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4.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read Book on the Bombing of Hamburg 1943, 13 April 2012
This review is from: Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943 (Hardcover)
Having just finished reading Keith Lowe's book on the bombing of Hamburg in 1943 I felt I should say something about this book - it's horrific - not the book but the story. This is a book that should be read by anyone who has an interest in military history and who needs the occasional reminder about how terrible war really is. I sometimes tend not to see or forget that war means dying in some of the worst possible ways, its not all glory and great stories, its death in its most terrible form for many.

The beauty of this book is that the author tells the story of those subjected to the allied bombing campaign against Hamburg in 1943 along with those doing the bombing. It offers the story of those civilians on the ground that were caught in the terrible firestorm that became Hamburg in 1943. It also offers the accounts of those who caused this terrible event and what they went through to do the job that they were ordered to do. The casualties suffered by RAF Bomber Command were horrendous as was the casualty rate for the USAAF who conducted the daytime raids against the city.

The author presents the stories of all those involved; German and allies, civilian and servicemen and he does not put forth an agenda or try to present one as good and the other as bad, he just tells the story and leaves it to you, the reader, to reach your own conclusions. Some of the accounts in the book are terrible, especially when they involve children and the photographs used by the author to illustrate the effects of the firestorm do make you sit back and think. For example here are two separate accounts of the second RAF Bomber Command mission to Hamburg in 1943 and the affects of the intense fire on the road asphalt:

" .... I saw two women running, a young one and an older one, whose shoes got stuck in the boiling asphalt. They pulled their feet out of the shoes but that wasn't a good idea because they had to step into the boiling asphalt. They fell and didn't get up again. Like flies in the hot was of a candle."

And this:

" .... The asphalt of the road had become almost liquid with the immense heat. They reached the middle, where their feet got stuck in the asphalt. Their legs began to burn because of the heat, the flames ate their way up and met again above their heads. At first they screamed, then became quieter, and finally, they gave a last rattling breath and were dead."

According to the author; "In the years that followed the catastrophe, the Hamburg fire-storm came under intense scientific scrutiny, and it was concluded that no other fire in recorded history has ever equalled its intensity. It was far worse than any of the great forest fires that have engulfed large parts of America and Canada; greater even than the fires that have consumed London, Chicago or any other city bombed by the Allies across Germany." The book also cites this chilling fact: "the Hamburg police chief's report the winds were so strong that `Children were town away from their parents' hands by the force of the hurricane and whirled into the fire'."

After the raids, the clean up began, first with recovering the bodies:

"Clean-up crews entering the cellars had a particularly hard job. Here the stench was so bad that some military detachments insisted on blasting the cellars with flame-throwers before entering. Recovery squads were issued with gas masks, in which the filter had been replaced by a pad soaked in rum or Cognac. The mental and physical strain on those men was so great that many took to drinking the rum instead."

The author provides a concluding chapter; `Redemption' to round his account off and I think it was very well done, again not laying blame and being self-righteous but presenting the facts and the thoughts of those involved as known to them at the time, along with observations gathered from his research and after speaking to survivors from this terrible event, both on the ground and in the air.

There are over 130 pages of notes and appendixes with numerous maps and black & white photographs. Overall this is an excellent addition to the many books covering the allied bombing campaign against Germany during the Second World War and should be read by all who have an interest in the subject.
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