The Bombed Ones

By Pierre 'Piet' MICHIELS

with particular thanks to Phil BALL for the translation

and to Andrew LEEMING for the English translation of the testimony of J. Junker


Normality v/s Morality..


Normality. Is Normal what is commonly authorized because not prohibited.
In this sense, area-bombing is normal.
Is normal, something that is recognized as frequent and repeated over time.
In this sense, area-bombing is normal.
Is normal, what is acceptable and accepted in terms of sacrifice and pain.
In this sense, area-bombing is normal.
Is normal, something that is recognized by the Authority and its institutions.
In this sense, area-bombing is normal.


Aachen, July 14th, 1943

From the innumerable air raid warnings that dragged us out of the deepest sleep and the many, many hours which we spent in fear and fright in the cellar or in an air raid shelter, as the flak batteries fired without pause, one night in particular has remained with me as the most frightful memory. This is the night of 14th July 1943. During this night, my parents’ house in the Marienstrasse was almost completely destroyed by an air mine or very heavy bomb. The neighbouring house belonging to my uncle was flattened by the violence of the blast. In the entire street the houses were more or less affected in the same way. I have never seen such an effect from one bomb and such an enormous bomb crater. As was said: “One could put a house in there.”

That our family and that of my uncle survived is thanks to my father. As a veteran of the front in the First World War, he always considered that the cellar was like a mouse trap, rather than being an air raid shelter. One would be buried under the rubble of the house should a bomb fall in the vicinity. We owe our lives to this insight. During the first years of the war, we hid in the cellar when the sirens sounded. Then, at the bottom of our garden, a dug-out shelter was constructed. This was large enough to accommodate ten people. It was covered in beams and corrugated iron, then protected against incendiary bombs with a metre-thick layer of earth. With the first alarm, my sister and my mother went to the shelter; with the full alarm I would be awoken by my father to go there too.

That is how it was on 14th July 1943. After the full alarm, the still of the night was broken by the drone of aircraft engines and the rumble of the flak guns firing. After about ten minutes, the engine noise disappeared in the direction of Stolberg [a little east of Aachen]. We celebrated that Aachen had remained spared from an attack on this night and that the bombers were flying on to another target. However, after a short time, we heard the engine noise of the bombers again. This time, they came from an easterly direction. They had turned. Looking out of the entrance of the shelter, in the sky we saw the “Christmas Tree” flare markers, which were named after their characteristic shapes. The target was indeed Aachen. Then it all happened. We had the feeling that all the bombs that were destined for the whole of the city of Aachen had been released over us. The howling and whistling would not stop. The earth shook as though there had been an earthquake. My aunt had started to pray with us: “Help us Mary, it is time, Mother of Mercy”. There we sat, a small group of people, our bodies quaking with fear, without any possibility of defending ourselves or escaping the danger. It was terrible.

Then we heard a sound, as we had never heard. It was as if a locomotive or a column of panzers – or both together - were coming towards us. We knew from the noise that it was a bomb – we curled up. I shall never forget those seconds. Then came the impact. The blow took our breaths away. At the same moment, the air was thick with the dust of the destroyed houses and with the dense smoke of the bomb. We had to put some wet handkerchiefs over our mouths in order to breathe. The attack continued with undiminished strength. Each minute was like an eternity for us. Then, after an unendingly long time, there was silence. In the distance one could hear the crackling of burning houses and the voices of people, calling out that they were still alive.


Photo 1 (K Vossen): Passers-by and the curious stand by the ruins caused by the air-mine on the corner of Marienstrasse and Kirchweidstrasse on 14th July 1943. From left, Marienstrasse Number 24 (Family Schlemper).........Number 16 (Family Junker)........


My father had already looked outside. He told us that our uncle’s house was no longer there. Our house was on fire. However, that was not actually the case: it was an incendiary bomb that was burning. Then, something extraordinary happened: on the first storey of my uncle’s house lived a widow. She and my uncle did not have a good understanding. For that reason, she avoided joining us in the dug-out shelter. Suddenly, this woman came to us along the garden path. That she had survived bordered on a miracle. Of the house where she had been in the explosion, only the ground floor walls were still standing. The concrete covering of the cellar lay strewn all over the cellar floor. The rubble of the house lay partly in the yard, partly in the garden. One could look into the cellar as though it were an open pit [hole]. The only thing that remained intact were the steps to the cellar.

She had sat under there, as the bombs exploded. She told us that suddenly she could see the sky. She had then attempted to come to us over the debris, which had managed to do. As we went later to our house from the garden, we saw the full extent of the destruction. There were dead hens in the hen house, which was behind the house and the bakery, so a relatively long way away from the bomb crater. On the yard, there was a dead blackbird, killed by the pressure of the explosion. There was no front wall of the house. Only splinters remained of the shutters – one could not recognise what they had once been. Curious things from the rooms at the rear of the house lay in the street. Who knows how the force of the air and suction caused this. Everything seemed to be destroyed.

Photo 2 (J Dautat): severe damage was also caused by the mine in the neighbourhood lying to the right.


What had been built up by the efforts and hard work of my parents and my sisters had been destroyed in seconds. This was a fate that we now had to share with many people. But then we could indeed be satisfied. We were still alive. Just one look into our cellar showed how it could have been for us, had we been there during the air raid. Despite the support of heavy beams, the majority of the cellar roof had fallen in. We would all have been killed. My father was right to see the cellar was a mouse-trap.

The only positive aspect for me, as I thought at the time, was that the piano had been destroyed. No more practice hours for me. As a fidgety lad, as I was then, this was a relief, although I thought differently about it later. Another small miracle had also occurred: the younger of my two sisters had an accordion, which now lay intact, without a scratch on it, on top of a metre-high pile of rubble from the living room. The accordion’s case, which it was always in, was now in a thousand fragments.

There we stood by the grave of our possessions, my parents and we three children, as the sun rose in the East. Bombed out! An expression understood by only that generation that had experienced the war. Tired, exhausted and – in spite of this – all the fibres of our souls were still trembling from the horrors of that night. We dragged ourselves along the ruins of Marienstrasse to our grandparents, who lived in Brueckstrasse.

Photo 3 (Archiv H Beckers): in comparison to the relatively-harmless looking crater which the air-mine left in the soft earth of the meadow, the enormous blast [air pressure] caused considerable damage to the houses in the vicinity and also to the church of St Severin.


Josef JUNKER, 2011

translation by Andrew LEEMING





Germany was the first nation to experience fully and resolutely, the fury of area bombing.

Bomber Command lost over 55,000 men, 44% of its crews. To date, no one knows exactly how many people died from bombing in Germany, with estimates ranging from 300,000 to almost 600,000 as assessed by the Federal Administration of population statistics in Wiesbaden. If we retain only the higher of these two figures, RAF and USAAF raids killed a mere 2 % of the German urban population…

Instructive as it is, the comparison is absurd. Crew died while fighting against fighters and flak. The airmen are volunteers and are quite well equipped. Losses are still severe: night fighters are taking the biggest toll, although the limits of the detection systems are quickly reached. Flak causes less damage than the fighters but it is more frightening. The standard artillery gun of 88mm fires in 8 seconds a shell of 8 kg to an altitude of 20.000 ft. When it explodes, the shell breaks into 1,500 sharp pieces that flow at high speed in all directions. It can destroy an aircraft at a range of 30 ft. from the explosion, seriously damaging it when within 300 ft.

For their part, residents in the cities being bombed do not fight against anyone, but just struggle to survive. In the noise and light of a seemingly ending world, a mass of 1 or 2 and frequently 4 tons of explosives falls from an altitude of 20.000 ft. to hit the ground at a speed of 600 km/h. By then, the bomber is already more than 2 kilometres away from the point of impact where the ground is now covered with incendiary sticks. The inhabitants are fighting against the natural elements such as fire, CO combustion gas that creeps into basements, and gravity that makes rubble fall down on them. They are on the Second War Front. They are neither volunteers nor well equipped for it and there is no war legislation that can protect them from the power of this type of weapon.

During the interwar period, there is a widespread feeling in Europe that there will be no immunity for civilians in future conflicts. The literature abounds with fictional accounts where destruction mainly affects large cities and communication centres. Their sudden dislocation is predicted to cause a social disaster. There is simultaneously a fascination with anything related to the world of aviation, and morbid certitude that it represents the ultimate technique to obliterate urban centres. So-called experts and novelists trot out the idea of apocalyptic bombing leading to the disappearance of any society. The journalist STEWART wrote in 1936 that in a war between industrial societies, any town is a military objective as it is a productive part of the war effort, it houses those who make war, it is a communication centre, it is a meeting place and as a result a propaganda objective, and it is a siege of government.

This apocalyptic fear linked to the use of the bomber is also backed by political circles. It is sometimes claimed today that the reluctance demonstrated by possible allies during the Czechoslovakian crisis in 1938 was related to the fear of German aerial reprisals on the British population. Yet, the search for a diplomatic agreement on the use of bombing faces many difficulties. Since the Brussels Convention in 1874, and Den Hague in 1907, international legislation prohibited the use of aerial bombardment against a civilian population. The use of the Zeppelins against English cities spelt the end of these agreements. In February 1923, an international commission enacts the Den Hague II Convention on air war. No state will ever ratify the agreement. Governments are more concerned to prohibit the use of gas which will be defined in protocols signed by future belligerents in 1929 and 1930. The agreement on the air war, however, will be used as a moral guide without coercive effect in the future political assessment of the consequences of bombing the civilian population. The reality in 1940 is that there is no international regulation which governs the use of air power.

The concept of the aerial bomb and its original design dates from 1912 and is a Bulgarian invention. A technical beginning that everyone will adopt and of course improve on during the 1st World War. However, the concept that civilian society and particularly its urban component may represent a new front line, is unique and typical of the Modern Age. The target is not the only the fighting ability of soldiers, but the morale of the civilians. Civilians in this era, appear as an essential factor in the Nation seen as a Whole. One no longer aims at the leader or army or country, the target is the very idea of a Nation. The experience of the maritime blockade imposed by the Royal Navy on the German ports during the war seems to have affected the outcome of the conflict through the hardship and famine endured by the German population. According to official statistics, 800,000 civilian deaths were attributed to the blockade during WW1. Created in 1918 near the end of the Great War, the RAF will become a special and unique instrument. The first to implement, fully and resolutely, area bombing. It has become technically possible, nothing prohibits it, and it's the only weapon available to the United Kingdom at that time. There is no alternative: no shells of the Royal Navy will fall upon a German port and no soldier will land on the other side of the Rhine for some time.

Although it was not widely used during 1914-1918, it appears to all that the aircraft represents a new weapon. For some it is THE modern weapon. Under the command of Marshal TRENCHARD, the young and conceited RAF submits to the British War Cabinet the outline of its strategy: only the air force will in future be able to maintain peace by attacking the industrial fabric of the enemy and undermining the morale of his nation. This is the kind of stuff that gets on the nerves of generals and admirals, reluctant to share the budget bonanzas of the government: in the war against the Germans, there will be a bidding war between Admiral, General and Marshal. The RAF will constantly demonstrate its usefulness and necessity for the duration of the 2nd World War. Like any new instrument, it was presented by its supporters in the best light and TRENCHARD did not hesitate to mention that the psychological impact, and the impact on morale, of bombing is 20 times greater than its material impact. Whilst reflecting on the Italian Air Force Air Marshal General DOUHET, said that modern war is "a competition between morales" in which the urban population will be "more likely to collapse." It is therefore generally admitted after the First World War that aerial bombing will be a component of any future war and that civilians may be targeted. Such a warfare mode is a siege battle variant, as well as a naval blockade. The latter element may partially explain why Britain became the pioneer of strategic bombing during the Second World War. The British view on the issue is defined by BALDWIN to the House of Commons November 10, 1932 when he said that the man in the street realizes that there is nothing that can prevent him from being bombed. Whatever one might say, the bomber will always go through. The only defence resides in the response, which means that one must kill more women and children faster than the enemy.

Endorsing this position, Germany begins as early as 1920 to adopt passive and active measures of civilian protection – searchlights and AA guns (forbidden by the Versailles Treaty) - against the new weapon of aerial bombing. In 1931, the Ministry of Interior defines the outline of future Civil Defence, and in 1932 a first Decree is released on the "Vorläufige Ortsanweisung für den der Luftschutz Zivilbevölkerung" which will include 12 chapters and countless addenda added up to the end of the war. In 1940, the Luftwaffe mobilization plans already include a list including all German cities in Civil Defence areas (Luftschutzorten) ranging from type I to type III. Initially, control is  given to the Head of the Civil Defence (Luftschutzleiter) often a Mayor and more rarely a local Nazi Gauleiter, then the Air Ministry takes over, then it is gradually replaced by the Nazi Party. From the beginning, the 104 cities of type I (LSO-I) are those with larger populations or those considered as vital to the war industry. Hamburg, Berlin, Munich and Dresden are obviously LSO-I, but so is also Siegen for example. With only 60,000 inhabitants, this city owes its inclusion to its geographical location near the Ruhr, its city status of garrison, and its industries. In Germany, it is assumed early on that Civil Defence depends largely on the participation of the people through organizations like the Luftschutbund, league which grew to some 12 million members from 1932. This partially militarized organization reinforced the population with the idea that during the conflict to come, the whole society will be on the front line.


At the same time, in Britain, with the exception of a thesis by TRENCHARD on the probable vulnerability of the morale of the civilian population, there is almost no action to organise passive civil defence. He-111s and other Ju-88s were to find Britain "pants down" in the autumn of 1940. But within the RAF the dominant idea is that bombing is the new weapon capable of revolutionizing war and that the weapon can cause physical and mental collapse of any enemy … but certainly not Britain… If PORTAL and HARRIS excelled in the development of area bombing as a weapon of destruction, one should note that the supreme leader of the Reich was himself a frustrated city destroyer. We now know that he loved viewing films of the bombing of Warsaw and liked to imagine the destruction of buildings in Manhattan. The Führer was a fervent defender of the theses of DOUHET and TRENCHARD on the use of the bomber, he often presented himself as a born strategist in the matter. The problem was he would never have such bombers.

Thus, on both sides, a few men decided to use this particular weapon and to improve it. They did it openly and without remorse because on both sides, the people, the parliament and the armed forces supported this objective. Both sides were right to do so. During the conflict, neither the German civilian population, nor the British and US civilians, disapproved of the offensive directed against the enemy, even against civilians. And these are the allies who won that kind of war. Since the 20s', everyone living in a city foresaw the use of the bomber on battle field and on cities, and everyone believed he had been correctly prepared to protect himself. Millions of Europeans knew that cellars, shelters, sirens, gas masks, and blackouts would be used for possible emergencies. But all knew that such emergencies were possible and even very likely to happen in case of a future conflict. During the interwar period, the issue of bombing was discussed in headquarters, laboratories, parliaments, in the streets and in newspapers.

It is, therefore, not the appearance of hell, announced 20 years ago, which arouses incomprehension. It is rather the fear caused by the impossibility of facing it. It was imagined, on both sides, that it would be much easier to cope with the bomber. Yes, much easier...

For in 1942 Bomber Command had 400 bombers but by August 1943 1,670 bombers were available to take part in the Battle of Berlin. In mid-July 1943, the 8th USAAF had 1,823 operational aircraft but shortly after in 1944 just under 3,000 were available. Even if it can cope with the repeated assaults of the allies, the Kamhuber line of defence and interception system radar cannot contain such an onslaught. In 1943, the RAF carried out about 36,000 night sorties and the USAAF 12,000 day time sorties. The German night fighters need more flexibility than can be granted to them by a limited detection system. Luftwaffe aces, confident in their ability and their bravery, begin to consider that their sole reliance on radar is now misplaced. A change in tactics is necessary and more latitude is offered to independent fighter pilots flying above the targets being attacked by the RAF. The Battle of the Ruhr alone engulfed 1,000 Bomber Command aircraft and 5,000 airmen died with only a very few taken into captivity. Since the beginning of the war, 3,500 RAF planes failed to return from their flights over enemy territory...


We now know that Churchill believed in 1940 that Britain had no option but to stand firm and to carry on. Large scale air bombing superiority against Germany will not be gained before January 1943 to achieve his own view that “only a violent fire in his backyard will force the Nazi continental empire to retreat”, and help Stalin. The British Army in 1943 is unable to regain a foothold on the continent and Downing Street has to delay Overlord until 1944. The Royal Navy will soon be limited to protecting convoys in the North Atlantic. The 8th Army has yet to achieve victory on the battlefields of the Middle East. There is only the RAF with its obsolete twin engined bombers that are due to be replaced. One has to suggest that the growing frustration of CHURCHILL, deprived of political victory, pushed him to keep pressure on Bomber Command who were ordered to obtain short-term results. Early in the conflict, the issue is to maintain the morale of the British people and it was only much later that the question will arise as to how to destroy German morale by an economic and social war of destruction.

On the eastern side of the Channel, the German victory in 1940 is glorified: the war is over and won. Then comes the British bombardment of Düsseldorf on June 19th that killed 10 people. The end of the alert, given too early, is mainly responsible but the grievances of the people vanish into the jubilation of victory. Yet the British night raids are greeted with astonishment: the battlefield is won, why do they continue to bomb us? It is still with hilarity that one reads the contents of the threatening leaflets dropped by the bombers. But gradually, the Germans are beginning to understand that the weapons will not be reduced to silence. Now the war will fly over their streets, their homes, their gardens ... The idea that the front now flies over their heads, that there is nothing between it and them is worrying the population. The air defence weakness of the Reich will be obvious at first, even if the means employed by the RAF will initially be very limited. Until 1943, astonishingly the air front will move well above the Reich in the same direction as the land front. As the Wehrmacht advance eastward, more bombers of Bomber Command will reach further east into the Reich, tearing off each night a little of the sovereignty from the hands of the Nazi regime.

In the air, the goal of the destruction of the morale of the German population will depend for some time to come on the ability of the navigators and later the skills of Pathfinders.Technically detection on both sides will for a long time be based on radar dipole, both offensively and defensively. Action, reaction… Lichtenstein on one side, Monica on the other. Wurzburg on one side, H2S on the other. Kamhuber on one side, and soon Windows on the other. The RAF will face the particular problem that finding the target requires real talent from the navigators. The RAF must address the shortage of navigators or they will become scarce and Bomber Command will then have to accept that the best crews were destroyed in the summer of 1943.

On the ground, we now know that the outbreak of hell will depend solely on the sophistication of the bombing technical means, the structure of the buildings in the urban areas bombed and the local weather conditions. Bomber Command will learn night after night how to trigger the destruction process to the extent that it can calculate the effect in advance.

This is because it is technically feasible. This is because nothing prohibits it. This is because the British have no other weapon to use in continental Europe in the fight against Nazism.



In 1940 at the beginning of war, the German justification for the bombing of Warsaw was that it was not declared an “open city ", there was fighting taking place and no sign of surrender had been detected before the bomber attack on the Ghetto. The Ghetto, already... The thesis is the same with regard to the attack on Rotterdam, but in this case it was stated that the overt signs of surrender had not been noticed by some bomber crews because of the smoke of the fires near to the ground fighting. And to justify ex-post that Paris and many other cities were never bombed as they were declared "open". The argument may seem misleading in light of the severe losses that the Wehrmacht suffered in the battles to take over these two martyr cities: Germans had to break the resistance and create an example, that is all. That’s war.

Following the Anschluss on Belgium and the Netherlands, the RAF is ordered to bomb German supply lines. The first German city to be bombed by the RAF is Mönchengladbach, where 35 Whitley and Hampden bombers bomb roads and railways on the night of May 12th 1940, killing four civilians, including a woman of British nationality. So chronologically, the British are the first to "take the gloves off" : the aim is still to hit the supply lines, but it is accepted among leaders, that bombs may also fall on civilian homes. When Münster is hit on the night of May 16th, the British bombers are not intending to aim at factories or railway stations: they fly over the Rhine, seeking to replicate the German bombing of Rotterdam. In the middle of the night a few lights are still visible in Münster. Action, reaction…

After Warsaw and the bombing of Rotterdam by the Luftwaffe, cities de facto outside the protection of the Den Hague II Treaty, according to the Germans, CHURCHILL’s government established the principle of trying to protect civilians from the effects of the bombing. The events in Britain throw such nice intentions into the dustbin:  end of August 1940, German bombs fell on London. The first bombs since 1918 and the Zeppelins. The next day, Bomber Command is conducting a series of light raids with insignificant results in the centre of Berlin. One thing leads to another ... Action, reaction.

September 1940. Fighter Command is very far from winning the battle against the Luftwaffe but the Reich already has a tactical offensive weapon able of reaching the dreams of TRENCHARD, although with a limited range. The occupation of the French coast allows German light bombers to reach Great Britain. If they had to take off from the Reich, these squadrons would not have reached any British city. The die is cast. No one else is then able to do this. This is because it is technically feasible. This is because it is not banned by international treaties. One thing leading to another... But the German strategists are to turn away from their main objective which is the RAF fighter bases, and one night, will target the London docks. The bombing shifts to the East End of London and for 57 long nights, the twin-engined Luftwaffe aircraft repeat their attacks. German newspaper headlines include "London is burning everywhere," and "pursuit of reprisals on London." Goebbels noted "the London media report that the city goes back to the Stone Age", and "rich and poor would fight for access to bomb shelters." Most coastal cities in the south will then be attacked. Then there will be Coventry.

November 1940... Coventry. 600 people killed among the 300,000 inhabitants of the city: 0.002%: the same proportion as in Aachen on the night of July 13th 1943.... The number of German dead left no trace in history, but in 1940, the bombing of Coventry serves as a signal, such as Guernica marked the Spanish war. Goebbels noted that "the case of Coventry caused a stir around the world." In Germany the populace reads the Volkische Beobachter and discusses the pictures of destroyed streets and buildings and feels that so far, the war has not imposed too many sacrifices. British expressions of grief are considered to be propaganda, "they lie as we did, with Warsaw and Rotterdam." Goebbels added "the Germans are amazed that England rolls with the punches so well," "There is no sign of collapse." One cannot, however hastily conclude that the Luftwaffe only targeted civilians. Bomber Command too was never to use the term "civilian massacres". But on both sides, the political and military leaders, and their populations, know that their weapon does not differentiate between production and producer, between industry and industrial city, or between factory and worker.

One thing leads to another ... There will be 23,000 British civilians killed during 1940 and almost 40,000 during the bombing campaign. All industrial and port cities are affected: the bombing is used as a weak attempt at economic war and is designed to contribute to a harbour blockade and the disruption of economic output circuits. In the end, the blood of this civilian human shield has diverted the attention of the Luftwaffe from the airbases of a struggling RAF, and will tarnish the Luftwaffe reputation and justify the future action of Bomber Command. The endurance of the UK population will earn them fame. Even Goebbels acknowledged that "we still have things to learn from the British. During the violent raids on London, the population had a heroic attitude and made London a myth. "


During the first years of WW2, at a time when the British airmen are still struggling to find Essen in the middle of the night, the Germans had long forecast the havoc that systematic raids could have on key industries. Among the mountain of documents published by the German Administration for civil defence there is, for example, the City-planning Code of Shelters Construction (Bestimmungen für den Bau von Luftschutz Bunkern) or the Emergency Response Programme for Air Raid , better known under the name of LS-Führerprogramm, set up in November 1940. At the time of its implementation, this program already states that future administrative buildings will be designed to be resistant to fire and bombs. It also stated that railway and metro tunnels are to be adapted to make bomb proof shelters; that access to existing shelters should be reinforced and interconnected with other shelters in the vicinity; that any new construction, particularly war industry, should be equipped with bomb proof shelters and that their construction should have the same priority as the construction of the factory itself; etc...

The organization of the German Civil Defence (Luftschutzbund) is very complex. Consisting of 12 million members by 1939, it will increase throughout the conflict. The modest entrance fee of 1 Reichsmark provides courses at 4,000 shelter construction, first aid, personal protection and firefighting schools. Special academies train future leaders selected for their abilities. The initial objective is to ensure that every father is responsible for the protection of his family and his home. Violations are fined and violators are punished financially. Alongside this decentralization the regime develops the concept of a National Defence Community (Volksgemeinschaft): every town and industrial centre has a complicated hierarchy of departments and positions with precisely defined responsibilities. The basic structure is the Security Service and Support (Sicherheits und Hilfsdienst -SHD - later split into Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst S-Dienst), the Fire Service (Feuerlöschdienst F-Dienst), the Technical Service Emergency Repair and demining (Instandsetzungsdienst I-Dienst), and the Service Care and Health (Sanitätsdienst San-Dienst) working closely with hospitals and the Red Cross.

With regard to sheltering, the basic element is the family shelter, located in the basement or built under the garden (Behelfmässige Luftschutzraum). As 25 million Germans live in 60 cities with over 100,000 inhabitants, one can legitimately think that there will have been millions of shelters like this, providing a minimum of protection against bomb blast. The numerous articles in publications allow amateurs to build their own shelter and construction is subsidized by the state and refunds made against invoices presented. As can be expected, this type of shelter offers limited protection.

A second category consists of the semi-public shelters built in the basement of schools and public buildings. These are systematically equipped with sealed steel doors against gas. But adaptation will be too slow and some cities will not be well prepared at the time of the biggest attacks.

In larger cities there are large underground bunkers (Luftschutzbunker), fitted in the basements of large existing buildings or dug into the ground and re-buried. Such structures can accommodate up to 10,000 people. The huge volume of these buildings obviously faces the lack of available space in city centres. These shelters are characterized by an elongated rectangular shape and reinforced concrete roof, with forced ventilation which can be disconnected.

The most impressive shelters are the concrete surface bunkers (Hochbunker) as can be seen on tourist tours, particularly in Berlin. They are used to house the population, but also the archives, art masterpieces, etc... They will fulfil their role by their structure being very resistant to bombs, by their separation from surrounding buildings, and by their total isolation from gas and fire.

As one cannot shelter the Ruhr factories inside bunkers, from 1940 the Nazi program specifically provides protection for workers and their families. Organization TODT is responsible for the implementation of this program which allows the construction of multiple bunkers, like IG-Farben in Essen, that shelter 4,000 people. In May 1943, the figure of 5 million tons of cast concrete will be reached. Whatever the Nazi regime will later proclaim about the destruction of its monuments, the cathedrals near-by residents will never benefit from such shelters... and the construction of the Atlantic Wall will eat 10 million more tons, otherwise the volume of German civilian bunkers would have been 3 times larger.

It is difficult to estimate the total number of public shelters built in Germany before and during the war, but it is commonly accepted that Hamburg, for example, had 2,000 public shelters for sheltering 500,000 people or half the inhabitants of the city. Considering the increasing number of Luftschutzbund and the fact that 25 million Germans live in urban centres, it is estimated that the LS-Führerprogramm allowed the construction of thousands of public shelters, tens of thousands of semi-public shelters and millions of personal shelters at a cost of several billion Reichsmarks.



From 1942, and having in mind their experience of London in flames two years earlier, CHURCHILL and PORTAL are openly considering the possibility of destroying population centres by a massive use of flame and fire. They are also steeped in the experience of the naval blockade imposed on Germany by the Royal Navy in 1914-18: they know that the blockade significantly altered the morale of the population by creating famine. They think the morale of the working population, particularly its urban component, is the weak point of the Nazi regime. Action, reaction ... On the insistence of CHURCHILL, who for a long time will intervene in all aspects of Bomber Command's operations, an Area Bombing Directive is already planning the bombing of the most densely populated areas of Germany. At the end of 1942, Bomber Command alone takes 1/3 of British war spending having dropped 80,000 tons of bombs on the Reich since the beginning of the conflict. The strategic bombing weapon is shaped gradually. Its destruction capacity grows visibly as considerations that bind the hands disappear. But the increasing use of the strategy does not yield the results expected. Research conducted by the LINDEMANN and the Research Experiments Department enable important steps in understanding the physical destruction phenomenon. The research started after analysing the consequences of the Blitz in 1940. PORTAL and HARRIS will further develop in depth the destructiveness of the weapon. That is their role.

The right mix of high destruction effect bombs (HC) and incendiaries provides a higher degree of destruction than the use of conventional bombs. Fire is much more destructive than explosive. Huge HC bombs destroy the structures, roofs and floors, leaving only the outer walls. The bombs and incendiary sticks then ignite scattered furniture burning like a torch in the huge fireplace that the building then becomes. German cities will be gradually destroyed layer by layer and the British will endure night after night, without wavering, their own terrible losses.

Thanks to technical steps in navigation, the weapon becomes more accurate. Transported in larger numbers in the huge bomb bay of the Lancaster, the weapon is even more effective. PORTAL and HARRIS will add the selection and released timing of the cleverly designed ammunition types, mixing explosives and incendiaries. One achieves efficiency when sending bombers against urban targets preselected for their "combustibility" such as ancient medieval cities that burn better than Berlin. The dryness of summer warm air will do the rest. A leaflet published in early summer of 1943 during the German Baedeker Tour bombings announced that "on the night of May 23 to 24, 1943, the RAF dropped in one hour on Dortmund twice the amount of bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe during the first 6 months of 1943 on all Great Britain."

In May 1945, the final calculation will be 650,000 tons of bombs dropped in 5 years over Germany. This figure may seem huge, yet the United States Strategic Bombing Survey notes that "civilian casualties are far from the total of several million people that was expected." Given the energy expended to destroy it, the preservation of the German urban life is a huge success: the losses represent less than 2 % of the population. The reason is that during bombing the annihilation space is limited both in terms of space and time. One can escape in shelters when they are isolated and numerous, or in safer areas such as transport facilities which have been made habitable and have the capacity. Only the Nazi state has such spaces. From 1942, the balance in the civil defence structure definitely leans in favour of the Nazi Party to the detriment of the Air Ministry and the Police. The state is somehow the authorizer of German life. The shelters serve to ensure the survival of two things: the urban population and the Regime. Thus, paradoxically, the bombing war creates a close link with the Nazi state even if it is unquestionable that sovereignty over its own territory is being torn away by the Bomber Command bombers. The regime has to protect itself: as a State the Nazi regime organizes survival in the affected areas and also the terror against the naysayers and those who are beginning to doubt. On the other hand, the government reassures when providing replacements for lost consumer goods and destroyed homes. The regime has to restore "Normality". And this is possible because one must not forget that through the action of SPEER, German industries are not oriented towards the war economy until the end of 1943. Before that date, Germany continues to produce small household appliances, furniture, family cars, in the same amounts as before the war. As a consequence of "Normality", the issue of the loss of income following aerial alerts causing late arrival at the factory or absenteeism is also clarified: from September 1939 a government decree guarantees payment of 90% of wage salary in case of absence following an air raid. Gradually too expensive for employers the measure will later be amended to an incentive to work overtime for bonuses. Continually amended the measure, that does not affect the public sector, will include in 1943 no less than 19 trade union sector agreements.

During the war, one looks for shelter: this is the leitmotif. One knows that the urban environment can rapidly turn into a burning death zone, created by the shock waves, sparks, steel fragments, elevation of room temperature and combustion gases diffusion. Even before 1940, the Nazi regime built many public shelters, financed the management of private cellars, and organised the relief and supply of potential target areas such as the Ruhr. For example, the 9th decree on passive Defence Act of August 1939, requires all homeowners to turn their basement into a bomb shelter. Later, with the development of British area bombing, the alarm siren becomes the disguised voice of the State at war: no one can escape war, either on the front, or in the cities. The strict observance of regulations at the beginning will follow with successive periods of neglect, sometimes apathy. It is true that the bombers choose routes that make it difficult to identify their ultimate goal. They make bizarre detours, whizzing by, sometimes making a U-turn. If Berlin is the target, who can know that when sheltering in a basement in Hanover being overflown by the RAF? Who dares to risk his life on this bet? Better, from the perspective of Bomber Command, the false alarm is the good one because it is demoralizing. Raid risks become much more numerous than the raids themselves. In this sense, the RAF has achieved one of its objectives. In response, and not to interrupt daily life, the German urban population begins to live with the danger: no way of escape so far, so you have to live in fear. After all, few people are killed, but very many people are going to live many years in this anguish. From 1943, a large number of people end up spending most of their nights in their cellars. "Normality" initiated by the Nazi regime has been integrated by individuals.

The cellars are an indispensable shelter during a bombing raid as they exist in sufficient numbers. There is no other solution and nothing else to do except creating a huge modern shelter for 25 million people and hope that they are all able to reach them in time. The problem is that the buried cavity does not protect for very long during a firebombing, because it makes it an extremely dangerous environment. The occupants of the shelter find themselves in the abnormal position of being hidden in the basement of their house with their house on fire over their heads. The combustion creates heat and gas. Fire rarely kills sheltered people directly but those people are then exposed to intense radiated heat. Escape often proves impossible as the exit is blocked by rubble. And CO combustion gas, heavier than air, seeps through the slightest gap. Often, it is the coal reserves stored in cellars that accumulates heat, emitting the gas fatal to 80% of the victims. But where else can one store the coal? The surrounding houses in flames, the air sucked by high winds generated by the multiple fires, all this produces a pressure drop in the basement, which if not isolated, draws down the external combustion gases. This is the injection effect. The cellars are both temporary safety places and a definite tomb: one must leave it on time. The question is to know when to run out? On the surface, all is confusion with poor visibility, flames, acrid smoke and the explosions of timed bombs. The situation is not favourable outside, especially in the urban centres of medieval origin, where the nature of the building materials, but especially the narrow streets, will encourage the spread of the fire by the Venturi effect. In addition, the situation is changing rapidly outside as in basements, those who survived were right, the dead were wrong.

In three years of conflict, the watchword of German propaganda varies year after year from "we won" to "we will win", then "we must win." Soon it will be "we cannot be beaten." With propaganda in mind, Goebbels obtains confirmation early in the conflict that civilian deaths are to be declared as fallen in battle. They are buried with military honours, the Nazi party featuring their funeral amid drum rolls. Victims of aerial bombing are usually buried in a specific place under iron cross shaped gravestones and The Führer even sends a wreath. "Normality" on the second front is well assured by the Nazi regime speaking of "front of the Fatherland" which is glorified at the time. The funeral costs are supported by the administration and local decrees are enacted in 1943 to the effect that for the first 1,000 deaths each victim is entitled to a full individual coffin, half a coffin if above, and a paper body bag from 6,000 and over. Mass graves are strictly prohibited. So does the German administration to maintain "Normality" during the bombing war.

There are also officials among the regime who believe that one should not regret the burning of cities, as we will rebuild our cities and they will be more beautiful than before ... They think that the bunkers and shelters are the confirmation of the existence of an "After": when people come alive out of shelters, German spirit will always be there, and one will gradually build a new Germany. But both types of shelters are obviously not offering the same protection, so people gradually went from cellar to bunkers. From 1943, the number of bunkers is multiplied by 4, limiting the loss to 0.7% of the total population of the Reich. This is acceptable and therefore "Normal". On a strict statistical base, increasing civilian casualties follows tonnage of bombs, but not in the same proportion. In the popular daily language appears a saying: the air war is the war between the British bomber and German concrete. Thus a further step is reached at this stage of "Normality" that is built into the collective unconscious and accepted as such.

From the summer of 1943, the only element that begins to undermine the basis of "Normality" is the situation of evacuees. Thus, the evacuation of children to rural zones remains the most unpopular decision ever taken by the 3rd Reich. The parents fearing both the stranglehold of the HitlerJugend and their children being left on their own should they themselves be killed under the bombs of the RAF & USAAF. For example, 1 million people left the region after the Hamburg firestorm of late July 1943.

The statements of the evacuees will sometimes undermine propaganda. At the iron and steel town of Krefeld, one talking about a raid on Berlin says that it is time "that these big mouths Berliners are at last affected so that they understand that we have nothing to do with their usual compassion. What we want is more flak and fighters down here". It is also said that "it would be good that the Brits make more visits to Berlin so that its people could have an idea of what we endure for so long in the West." "Normality" of the bombing is definitely installed, fuelling bar and pub discussions. Giving them subject for discussion the Ruhr battle will focus the attention of Germany on the “happy valley” and the incessant reporting of refugees everywhere is greatly exaggerated: half of the city would be abandoned, the army was called in to restore order and refused, replaced by the SS... Rumour fills the gaps left by the lack of information, the Führer systematically refusing to make visits. In each bombed city relocated population is transferred to preselected evacuation zones: “Normality” once more. Nevertheless, from a strictly logistical perspective, it is better that anybody not essential to the economy is sent away towards the Tyrol or to Thuringen. A rough calculation in June 1943 estimated that 1/4 of the urban population (6.5 million people) is under 15 or over 65 and do not perform any useful service.

At the end of 1943, the general opinion in the bombed cities is that whilst the Russians are numerically superior, it is the air war that will decide who will be victorious. Before the Battle of the Ruhr, the population placed its hopes erroneously on air defence and night fighters. Some are saying "this is useless, even if many aircraft are shot down. They bomb one city after another. Either we have the weapons of retaliation to bring England to its knees, or the total destruction of the Reich is imminent”. Even the Völkischer Beobachter suggests that the bombing have built up in the urban population a burning desire for vengeance (Vergeltung) to which the Führer speeches are not responding. It is necessary that "the English people be exterminated. Revenge against England may not be tough enough". Even churches are launching speeches referring to the Old Testament. A feeling of hatred due to frustration sweeps through the population. But never does the very low morale show outwardly: it rages inside, but it is controlled. It is the triumph of the "Normality" of the bombing, fully accepted, fully integrated.


Nearly 300 people died in Aachen on the night of July 13th to 14th, 1943. May be some of them were killed by the 4.000lb bomb and incendiaries dropped by a lancaster coded DS690. But bombs did kill Nazis and anti-Nazis alike, soldiers and civilians, women and children as well as men, young and old, Prisoners of war and forced labour workers, thugs and brilliant scientists, workers and artists. And the way they died was probably horrible. But it is wrong to think that without the bombing, all of those who perished would have had a peaceful life and death. Land invasion to come would have led to artillery and tanks battling in cities, desperately defended by the Germans, resulting for instance in 1,500 civilian casualties in the very same city of Aachen in October 1944. It was not declared as an "open city"...




The bombing of German cities was normal and some of its effects were amazing.

It was normal because it was permitted, authorized and no international treaty forbade.

It was normal because it was common, ordinary, regular and recurring.

It was normal because it was accepted and acceptable in terms of sacrifice and pain on both sides of the Channel.

It was normal because it was recognized as such by the Authority and the institutions in both Britain and nazi Germany.

It was normal because it was the only weapon available to Britain to fight the Nazis on the European operational field.

But it was amazing especially because every night, the roar of the waves of RAF bombers reminded occupied populations that somewhere, someone continued to resist ...




  • Gordon MUSGROVE, Operation Gomorrah: The Hamburg Firestorm Raids (London: 1981)
  • Georg Wolfgang SCHRAMM, Der zivile Luft-schutz in Nürnberg, 1933-1945 (Nuremberg: 1983)
  • Joachim STAHL, Bunker und Stollen für den Luftschutz im Raum Siegen (Kreuztal: 1980)
  • Kurt VONNEGUT, Slaughterhouse Five (NY: 1993)
  • U.S. United States Strategic Bombing Survey, The Effect of Bombing on Health and Medical Care in Germany (Washington, DC: 1945)
  • Richard OVERY, The bombing War, Europe 1939-1945 (London, 2013)
  • Adam TOOZE, The Wages of Destruction (London, 2006)
  • Jorg FRIEDERICH, Der Brand - l’Incendie (Berlin, 2011)