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The Times of Israel quotes on Dec 11:

The situation in Gaza is “catastrophic, apocalyptic,” with destruction proportionally “even greater” than that which Germany experienced in World War II, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said Monday.

Borrell might have actually said that or something very similar a few days earlier. Anadolu reported on Dec 8:

Talking to Spanish state broadcaster RTVE, Josep Borrell said the bombing campaign in the Palestinian enclave was already "one of the most intense in history" and denounced the level of destruction of its cities as "comparable, if not higher, to levels of destruction of German cities during the Second World War."

Is this true? Has destruction in Gaza been "even greater" than that of German cities in WW2?

(I'm assuming destruction can be objectively quantified to a good extent, although one would have to be wary that the same standards/methods are used for comparison. See e.g. related Q here.)

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    You'll need to narrow the focus and decide on an objective criteria.
    – Schwern
    Dec 12, 2023 at 21:26
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    This might help: In 1953, the USAF commissioned a report on the ordnance dropped on the seven largest German cities: web.archive.org/web/20130218171142/http://www.afhso.af.mil/…. The tonnage per 100000 capita ranges from ~1000 (Dresden) to almost 6000 (Cologne). This would mean between 6500t and 34000t of bombs on Gaza City, for example. Getting reliable numbers will probably take years. Dec 12, 2023 at 22:53
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    @JörgWMittag I'm not sure tonnage of bombs is the best measure of the "amount of destruction"
    – TimRias
    Dec 12, 2023 at 23:17
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    Reminder: The OP isn't the one who gets to define the terms. We either need to figure out what the claimant meant, or failing that, include the definitions we use in the answers.
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 13, 2023 at 3:07
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    Percentage of homes damaged or destroyed is probably a decent metric - the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs have that at 60% and 10% as of 29th Nov. Since this was widely reported at the beginning of December, it may well be the figures Borrell was using. But I don't know where to find comparable numbers for WW2.
    – Jack B
    Dec 13, 2023 at 11:07

1 Answer 1

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As there are many ways to define destruction, let's narrow it down to mean damage to buildings (we exclude damage to infrastructure, farmland, movable property, etc). Moreover, let's measure amount of destruction as number of buildings destroyed because trying to weigh for property values would be a fool's errand. This map illustrates how "how badly German cities were hit by Allied bombing raids" during World War II:

enter image description here

The same source claims that 9.4% of the East German and 18.5% of the West German housing stock was destroyed. Another source puts the estimate at 20% for West Germany. Since West Germany was more populous than East Germany, the average for the whole country ought to have been 15-20%.

The map is from 1947 and presumably summarizes building surveys across Germany. Thus, there is a methodological difference between it and estimates of Gaza's destruction which are primarily based on satellite images. For example, a building inspection may reveal that a building that appears to only have superficial damage has suffered structural damage and needs to be razed.

According to The Guardian from January 2024:

Analysis of satellite data cited by the Associated Press suggests that about two-thirds of all structures in the north of Gaza have been destroyed, and about a quarter in the southern Khan Younis area. Across the whole territory, about 33% of buildings have been destroyed.

According to The Wall Street Journal from December 2023:

Nearly 70% of Gaza’s 439,000 homes and about half of its buildings have been damaged or destroyed.

According to NPR from January 2024: "More than 60% of all homes in Gaza have been destroyed" According to The Times of Israel from January 2024 which cites a World Bank report:

Some 45 percent of residential buildings in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed since war erupted between Israel and Hamas on October 7, [...] According to data collected by the international body, over 60% of residential buildings in the Gaza Strip, or 132,590 structures, have been damaged amid the war

According to these figures, the destruction of Gaza is more total than the destruction of Germany during the war.

One can also compare the destruction to some major German cities that were hit hard during the war. For example, according to Wikipedia in Berlin "[h]alf of all houses were damaged and around a third uninhabitable". It also says that 40% of the population fled the city, which is less than in Gaza where over 80% has fled.

The Wikipedia page Strategic bombing during World War II cites "RAF estimates" that claim that the German cities with a population of 500,000 or more that suffered the most damage was; Hamburg (75%), Düsseldorf (64%), Cologne (61%), Dresden (59%), and Dortmund (54%). However, the given source for these figures doesn't work so it's difficult to say how reliable they are or how they were computed (locating the original source is difficult due to citogenesis).

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    The problem with comparing the overall average across all of Germany is that it isn't a good comparison to the crowded small area of Gaza. And the Allies didn't target all of Germany, they focussed on specific places (some of industrial, propaganda or military importance). Germany also had about 40 times more people. A better comparison might be specific German cities of similar population to Gaza.
    – matt_black
    Jan 28 at 12:39
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    Also, when the allies targeted the population (ie sites that had no specific military or industrial significance, which was British policy for much of the air war) they did tend to level extreme levels of destruction in a small amount of time.
    – matt_black
    Jan 28 at 12:41
  • @matt_black, German cities of similar population to Gaza? That's easy: Berlin (50% destroyed per the map, 33% per RAF), Hamburg (50%/75%), and Munich (40%/42%). Comparable to Gaza, and the fighting in Gaza is still going on.
    – Mark
    Jan 30 at 2:45
  • @mark In 1943 RAF/USAF operation Gomorrah targeted Hamburg (population >1m) and killed 30-50k people injuring 10 times that, destroyed >50% of the housing all in less than two weeks. Civilian deaths were the policy, not just an accidental overspill from military targets.
    – matt_black
    Jan 30 at 10:01
  • Why compare Gaza with the German city that was hit the hardest (Hamburg)? To make that comparison you'd have to compare it with the Gaza city that was hit the hardest (Beit Hanoun - reduced to rubble). As I understood the question and Josep Borrell's quote, it is about the German national average. Jan 30 at 13:18

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