A new museum in the German city of Hamburg has proven to be highly popular with tourists, offering as it does an often-hidden truth about World War II—that the Allies started the mass concentrated bombing of civilians, but in postwar propaganda always accused the Germans of starting the “blitz.”
The museum, located at the bombed-out ruins of the Church of St. Nicholas in the city center, was opened last year and is the first in Germany devoted exclusively to the suffering of Germans during the war.
The church where the museum is located was a central navigation point for the Allied bombers, with its high Gothic spire (still the second highest building in Hamburg) being easily visible.
British historian Richard Overy, who was consultant on the project, was quoted last year as saying that “it would put the destruction of Hamburg into context with an even-handed story of air-raids during the war.
“The myth in Britain has been that we bombed military targets and Germans bombed civilian populations, but it is almost exactly the reverse,” said Professor Overy, author of The Air War and Bomber Command.
“The Germans tried to bomb military targets and by mid-1941 the British had given up on that idea and wanted to flatten city centres,” he said. “More people were killed in Hamburg than Dresden but nobody wanted to know that the object of bombing Hamburg was to create a firestorm and to kill very large numbers of people. ”
The museum commemorates the anniversary of the huge British attack, codenamed Operation Gomorrah. The attack during the last week of July, 1943, created one of the largest firestorms raised by the RAF and USAAF in World War II, killing 42,600 civilians and wounding 37,000 in Hamburg and practically destroying the entire city.
The bombing caused a blast of super-heated air which created a 1,500-foot-high tornado of fire and 240 km/h (150 mph) winds which reached temperatures of 800 °C (1,500 °F) at altitudes in excess of 1,000 feet, incinerating more than eight square miles (21 km²) 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 harbor, causing them to ignite as well.
A large number of those killed were seeking safety in bomb shelters and cellars, the firestorm consuming the oxygen in the burning city above.
Approximately 3,000 aircraft were deployed; 9,000 tons of bombs were dropped, and over 250,000 dwellings were destroyed.
Many of the bombs were set with timing devices so as not to explode immediately, but rather many hours after being dropped. This was designed specifically to kill medical personnel, ambulance crews, and firemen trying to help victims of the initial bombing.
For many years after the war, the completely false propaganda was spread—particularly in Britain—that the Germans started the mass bombing of civilians. This lie is endorsed annually in Britain every September when memorials are held to commemorate the Blitz and to honor Sir Arthur Harris, the air war commander behind the Allied bombing campaign.
In reality, the German air force deliberately avoided bombing civilians, particularly in Britain—and it was only after the British Royal Air Force had bombed German cities for months on end, that the Luftwaffe was ordered to strike back.
This fact was openly admitted by the former British Principal Secretary of the Air Ministry, J. M. Spaight, in his 1944 book Bombing Vindicated, produced in response to increasing discontent in Britain with the Allied bombing of German cities.
In that book, Spaight pointed out that the idea to saturate bomb civilian targets was initiated by the British in May 1940.
Spaight added that Hitler specifically opposed the bombing of civlians, and refused to retaliate for months while the German cities were bombed, hoping that “Churchill would come to his senses.”
This belief is dismissed as “stupid” by Spaight, who went on to describe as “pacifists” and “socialists” those Britons who objected to the bombing of civilians.
The British bombers were designed to bomb cities, he said, while the “Teutonic mind” never even considered such a policy, and instead viewed an air force merely as a tool to “blast open” a path for attacking armies.
The German air force, he pointed out, was never used for anything else until ordered to retaliate against the British campaign.
“Whatever Hitler wanted or did not want, he most assuredly did not want the mutual bombing to go on. He had not wanted it ever to begin. He wanted it, having begun, to be called off. There was ample evidence that he did not want the latter kind of bombing to become the practice. He had done his best to have it banned by international agreement.”
Recommended reading: Bombing Vindicated by J. M. Spaight. A shocking reminder of the horror of war which provides a fascinating insight into the brutal psychology of the time. An exact reproduction of the wartime original.