The bombing of Hamburg

Philip Jenkins’ most recent Real Clear Religion column looks at the bombing raid on Hamburg, Germany, on its seventieth anniversary. I had not heard of this bombing raid before, although I knew some things in general about the bombing campaigns against Nazi Germany. Jenkins argues that it was a critical event in World War II:

Gomorrah was a pivotal moment in the Second World War. Accounts of the war often stress the German surrender at Stalingrad in February 1943 as the critical moment when the war was decisively lost, but that perception was not apparent at the time. Hamburg, in contrast, really did send a devastating message of German weakness. German leaders, military and civilian, spoke with one voice of catastrophe and crisis, of imminent disaster and even national destruction. Josef Goebbels confided to his diary that for the first time, he was driven to contemplate seeking peace with the Allies. Hamburg, he said — not Stalingrad — was the war’s greatest crisis to date.

Reputedly, when viewing film of the raid’s effects, Hitler himself showed signs of genuine distress. Albert Speer warned him that just six or eight more such attacks could so cripple Germany that it would lose the capacity to make war. He particularly stressed the collapse of civilian morale. Speer drew a striking comparison when he noted that Hamburg had suffered precisely the fate that Hitler had intended to inflict on London during his proposed invasion in 1940.

This sense of shock among the Nazi leadership had immediate practical consequences. If they hoped to preserve morale across the Reich, the Germans now had to concentrate intense efforts on anti-bomber defenses. That meant diverting guns, radar, construction materials and soldiers from other places where they could otherwise have been used, including the Eastern Front. That also meant pulling resources from the Western Wall that Hitler was building in preparation for the expected Allied invasion of France. Germany’s cities became in effect the long-awaited “Second Front” that the Soviets were demanding so loudly.

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