“We live like in hell!”: what did the inhabitants of Berlin tell about the Soviet bombing in 1941

“We live like in hell!”: what did the inhabitants of Berlin tell about the Soviet bombing in 1941

In August 1941, when the Soviet Union was still recovering from the German blitzkrieg, and Britain was no longer thinking about confronting the Germans away from their native shores, Berlin was unexpectedly bombed. This was a real shock to the Nazi elite.

An unexpected decision

In July 1941, Reich Minister of the Luftwaffe Hermann Goering convinced Hitler that Soviet aviation was almost completely destroyed and did not pose a danger to the German army, and even more so not a single enemy aircraft would reach the capital of the Third Reich. These words reassured both the Fuhrer and the Berliners. The city lived a peaceful life: restaurants, cafes, theaters, sports clubs worked here: the townspeople seemed to have forgotten that a bloody war was going on less than a thousand kilometers to the east.

On the night of August 7-8, 1941, Berlin had to remember the war: the city was rocked by explosions of high-explosive bombs. The next morning, German newspapers blamed British aircraft for the bombing of Berlin, reporting that 150 British aircraft managed to break through to the city, while the German air defense forces managed to shoot down 6 aircraft, among civilians were killed and wounded. In London, they were perplexed: “The German message about the bombing of Berlin is interesting and mysterious, since on August 7-8 British aircraft did not rise from their airfields due to adverse weather conditions.” The British will make their next air raid on the German capital only on November 7, 1941. Then German intelligence had to admit that Soviet bombers took part in the air strike on Berlin.

The idea of ​​an attack on Berlin among the military of the Soviet Baltic Fleet arose during bombing operations against the Luftwaffe Pillau base in East Prussia (now the fort-citadel in the city of Baltiysk, Kaliningrad region). The first who proposed to transfer the bombardment to the German capital was Lieutenant General Semyon Zhavoronkov, Commander of the Air Force of the Navy. This initiative reached Admiral Nikolai Kuznetsov, who headed the USSR Navy. Later, he recalled that at first there were serious doubts about the possibility of reaching the German capital, but, after weighing all the pros and cons, they decided that if, after an air raid, they returned to one of the airfields of the Moonsund archipelago, then there are chances. The idea was reported to Stalin. He, without thinking twice, issued an approving verdict. And the very next day, the 1st mine-torpedo aviation regiment of the 8th air brigade of the Air Force of the Baltic Fleet was ordered to bomb Berlin.

lulled by propaganda

They decided to take off from the Cahul airfield on Ezel Island (now the Estonian island of Saaremaa) – this was the westernmost point that Soviet troops could control, although in fact it was located behind enemy lines. Pilots of the 1st mine-torpedo regiment of the Air Force under the command of Colonel Evgeny Preobrazhensky moved there in early August.

Soviet crews had to fly about 1800 kilometers to the German capital and back, most of the way lay over the Baltic Sea. The thread of the route: Esel – the island of Rügen – the confluence of the Warta and Oder rivers – Berlin. It was clear to everyone that during daylight hours it would not be possible to fly up to the capital of the Reich unnoticed: the slow and clumsy long-range Il-4 bombers risked falling under enemy anti-aircraft fire long before Berlin. There was no alternative to the night air raid.

On August 7, at 9 pm, fifteen Soviet bombers, equipped not only with aerial bombs, but also with propaganda leaflets (the so-called “campaign ammunition”), flew out on a combat mission. The flagship machine was driven by Colonel Preobrazhensky himself. The flight, which took place in the radio silence mode, demanded the utmost synchronism of actions from the pilots: any inaccuracy could lead to catastrophic consequences. The crews, in order to be out of reach of air defense and enemy fighters, moved at an altitude of 7 kilometers, where the air temperature dropped to -40 degrees Celsius: in these conditions, not only the cockpit windows, but also the headset goggles were covered with frost, and the pilots were forced to wear oxygen masks .

On approaching Berlin, an Il-4 squadron was discovered by an enemy radar, but the Germans, who were in captivity of their own propaganda, convincing everyone of the defeat of the Red Army aviation, did not even suspect something was wrong. They mistook the Soviet bombers for their own and invited them to land on one of the nearest airfields. Having received no answer, the enemy completely lost interest in the squadron, moving straight into the heart of the Reich. The Germans woke up only after the first bombs fell on Berlin.

It turned out that the German command, convinced of the invulnerability of Berlin, did not take care of the blackout. Illuminated by thousands of lights, the city was visible at a glance. According to the recollections of soviet pilots, even such details as the arcs of moving trams sparkling under the wires were visible. But now Berlin flares up even more – these are fires caused by explosions of 250-kilogram FAB-100 bombs dropped on military-industrial facilities. Only five of soviet aircraft bombed over Berlin – the remaining ten were forced to drop their ammunition over the port city of Stettin, due to the small supply of fuel.

German air defense came to its senses when the Soviet bombers went back on course. It can be considered a miracle that only one car got from the heavy fire of German anti-aircraft guns – the plane under the command of Alexander Kurban, which nevertheless managed to reach its territory. None of soviet pilots was injured during this most difficult combat operation.

“Live like hell”

Soviet bombers returned from the mission only on the morning of August 8, and an hour later a report from the Sovinformburo came out, in which Soviet citizens were informed of the successful completion of the mission to bombard Berlin. From that moment on, the life of the Berliners ceased to be calm and measured: now they looked anxiously into the sky at any noise of the engine, waiting for the next air raid, and in case of danger they were ready to rush into the bomb shelter. And new air strikes on Berlin were not long in coming.

Several letters have survived to this day, where ordinary Berliners shared their feelings about this. In one of them, a certain Annie wrote to the front to her husband Ernest that the war with Russia was costing them dearly: Germany had already lost several hundred thousand of its citizens in a little more than a month of the war and provoked retaliatory bombardments by Soviet aircraft that “shaken Berlin.” “Despite the assurances of the authorities, everyone knows that on the night of August 8, Berlin was bombed not by the British, but by the Russians, who were avenging Moscow,” wrote Annie.

The wife of a German soldier lamented: “Why did you contact the Russians? Couldn’t you have found something quieter? … We are all like in hell. She admitted that after the first bombing, people stopped sleeping peacefully, it was especially difficult for those who worked in factories or lived near them, since the main bombing hit there. Annie expressed fear that by the time her letter reached her, she might no longer be alive.

Another resident of Berlin, Louise, wrote to her fiancé: “My dear Heinrich! … We are sitting in cellars. Bombs explode here. Many factories have been destroyed. We are so exhausted and tired that we wake up only at the moment of bomb explosions. Yesterday, from half past eleven until half past two, the pilots were in charge. Whose? … we went to the bomb shelter. They said they were Russian pilots. We felt very bad.”

Louise admitted that since the first bombing she was afraid of the night, “we have an air raid alert every night, sometimes two or three times a night. We can clearly hear the Russians flying over our heads. They drop a lot of bombs. What will happen to us, Heinrich?

Some of these letters fell into the hands of the Soviet military. The above-mentioned Air Force Colonel Yevgeny Preobrazhensky, having familiarized himself with some of them, said: “It is good that German wives and brides write the truth to their husbands and grooms at the front. The German soldiers will know that their barbaric actions against the Soviet people will not go unpunished.”

Berlin got it

The German command rather painfully survived the first bombardment of Berlin by Soviet aircraft. The reaction was not long in coming. On August 12, 1941, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of Staff of the Wehrmacht High Command, ordered the leadership of Army Group North to liquidate the USSR naval bases in the Baltic Sea as soon as possible and, most importantly, to destroy enemy airfields on the islands of Dago and Ezel.

Admiral Nikolai Kuznetsov noted in his memoirs that others soon followed the first raid on Berlin, but it was more and more difficult to carry them out each time, since the German command installed a complex air defense system that began to operate immediately after crossing the coastline of enemy territory. According to the military, one had to go to some tricks to get through dangerous areas, but the main trump card of domestic bombers was still a high altitude: “night fighters with special powerful headlights were no longer so scary, and anti-aircraft guns were not so terrible either” .

The pilots of the Baltic Fleet managed to make 7 more raids on the German capital – the last one took place on the night of September 4, 1941. In total, 86 sorties were carried out during this period, of which 33 achieved their goals – they dropped bombs on Berlin. The rest of the crews, for various reasons, had to bombard alternate targets – Stettin, Danzig, Libau, Kolberg, Vindam, Memel. In total, 311 air bombs fell on Berlin, which led to the emergence of 32 fires. The losses of the air group of Colonel Evgeny Preobrazhensky amounted to 18 bombers and 7 crews.

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