May 8th means to European countries V-E day: the victory over Nazi-Germany in 1945.
To Berlin, it means the start of a new era. From the ashes of the destroyed Third Reich would raise a new-born country that would be the economic and political engine of the European Union together with her old enemy and neighbour, France.
No other nation, in Contemporary history has been decimated until annihilation like Germany was in 1945. There was no armistice, no peace, just a total and unconditional surrender.
Maybe this unique fact made possible the advent of this second generation country, that marks, firstly the stalemate, and later the rising of the 20th century and the beginning of the project of Europe as a sole and complex unit.
[A German couple seated in front of the ruined Brandenburger Tor after the end of the war. This is a photomontage, not a real image.]
[Soviet troops celebrating the victory in the ‘Great war for the Fatherland’ aboard their tanks in front of the Siegessäule, the Prussian Victory Column at Berlin Tiergarten, May 1945. During the 1945 Battle of Berlin, Soviet Troops nicknamed the column “the Tall Woman”.]
[The destroyed interior of the Reichstag fullfilled with hundreds of hand-made inscriptions by Soviet soldiers.]
After seizing the Reichstag building and raising their Red flag on its roof on 30th April, Soviet soldiers left their marks in other ways, writing their names, feelings, thoughts and hometowns on the walls and columns. Written in Cyrillic script, these victory graffities were made by soldiers from the 380th, 674th and 756th Rifle Regiments, the units that made the final assault against the Reichstag, many of them were Kazakhstan-born men.
The Graffiti written on the walls were uncovered when the building was converted to house of the German Bundestag. Architect Norman Foster began to remove its inner covering of gypsum fibreboard and asbestos. Paul Baumgarten, the first architect to remodel the building, in the 1960s, had installed the sheets of fibreboard in front of the walls of the original nineteenth-century structure, concealing historical evidence behind new interior surfaces. In an act of what Foster has termed ‘civic vandalism’, Baumgarten had also destroyed the original architectural decoration in many places and removed all traces of history from the walls. By an irony of history, some nineteenth-century decoration and some traces of the battle that raged around the Reichstag building in 1945 survived precisely because they were hidden by the fibreboard.
[Several other Graffiti remains today at the Reichstag’s rooftop, and can be seen by visitors of the building as a historical evidence and first hand memories of the men who were forced to suffer those terrible days in Human history.]
On 2 May 1945, the last garrison which defended Berlin finally surrendered to superior Soviet troops. Hitler had committed suicide on April 30th.
In the photograph, in front of the destroyed Brandenburger Tor and a Soviet IS-2 heavy tank is Yevgeny Khaldei, the Soviet war photographer who took the famous photo of the reenacted flag raising over the Reichstag. The Stalin tank was turret number 414 and belonged to the 7th Independent Guards Heavy Tank Brigade.
[Three more views from a different angle of the scene above related in front of the Brandenburger Tor; these photographies were probably taken on 7 May 1945. The white band brushed to the tank´s turret was an ID to avoid be attacked by Allied fighter-bombers.]
The “Thousand-Year Reich” finally only lasted 12 years and the dream/nightmare started by Hitler and the Nazis caused more than 60 million people dead in the greatest war in History. Between 16 April and 6 May, the Soviets had 304,887 killed, wounded and missing, along with the loss of 2,156 tanks and self-propelled guns, 1,220 artillery pieces and 527 aircraft, althought the true cost is likely to be higher. It is almost impossible to give an accurate figure of German military and civilians died from this last battle.
[A Soviet soldier walks on Berlin´s already defeated Friedrichstraße with Oranienburger Straße (notice U-bahn Oranienburger Tor entry at left, same spot as today) with a dead German soldier laying on the ground. Note Iron Cross on German´s body chest and the FG-42, a machine-gun usually provided to paratroopers.]
7 June 1940:
Actually, the first bombing raid over Berlin was a French affair.
On Monday, June 3, 1940 a German Luftwaffe force of some 300 bombers attacked Paris, during “Operation Paula”, causing several hundred civilian casualties. The French decided to retaliate, and although they didn’t have a comparable number of bombers, a psychological blow to the enemy was deemed necessary. On June 7, 1940, a week before The Fall Of Paris, the French Navy goes into the offensive attacking Berlin on a night raid. It was made just by one plane, and no other raids will be made again by the French during the rest of the war. Damage to the capital was slightly. The only long-range bomber available for the French in 1940 was the Farman F.222, a rather ungainly four-engine aircraft dating back to the mid-1930s based on the French idea of the ‘multiplace de combat’, an overdated concept of air war. The Aéronautique Navale was in possession of three Farman 223.4, former postal aircraft that had been requisitioned by the Navy and given the names Camille Flammarion, Le Verrier, and Jules Verne. The ‘Jules Verne’, formerly Air France’s F-ARIN, was assigned to Capitaine de Corvette Henri Daillière in April 1940.
[The experienced crew of the Jules Verne: C.C. Daillière (commandant, at centre); l’Enseigne de Vaisseau Comet (navigator); Maître Principal Yonnet (pilot); Maître Corneillet (flight engineer); Maître Scour (radioperator) and Second Maître Deschamps (mitrailleur-bombardier).]
Daillière was given the mission to be the first aviator to attack Berlin with ordnance. The ‘Jules’ took off from Merignac airfield near Bordeaux at mid afternoon and set course for Berlin. The crew proceeded over the North Sea at dark, later fly in over the Baltic Sea before turning south and heading straight for Berlin at high altitude . Daillière says: ‘ I got ready to release the bombs and realized that someone had failed to install our bombsight, so I pressed my nose to the glass of the cockpit. He wasn’t able to identify natural landmarks, and Berlin was blacked out; but once the city’s searchlights came on, the city was defined. He tried to create the impression of more than one airplane, and then dropped his bomb load over some factories in Berlin’s north end, where some bombs fell in the administrative district of Pankow.
Daillière made for Paris in a straighter path back to France, and landed at Orly Airfield. They met no resistance on the return leg, and when the aircraft touched down, it had covered nearly 3,000 miles in 13.5 hours on this epic mission.
Hitler and Berliners knew after the French attack that they’re vulnerable too.
[The first Allied bomber to raid Berlin, a Farman F. 223.4, received a new brown/green/grey colour scheme on top and flat black finish on sides for night operations to cover her aluminium finish. French Tricolores were also added on rudders and the civil registration was kept. Note original nickname Jules Verne has been masked to not overtape it with the new black finish. Daillière oversaw a series of modifications to the aircraft at the Toussus-le-Noble airfield, which included the installment of a 7.5 mm Darne machine-gun in the right rear access door, eight Alkan bomb shackles under the aircraft, a bombsight, extra fuel tanks as well as an autopilot.]
Sources and Bibliography:
- Bertke, Donald, Kindell, Don & Smith, Gordon. (2011). World War II sea war: France falls, Britain stand alone: Day-to-Day Naval Actions April 1940 through September 1940. Lulu.
- Fernandez, José & Laureau, Patrick. (2019). French Bombers of WWII (White Series). Mushroom Model Publications.
The city of Berlin was bombed more than 350 times during Second World War (1939-1945). This personal blog tells the history of the German capital and its people before, during and after the Allied bombing campaign, and on the other hand, the war effort made by all those young British RAF and American USAAF crews and their aircraft to defeat Hitler.
Bremen, Hamburg, Leipzig, Vienna, Berlin… These names were the nightmare for thousands of British and Americans young men who daily had to overfly these cities to do their duty with their country. For millions of German civilians, the nightmare were, on the contrary, those airmen. Some would call them ‘Murderers’, to others would be ‘Liberators’.
Air power has been the great weapon in the wars waged in the Twentieth Century, being World War Two the peakest moment of its development and practice. A war that will see, for the first time, the exclusive use of aviation as a means to win the battles; and it will be the skies of Occupied Europe, flying at 25,000 feet high, the stage of the biggest aerial battle ever seen. No other campaign in this war has had such a wide resources (as well as number of people involved) nor as much controversy and doubts as the Bombing Offensive carried out by the Allies against the Third Reich. To carry that destruction to the heart of the Germans was a must for London and Washington, and of course, Moscow.
Around 26 million of German people lost their home 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 consequence of the mixed effect of the anglo-american bombs and the Soviet 1945 final offensive. When the war come to an end in May 1945, the ‘Big City’ had become a sea of destruction, death and debris. The Allies’ bombing enterprise was not a costless operation: more than 55,000 Bomber Command and 25,000 US airmen were killed during the air campaign.
- Berlin LuftTerror -