In September 1940, Germany began dropping bombs on London and other European cities. Although they claimed to be just targeting factories and docks, many civilian areas and apartments (flats) in London were destroyed. British Civilians were killed in the bombing raids that lasted from September 1940 to May 1941.
On this day, July 24, 1943, England launched Operation Gomorrah to weaken Germany and in part as revenge for the bombing of London. Operation Gomorrah began with the nighttime bombing of Hamburg Germany.
Located in northern Germany, Hamburg was home to many of Germany’s U-Boats. The city was Germany’s leading seaport due to the easy access to the North Sea via the Elbe river. Partially due to the many docks in Hamburg, it was also home a number of industries, many of which were involved in supply the needs for their war efforts.
The main goal of Operation Gomorrah was to destroy many of the war related industrial complexes and the U-Boats pens at the docks. The secondary goal of Operation Gomorrah was to wreak so much damage on a major German city in hopes of demoralizing the German people and leaders.
American forces also joined in Operation Gomorrah, calling their part Blitz Week. The British bombed Hamburg and Dresden at night and American bombers bombed the two cities by day.
On the night of July 24,1943, the first bomber sortie by the British took place. Each British bomber was equipped with up to 8,000 pounds of bombs. They were also equipped with a new radar system that gave them a view of the city below on a television like screen. They also carried a new defense, called Windows, against German radar. Windows were long strips of aluminum that when released from the British bombers, fooled the German radar into thinking the strips were airplanes. After the first night’s bombing raid, the British only lost 12 planes. The success was overwhelming.
On July 25, 1943, the British sent nearly 800 aircraft into the air. The bombing of Hamburg lasted nearly an hour. The British dropped large and small bombs along with thousands of incendiary bombs that started fires throughout the city. In the dark of the night, the red glow of fires burning in Germany’s largest city could be seen for miles away.
After a week of bombing, much of Hamburg had been reduced to smoldering ruins. Over 42,000 Germans had been killed and over 10 square miles of the heart of Hamburg was destroyed. The British had chosen the name Gomorrah for their operation because like the biblical account of the city Gomorrah, Hamburg was destroyed by what seemed like fire and brimstone rained down upon the city by the British and Americans. Fires in Hamburg were reported to have exceeded 1,800 degrees and even set the asphalt streets on fire.
The impact on German morale was significant. Adolf Hitler was so incensed and demoralized that he refused to visit Hamburg to see the destruction for himself. Many of Germany’s military leaders believed that the destruction of Hamburg was the turning point in the war. A number of World War II strategists and historians also believed that the intense bombing of Hamburg and Dresden did provide a turning point in the war in the Allies’ favor and helped to lead to the defeat of Nazi Germany two years later.
Sources for the above includes: Operation Gomorrah: Firebombing of Hamburg; Operation Gomorrah is Launched; The Carpet-bombing of Hamburg Killed 40,000 People. It Also did Good; Allied Aerial Destruction of Hamburg During World War II; The Horror of Hamburg Resounds Around Germany; Bombing of Hamburg, Dresden, and Other Cities; Bombing of Hamburg; The London Blitz, 1940; World War II in Europe: The Blitz