cologne cathedral ruins

The Cologne cathedral stands tall amidst the ruins of the city after the Allied bombings, 1944.

Seen here is an aerial black and white photo of the famous Cologne Cathedral during World War II. The cathedral suffered fourteen hits by aerial bombs during the war. It did not collapse but stood tall in an otherwise flattened city.

The twin spires are said to have been used as an easily recognizable navigational landmark by Allied aircraft raiding deeper into Germany in the later years of the war, which may be a reason that the cathedral was not destroyed.

The attacking pilots used the cathedral as a reference to their location, but this would not have been so important in the last days when the Allies had complete air superiority. Many in the military wanted to respect the buildings due to their cultural significance.

Lower-level bombers were more accurate in hitting their targets, but high-level bombers were notoriously inaccurate. The pilots were lucky if even a fraction of their bombs landed over their real targets. Targeting a cathedral, even one this large, was simply very difficult with the technology of the day.

A pilot account: “It took 108 B-17 bombers, crewed by 1,080 airmen, dropping 648 bombs to guarantee a 96 percent chance of getting just two hits inside a 400 by 500 feet area (35-40 meters square)”.

cologne cathedral ruins

The city of Cologne (Köln) was entirely bombed.

cologne cathedral ruins

Allied bombers over Cologne, 1944.

After the war, the repairs of the building were completed in 1956. In the northwest tower’s base, an emergency repair carried out in 1944 with bad-quality brick taken from a nearby war ruin remained visible until 2005 as a reminder of the war, but then it was decided to reconstruct this section according to its original appearance.

Today's photo of the Cologne Cathedral taken from the same angle.

Construction of Cologne Cathedral commenced in 1248 and was halted in 1473, leaving it unfinished. Work restarted in the 19th century and was completed, to the original plan, in 1880.

It is 144.5 meters (474 ft) long, 86.5 m (284 ft) wide and its towers are approximately 157 m (515 ft) tall. The cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe.

(Photo credit: US Army Archives / Wikimedia Commons).