The port that nourished Hamburg also made it a prime target for the Allies. In retaliation for earlier Luftwaffe raids, British and US raids wiped ten square kilometres of Hamburg off the map and obliterated eighty percent of the harbour during a week of relentless sorties at the end of July 1943. Over seven thousand tonnes of high explosives and incendiaries rained onto the city, killing nearly 40,000 people; by way of comparison, the famous Luftwaffe raid on Coventry killed 538.

As the flames sucked in oxygen, typhoon winds blasted western residential districts and the Germans had to create a new word to describe the apocalypse – “Feuersturm” (firestorm). Winds of nearly 1000°C set asphalt streets ablaze, trees were uprooted, cars flung into superheated air. “Every human resistance was quite useless,” Hamburg’s police chief reported later. “People jumped into the canals and waterways and remained swimming or standing up to their necks for hours … Children were torn away from their parents’ hands by the force of the hurricane and whirled into the fire.” Third Reich architect Albert Speer later revealed that Hitler and Hermann Göring had been shocked at the devastation. Even Air Chief Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris conceded that the attacks on the Reich’s second city were “incomparably more terrible” than anything previously launched at Germany. Operation Gomorrah was well named.

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