So, 24 July marks a lot of things. The Great Fire of Rome (the one Nero fiddled through…not) ended in 64 AD; Mary Queen of Scots was compelled to abdicate in 1567; the Rochester (New York) Riot started in 1964; and Apollo IX returned from its Moon mission in 1969, fulfilling JFK’s pledge to send a man to the Moon and bring him back. Too, today is Amelia Earhart Day (born in 1897), and Fast Food Day, and Cousin’s Day (I only ever had two and one’s gone, so that one’s lost on me. But today we’ll talk about Operation Gomorrah and Mexican booze.
By 1943, the RAF and the USAAF were able to pick and choose targets in Germany with some impunity, having built up an inventory of over 1,000 heavy bombers and crews. After a five month campaign against the Ruhr, RAF Bomber Command decided to switch targets and concentrate on Hamburg, on the North Sea coast. The first RAF raid was on 24 July, 1943 included a pathfinder force that saw the first use of chaff (called “Window” at the time) to jam the German radar. The fires the first raid started burned for three days.
A daylight raid followed on 25 July, and another night raid. After a 24 hour respite, over 700 RAF bombers struck on the night of 27 July, igniting the first recorded man-made firestorm: a cyclonic blaze so big it was seen in England and Norway (read Crop Duster: A Novel of WWII for a description). After 27 July, the Luftwaffe wrote off Hamburg, declaring that it was no longer worth defending–or that they were capable of defending it. There were two more raids before the British and Americans were done on 2 August. In the end, Operation Gomorrah caused more than 80,000 German casualties at a cost of less than 500 Allied, caused over a million Germans to flee the city, and essentially knocked Hamburg off-line for better than a year.
Why Hamburg? There’s some debate about that. Though Germany had a large armaments industry there, the concentration of 4,000 pound blockbuster bombs in the early part of the 27 July raid suggests an “operational experiment” on the behalf of the Bomber Command eggheads and the American National Fire Prevention Association that created the surveys and data for evaluating the relative flammability of targets. The early “thousand-plane” raids in 1941 hit on a formula that made optimum use of the masonry that was used in German construction: blow it to dust and light the dust on fire. In addition, the larger bombs would be better for destroying the infrastructure (like water mains and telephone networks, city streets and fuel stocks) the defenders used to fight fires and evacuate casualties. Some defenders of the Allied air offensive claim that all of this was coincidental, but the record makes it fairly clear that using the ancient Hanseatic city’s very construction and age against it was planned. It is known that some of the data gleaned from Gomorrah was used again in planning the fire raids on Japan in 1945, Yes, it all sounds very callous, but it was a war.
And then there’s tequila. Today, 24 July, is National Tequila Day for reasons unknown to anyone. Now, I personally can’t physically stomach the stuff (long story that intimates know), but I can appreciate that mezcal wine distilled from the blue agave has done more for the region that it’s made in than any other export. It is a shining example of what alcoholic beverages were first made for: to extend the commercial trading range and shelf life of agricultural products. The agave plant’s sap itself, undistilled, is of little commercial interest other than as a sweetener. But, turn it into mezcal, call it by the region’s name (Tequila) and suddenly you can sell certain bottles of the stuff for hundreds of dollars on the other side of the world, as it has been since it was first exported in the 1880s.
And you can drown you sorrows in it when your house burns down because your leader can’t keep his mitt off other countries.