Hamburg, 28th July 1943

Hamburg as seen from 18,000 ft on the night of 30 January 1943, one of the earlier raids on the city. A second Lancaster can be seen against the fires, searchlights and flak from the heavy defences.Hamburg was a tempting target for Bomber Command forces as it was a famous shipyard city; the battleship Bismarck, now at the bottom of the Atlantic, as well as 200 U-Boats had already been built there.

For the first time the American Eighth Air Force were invited to join in with a Bomber Command 'battle'. B-17 Fortresses would fly 252 daylight sorties in the two days following the first of four RAF night raids. The American targets were all industrial and included the U-boat yards, but the American effort ran into major difficulties mainly due to the fires started by the RAF raids still obscuring their targets. The Americans quickly withdrew from attacking Hamburg and were not keen to follow immediately on the heels of RAF raids in the future because of the smoke problem.

American 500 lb bombs drop onto Hamburg during the first of the 8th Air Force daylight raidsSir Arthur Harris directed four major raids against Hamburg in the space of ten nights, known as 'Operation Gommorah'. The most famous of these was on the 27/28 July 1943. 787 aircraft - 353 Lancasters, 244 Halifaxes, 116 Stirlings, 74 Wellingtons. 17 aircraft - 11 Lancasters, 4 Halifaxes, 1 Stirling, 1 Wellington - lost, onlt 2.2 per cent of the force. The American commander, Brigadier-General Anderson, again flew in a Lancaster and watched this raid.

The centre of the Pathfinder marking - all carried out by H2S on this night was about 2 miles east of the planned aiming point in the centre of the city, but the marking was particularly well concentrated and the Main Force bombing crept back only slightly. 729 aircraft dropped 2,326 tons of bombs.

The city was severely damaged throughout, the firestorm that raged burned out most of the buildings across many areasThis was the night of the firestorm, which started through an unusual and unexpected chain of events. The temperature was particularly high (30 centigrade at 6 o'clock in the evening) and the humidity was only 30 per cent, compared with an average of 40-50 per cent for this time of the year. There had been no rain for some time and everything was very dry. The concentrated bombing caused a large number of fires in the densely built-up working-class districts of Hammerbrook, Hamm and Borgfeld. Most of Hamburg's fire vehicles had been in the western parts of the city, damping down the fires still smouldering there from the raid of 3 nights earlier, and only a few units were able to pass through roads which were blocked by the rubble of buildings destroyed by high-explosive bombs early in this raid. About half way through the raid, the fires in Hammerbrook started joining together and competing with each other for the oxygen in the surrounding air. Suddenly, the whole area became one big fire with air being drawn into it with the force of a storm. The bombing continued for another half hour, spreading the firestorm area gradually eastwards. It is estimated that 550-600 bomb loads fell into an area measuring only 2 miles by 1 mile. The firestorm raged for about 3 hours and only subsided when all burnable material was consumed.

The burnt-out area was almost entirely residential. Approximately 16,000 multistoreyed apartment buildings were destroyed. There were few survivors from the firestorm area and approximately 40,000 people died, most of them by carbon monoxide poisoning when all the air was drawn out of their basement shelters. In the period immediately following this raid, approximately 1,200,000 people - two thirds of Hamburg's population - fled the city in fear of further raids.

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