Mary Bancroft, Interrogator

In the summer of 1943, American intelligence wanted to know if the air campaign of blanket bombing had been effective in such cities as Hamburg and Cologne.

Mary Bancroft sent her maid, Maria, a German farm girl, back into Germany from Zürich to report. She returned saying the phosphorous bombs were so terrible that God surely would punish the Americans for using them. When Mary asked her if she knew the kind of bombs the Luftwaffe had dropped on London, she said she didn’t know, “but surely we Germans were more humane!”

People reported that if you got even a tiny bit of phosphorous on your clothing, you could put it out with water, but the minute it dried, it started burning again. These firebombs had burned the asphalt right off the streets. People were cooked alive in the air-raid shelters, and “balls of fire blew around in the air.” In Hamburg, after two days of this firebombing, you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face. The animals in the Hazenbeck Zoo got loose and “ran around, tearing people to pieces.”

At Cologne, people threw their burning children into the river, but they just went on burning, even in the water. Leaflets had been thrown down over Cologne saying that, although the city would be bombed, the cathedral would not be touched. People took refuge in the cathedral, but it, too, was hit.

The maid reported the bombing campaign was successful. The German people still hadn’t finished digging out the corpses, which had been burned to a crisp.

I write about the lives of various members of the Bancroft family, owners of the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones publishing in my book:  Observer: The Ronnie Lee and Jackie Bancroft Spencer Morgan Story, a tale of people, greed, envy — even crime.

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