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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Baedeker Raids

23 April to 3 May and 31 May to 6 June 1942

Theatre: Home Front
Location: England
Players: Britain: Air Marshal Arthur Harris's RAF Bomber Command. Germany: Luftwaffe Luftflotte 3 (Fliegerführer Atlantik).
Outcome: The destruction of over 50,000 buildings in five historic towns.

'We shall go out and bomb every building in Britain marked with three stars in the Baedeker Guide.' - Baron Gustav Braun von Sturm, 24 April 1942

Air Marshal Arthur Harris was appointed Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Bomber Command on 22 February 1942. Harris believed in bombing as a means of fighting and even winning the war; his preferred focus was to attack enemy 'morale' by targeting cities rather than specific industrial objectives.

On the night of 28 March, a 234 bomber raid against the Baltic port of Lübeck dropped high explosives and incendiaries on Lübeck's Old Town, largely composed of wooden buildings. The bombing and the subsequent fires caused 1,000 deaths and massive destruction.

Hitler, incensed, ordered reprisal raids against historic British towns. The first, against Exeter, took place on 23 April 1942, with 25 bombers causing widespread damage and 70 deaths.

The next day, Nazi propagandist Baron Gustav Braun von Sturm claimed that the Luftwaffe would work its way through the Baedeker tourist guide. That night Exeter was hit again; there were raids on Bath, York and Norwich over the next five nights, and a third raid on Exeter on 3 May.

Thousands of buildings were destroyed, including York's Guildhall and the Bath Assembly Rooms. The Baedeker tactic was briefly resumed after Bomber Command's devastating attack on Cologne on 30 May; three successive raids on Canterbury caused extensive damage to its medieval centre, but missed the Cathedral.

While the Baedeker Raids caused much damage and loss of life, they also served to demonstrate the relative weakness of the Luftwaffe as a bombing force.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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