It is quite astonishing how much of WWII Europe is covered by aerial photography, carried out by a variety of aircraft either for reconnaissance purposes, as proof of operational bombing success or through pure opportunism.
Today, many of these photographs have been collated into massive, detailed archives, ‘touched-up’ so that they can be used for site development purposes or as a purely historical source.
The below photograph is of a railway bridge in the district of Gasperich in Luxembourg City, taken in October 1944. A number of craters are clearly evident in the near field, with damage to the railway line also identifiable. In September of that year, American troops had liberated Luxembourg City from German occupation and the craters are a fresh remnant of an American bombing raid, which targeted Nazi-occupied marshalling yards.
Luxembourg’s suffering in WWII is often overlooked, perhaps unsurprising given its small size. Declaring neutrality at the start of the war did not prevent German occupation and by late 1942 the Nazis were intent on incorporating Luxembourg into the Third Reich, rather than allowing it to be a self-governing territory. Any remnant of Luxembourgish culture was stamped out, with the Germanisation of language ruthlessly enforced. The political system was dismantled and Luxembourg’s Jews shared the fate of their creed elsewhere in Europe.
Attempts to recruit Luxembourgers into the Wehrmacht, however, met with fierce resistance and a general strike in September 1942 marked one of the most successful instances of passive resistance against Nazism. 21 strikers were executed after their organised disruption paralysed the movement of troops and supplies through the country.
After the American push into Luxembourg during September 1944, the Wehrmacht managed to win back part of the small state before finally being expelled during the Battle of the Bulge in January 1945.
During this battle, the Germans made use of their V3 ‘Supergun’ against Luxembourg City, the only instance of its use. Capable of firing 300No. 140kg shells per hour, the V3 had been designed to fire upon London from the French coast. In the end, Luxembourg goes down as the only territory subjected to its wrath, although its contribution to the German war effort was negligible.
Below is an image of the Gasperich railway bridge today.
How many of the residents on the south side of the bridge know the history of their immediate vicinity?
These are the questions asked today when construction workers prepare intrusive works in areas that were heavily bombed. By using wartime aerial photographs, an estimate of the likelihood of uncovering Unexploded Ordnance can be arrived at.
It is important that these photographic archives are preserved, not just to aid the safety of present-day soldiers but to remind us of the sheer inclusiveness of WWII on the European continent.
Not even small, neutral, states like Luxembourg escaped. Conquered by the Germans, bombed by the liberating Americans, stunned by the Nazi V3 cannons, the Luxembourgers can be proud of their survival.