History of Europe

Bomb attack lays Helgoland in rubble and ashes

Three weeks before the end of the war, the Royal Air Force bombed Heligoland - and reduced the island to rubble. The tragedy:Shortly before, a resistance group wanted to hand over the island peacefully.

It is the morning of April 18, 1945:With 979 bombers, the British Air Force takes off from southern England for the last bombing raid of the Second World War on Germany. Your destination:the offshore island of Helgoland.

Bombs rain down on the island

The alarm goes off on the North Sea island shortly after 12 noon:the British are attacking. "I can still see the image of the planes above us, which opened their shafts and let bombs rain down on the island," recalls Dieter Baumann, then 15 years old and deployed as an anti-aircraft helper on Heligoland. For the first time he was really afraid of death, Baumann admits in the book "The Destruction of Helgolands".

"Bunker walking" is becoming part of everyday life for people from Heligoland

The submarine bunker on Helgoland was built in the 1930s.

During the Second World War, Helgoland is not a peaceful holiday island. The Nazis had the military installations expanded. In 1945 around 3,000 soldiers are stationed on the island. There are anti-aircraft guns, an air force airfield and a military bunker system including a submarine bunker. After the first Allied bombing raids in 1940, bunkers were also built for the civilian population. Almost every day, the air raid alarm drives the Heligolanders into the air-raid shelters - whenever the bomber fleets pass the island on their way to the mainland. "Walking in the bunker" is part of everyday life for the Heligolanders, even if bombs rarely fall on the island.

Survival in the bomb shelter

Heligoland after the bombing:Many houses are destroyed. The homeless islanders are brought to the mainland.

But on April 18, 1945, the mainland is not the goal, but Heligoland itself with its military installations. Many experience the attack in air raid shelters, some 18 meters below ground. Injured soldiers are carried through the corridors of the civilian bunker from outside to the hospital bunker. A total of around 7,000 bombs fall within around 100 minutes. A second, weaker attack wave with 19 aircraft follows the next day.

285 deaths and destruction on the island

The two bomb attacks killed 285 people, mostly soldiers, anti-aircraft and naval helpers. Most locals can save themselves in the bunkers. However, their houses, school and church have been destroyed.

A resistance group fails

Particularly tragic:Shortly before the bombing, a group of 15 Heligolanders tried to contact the British in order to hand over the island peacefully. They want to prevent destruction and bloodshed. But their plan is blown, the men are arrested in the early morning of April 18 and four days later they are summarily shot in Cuxhaven. Today, so-called stumbling blocks in the pavement on the island are a reminder of the resistance fighters.

2,500 Heligolanders have to leave the island

The former flak tower - now a lighthouse - is the only building that survived the bombing raids.

One day after the bombing, the island is evacuated, and the approximately 2,500 Heligolanders have to resettle on the mainland. It is a farewell for a long time:it was not until March 1, 1952 that the British returned the island to the Germans. The Heligolanders are returning home to a completely destroyed island:in 1947 the British blew up all the military installations with a huge explosion. Up to seven years after the war, they used the island as a target for bombing and thus destroyed the last buildings - except for the flak tower.