Sometimes, in researching weapons of war, and especially during World War II, I am shocked and horribly saddened by the ability of man to impose new and horrific means of death upon their enemies…simply because they disagree about how things should be run. During World War II, and possibly earlier, the killing method of Carpet bombing, also known as saturation bombing, came into practice. Carpet bombing is just what you would expect, “a large area bombardment done in a progressive manner to inflict damage in every part of a selected area of land.” Instantly, a picture of multiple explosions, the destruction of large areas of a town, or the entire town, come to mind. Mass casualties are expected. This is the way war is waged when hate reigns, but then most wars these days or even in the World War II era were filled with hate.
In the European Theatre, the first city to suffer heavily from aerial bombardment was Warsaw, on September 25, 1939. Achieving the results they wanted, the Germans continued this trend in warfare with the Rotterdam Blitz…an aerial bombardment of Rotterdam by 90 bombers of the German Air Force on May 14, 1940, during the German invasion of the Netherlands. The objective was to support the German assault on the city, break Dutch resistance, and force the Dutch to surrender. So in the middle of a ceasefire, they dropped the bombs anyway, destroying almost the entire historic city center, killing nearly nine hundred civilians and leaving 30,000 people homeless. That was still not enough for the Nazis. The Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL) used the destructive success of the bombing to threaten to destroy the city of Utrecht, if the Dutch government did not surrender. The Dutch surrendered early the next morning.
With the actions of the Nazis, the British knew that they had to act. The Battle of Britain developed from a fight for air supremacy into the strategic and aerial bombing of London, Coventry and other British cities. The British built up the RAF Bomber Command in retaliation for the bombings, which was capable of delivering many thousands of tons of bombs onto a single target, in spite of heavy initial bomber casualties in 1940. The plan was to break German morale and obtain the surrender which Douhet had predicted 15 years earlier. Then the United States joined the war and the USAAF greatly reinforced the campaign, bringing in the Eighth Air Force into the European Theatre.
Still, that meant that the Allies would have to play the same game the Nazis had played. Many cities, both large and small, were virtually destroyed by Allied bombing. Cologne, Berlin, Hamburg and Dresden are among the most infamous, the latter two developing firestorms. I suppose the Germans finally found out what their own horrific tactics had done. Carpet bombing was also used as close air support (as “flying artillery”) for ground operations. The massive bombing was concentrated in a narrow and shallow area of the front (a few kilometers by a few hundred meters deep), closely coordinated with the advance of friendly troops. The first successful use of the technique was on May 6, 1943, at the end of the Tunisia Campaign. Carried out under Sir Arthur Tedder, it was hailed by the press as Tedder’s bomb-carpet (or Tedder’s carpet). The bombing was concentrated in a four by three-mile area, preparing the way for the First Army. This tactic was later used in many cases in the Normandy Campaign.
Carpet bombing was used extensively against Japanese civilian population centers, such as Tokyo, in the Pacific War. On the night of March, 9-10, 1945, 334 B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers were directed to attack the most heavily populated civilian sectors of Tokyo. Over 100,000 people burned to death in just one night from a heavy bombardment of incendiary bombs, comparable to the wartime number of US casualties in the entire Pacific theater. Another 100,000 to one million Japanese were left homeless. Similar attacks against Kobe, Osaka, and Nagoya, as well as other sectors of Tokyo followed, where over 9,373 tons of incendiary bombs were dropped on civilian and military targets. By the time of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, light and medium bombers were being directed to bomb targets of convenience, because most urban areas had already been destroyed. In the 9-month long civilian bombing campaign, over 400,000 Japanese civilians died.
Carpet bombing of cities, towns, villages, or other areas containing a concentration of civilians is considered a war crime as of Article 51 of the 1977 Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions. Sometimes, that might make the nations think twice, but some nations, like the German Third Reich, think they can get away with anything. Hitler was crazy, and after deciding on the “Final Solution,” what is a little bit of Carpet Bombing in the mix. Carpet bombing was a horrible use of force, and in World War II and other wars since, it has taken many lives, and in the wrong hands it’s even worse.
When Hitler began his systematic genocide of the Jewish people during World War II, many of the previously free people found themselves suddenly jailed. They had no weapons with which to fight for their freedom, but they knew that they were going to have to make a decision to either fight for their lives, or lose their lives. Some were too old or too young to fight, and some were women, and many men didn’t think these women could handle the fight at hand, but at some point they would have to fight or die. Hitler was relentless, and the Jewish people were fighting for their lives.
When Hitler set his plan in motion, he made it impossible for them to do business. Overnight, all Jewish businesses were blackballed. That was how it started anyway. The Jewish people were no longer allowed to do business with non-Jews. That action meant that the income that these successful Jewish people had, was instantly taken from them…symbolically. Later, It would be taken in every way. Their shops were looted, their property confiscated, and their homes given to others. As the Jewish people were banished to the ghettos, they had just moments to pack a small bag with the things they could carry, or more importantly the things they couldn’t do without…clothing, any food items, and keepsakes. It wasn’t much. There wasn’t room for much.
The ghettos were complete pits of filth, disease, and humanity. People were piled into cramped quarters, forced to share living quarters with people they didn’t know. Of course, the tight quarters was not the worst thing about the ghettos. The people had no rights. If a Nazi soldier raped, beat, or shot a Jewish person, there was no punishment, because they were no longer considered human, and therefore had no rights. Although it was considered an abomination to sleep with a Jewish person, rape was actually considered just another form of punishment. The Nazis didn’t care. A death meant one less Jew to have to house.
The Warsaw ghetto in Poland occupied an area of less than two square miles but soon held almost 500,000 Jews in the deplorable conditions common to ghettos. Disease and starvation killed thousands every month, and when death did not come fast enough, the Jews were transferred to the next level of their torture. Beginning in July 1942, 6,000 Jews per day were transferred to the Treblinka concentration camp. They went by way of cattle cars, packed so tightly that it was standing room only. In fact, if a prisoner died along the way, their body remained standing…held up by the people so tightly packed in around them.
As word got back to the ghettos that the death rate of those being transferred to the camps, either on the trains, or in the gas chambers when they reached their final destination, the Jewish people knew that something was going to have to be done. They would have to fight for their lives. Of course, the resistance was already working. There were those who saw the writing on the wall from the start. When word came down that the Warsaw ghetto was going to be closed and the Jews deported to the camps, it was time.
On January 18, 1943, as Nazi forces were attempting to clear out the Warsaw ghetto they were met by gunfire from Jewish resistance fighters. Although the Nazis assured the remaining Jews that their relatives and friends were being sent to work camps, they no longer believed the Nazi lies. An underground resistance group had been established in the ghetto, called the Jewish Combat Organization (ZOB). Limited arms had been acquired at great cost, and it didn’t matter, because this was a fight to the death. As the Nazis entered, the ZOB unit ambushed them, killing a number of German soldiers. The fighting lasted for several days.
On January 18, 1943, when the Nazis entered the ghetto to transport a group of Jewish prisoners, a ZOB unit ambushed them. Fighting lasted for several days, and a number of Germans soldiers were killed before they withdrew. On April 19th, Heinrich Himmler announced that the ghetto was to be emptied of its residents in honor of Hitler’s birthday the next day. I guess Himmler thought murdering all those people would make a great birthday gift for Hitler. That day, more than 1,000 SS soldiers entered the confines of the ghetto, armed with tanks and heavy artillery. Of the 60,000 Jews remaining in the ghetto hid in secret bunkers, more than 1,000 of the ZOB resistance members took up arms and fought back with gunfire and homemade bombs. Again the soldiers withdrew, despite only suffering moderate casualties. Then on April 24th, the Germans and launched an all-out attack against the Warsaw Jews.
The German soldiers stormed through the ghetto, blowing up buildings everywhere. They slaughtered thousands of innocent people. The ZOB took to the sewers to continue the fight. It was cover, but how awful. Then, on May 8th their command bunker fell to the Germans and their resistant leaders committed suicide. I’m sure they thought they had failed their people. By May 16th, the ghetto was firmly under Nazi control, and the last Warsaw Jews were deported to Treblinka. Some 300 German soldiers were killed, and thousands of Warsaw Jews were massacred during the Warsaw Uprising, but that wasn’t the end of the death. Virtually all those who survived the Uprising to reach Treblinka were dead by the end of the war.
Marie Sklodowska was born in an era when women seldom got a very long education, if they got one at all. Born on November 7, 1867 in Warsaw (modern-day Poland). Sklodowska was the youngest of five children, following siblings Zosia, Józef, Bronya and Hela. Their parents were both teachers. Her father, Wladyslaw, was a math and physics instructor. When she was only 10, Sklodowska lost her mother, Bronislawa, to tuberculosis. Sklodowska, being a woman, probably should have grown up to be a wide and mother, dependent on her husband for everything…not that that is a horrible thing, because it isn’t, but it was not all she wanted. She had a good mind for Physics and Chemistry…both subjects were almost unheard of for women in those days.
As a child, Sklodowska took after her father. She was bright and curious, and she excelled at school. Still, despite being a top student in her secondary school, she could not attend the men’s-only University of Warsaw. She instead continued her education in Warsaw’s “floating university,” a set of underground, informal classes held in secret. Both Marie and her sister, Bronya dreamed of going abroad to earn an official degree, but they lacked the financial resources to pay for more schooling. Sklodowska would not give up her dream. She worked out a deal with her sister, “She would work to support Bronya while she was in school, and Bronya would return the favor after she completed her studies.”
Sklodowska worked as a tutor and a governess for the next five years. She didn’t want to get behind, so she used her spare time to study…reading about physics, chemistry and math. Then in 1891, Sklodowska finally made her way to Paris and enrolled at the Sorbonne. She threw herself into her studies, but this dedication had a personal cost: with little money, Sklodowska survived on buttered bread and tea. Sometimes, her health suffered because of her poor diet. Nevertheless, Sklodowska completed her master’s degree in physics in 1893 and earned another degree in mathematics the following year.
You might be wondering exactly who Marie Sklodowska was, and why she was important. It might help to know that on July 26, 1895, Marie got married to French physicist, Pierre Curie. They were introduced by a colleague of Marie’s after she graduated from Sorbonne University. Marie had received a commission to perform a study on different types of steel and their magnetic properties and needed a lab for her work. As most people already know, she did her work at a great cost to her own health, but what most people probably don’t know, is that the radiation levels Curie was exposed to were so powerful that her notebooks must now be kept in lead-lined boxes, and it’s not just Curie’s manuscripts that are too dangerous to touch, either. If you visit the Pierre and Marie Curie collection at the Bibliotheque Nationale in France, many of her personal possessions…from her furniture to her cookbooks…require protective clothing to be safely handled. You’ll also have to sign a liability waiver, just in case.
In those days, things like radiation and it’s dangers were not known. Marie Curie was basically walking around with bottles of polonium and radium, both highly radioactive compounds, in her pockets all the time. She even kept capsules full of the dangerous chemicals on her shelf. “One of our joys was to go into our workroom at night; we then perceived on all sides the feebly luminous silhouettes of the bottles of capsules containing our products,” Marie, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist wrote in her autobiography. “It was really a lovely sight and one always new to us. The glowing tubes looked like faint, fairy lights.” In case you didn’t know, Marie Curie discovered radioactivity. Also, along with her husband, Pierre, they discovered the radioactive elements, Polonium and Radium, while working with the mineral, Pitchblende…a form of the mineral Uraninite occurring in brown or black masses and containing radium. She also championed the development of X-rays, following her husband’s death in a street accident in Paris on 19 April 1906.
The fact that the notebook and related paraphernalia are still radioactive a century later is not as well known. The most common isotope of radium, the deadly chemical Curie carried in her pockets, has a half-life of 1,601 years. That said, people will not be able to go digging through the Curie’s library any time in this century, either. It is also known now, but wasn’t then, that the chemicals would end Curie’s life at a fairly early age. Curie died on July 4, 1934, of aplastic anemia, believed to be caused by prolonged exposure to radiation. She was 58 years old.