London, England January 2, 1945

In the 19th century the Bavarian city of Nuremberg, long associ­ated with ginger­bread, sau­sages, hand­made toys, and Christ­kindl­maerkte (Christ­mas markets), had become an impor­tant indus­trial center with com­panies such as engi­neering and manu­fac­turing giants Siemens and MAN. Both firms con­tri­buted mightily to Germany’s war effort—Sie­mens by pro­ducing every­thing from com­muni­cations equip­ment to elec­trical and mechan­ical compo­nents for U‑boats, air­craft, and V‑1 and V‑2 rockets. Nurem­berg’s MAN pro­duced 40 per­cent of all Panther medium tanks built by Nazi Ger­many. MAN also supplied diesel engines for submarines and artillery of every description. Altogether, the city was home to over 120 armament firms.

The Royal Air Force Bomber Command had long had Nurem­berg in its bomb­sights. On August 10, 1943, the RAF dropped 1,500 tons of bombs on the city and another 1,500 tons on August 27, leaving over 4,000 dead at a cost of 49 Allied bombers. The next year, on the moon­lit night of March 30/31, 1944, Bomber Com­mand dispatched an armada of 795 air­craft, which Ger­man radar picked up at the Belgian border. Nearly 12 per­cent of Bomber Com­mand’s air fleet was lost during the raid, shot down or crash landed on its way back to home bases; more than 700 crew­men went missing, as many as 545 of them dead, more in that one night than during the entire Battle of Brit­ain. More than 160 air­men became pri­soners of war. It was the heaviest loss in men and equip­ment in the entire Allied stra­tegic bombing campaign of Germany, with little to show for it.

While few of Nuremberg’s military targets were damaged in air cam­paigns in 1943 and 1944, the Anglo-Amer­ican air forces resorted to increasing attacks on the city’s residen­tial areas starting in 1945. On this date, Janu­ary 2, 1945, Nurem­berg’s medi­eval Alt­stadt (old town) was system­at­ically destroyed by 521 RAF bombers. Over 6,000 “block­buster” high-explosive bombs and over a mil­lion fire­bombs were dropped on the heart of the city. Roughly 90 per­cent of the city’s center (29,500 homes) was reduced to ashes, killing 1,800 resi­dents, wounding 5,000, and dis­placing some 100,000. Not included in the casu­alty toll were Soviet POWs, who were located in camps between the rail­way classi­fi­cation (mar­shalling) yard and the MAN factory. Allied “terror fliers,” as the Germans called them, returned the next month in the form of 2,396 U.S. B‑17s and B‑24s. Because cloud cover over Nurem­berg on Febru­ary 20 and 21, 1945, pre­vented pre­ci­sion bombing of mili­tary tar­gets, the bom­bardiers dropped their pay­loads willy-nilly over the whole of the city, killing over 1,300 more residents and rendering another 70,000 homeless.

Nuremberg, January 2, 1945: Near-Perfect Example of Saturation Bombing

View from Nuremberg center to KaiserburgDestroyed Nuremberg marshaling yard

Left: Nuremberg, scene of so many disappoint­ments for RAF Bomber Com­mand in 1943 and 1944, finally suc­cumbed on Janu­ary 2, 1945. The center of the city, partic­u­larly the eastern half, was destroyed. The his­toric imperial for­tress (Kaiser­burg), the Rat­haus (city hall), almost all the churches (including three cen­turies-old Gothic churches, St. Lorenz, St. Mary’s [Frauen­kirche], and St. Sebal­dus), and about 2,000 pre­served medi­eval houses went up in flames. Photo looking north from Nurem­berg center toward the Kaiser­burg. Helga Lades, a teenage survi­vor of one night’s bombing, emerged from her family’s apart­ment cellar to find a direct hit had cut their home in two. The city’s sil­houette “was charred and jagged from gaping wounds the bombs had repeatedly inflicted. . . . People wandered the streets trying to collect them­selves, family mem­bers, and what­ever measures of provi­sion they could find. It was chaotic. Children cried. Women cried. Men cried. Grief fell on the city like a weighty cloak that could not be shaken off.” Quoted in Helga Lades Allison with Kathleen Jones, Because of Whose I Am: A Nazi’s Daughter, p. 72.

Right: The area of destruction also extended into the more modern north­eastern and southern city areas. The indus­trial area in the south, con­taining the impor­tant Siemens and MAN fac­tories, and the rail­way areas (shown here) were also severely damaged. Over four hundred separate industrial buildings were destroyed.

Nuremberg in the summer of 1945Bomb damage seen from Nuremberg’s Castle Hill

Left: Nuremberg in the summer of 1945. In the dis­tance is St. Mary’s Church (Frauen­kirche). Behind the destroyed buildings is the Haupt­markt, the main mar­ket. Nurem­berg, parti­cu­larly its Alt­stadt, had a large pro­por­tion of half-tim­bered houses with high wood con­tent, making the buildings highly com­bus­tible and attrac­tive to an air attack by Allied bombers using a com­bi­nation of high explosives and incendiary bombs.

Right: View of Nuremberg bomb damage from the Castle Hill (Kaiser­burg). After Cologne, Dort­mund, and Kas­sel, Nurem­berg had the largest amount of rubble per capi­ta: half of all resi­dences in the city were de­stroyed and those that remained for the pop­u­la­tion of 195,000 (half its pre­war popu­la­tion) were mostly damaged. Despite this intense degree of destruction, the city was rebuilt after the war and was to some extent, restored to its pre­war appear­ance, including the recon­struction of some of its medi­eval buildings. However, the biggest part of the historic old imperial city was lost forever.

Nuremberg Then (1945) and Now (2017)