Bombing of Hamburg in World War II

Typical bomb damage in the Eilbek district of Hamburg, 1944 or 1945

Typical bomb damage in the Eilbek district of Hamburg, 1944 or 1945

Operation Gomorrah was the military code name for a series of air attacks en, by the Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force and the U.S. 8th Air Force in World War II 25 July to 3 August 1943 were performed on Hamburg. It was the most serious attacks so far in the history of the air war. These attacks were ordered by Air Marshal Arthur Harris, the Commander of the British Bomber Command.


The Bible says in 1 Genesis, 19, 24: The Lord sent brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, and destroyed the cities and all the plain, all the inhabitants.

Early history

The bombing was preceded by an agreement between the Western Allies and Stalin. Stalin had insisted on a second front in the west of Germany. The Western powers wanted this attack with ground troops had not yet initiated and offered as a compromise air raid on German cities.

A week-long heat wave and drought helped that the bombs unleashed firestorms.

Critical to the success of Operation Gomorrah, the chaff first used by the British were made ​​of tin foil strips (length 26.5 cm), which (53 cm wavelength) made ​​the German radiomeasuring completely ineffective. The optimal length of the strips was a British commando, the operation Biting, found out in February 1942.

The bombardment

U.S. newsreel “United News” reports August 1943 by the destruction of Hamburg.

As part of Operation Gomorrah, there was five night raids by the Royal Air Force and two days of attacks by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF).

The attacks began on the night of 24 on the 25th July 1943 with the bombing of Hamburg by 791 British bombers. By Fehlwürfe the target marks (the destination St. Nicholas Church was in the city center), the damage extended through 2300 tons of bombs over a fairly wide area. Nevertheless, it was in the city center, High air Eimsbuettel and Altona to extensive wildfires. Some northwestern suburbs have been taken. “The death toll estimated the air line protection at about 1500. More detailed findings of the first major attack did not give it.” Twelve British bombers did not return.

On the afternoon of 25 July 1943 attacked about 90 to 110 U.S. bomber (91st, 351st, 381st (= 1st combat wing), 303rd, 379th, 384th bomb group (= 41st combat wing) industrial plants and goals in the port of Hamburg. There were several ships sunk and hit some oil companies. Due to the thick smoke through the previous night raid by the Royal Air Force many targets could not be found. In this first Tagangriff the USAAF threw in 10 minutes from about 186 tons of bombs and lost fifteen B-17 bombers due to violent measures by flak and fighters. The 381st bomb group could drop their bombs only during the return flight to the North Sea via the small town of Heide (Holstein).

At the same time flew on 25 July 1943 about 60 U.S. bombers (94th, 95th and 100th bomb group (= 13th combat wing) and 388th bomb group) to bombard the Greater Hamburg and Kiel Rerik (Baltic Sea). Four B-17 bombers were shot down.

At noon on the 26th Attacked again on July 71 U.S. bomber targets in the port of Hamburg. Here also, the power plant was hit Neuhof. In the two days attacks about 150 people died.

The fourth attack as part of Operation Gomorrah was a Störeinsatz of six British Mosquito aircraft in the night of 26 to 27 July 1943, he taught at only property damage.

In the second major attack by the Royal Air Force during the night of 27 to 28 Juli 1943 739 bombers were used. The focus of the bombing was in the neighborhoods east of downtown. From the wildfires was formed (favored by heat and drought) a firestorm.

The gale-force winds that occurred on the ground, the surrounding fires fanned on. The districts Rothenburgsort Hammerbrookstraße and Borgfelde were almost completely destroyed in Hamm, Eilbek, High field, Barmbek Wandsbek and there was greater destruction. About 30,000 people died in this attack.

The third major attack by the RAF on the night of 29 to 30 July 1943 flew 726 bomber. The bombs fell mainly on the neighborhoods Barmbek Uhlenhorst Winterhude. Despite extensive wildfires no fire storm arose, although Barmbek a similar densely populated and built-up area was like Hammerbrookstraße. The number of victims can only be estimated, a source accepts about 1,000 deaths.

The Royal Air Force continued as part of Operation Gomorrah on the night of 2 3rd August 1943 for the seventh and last 740 attack bombers, which arrived during a heavy thunderstorm Hamburg. The bombing was therefore largely untargeted. Although there were several large fires (for example, at the Hamburg State Opera), but to no wildfires. About the number of victims of this attack is not known and is likely to be significantly less than the first or third major offensive of the Royal Air Force.

Attack technique

The bombing of a mixture of air n mine, explosives, phosphorus and incendiary bomb was used.

The air mines and bombs covered by their enormous pressure effect targeted on the roofs of the houses, the windows were burst and interrupted – if they hit roads – often the water lines.

The phosphorus bomb n and incendiary bomb n were the now exposed wooden roof trusses fire, where the fire spread through the stairwells almost exclusively composed of wood to which is below, floors, and, favored by the shattered windows, and getting enough oxygen. Ultimately, this led to the complete burning of the building. The technique was later referred to by the Allies as Hamburgisierung and also applied to other cities.

The attacks always directed against a sector of the city. The key starting point was about 147 meters high tower of St. Nicholas Church. The ruins were partially demolished in 1951, the tower and some parts of the wall was left standing as a memorial. In the tower there is a permanent exhibition on the Operation Gomorrah.

The existing air-raid shelters to protect the population in 1943 could offer only limited protection, because during the war more and more bombs were used. Also, the oxygen demand of the fires led to the suffocation of many people in bomb shelters or air raid shelters.


The number of victims of Operation Gomorrah is not exactly determine. To 30 November 1943 were recovered 31,647 deaths, of which 15,802 were identified. The Hamburg air raid management estimated at this time the total number of victims to 35,000. Today’s Posts of historical science assume a number of about 34,000 dead and 125,000 injured as a result of Operation Gomorrah. A detailed statement, which deals with the commonly encountered to the higher number of casualties from the existing source material found in the book by Hans Brunswig.

It was found that the existing bunkers and shelters were totally inadequate. Therefore, an evacuation was initiated, in some districts, for example, in Barmbek, could still be done in time.

All residents who were not necessarily needed in the production of armaments, the city had to leave. Most of the children were brought to the country in safety in the Kinderlandverschickung. Total fled after the attacks, approximately 900,000 hamburgers from the city into the countryside or in the “Aufnahmegaue” in Bavaria and Eastern Germany and Poland. In December 1943 107.000 hamburgers were billeted in Schleswig-Holstein, 58,000 in the district of Bayreuth, in Magdeburg-Anhalt 55,000, 45,000 and 20,400 in East Hanover in Danzig-West Prussia.



The firestorm destroyed large parts of the old buildings completely Hamburger, former district centers as well as the old town of Altona no longer exist as well as various monuments. Integrated Once, in streets full of old buildings, churches such as St. Nicholas Church, St. Michaelis Church, or the St. Trinity Church today are largely isolated and were only provisionally set after the war, partly repaired. Places like the marketplace Eimsbütteler there only as names on plaques or street signs, while wide roads such as the Ludwig-Erhard-Straße or the southern road through Holsten once densely built-up residential areas. The Öjendorfer Park, a hilly landscape in the eastern district of Hamburg Billstedt, was built on the ruins of war unloaded.

The attacks were a total of 277 330 dwellings and 580 industrial plants, commercial establishments in 2632, 80 plants of the Wehrmacht, 24 hospitals, 277 schools, 58 churches destroyed. Trade in the port and harbor vessels were sunk with 180,000 tons.


In the then completely destroyed Hammerbrooke district, previously a district inhabited mainly by dock workers, no residential buildings and old buildings are more practically available. Instead, there are almost exclusively newly constructed commercial buildings.

The last bomb wasteland of Operation Gomorrah were eliminated in the late 1960s, numerous Fleet s were filled with rubble and overbuilt from the 1950s, with roads, particularly in the inner city. The post-war buildings are mostly in where rows transverse to the road and do not form a more cohesive building blocks for a renewed conflagration should be prevented.

For the city of Hamburg, Operation Gomorrah after 1945 was not only central to urban planning, the Hamburg fire storm of 1943 also has a special place in the memory of the city. The historian Malte Thiessen put this in his study to commemorate the Operation Gomorrah stated: “Because of the destructive power visible today were the July attacks – in contrast to events such as the seizure of power, the assassination of 20 July 1944, or “Kristallnacht” -. Enshrined from the beginning as a collective fixed point in the urban memory”.


The measures taken by the bombing of Hamburg neighborhoods can be found in many postwar clay tablets with the Hamburg coat of arms and an inscription with the date of destruction and reconstruction. They were donated by the Hamburg building authority for residential buildings, which were rebuilt after the devastation of 1943, financial support from the public sector again.

On the pedestrian island between Hamburger Straße and Oberaltenallee the winter Weg 30 recalls since July 1985 a memorial by sculptor Hildegard Huza to 370 people at night on the 30th July 1943 strangled in a nearby shelter. It shows an almost life-size stone people, who cowers in the corner of a wall for protection.

At the cemetery Ohlsdorf the war cemetery is bombing victims Hamburg Ohlsdorf. It comprises on the one hand the bomb victims single grave condition, also the shape of a cross with arms wide scale mass grave of over a hundred meters in length between Oak and Cherry Avenue. The focus of the cross-shaped area is thought to 36,918 bomb victims buried in here with the memorial by Gerhard Marcks. Shown is the dead ferryman Charon, who is a married couple, a husband, a mother with a child and an old man on the Acheron. The monument was on 16 August 1952 inaugurated under the strong participation of the population and is still the place for the official wreath-laying of the Senate.

Defuse the unexploded

Of the 107,000 bombs that were dropped on Hamburg between 1940 and 1945, 11,000 unexploded bombs have been defused, but about 2,900 dud (as of 2012) still undiscovered. Since 1985, the British authorities allowed the German authorities aerial photographs of the bomb strikes. Property owners need to have them checked for unexploded ordnance before a new building project, the land since 2005. For this purpose, an application to the Department of exploration risk / UXO suspected the fire is made. In a suspected case, a specialist company for investigation of the soil must be ordered. The bomb disposal team defused discovered the fire bombs.


•Hans Brunswig: firestorm over Hamburg. Engine book publishing house, Stuttgart 1978, ISBN 3-87943-570-7.

•Ursula Büttner: “Gomorrah” and the consequences.The bombing. In: Research Centre for Contemporary History in Hamburg (ed.): Hamburg in the “Third Reich”. Wallenstein, Göttingen 2005, ISBN 3-89244-903-1, pp. 613-631.

•Joachim Döbler: The Life of facade canyons.Operation Gomorrah: Hamburg was destroyed 50 years ago. In: Research.Releases the DFG. 3 (1993), pp. 4-8.

•Ray T. Matheny: The Fire tab.Caught in “Flying Fortresses”. Albrecht Knaus Verlag, Munich, etc. 1988, ISBN 3-8135-0568-5.

•Hans Erich Nossack: Sunset (suhrkamp texte = 9). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main, 1961. (Literary treatment of the air raids)

•Joachim Szodrzynski: the “home front” between Stalingrad and the war. In: Research Centre for Contemporary History in Hamburg (ed.): Hamburg in the “Third Reich”. Wallenstein, Göttingen 2005, ISBN 3-89244-903-1, pp. 633-685.

•Malte Thiessen: Burned into memory.Hamburg’s commemoration of the air war and war in late 1943 and 2005. (= Forum history. Vol 19). Dolling and Galitz, Munich, etc. 2007, ISBN 978-3-937904-55-9 (Also: Hamburg University, thesis, 2007.).

•Malte Thiessen: Memory of “Operation Gomorrah”.Hamburg’s cultural memory and urban identity. In: Dietmar Sweet (ed.): Germany in the air war.History and memory. (= Time history in conversation. Vol 1). Oldenbourg, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-486-58084-6, pp. 121-133.


•Frank Keil: Anyone remember the forgotten, loses its identity. In: The World. 31, July 2008.

•Hamburg firestorm – Very detailed information about the operation in a series of articles from Hamburg evening paper .

•Günter Stiller Thus came “Gomorrah” in Hamburg. In: Hamburg evening paper. 21, July 2003. (Paid link)

•Malte Thiessen: Memory of Hamburg’s “terrible hours.”Culture of remembrance of the bombing from 1945 until now. to: 28 March 2006.

•Theo Sommer: The Hamburg inferno.A city burns in the fire storm 60 years ago, British and American bombers destroyed the Hanseatic metropolis. Add: No. THE TIME. 31 of 24 July 2003, p 74

•”And the glow-hurricane” Small picture and “Video” documentation for July 1943 a day: time history on Spiegel Online, 24 July 2008.

•Allied Aerial Destruction of Hamburg During World War II

•Bombing of Hamburg 24 Jul-2 Aug 1943. summary overview, Eng.

•Previously unreleased damage report about the air attacks on Hamburg from 24 July to 8 August 1943 by “Higher SS and Police Leader” in Military District X

•Damage to the elevated train on Hamburgers Hamburger

•Spiegel TV: Operation Gomorrah (film, October 29, 2009, 54 minutes)

Reports of witnesses

•Spiegel Online interview with Walter Kempowski about the bombing of 23 July 2003

•Ralph Giordano: “Choking grief.” on: World Online. 19th July 2003.

•The target for today is Hamburg. onto: (report of a downed on July 25, 1943 U.S. bomber pilots (381st Bomb Group, 532nd Squadron), Eng.)

Hamburg in the time of National Socialism


Air warfare operation of the Royal Air Force in World War II

United States Air Force


Germany in World War II

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