Air raid on Lübeck on March 29, 1942

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Joseph Krautwald : The mother

The air raid on Lübeck by the Royal Air Force on Palm Sunday night 1942 was the first attack in the form of an area bombing of a German city center by the RAF Bomber Command during World War II . The attack marked the beginning of the Area Bombing Directive passed on February 14, 1942 , after the Butt Report in August 1941 had made it clear that tactical targets had previously been badly hit. Lübeck's memory is not on the calendar day 28/29. March, but linked to Palmarum with the confirmations that take place on that day .


Ruins of the merchant quarter west of Lübeck's Marienkirche

The British bombers experienced excellent visual flight conditions when approaching the city at night . A full moon shone on a frosty night, so that the water surfaces of the Trave , the Elbe-Lübeck Canal and the Wakenitz around the old town reflected the bright moonlight. The planes came from the direction of Neustadt. From 11:18 p.m., when the air raid started, to the end of the attack at around 2:58 a.m., 234 Vickers Wellington and Stirling bombers dropped around 400 tons of bombs. Two thirds of them were about 25,000 incendiary bombs . The RAF Bomber Command lost twelve machines in this operation, 191 of the returned machines reported an attack success. Some of the machines in use already had the new GEE navigation system , which at the time could not be disturbed by the German side. Although GEE did not reach as far as Lübeck, the system increased security for a large part of the approach and departure routes of the bomber groups deployed.

The attack came in three waves. As a result of the low level of resistance from only five heavy and four light anti-aircraft batteries, the British bomber crews were able to pinpoint the targets precisely from a very low altitude of only 2000 feet and thus cause very great damage.


Destroyed Alfstrasse in Lübeck

The consequences of the attack were devastating. The individual fires caused by the incendiary bombs quickly developed into large-scale fires in a confined space and caused a firestorm due to the developing heat , which spread from the larger streets to the smaller ones. The continued dropping of incendiary bombs also caused fires that had already been extinguished to flare up again, while high-explosive bombs caused facades to collapse, making access to the affected areas and fire fighting more difficult. A direct hit in the main water pipe led to the failure of all hydrants, while hardly any extinguishing water could be taken from the Trave and the Elbe-Lübeck Canal , both of which were partially frozen over. The hose lines were also partially frozen or damaged by debris. Uncluttered attics and the lack of self-protection in unoccupied commercial buildings made it possible for the increased flying sparks to set fire to other roofs and the fire to spread inexorably. After an air mine interrupted the extinguishing work on the museum at the cathedral , the flames spread from here to the Lübeck cathedral . The foreseeable extent of the destruction caused total chaos in the city.

Destroyed sand road with Marienkirche

On the old town island, an approximately 300 meter wide aisle from Lübeck Cathedral towards St. Mary's Church was more or less completely destroyed. Another smaller area north of the Aegidienkirche am Balauerfohr was just as hard hit as large parts of the suburb of Lübeck-St. Lorenz west of the Holsten Gate and Lübeck Central Station . The north-eastern part of the old town as well as the two other large churches, St. Jakobi and St. Aegidien, remained relatively undamaged.

According to the police, 320 people lost their lives, three remained missing and 783 were injured. More than 15,000 people from Lübeck were left homeless, as 1468 buildings were completely destroyed, 2180 heavily and 9103 slightly damaged. The traffic of the Lübeck tram remained interrupted until 1945.


In mid-November 1940, during Operation Moonlight Sonate , the air force attacked Armstrong Siddeley's aero engine factories in downtown Coventry , the British got an impression of the moral impact of a large-scale attack on a grown city. Against this background, the Trenchard Doctrine, formulated in the prewar period, was further developed into the Area Bombing Directive at the beginning of 1942 . The two major German cities which the Royal Air Force seemed to be most accessible at this point in time were Kiel and Lübeck ; after lengthy deliberations, the decision was made to attack Lübeck. The philosopher AC Grayling believes that Lübeck was selected by the staff of the RAF on the basis of the experiences made in Coventry to test the effect of a moral bombing with a high proportion of incendiary bombs in a densely populated, larger old town with narrow streets.

Arthur Harris , who a week later was appointed commander of Bomber Command , was responsible for implementing this directive, which was passed on February 14 . In 1947 he wrote that Lübeck had to go up in flames because it was a city of manageable size, with a port of certain importance and a submarine shipyard close to the city. It was not an important goal, but it seemed to him more expedient to destroy an industrial city of medium importance first than to possibly fail in the destruction of a large industrial city.

According to this, contrary to popular belief, pragmatic considerations and not the question of retribution may have been the reason why the first moral bombing attack was directed against Lübeck. It was a relatively accessible city of its category, and the weather conditions immediately before the start of the mission were ideal for the planned attack.

The Nazi propaganda was obviously impressed by the effect of the attack on Luebeck in the German population so that in retaliation immediately inform the staged large but largely ineffective Baedeker raids were launched on English middle cities, starting with Exeter on 23 April 1,942th

Lübeck martyrs

Memorial plaque in the ramparts near the Hamburg remand prison

The Lübeck martyrs were three Catholic and one Protestant clergyman. The Lutheran pastor Karl Friedrich Stellbrink said in his sermon immediately after the attack on Palm Sunday : Now God speaks with a mighty voice and you will learn to pray again . This was presented in a Gestapo report in such a way that Stellbrink had interpreted the attack as a judgment of God , whereby the population ... was extremely excited . All four clergy were arrested a short time later, sentenced to death by the People's Court in 1943 at an external session in Lübeck and beheaded on November 10, 1943 in the Hamburg remand prison on Holstenglacis .

Red Cross Harbor

Carl J. Burckhardt

In 1944, Eric M. Warburg was the liaison officer between the General Staffs of the US Army Air Force and the RAF in cooperation with the Swiss diplomat and former League of Nations Commissioner for Danzig Carl Jacob Burckhardt as President of the International Committee of the Red Cross , Lübeck as the supply port of the Red Cross before others to protect major air raids. Allied prisoners of war were supplied with mail and food in German camps via Lübeck. These measures were carried out by the Swedish Red Cross, under the leadership of its Vice President Folke Bernadotte, with cargo ships flying the Swedish flag from Gothenburg . The Swedish Red Cross transported the goods to be distributed by truck from Lübeck. Bernadotte also organized the rescue operation of the White Buses , named after the white omnibuses that were traveling all over northern Germany from the headquarters in Friedrichsruh , but mainly had to look after the nearby Neuengamme concentration camp , where the Nazis, as agreed, the Danish and Norwegian prisoners together.

Reconstruction, memories and memorial

Memorial with fallen bells in the south tower of St. Mary's Church

Under the war and post-war conditions, the piles of rubble were difficult to remove. Of an estimated 700,000 m³ of rubble, 100,000 m³ had to be cleared at the end of 1948. The rubble was removed by carts and mostly stored on the festival site on Travemünder Allee. Due to the priority given to St. Mary, the cathedral was only restored in 1982 and the St. Petrikirche in 1986.

The remaining and rebuilt buildings on the old town island are now part of the UNESCO World Heritage as area cultural heritage . The most important memorial of the air raid in 1942 are the fallen bells in the south tower of St. Mary's Church. The civilian victims of the attack were buried in the cemetery of honor in a collective grave on the newly created field offering Palmarum 1942 . On it stands the sculpture Die Mutter, commissioned in 1960 and made from shell limestone by Joseph Krautwald .

As the Oldenburg historian Malte Thießen has shown in several essays, memories of the air raid played an important role in Lübeck during the Nazi era and in the post-war period. The city has often remembered the bombings as a kind of zero hour since the 1950s . The aim was to put the reconstruction efforts in the foreground. Newspaper articles in the Lübecker Nachrichten or brochures of the Lübeck Senate repeatedly looked back on the bombing of 1942 to demonstrate the achievements of the reconstruction. Lübeck's mayor Otto Passarge, for example, recalled the air raid in a 1955 Senate brochure: “Lübeck has proven what it is capable of. It will continue to prove it. " Willy Brandt , born in Lübeck and Federal Chancellor, addressed the reconstruction of the destroyed city in his address on the occasion of the award of honorary citizenship of the Hanseatic City of Lübeck on February 29, 1972:" My respect goes to the women and men who - under such unfavorable circumstances - started tidying up and setting up. Who not only averted the need, but created the basis of existence for the city, its economic life and thus the old and new Lübeck residents. That remains an impressive achievement. ”Since the 60th anniversary of 2002, right-wing extremists in Lübeck have often reminded of the aerial warfare. The historian Malte Thießen describes, for example, a memorial march or "funeral march" with which right-wing extremists remembered the bombings of 1942. There were numerous counter-demonstrations in Lübeck against these commemorative events.


  • Antjekathrin Graßmann (Ed.): Lübeckische Geschichte. 4th improved and supplemented edition, Schmidt-Römhild, Lübeck 2008, ISBN 978-3-7950-1280-9 , pp. 733-738
  • Palmarum 1942: Chalk drawings by Eduard Hopf about the bombing of Lübeck. [Catalog] on the occasion of the exhibition in the Kulturforum Burgkloster zu Lübeck from March 29th to May 26th 2002. Kulturforum Burgkloster, Lübeck 2002.
  • Malte Thießen: “Palmarum” in the city's memory: Lübeck's commemoration of the bombing war from 1942 to the present day. In: Journal of the Association for Lübeck History and Archeology. (ZLGA) Vol. 92, 2012, pp. 247-276.
  • Malte Thießen: Lübeck in the air war: Business cycles and conflicts over memory. In: Lübeckische Blätter. 174, Issue 10, 2009, ISSN  0344-5216 , pp. 152–153 ( digitized version ; PDF, 2.1 MB).
  • Malte Thießen: Lübeck's “Palmarum” and Hamburg's “Gomorrha”. Memories of the air war in a comparison of cities. In: Janina Fuge, Rainer Hering, Harald Schmid (eds.): The memory of the city and region. Historical images in Northern Germany (= Hamburg time traces. Volume 7). Dölling and Galitz, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3937904962 , pp. 61-89 (2nd edition 2011).
  • Lutz Wilde : Bomber against Lübeck. A documentation of the destruction in Lübeck's old town during the air raid in March 1942. Schmidt-Römhild, Lübeck 1999, ISBN 3-7950-1235-X .
  • Jan Zimmermann : Palmarum 1942 - also a history of pictures. Rotterdam, Coventry, Lübeck, Bath, Dresden - from the destruction of Europe from the air. In: Lübeckische Blätter. 170, 2005, pp. 77-80.
  • Ulrike Nürnberger, Uwe Albrecht (ed.): Palmarum 1942: new research on destroyed works of medieval wood sculpture and panel painting from St. Mary's Church in Lübeck. Conference proceedings and exhibition documentation. Kiel: Ludwig 2014 ISBN 978-3-86935-229-9

See also

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Brochure of the Hanseatic City of Lübeck, Department: Planning and Building, Issue 103, p. 36, January 2010
  2. Klaus J. Groth: "Like a fire lighter". In: Preußische Allgemeine Zeitung of March 27, 2010, p. 10
  3. ^ Lutz Wilde : Bomber against Lübeck. A documentation of the destruction in Lübeck's old town during the air raid in March 1942. Schmidt-Römhild, Lübeck 1999, p. 15.
  4. ^ AC Grayling: Among the dead cities. P. 50ff
  5. Flender works
  6. Harris: Bomber Offensive. P. 105
  7. Note: In Lübeck, the air raid is seen time and again as late retaliation for the German air raid on Coventry in 1940.
  8. ^ Peter Voswinckel: Guided Paths. The Lübeck martyrs in words and pictures. , Butzon & Bercker / St. Ansgar Verlag, Hamburg 2010 ISBN 978-3-7666-1391-2 , pp. 118 and 207.
  9. Malte Thießen: Lübeck's Palmarum and Hamburg's Gomorrha. Memories of the aerial warfare in a comparison of cities , in: Janina Fuge, Rainer Hering, Harald Schmid (eds.): The memory of city and region. Historical images in Northern Germany, Munich 2010, pp. 61–89, here p. 72.
  10. Malte Thießen: Lübeck in the air war: Conjunctures and conflicts around memory , in: Lübeckische Blätter 174, Heft 10 (2009), pp. 152–153, here p. 153.
  11. Speech on the award of honorary citizenship of the city of Lübeck to the Federal Chancellor, in: Bulletin of the Press and Information Office of the Federal Government, No. 31 / S. 518, Bonn, March 2, 1972.