Friday, February 8, 2013

Op­eration Gomorrah

During World War II, the British spearheaded bombing raids on the German people that leveled all or part of 131 towns and cities, killed 600,000 civilians, destroyed 3.5 million homes, and left 7.5 million people homeless. Led by Sir Arthur Harris, this was done so "that those who have loosed ... horrors upon mankind will now in their homes and persons feel the shattering strokes of just retribution." In fairness, this savagery was not agreed upon; many opposed it. A description of it shows up in "Slaughterhouse Five" in the attack on Dresden.

 In "On the Natural History of Destruction," W G Sebald describes such an event in the British attack on the city of  Hamburg: "The aim of Op­eration Gomorrah, as it was called, was to destroy the city and reduce it as completely as possible to ashes. In a raid early in the morning of 27 July, be­ginning at 1 a.m., 10,000 tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped on the densely populated residential area east of the Elbe. ... A now familiar sequence of events occurred: first all the doors and windows were torn from their frames and smashed by high-explosive bombs weighing 4,000 pounds, then the attic floors of the buildings were ignited by lightweight incendiary mixtures, and at the same time fire-bombs weighing up to 15 kilo­grams fell into the lower storeys. Within a few min­utes huge fires were burning all over the target area, which covered some 20 square kilometres, and they merged so rapidly that only quarter of an hour after the first bombs had dropped the whole airspace was a sea of flames as far as the eye could see. Another five minutes later, at 1.20 a.m., a firestorm of an intensity that no one would ever before have thought possible arose. The fire, now rising 2,000 metres into the sky, snatched oxygen to itself so violently that the air currents reached hurricane force, reso­nating like mighty organs with all their stops pulled out at once.

The fire burned like this for three hours. At its height the storm lifted gables and roofs from buildings, flung rafters and entire advertising hoard­ings through the air, tore trees from the ground and drove human beings before it like living torches. Behind collapsing facades the flames shot up as high as houses, rolled like a tidal wave through the streets at a speed of over 150 kilometres an hour, spun across open squares in strange rhythms like rolling cylinders of fire. The water in some of the canals was ablaze. The glass in the tramcar windows melted; stocks of sugar boiled in the bakery cellars. Those who had fled from their air-raid shelters sank, with grotesque contortions, in the thick bubbles thrown up by the melting asphalt. No one knows for certain how many lost their lives that night, or how many went mad before they died. When day broke, the summer dawn could not penetrate the leaden gloom above the city. The smoke had risen to a height of 8,000 metres, where it spread like a vast, anvil-shaped cumulonimbus cloud. A wavering heat, which the bomber pilots said they had felt through the sides of their planes, continued to rise from the smoking, glowing mounds of stone." 

The description gets worse. Much worse.

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