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39 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rain of Terror,
This review is from: Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943 (Hardcover)When World War II began, Hamburg was Germany's largest port and its second largest city.
"Inferno" is the first attempt in over a quarter of a century to explain at length the horror that hit Hamburg from July 24 to August 2, 1943 when four massive bombing raids by both British planes (at night) and American planes (during the day) wreaked such havoc that in the space of only 10 days over 250,000 buildings were damaged beyond use and 1,000,000 people were made homeless.
In the worst day of bombing, July 27, 1943, the weather and other factors coalesced to create a perfect storm of fire and destruction. The result was at least 45,000 dead in a single day. The heat was so intense that eight square miles of the city were incinerated in a massive tornado of fire with hurricane-like winds of up to 150 mph (240 kmh). The heat was estimated to be over 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit (800 degrees Centigrade). The flames reached thousands of feet into the air and could be seen from hundreds of miles away.
People caught in this firestorm died in numerous, horrifying ways. Many obviously (and gruesomely) died from the heat itself. People caught together melted into blobs. Others shrunk and became almost mummified. Still others died even though ensconsed in air raid shelters because, unless the shelters were airtight (of which there were only a few), the firestorm sucked the oxygen out of the shelters, leaving deadly carbon monoxide to breathe. Still others died from the bombs themselves, of which a variety of killing devices were used, including incendiary bombs with petroleum jelly and phosphorous, which could spontaneously reignite even if a person doused themselves with water to put it out.
But the book is more than just a catalog of death. It is a detailed accounting, and may become the definitive one, of (1) the planning, preparation, and strategy for the raids; (2) the raids themselves, including the airmen and others involved in them; (3) the effect of the raids on the citizens of Hamburg, including the responses by the citizenry, the military, and the government to this crisis; and (4) the aftermath of the raids, including the evacuation of 1,000,000 people.
Because the bombing of Hamburg was by far the most destructive one ever to that point and nothing came close to it until Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it invites questioning whether it was morally justified, given that, despite claims the city was properly designated a military target, massive numbers of civilians (women, the aged, children, the infirm) were purposely killed in an attempt to achieve that objective and to demoralize the country into submission.
This is a question on which there may be no easy answers. Certainly war is hell and the purpose of war is to win, preferably at the expense of your enemy (i.e., in theory it is better to kill the enemy's women and children if it shortens the war and saves the lives of your own citizens, be they women, children, or soldiers). In effect, the author opines that the bombing was necessary and efficacious: The wave of refugees from Hamburg that flooded across Germany with stories of the horror they had witnessed shellshocked the German population against war in any form and he believes it resonates to this day in Germany's newfound pacifism. (Other historians, have, however, come to different conclusions. Notably, A. C. Grayling in his "Among the Dead Cities" and Jorg Friedrich in his "The Fire".)
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Factual and Fair,
This review is from: Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943 (Hardcover)Keith Lowe does an excellent job of blending facts and statistics with emotional first-hand accounts of the Hamburg fire bombings in a manner that generously allows the reader to use his/her own moral compass to assess the Allies' actions in the bombardment air strikes of 1943 Hamburg. He effectively forces the reader to assess the air strikes from both a modern humanistic perspective, as well as the Allies' contemporary WWII perspective, creating an interesting intellectual and moral conundrum. Morally, this book is an especially timely read for us as we continue our military presence and actions in the Middle East, often focusing on non-military targets.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended,
This review is from: Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943 (Hardcover)I don't propose to match the detail or eloquence of the nearly(?) professional reviews already here, but I do whole-heartedly recommend this book.
I picked up this book on a whim, last night on the way home from work. Having visited Hamburg and made friends, and NOT having learned anything of substance about the firestorm, I figured it could be interesting.
At a pub on the way home - I walk to and from work, the bookstore and the pub are on the way home - I started the book; this around 7pm. I did not leave until page 120 or so, at around midnight. Today I finished it.
I would urge anyone to read this, even if you do know the details of the Hamburg firestorm. If you don't, then let this book be your starting point.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Account,
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."
" .... 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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intense book!,
This review is from: Inferno (Paperback)This is an engrossing read of almost textbook style. A lot of detail, especially about the WWII aircraft and their capabilites. An amazing story of the courage of the pilots, the beginnings of war by aircraft which was only about 50 years old! The viewpoint of the German citizens is appreciated and a reminder of the terrible price of war on all citizens. It is unbelievable what a human body can withstand and what people can overcome.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars High Praise,
This review is from: Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943 (Hardcover)The author deserves high praise for carefully crafting a story that showed all aspects of several significant Allied bombing raids on a single German industrial city over the summer of 1943. The planning, the perspectives of the two sides, the horrific results. I especially appreciated the very detailed maps of each raid (usually, a book that is careful with its maps is a very good book indeed). I also appreciated the retelling of the German High Command's reaction to the key firestorm raid, a raid that assumed its own ethereal power due to meterological conditions. I would have liked to see this theme developed a little more fully--perhaps more of the back-and-forth official correspondence among the Nazi leadership, especially the key ministers. The eyewitness accounts of the firestorm made me squirm in my reading chair, and I imagined myself struggling in imagined escape along with the victims. All in all, an excellent book, and highly recommended to all levels of reader. There is something for everybody here--especially the lessons and warnings about warfare. Will we listen?
8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars on war, terror and living with Hamburg fire bombing survivors,
This review is from: Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943 (Hardcover)This is a fascinating book to read. Yet, I hesitated to get a hold of it because I have for the majority of my adulthood heard of the horrors of the destruction of the 700 year old city/state Hamburg from one of it's survivors, my father.
It may be more correct to call the bombing of Hamburg - the methodical murdering of it's civilians. "Official" (Allied victors) estimates of those killed during a month of bombing are 40,000 - 45,000. A more correct and less politically correct number exceeds 250,000. Read that as 250,000 unarmed, non-military, men, women, children & infants and refugees. In Hamburg, still to this day, on large construction sites, WWII era bunkers and bomb shelters with their victims still entombed are uncovered.
In the summer of 1943 my father, a boy going on 18, left the bunker he sought shelter in to find the city he was born in insanely in flames. Charcoal bodies floated in platz fountains. The victims tried to avoid the flames by jumping into the fountain water but never considered that the petroleum jelly-like napalm floats on top of water. Later in Altona, a suburb of Hamburg, my father and grand father dug down through the rubble in an attempt to rescue his uncle and family from their basement bomb shelter. They found the fully incinerated skeleton of his uncle squatting in a window well. When my father touched it the skeleton crumbled to a fine dust - enough to fill half a paper bag. Likewise for rest of the family members. A memory that still makes tears well up in my old combat hardened father's eyes.
After the bombing of Coventry Herman Goering payed a visit to Hamburg. During this visit he was openly criticized for his involvement in the planning of this bombing. The Hamburgers pointed out that their city was a mere 3 hours flight time from Britain and that it would be a likely retaliation target. Goering brushed off their criticism and stated, "...if the Brits bomb Hamburg, my name is Schmidt." After Hamburg was bombed the press and the public did indeed referred to Goering as "Schmidt".
The fire bombing of Hamburg truly was an act of terror. There are those who justify it by bringing up Germany's brutal acts of war, yet by exceeding the barbarism of an enemy - what does that make you? What good came of it? The answer is that the Germans did capitulate sooner rather than later and we now have a German society that has no taste for warfare. And what lessons have we learned from all this? Up until 9/11 the USA was sheltered from savage acts of terrorism. However, have we really learned anything from our history? Those clueless boobs in D.C. and on the Fox network complain loudly that our German allies won't contribute combat forces for the US's military ventures don't read enough recent history. Germans have had enough of warfare. Unlike the USA, they're not militarily present in over 140 different countries.
All that having been said - I understand that war must be fought decisively but it's still best to be intelligent and clever and avoid going to battle in the first place. GWB was a dangerous, saber rattling dolt. I hope Obama can prove to be a better leader. I'm not optimistic.
I recommend a visit to Hamburg, a thriving international port city. As you walk around the beautiful Innen Alster and the Altstadt try to visualize the city surrounding you bombed FLAT and engulfed in flames and those passing by you as incinerated corpses laying where they suffered their deaths.
Another good read to follow this up with would be Other Losses.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book to learn a lot about something you probably have never heard about.,
This review is from: Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943 (Hardcover)I was fascinated by the contents and highly recommend the book. Photos I had not seen before and I am an amateur WWII history buff.
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably the best history book I've read,
This review is from: Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943 (Hardcover)I enjoyed the detail the author put into the book. I have over forty books on the 8th Army Air Corps and this rates at the top!
Buy it, if you really enjoy history this is for you.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for History buffs,
This review is from: Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943 (Kindle Edition)Would recommend this reading any time. Great author, fact based. Only problem is that the graphs are NOT clear in the Kindle app.
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Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943 by Keith Lowe (Hardcover - June 5, 2007)
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