Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg 1943. By Keith Lowe. New York: Scribner, 2007. Maps. Photographs. Notes. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xv, 431. $30.00 ISBN: 978-0-7432-6900-1
Keith Lowe, a sometime novelist, is a history editor for a major London publisher. Inferno illustrates those qualities in this painstaking study of Operation Gomorrah, the combined Anglo-American firestorm devastatingly unleashed in consecutive raids in late July and early August 1943.
Hamburg was long a port with strong ties to both Britain and the United States. It was not a rabid Nazi city, nor was it a great industrial center, though it had its share of war industry. What made it an attractive target of total war was its identifiable location on the river Elbe and its flammability. Though its inhabitants and government had stripped it of much of its woodwork, its very construction made it highly vulnerable to incendiaries. Moreover, for night bombers, the physical features meant that radar could identify the aiming points.
To arguments that the firing of Hamburg was terror bombing, Prime Minister Churchill had responded that for the summer of 1940 the Luftwaffe had saturate-bombed--in Hitler's word, "Coventrien" British cities, or at least attempted to do so. Ironically it was beam navigation that had pinpointed these targets. In the case of Hamburg, it was not just "beams" (H2S radar) that guided the Pathfinders, but also the PM's sanctioning of the use of "window" to "snow" the German defenses that played a vital part in the success. But as Lowe shows, the Luftwaffe...