No. 275  NAI DFA 219/4

Confidential report from William Warnock to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

BERLIN, 24 March 1943

I have now had the opportunity to see almost all the districts affected by the last big air-raid on Berlin, which took place on the 1st March. The areas most affected were Tempelhof, Lankwitz, Lichterfelde, and Steglitz, in the southern part of the city; Dahlem and Zehlendorf in the south-west; Wilmersdorf, Schöneberg, and Grunewald in the west. Bombs also fell in the central area, notably in the Leipziger Strasse, and near the Tiergarten Station, less than ten minutes' walk from the Legation. No bombs were dropped over the eastern part of the city, and few fell in the northern part. I have not seen any of the other bombed cities, so I have no standard of comparison, but certainly the amount of damage done was enormous.

The official announcements give the number of civilians killed at almost 500; rumour gives the figure as 800, and the number of families left homeless as 15,000. It must be remembered that comparatively few people here have separate houses, and that most people live in flats. The average house is four storeys high, so that the number of persons living in each house is usually large. Some of the scenes which I have witnessed, such as that presenting itself at the Prager Platz, are heart-rending. All the houses around the Prager Platz, which is a purely residential district, have been completely destroyed, either by fire or from the force of the explosions; the same thing is to be seen in dozens of other places. Only the charred outer walls remain of the Hedwigskirche, the Catholic Cathedral.

There were, of course, some military objectives, such as factories and railway-lines, amongst the places hit; they were for the most part in the south of the city. As usual, however, they represent only a small proportion of the damage done. There was a strong breeze blowing, which made it very difficult to control the flames. The most important lesson learned by the civil defence forces was that there is little chance of saving a house unless the inhabitants get to work at once themselves, as the fire brigade is helpless in a highly concentrated raid where hundreds of thousands of incendiary bombs are dropped within a short space of time.

Naturally enough, the raid made a profound impression on the population and still forms the main subject of conversation. Apart from the appalling loss of life and property, there was another incident, small in itself, which has caused much sorrow and apprehension amongst parents; six members of the new organisation of Air Force Assistants, a body compulsorily recruited from boys over sixteen and under regular military age, were killed at their posts in an anti-aircraft battery. The fact that boys all over the country had been called up for auxiliary service with the Air Force had already caused considerable anxiety, and now the general uneasiness has increased.

The population of Berlin used to comfort itself with the thought that so long as London is left in peace, the British would not attack Berlin. This illusion has been rudely shattered.

Across the road from our Legation is the former Yugoslav Legation, now used by the German Government as a guest house for distinguished visitors. The guest house has a reinforced under-ground cellar, said to be absolutely safe, and the Foreign Office has informed me that I may take refuge there in the event of a heavy raid. Our own cellar is better than most, as it was recently strengthened by the owner of the property, but it is not proof against a direct hit. The invitation to take advantage of the security offered by the cellar in the guest-house has also been extended to my neighbours, the Nuncio and the Hungarian, Danish and Slovak Ministers, but the Slovak Minister has declined the invitation on the grounds that he does not wish to be in a more favourable position than his staff. I am rather doubtful whether I shall ever go across myself, as, if our own house were hit by an incendiary bomb, I would have no chance of saving anything of the office property or of my personal belongings if I were not on the spot at once.

Air raids on Berlin used to be few and far between, and, until recently, none of them were taken very seriously; after the experience of the last raid, however, they will be taken in a quite different spirit in the future, because it is obvious that the British 'mean business'.

[signed] W. WARNOCK

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