Luftwaffe bomber Heinkel He-111 during bombing Warsaw in September 1939.



Since the very beginning of the Second World War the German air forces had applied terroristic bombings of the cities in the countries, which fell victims to the German aggression. Although the Luftwaffe did not possess strategic bomber aviation, it staged massive air raids on the deep enemy rears. During the aggression of the hitlerite German against Poland, German air forces resorted to the criminal methods of the total war. They bombed indiscriminately and on mass scale open Polish cities and towns, even those, which were of no strategic importance. For example, German pilots chose to have a target practice in Wielun - a town, which before the war numbered less than 16,000 inhabitants. On 1 September 1939, between 4:50 and 5:30 German aircraft carried out three air raids on Wielun. In each raid took part 30 planes from the Squadron No.1 of the 76th Regiment, commanded by Capt. Walter Sigel. The regiment was a part of the 4th Air Fleet commanded by Gen. Alexander Löhr.

The assailants targeted the hospital, synagogue, church, dormitory of the local gymnasium, monastery, buildings of the county recruitment office, S. Malatyński hotel, as well as residential areas in the town's centre. In result of the raids the whole centre of the town was turned into ruins and ashes, with 70% of buildings razed to the ground, and 1,200 people killed. Within half an hour was destroyed the heritage of seven centuries of the town's history, including the 17th-century church, monastery buildings, and city walls with the Cracow Gate - the remnants of the medieval castle erected by the king Casimir the Great. Bombs also destroyed the vicinity of the Old and New Markets, where perished a number of historical houses, including Wielun's oldest house on the corner of Okólna and Barycz Streets. In 1956 Polish authorities, investigating the incident for the Chief Commission for the Investigation of Hitlerite Crimes in Poland, established that more than 160 buildings were destroyed. Altogether on 1 September the Luftwaffe made 120 combat sorties to Wielun, and dropped 70,500kg of bombs.

During the air raids neither Polish troops were stationed in Wielun, nor were there any military installations deployed. Victims of the bombings were solely the citizens of Wielun and refugees from the frontier areas. Polish archives contain numerous testimonies, which say that no servicemen were found among the bodies. Therefore, there were no grounds to claim any military necessity in case of bombing of Wielun. The air raid on Wielun was not a strategic or operational target; it was an example of indiscriminate application of the methods of a total war. It was like Polish Guernica - the first criminal act perpetrated on the Polish soil and in the course of the whole Second World War. First, but not last.

The Nazi Luftwaffe conducted the Polish campaign with complete contempt for the international laws and ideas of humanity. Since the very 1 September German air force targeted Warsaw, Poznan, Gdynia, Grudziadz, Bydgoszcz, Ciechanow, Plonsk, Plock, Kutno, Radomsko, Czestochowa, Kielce, Radom, Olkusz, Lodz, Cracow, Jaslo and Lublin, not to mention numerous smaller towns and villages. So, there were bombed places, which were not fortified and defended, and therefore legally were open cities according to the international laws. Bombs were dropped on undefended objects and defenceless civilians. The case of Sulejow is another significant example.

The town of Sulejow was bombed for the first time on 4 September around 17:00. With 15-minute intervals Luftwaffe squadrons staged three air raids, dropping bombs and incineraries on residential quarters, and showering the streets with machine-gun fire. The raids continued on 5 and 6 September. Just like in case of Wielun, the town was not defended and no Polish troops were deployed there. Those bombings were nothing less than a planned and purposely perpetrated destruction of the city and its population. In result of the bombings about 1,500 people died, and the town was destroyed in 80%. Streets of the town, and roads in the vicinity, were covered with bodies of killed civilians, whose burial took two weeks.

Altogether, before 17 September German bombers made about 5,000 combat sorties to attack Polish cities and communications. Warsaw became the target of the most zealous attacks. Of course, the supreme command of the German armed forces used to release statements, that only targets important from the military point of view were attacked. But among those "important" targets were hospitals, marked with the Red Cross signs, as well as musea, heritage buildings and temples, also appropriately marked. Regular air raids began on 9 September, when German bombers supported tank troops storming districts of Wola and Ochota. On the next day there were already nine squadrons to attack the Polish capital, and air raid alarms were announced as many as 17 times. And so it continued till the last day of the siége. Under the pretext of "military necessity" there were systematically bombed quarters of no military importance, but densely populated by "collateral damage".

Beginning of 20 September units from the 1st and 4th Air Fleets intensified their operations over the defenceless city. On 21 and 22 September they focused on bombing the right-bank district of Praga. Mad bombings of the centre of Warsaw resumed on the next days. As much as 5,818 tons of bombs were dropped on the Polish capital, and the Luftwaffe made 1,176 combat sorties. Finally, on 25 September started the round-the-clock bombing of Warsaw, in which took part more than 400 aircraft (including 250 dive bombers). They dropped 560 tons of bombs and 72 tons of incineraries on the city.

The biggest damages were inflicted on the Holy Spirit Hospital in Elektoralna Street, as well as the biggest and the most modern Infant Jesus Hospital in Oczki Street. In the former about 200 patients perished under the ruins, and 100 burnt alive; in the latter as many as 260 patients and 40 persons of the personnel were killed. In the result of carpet bombings of the whole city districts on 25 and 26 September 60,000 civilians alone were killed, not to mention the army casualties. Also perished many priceless monuments of history and culture. As much as 12% of the real estate was razed to the ground, and the total damage to the public and private property is difficult to estimate. Air raids on hospitals, churches and residential areas cannot be justified in any way; sure, Warsaw was fighting, but the enemy possessed a complete command of the air, and without a difficulty could establish, where were the military defence installations. But the enemy needed to break the spirit of the civilians, who, according to the hitlerite plans, were supposed to induce the troops to cease fire. Those were criminal methods of the war conduct, forbidden under the international laws.

In result of the barbaric bombings of Warsaw there were completely or substantially destroyed: Royal Castle, National Theatre, Archives of the Treasury, Museum of the Industry and Agriculture, Etnographic Museum, Museum of the Zamoyski Family, Bank of Poland, Chambers of Revenues, English Hotel, Orientalist Institute, Library of the Zamoyski Family, Library of the Przeździecki Family, Central Military Library, Primate's Palace, St.Casimir Palace, Palace of the Bishops of Cracow, as well as palaces of the families of Raczyński, Zamoyski, Branicki, Pac, Ostrowski, Tepper and Lubomirski.

The bombings of Warsaw in September 1939 was a carefully planned terrorist action. It also had an international dimension - it had to demonstrate to the whole world the power and efficiency of the German air force. Altogether, during the Polish campaign, the German Luftwaffe bombed 158 open cities, not to mention individual actions of German crews and pilots against randomly chosen targets.

During the German aggression on France and Low Countries another city - Rotterdam of nearly 700-thousand population - became the object of barbaric bombings. On 14 May 1940 some 100 aircraft from the 74th Bomber Regiment of the 2nd Air Fleet dropped 160t of bombs on the defenceless city. They instantly knocked out the city's water supplies; further waves of the raid destroyed the historic centre of Rotterdam. Incineraries caused numerous fires; some of them hit the local margarine factory, crushing its storages and tanks. A river of burning fat spilled into the city, engulfing in flames an area of 10 sq.km. In result of the bombings 25,000 houses were ruined, and the historic city centre was destroyed. About 8,000 inhabitants were killed, and 78,000 lost all their possessions. Later witnesses testified that nobody expected an air raid, because Rotterdam was not prepared for such an eventuality. Numerous heritage buildings and lack of military installations fully predestined it to be an open city. So, the raid perpetrated by the Luftwaffe units was not justified from the military point of view, and became yet another terrorist act of the total war. During the campaigns in Norway and France the Germans perpetrated more air raids to a lesser scale; the biggest damage was made to Dunkirk. But in West Europe the Luftwaffe put its biggest effort in bombing Great Britain.

Air raids on the British Isles were conducted since 10 July, but they culminated during the Battle of Britain. Even after the conclusion of the battle, German air force continued harassing night raids till May 1941, when most of their units were shifted eastward for the war on the Soviet Union. After the Battle of Britain the Germans periodically augmented their bombings of British ports, but were not able to mount the previous power of their attacks. Apart from London, the most intensively bombed British cities were Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter, Glasgow, Liverpool, Nottingham, Plymouth and Southampton. Altogether the German air force dropped on British cities and ports 74,172 tons of bombs, out of which 13,651 fell on London. As many as 60,595 people were killed, in this about 30,000 in London; 86,182 people were wounded.

Among the cases of terrorist bombings of the British cities, one occupies a special place in the history of the Second World War - Coventry. This industrial city, numbering more than 200 thousand inhabitants, was razed to the ground at night from 14 to 15 November 1940. Arms factories, placed in Coventry, allowed the German command to treat the city as a legitimate military target. However, the air raid first of all targeted not industrial zones, but residential quarters in the centre - densely urbanized and populated, and so leaving little chance of survival during intensive bombings.

For the operation codenamed Mondscheinsonate (Moonlight Sonata) were designated 515 aircraft from the I, IV and V Air Corps of the 2nd and 3rd Air Fleets. At 20:20 on 14 November the first wave of the German bombers flew over Coventry dropping incineraries, which lit the city up for the next crews. Consecutive waves were incoming till 6:00 next morning. Solid apartment buildings were collapsing in the explosions of heavy-weight bombs, after which incineraries were turning the ruins into the sea of flames. The last wave dropped 1,800kg of bombs with time-fuses, which had to hamper the rescue operation. Altogether at that night 449 German planes reached Coventry to drop 511,480kg of bombs and 31,048kg of incineraries. Completely destroyed was 80% of houses, and the rest was damaged to some degree. Among them perished many monuments of culture, like for example St.Michael Cathedral of the 14th century. The casualties were relatively low - 568 killed and 4,802 wounded - which testifies to the proper organization of underground shelters and good work of the anti-air defence system.

The German propaganda did not fail to make Coventry an example to others. On the very next day after the raid the Reich's minister for propaganda, Dr. Josef Göbbels introduced a new term - Coventrieren or "Coventrating" - which meant a total destruction. It was thought as a sinister symbol to anybody, who would dare to resist the German aggression. But on the next day after the raid the British prime-minister, Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, visited Coventry, and during an improvised meeting with its citizens he announced: They have sown the wind, they shall reap the whirlwind! The British kept that promise later during the war.

Meanwhile, not so long after Coventry, hitlerite Luftwaffe perpetrated a new barbaric crime, as it raided Belgrade during the campaign in Yugoslavia. In the early morning on 6 April 1941 units of the 4th Air Fleet, commanded by Alexander Löhr, made first attacks with 224 bombers and 120 fighters. Hundreds of explosions immediately turned the city into a sea of ruins and fires, covered by smoke and dust. In the afternoon, when thousands of citizens were in the streets, trying to fight fires and remove the rubble, came the second raid of 57 bombers, and then the third one, with 94 bombers. On that single day nearly 17,000 people were killed, and many more wounded. Destruction of the city water supplies caused that fires were raging for days. Just like in earlier cases, there were no military installations in Belgrade, which could justify conducting destructive air raids on the city.

In 1941-1943 the Luftwaffe also conducted strategic bombing operations in the Soviet Union. Since the outbreak of the Germano-Soviet war the main effort was put in disrupting Soviet communications, especially the railways. Terroristic air raids were carried out too, especially against Leningrad (Petersburg), Minsk, Kaunas, Kiev, Kharkov, Odessa, Sevastopol, Rostov, Voronezh, Tula, Krasnodar, Stalingrad and Murmansk. Later during the war, the effort of the German air force was shifted against the main industrial centres of the Soviet Union, and especially Baku, Gorkiy, Saratov, Yaroslavl, Dnepropetrovsk and the Donbass. Limited range of the German aircraft did not let the Germans to attack Moscow or strategic targets in the Urals. It was not until later during the war, when the Germans advanced into the Soviet territories, and deployed their airfields and air bases in the east, that they could reach the capital of the USSR. Between 2 July and 15 August 1941 they attempted to stage several massive daylight bombings of Moscow, which as a rule failed; only few aircraft were actually able to drop their bombs on the city. In the autumn they switched to night bombings, which inflicted more damage to the city, but still failed to achieve a strategic success. The last air raid on Moscow took place on 28 November 1941. The Germans engaged then 150 aircraft with the loss of 19 planes. After that the Germans only occasionally would undertake harassing raids on Moscow. Altogether in 1941-1943 there were 122 air raids on Moscow, in which took part 3,500 aircraft; 1,300 aircraft were shot down.

At the initial stage of the Germano-Soviet war also the Soviet air forces undertook strategic bombing operations, especially that in view of the debacles of the first weeks of the war optimistic news of military successes were needed very badly. Already on the first days of the war Soviet aircraft attacked military objects in the vicinity of Konigsberg, Memel (Klaipeda), Danzig, Katowice and Lublin. Since 10 July the 4th Bomber Corps and the air force of the Black Sea Fleet conducted systematic bombings of the Romanian oil pits in Ploesti, as well as the port in Constance. The air forces of the Baltic Fleet carried similar raids on Helsinki, Konigsberg and Danzig. At night from 7 to 8 August 1941 a special group of 13 bombers DB-3 from the 1st Torpedo Regiment of the Baltic Fleet under the command of Colonel Yevgeni Preobrazhenskiy made the first air raid on the capital of the Third Reich. The Soviet aircraft took off from the Kagul airfield on Saaremaa; it was 1,760km from there to Berlin, in this 1,400 over the Baltic Sea. Bombs were dropped from the altitude of 6,000 to 6,500 metres. The whole operation took 6 hours and 50 minutes. The next raid was carried by the same unit at night from 9 to 10 August. Later the group was reinforced by the crews of the 81st Long-Range Bomber Regiment under the command of Gen. Mikhail Vodopyanov. They were based in Pushkin near Leningrad, and flew aircraft TB-7Yer-2, DB-3 and DB-3F. Between 8 August and 4 September 1941 they carried 10 missions to Berlin, and dropped 635 bombs and incineraries of the total weight of 34.5 tons. They also scattered tens of thousands of leaflets over northern Germany. Sergei Ushakov, who took part in those missions, thus remembered them after years:

Towards the end of July the front had moved deep into our country. Almost all the airfields, from which one could reach Berlin, fell in the enemy hands, but two - on the Sarema (Ösel) island in the Baltic Sea. One of those airfields was built yet before the war, the other one - just lately. Both had only makeshift landing stripes of 1100-1200 metres.

The frontlines had been quickly moving northward, and Sarema island any day could find itself in the German rear, exposed not only to the air raids, but also to the artillery fire. Nevertheless, there was no choice; it was the last chance to pay the enemy back for bombing Moscow. It was also necessary for political reasons. The Nazis tried to convince the whole world that the Russian air forces ceased to exist, destroyed on the airfields on the first day of the war.

At the night to 8 August 13 planes from the 1st Torpedo Regiment of the Baltic Fleet Air Force, led by the regiment's commander E. N. Preobrazhenskiy and regiment's navigator P. I. Khokhlov, made the first sortie from Sarema for their first combat mission to Berlin. The crews had to cover 1760 kilometres to the target and back, which together with take-off and landing took six to seven hours.

The flight from Sarema to the southern shore of the Baltic Sea was along a straight line. The weather was good, and cloudiness was 7-8 tenths. After reaching the enemy land, we continued straight flight to Stettin, and from there we took the course to Berlin. Over the land the cloudiness was even lesser than over the sea, and the visibility of reference points improved. When at the altitude of 6000 metres we approached Berlin, we saw it from away: the city was in full light. There were no slightest signs that our incoming bombers were detected. And it was not until the bombs of the leading plane went down that the city lights were switched off. The anti-aircraft artillery opened hectic fire, and tens of search-lights started chaotic searching for our bombers.

All crews returned home after completing the mission.

On the next day the German radio announced that at the previous night English air forces had bombed Berlin with the loss of six planes, which soon would be on public display. On the same day in the evening the command of the RAF officially announced that no British planes had appeared over Berlin. Apparently, to the Nazi ringleaders it was difficult to believe that the city was bombed by the Soviet planes, that it was a revenge for bombings of Moscow and Leningrad. (...)

The whole world learned about the exploit of our airmen. (...)

The office of the Associated Press in London wrote: "The Berliners are stunned. They did not think it could ever happen. When this war began, Goering assured them it couldn't. They believed him. Their disillusionment today therefore is all the greater." [Ушаков С. Ф. (1982).]

And so, the Soviet air raids, carried already in the beginning of the war, had a big political and moral impact. They clearly demonstrated that the enemy deep rears were vulnerable to attacks even in the worst circumstances. After 22 June 1941 hitlerite armies were pushing eastward; in seven weeks they menaced Tallin, Leningrad and Smolensk, and yet, a handful of planes exposed Hermann Göring's boastful bragging that no bombs would fall on Germany.

The Russians renewed their bombing missions a year after, although the front was still moving eastward, to Stalingrad. On 27 and 30 August, and on 10 September 1942 Soviet bombers, equipped with additional fuel tanks, jettisoned during the flight, once again attacked the capital of the Nazi Germany. They made 212 sorties, and dropped 50 tons of bombs and incineraries. Particularly spectacular was destruction of ammunition dumps in Berlin, exposed by the Soviet intelligence. This time the Russians flew modern bombers with the range exceeding 3,200km: Il-4 and Douglas A-20 Boston based on airfields around Rzhev and Velikiye Luki, as well as four-engine Pe-8 (improved TB-7) deployed on the airfields around Moscow.

Despite of the spectacular successes, achieved during the first long-range bombing missions, the complexity of the military issues, like the advancement of the Eastern Front into the Soviet hinterland, casualties, suffered by the Red Air Forces, necessity to render air support to the fighting troops, and lack of a doctrine of strategic employment of the air forces, caused that in 1941-1943 the Soviet air forces did not develop any massive bombings of Germany, her satellites and occupied territories. A completely different picture emerged though in the West.

The Royal Air Force carried their first mission to Germany at night 11/12 May 1940. At that night 18 bombers Armstrong Whitworth Mk.IV Whitley (crew of 5, 200mph speed, 26,000ft ceiling, 3t bombload) bombed railways near Monchengladbach. Since then on RAF bombers to a bigger or lesser success used to attack targets in Germany and occupied countries. Already at night from 15 to 16 May 93 British bombers attacked industrial targets and railway nodes in the Ruhr basin. In the next months of 1940 and 1941 big and small groups of British aircraft kept raiding targets in the areas under the German control.

In the second half of May and in June 1940 the British focused their efforts on bombing of industrial objects and communications in the Ruhr, as well as fuel dumps in Hamburg and Bremen. Also were bombed oil refineries at Misburg near Hannover. Between June and December 1940 the Royal Air Force singled out four major sorts of targets to attack:
  1. Aircraft factories.
  2. Aluminium works.
  3. Fuel production plants.
  4. Communications.
Accordingly, they bombed many times aircraft factories in Bremen (Focke-Wulf), Deichshausen (Junkers), Gotha (Messerschmitt) and Kassel. Attacks were made on aluminium works in Cologne, Rheinfelden, Bitterfeld, Lunen, Ludwigshafen and Grevenbroich. The most efficient one was on 19 August on Rheinfelden, where production was disrupted for four months, and was not brought to full output till December. Also were bombed oil refineries and synthetic fuel factories in Gelsenkirchen, Leunie, Misburg, Emmerich and Politz. Gelsenkirchen at that time was bombed 28 times, Leunie - 10 times.

The German communication system was under attack particularly in the Ruhr and Rhineland. The biggest railway nodes in Hamm, in the north-eastern Ruhr, Osnabruck, Soest and Schwerte almost entirely control the railway traffic between the Ruhr and the rest of Germany. The daily capacity of those nodes was at that time 10,000 carriages. To disrupt that traffic Hamm was continuously bombed since 1 till 12 June 1940; altogether it saw more than 80 heavy air raids. There were also air raids staged to block the inland water communications between Dortmund and Ems, which link industrial centres of the Ruhr with north-west Germany. Within 7 months of 1940 the British staged 16 attacks on the canals, port installations, locks, peers and barges carrying strategic materials.

RAF bombers also bombed Berlin. The first air raid on the capital of the Third Reich took place at night from 26 to 27 August 1940; till the end of 1940 Berlin was bombed 35 times. Many industrial facilities perished under bombs, especially factories located around the Lehrter railway station, which burnt to the ground. Also were damaged city power plants and the underground station in Savigny Square. Ruins and ashes were left where used to be residential quarters of Weissensee and army barracks in Charlottenburg, and chemical plants were damaged to such a degree that it was not worth to rebuild them. In April 1941 heavy damages were inflicted to the quarters along the historic Unter den Linden Avenue in the centre of Berlin.

Between 11 May 1940 and 18 June 1941 the Royal Air Force made 1,666 bombing missions to Germany, each carried by at least 6 planes. The targets were mainly industrial areas from Kiel to Frankfurt on Main, and from Aachen to Magdeburg. Before the autumn of 1942 the RAF bomber squadrons (including those from the British dominions and allies) were the only Western service actively and directly engaged in the fights on the European continent. Their operations and effectiveness were still limited. Even Churchill admitted it in his evaluation of the British air forces' strategic efforts: Our own bomber programme has fallen short of our hopes. It is formidable and is increasing, but its full development has been delayed. [Churchill W. S. L. (1986c).] Therefore these words indicate that those were merely the beginnings of what came later.