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The Destruction of Königsberg


ArthurHarrisThe RAF Bombing of 1944

 " The aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive...should be unambiguously stated [as] the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilized life throughout Germany."

"It should be emphasized that the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale, and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing, are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories."

RAF Air Chief Marshal Arthur "Bomber" Harris,  October, 1943

 

(In describing the RAF bombing of Königsberg, I wish to make it absolutely clear that anyone who gave their life in WWII to slay the murderous Nazi beast deserves our deepest appreciation, and their acts of bravery and self-sacrifice should never be forgotten. And this includes the thousands of US and British airmen who were ordered to perform incredible feats of courage,  by flying nearly blind for hours and hours in the dark across hostile territory and aided by primitive navigational aids (well, at least by today’s standards). 

 

firestorm-victimsKönigsberg was just one of many German cities targeted by the RAF for indiscriminate firebombing of its civilian population. Many other German cities suffered similar fates in WWII, being nearly bombed into extinction and thousands of its citizens killed - Dresden and Hamburg come to mind – but the situation at Königsberg deserves special mention, for the following reasons: what happened to its people, and what happened to its bombed-out remains.

In 1944 Königsberg suffered heavy damage from British air attacks under the leadership of  Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Arthur Harris.  Bombed earlier by the Soviet Air Forces causing minor damage, No. 5 Group of the Royal Air Force first attacked the city on the night of 26/27 August 1944. The raid was in the extreme range for the 174 Avro Lancasters that flew 950 miles from their bases to bomb the city.  Fortunately for the Königsbergers, this first raid was not successful, most bombs falling on the eastern side of the town. (Four of the attacking aircraft were lost.)

Three nights later on the 29/30 August, a further 189 Lancasters of No 5 Group carried out one of the most devastating No 5 Group attacks of the war on Königsberg at extreme range. From the RAF's own War Campaign Diaries: "Only 480 tons of bombs could be carried because of the range of the target but severe damage was caused around the 4 separate aiming points selected. This success was achieved despite a 20 minute delay in opening the attack because of the presence of low cloud; the bombing force waited patiently, using up precious fuel, until the marker aircraft found a break in the clouds and the Master Bomber, Wing Commander J Woodroffe, probably No 5 Group's most skilled Master Bomber, allowed the attack to commence. Bomber Command estimated that 41 per cent of all the housing and 20 per cent of all the industry in Königsberg were destroyed. There was heavy fighter opposition over the target and 15 Lancasters, 7.9 per cent of the force, were lost."

Following this final air attack, the city burned for several days. The results were devastating, and in addition to the horrible death that befell thousands of its citizens primarily through incineration, the historic city center, consisting of the quarters Altstadt, Löbenicht and Kneiphof was in fact completely destroyed, among it the Dom cathedral, the castle, all churches of the city, the old and the new university and the entire warehouse district.

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