The Baedeker Raids or Baedeker Bombings took place between April and June 1942. The Baedeker bombing raids on old historic English cities were named after the Baedeker travel guidebooks that the Germans used to identify their targets, which were three-starred, i.e. worth visiting, old English cities.
On March 28th 1942, Bomber Command attacked the city of Lűbeck. A great deal of damage was done to the most historic part of the city known as the ‘Old Town’. In total, over 1,000 people were killed and the ‘Old Town’, which was primarily made up of old wooden buildings, was all-but destroyed by incendiary bombs. Hitler was incensed and ordered retaliatory raids against similar targets.
Just under a month later, on April 23rd, Exeter was the first of these cities to be attacked. A great deal of the city was damaged and 70 people were killed. On the following day, Baron Gustav Braun von Sturm stated that:
“'We shall go out and bomb every building in Britain marked with three stars in the Baedeker Guide.”
The task was given to Luftflotte 3.
Exeter was bombed again that evening. Exeter was attacked for the third time on May 3rd.
Between April 24th and April 29th, Bath (April 25th and 26th), York (April 28th) and Norwich (April 27th and 29th) were bombed. Following Bomber Command’s ‘1000 Bomber’ raid on Cologne, the Luftwaffe targeted Canterbury, which was bombed on three occasions with the city suffering major destruction (May 31st, June 2nd and June 6th).
The attack on Bath resulted in 417 deaths with over 19,000 buildings being destroyed or damaged.
In total, 1,637 civilians were killed with 1,760 injured. Over 50,000 homes were destroyed or damaged. Some famous historic buildings were destroyed, such as the Guildhall in York, but many were not and as such the Luftwaffe failed in its aim – which was to hit hard cities that were quintessentially ‘English’ – old-timbered homes in a city dominated by a cathedral. The destruction of Canterbury Cathedral would have been a blow to British morale – but it was barely touched by any of the raids.
Luftflotte 3 paid a heavy price after being tasked for these raids. Many of its bombers were shot down. What the raids also highlighted was how ineffective these raids were in terms of the impact they had. Morale in the five historic cities did not break down.
In reality the last attack on Canterbury was the last of the Baedeker raids. However, a few Luftwaffe fighter aircraft did make hit-and-run attacks on historic towns on the Kent coast and in East Anglia. These were invariably small-scale as the aircraft involved could not carry large amounts of bombs. The worst of these raids was on Deal in Kent when over 30 people were killed.