Take-off of a Lancaster on 23/24 May 1943 for an attack on Dortmund (Imperial War Museum, London)
With a heavy attack on the Ruhr main city Essen in the night of March 5/6, 1943, the RAF Bomber Command started an air offensive against the Rhine-Ruhr area, which was to last four months. Until mid-July 1943 nearly all larger cities in this region were almost continuously bombed.
Only the city Hagen in the south of the Ruhr remained the summer 1943 without damage. This city was destroyed on October 1, 1943 by one British area attack. But in August 1943 Dortmund, Bochum, Essen, Mülheim, Duisburg, Cologne, Wuppertal and many other cities were only ruins.
In May and June 1943 the "Battle of the Ruhr" increased. In two attacks on the city of Wuppertal more than 6,000 people lost their lives. In an attack on Cologne in the night of June 28/29, 1943, c. 4,500 people died. The attack on Wuppertal in the night of 29/30 May, 1943, caused the first example of a firestorm in the small streets of this city.
The German fireworkers were not able to fight against these great fires - other examples of extreme firestorms as an result of Bomber Command area raids were caused in Hamburg (July 27/28, 1943: c. 40,000 death), Pforzheim (February 23/24, 1945: c. 17,000 death) and Dresden (February 13/14, 1945: c. 25,000 death).
All in all, over 15,000 people were killed in the "Battle of the Ruhr". Among them were numerous foreign slave laborers, prisoners of war, an inmates of concentration camps, who worked in the industrial plants in the Ruhr cities and town. But the RAF Bomber Command suffered losses too. More than 5,000 airmen lost their lives in "Ruhr raids" between March and July 1943.
Map of targets in the Battle of the Ruhr, March-July 1943 (300 kb)
The damage in the cities and towns in Rhine-Ruhr region was immense. For example, an air raid on Dortmund in the night of May 4/5, 1943, within hours destroyed almost the whole city center with its medieval historical monuments. However, the great damages in the armaments factories were largely repaired by the fall of 1943.
But the German Air Force and the large defence of Anti-Aircraft batteries were not able to defenced the Rhine-Ruhr area. Like the lost "Battle of Stalingrad" against the Sowjet army in January 1943, the "Battle of the Ruhr" had showed that the German Reich was on the way to lost the war.
The Dambusters raid
The destroyed dam of the Möhne, 17 May 1943
In a special operation in the night of May 16/17, 1943, the Bomber Command also carried out an attack on the reservoirs in the Sauerland, the hilly country to the south of the Valley of the Ruhr - the Dambuster sraid (Operation Chastise). The main targets were the dams of the Möhne, Sorpe and Eder as well as the Ennepe and Lister.
In the course of this mission the important Möhne and Eder dams were destroyed. The gigantic flood in the Ruhr valley killed over 1,600 people in that night, mostly slave worker from Russia in the town of Neheim-Husten in the near the confluence of the Möhne into the Ruhr. By the destruction of the Eder dam about 70 persons were killed.
First American air raids
Crew of a B-17 after the attack on Marl, 22 June 1944 (National Archives, College Park)
On March 4, 1943, 19 B-17 Flying Fortress</zitat" of the 91rd Bombardment Group (8th USAAF) made the first attack on a target deeply into German. This day the American 8th USAAF bombarded the marshalling yard Hamm in the east Ruhr district. Approximately 150 civilians found death.
On 22 June 1943 the synthetic rubber works in Hüls, near Marl was attacked by American bombers. More than 180 workers and Inhabitant of the surrounding housing developments were killed. To year end 1943 the 8th USAAF undertook repeated attacks on synthetic oil plants, coking plants, and different targets in the Rhine-Ruhr area.