The biggest bombing mission of World War II. The raid of a thousand (almost) planes on Cologne

We know that tons and tons of bombs were dropped during World War I and World War II. However, the heaviest bombing occurred at Cologne in Germany during World War II when over 1,000 bombers took part in the raid which killed 474 Germans and left another 45,000 homeless.

Operation Millennium

When Arthur Harris became head of Royal Air Force Bomber Command at the height of the British-American strategic bombing campaign against the Nazis in February 1942, his instruction was to “focus attacks on the morale of the enemy civilian population, and in particular, industrial workers. ” His idea ? To utilize Bomber Command reserves where 1,000 aircraft would attack a single enemy, something the world had never seen before. He wasn’t called “Bomber” Harris for a reason.

Air Marshal Arthur Travers Harris seated at a desk during World War II.

As he pointed out, “Organizing such a force – about twice as large as the Luftwaffe had ever sent against this country – was no small task in 1942. As the number of planes front line in the squadrons was totally inadequate, training organization… We made our preparations for the thousand bomber attack in May.

With Churchill’s approval, they decided to bombard Hamburg, but weather conditions made them ideal prey, so they decided to go to Cologne instead.

May 30, 1942: the day of the attack

The moon shone over Germany on the night of May 30 when a total of 1,047 bombers flew over the city of Cologne and dropped 1,455 tons of bombs in the space of an hour and a half, at the rate of 20 tons per minute intended to destroy chemical and machine tool facilities and German morale.

As one of No. 9 Squadron’s aircrew reported, “The whole town was on fire at 1:15 a.m., and the fires were visible 100 miles after he left.” Fires visible from the Dutch coast from 10,000 feet back.

Six hundred acres of the city were damaged, 90% of the city was gone, and the flames could be seen about 150 miles away. Three thousand three hundred (3,300) houses were pulverized. Four hundred and seventy-four died (474), while 5,000 were injured. The number could have been higher if they hadn’t been hiding in their air-raid shelters and deep cellars. Britain, on the other hand, lost 39 aircraft.

Köln Hohenzollernbrücke mit Blick auf den Dom, 1945

On the criticism

Of course, bombings like this would not pass uncritically, even so far. Leonard Cheshire, one of the pilots who would later receive the Victoria Cross, said:

I glued my eyes to the fire and watched it slowly grow. Of ack-ack there was not much, but the sky was filled with fighters…. Already, only twenty-three minutes into the attack, Cologne was on fire from start to finish, and the bulk of the attack was yet to come. I looked at the other bombers, I looked at the row of selectors in the bomb bay, and I felt, perhaps, a slight chill in my heart. But the thrill didn’t last long: I had other visions, visions of rape, murder and torture. And somewhere in the mauve-gray carpet was a tall, blue-eyed figure waiting behind barbed wire walls for someone to take him home. No, the thrill didn’t last long… I felt a curious happiness in my heart. For the first time in history, the emphasis on night bombing had shifted from the hands of the pilots to the hands of the organizers, and the organizers had proven their worth. Despite the ridicule of some of their detractors, they have proven themselves. They also proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that, given the weather, the bomber can win the war. Not only did they prove it, but they wrote the proof on every face that saw Cologne.

Two other raids were carried out the same year: they decided to bomb Essen on June 1 but were ineffective, and another on June 26 on Bremen.

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