11-23-1943 -Terror of devastating air raid on Berlin

One of the attacking RAF Avro Lancaster bombers over the target area during the night raid on Berlin on 22-23 November 1943.

‘Bomber’ Harris’s new campaign against the German capital had begun with the raid on the 18th/19th November. The raid of the night 22nd/23rd was the largest force yet sent to Berlin – a total of 764 aircraft. Berlin itself was completely covered in cloud which earlier would have prevented an accurate raid. With the development and refinement of the Pathfinders sky marking, after identifying the target with radar, this was no longer any protection.

The raid proved to be the ‘most effective’ bombing attack on Berlin of the whole war. Concentrated bombing destroyed large areas of the centre and west of the city. Amongst the casualties were the 500 occupants of one large public air raid shelter that received a direct hit. Relatively dry weather helped create firestorms, next day the fires were producing smoking columns that rose to 19,000 feet.

In Berlin was diarist Marie Vassiltchikov, an emigre from Russia who worked for the Information Department of the Foreign Ministry, but an anti-Nazi. Through her contacts she had some advance warning of the impending raid. Having friends in high places did little to help her. She had packed a bag in case she and her father had to leave their house:

I had just finished packing when the flak opened up. It was immediately very violent. Papa emerged with his pupils and we all hurried down to the half-basement behind the kitchen, where we usually sit out air raids.

We had hardly got there when we heard the first approaching planes. They flew very low and the barking of the flak was suddenly drowned by a very different sound – that of exploding bombs, first far away and then closer and closer, until it seemed as if they were falling literally on top of us. At every crash the house shook. The air pressure was dreadful and the noise deafening.

For the first time I understood what the expression Bombenteppich [‘bomb carpet’] means – the Allies call it ‘saturation’ bombing. At one point there was a shower of broken glass and all three doors of the basement flew into the room, torn off their hinges. We pressed them back into place and leant against them to try to keep them shut. I had left my coat outside but didn’t dare go out to get it.

An incendiary are fell hissing into our entrance and the men crept out to extinguish it. Suddenly we realised that we had no water on hand to put out a possible fire and hastily opened all the taps in the kitchen. This dampened the noise for a few minutes, but not for long … The planes did not come in waves, as they do usually, but kept on droning ceaselessly overhead for more than an hour.

In the middle of it all the cook produced my soup. I thought that if I ate it I would throw up. I found it even impossible to sit quietly and kept jumping to my feet at every crash. Papa, imperturbable as always, remained seated in a wicker armchair throughout. Once, when I leapt up after a particularly deafening explosion, he calmly remarked: ‘Sit down! That way, if the ceiling collapses, you will be farther away from it …’ But the crashes followed one another so closely and were so ear-splitting that at the worst moments I stood behind him, holding on to his shoulders by way of self-protection. What a family bouillabaisse we would have made! His pupils cowered in a corner, while Maria stood propped against a wall, praying for her husband and looking desperate. She kept advising me to keep away from the furniture, as it might splinter.

The bombs continued to rain down and when a house next to ours collapsed, Papa muttered in Russian: ‘Volia Bozhia!’ [‘Let God’s will be done!’]. It seemed indeed as if nothing could save us. After an hour or so it became quieter, Papa produced a bottle of schnapps and we all took large gulps. But then it started all over again . . . Only around 9.30 p.m. did the droning of planes overhead cease. There must have been several hundreds of them.

The all-clear came only half an hour after the last planes had departed, but long before that we were called out of the house by an unknown naval officer. The wind, he told us, thus far non-existent, had suddenly risen and the fires, therefore, were spreading.

We all went out into our little square and, sure enough, the sky on three sides was blood-red. This, the officer explained, was only the beginning; the greatest danger would come in a few hours’ time, when the fire-storm really got going. Maria had given each of us a wet towel with which to smother our faces before leaving the house — a wise precaution, for our square was already filled with smoke and one could hardly breathe.

Also the electricity, gas and water no longer worked and we had to grope our way around with electric torches and candles. Luckily we had had time to fill every available bath tub, wash basin, kitchen sink and pail.

By now the wind had increased alarmingly, roaring like a gale at sea. When we looked out of the window We could see a steady shower of sparks raining down on our and the neighbouring houses and all the time the air was getting thicker and hotter, while the smoke billowed in through the gaping window frames. We went through the house and found to our relief that apart from the broken windows and the unhinged doors, it had not suffered any real damage.

Just as we were swallowing some sandwiches, the sirens came on once more. We stood at the windows for about half an hour, in total silence. We were convinced it would start all over again. Then the all-clear sounded again. Apparently enemy reconnaissance planes had been surveying the damage.


November 23, 912

Birth of Otto I in Germany. Otto became the German King in 936 and the Holy Roman Emperor in 962. He brought order to the empire, which was greatly fragmented, strengthened the position of the church, and made possible a period of prosperity and development of culture referred to as the “Ottonian Renaissance”.


November 22, 1867

Birth of Wilhelm Groener in Ludwigsburg, Germany. In October 1918 he replaced General Erich Ludendorff as quartermaster general (Ludendorff had to resign to make armistice negotiations possible). He joined General Paul von Hindenburg in informing Kaiser Wilhelm that he no longer had the confidence of the army and should abdicate. He kept the army in support of the new democratic government of Friedrich Ebert.


Berlin’s East Side Gallery saved from property investors

by DW

The East Side Gallery now belongs to the Berlin Wall Foundation, which aims to protect the famous section of the former wall that divided the German capital.

There will be no further construction projects at Berlin’s East Side gallery, the 1.3-kilometer remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall that has been covered with art, also known as the “world’s longest open-air gallery,” Berlin Wall Foundation director Axel Klausmeier said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Mediaspree, one of the largest property investors in Berlin, has had the strongest impact on the area surrounding the monument. Since the beginning of the 1990s, media companies, a large concert hall, as well as office buildings and a residential tower, were built around the East Side Gallery, while the bank of the Spree River behind the former section of the Berlin Wall was completely modernized.

Now the property surrounding the wall section has been transferred to the Berlin Wall Foundation and all development plans have been stopped. Berlin will contribute € 250,000 ($285,000) annually to the preservation of the monument and the maintenance of the area.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, 118 artists from all over the world were invited to paint what would become the East Side Gallery. In the years that followed, some of the works of art were removed; new ones emerged. The paintings that were most damaged by erosion and vandalism were renovated. Despite international protests, one section of the gallery was removed in 2013 to create luxury apartments.

A symbol of joy and oppression

The protected area is now to be expanded into an educational and artistic memorial. Every year, around three million visitors come to the East Side Gallery, but it so far lacked a professional infrastructure for tourists.

Among other things, an exhibition on the history of the section of the wall is being planned, said Klausmeier. It will commemorate it on one hand as “a symbol of how the German division was peacefully overcome and on the other hand as a testimony of the inhuman border regime.” At least 10 people were killed between 1961 and 1989 trying to cross this section of the wall.


November 20, 1885

Birth of Albert Kesselring in Marktstedt, Germany. Kesselring was a field marshal during WWII and a leading war strategist. He was tried by a British military court in 1947 for war crimes. He was sentenced to death. Later his sentence was changed to life in prison. In 1952 he was pardoned and freed.


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November 15, 1907


Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg is born in Jettingen, Germany. Von Stauffenberg was a leader in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. On July 20, 1944, he carried a bomb into a meeting with Hitler at Rastenburg. Hitler was in the room when the bomb exploded, but was only injured. Von Stauffenberg and several other conspirators were arrested that same day and executed that night.