This was the British bombing of Leipzig (3/4 December 1943).
During World War II, Leipzig was attacked on many occasions by British night and US day bombers, and of these the most severe was 'Haddock' (ii) by Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris’s RAF Bomber Command during the night of 3/4 December 1943, which claimed between 1,800 and 6,600 lives according to different sources. Large parts of the city centre were destroyed, and the city’s factories experienced temporary production shortfalls, had to move, or were decentralised into larger number of smaller facilities.
On the outbreak of the war, Leipzig had more than 700,000 inhabitants, and was thus the sixth largest city of the enlarged Germany including Austria after the Anschluss of March 1938. Among the city’s many important war industries was the Erla Maschinenwerk, which produced Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters at factories located in the Heiterblick, Abtnaundorf and Mockau areas of the city. Leipzig was also an important railway nexus intersection.
Before 1942 Leipzig had been considered relatively safe from air attack as a result of its considerable distance from the UK. But after the attack on Kassel on 22/23 October 1943, it became clear that British bombers now had the range to reach targets in central Germany.
On the night of 2/3 December 1943, 458 British night bombers were despatched against Berlin, but the German Flak and night-fighter arms were well prepared and the British lost 40 bombers the Royal Air Force once again attacked Berlin.
On the next night, Leipzig was the British objective. RAF Bomber Command despatched 527 aircraft (307 Avro Lancaster and 220 Handley Page Halifax heavy bombers) along a route specifically planned to confuse the German night defences about the target for as long as possible. The bomber force took another direct route towards Berlin before turning off to bomb Leipzig. German night-fighters managed to enter the bomber stream and were achieving victories before the turn was made but most of them were then directed to Berlin when a diversion by nine de Havilland Mosquito light bombers arrived over the German capital. There were few night-fighters over Leipzig, and it is believed that only three bombers were over the target area, two of them being shot down by Flak. A relatively successful raid, from the point of view of bomber casualties, was spoiled when many aircraft flew by mistake into the Frankfurt defended area on the long southern withdrawal route and more than half of the bombers shot down on this night were lost there. The total British losses were 24 aircraft (15 Halifax and nine Lancaster machines), representing 4.6% of the attacking force.
The Pathfinder bombers found and marked this distant inland target accurately and the bombing was the most successful raid on Leipzig during the war. A large area of housing and many industrial premises were severely damaged. One place which was hit by a large number of bombs was the former World Fair exhibition site, whose spacious buildings had been converted into war factories, the largest of then for the Junkers aircraft company.
The route the bombers flew crossed the European coast over the Zuiderzee, continued to the east over northern Germany toward Berlin, and then turned to the south as the bombers overflew Brandenburg. Between 03.50 and 04.25, 442 bombers dropped a almost 1,400 tons of HE and incendiary weapons. At 03.39 the air raid warning had been sounded, and the all-clear followed at 05.39. In the city centre, where the buildings were densely crowded, the air raid caused a firestorm. Hans Rumpf, the inspector general of fire-fighting, happened to be in Leipzig during the attack, and later reported that the firestorm was still more intense than that raised in Hamburg by 'Gomorrah'.
Firefighters had to be called from the area round Leipzig as half of the Leipzig city’s firefighters had been despatched Berlin. These summoned forces were often not able to fight the flames as their hoses did not fit the custom-made connections with the hydrants in Leipzig, of which only 30% had been standardised. Moreover, the water supply quickly broke down.
In the city centre many historical buildings fell victim to the attack, as too did 1,067 commercial buildings, 472 factory buildings, 56 schools, 29 fair buildings and nine churches; 58 of the University of Leipzig’s 92 departments were hit and partially destroyed.
The British official history quotes Leipzig city records as giving a figure of 1,182 people killed, but a German local police report compiled a week after the raid quoted figures of 614 persons killed and 464 injured.
During the so-called 'Big Week', Leipzig was one of the first German targets attacked by British and US bombers. Between 03.15 and 04.20 on 20 February 1944 residential areas in the city’s south (Connewitz) as well as residential and industrial areas in its south-west (Schleussig and Grosszschocher) were hit. During this night raid more than 700 bombers, which dropped about 2300 tons of bombs, were used. In the afternoon of the same day, more than 200 bombers of the US 8th Army Air Force attacked industrial facilities in the north-eastern part of the city, using about 700 tons of bombs.
About 970 people died, most of them during the British night raid. During the following day raid some of the bombed factories were damaged severely, among them the Erla Maschinenwerk factory in Heiterblick, of which 65% was destroyed. Its production had not entirely recovered by May 1944, but other bombed factories were once more working at full capacity.
In May 1944 more than 15,000 buildings were hit. Among them, more than 4,000 were destroyed completely, more than 1,000 heavily damaged and more than 10,000 slightly damaged. According to a preliminary official report from 30 December 1943, the regions which were mainly hit were the ring around the inner city, the directly adjacent areas to the west, north and east, as well as all the southern suburbs. The adjacent areas to the north and east were slightly affected, whereas no damage occurred in the outer west, south-west and north-west. About 140,000 people were left homeless.
On 23 February 1945, Leipzig received two major bombing attacks, one by the British and the other by the Americans.