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Operation Gomorrah

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Firestorm in Hamburg
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Firestorm in Hamburg

Operation Gomorrah was the military codename for a series of air raids conducted by the Royal Air Force on the city of Hamburg beginning in the end of July 1943. It was at the time the heaviest assault in the history of aerial warfare and was later called the Hiroshima of Germany by British officials.

The operation was originally formulated by British Air Marshal Arthur Travers Harris ("They have sowed the wild wind and shall now reap the whirlwind") and was actually a joint effort between the RAF Bomber Command and the United States Army Air Force (specifically 8th Air Force Bomber Command), who combined to create an "around-the-clock" bombing mission spanning 8 days and 4 nights--the Americans conducting the daylight raids with the British following after nightfall. Harris signed the order for the operation "Bomber Command Order No. 173" on May 27th.

The operation was conducted almost a month later. On July 24th, at approximately 00:57AM, the first bombing started by the RAF and lasted almost an hour. A second daylight raid by US Air Force was conducted at 2:40PM. A third raid was conducted on the morning of the 26th. The night attack of July 26th at 00:20AM was extremely light (due to a severe thunderstorm and high winds over the North Sea during which a considerable number of bombers jettisoned the explosive part of their bomb loads) with only two bomb drops reported. That attack is often not counted when the total number of Operation Gomorrah attacks is given. There was no day raid on the 27th.

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An Avro Lancaster over Hamburg - the curved streaking is caused by a combination of the movement of the photographing aircraft and the long exposure time required for taking photographs at night

On the night of July 27th, shortly before midnight, 739 aircraft attacked Hamburg. Owing to unusually warm weather, along with the deliberate planning of the raids (which trapped the city's firefighters in the bombed-out center of the city by following-up with incendiary bombing of the periphery), the bombings culminated in the spawning of the so-called "Feuersturm" (firestorm). Quite literally a tornado of fire, this phenomenon created a huge outdoor blast furnace, containing winds of up to 150 mph (240 km/h) and reaching temperatures of 1500 degrees Fahrenheit (800 degrees Celsius). It caused street asphalt to burst into flame, cooked people to death in air-raid shelters, sucked pedestrians off the sidewalks like leaves into a vacuum cleaner and incinerated some eight square miles (21 km²) of the city. Most of the casulties (40,000) of Operation Gomorrah were suffered this night.

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Typical bomb damage in Hamburg. This picture was taken sometime in 1944 or 45

On the night of July 29, Hamburg was again attacked by over 700 aircraft. The last raid of Operation Gomorrah was conducted on August 3rd.

Operation Gomorrah caused at least 50,000 deaths and left over a million German civilians homeless. Approximately 3,000 aircraft were deployed, 9,000 tons of bombs dropped, and 250,000 houses destroyed. Hamburg was hit by air raids another 69 times before the end of World War II.

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See also

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de:Operation Gomorrha fr:Opération Gomorrah fi:Operaatio Gomorrah

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