Bombing of Berlin

Berlin was the capital of the kingdom of Prussia and then, from 1871, of a unified Germany. As well as being the capital it was the chief urban centre of Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

The first RAF bombing attack on Berlin took place in December 1941. This involved a four hour flight over heavily defended areas and Bomber Command lost 10 per cent of the aircraft employed in the raid.

Although Air Marshall Arthur Harris, head of Bomber Command, came under heavy pressure from Winston Churchill, he refused to carry out attacks on Berlin throughout 1942 because of the high risk of heavy casualties. He also argued that "this was not only a town of 4,000,000 inhabitants but it was also far from densely built up - meant that only a substantial force of heavy bombers could produce any concentrated or serious damage."

With the development of oboe system and metallises stripsit became much easier for the RAF to launch air attacks on Berlin. Between 18th November, 1943 and the middle of March, 1944, Bomber Command made sixteen major attacks on the capital. During these attacks the RAF destroyed over 6,000 acres and lost 300 aircraft, which was a loss rate of 6.4.

Primary Sources

(1) The American journalist, William Shirer, wrote in his diary about the first time Berlin was bombed on 23rd August, 1940.

We had our first big air-raid of the war last night The sirens sounded at 12.20 am and the all-clear came at 3 23 am. For the first time British bombers came directly over the city, and they dropped bombs. The concentration of anti-aircraft fire was the greatest I've ever witnessed. It provided a magnificent, a terrible sight. And it was strangely ineffective. Not a plane was brought down; not one was even picked up by the searchlights, which flashed back and forth frantically across the skies throughout the night.

The Berliners are stunned. They did not think it could happen. When this war began, Goering assured them it couldn't. He boasted that no enemy planes could ever break through the outer and inner rings of the capital's anti-aircraft defence. The Berliners are a naive and simple people. They believed him. Their disillusionment today is therefore is all the greater. You have to see their faces to measure it. Goering made matters worse by informing the population only three days ago that they need not go to their cellars when the sirens sounded, but only when they heard the flak going off near by. The implication was that it would never go off. That made people sure that the British bombers, though they might penetrate to the suburbs, would never be able to get over the city proper. And then last night the guns all over the city suddenly began pounding and you could hear the British motors humming directly overhead, and from all reports there was a pellmell, frightened rush to the cellars by the five million people who live in this town.

(2) Arthur Harris, Bomber Command (1947)

Judged by the standards of our attacks on Hamburg, the Battle of Berlin did not appear to be an overwhelming success. With many times as many sorties, a far greater bomb load, and ten times as many casualties, we appeared to have succeeded in destroying about a third of the acreage destroyed in the attack on Hamburg; the actual figure, as far as it could then be estimated from air photographs, was 2180 acres over and above the 500 or so acres destroyed before the main Battle of Berlin began.

But by comparison with the results of all earlier attacks on Berlin it was a devastating blow, and the industrial damage, as often happened in rather scattered attacks, was particularly heavy; among the factories damaged were many of the largest and most important plants for the production of war material in Germany, and government offices of all kinds were very heavily damaged, so that a number of government departments had to be evacuated. Moreover, it seems that we underestimated the effects of our bombing at the time. When complete photographic cover of Berlin was obtained at the end of the war, it was found that 6340 acres of the main built-up areas had been destroyed.