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Operation Gomorrah: Firebombing of Hamburg


Operation Gomorrah: Firebombing of Hamburg

Avro Lancaster Bomber, Royal Air Force

Photograph Courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org


Operation Gomorrah was an aerial bombing campaign that occurred in the European Theater of Operations during World War II (1939-1945).


The orders for Operation Gomorrah were signed on May 27, 1943. Commencing on the night of July 24, 1943, the bombing continued until August 3.

Commanders & Forces:


Results of Operation Gomorrah:

Operation Gomorrah destroyed a significant percentage of the city of Hamburg, leaving over 1 million residents homeless and killing 40,000-50,000 civilians. In the immediate wake of the raids, over two-thirds of Hamburg's population fled the city. The raids severely shook the Nazi leadership, leading Hitler to be concerned that similar raids on other cities could force Germany out of the war.

Battle Summary:

Conceived by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Air Chief Marshal Arthur "Bomber" Harris, Operation Gomorrah called for a coordinated, sustained bombing campaign against the German port city of Hamburg. The campaign was the first operation to feature coordinated bombing between the Royal Air Force and the US Army Air Force, with the British bombing by night and the Americans conducting precision strikes by day. On May 27, 1943, Harris signed Bomber Command Order No. 173 authorizing the operation to move forward. The night of July 24 was selected for the first strike.

To aid in the operation's success, RAF Bomber Command decided to debut two new additions to its arsenal as part of Gomorrah. The first of these was the H2S radar scanning system which provided bomber crews with a TV-like image of the ground below. The other was a system known as "Window." The forerunner of modern chaff, Window was bundles of aluminum foil strips carried by each bomber, which, when released, would disrupt German radar. On the night of July 24, 740 RAF bombers descended on Hamburg. Led by H2S equipped Pathfinders, the planes struck their targets and returned home with a loss of only 12 aircraft.

This raid was followed up the next day when 68 American B-17s struck Hamburg's U-boat pens and shipyards. The next day, another American attack destroyed the city's power plant. The high point of the operation came on the night of July 27, when 700+ RAF bombers ignited a firestorm causing 150 mph winds and 1,800° temperatures, leading even the asphalt to burst into flames. Strung out from the previous day's bombing, and with the city's infrastructure demolished, German fire crews were unable to effectively combat the raging inferno. The majority of German casualties occurred as the result of this firestorm.

While the night raids continued for another week until the operation's conclusion on August 3, the American daytime bombings ceased after the first two days due to smoke from the previous night's bombings obscuring their targets. In addition to the civilian casualties, Operation Gomorrah destroyed over 16,000 apartment buildings and reduced ten square miles of the city to rubble. This tremendous damage, coupled with the relatively small loss of aircraft, led Allied commanders to consider Operation Gomorrah a success.

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