The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940–1945 by Jörg Friedrich; Inferno: The Devastation of Hamburg, 1943 by Keith Lowe - review by Richard Overy

Richard Overy

‘Are We Beasts?’

The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940–1945


Columbia University Press 532pp £21.95

Inferno: The Devastation of Hamburg, 1943


Viking 489pp £25

‘Are we beasts?’ asked Winston Churchill one night in 1943 after watching a film of the bomb damage done to Germany. The question was probably rhetorical: Churchill had authorised the bombing campaign from its puny beginnings in 1940 to the massive Combined Offensive launched with the American air forces in the last two years of war. His language was always intemperate and flowery – ‘extermination’, ‘annihilation’ and so on. Did he mean it? Did the British military machine set out deliberately in the Second World War on a path to the genocide of the German people?

This issue lies at the heart of Jörg Friedrich’s searing account of the bombing of around 150 German cities between 1940 and 1945. In Germany his book sold half-a-million copies. He is the first German historian to expose in remorseless, almost unreadable detail just what the millions of tons of

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