Bombing the Ruhr Valley: “The Smithy of the German Reich”

Mission Photo Album

The "secret assembly plant" Powell finds along the Siegfried Line.

The “secret assembly plant” Powell finds along the Siegfried Line.

As Lt. Mike Powell heads towards the fictional Fort Schmerzen, he’s asked to infiltrate a “secret assembly plant and weapons stockpile” inside a Siegfried Line fortification and disrupt the production and resupply of the StG 44.

Col. Stanley Hargrove tells Powell that Allied bombing of the Ruhr Valley has hurt the German military, but that production of certain weapons had been moved to unknown locations. Now that Powell has found one, he needs to sneak in, steal some blueprints and the latest version of the assault rifle, then blow up the rest and escape to continue his main mission.

While the Ruhr Valley was certainly the most important industrial center in Germany during World War II, it was not the center of production for the StG 44, and even if the factories building the weapon had been bombed, it wouldn’t have made sense to move production to the Siegfried Line.

The Ruhr Valley, or as it’s known locally, Ruhrgebiet, is the largest urbanized area in Germany and is comprised of several large industrial cities. It’s bordered by the Ruhr river to the south, the Rhine to the west, the Lippe river to the north, and the town of Hamm is considered the easternmost point.

A map showing the location of the Ruhr Valley and the linear distances to the cities where the StG 44 was manufactured during World War II.

A map showing the location of the Ruhr Valley and the linear distances to the cities where the StG 44 was manufactured during World War II.

Hamm is also 144 miles (233 kilometers) northwest of Suhl, where 240,000 StG 44’s were built by C.G. Haenel and J.P Sauer & Sohn during the war. The remaining 184,000 assault rifles were built in Erfurt – 146 miles (236 kilometers) to the east, and in Steyr, Austria – 387 miles (623 kilometers) to the southeast.

While it’s doubtful that the bombing of the Ruhr affected the production of the StG 44, there’s no doubt that it affected the production of other weapons and military technology.

Fueled by numerous coal mines, irrigated by a number of major rivers, and reinforced by a burgeoning steel industry after the Industrial Revolution, the valley was (and still is) home to a number of major German manufacturers.

Krupp, a steel company, had a massive complex in Essen, the Ruhr Valley’s central city, and Rheinmetall, a weapons manufacturer, was based in Düsseldorf (not technically in the valley, but part of the same industrial complex), to name two of the most prominent businesses in the area.

The westernmost point of the region is just east of the northern section of the Siegfried Line, but it’s still about 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of Fort Schmerzen’s approximate location.

According to Volume II of “New Zealanders with the Royal Air Force” by Wing Commander H.L. Thompson, Air Marshal and Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber CommandSir Arthur Harris, considered the Ruhr Valley his top objective.

Thompson says the Allied Chiefs of Staff wanted “the progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial and economic system,” and the valley was “of vital importance to the German war machine.”

The area had been targeted from the outset, as bombers remained the only means of directly attacking Germany, but little damage had been done prior to January 1943, partially due to the heavy smog covering the heavily-industrialized area.

“The accuracy of the early bombing had been greatly overestimated,” Thompson says. “Economic intelligence had been seriously at fault, and the ability of the Germans to counter the bombing raids and to repair damage was not fully appreciated.”

Thompson notes that in 1943, more than 600,000 men staffed the anti-aircraft defenses throughout Germany, a number that grew to more than one million in 1944. By the summer of 1943, more than one-third of Germany’s anti-aircraft guns were assigned to protect the Ruhr Valley.

A quad-barreled FlaKvierling 38 with its seven-man crew. Photo from the German Federal Archive.

Anti-aircraft weapons like this Flakvierling 38, shown here with its full seven-man crew, protected Germany from Allied air attacks. Photo from the German Federal Archive.

Consequently, anti-aircraft guns (like the 20 mm FlaK – the most common WWII German artillery piece) made up an increasingly large percentage of the country’s weapon production.

On Jan. 9, 1943, the RAF tested a new pathfinding technology for bombers, dubbed “Oboe” for its tones’ similarity to those of the musical instrument.

Using this technology, which used radio signals to guide single planes to a selected target, the RAF bombed Essen, home to Krupp and the center of the region’s mining industry, dropping 60 percent of its bombs within three miles of the city’s center – a percentage three times higher than its previous record, Thompson says.

This and a number of subsequent actions preceded the Battle of the Ruhr, a five-month strategic bombing campaign led by the RAF against the valley’s coke plants, steelworks and synthetic oil facilities, during which 42,348 tons of bombs were dropped, 15,504 sorties (missions by single aircraft) were flown, and 718 Allied aircraft were lost (mainly due to German night fighters).

Thompson says that “from the middle of March to the end of July the attack on the Ruhr was pressed with the greatest vigour, all the chief industrial areas being attacked in turn.”

British bombers bomb Essen during a daylight attack on Oct. 25, 1944.

British bombers bomb the Krupp factory in Essen, Germany during a daylight attack on Oct. 25, 1944.

According to the Bomber Command campaign diary, the first raid was launched on the night of March 5, 1943, when 442 aircraft attacked Essen, destroying 160 acres of the city and damaging 53 Krupp buildings. Krupp was further damaged a week later when 457 aircraft attacked.

On the night of April 26, 561 aircraft attacked Duisburg, the world’s largest inland port, and destroyed more than 300 buildings, with an observer noting that the port caught fire and looked “like a cauldron bubbling with angry molten metal.”

Two major German dams were breached as part of Operation Chastise on the night of May 16, but their production was restored by September.

On the night of May 23, 826 aircraft dropped 2,000 tons of bombs in an hour on Dortmund, where the Hoesch steelworks “ceased production.”

Near the end of the battle, on the night of July 25, Essen was bombed again, dealing Krupp a critical blow. Thompson says Joseph Goebbels, the German propaganda minister, wrote in his diary on July 28 that this raid “caused a complete stoppage of production in the Krupps works. (Minister of Armaments and War Production Albert) Speer is much concerned and worried.”

About 15,000 people were killed on the ground over the course of this campaign, mostly foreign slave laborers, prisoners of war, and concentration camp inmates who had been forced to work in the factories. About 5,000 RAF airmen died.

The cities of Bochum, Dortmund, Duisburg, Essen, GelsenkirchenMülheim, and Oberhausen were considered primary targets and heavily damaged.

KrefeldMünster, Remschied, and Wuppertal were not heavily-industrialized cities, but were bombed because of their importance to manufacturing and transportation.

Cologne, like Düsseldorf, was not technically in the valley, but was bombed as part of this campaign.

Thompson says that although factories were repaired quickly, some never resumed work, including Krupp’s locomotive factory, which, at the time, was of equal importance to the German military as those building aircraft, tanks, and submarines.

He adds that although 83 percent of Allied bombs fell on Europe after Jan. 1, 1944, German industry hadn’t been fully-mobilized until then,

According to Alan J. Levine’s book “The Strategic Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945,” a second “Battle of the Ruhr” took place over the last three months of 1944, finally collapsing the region’s industry and wrecking its transportation system, which prevented the valley’s coal from being delivered to other German cities.

Levine says these final attacks completely decimated the area and caused destruction “not far short of what might have been seen in a nuclear war.”

~ by John on December 15, 2014.

One Response to “Bombing the Ruhr Valley: “The Smithy of the German Reich””

  1. Reblogged this on John Does Stuff and commented:

    In my most recent Medal of Honor: Allied Assault mission, the mission briefing appeared to indicate that the bombing of the Ruhr Valley in 1943 and 1944 somehow disrupted the production of the StG 44.

    I decided to look into it and found out that it probably didn’t, but I did learn a lot about the Allied bombing attacks on Germany and how they affected German industry and civilians.

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