Until 1944, Vienna was out of reach of British long-range bombers, which is why it was often referred to as the Reich's Air Raid Shelter. Only after the Allied invasion of Italy was the city within the reach of the American bomber flotillas that had their main base in Foggia.
The first air raid on Vienna took place on 17 March 1944. The primary goal of the raid was to halt fuel production in the Floridsdorf refinery and to mine the Danube waterway.
In June 1944, following the Normandy Invasion the greater part of the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) was transferred to the West. Yet American and British air forces were to take their worst losses during this period. This was because the remaining Luftwaffe forces around Vienna were few in number but the pilots were very well trained. As a result, one tenth of 550 bombers were shot down.
The air defences of Vienna were aided by a ring of anti-aircraft batteriesset up around the city and three pairs of so-called Flak towers. these were large anti-aircraft gun blockhouses built right in the city. Due to the increasing lack of fuel, by autumn 1944, artillery on the ground was the only defence against air raids. It typically took some 5,000 small calibre and 3,400 large calibre shells to bring down one bomber. During the day, one out of 125 planes was shot down on average. During the night, this dropped to only one out of 145. However, roughly one third of the bombers and escorts suffered heavy damage.
This mission would have made a double mission if we would have returned. It was Friday the 13th of October 1944, a day I will never forget. The target for the day was Vienna, Austria with maximum effort of 6 squadrons of 7 aircraft each to make a group effort of 42 airplanes. We had the number 2 place in the squadron which put us in front. But, on takeoff the left fuel cell in the wing funneled the fuel out as the cap was not secured properly, so we aborted and landed. The standby plane was all ready and waiting so we unloaded, taking our flak vests with us to the standby aircraft. After we boarded, we noted the plane had a set of vests aboard, but we kept all these plus the ones we wore. We laid the other set on the floor for extra safety from flak. When we returned to the squadron we took the seventh place in the flight, known as Tailend-Charley, and we were off to our target. The aircraft was named Our Gal serial number 44-41152, Model J.
We had cloud cover under us most of the way, which helped in some ways, but we had to keep a sharp eye for fighters coming out of the clouds. As we came near the IP, the turning point to the target, the sky was clear over the target, which also gave the Jerrys a clear target. The flak was very heavy 88mm, 105mm and 155mm. Although we flew at different altitudes, 20,000 feet and up, we were flying at about 24,000 feet and there was so much flak that it rattled the aircraft continually. Whatever happened to number three of our squadron, we do not know, as the aircraft slid back and on bomb release dropped its bombs onto the number six aircraft. The explosion off our right wing was terrific. As I picked myself off the floor I put on my parachute.
After putting on my parachute, I noted the damage, a large hole in the right side of the aircraft just forward of where I was standing manning the waist gun. Also the number three engine was windmilling out of control and was sitting cocked in the cowling, which caused a lot of drag. About this same time, shells (155mm) went through the Bombay without exploding, leaving the fuel to soak the four of us in the rear with 100 octane fuel. We were sure that we had bought the end. Eddie-Joe put on his goggles and watched for a signal from the skipper while sitting in a spray of fuel. Next was a fire in number one engine and then on to number two engine. When the tail section started to melt, we got Lenny out of his turret and about the same time Eddie-Joe gave the signal to abandon the aircraft.
We had opened the hatch earlier, just in case of an urgent bailout. We were ready with our parachutes on and checked and had agreed on the order we would go out. I was designated first to go out and dropped out. I free fell about 5,000 feet and pulled my parachute ring. The parachute snapped out and a buckle on the straps hit me in the mouth, breaking a tooth off at gum line. The few minutes that I was riding the parachute down I saw the rest of the crew down the line and, as I neared the ground, I saw farm workers running to about where I would land. Landing in a cornfield, I gathered my parachute up and stuck it into a corn shock and sat down to put on my shoes. When flying I wore heated shoes with flight boots to keep my feet warm. But just in case, I had wired a pair of shoes to a snap-ring on the seat ring of my harness. As I unwired my shoes and was putting them on, the field workers came. They ran by at first but then a fellow with a double barrel shotgun came and laid it on my nose. The language barrier was there and I thought this would be it. I got up and was given my parachute and boots to carry and marched off toward a small hamlet with old double barrel jabbing me in the back. It appeared that he was quite provoked at us because we were terror-fligers. Part way I met the bombardier assigned to our crew for this mission, Vern Drower. The uniformed military took us on into the village and I was glad to get rid of shotgun.
Tactics and effects
Until the end of the war, British and American forces did not find a consensus about the ways of attacking. The Royal Air Force staged their raids mostly during the night time when the risks of losses from anti-aircraft fire and German fighter planes were lower but on the other hand conditions for precise strikes were worse. British planes did not fly in strict formation and every crew had to find and hit its target by itself. The United States Army Air Force, though, flying in strict formation and accompanied by fighter planes to fend off enemy aircraft attacks, mostly attacked by daylight to blow their strikes with more precision. Bombs were dropped on command by the formation leader. Since the forces did not agree on their tactics of attacking, this resulted in Around-the-clock-bombing as raids occurred at any time of the day.
Unlike some German cities, such as Dresden, there was almost no area bombing but the attacks had tactical reasons. To a certain degree, though, the effects of the raids were overestimated, because some factories were moved to bomb-proof sites such as caves (e.g. the Seegrotte near Hinterbruhl) or hidden in other ways. The military industry even boosted its production, also by use of forced labour of concentration camp inmates and POWs. Only fuel production came to a virtual standstill, as refineries could not easily be transferred and the transportation of crude oil on the Danube was no longer possible. For traffic junctions, bypasses had been established well before the bombings started. So traffic was hindered but did not come to a halt until the very last days of the war.
By early 1945 Vienna had already faced 1800 bombs. In February and March 1945, 80,000 tons of bombs were dropped by US and British aircraft, killing about 30,000 people and destroying more than 12,000 buildings. The city was being starved of electricity, gas and water. 270,000 people were left homeless.
12 March 1945
On 12 March 1945 (the anniversary of the "Anschluss"), the biggest air raid on the territory of what is now Austria took place with 747 bombers and 229 fighter planes. The main target, the Floridsdorf refinery, took no severe hits. Instead there was heavy damage in the centre of the city which is only 15 flight seconds away from Floridsdorf. The Vienna State Opera was burnt in the raid. All decorations and 150,000 costumes were destroyed. The Burgtheater, too, was hit and burnt and there was heavy damage of the Albertina, the Heinrichshof (on Ringstrasse) and the Messepalast (Trade Fair Palace). Worst of all, the Philipphof (a block of appartements opposite to the Albertina and the State Opera House) collapsed, burying some 200 people who had sought shelter from the raid in its cellars. Most of the victims have never been unearthed and there has not been another building set up on the site. Instead, the Mahnmal gegen Krieg und Faschismus (Memorial against War and Fascim) by Alfred Hrdlicka has been erected there.
St. Stephen's Cathedral
St. Stephen's Cathedral escaped damage for most of World War II. This lasted until 11 April 1945. This is the date when looters set fire to neighborhood shops and sparks ignited the roof of the cathedral.
In the resulting inferno, a large portion of the upper sacristy, the southern Heidenturm, the groin vault of the choir, and windows in the West facade were severely damaged. The 1100 pound Pummerin, the largest church bell in Austria, was destroyed, along with a famous organ built in 1886 by the organbuilding Walcker dynasty. Only the clapper of the bell survived.
On 12 April, just one day later, 22-ton bombs shattered on the floor of the church.