Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Soviet Bombing of Auschwitz and Treblinka in 1942/1943

From 20 August to 14 September 1942, the Soviet Air Force flew several air raids deep into the Reich and its Allies. On 4 September 1942, the bombers were sent out for especially far and politically prestigious targets: Vienna and Budapest. In the night of 4 to 5 September, around 00:30 a.m., 12 bombs were dropped on the Kispest area and another 17 bombs on the areas Rózsadomb and Városmajor across the Danube. 11 people were killed and about 60 injured during the air raid in Budapest (see here and here). In Vienna, eight explosive bombs hit the Ostmärkische Mineralölwerke on the floodplain Lobau (BArch R 58/3580, p. 237).

The Allied press celebrated the Soviet coup to strike the (former) Austrian and Hungarian capitals together with the British bombing of Bremen (with at least 116 deaths). The German side commented that the Soviet bombings were "nuisance raids" with "slight damage and some casualities" and "one plane was shot down" (The Vancouver Sun, 5 September 1942). Another article reported that "Russian planes in difficult weather on Friday night started 33 fires in Budapest...Thirty raiders participated in the Budapest attack, and they dropped 17 heavy bombs in the centre of the city" (The Argus, Melbourne, 7 September 1942).

Figure 1: Newspaper report,The Vancouver Sun, 5 September 1942.
Along their flight paths in the Generalgouvernement, the Soviet bombers already let down some of their load on a number of sites. As the air-planes followed the railway line Kattowitz-Vienna as guidance, four explosive bombs were dropped over Auschwitz, hitting the so-called area of interest of the concentration camp Auschwitz.

A report of the Order Police described the event as follows:

The Chief of Order Police            Berlin, 6 September 1942

Subject: Air strikes on the Reich territory and occupied territories

Situation report no. 634.


4.9.[1942] Reisko and Auschwitz District Bielitz

Inspector of Order Police Breslau.
4 bombs [dropped] on cleared area. Small glass damage to Harmense Castle and 1 farmhouse in Reisko.

(Situation report no. 634 on air raids of the Chief of Order Police of 6 September 1942, BArch R 58/3580, p. 236)

This source has been previously cited by Olaf Göhler in 1991 (The Soviet Long-Range Airforces in the Great Patriotic War of the USSR (1941-1945)), but his finding that "on September 4 Soviet bombs were also dropped around Auschwitz" was considered as "open to question" by Joseph White as Göhler did only use this German police report "but not Russian primary sources" (Target Auschwitz: Historical and Hypothetical German Responses to Allied Attack).

Rajsko and Harmense are situated at about 1 to 2 km distance to the camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Although the bombing is so far not confirmed by other sources, it seems plausible given the detailed description of number of bombs, location and caused damage. In addition, Auschwitz was indeed in the flight path of the Soviet air planes to Vienna.

The map below shows the bombing raids on the Reich and Generalgouvernement according to German police and army reports:

Figure 2: Soviet air-raids on 4/5 September 1942 with presumed flight path to Vienna and Budapest.

Vienna was apparently approached via Wolbrom in the Generalgouvernement, Auschwitz in Upper Silesia and Vsetin in Böhmen and Mähren.

At 23 p.m. on 4 September 1942, air raid alarm went-off in the Generalgouvernement district Krakau as Soviet air-planes heading to Budapest bombed Wylewa, Przemysl and Sanok before crossing the border to Slovakia and entering Hungary.

Another group of bombers attacked Rava-Ruska. Lviv, Drohobych and Skole before reaching the Hungarian border. At Lozyno near Lviv, a Soviet airplane crashed down and a "Russian officer" jumped-off the aircraft was captured 20 km South near Horodok. The Soviets also dropped leaflets in German, Russian and Hungarian along their flight route.

(see situation reports on air raids of the Chief of Order Police of 6 & 7 September 1942, BArch R 58/3580, p. 236-238; Monatsbericht of OFK Krakau Abt. 1a of 20 September 1942, NARA T-501/R-216/1142; Monatsbericht of OFK Lemberg Abt. 1a of 17 September 1942, NARA T-501/R-216/1185).

The Soviet airforce resumed their air-raids on the Reich and Generalgouvernement in spring of the following year.

In the night of 4/5 May 1943, so the German police reported, "some enemy planes also flew from east into the Warthegau and Upper Silesia". The Soviets dropped "9 light bombs" on the area of the IG Farben-Industrie at Dwory (some 10 km at distance to Auschwitz-Birkenau).

Treblinka was struck with "explosive bombs on cleared area" apparently as the Soviet bombers approached targets like Brest, Chelm, and Lublin (situation reports on air raids of the Chief of Order Police of 5, 6 & 7 May 1943, BArch R 58/3581, p. 39-46, see also Figure 3).

Figure 3: Soviet air-raids on 4/5 May 1943.

The bombing of the Auschwitz IG Farben complex is confirmed by other contemporary sources:

Figure 4: SS-WVHA to RF-SS on 13 May 1943 (Online archive of Arolsen Archives, signature 2207006, document ID 82347096)


  1. If already in 1942 the sovjets could fly deep into the reich : Are there any sovjet airforce pictures of the area like the 25 august 1944 south african airforce ones ?

  2. None are known nor are they very likely

    "The Soviet Union had no advanced reconnaissance resources, but emphasized visual observation and reporting over the battle space. Open-cockpit biplanes such as the Po-2 were very useful for this, especially at night. The Soviets had virtually no interest in long-range air power or strategic reconnaissance, and had no advanced optics capabilities. However, they learned a lot about the discipline from the Americans when the U.S. Army Air Forces operated from three Ukrainian bases in 1944 (Operation Frantic). This operation included a photo-reconnaissance detachment which shared all results with the USSR. At the same time, Americans learned that Soviet photoreconnaissance capabilities were embryonic."


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