The Baedeker Blitz or Baedeker Raids were a series of attacks by the German air force on English cities in response to the bombing of Lübeck on the 28/29th March 1942.
Hitler was furious with the Lübeck raid, an anger compounded by the RAF's bombing of historic Rostock shortly afterwards.
(The RAF carried out raids on four consecutive nights from the 23rd April 1942.)
British barbarians: historic monuments in Rostock bombarded ......ran the headline in the Völkischer Beobachter.
The first of the Luftwaffe's attacks was made against Exeter on two consecutive nights beginning on the 23rd April 1942. Whether Exeter or Bath (on the 25th/26th April) knew that these were retaliatory raids is open to question.
On Sunday 26th April 1942, Hitler made a speech to the Reichstag in the Kroll Opera House, where, in somewhat veiled terms, he warned that reprisal attacks were on their way.
The Kroll Opera House was the meeting place for the Reichstag following the fire of 27th February 1933.
(Photo credit: Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
Hitler's speech contained the following paragraphs.........
"But if in England the idea should prevail of carrying on air warfare against the civilian population with new methods, then I should like right now to state the following to the whole world: Mr. Churchill began this warfare in May, 1940."
"May this man (Churchill) not again wail and whimper if I am now forced to give a response that will bring much suffering to his own people. From now on, I will retaliate blow for blow until this criminal falls and his work dies."
The reference to "May 1940" is explained here.
Hitler speaks in the Kroll Opera House.....this image from a speech made one year earlier.
(photo credit: Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
The next day, following Hitler's speech, Goebbels writes, "Following Rostock, I now consider it absolutely essential that we continue our rigorous reprisal raids.........like the English, we must attack centres of culture, especially such as have little anti-aircraft".
Goebbels planned to have leaflets showing the damage to Lübeck and Rostock printed and dropped over future British targets with the words, "reprisals are coming".
He expected, "quite a psychological effect from this stunt."
No leaflets of this nature have ever come to light so it is unlikely that the plan went ahead.
The adjective "Baedeker," which was later added to the name of these raids, derives from a comment by Baron Gustav Braun von Stumm who was a "stand in" spokesman for the German Foreign Office.
On the 27th April (when the four raids on Exeter and Bath had already taken place) he said at a Press Conference for Foreign Correspondents, "We shall go out and bomb every building in Britain marked with three stars in the Baedeker Guide."
The cover of an English language version of the Baedeker guide.
Stumm's off-the-cuff remark effectively admitted the Luftwaffe targets were chosen for their cultural or historical significance, rather than for any military value.
The comment was widely reported and Goebbels was furious. He was keen to brand British attacks as “terror bombing” and equally keen to describe German efforts as “retaliatory measures”.
He wrote in his diary that he has, "censured this gentleman in the sharpest terms and taken measures for preventing the repetition of such folly."
The Baedeker guide open at the Exeter page.
The chosen British cities, being cultural centres, would all have appeared in the Baedeker guide. Whether the Luftwaffe planners used the guide to produce their target list is not known.
The first British usage of the term "Baedeker" was by the Daily Mail on the 29th April 1942 following the raid on Norwich the night before.
The main raids referred to as the "Baedeker Raids/Blitz" were:
Exeter............23/24 April 1942
Exeter.............24/25 April 1942
Bath................25/26 April 1942
Bath................26/27 April 1942
Norwich..........27/28 April 1942
York...............28/29 April 1942
Exeter.............3/4 May 1942
Norwich..........8/9 May 1942
Canterbury.....31 May 1942
Canterbury.....2 June 1942
Canterbury.....6 June 1942
In the above raids, 1637 civilians were killed,1760 injured and over 50,000 houses destroyed (these figures are likely to be close approximations to the actual losses).
Other targets hit during this "Baedeker" period were:
Bury St Edmunds
"Then and Now" in Norwich
More of these superb "then & now" images created by Nick J Stone can be viewed by clicking the link (page opens in a new window).
An attack on Canterbury on the 31st October 1942 brought the Baedeker Raids (and significant Luftwaffe operations for this year) to an end.
In total, thirty five different locations were bombed.
Great Yarmouth after a bombing raid.
(photo credit: Jack Harrison.....Great Yarmouth website).