Paperback: Inferno, by Keith Lowe

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In the last week of July 1943, Allied bombers killed 45,000 people in Hamburg, a city of 1.6 million. This was equal to the number of UK civilians killed by bombing during the whole of the Second World War. In this enthralling, impressively researched book, Lowe reveals the manifold ironies of an onslaught that could be "accurately compared to Hiroshima". We learn that Hamburg had maintained close links with England since the establishment of the Hanseatic League in the 13th century. Though Hitler saw Hamburg as central to the war effort, its citizens remained notably unenthusiastic. Following the deluge of 9,000 tons of Allied bombs, most falling on close-packed tenements, Goebbels expressed his delight that the city was at last learning to hate the English. Lowe uses the graphic accounts of survivors to convey the horror of the bombing and the consequent firestorm. The UK government claimed that U-boat yards were targeted, but our bombers went "exclusively for the residential areas" because it was much more difficult to destroy factories than people who worked in them. While acknowledging our debt of gratitude to the Allied airmen, Lowe expresses profound doubts about this rationale. He concludes that the "innate pacifism" of modern Germany's is "perhaps the most single lasting effect of the bombing war"