Fliegerbombe am Berliner Hauptbahnhof!

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

[Photo: DPA / Bild.]

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


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

[Photo: @PolizeiBerlin_E.)


Bombensturm! (Part II)

The Incendiary Bombs

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

Photo: Ullstein bild / Archiv Golejewski

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

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

Photo © IWM (CH 10710)

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

[Photo © IWM (MH 6254.)]

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

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

Photo: Scherl/Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo / ALAMY.]

Photo: akg-images (AKG212155).

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

Photo: Wikiwand.

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

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

Photo © IWM (CH 18371)

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

[Photo: LancasterArchive.]

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

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

[Photo: LancasterArchive.]

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

[Photo: © IWM (HU 93014).]

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

[Photo: © IWM (CH 17362).]

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

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

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

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



  • Air ministry. RAF Armament Volume I: Bombs and Bombing Equipment. 1954.
  • Air Studies Division Report: The Economic Effects of the Air Offensive Against German Cities,
  • Bolan, G T. The development of British incendiary bombs during the period of the 1939-45 World War. Armaments Design Establishment Technical Report. Ministry of Supply. December 1946. <http://bulletpicker.com/pdf/Development%20of%20British%20Incendiary%20Bombs.pdf>
  • Bowman, Martin W. Nachtjagd, Defenders of the Reich 1940-1943. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2016.
  • Bowman. Martin W. Voices in Flight: the heavy bomber offensive of WW2. Pen & Sword Aviation, 2014.
  • Bowman, Martin W. Voices in flight: RAF Night Operations. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2015.
  • Boyd, David. 4lb Incendiary Bomb. <http://www.wwiiequipment.com>
  • Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.
  • Fahey, John. Britain 1939 – 1945: The economic cost of Strategic Bombing. University of Sidney, 2004.
  • Falconer, John. Bomber Command Handbook. The History Press. 1998.
  • Friedrich, Jörg. Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Propylaen Verlag, Zweigniederlassung der Ullstein. 2002.
  • Overy, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane. 2013.
  • Price, Alfred. Kampfflieger. Bombers of the Luftwaffe Volume Three January 1942-September 1943. Classic Publications. 2005.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: © IWM (H 6318).]

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

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

[Photo by Scherl. Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo.]

[Photo: Alamy.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J30142.]

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


Sources and bibliography:

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


Previous post >


When British Bomber Command went to war in 1939 it found itself equipped with a very limited and inadequate arsenal of bombs.

General Purpose GP Bombs:
The high explosive GP (general purpose) bombs, developed from 1935, were the initial arsenal Bomber Command had to carry destruction to Third Reich soil and people, but these had an ineffective performance and their explosive-to-weight ratio was low.

During the first three years of the war, RAF bombers usually flew with a small bomb cargo. In the case of Bomber Command attacking German industries and cities, the normal load was 500-lb (227 kg) and 250-lb GP (114 kg) bombs for hard targets and 40-lb bombs in containers for ‘soft’, plus the 20-lb (F) anti-personnel fragmentation bomb used mainly on tactical missions. For the 20-lb and 40-lb bombs, purpose-made packing pieces secured the individual bombs as a cluster within each partition. This early series of HE bombs used an explosive mix called ‘Amatol’, a mixture of TNT and ammonium nitrate.

[Groundcrew of a Polish Air Force bomber squadron, very likely of No. 300 Squadron, scribbling their best wishes to the enemy on a 500-lb GP bomb at RAF Hemswell, 15 August 1941. The inscription in Polish reads: ‘Warszawiacy Berlinowi-From Varsovians for Berlin’. The squadron bombed Berlin for the first time on March 21, 1941.]

Photo: IWM (HU 111733)

The initial British trio of bombers -Wellington, Whitley and Hampden- were hampered by their small capacity of the bomb-bays and by the fact of being twin-engined planes, the more ton of bombs loaded means less fuel capacity. Berlin was at 950 kilometres (590 miles) from London in the very extreme range of RAF ‘twins’. For example, the max bomb-load of a Vickers Wellington was 4,500 lb (2,041 kg) of bombs, but this figure was reduced to only half when the type attacked Berlin to be able to reach it.

The size of bomb-bays in RAF aircraft and the perceived chance of a hit were both real considerations in this early period. During 1940, use of the smaller ordinance (over 2,000 20-lb F; over 26,000 40-lb GP; nearly 62,000 250-lb GP) far outstripped that of the 500-lb GP (just over 20,000).

[Armourers fit fuzes to 250-lb GP bombs on their trolleys, prior to loading into Handley Page Hampden Mark I, P1333 EA-F, of No 49 Squadron RAF at Scampton, Lincolnshire. P1333 was lost returning from a raid on Merseburg, Germany on 17 August 1940.]

Photo: IWM (CH 254)

At the beginning of the war, HE (high explosive) bombs were considered the best weapon to use, with incendiaries employed in small numbers as a harassment measure; but the change in the bombing tactics from industrial targets to civilian and ‘area’ targets led the way to a mixed load comprising a much higher ratio of incendiary bomb to HE during the final years of the conflict.

[WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) driving a Fordson tractor pulling a train of full GP-bomb trolleys at RAF Mildenhall. In those early days of the conflict, RAF bombs were painted in a light tan colour, later orange yellow and finally dark green.]

Photo by Charles Brown. RAF Museum D 707906

The 250-lb and 500-lb GP bombs were extensively used in 1941 yet, until the more capable high explosive bombs were developed and brought into use. All these bombs became available in quantities too large for the existing bomber force in use; the RAF had the bombs but not enough bombers to use them against the Reich. For example, in October 1941 there were unused stocks of 121,000 tons of bombs at Britain depots.

[RAF armourers wait for the conclusion of an engine test on Short Stirling Mark I, OJ-N, of No 149 Squadron, parked at the end of the south-east runway at Mildenhall, Suffolk, before loading her with 250-lb GP bombs for a night raid on Essen, Germany. Each bomb has been fitted with a shackle to enable it to be winched into position in the Stirling’s high bomb-bay.]

Photo: IWM (CH 5135)

[Tail end of a bomb trailer: a rear view of an 1000-lb GP bomb en route for the carrying aircraft ready for a raid on Axis targets.] 

Photo: © IWM (CH 7205)

[Bomb bursts straddle the machine workshops in the naval arsenal as another stick of 500-lb GP-bombs falls toward the target area during a daylight raid on shipping and installations by Venturas of No 21 Squadron RAF on Brest, France.]

Photo: © IWM C 3491

This table shows, by type, the number of General Purpose 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.

The GP-bombs had a high detonation-failure rate (10-15%) and the introduction of the heavy four-engined bombers such as the big Short Stirling just augmented the ton of explosives dropped on the Third Reich, not the effectiveness of the raids.

In conclusion, during 1940-41 RAF Bomber Command was inadequate to destroy such a large city like Berlin was and tried to grow the number of raids against the capital, all of which did little damage. This led to two vital changes: the development of the more potent MC and HC bombs, and the introduction from mid 1941 of the new heavy four-engined bomber force.


Sources and bibliography:

  • Air ministry. RAF Armament Volume I: Bombs and Bombing Equipment, 1954
  • Bowman, Martin W. Nachtjagd, Defenders of the Reich 1940-1943. Pen & Sword Aviation, 2016
  • Bowman. Martin W. Voices in Flight: the heavy bomber offensive of WW2. Pen & Sword Aviation, 2014
  • Bowman, Martin W. Voices in flight: RAF Night Operations. Pen & Sword Aviation, 2015
  • Boyd, David. 1000 lb Medium Capacity Bomb. <http://www.wwiiequipment.com>
  • Falconer, John. Bomber Command Handbook. The History Press.
  • Overy, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane.


Previous post >

The Swiss House

In the corner where Unter den Linden meets Friedrichstraße, there is a house with more than 85 years of history in Berlin. Today, this building stands as one of the original places of the city and a survivor of the Allied bombing campaign and the Luftangriffe of the Second World War. 

[Unter den Linden Nr 22 Ecke Friedrichstraße nr 155-156 during the days of the Third Reich. At left corner can be seen the “Haus der Schweiz”. At right, the famous Viktoria Hotel and Café, 1939-40. Note Friedrichstr. Bhf in the background.]

[Photo by Sobotta. interaktiv.morgenpost.de historisches-berlin-in-farbe.]

The house was built during 1934-1936 by Swiss architect Ernst Meier-Appenzell with a clean façade, an arcade and rectangular windows, in a monumental building style. The client was the “Haus der Schweiz GmbH”, to which the Swiss bank Leu, the Swiss bank and the Swiss Federal Railways had joined forces. Like many Swiss companies, they had considerable sums of German Reichsmark.

Since these were classified by the Nazis as “Sperrmark”, however, a transfer of the money into Switzerland would have been associated with considerable price losses. Instead, the three companies bought a plot of land on the corner of Friedrichstraße/ Unter den Linden and had a six-storey business and office building built there - “at the first business location of the Reich capital”. The property was intended as a financial investment, but served at the same time also quite representative purposes.

The building had the lettering Haus der Schweiz, prominently displayed on both sides of the façade, as well as a Wilhelm Tell figure. The bronze sculpture, however, is not William Tell, but his son Walther. Supposedly a trick of the builder: because the Nazis did not want to tolerate a representation of the freedom fighter and Swiss national hero himself, they trained just now his son with a crossbow and an apple. On the other hand, the Nazis could not say anything - and the Swiss national pride was still respected. In the spring of 1936, the builders themselves became the first tenants to enter the ”Haus der Schweiz”.

[Dark times at Unter den Linden: Nazi and Italian banners along the Berlin avenue during state the visit of Italian Fascist leader Mussolini to Berlin in September 1937. The red buses belonged to the Käse’s Rundfahrten Rieseburo.]

[A view of the Unter den Linden building in 1939 just before the Second World War.]

Photo by Frankl A: Bundesarchiv (B145 Bild-P015390).

[View northwards in to Friedrichstraße. Right: Café Viktoria, left: Haus der Schweiz, circa 1940. Above the arcs can be read in capital lettering ‘Schweizer Verkehrsbüro’ (“Swiss Tourist Office”).]

[Photo: akg-images.]

In the shops on the ground floor, the Swiss Tourist Office opened a branch (Schweizer Verkehrsbüro), where citizens could book train journeys to Switzerland. 

During the war, this zone was severely damaged by Allied bombings, the building was hit on the evening of 9/10 April 1941 during the raid made by RAF British bombers which affected many areas in Mitte including the famous Staatsoper den Linden. Some bombs hit this area on February 3, 1945, during the massive US air strike on Berlin, with serious damage to adjacent buildings including the famous Hotel Viktoria next to the Swiss House.

Years later, the Soviet offensive in the city inflicted more damage, but thanks to the modern construction method, this building survived the bombing of Berlin at the end of war as the only one in the area relatively intact. 

[The famous corner Unter den Linden Ecke Friedrichstraße in a colour picture taken in 1939.]

Photo by Sobotta.

Photo: Michael Sobotta/ Sutton Verlag.

[This image shows that same corner after the war’s end. The Viktoria-Café placed at the right corner was totally wiped out by bomb damage during the final two years of the conflict, especially on February 3rd 1945 attack. The Swiss building has survived the bombing of Berlin relatively intact.]

[Photo by Abraham Pisarek. Deutsche Fotothek.]

[Another view of Berliners working on the debris after the war in front of the Haus der Schweiz at Friedrichstraße/corner Unter den Linden. Notice that the Tell bronze sculpture has survived barely intact.]

Photo Berliner Verlag/ Alamy.

[In this colour view the blackened burned-out façade of the Swiss House after the war is evident.]

Photo: still from film. Framepool.]

[Berlin after World War II - 1946: cars and people move again over Unter den Linden, with the ruins of the Victoria and the Haus der Schweiz as a mute reminder of the bombings and battles.]

[Photo: © Landesarchiv Berlin.]

The employees of the Swiss companies, which until 1945 had had their headquarters in the house, had largely fled in the turmoil of the last years of the war from Berlin, but the house remained the property of the “House of Switzerland GmbH”.

[The remains of the building just after the war’s end. Notice the splinter shells from the battle on the arcade and façade, and the Russian military police armed with rifle assigned to traffic control.]

[Photo: still from film. Framepool/RightSmith.]

Photo: Kunstbibliothek, SMB/ Photothek Willy Römer.

When Berlin was divided by two, while the DDR government expropriated the owners of many surrounding buildings, the “Swiss house (…) was administered by the Berlin state housing administration (…) as a foreign property”, as can be seen from a 1952 official note. Apparently, the DDR government did not want to mess with Swiss banks. Nevertheless, they used the house for their own purposes. Among others, the Ostberliner Sparkasse, the German Foreign Trade Bank and a HO food market moved into the shops. The upper floors were rebuilt in the early 1950s for the “Coordination and Control Center for Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management”.

[Reconstruction of the Swiss building, now sited in the new DDR - East Berlin, began in the 1950s. This image is dated on December 8th, 1950.]

[Photo by Rudolf. Bundesarchiv.]

[A picture of the nearly completed and refurbished building as seen in the 1950s.]

[Photo by Rudolph. Getty images.]

[Haus der Schweiz. Unter den Linden Ecke Friedrichstraße by Gustav Köhler in October 1951.]

[Photo by Gustav Köhler.Bundesarchiv. Bild 183-12162-0002.]]

In 1994, a Swiss jeweler opened a branch in the completely renovated Haus der Schweiz, which has since been listed as a historic monument, given it an entirely new interior design.

[Photo: Wikimapia.]


Sources and Bibliography:

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

The Whitley

The Armstrong Whitworth Whitley was one of the three ‘strategic’ bombers types with which Britain went to war in September 1939. The Whitley was conceived as a night ‘heavy’ bomber and was RAF’s first monoplane bomber and the first one to penetrate on Germany airspace. 

With a crew of five men, and powered by two Rolls-Royce Merlin X engines, the Whitley was capable of 230 mph (370 km/h) at 16,400 ft (5,000 m) and was bombed with up to 7,000 lb (3,175 kg) of bombs in the fuselage and 14 individual cells in the wings.

[An in-flight view of Whitley Mk.V T4131, ‘EY-W’ from No 78 RAF Squadron during 1941. Note row of bombs painted on the fuselage nose to indicate numbers of missions flown over the Third Reich.]

[Photo: Wixey, K. Warpaint. p.11.]

Following the outbreak of war in September 1939, the Whitley participated in the first RAF bombing raid upon Reich territory and remained an integral part of the early British bomber offensive until the introduction of four-engined RAF bombers namely the Short Stirling or the Lancaster. Already an outclassed design when the war started, in 1942 it was retired from first-line bombing sorties. This two-engine bomber equipped Bomber Command’s 10, 51, 58, 78 and 102 Squadrons, all from No 4 Group.

It participated, along with Hampdens and Wellingtons in the first British-attack over Berlin on the night of 25 August 1940. And during the next 6 months, the Whitleys would be on first line delivering bombs by night to the Reich capital.

[Artist Paul Nash made this watercolour and chalk drawing of Berlin’s RAF first attack from a set of photographs that Air Ministry sent to him. It shows an aerial view of four Whitley bombers in flight over a target area of Berlin. It was made in January 1941.]

[Photo: Imperial War Museum © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 827).]

With 1,814 Whitleys built, they flew a total of 8,996 operations with Bomber Command, with 9,845 tons of bombs dropped and 269 of them were lost in action.

[An Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bomber being readied for another sortie over Germany. It belongs to No 58 Squadron and is seen at RAF Linton on Ouse dispersal.]

[The Nash and Thompson Type FN4 rear turret of an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bomber of No 102 Squadron RAF at Driffield, Yorkshire, 8 March 1940. It was armed with four ,303 in Browning machine-guns to protect the plane against night-fighters.]

[Photo: Imperial War Museum HU 107775.]

[Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark V of No 77 Squadron RAF rests in the grass at Driffield, Yorkshire, April 1940. Notice how broad was the wing. The Whitley featured a large rectangular-shaped wing; its appearance led to the aircraft receiving the nickname “the flying barn door”.]

[Photo: Imperial War Museum HU 107776.]

[Luftwaffe crews and German civilians inspecting the wreckage of Whitley bomber T4170GE-T’ from No 58 RAF Squadron. This aircraft, flown by F/O Jack Champness crew, was shot down near Westerwede, Germany in their way to bomb Berlin on the night of 14/15 November 1940. The Whitley was hit by flak from the 3./Flak Regiment 26; all five crewmembers were killed and buried at Worpswede until 1947. That night, Bomber Command lost 10 aircraft -the worst night since the war began.]

[Photo: Aircrewremembered.]

[An American Aircraft recognition poster showing the RAF Whitley bomber.]

[Photo: Air Ministry (AMDocuments).]

[The pilot of a Whitley bomber gives the ‘thumbs up’, 29 August 1940.]

[Photo: Imperial War Museum HU 104667.]

[In this photograph the tug driver is seen through the bomb aimer’s window of a Whitley bomber awaiting instructions from the cockpit.]

[Photo: © IWM (CH 4457).]

[A crew of No 78 Squadron, Royal Air Force, watch as engine adjustments are made to an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bomber Z6743 before they take off for a raid from Middleton St George, Durham.]

[Photo: © IWM (TR 105).]


Sources and Bibliography:

  • 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.
  • Wixey, Ken. Warpaint Books - Armstrong Whitworth Whitley. 021.

Ivan kommt

Berlin was also bombed by the Soviets, years before the final Red assault over the city in 1945.

Hitler invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, the largest offensive in History at the time, and German forces quickly advanced through the vast steppe towards Moscow, the main target. As soon as 19 July, Hitler had issued his ‘War Directive No 33’, decreting the attack of Moscow by bombers of Luftflotte 2 in reprisal for the raids on Bucharest and Helsinki. 

But “Klara Zetkin” —the Luftwaffe’s codename for Moscow- was heavily defended and the bombings were poor. After the Nazi attack of the capital on July 21/22, 1941, when the Germans dropped a total of 104 tonnes of HE bombs and 46,000 incendiaries for over 5 hours, Stalin ordered immediate retaliation against the Reich capital.

[The Kremlin under the attack of the Luftwaffe, July 1941.]

[Photo by Margaret Bourke-White, LIFE.]

[A Soviet medium bomber Ilyushin Il-4 in flight.]

On the evening of 7 August 1941, 15 Ilyushin DB-3T torpedo bombers of the Baltic Fleet operating from an island airstrip off the Estonian coast struck Berlin after travelling a distance of more than 600 miles (1,000 km). All returned safely. While the damage caused by the twin-engined bombers was negligible (each carried fewer than 1,000 pounds of bombs), the Kremlin propaganda machine was quick to trumpet the success of the raids.

[Berlin being bombed by Soviet airplanes in 1941.]

[Photo: Century of flight.]

Later, at dusk on 10 August 1941, a formation of VVS (Voyenno-Vozdushny Sili, or Red Air Force) Yermolayev Yer-2 medium bombers and 14 of Stalin’s prized four-engine Petliakov Pe-8 formed up over Pushkino Airfield in Leningrad for the raid on Berlin. The planes were to be joined over the city by two full squadrons of Ilyushin Il-4 bombers flying from Estonia. Unfortunately for the Soviets, the mission was cursed with misfortune from the start, several Pe-8s had to abort due to engine problems and one of the heavily loaded Pe-8 crashed immediately upon take off. The bombing was a total disaster. More attacks followed, with minor damage.

[The big size Pe-8 four engined was the only strategic bomber built by the Soviets during the war, but the unreliability of her engines and low numbers built (93) made the bomber a failure in action.]


By late 1941, the Wehrmacht was so close to Moscow that Stalin was forced to forget strategic bombing, apart from a 100-bombers raid on 29 August 1942 (minor damage), until 1945.

[The Ilyushin DB-3 medium long-range bomber. During World War Two, 1,528 were built.]

[Yevgeny Preobrazhensky, Commander of the Soviet Baltic Fleet’s 1st Mine-Torpedo Aviation Regiment, and pilot Pyotr Khokhlov before leaving the aerodrome to conduct an air-raid over Berlin during August 1941.] 

[Photo: Alexei Mezhuyev/TASS (Photo by TASS via Getty Images.]

Naval DB-3s flew a total of 10 sorties over Berlin before their base at Saaremaa had to be evacuated in the face of imminent German capture. The final attack was made on the night of September 4-5. A total of 86 naval aircraft participated in the raids, of which 33 were reported to have reached Berlin, while others bombed secondary targets, including Stettin, Königsberg, Danzig, Swinemünde and Libau. Daylight bombing was even tried, but met with no success and was cancelled.

The Soviet bomb ton dropped over Berlin is less than 1% of the total for the Allies during Second World War.

[Berlin, July 1945. Four years later, Berliners (who survived the bombings and war) would see Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) much closer everyday. A vast painting portrait of the Soviet leader presided Unter den Linden next to Brandenburger Tor in the aftermath of the war, with a memorial and Red banners, at the exact point today is placed the big Christmas Tree.]

[Photo: still from film, Chronos Media.]

[Berlin, July 1945: one more view of Stalin’s portrait, this time seconds before you overpass Brandenburger Tor and enter Unter den Linden avenue. Note poster at right column to inform you are leaving the British sector.]

[Photo: still from film, Chronos Media.]


At night, Berlin first system defence was based mainly in the use of anti-aircraft searchlights (Flakscheinwerfer). Hundreds of them were positioned around- and in the city, and their task were to find and track enemy bombers, showing them to the anti-aircraft batteries at night.

[A German Flakscheinwerfer in action during the war.]

[Photo: Bundesarchiv.]

[Photo: Wikimedia.]

[Berlin 1943: Flakscheinwerfer. Brandenburger Tor under the searchlights, against an incoming British night-bombing raid.]

[Photo: Bundesarchiv.]

[Here, members of the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) served as crew of one during their duty with Luftwaffenhelfer in Berlin Tiergarten in 1943. Literally “air force assistants”, the Luftwaffenhelfer service was posted from January 1943 to aid in the Defence of the Reich. The order called for drafting school classes with male students born in 1926 and 1927 into a military corp, organised by Hitlerjugend and Luftwaffe staff.

They were know as the “Flakhelfer-Generation”. Their average age when they were called up was sixteen and a total of about 200,000 served during the war, including females from Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM).]

[Photo: Bundesarchiv.]

The searchlights were based around extremely high-powered Carbon Arc lamps, and the German iused three types divided by the size and diameter parabolic glass reflector: 60 Centimetre, 150 Centimetre and 200 Centimetre.

In September 1940, Germany had 2,540 searchlights (60 cm and 150 cm). During the war, this number grew rapidly — by February 1944,  this figure has raised to 13,748 searchlights.

[A British four-engined bomber (most probably a Lancaster) caught at night during an air raid over the objective, as viewed from an above fellow bomber.]

[Photo: Imperial War Museum.]

The silhouette of the bomber is clearly evident as German searchlights raised their light against the clouds and overcast, showing the sky as a bright screen. The white traces are a mix of searchlights and British target indicators (TI), flares dropped by the bombers to mark and illuminate the target.

This photo was taken over Hamburg, on the night of 24/25 July 1943 during the infamous “Operation Gomorrah”. That summer night, the RAF Bomber Command created a perfect “fire storm” that engulfed the city and more than 50,000 civilians were killed.

The Flying Suitcase

One of the three bombers types beside Wellingtons and Whitleys which participated on the first British attack over Berlin in August 1940 was the Handley-Page Hampden, model HP 52. 

[A two-ship formation of Handley P Hampdens from No 44 Squadron RAF over England.]

[Photo: LIFE images.]

That first night over Berlin, 46 Hampdens bombers from Nos 49, 50, 61 and 144 Squadrons were sent to attack the ‘Big City’. Of these six were lost, five through fuel shortage and one missing believed also to be from the same cause. Two of these losses were from 50 Squadron. The last raid a Hampden was dispatched to bomb the Nazi capital was on 21 September 1941. Over the period of thirteen months 20 Hampden raids were made averaging twenty six aircraft per raid. The largest concentration involved fifty aircraft and the smallest ten. During the period 34 aircraft were lost of which 23 (58%) were due either certainly or probably to fuel shortage. By contrast only seven were attributed to enemy action. 50 Squadron lost nine aircraft, of which seven were out of fuel, one shot down by enemy action and one through a forced landing due to engine problems. There were six fatal casualties and two POW’s. On a trip to Berlin a Hampden’s bomb load would equate to four 500-lb bombs plus some incendiaries. Its endurance with this load was just over ten hours.

[One of the six Hampden medium bombers lost the night of 25/26 August 1940 during the first bombing of Berlin by the British RAF was P2070 VN-X from No 50 Squadron, seen here after forced landing.]

[Photo: Aircrewremembered by Michel Beckers.]

[They took off from RAF Lindholme at 21.58 hrs and after bombing Berlin it is believed that had to force landing due to fuel starvation near Lautersheim, Germany.]

[Photo: Aircrewremembered by Michel Beckers.]

[All four crew-members, led by P/O Rober D Wawn (Australian) were captured and sent to various POWs camps, surviving the war.]

[Photo: Aircrewremembered by Michel Beckers.]

At the outbrak of war, Bomber Command was equipped with 6 operational squadrons of Hampdens under No 5 Group. The Hampden made its combat debut on 3 September 1939 searching German ships off the coast of Heligoland. It was a twin-engined medium bomber, with a crew of four and a max speed of 247 mph (397 km/h) at 13,800 ft (4,210 m); the bombload was of 4,000 lb (1,814 kg) bombs. The newest of the three RAF bombers, the Hampden, was often referred to by aircrews as the ‘Flying Suitcase’  because of its cramped crew conditions.

The RAF took a total of 1,432 Hampdens, the last of which was delivered in March 1942. The bomber ceased operational service in October 1943, but was retired from frontline raids over Germany a yerar before due to the increasing power of Third Reich defences. Almost half of the Hampdens built, 714, were lost on RAF Bomber Command operations, with 1,077 crew killed and 739 reported as missing. German Flak accounted for 108, 263 Hampdens crashed because of “a variety of causes” and 214 others were classed as “missing”.

[A Handley P Hampden Mk. I of No 455 Squadron RAF in flight.]

[Photo: Imperial War Museum.]

​[An RAF pilot sits in the cramped cockpit of his Hampden bomber ready to take off.]

[Photo: Handley Page Hampden. Allan Hall, Warpaint Books.]

[The instrument panel and flying controls of an RAF Handley Page Hampden, showing the almost impossible task of getting into the nose compartment. The bomber’s fuselage was only three feet wide, similar to a single engined fighter at the time, so the pilot was more or less stuck on his seat for the entire flight, sometimes up to 9 hours. Note the rear view mirror top of the front plexiglas panel.]

[Photo: © IWM (CH 1207).]

[The ventral rear gunner’s position in a Handley Hampden of No 106 Sq RAF at Coningsby, Lincolnshire, viewed from the starboard side. Operating the twin .303 Browning machine guns is Flight Lieutenant Chisholm, the Squadron Gunnery Officer.]

[Photo: © IWM HU 42438.]

[British HP.52 twin-engined bombers near completion in the assembly line at Handley Page’s plant at Radlett, Hertfordshire during the first year of the Second World War. Handley Page would go on to manufacture nearly 500 of them and English Electric a total of 770 Hampdens, built under subcontract between 1939 and 1942].

[Photo: © IWM (HU 106248).]

In this British newsreel we see Viscountess Hampden christening at Radlett Aerodrome the latest type in the RAF Bomber Command inventory in 1938: the Hampden.

[Video credit: British Pathé (FILM ID:1658.28)]



  • Aircrewremembered. 25/26.08.1940 No. 50 Squadron Hampden I P2070 VN-X P/O. Robert D. Wawn. <http://aircrewremembered.com/wawn-robert.html>
  • Hall, Alan W. (2000). Handley Page Hampden and Hereford. Warpaint Series No 57. Warpaint Books.
  • Hill, Colin. THE LAST FLIGHT OF AD730 Hampden Bomber of No. 50 Squadron RAF. Background to the Hampden and its Crew <http://www.ww2irishaviation.com/gravescj /chapter_2.html>
  • Middlebrook, Martin. (2014). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation.
  • Ward, Chris. (2007). 5 Group Bomber Command: An Operational Record. Pen & Sword Books Ltd.

The defences – Air detection (III)

The Freya systems of the German early warning radars were highly successful, but they need another set to help in targeting air objectives.

Anti-aircraft targeting radars, or FuMG (from Funkmeßgerät, or radar) were not in service when the war broke out. From 1939, GEMA and Telefunken starting to develop more accurate radars with a more concentrated beam to firing accuracy of the heavy anti-aircraft artillery’s guns.

This radar, called the Würzburg FuMG 39 operated on 50 cm wave length and had a range of 25 km with a range accuracy of 25 m. A rotating dipole antenna and a pulsed radar was used. The rangefinder was provided with a cathode-ray tube screen (CRT). The distance and ranging data would be provided to a command and control system at a Flak battery. Twenty of these units were delivered by 1940 to the Ruhr area. By the end of the war, over 4,000 units of this and upgraded models (Würzburg D) had been deployed in Europe, making it the standard radar system with the Luftwaffe. They were manned by a crew of six. 

[These photographs show a Würzburg FuMG 39/62 model T, seen with its wooden traverse plate.
This radar unit was set up atop the control tower of the FlakTurm at Berlin Tiergarten, in Zoologischer Garten and was on duty to track and control the AA guns which protect the western sector of the city. Note brush paint to camouflage the radar’s dish and
Siegessäule (‘Victory Column’) at background. The women next to the radar were American WACs (Women’s Army Corps), examining the site after the war in July 1945.]

[Photo by William Vandivert. LIFE images © Time Inc.]

[Another Würzburg radar placed at the Tiergarten, apparently used by the Germans as traffic control unit at the improvised Ost-West-Achse’s landing strip during the last days of the Berlin garrison. Note the Siegessäule column in the background.]

[Photo:© shram.kievua.]

[Two images of a German Luftwaffe crew manning a Würzburg at a radar site; the man in the foreground is moving the system on its lateral axis. He is looking into the range and bearing indicator in front of him. Behind, other crewmember operate the elevation crank of the radar housing while watching the elevation monitoring. These monitors are covered with weather protectors.]

[Photo: Muller W. Ground Radar Systems of the Luftwaffe 1939-1945. Schiffer Publishing, 1998.]

[Photo: Muller W. Ground Radar Systems of the Luftwaffe 1939-1945. Schiffer Publishing, 1998.]

[The control tower as viewed from the main Flakturm located at Berlin Tiergarten, in Zoologischer Garten. A Würzburg FuMG 39T and a Würzburg-Riese (at left) can be seen atop of the roof. The Reich’s capital had three of these complex of towers to lead the AA guns, the one at the Zoo manned by the 123 Turmflakabteilung.]

[Photo: Muller W. Ground Radar Systems of the Luftwaffe 1939-1945. Schiffer Publishing, 1998.]

In 1941, Telefunken followed up on their successful Würzburg system with a larger, more sophisticated set fittingly known as FuMG 65 Würzburg-Riese (“Giant”). Making use of the same conical-scanning system, the Riese was a much larger system with a 7.4 meter antenna and much more powerful transmitter that gave it a range of up to 70 degrees. Combined with the added accuracy afforded by the conical scanning system, the Würzburg-Riese provided the Luftwaffe with a long-range system capable of providing accurate enough information for gun-laying. with a range of about 60 km. This type began to enter service in 1941, and over the course of the war roughly 1,500 would be built. 

[The massive FuSe65 Würzburg-Riese radar atop of the L-turm at Humboldthain in Berlin.]

Photo: Foedrowitz, Michael. (2007). Flak-Towers.

[A disabled Würzburg-Riese system after being captured by US forces, installed next to a Normandy Arromanches-les-Bains beach in June 1944.]

[Photo: Conseil Régional de Basse-Normandie / National Archives USA.]

Today, an original Würzburg-Riese radar unit can be seen at the Luftwaffenmuseum Berlin-Gatow.

[Photo taken by the author, 2008.]

Several types and improvements were developed by Germany during the war, increasing range and facing British radio countermeasures, being the Jagdschloß radar antenna-array the other great advanced unit. This system, called FuG 404, became operational in 1944 and it was very difficult to jam. Just 80 of them were built. With a detection range of 300-400 km, long range warning devices like this or the FuMG 41/42 Mammut radar unit (six or eight Freya switched together) detected enemy formations assembling over the North Sea prior move towards the Reich, alerting German defences for incoming air raids. 

[A Jagdschloß type II at a German radar site located in the Danish coast.]

[Photo: Museumscenter Hanstholm.]

[The cathode-ray screen of a German Jagdschloss radar shows the RAF offensive on Berlin with approximately 400 bombers, on 30 January 1944. The circle constitute the 100 km range marker, the gap in top indicates ‘geographical north’.]

[Photo: Nordmarke.]

All German systems and radars were highly jammed by the British countermeasures chaff from the summer of 1943, named “Window” (known as ‘Duppel’ by the Germans), metal strips with aluminium foil. This obliged the Germans to improve their early warning system -the Kammhuber Line- and radar AI devices (airborne radar) with new frequencies and create new night fighting tactics.


Sources and Bibliography:

  • Foedrowitz, Michael. (1997). The Flak Towers in Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna 1940- 1950. Schiffer Publishing. 
  • Foedrowitz, Michael. (2007). Flak-Towers. By the author.
  • Funkmeß(ortungs)stellungen in Deutschland. Deutsches Atlantikwall Archiv  <http://www.deutschesatlantikwallarchiv.de/radar/germany/rd.htm#Funkme%C3%9F>
  • Muller W. (1998). Ground Radar Systems of the Luftwaffe 1939-1945. Schiffer Publishing.
  • Zaloga, Steven. (2012). Defense of the Third Reich 1941–45. Osprey Publishing.
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