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Because of the western exposure of the city and the existence of the Rhine as a good navigation help, Cologne was a preferred target for the Allies during WWII. On 12 May 1940 there was a first smaller raid on Cologne, on the night for the 2nd March 1941 the first major attack with about 100 bombers. On 2 March 1945, there was the last of 262 air strikes in all. During this years there were a total of 1,122 air-raid alarms, and 1,089 "Public Warnings" (which were introduced in August 1942 as a new alarm signal). These alarms made sure that the people spent up to 2,000 hours in bomb shelters or basements, which corresponds to about 83 days and nights in all - or almost 3 months.
The biggest destructions were caused by the first 1,000-bomber raid of the war - code name "Operation Millennium". Exactly 1,096 Allied bombers took off from airfields and flew in the night of 30 at 31 May 1942 between 0.47 am and 2.25 am a violent attack on the city. Until shortly before the start of the operation the city of Hamburg was an alternative target for the first 1,000-bomber raid too. But because of bad weather over northern Germany Cologne was choosen finally. 243 ha / 2.4 square miles of the city were destroyed - about 30.000 houses damaged or destroyed. Only 300 houses were preserved during the two hours air raid. About 1,500 tons of bombs were falling on the city. There were "only" about 500 deaths owing to the fact that many inhabitants had already left the city during the war, in addition there were about 5,000 injuries. Two-thirds of the bombs dropped were incendiary bombs that caused about 12,000 small fires, which led to 1,700 big fires. 45,000 people became homeless.
Even if this attack caused already many fires in the city, the phenomenon of a real firestorm was seen for the first time during a major assault on 29 June 1943 which caused approximately 4,400 deaths. After this attack, there were already 230,000 homeless in the city.
Before the war 770,000 people were living in Cologne, at the end of the war 40,000 people. 20,000 people died during the air attacks, 1,500,000 bombs were spread over the city
Photo (40 K): Courtesy of 91st Bomb Group (H), by friendly permission of Jim Shepherd. Contributed by Paul Chryst. Jim wrote, the men of the 91st made it a point to not bomb the cathedral
Fortunately only a photomontage - concerning the cathedral which wasn't destroyed in reality. At the end of WWII, after all the bombings, it could also have looked like this ...
Photo (63 K): This photo was sent by Don Henderson. His uncle, Floyd N. Henderson, 457th Bomb Group 8th AF, took this photo from his waist gunner position while flying over Cologne during the later stages of WWII. He flew the last 22 mission of the war. See: homepage
Photo (182 K): This photo was sent by David Foster. His uncle Paul B. Davis was a member of crew #108, belonging to the 448th BG based out of Seething, Norfolk, UK. The B-24 named "Wazzel Dazzel" was belonging to 715th Sqn.. The photo was taken by Co-pilot James "Pop" Beadling
Photo (118 K): This photo was sent by David Foster too. Central station and destroyed bridge Hohenzollernbrücke
Photo (148 K): Another photo sent by David Foster, right side square Neumarkt, left side the area around street Zeppelinstraße at building Olivandenhof
Photo (174 K):
View to the city districts Nippes, Riehl und Altstadt Nord. In background church St. Agnes and the square Ebertplatz, Riehler Strasse and Reichenspergerplatz with the building of the higher regional court. Courtesy of David Foster
Photo (112 K):
Cathedral and central station. Courtesy of Peter Dunn's "Australia @ War" web site at www.ozatwar.com, by friendly permission of Peter Dunn
Photo (181 K):
Recon photo, Cologne february 1945. Cathedral at the bottom right corner
Photo (219 K):
Another Recon photo, february 1945. Cologne center between Street Kaiser-Wilhelm-Ring and the buildings around Appellhofplatz. In the center of the photo church St. Gereon
Photo (177 K):
Photomontage of the two Recon photos above. Destruction between Cathedral and Street Kaiser-Wilhelm-Ring
The amount of debris was approximately 50 times the volume of the Cologne Cathedral. In the late 1980s there were still about 2,000 war ruins in Cologne.
Photo (162 K):
On the right side a hospital called "Krankenhaus der Augustinerinnen" in Cologne called "Severins-Klösterchen" too.
The church nearby is the church "Kartäuserkirche" and the Streets around are called "Jakobstrasse" and "Kartäusergasse". The cologne city district is "Altstadt Süd".
Courtesy of Kevin "The Rocketeer". Kevin's website
Photo (102 K):
On the right side the old building is the "Gürzenich", a historic hall for celebrations - today again a hall for celebrations. It's the area around square Heumarkt. Courtesy of Norman Date. Norman's website
Photo (175 K): View of the ruins, southern city districts, detail from the photo above. In foreground street Severinstrasse and street Mühlenbach, in adition church St. Georg. Courtesy of World War II Multimedia Database website, by friendly permission of Jason McDonald
Photo (64 K):
3AD Column Meets Resistance in Cologne. Up ahead was German machine-gun, mortar, and artillery fire.
Photo (42 K):
Cologne, March 6 - 7, 1945. www3ad.com comment:
At left, 3rd Armored infantrymen peer around a building as a Sherman tank stands ready to fire. At right, a German tank burns after hits from a 3rd Armored tank (90mm Pershing M26) that killed three of its five-man crew.
Photo (50 K):
The destroyed German Tank at the Cathedral. It lost a sudden violent duel with new 3AD Pershing M-26. www3ad.com comment:
Unidentified 3AD soldiers inspect a German Mark V Panther tank several days after it had been knocked out on March 6, 1945, by an M-26 commanded by Sgt. Robert Early, E Co, 32nd Armored Regiment. The Panther took three hits from the M-26's 90mm gun. At least three of the five-man German crew were confirmed killed. The M-26 was not hit.
Photo (50 K):
Bird's-Eye View from Cologne Cathedral, including Panther tank knocked out on March 6, 1945, by 3AD Pershing. This photo was probably taken on March 7th or 8th after the downtown area had been fully secured.
Photo (102 K):
Bird's-Eye View from Cologne Cathedral at the southern districts.
Photo (83 K):
Bird's-Eye View from Cologne Cathedral at the destroyed Rhine river bridge "Hohenzollernbrücke"
Photo (73 K):
Pedestrians near the cathedral, taken around March 6-7, 1945
Die folgenden Bilder entstammen dem Privatarchiv Bernhard Hilger
Photo (139 K):
His grandfather, Bernhard Leich (1891 - 1966) worked from 1914 to 1966 in the "Dombauhütte" (the cathedral construction department) as a stonemason, most recently as a foreman. He waited many nights of bombing in WWII in the cathedral and on the roof of the cathedral , looking for falling fire-bombs, starting fire-fighting operations directly. For his services he received several honors and in 1957 awarded by Pope Pius XII, the Knight's cross of the Order of St. Sylvester.
A personal tragedy hit him hard during the war. During the air raids in the early hours of the 15th October 1944 he stayed on the cathedral roof once again and helped put out the burning provost. Having done this, he went to his home in city district Deutz, to see for his family. However, he found only a destroyed house. While he kept the cathedral from major damage, his house was bombed and collapsed. His wife and two children died. Then he went back to the cathedral, where he - following the memories of Domvikar Kleff - arrived with the words "I have nothing left."
In his grandfather's estate Bernhard Hilger found the following photos.