The Allied bombing of Hamburg on 27-07-1943, 72 years ago.


The Allied bombing of Hamburg on 27-07-1943 during World War II included numerous strategic bombing missions and diversion/nuisance raids. As a large port and industrial centre, Hamburg’s shipyards, U-boat pens  and the Hamburg-Harburg area oil refineries were attacked throughout the war.

The attack during the last week of July 1943, Operation Gomorrah,   the name Gomorrah comes from that of one of the two Canaanite cities of Sodom and Gommorah whose destruction is narrated in the Bible : “Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens.” created one of the largest firestorms raised by the Royal Air Force  and United States Army Forces  in World War II, killing 42,600 civilians and wounding 37,000 in Hamburg  and practically destroying the entire city.  Approximately 3,000 aircraft were deployed, 9,000 tons of bombs were dropped and over 250,000 homes and houses were destroyed. Before the development of the firestorm in Hamburg there had been no rain for some time and everything was very dry. The unusually warm weather and good conditions meant that the bombing was highly concentrated around the intended targets and also created a vortex and whirling updraft of super-heated air which created a 1,500-foot-high tornado of fire, a totally unexpected effect. Various other previously used techniques and devices were instrumental as well, such as area bombing, Pathfinders and H2S radar,  which came together to work with particular effectiveness. An early form of chaff, code named ‘Window’, was successfully used for the first time by the RAF – clouds of shredded tinfoil dropped by Pathfinders as well as the initial bomber stream – in order to completely cloud German radar. The raids inflicted severe damage to German armaments production in Hamburg. 

On the night of 27 July, shortly before midnight, 787 RAF aircraft—74 Wellingtons, 116 Stirling’s, 244 Halifax’s and 353 Lancaster’s— bombed Hamburg. The unusually dry and warm weather, the concentration of the bombing in one area and fire fighting limitations due to blockbuster bombs used in the early part of the raid—and the recall of Hanover’s fire crews to their own city—culminated in a firestorm. The tornadic fire created a huge inferno with winds of up to 240 kilometres per hour (150 mph) reaching temperatures of 800 °C (1,470 °F) and altitudes in excess of 300 metres (1,000 ft), incinerating more than 21 square kilometres (8 sq mi) of the city. Asphalt streets burst into flame,  and fuel oil from damaged and destroyed ships, barges and storage tanks spilled into the water of the canals and the harbour, causing them to ignite as well. The majority of deaths attributed to Operation Gomorrah occurred on this night. A large number of those killed died seeking safety in bomb shelters and cellars, the firestorm consuming the oxygen in the burning city above.  The furious winds created by the firestorm had the power to sweep people up off the streets like dry leaves.

Hamburg was hit by air raids another 69 times before the end of World War II. In total, the RAF dropped 22,580 long tons of bombs on Hamburg.



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