An exhibition in memory of the bombing of Bodø, May 27th 1940

At 6pm, on the 27th of May 1940, bombers from the German Luftwaffe flew in over Bodø and bombed the town to ruins. From low altitude, they dropped incendiary and high explosive bombs and opened fire with machine guns. The attack lasted for one and a half hours. As the last plane vanished, people climbed out of the air raid shelters to look upon the devastation. The heat of the fires was still highly intensive and the roar of the inferno was deafening. A large, dark mushroom shaped cloud, rose above the town. It became evident that in an extremely short period of time, Bodø had been transformed from a lively small town to a smouldering ghost town. Luckily, most of
the inhabitants had been evacuated and the town was almost empty when the attack began.

Naturally enough, the German air raid was aimed for the most part at targets of military importance. A provisional runway constructed by British forces at Hernes, and Bodø broadcastingstation were targets of high priority. The harbour
area alsoreceived many direct hits. But what shocked the people of the town most was the bombing of the hospital and other civilian targets. The hospital was clearly marked with a large Red Cross painted on the roof. According to existing international conventions, civilian sights should have been immune to attack, or so it was thought!

In Europe at large, however, attitudes towards the bombing of civilian targets were changing. Soon after WW1, political analysts had predicted that the next war would see the extensive use of bombing. They imagined that conflicts could be won painlessly and swiftly by the use of new technology. Some military officers proclaimed that "never again", would there be a war in the trenches. Instead, they envisioned that wars could be won in a few
days through massive air attacks on defenceless cities and industrial areas. In 1937 civilian targets in the Spanish town of Guernica were bombed. The use of bombs escalated during WW2 and culminated with the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

The bombing of Bodø, as with the attacks on Molde, Kristiansund, Steinkjer, Namsos, Rognan, Fauske and other small towns in Norway, can be seen as examples of the change in attitude towards the bombing of civilian targets.
The main reason why the Germans, with their superior air power, chose to target civilian buildings in Bodø, was most likely to pressure the Norwegians toswift capitulation. Their timing was crucial, the Germans had been brought to a standstill in Narvik and the day after the bombing of Bodø (28th May) they were driven out of the town by Norwegian, Polish, British and French troops. In the district of Salten, four thousand British and one thousand Norwegian soldiers
were posing a serious threat to German troops heading north towards Narvik. With the terror bombing of Bodø, the Germans hoped for a quick Norwegian submission to redeem the situation in Narvik.

But what neither the Norwegians nor the Germans knew, was that the British had already decided to withdraw from Northern Norway on May 24. Had this information been available earlier, maybe Bodø would have been spared the destruction it suffered.

The exhibition is the result of a co-operation between the County of Nordland, Bodø City Council, the Nordland County Museum, Bodø War Historical Society and Norwegian Aviation Museum.