Vee von't bomb Cambridge und Oxford if...

In his book Black Holes and Baby Universes, Stephen Hawking mentions that the Nazis agreed not to bomb Cambridge and Oxford if the Allies would refrain from bombing two important German university cities. Is this true? How did the negotiations take place? This rather honourable agreement strikes me as a bit out of character for that war. Could they have done the same thing with, say, Coventry and Dresden?

This is an interesting question, so I’m bobbing it back to the top in hopes that somebody will answer it.


Why sex is better than religion: There are laws against forcing sex on minors who can’t think for themselves.

I have that book on audiocassette :o, I should listen to it again.

Up to the top with ye!

No proof, Matt, but I highly doubt that either side would have entered into any agreement of that sort. The Germans bombed any place in Britain that they thought would interfere with the British war effort, and the Allies did the same to Germany and German-occupied nations. I imagine that Oxford and Cambridge survived unbombed because there weren’t any bases or strategic industries there, and that the same thing happened with places like Heidelberg. I mean, why bomb Oxford when you can hit a center of the steel or aircraft industry? I do remember reading that the Germans went on a series of what was called “Baedecker raids”, named after the guidebooks, hitting British historical sites, in reprisal for a British raid on somewhere like Nuremberg that destroyed some German national treasures.

Cessandra: thanks for the bobbing.

Lawrence: Thanks for the info. I’d still like to know where Dr. Hawking got his story from.

I don’t know about that, but I do know that the Americans deliberately did not bomb Kyoto for cultural and historic reasons. So that sort of thing is not without precedent.

Modest? You bet I’m modest! I am the queen of modesty!

Most people fail to realize how inaccurate WWII aerial bombing was. Military intelligence on both sides actually had people assigned to trying to figure out what targets the enemy was attempting to bomb based on where their bombs actually landed. In some cases it was impossible to even tell what city the attack was aimed at. Most of what was called strategic bombing was based on the theory that if you drop enough bombs on a country you’re bound to hit something worth blowing up.

Actually, though there was no agreement that heidelberg should remain in tact, it was not bombed by the British as there was no strategic significance to the town, and the american forces didn’t bomb it either as the command had decided that it was where they wanted to set up their European head-quarters when they won the war. This was common knowledge amongst the service personle in Heidelberg when I was there, though I haven’t seen anything in writing to back it up. it makes sense though. As a corrolary, I believe Hitler left the center of Paris in tact too because he wanted to survey his empire from the top of the Eiffel tower.

Paris was left relatively intact because the two French campaigns of 1940 and 1944 both moved so rapidly that there was no prolonged period when Paris was used a base of resistance. On both occasions when fighting approached it, it was declared an open city. In between the times of ground campaigns, there was no real time Paris would have been the target of aerial attacks. In the first few months of the war, Germany had not started their major strategic bombing program. From 1940 to 1944, Paris was occupied by the Germans so they had no reason to bomb it. Britain and the US realized there were no military targets in the city worth bombing in an occupied allied city. And after Paris was liberated in 1944, Germany no longer had the means to launch a major air attack against it. Paris, like Prague and Copenhagen, was just lucky.

Perhaps in 1940, but in 1944 Hitler ordered the German commander, von Cholitz, to destroy cultural monuments and bridges across the Seine. von Cholitz did not carry his orders and so Paris was largely spared, in spite of it not being declared an open city.

Paris, being an industrial and transportation center, was often bombed by the Allies. Railroad marshalling yards and the Renault factory were popular targets but most of the city was spared.

By the by, The Hague Convention IV states the following:

Given that Allied strategic bombing was notoriously inaccurate (at one point during the war the British calculated that only 20% of bombs landed with 5 miles of their target), some have argued that the Allied strategic bombing campaign was a war crime.

Andrew Warinner

Also a German officer refused to destroy the Ponte Vecchio in Florence out of respect of the bridge’s age and beauty. It was the only bridge over the Arno spared from destruction.

J’ai assez vécu pour voir que différence engendre haine.

It’s interesting that you mentioned Coventry. Because it had broken the Nazi codes [the Enigma machine business, I believe], Britain could have saved Coventry from destruction, or at least some of it. Churchill made the decision however to not evacuate before the attack, as that would have tipped the Germans off that their communications had been compromised. My point being, the Allied Command could have saved Coventry but didn’t use the opportunity, sacrificing it for the greater good.

Best information is that (pace Babylon 5) the Coventry story is not true. Ultra had revealed only that there was to be a raid somewhere, but the city was mentioned only by a codeword.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

The story I had always heard was that Hitler had ordered the Nazi general in charge of the occupation of Paris (von Cholitz? Thanks.) to level the city. Cholitz was contemplating it and happened to look out his window on the Faubourg St-Honoré and resolved not to carry out his orders.

don’t know anything about Oxford & Cambridge, but if you’re interested in the survival of Paris in 1944, read “Is Paris Burning?” by Dominique Lapierre and somebody else whose name escapes me. (I loaned my copy a couple of years ago and it hasn’t come home yet - grrr!)

Their account is that von Cholitz was a right bastard who had done some pretty nasty demolition work on the Eastern Front, so Hitler chose him to make sure Paris would be destroyed if the Germans couldn’t hold it. But, although von Cholitz was a bastard in the line of duty, he also had a solider’s conscience - he was not prepared to destroy a city just for the sake of destruction.

He decided that since the Germans could not hold the city, and there was no military point to destroying it, he would hold off the destruction as long as possible. In doing so, he acted at considerable personal risk, if Hitler had found out.

A Swedish diplomat, amongst others, acted as a go-between to the Allied command and urged them to hurry up, as von Cholitz was delaying as long as he could. That, along with some unilateral actions by the Free French under de Clerc, ensured that the Allies arrived in time to prevent the destruction. (Eisenhower, thinking only of the military situation, wanted to by-pass Paris. De Gaulle was of the contrary view: he thought primarily of the political need for the Free French to liberate Paris.)

There are some passages in the book that are throat-lumpers (at least, I found them so). For example, when it was clear the Allies were coming, there were several guys who raced up the Eiffel Tower for the honour of tearing down the swastika and putting up the Tricolour. The guy who made it was the same fellow who had taken down the Tower’s Tricolour in 1940 to keep it from the Germans.

The title of the book comes from a phone call Hitler made to von Cholitz: the destruction was supposed to have begun the previous day, and Hitler screamed, “Is Paris Burning?”

Late arrival at the bombing ball…

As a Brit, the story I heard was that Hitler intended after the invasion to use for his HQ Blenheim Palace, which is just outside Oxford, so presumably that’s why it wasn’t bombed very much. Whoever suggested that Oxford had no strategic value as a target was wrong - it was the site of the Morris-Cowley motor works and other industrial plants