JF Ptak Science Books Post 1543
It was during the spring and summer of 1943 that the Allies came to the conclusion that the idea of strategic bombing needed to be expanded--the expansion part grown to include the total destruction of the target city.
The "most secret" letter1 (dated 27 May 1943) that outlined the coming approach to aerial bombing was sent by Air Chief Marshal Arthur "Bomber" Harris to his six group commanders and detailed the more-new strategic approach to bombing cities--the city itself would be a strategic target, with the goal in this case of destroying the entire city.
Operation Gomorrah occupied four nights from 24-30 July, involving 791 aircraft on the 24/25th, 90-110 B-17s on the 25th, 131 B-17s on the 26th, 787 aircraft on the 27/28th, 777 on the evening of the 29/30th., and finally with 740 aircraft on the night of the last raid on 2/3 August.3,000+ aircraft were employed in the action dropping 9,000 tons of bombs. At the end of the Gomorrah campaign, 42,600 people had been killed as well as almost 40,000 wounded, destroying about half the homes int the city and causing another million people to flee the city. The greatest amount of damage and death occurred on the night of the 27th, when 787 British aircraft caused an enormous firestorm to be formed, at one point fueled by a 1500'-foot tall tornado of fire, which caused 150 mph fire winds, temperatures reaching so high (1800 degrees and more) that it set the asphalt streets on fire. Most of the dead were killed by asphyxiation, the oxygen pulled out of bomb shelters and hiding places to be used in the fires. The infrastructure of the city had been largely destroyed before this day's bombing, so getting firefighting crews to any of the new scenes would be impossible. As a matter of fact, there was so much smoke generated from the previous day's bombings that the USAAF B-17 attacks were suspended because targets could not be identified.
And from this point to the end of the war there were another 60+ campaigns flown at Hamburg, attacking and re-attacking oil storage facilities, shipbuilding industries, U-Boat factories, and the like. 53 missions involving several thousand aircraft, flying against the re-supplking and ruined city right to the end of the war, including 5 major actions in the last week of the war.
I don't think that this was its own "Hiroshima" as British command thought, because, well, Hiroshima and Nagasaki have their own categories for destruction. As does Tokyo. And Dresden. It does though share a newness of bombing with Hiroshima in establishing the mission against Hamburg as a mission against an entire city rather than specific targets--certainly there were specific targets in mind for the hour or more worth of aircraft, but the overall effect was to support a carpet bombing plan and to initiate a fire so massive and destructive that the entire city would succumb.
Newsreel of the bombing of Hamburg.
1. The Harris ltter:
OPERATION ORDER NO. 173
Copy No: 23 Date: 27th May, 1943
The importance of H A M B U R G. the second largest city in Germany with a population of one and a half millions, is well known and needs no further emphasis. The total destruction of this city would achieve immeasurable results in reducing the industrial capacity of the enemy's war machine. This, together with the effect on German morale, which would be felt throughout the country, would play a very important part in shortening and in winning the war.
2. The 'Battle of Hamburg' cannot be won in a single night. It is estimated that at least 10,000 tons of bombs will have to be dropped to complete the process of elimination. To achieve the maximum effect of air bombardment, this city should be subjected to sustained attack.
Forces to be Employed
3. Bomber Command forces will consist of all available heavies in operational squadrons until sufficient hours of darkness enable the medium bombers to take part. It is hoped that the night attacks will be preceded and/or followed by heavy daylight attacks by the United States VIIlth Bomber Command.
4. To destroy HAMBURG.