The bombing of Rotterdam

After the swift capitulation of Denmark and Norway, it was assumed by the Wehrmacht that the low countries would be easy to defeat. Whilst Belgium and the Netherlands stood no chance of victory in the long run, the Dutch Army showed surprising resiliance against the German invaders and fought tenaciously. It was this resistance that partly explains the decision to bomb the civilians of Rotterdam. The Dutch Government had already decided to surrender, realising that there was little prospect of anything other than mass civilian casualties if the fighting persisted and this has raised questions about the decision to bomb the city for decades. In the memoirs of several German officers following the end of the war, it seems clear that miscommunication between the ground and air forces was partly responsible for the failure to call off the bombing, once it was known that the Dutch authorities were prepared to surrender the city. Two wings of bombers flew over Rotterdam, one turned back when seeing red flares lit by the Wehrmacht, the other carried on with the attack, missing the signal in the columns of rising smoke. The attack killed over 900 civilians and echoed on a far more limited scale the bombing of Warsaw and later the bombing of British, Greek, Yugoslav and Russian cities. Paris would be spared the destruction that Hitler had planned, perhaps to ease the creation of a collaborationist Vichy ally.

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