Bombing of Vienna in World War II


Bombing of Vienna in World War II

The city of Vienna in Austria was bombed fifty-two times during World War II.

The beginning of the raids

Until 1944, Vienna was out of reach of British long-range bombers, which is why it was often referred to as the “Reich's Air Raid Shelter”. Only after the Allied invasion of Italy was the city within the reach of the American bomber flotillas that had their main base in Foggia.

The first air raid on Vienna took place on 17 March 1944. The primary goal of the raid was to halt fuel production in the Floridsdorf refinery and to mine the Danube waterway.

In June 1944, following the Normandy Invasion the greater part of the German Air Force ("Luftwaffe") was transferred to the West. Yet American and British air forces were to take their worst losses during this period. This was because the remaining "Luftwaffe" forces around Vienna were few in number but the pilots were very well trained. As a result, one tenth of 550 bombers were shot down.

The air defences of Vienna were aided by a ring of anti-aircraft batteries set up around the city and three pairs of so-called Flak towers. these were large anti-aircraft gun blockhouses built right in the city. Due to the increasing lack of fuel, by autumn 1944, artillery on the ground was the only defence against air raids. It typically took some 5,000 small calibre and 3,400 large calibre shells to bring down one bomber. During the day, one out of 125 planes was shot down on average. During the night, this dropped to only one out of 145. However, roughly one third of the bombers and escorts suffered heavy damage.

Tactics and effects

Until the end of the war, British and American forces did not find a consensus about the ways of attacking. The Royal Air Force staged their raids mostly during the night time when the risks of losses from anti-aircraft fire and German fighter planes were lower but on the other hand conditions for precise strikes were worse. British planes did not fly in strict formation and every crew had to find and hit its target by itself. The United States Army Air Force, though, flying in strict formation and accompanied by fighter planes to fend off enemy aircraft attacks, mostly attacked by daylight to strike with more precision. Bombs were dropped on command by the formation leader. Since the forces alternated their times of attacking, this resulted in “around-the-clock-bombing” as raids occurred at any time of the day.

Unlike some German cities, such as Dresden, there was almost no area bombing but the attacks had tactical reasons. To a certain degree, though, the effects of the raids were overestimated, because some factories were moved to bomb-proof sites such as caves (e.g. the Seegrotte near Hinterbrühl) or hidden in other ways. The military industry even boosted its production, also by use of forced labour of concentration camp inmates and POWs. Only fuel production came to a virtual standstill, as refineries could not easily be transferred and the transportation of crude oil on the Danube was no longer possible. For traffic junctions, bypasses had been established well before the bombings started. So traffic was hindered but did not come to a halt until the very last days of the war.

Early 1945

By early 1945 Vienna had already faced 1800 bombs. In February and March 1945, 80,000 tons of bombs were dropped by US and British aircraft, killing about 30,000 people and destroying more than 12,000 buildings. The city was being starved of electricity, gas and water. 270,000 people were left homeless.

12 March 1945

On 12 March 1945 (the anniversary of the "Anschluss"), the biggest air raid on the territory of what is now Austria took place with 747 bombers and 229 fighter planes. The main target, the Floridsdorf refinery, took no severe hits. Instead there was heavy damage in the centre of the city which is only 15 flight seconds away from Floridsdorf. The Vienna State Opera was burnt in the raid. All decorations and 150,000 costumes were destroyed. The Burgtheater, too, was hit and burnt and there was heavy damage of the Albertina, the Heinrichshof (on Ringstraße) and the Messepalast (Trade Fair Palace). Worst of all, the Philipphof (a block of apartments opposite to the Albertina and the State Opera House) collapsed, burying some 200 people who had sought shelter from the raid in its cellars. Most of the victims have never been unearthed and there has not been another building set up on the site. Instead, the Mahnmal gegen Krieg und Faschismus (Memorial against War and Fascism) by Alfred Hrdlicka has been erected there.

t. Stephen's Cathedral

St. Stephen's Cathedral escaped damage for most of World War II. This lasted until 11 April 1945. This is the date when looters set fire to neighborhood shops and sparks ignited the roof of the cathedral.

In the resulting inferno, a large portion of the upper sacristy, the southern Heidenturm, the groin vault of the choir, and windows in the West facade were severely damaged. The 1100 pound Pummerin, the largest church bell in Austria, was destroyed, along with a famous organ built in 1886 by the organbuilding Walcker dynasty. Only the clapper of the bell survived.

On 12 April, just one day later, 22-ton bombs shattered on the floor of the church.

Attack on the Tiergarten Schönbrunn

In mid-March 1945, 300 bombs were dropped on the Tiergarten Schönbrunn, the world's oldest zoo. 2,000 animals out of 3,500 died including a bull rhino, a favourite of the zoo-keepers.

Trivia

* The Schwarzenberg Palace with its famous treasures and works of art, was bombed but later rebuilt.

* Overall 87,000 houses of the city were lost (20% of the entire city). Only 41 civilian vehicles survived the raids.

* More than 3,000 bomb craters were counted.

* The Lipizzan horses of the Spanish Riding School, a breed raised for dressage, were transported out of Vienna and did not return until 1955.

ee also

* Vienna Offensive


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