Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
It is 11.11 AM in Berlin right now. Only 31 minutes earlier on April 29th, 1944 – exactly 72 years ago – Berlin heard the first Luftgefahr (Air-raid threat) signal, warning the city about an approaching attack.
It was to be the biggest and heaviest air-raid on Germany´s capital since the beginnign of WWII: out oft he 751 machines which started in England, 580 reached Berlin that day. The B-17 bombers accompanied by B-24 „Liberators“ carried a deadly cargo of almost 2,000 tonnes of explosives: 1000-pound GPs (General Purpose bombs), 500-pound and 100-pound IB (Incendiary Bomb Clusters) as well as plenty of so-called „nickels“ or bombs filled with propaganda leaflets to be dropped over the city as part of psychological war on the Nazis.
Their MPI – Mean Point of Impact – was Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse. The aim was to bring the whole passenger railway traffic in Berlin to the halt: by preventing workers from reaching the factories supplying warfare, these would experience great difficulties keeping up their production. The MPI was, however, particularly small: the size of 500 x 100 yards. Hitting it even in perfect weather conditions would have been a great challenge.
And the weather that day was less than good for flying: heavy clouds and sharp wind which turned out to be much stronger than expected, combined with powerful resistance shown by both German air force and their ground defence systems installed on top of flak bunkers outside and within Berlin, caused the mission to become a struggle.
But come they did: at 11.11AM Berliners heard the clear, sonorous sound of Fliegeralarm (Air-Raid Alarm). Whoever could, went into hiding: in bunkers, in shelters, in cellars and basements. As many as 580 planes reached the city by 11.20. The wind and the clouds caused the US navigators to lose orientation and the bombs mostly missed their target. However, they hit enough to cause havoc: they rained on the whole area between Hallesches Tor and Unter den Linden, making buildings explode or setting them on fire. That day Berlin´s Anhalter Bahnhof was left in ruins.
The result of the air-raid, which lasted around 50 minutes, until shortly after 12.00 – at 12.08 the alarm was called off – left behind 335 dead (34 of whom were slave workers from Eastern Europe), 510 wounded, 65 missing persons and 13,760 homeless or evacuated.
The USSAF (US Air Force) lost many of its best pilots as well as machines (some of which returned to England without reaching Berlin): 26 B-17s, 38 B-24s und 14 fighter airplanes.
It was the biggest air-raid on Berlin in five years of war. But worse was still to come.
Here is the original recording of an air-raid warning as well as the situation during the attack broadcasted by the field radio station of the 1st Flak Division in Berlin in 1944. A blood-curdling experience, showing the horror of such attacks, regardless of their target.