70 years ago today, the Vienna Opera lay in ruins

70 years ago today, the Vienna Opera lay in ruins


norman lebrecht

March 13, 2015

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Heavy bombardment reduced parts of the building to rubble.

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It took 10 years to restore and reopen. More here.


  • Simon S. says:

    Err, no. Not Russian, but American bombardment.

    While the Red Army had the by far heaviest burden in defeating Nazi Germany on land, aerial warfare was conducted almost exclusively by USAF and RAF.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Russian artillery were shelling the centre of Vienna. I had always understood that they scored the direct hits on the opera. Do you have proof to the contrary?

      • Simon S. says:

        The article linked to in your post:

        “Am 12. März 1945 fliegen die Amerikaner ihre schwersten Angriffe auf Wien.”

        The Red Army didn’t cross the Austrian/”Great German” border till 29 March. In the battle for the city in the first half of April, there will certainly have been further damages, though the massive destructions shown above were the consequences of the American air raid of 12 March.

        BTW, I don’t like these discussions very much. There are always folks who like to forget who started this war.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Just for the record: it were the Germans, not the Austrians, who started the war. That is, WW II.

      • Mark Hutchins says:

        My father flew a 15th AF B-24, 824th Bomb Sqdn, 484th Bomb Group, from Cerignola, Italy, to bomb Floridsdorf on 12 March 1945… the target was the refinery..not the opera house… it was a very very large raid…

  • Robert Kenchington says:

    Karl Bohm ran about with a bucket to try and put the fire out, saving one of the wings in the process…

  • Steven says:

    Interesting that Böhm, who always gave the non-obligatory Nazi salute before each perfomance, was kept in his post as Director of the Vienna Opera. It never seemed to attract much protest.

  • william osborne says:

    About six weeks before the end of the war, on March 12, 1945, the Viena State Opera was set on fire by the American Army Air Force. The front section of the house had been walled off as a precaution, but the auditorium and stage were destroyed, as were almost all the sets and props for more than 120 operas and about 150,000 costumes.

    In February and March 1945, 80,000 tons of bombs were dropped by US and British aircraft – attackes made possible through the establishment of an airbase in Foggia, Italy. About 12,000 buildings were destroyed, and 270,000 people left homeless. Vienna was bombed fifty-two times during the war. 87,000 houses were lost – about 20% of the entire city. The city had about 3000 bomb craters.

    The only Soviet air raid was on September 4, 1942.

    The bombing didn’t reduce war production, much of which was moved into bomb proof shelters and caves. The military industry even boosted its production with the use of forced labor from concentration camp inmates and Soviet POWs.

    These underground facilities included a large bunker near St. Georgian, Austria which was being used to develop nuclear bombs. The large underground complex was highly secret during the war and was sealed up as the Allies approached. It was only rediscovered last December when researches began to investigate heightened levels of radiation that had long been known in the area.

    Ronald Bailey’s book “The Air War In Europe” provides a good overview of the topic.

    In addition to nuclear bombs, the Nazi government had already developed initial plans for three stage V rockets that could reach the USA. In Hitler’s little known second book, entitled simply “The Second Book” he predicted an “apocalyptic war” between Germany and USA which would take place in about 1980. Fortunately for both sides, he never got to that.

    • Galen Johnson says:

      Might be informative to point out that the U.S. bombing effort was to destroy production and transportation of oil supplies and production of war materiel. The March 12, 1945 raid aimed at the Floridsdorf oil refinery, in the northern part of Vienna. Because of poor navigation, the 747 bombers let loose fifteen seconds early along their flight path, and hit central Vienna.

  • Has been says:

    Die mortuis nil nisi bonum

  • Novagerio says:

    Karl Böhm tried also desperately to safe the Moritz von Schwind frescoes.

  • Milka says:

    Ain’t that a shame …

    anybody got pictures of Warsaw and Opera House 76 yrs, ago to-day .

  • NYMike says:

    If memory serves, we also did a number on Dresden even though there was no military reason for doing so.

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    *Sigh* Philistine Americans cloddishly destroying a symbol of the civilized society that comes from high levels of public spending on the arts.

  • Rgiarola says:

    My grandfather was a street car driver in that day. He usually recalls that “It was the first and only time I could afford to get inside”