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[Home] [Articles and Misc] [Pforzheim 23 February 1945]

Operation – Pforzheim – 23 February 1945.

Firestorm - Civilian casualties 17600 +

Pforzheim,_Royal_Air_Force_Bomber_Command,_1942-1945_C5083

A report compiled for RAF Bomber Command dated 28 June 1944, stated that Pforzheim, a town in a south west backwater of Germany, was "one of the centres of the German jewellery and watch making trade and is therefore likely to have become of considerable importance to the production of precision instruments of use in the war effort." An Allied report issued in August 1944 stated that "almost every house in this town centre is a small workshop" and that there were a few larger factories in the south and one in the north of the city centre. An attack on the city would destroy the "built-up area, the associated industries and rail facilities". It was clear however there were no war crucial targets in the town.

In November 1944 Pforzheim for the first time placed a target list of the Allied Bombers but with the lowest priority of category five. In that report the city was described as being suitable for a raid because the road and rail communications through the easily spotted old town which was known to be of a highly flammable nature.

By late February WW2 was drawing to its inevitable close with the Germans in full retreat on every front. It does therefore seem quite mystifying why it was thought necessary to bomb Pforzheim on this scale at all.

During the latter stages of WW2, Pforzheim was bombed several times. The largest raid, one of the most devastating area attacks of the war, was carried out by the RAF Bomber Command on the evening of the 23 February 1945.

The first Allied air raid on Pforzheim took place on 1 April 1944 when an attack by USAAF bombers caused comparatively minor damage and killed 95 people. Further attacks by the USAAF followed, the largest on 24 December. Another on 21 January 1945 caused 56 casualties.

The RAF also carried out several night time nuisance raids on Pforzheim with Mosquito bombers. These raids, consisting of around six Mosquitos, forced the German night fighters to respond. They also helped confuse the German defences, diverting resources away from the main force attack. These nuisance raids drove civilians into shelters and disturbed their sleep.

The large raid that destroyed the inner district occurred on the evening of 23 February 1945. The first bombs were dropped at 19:50 and the last one at 20:12. The attack on "Yellowfin", the RAF's code name for Pforzheim, was made by 379 aircraft.

The main force bombers were 367 Lancasters of 1, 6, and 8 Groups along with one Film Unit Lancaster, and 13 Mosquitos of 8 Group (Pathfinders).

The bomber stream attacked from a height of 8,000 feet with a standard load of high explosive and incendiary bombs. The town centre suffered immediate destruction and a firestorm ensued  reaching its peak in about 10 minutes. The smoke over the town rose to about 10000 ft and the returning bomber crews could still see the glare of the fire up to 100 miles away.

Twelve aircraft of the bomber force did not return to their bases. Eleven of them were shot down by German fighters and another was thought to have been hit by friendly bombs.

After the devastating air raid of 23 February 1945 there were smaller air raids on Pforzheim. On the  4 March USAAF B-24 bombers attacked the area around Kupferhammer. The USAAF also made several attacks on railway targets in and around Pforzheim in March and on the 14 March the autobahn at Pforzheim was bombed.

In early April the French finally managed to captured Pforzheim.

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The German Army Report of February 24, 1945 devoted only two lines to reporting the bombardment:- "In the early evening hours of February 23, a large British attack was directed at Pforzheim". The post-war British Bombing Survey Unit estimated that 83 per cent of the town's built-up area was destroyed, "probably the greatest proportion in one raid during the war". In the centre, almost 90% of the buildings were destroyed.

In an area about 2 miles long and 1 mile wide all buildings were reduced to rubble. 17,600 citizens were officially counted as dead and thousands were injured. People died from the immediate impact of explosions, from burns due to burning incendiary materials that seeped through basement windows into the cellars of houses where they hid, from poisonous gases, lack of oxygen, and collapsing walls of houses. Some of them drowned in the Enz or Nagold rivers into which they had jumped while trying to escape from the burning incendiary materials in the streets but even the rivers were burning as the phosphorus floated on the water.

After the attack, about 30,000 people had to be fed by makeshift public kitchens because their housing had been destroyed. Many Pforzheim citizens were buried in common graves at Pforzheim's main cemetery because they could not be identified. There are many graves of complete families. The labour office of 1942 listed 2,980 foreigners in Pforzheim, and one source puts the number of foreign labourers who died in the bombings at 498. The inner city districts were almost totally depopulated. According to the State Statistics Bureau in the Market Square area in 1939 there were 4,112 registered inhabitants, in 1945 none. In the Old Town area in 1939 there were 5,109 inhabitants, in 1945 only 2 persons were still living there. In the Leopold Square area in 1939 there were 4,416 inhabitants, in 1945 only 13.

Some surviving Allied aircrew were killed after they fell into the hands of German civilians. Four weeks after the Pforzheim main raid, the British crew of a B-17 bailed out near Pforzheim where they were captured, and six of them were shot at the nearby village of Huchenfeld. One member managed to escape but was later recaptured and taken to a POW camp.

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576 Squadron.

23 February 45 Pforzheim – Germany - Night. 15 aircraft detailed. They flew down England under the cloud base at 1100 ft and climbed to 3500 ft over the French coast to the target. No further cloud was encountered. Downward visibility was hampered by slight ground haze otherwise conditions were very good. Only slight cloud over the Channel was encountered on return.

PFF opened the attack promptly with red TIs followed by long sticks of illuminating flares and kept the larger area marked with red and green TIs. The marking is reported as being accurate and concentrated, the only difficulty experienced being due to the markers being obscured by the smoke from the bombing.

The Master Bomber had the attack well under control and seemed quiet satisfied with the results. Fires were seen from 100 miles away on the return journey.

Flak in the target area consisted of a very mixed barrage between 7000 ft and 10000 ft. 2 aircraft were seen to go down in the target area apparently due to fighter attack.

2 of our aircraft had combats – F/L Leyton-Brown ( N2 ) claims to have destroyed a Ju88 which dived away and exploded after the exchange of fire. F/O O'Neill in T2 was fired on by a Ju88 and sustained damage to the port mainplane. The rear gunner returned fire and claimed hits on the fighter.

All aircraft returned from this operation.

Training – 3 bombing exercises, 2 air to sea exercises and 2 air tests.

Compiled by David Fell

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