Geoff Walden


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Schweinfurt, Part 2

Bombing Damage to the City

   In April 1945, after more than 20 bombing attacks in 18 months, much of the city of Schweinfurt was left in ruins. Although only the ball bearing factories had actually been targeted, collateral damage to the city center and surrounding areas was severe. Over half of the houses in Schweinfurt were left uninhabitable. During the war, the city's population dropped by 50 percent due to departing refugees.

 

The Marktplatz (city square) as seen from the tower of the Rathaus (city hall).
A postcard view from 1943, before the first bombings. (author's collection)

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Workers repair damages in the Marktplatz following the first bombing attack on 17 August 1943. The Rathaus is to the right. The building in the center distance (on the street corner) is the birth house of Schweinfurt's most famous native, the poet Friedrich Rückert.  (Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

 

The east side of the Marktplatz as seen from the Rathaus tower, sometime in 1944. Note how the roofing tiles have been blown off the roofs - the preferred bombing technique for residential buildings was to first drop high-explosive bombs to blow off the roofing, then drop incendiary bombs to set fire to the exposed wooden structures. Compare this view of the ruins to the pre-war Marktplatz views in Part 7(Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

 

East side of the Marktplatz, in ruins and in a modern view. This bombed building was only rebuilt to its original height in 2005 (the rebuilt structure shows in the first modern photo of the Marktplatz at the top of the page).  (Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

 

Looking down Spitalstraße after an attack, with buildings on the Marktplatz on fire. The tower of the Heilig-Geist-Kirche (Church of the Holy Spirit) appears in the distance in this view taken from the Rathaus tower.  (Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

 

Kesslergasse, a quaint street in the old town area, leading off the Marktplatz, was left in ruins.  (Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

 

Much of Rückertstraße, leading east off the Marktplatz, was destroyed.  (Städtische Sammlungen Schweinfurt)

 

Ruined houses on Fischerrain, near the Main River. Most were rebuilt to approximate their original appearance, but the street was widened on the left side.  (Städtische Sammlungen Schweinfurt)

 

Wolfgasse, looking toward the Roßmarkt. Many of the streets were blocked by rubble to all but pedestrian traffic.  (Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

 

The area around the Zeughaus (old arsenal, built 1591) was largely destroyed. Only the Zeughaus itself remains relatively unchanged today. (The tower seen on the left side in the period photo was not part of the Zeughaus but was actually attached to a building behind the Zeughaus, no longer standing.) This photo was taken on the same spot as that just above, by the photographer turning 90 degrees to his left.  (Städtische Sammlungen Schweinfurt)

 

Damage along Neutorstraße was so severe that the post-war rebuilding in this area left only the small kiosk at the right edge of the photo recognizable today.  (Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

 

Closer to the ball bearing factory areas, houses along both sides of Luitpoldstraße burn after a bombing attack.  (Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

 

Buildings along Cramerstraße, across from the VKF-1 factory, were substantially destroyed during the war.  (Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

 

The area around the main train station suffered heavily due to its proximity to the factories. This view looks down Hauptbahnhofstraße toward the station, which burns in the distance. Only the small building just left of center in the period photo remains. The larger house was later destroyed, and not rebuilt. The postwar headquarters building of FAG-Kugelfischer appears in the right distance.  (Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

 


 

Most of the wartime rubble clearing was done by women, the so-called Trümmerfrauen (rubble women - the photo on the left above does not show Schweinfurt, but is representative). After the war, a series of narrow-gauge railways was built in the city to facilitate the removal of the rubble to a collection point on clear ground near the Kugelfischer factory ruins. This rubble was piled into a hill that is now a city park, the Schuttberg. The monument seen below, on the Schuttberg, commemorates the rebuilding of the city. Occasionally, fragments of the bombs themselves can be found in the area, like the one on the right below.  (above left - Imperial War Museum, London; above right - Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt; below right - author's collection)

 

Not only Schweinfurt itself suffered damage, but several surrounding villages did as well. The town of Oberndorf suffered particularly due to its unfortunate position relative to the bearing factory area. As the lead bomber, coming in from the southwest, released its bombs over the target, the following bombers released their own, causing many to fall just short of the factory area into Oberndorf itself. These photos show an old farm building that shows reconstruction after wartime damage. This is in the town of Ettleben, southwest of Schweinfurt. Ettleben did not suffer from bombing attacks on Schweinfurt, but from direct fire, artillery, and fighter-bomber attacks during the second week of April 1945, as the U.S. Army advanced on Schweinfurt. Ettleben was the location of a large Flak Battery that stood in the line of advance, and fired on the U.S. forces until it ran out of ammunition. During the three-day battle, much of the town of Ettleben itself was destroyed.

 


Memorials to the Bombing Victims

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Local Nazi officials conduct a memorial ceremony in the city cemetery (Friedhof) in 1944, in one of the sections reserved for victims of the bombing attacks. The large banner displays the German runic symbol for death. This part of the Friedhof, between Sections 32 and 36, still holds the graves of bombing victims, 1943-45. Other bombing victims were buried in Sections 9 and 17.  (Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

 

The grave markers often tell a graphic tale of multiple family members killed in the same attack. The Bardolf family lost three members on 14 October 1943, while a young woman and two young children of the Bickel family were all killed on 31 October 1944.

 

Monument in the Schweinfurt city cemetery, over a mass grave containing the bodies of 142 citizens who died in the bombing attacks from 1943-1945.
"Black Thursday" was the day of highest casualties for the Allies, but the most costly attack to Schweinfurt civilians was the combined 8th Air Force and RAF attacks
on 24-25 February 1944, during which some 700 aircraft dropped some 3500 high explosive bombs and 33,000 incendiary bombs, killing 362 civilians - a third of the total
for the war (1079). Many of these victims were French and Russian prisoners of war, forced to work in the ball bearing factories to take the places of German men who were serving at the front.

 

I wish to acknowledge the kind assistance of the staff of the Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt provided during my photo research there; and to express my thanks to Oberbürgermeisterin (Mayor) Gudrun Grieser for permission to photograph from inside the Rathaus tower.

 

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This page initially uploaded on 20 July 2000.


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