Year
1943

Operation Gomorrah is launched

On this day in 1943, British bombers raid Hamburg, Germany, by night in Operation Gomorrah, while Americans bomb it by day in its own “Blitz Week.”

Britain had suffered the deaths of 167 civilians as a result of German bombing raids in July. Now the tables were going to turn. The evening of July 24 saw British aircraft drop 2,300 tons of incendiary bombs on Hamburg in just a few hours. The explosive power was the equivalent of what German bombers had dropped on London in their five most destructive raids. More than 1,500 German civilians were killed in that first British raid.

Britain lost only 12 aircraft in this raid (791 flew), thanks to a new radar-jamming device called “Window,” which consisted of strips of aluminum foil dropped by the bombers en route to their target. These Window strips confused German radar, which mistook the strips for dozens and dozens of aircraft, diverting them from the trajectory of the actual bombers.

To make matters worse for Germany, the U.S. Eighth Air Force began a more comprehensive bombing run of northern Germany, which included two raids on Hamburg during daylight hours.

British attacks on Hamburg continued until November of that year. Although the percentage of British bombers lost increased with each raid as the Germans became more adept at distinguishing between Window diversions and actual bombers, Operation Gomorrah proved devastating to Hamburg—not to mention German morale. When it was over, 17,000 bomber sorties dropped more than 9,000 tons of explosives, killing more than 30,000 people and destroying 280,000 buildings, including industrial and munitions plants. The effect on Hitler, too, was significant. He refused to visit the burned-out cities, as the ruins bespoke nothing but the end of the war for him. Diary entries of high German officials from this period describe a similar despair, as they sought to come to terms with defeat.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Mormons settle Salt Lake Valley

After 17 months and many miles of travel, Brigham Young leads 148 Mormon pioneers into Utah’s Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Gazing over the parched earth of the remote location, Young declared, “This is the place,” and the pioneers began preparations for the thousands of Mormon ...read more

Mary Queen of Scots deposed

During her imprisonment at Lochleven Castle in Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots is forced to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old son, later crowned King James VI of Scotland. In 1542, while just six days old, Mary ascended to the Scottish throne upon the death of her father, King ...read more

Kennedy’s goal accomplished

At 12:51 EDT, Apollo 11, the U.S. spacecraft that had taken the first astronauts to the surface of the moon, safely returns to Earth. The American effort to send astronauts to the moon had its origins in a famous appeal President John F. Kennedy made to a special joint session of ...read more

Machu Picchu discovered

On July 24, 1911, American archeologist Hiram Bingham gets his first look at Machu Picchu, an ancient Inca settlement in Peru that is now one of the world’s top tourist destinations. Tucked away in the rocky countryside northwest of Cuzco, Machu Picchu is believed to have been a ...read more

Lance Armstrong wins seventh Tour de France

On this day in 2005, American cyclist Lance Armstrong wins a record-setting seventh consecutive Tour de France and retires from the sport. After Armstrong survived testicular cancer, his rise to cycling greatness inspired cancer patients and fans around the world and ...read more

Hundreds drown in Eastland disaster

On this day in 1915, the steamer Eastland overturns in the Chicago River, drowning between 800 and 850 of its passengers who were heading to a picnic. The disaster was caused by serious problems with the boat’s design, which were known but never remedied. The Eastland was owned ...read more

Battle of Kernstown, Virginia

Confederate General Jubal Early defeats Union troops under General George Crook to keep the Shenandoah Valley clear of Yankees. On June 13, 1864, General Robert E. Lee sent Early north from Petersburg to clear the Shenandoah of Union troops and relieve pressure on his own ...read more

Hancock scolds Schuyler

Schuyler was likely ill-prepared to deal with the diversity of enlisted men under his command, coming mainly from the lower ranks of society. They were brought together only by their common desire to defeat the British. He himself had a much different background as the product ...read more