatsoper in Berlin Mitte and her statues after the war.]

[Photo: Freydank, Ruth. Theater in Berlin: von den Anfängen bis 1945. Berlin, 1988.]

[Opposite view of the Prussian statues at the same time in 1945. Note that von Wartenburg statue is missing and heavy battle damage to Humboldt-Universität’s eastern wing in the background.]

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

[The reconstructed DDR-era Opernhaus in October 1957 without the statues and pedestals.]

[Photo by Klaus Morgenstern / © ddrbildarchiv.].

Now here stands the two remaining statues of the 5-set, which represent General Friedrich Wilhelm von Bülow and General Gerhard von Scharnhorst. They were sculpted by Christian Daniel Rauch (1777-1857) in marble on pedestal with reliefs (these ones made by Karl Friedrich Schinkel) and a height of 2.7 metres.

[Last summer view of today’s location of Generals von Bulow (at left in the foreground) and Scharnhorst (at center) next to the restored Unter den Linden’s Opera.]

[Photo by the author / August 2018.].

[Photo by the author / August 2018.].

This pair is the one that was originally placed on both sides of the Neue Wache (‘New Guard House’), flanking the memorial that honored the Unknown soldier. Having survived the destruction of the battle and air-bombings, and located within the Soviet zone of occupation, the statues were dismantled from their pedestal and put into storage.

[The marble statues at their original location, both sides of the Neue Wache as seen in 1939, just before the outbreak of the war and the incoming Armageddon of the city.]

[Photo by A. Frankl / Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-P014770.].

[The ruined Neue Wache at Unter den Linden as seen in 1946, notice one of the Prussian statues at right.]

[Photo: © Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz.].

In 1961, the statue of Scharnhorst was placed in its current situation next to the Opera, re-established by the DDR government. Later, the Scharnhorst Monument was restored in 1990 after the German reunification and rebuilt in 2002, set up again with the statue of von Bülow, which has been stored since 1950.

But … where did the 3 original statues on the roadside of the Opera go?

The trio of Generals von Wartenburg, von Blücher and von Gneisenau was re-established in 1961 in the back garden of the Opera: the so-called Prinzessinnengarten (‘Garden of the princesses’). Today they are still located there but in different place, recently restored after the reformation workings on the Staatsoper started in 2009 and with a new design of the adjacent area including a square and gardens.

[Denkmal für Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. This is a view of the figure and base before re-erection in 1961.]

[Photo by Roland Handrick. SLUB /Deutsche Fotothek (df_hauptkatalog_0146393).]

[The current location of the original three statues set, now at the Prinzessinnengarten, designed by landscape architect Birgit Hammer. Notice that the pink facade of the Opera house is barely visible behind.]

[Photo by Bernd Lampe, 2007.].

[Berlin’s Staatsoper den Linden with the Prussian statues at left as seen today.]

[Photo by the author. 2018.]

The reasons behind these statues have not been re-established at their original location by Berlin authorities is unknown, but at least they are all intact and exposed to the visitor, and not stored in an old warehouse as happened after the war.


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Source:

  • Berlin: Staatsoper Unter den Linden. CARTHALIA - Theatres on Postcards. Andreas Praefcke’s postcard collection of theatres and concert halls worldwide
    <http://www.andreas-praefcke.de/carthalia/germany/berlin_staatsoper.htm>
  • 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>

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The Opera - Year Zero and Postwar

The reconstruction

Following the fall of the Third Reich, 1945 was ‘Year Zero’ for Berlin, and so it was for the Staatsoper. The ancient Opera, renamed at that time as Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, was one of the first historical buildings at the German capital secured against further decay and plunder, with Unter den Linden boulevard and an important part of Mitte district being assigned to the Soviet conquerors as a war trophy.

[Photo: still from film. CHRONOS Media.]

Photo: bpk/ Friedrich Seidenstücker.

Photo: akg-images (AKG61022).

Photo: Antik-Foto.

An aerial view from a low flypast by an Allied airplane along the ruined Unter den Linden at the end of the war which allows us to see the burnt condition of the stage tower of the building (top left).
The auditorium burned out, but the altered spatial sequences, which had arisen under the abandonment of the old Apollo room, remained intact. Notice buildings without roof in the foreground.

Photo: still from film. CHRONOS Media.]

A closer look taken seconds before from the same low flypast with Bebelplatz and the Staatsoper at left. Notice that King Friedrich’s statue has been covered to protect it from the destruction of war and air-bombings with a masonry shell (top centre). The main entrance of Humboldt University is seen at right.

[Photo: still from film. CHRONOS Media.]

[Year 1949: Destroyed north facade and eastern and western stage house of the Staatsoper after the Allied air bombing and Soviet assault. Notice shrapnel heavy damage on walls and at right the DDR East Germany slogan reading “Auf Sozialisten schließt die Reihen”, taken from the ‘Sozialistenmarsch’, a song written in 1892 for the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD).]

[Photo: Tiedemann/ Landesdenkmalamt Berlin, Fotoarchiv.].

[Photo: Tiedemann/ Landesdenkmalamt Berlin, Fotoarchiv.].

[This iconic view of the Oper den Linden, taken in June 1951 from the fence of the Humboldt Universität, where two cows graze in the grass. Notice at left the ancient statue of Wilhelm von Humboldt, made in 1883 by sculptor Reinhold Begas. It seems that the main entrance portico of the Neoclassical theatre survived barely intact to the Allies’ bombs.]

Photo: Bundesarchiv /07-0002-007.

Following a discussion by the new authorities of the city about conservation or demolition, reconstruction work at the Staatsoper started early after the end of the hostilities.

At the time, Soviet city commander Gen Nikolai Berzarin, the first town mayor of the Soviet occupying zone (as he was commander of Soviet 5th Shock Army -the first Stalin’s army to reached the eastern outskirts of Berlin on April 21, 1945) promised that a new grand Opera would be built elsewhere, so that the one at Unter den Linden could be restored to its original form.

[Commander of the conquered city, General Nikolai Berzarin talking with Trümmerfrauen clearing debris in May 1945.]

[Photo: MilitaryHistory.]

[The Oper den Linden just prior to the start of the restoration in June 1951, the destruction caused by the air bombing raids is evident.]

Photo: Deutsche Fotothek_0106342/SLUB.

[Photo by Illus Schmidtke / Bundesarchiv Bild 183-11116-0002.]

[Photo: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-11116-0001.]

[These are views of the works’ progress during 1951-52 taken from the adjacent Bebelplatz. The partly destroyed Dom can be seen behind in the first picture.]

[Photo: deutsche-digitale-bibliothek.de.]

Photo: © Stadtmuseum Berlin/ SM 2017-10190.

[The partly restored building of the Staatsoper with work on progress on the front facade.]

[Photo by Reich (E & O).]

In 1951, architect Richard Paulink (the son of a SPD official and also involved in the reconstruction of Dresden) was tasked with restoring the theatre to match the original 1742-version of the building. The beginning of the reconstruction of the Staatsoper started on June 12, 1952. The result was an unusually opulent building by socialist standards - they called it “socialist rococo”.

[As we can see in this image, the authorities of the newly born East Germany adorned the works with a pompous and patriotic act, knowing the potential power of the return of
such an important site in the musical world as was the
Unter den Linden Opernhaus.]

Photo: Stadtmuseum Berlin (SM 2017-10189).

During the close-down time (1945-1955), the Admiralpalast at Friedrichstraße hosted the Opera.

The newly rebuilt opera building was reopened in September 1955, with Wagner’s ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’, the same work that in 1942 did it after the first Allied bombing. Even Hitler would have enjoyed it.

[The new opera house was inaugurated in 1955 now in East Germany’s capital and renamed Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin.]

[Photo: DDR-postkarten-museum.]

Several reconstruction works were made during the DDR-period, including a total refurbishment in 1986-87 and one more after 1990 during the German reunification process, when it recovered again its name, Staatsoper Unter den Linden.

[The theatre under reconstructon work in June, 1986.]

[Photo: DDR-bildarchiv / Pressefoto 35737.]

Finally, during 2010-2017, when the original Opera building at Unter den Linden was closed to the public, while undergoing extensive renovations. Aside from occasional avant-garde performances in the construction site, the bulk of the season’s offerings over the reconstruction period have taken place at the Berliner Schillertheater (Bismarckstraße) in Charlottenburg, only a block away from its main competitor, the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

After 7 years of work, the reopening act was celebrated in December 2017, nearly celebrating its 275th birthday.

[The Opera building under the final renovation, this shot was taken in 2013.]

[Photo: Alexander Schippel.]

The current renovation included over 90 different companies attending to details such as the walls’ gilded ornamentation and the chandeliers, but work took much longer than expected and the renovation costs raised from an estimated 239 million euros to €400 million, half of which covered by federal funds.

[Photo: 2018 by the author.]

[Photo: 2018 by the author.]

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Source:

  • Aster, Misha. (2017). Staatsoper: Die bewegte Geschichte der Berliner Lindenoper im 20. Jahrhundert. Siedler Verlag.
  • Berlin: Staatsoper Unter den Linden. CARTHALIA - Theatres on Postcards. Andreas Praefcke’s postcard collection of theatres and concert halls worldwide
    <http://www.andreas-praefcke.de/carthalia/germany/berlin_staatsoper.htm>
  • Einhard, Luther. Oper in Berlin – Heiß umkämpft und stets unter Feuer. Pro Business. 2012.
  • Freydank, Ruth. Theater in Berlin: von den Anfängen bis 1945. Berlin. 1988.
  • Friedrich, Jörg. Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Propylaen Verlag, Zweigniederlassung der Ullstein. 2002.
  • Kellerhoff Sven F. Berlin im Krieg: Eine Generation erinnert sich. BASTEIBBE. 2011.
  • Meffert, Erich. Das Haus der Staatsoper und seine neue Gestaltung. Dargebracht von der Generalintendanz der Preussischen Staatstheater. Generalintendanz der Preussischen Staatstheater. Leipzig, Max Beck Verlag. 1944.
  • Moorhouse, Roger. Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, London. 2011.
  • SCHLOSSDEBATE. Wie wurde die Staatsoper in der DDR rekonstruiert? <http://schlossdebatte.de/?p=96>
  • Schmitz, Franz. Kleine Baugeschichte der Staatsoper Unter den Linden. STAATSOPER UNTER DEN LINDEN <https://www.staatsoper-berlin.de>
  • STAATSOPER UNTER DEN LINDEN <https://www.staatsoper-berlin.de>

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The Opera - Reconstruction and Death

When the Staatsoper den Linden was severely damaged by British bombs in April 1941, Hitler urgently ordered its reconstruction, as it was one of his favourite buildings from his fanatical devotion to Opera and Richard Wagner’s works.

[December 1942: Nazi-parade of a guard of honour at Unter den Linden on the occasion of the anniversary of the Tripartite Pact (the military agreement signed by Germany, Italy and Japan signed in 1940). We can see Japanese ambassador Hiroshi Oshima -third from right saluting the guards. The reconstructed Staatsoper den Linden is seen behind the troops.]

[Photo: ullstein bild/Getty images.]

The theatre would be restored under the direction of Erich Meffert, the Ministerial Councilor from Finance, with the estructure been hardly modified externally and a new broad monumental staircase inside. According to the architects, the goal was the redesign - in addition to the elimination of functional defects, but tight timeframes and the delivery difficulties for building materials in war time however, forced for most rooms a comparatively simple equipment. In addition to the actual construction site, dozens of plasterers and painters in studios were soon busy working on the elaborate interior design. Everyone was under great pressure, because of the 200th anniversary of the inauguration of the Opera in December 1942 the reconstruction should be completed. Finally, on scheduled time, the Staatsoper reopened with the staging of Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” under the musical direction of Wilhelm Furtwängler.

[This is a view of the reconstructed foyer floor of the Opera in 1942.]

[Photo: BerlinStateOpera.].

[Three 1942-era postcards showing the reconstructed and new design of the Staatsoper.]

[Photo: Meffert, E. Leipzig, Max Beck Verlag. 1944.]

[Photo: Meffert, E. Leipzig, Max Beck Verlag. 1944.]

[Photo: Meffert, E. Leipzig, Max Beck Verlag. 1944.]

[”200 Jahre - Staats Oper Berlin -Im Bild”, a book printed in 1942 to commemorate the 200th birthday of the Staatsoper. Today it’s easy to find and acquire relics of this type in different auction houses and antique stores like eBay.]

[Source: Ebay]

After that, normal life returned to the Opera, with the usual programming of operas and concerts and its constant use by the Nazi leaders. The Staatsoper was still a reference between European culture, despite the prohibition of Jewish authors and their exile from Germany.

[This picture, published in September 1942 by ‘Das Reich’, shows the opera ‘Salome’ written by Richard Strauss, with Austrian soprano Maria Cebotari as Salome and Julius Pölzer as ‘Tetrarch’ being played at the Berlin Staatsoper.]

[Photo by Charlotte Williot / Getty images.]

But war reached the Opera again. The Staatsoper was slightly damaged in the second half of 1943, during the British Bomber Command attacks made in late summer and fall of that year in which the adjacent St Hedwig cathedral at Bebelplatz was severely damaged too. With American bombs falling on Unter den Linden and Staatsbibliothek in May 1944, Dr Goebbels, as Gauleiter of Berlin, closed down the Opera again in August in the name of the Totaler Krieg (“Total War”) policy. Last performance was on August 31, with ‘Le nozze di Figaro’, directed by Johannes Schüler. The Staatskapelle continued performing symphonic and opera concerts. On November 24, 1944, an attack by several British RAF Mosquito bombers hit the facade of the State Opera (57 Mosquitoes took off with orders to bomb Berlin that night, they bomb on dead reckoning due to bad weather), the cloakroom and the cash desk have been destroyed and the entrance hall damaged.

The rebuilt Opera house had just 26 months when the building was finally destroyed on February 3, 1945 hit again by bombs during the massive daylight raid made by US Eighth Air Force. That Saturday the government district of Berlin was pounded and smashed to rubble by American bombs dropped by 937 four-engined bombers which unloaded 2,500 tons of bombs. The Americans lost 23 bombers.

Some bombs fell on Unter den Linden and three of them hit the theatre, engulfing in flames not just the roof and the auditorium but also the foundation walls. The portico and the Apollo hall including the internals of the years 1941/42 remained more or less intact.

[A Boeing B-17 US heavy-bomber leaving contrails over the burning Berlin on 3 February 1945. The American official record states that the bombers were sent to hit the Tempelhof marshalling yards.]

[Photo: Roger Freeman Collection. FRE 14366.]

[This is a detail of a PR image taken on March 15th by a F-5 Lightning to assets damage done on the city centre after the two big ‘area’ bombing raids made by US Eighth Air Force aircraft. Note the huge damage taken by the Staatsoper and the roofless condition of both the Neue Wache (gutted by fire) north of the Opera and the St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale (already destroyed in March 1943) at Bebelplatz.]

Photo: NARA (D9895, Sortie US7-40D, Exposure 3172).

[The ruins of the Berlin Oper as seen in July 1945 by William Vandivert, an American photojournalist sent to the defeated capital. Note rubble on the foreground and the Prussian statues’ brick cover case at left.]

Photo:  Life Magazine ©TimeLife_image_641221

[A view of the rear side of the iconic building after the end of the war, taken from Behrenstraße.]

[Photo: still from film. Framepool & RightSmith Stock | 833-162-646.]

That last great bombing, and the subsequent Battle of Berlin with its bloodied street fighting with Soviet troops left the centre of the capital in a dilapidated and ruined state, with the bad damaged Staatsoper being finally taken by Red Army’s 416th and 295th Rifle Divisions after heavy fighting block by block moving west along Unter den Linden on May 1st, 1945, with the iconic Opera building included in the destroyed set of war prizes get by Stalin as conqueror and final executor of the Third Reich. 

[Two views of a German 15 cm FH18 howitzer gun at Bebelplatz next to the Staatsoper, left behind by the defeated garrison after the battle with the Red Army.]

[Photo: still from Russian newsreel. Via Piet Vergiet.]

Photo: still from Russian newsreel. Via Piet Vergiet.

[Ruined and bombed out view of Unter den Linden and Staatsoper, seen from the Neue Wache across the street just after the war.]

Photo: AKG images (AKG61023).

[This blurred but interesting image of the shrapnel- and bullet riddle Staatsoper in 1946 was recently sold at an Ebay auction. Notice that the building windows and main gate were walled in with bricks to protect it from the battle.]

Photo: ebay.

Photo: postkarte.

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Sources and Bibliography:

  • 8th Air Force Historical Society. Eighth Air Force Operations History - 3 February 1945 <http://8thafhs.com/missions.php>
  • Aster, Misha. (2017). Staatsoper: Die bewegte Geschichte der Berliner Lindenoper im 20. Jahrhundert. Siedler 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.
  • Meffert, Erich. (1944). Das Haus der Staatsoper und seine neue Gestaltung. Dargebracht von der Generalintendanz der Preussischen Staatstheater. Generalintendanz der Preussischen Staatstheater. Leipzig, Max Beck Verlag.
  • Moorhouse, Roger (2011). Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books.
  • Schmitz, Franz. Kleine Baugeschichte der Staatsoper Unter den Linden. STAATSOPER UNTER DEN LINDEN <https://www.staatsoper-berlin.de>

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