Inferno, The Devastation of Hamburg 1943

Written by Keith Lowe
Review by Ann Oughton

In the summer of 1943 British and American bombers launched an attack on the German city of Hamburg. For ten days the city was pounded with 9,000 tons of bombs; the fires they created burned for a month and were visible for 200 miles. A devastation with a loss of life that was on the scale of the death toll of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, and yet today the event has been almost forgotten by the collective consciousness.

Leaflets warning of the impending air strike were dropped days before, but the people of Hamburg believed that they were well prepared and the British and Americans would want to preserve buildings and positions that might prove useful to them like the harbour. Hamburg had not seen any bombing since 1940, and whatever happened it surely could not be too bad.

The use of eyewitness accounts from the bombers and the bombed brings home to the reader the full extent of human suffering and gives a balanced account of both sides. The British and Americans thought, erroneously, that such all-out air strikes would hasten an end to the war, but the survivors of Operation Gomorrah were resilient and the war was eventually won by slow fighting across land.

Inferno is the first exploration of the Hamburg firestorm for almost thirty years; it is a well researched, well written account of the human face of war.