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Wednesday, 27 March, 2002, 11:14 GMT
Blitzed by guidebook
Sixty years ago on Thursday, the UK and Nazi Germany began tit-for-tat bombing raids against each other's historic buildings. The Luftwaffe reputedly used Baedeker tourist guides to pick cultural targets, writes military historian Peter Caddick-Adams.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
In the spring of 1942, the Luftwaffe began to rain bombs down on English towns notable not for their armaments factories, but for their rich histories and architectural treasures.
During the early years of WWII, both Britain and Germany had attempted to bomb each other's industrial centres, but with so little accuracy that the Luftwaffe switched to the large "soft" target of London.
Fear of aerial bombing had gripped 1930s Europe - just as the threat of a nuclear holocaust shook the world in the 1950s and 60s.
Destruction on this vast scale had not come to pass by 1942 in either Britain or Germany, because there were too few bombers, of limited range, with light bomb loads and poor aiming technology.
That was until 28 March 1942, when RAF Bomber Command hit Lübeck, and hit it hard. But why pulverise a pretty medieval port on the Baltic coast of limited military value?
Earlier in the year, the RAF asked exiled German scientist Professor Franz Lindemann to study the effect of the 1941 Nazi blitz on Hull. He said the locals minded losing their homes more than anything else, and concluded that making German civilians homeless could affect their war effort and undermine their morale.
By early 1942, both air forces were more sophisticated than in 1940, using radar for guidance and the RAF was beginning to introduce heavy, four-engined bombers.
Undefended Lübeck was found easily by 234 RAF aircraft. Within hours, 300 tons of explosives and incendiaries had destroyed over half the old town, killed 320 and made 14,000 homeless.
Lindemann had been right, as Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels confided to his diary: "The English air raids have increased in scope and importance. If they can be continued for weeks on these lines, they might conceivably have a demoralising effect on the population."
Flushed with success, Harris attacked another old Baltic port, Rostock, and had 12 of his new four-engined Lancasters execute a daring daylight raid on Augsberg.
First to be attacked was Torquay. Then Brixham, Bognor Regis and Swanage were hit. By the third week of April, Portland, Exmouth, Bexhill, Folkestone, Hastings, Lydd, Dungeness, Cowes and Newhaven had all suffered "tip-and-run" raids - so-called because the fast fighter-bombers randomly "tipped" their bombs and "ran" for it.
Exactly when and why the Luftwaffe High Command decided to switch from these nuisance raids to conventional bombing raids on cultural centres of no military value is difficult to determine, but on 23 April, twenty-five German bombers attacked Exeter, using radar beams as a guide.
About 70 locals died in the raid and the Germans returned home without loss. Boasting of the raid at a press conference the following day, Nazi propagandist Baron Gustav Braun von Sturm said: "We shall go out and bomb every building in Britain marked with three stars in the Baedeker Guide."
More than 100 bombers caused nearly 1,300 casualties and damaged 20,000 buildings. This was a major blow to the undefended town, and Harris sent his bombers again to Rostock over four nights, killing or wounding nearly 6,000 in a clearly retaliatory act.
The terror bombing of civilians had become policy for both countries, as a way of undermining national morale.
The Luftwaffe turned its attentions to Norwich, on 27 and 29 April. These raids started nearly 200 fires, killed or wounded 850 and damaged 19,600 houses. The county town of York heard the approach of enemy aeroplanes at midnight on 28 April. Two hours later, some 300 lay wounded or dead, whilst 9,500 houses were destroyed or damaged.
The cathedral survived, as had those of Bath, Norwich and York, but 4,200 buildings were gutted. The rest of the month was quiet, apart from a few tip-and-run attacks on 23 May, but Harris had already planned a massive response.
On 30 May, he scraped his equipment barrel to hurl 1,000 bombers in three waves at Cologne. In 40 minutes, they released 2,000 tons of bombs, started 12,000 fires and made some 45,000 homeless, whilst 468 were killed and 5,000 injured.
The German response was to hit the cathedral town of Canterbury on 1 June in what German newspapers openly admitted was a Vergeltungsangriffe (retaliation raid), causing another 140 casualties and laying to waste its mediaeval heart, but missing the cathedral.
In the five towns hit in the Baedekers proper - Exeter, Bath, Norwich, York and Canterbury - 1,637 civilians had been killed and 1,760 injured, but the retaliation this prompted against German towns and cities saw far greater destruction.
Raids on Hamburg in 1943 and Dresden in 1945, caused the deaths of at least 150,000 people.
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