History of Europe

March 1942:Lübeck burns in a hail of bombs

During the night of March 28th, 1942, British bombs rained down on Lübeck for hours. Whole streets in the historic old town burn, civilians fall victim to a new war tactic:attacks on inner cities.

Lübeck, the venerable Hanseatic city in March 1942:The Second World War has been raging for almost three years. So far, the city has been spared from destruction. Although sirens wail regularly and warn people of air raids, many have gotten used to it. Lübeck does not seem to have any importance for the military strategists.

People hope so too when the air raid alarm goes off again in the late evening of March 28th. But just a few minutes later, around 11:20 p.m., the first bombs hit the old town. What follows has not yet been experienced in Germany. 234 aircraft of the British Royal Air Force cover the city with a hail of bombs. They constantly drop their devastating cargo. It only takes a few hours - then what has been created over the centuries is destroyed.

Historic churches are on fire

Hours of horror began for the then 150,000 residents of the city. The attack is not aimed at individual military installations, but is intended to hit the civilian population and cause as much damage as possible. Whole blocks of streets on the old town island, the center of the bombardment, are soon burning.

In the night of the bombing, the bells fell from the tower of St. Marien. Decades later they lie as a memorial in the church.

The fire does not stop at the historical buildings such as the famous churches. Around 12.30 a.m. the roof structure of St. Petri from the 13th century burns, later the towers of St. Marien and the cathedral also burn. In the Marienkirche the bells of the southern tower fall down. You will meet boxes with medieval window panes that were supposed to be protected from damage during the war. The medieval inventory of the church is also destroyed - as is the 500-year-old so-called Totentanz organ of St. Marien, on which Dieterich Buxtehude and Johann Sebastian Bach had already played. Germany's oldest still playable organ was engulfed in flames.

300 people die in the rubble of Lübeck

The last bombers only completed their mission after more than three and a half hours:around 8,000 incendiary bombs, 400 liquid bombs and 300 high-explosive bombs fell on Lübeck. Hundreds of houses are on fire, and the flames continue to spread. The fire brigade and helpers are powerless. The water supply has collapsed.

Why Lübeck?

The Hanseatic city became the first target of so-called carpet bombing by the Allied Air Forces. Although Lübeck was militarily meaningless, the densely built-up old town with many half-timbered houses offered itself. Fires spread quickly there and the City of Seven Towers was a prime target for bomber pilots.

The next morning, Palm Sunday, the full extent of the devastation becomes apparent. Almost 1,500 houses were completely destroyed, 2,200 badly damaged and another 9,000 badly affected - a good half of the 22,000 buildings in the city. More than 320 people from Lübeck died in the rubble - the exact number of dead is unclear. They were later buried in a mass grave in the honorary cemetery. Almost 800 people are injured, well over 15,000 homeless.

Valuable art treasures are burned during the bomb attack

After the bombing in March 1942, Lübeck lay in ruins - like here around the church of St. Aegidien.

In addition to the human suffering and the material damage, the cultural losses are immense. Art treasures burn in the churches, the valuable war room from 1356 in the historic town hall, and dozens of magnificent town houses. Lübeck is facing the ruins of its history. During the reconstruction, accommodation for the many homeless people has priority. Decades later, damage is still being repaired. The reconstruction of the cathedral did not end until 1982 with the reopening of the paradise vestibule. Although UNESCO named Lübeck's old town a World Heritage Site in 1987, many cultural treasures have been lost forever since the night of the bombing.

The dead, the burning towers, the extent of the destruction - all of this deeply shocked the people of Lübeck at the time. At the time, only a few people saw that this attack was revenge for the Luftwaffe's aerial bombing of Coventry and was therefore a reaction to the injustice of the Nazi regime.

Bombs against the civilian population

With the attack on Lübeck, the Allies changed their strategy in World War II. On March 14, 1942 - two weeks before the bombardment - the British War Cabinet decided to intensify the bombing campaign. Targets should no longer only be military installations, but also entire large cities. In this way, the military want to break the "will to resist of the civilian population of the enemy and above all of the industrial workers", as British documents say.

By the end of the war in 1945, many German cities were still being badly damaged by carpet bombing. British and Americans are also reacting to German air raids against English cities, which had already begun in 1940.

Carnage bombardment of German cities

28./29. March 1942: Lübeck
23. - April 27, 1942: Rostock
30. May 1942: Cologne
24. July - August 3, 1943: Hamburg
8. - October 9, 1943: Hanover
22. October 1943: Kassel
26. August 1944: Kiel
15. October 1944: Brunswick
3. February 1945: Berlin
13./14. February 1945: Dresden
8. April 1945: Braunschweig

The bombers returned to Lübeck only once:on August 25, 1944, they attacked armaments companies, killing 110 people. The old town was spared because from 1944 it was the transhipment point for Red Cross transports for British prisoners of war in Germany.

Night of bombs becomes "Palmarum 1942"

The bombings on the night of March 28-29, 1942 went down in Lübeck's history as "Palmarum 1942". The designation refers to the date of the attack on a Palm Sunday, also called Palmarum. Since Easter is a moveable festival, the commemoration of the night of the bombing is still not dated 28/29. March, but tied to Palm Sunday and varies from year to year.