RAF bombing kills one third of the population of Pforzheim in 22 minutes

RAF Lancasters flying over clouds of smoke above Pforzheim. Target indicators dropping lower left. RAF Production unit – © IWM C 5007

23 February 1945

At 7.50 pm  of 23 February 1945, in the closing weeks of the Second World War,  367 RAF Lancaster heavy bombers began a massive air assault on the small German town of Pforzeheim. The town was renowned for its jewellery and watch making artisans, but of little or no strategic importance as it possessed neither any heavy industry nor any munitions factories.1

The Lancasters were able to fly at an unusually low level of 8,000 feet because Pforzeheim was defenceless. As a result, a high percentage of the bombs fell in the target area. 1,825 tons of high explosives and incendiaries were dropped in just 22 minutes. The entire city centre was quickly engulfed by numerous fires. These quickly merged into one vast conflagration almost 3 km long, destroying 83% of the entire urban area and suffocating or burning alive 17,600 people, one third of the town’s population.2

British newspapers were exuberant. The Birmingham Daily Gazette and the Western Morning Newsreported that the town had been ‘wiped out,’ explaining that ‘Bomber Command had established there was no answer to the new technique of mixing 4,000 lb bombs with showers of incendiaries,’ while the Warkwickshire Evening Despatch led with a front page headline declaring ‘RAF’s night raid on Jewellery town made it “glow like a volcano”.  The Evening Despatch quoted Flight Lieutenant Keith Ellson of Montreal, who informed the paper that ‘the target glowered like a volcano crater with many fires billowing smoke and explosions.’3

The Liverpool Echo similarly cited Flight Sergeant Sam Gordon of Halifax who recalled that ‘bombers swarmed over the town like bees over an upset hive,’  while other newspapers, including the Coventry Evening Telegraph and the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, reported that the fires were so ‘completely out of control’ that ‘the crews could still see the glow when they were 150 miles ( away ) on their way home.’4  Incredibly, there was more consideration given to the implications for the global jewellery trade than to the victims of the air raid with the Birmingham Daily Post reporting later that year that Birmingham jewellers might now be able to replace the ‘continental manufacturing centres,’ such as Pforzheim, which ‘previously did about 90% of the world trade in cheap jewellery.’5

RAF photo reconnaissance of Pforzeheim prior to the bombing. © IWM (CL 2024)
RAF photo reconnaissance of the town after the attack. © IWM. (CL 2025)

FOOTNOTES

  1. Martin Middlebrook and Christ Everitt, The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book, 1939-1945, Pen and Sword Aviation, Barnsley, 2019, p. 669 and Gabriel Borrud, ‘Pforzheim: the Dresden nobody knows about,’ DW.com accessed online at url https://www.dw.com/en/pforzheim-the-dresden-nobody-knows-about/a-18274739
  2. Richard Overy, The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945, Allen Lane, London, 2013, pp. 396-397 and Martin Middlebrook and Christ Everitt, op. cit., p. 669.
  3. ‘450 Sq Miles of Ruhr Laid Waste’, The Birmingham Daily Gazette, 12 March 1945, p. 4, ‘Ruhr Now Rubble,’ The Western Morning News, 12 March 1945 p. 3, ‘RAF’s Night Raid on Jewellery Town made it ‘Glow like a Volcano,’ The Warwickshire Evening Despatch, 24 February 1945 p. 1.
  4. ‘Pforzheim “Burning”‘, The Lincolnshire Echo, 24 February 1945, p. 1, The Coventry Evening Telegraph, 24 February 1945, p. 8 and ‘Pforzheim is New Target’, The Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 24 February 1945, p. 1.
  5. ‘Jewellers’ Bid for World Trade,’ The Birmingham Daily Post, 19 December 1945, p. 3.

Please feel welcome to post comments below.  If you have any questions please email alisdare@gmail.com

© 2020 Alisdare Hickson All rights reserved

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