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the Baedeker Raids, 1942.
Unlike the earlier bombings of English cities in 1940-41, which were strategic, to kill civilians and destroy buildings to weaken the English public's will to fight with Germany, the April-June 1942 bombings of cities were targeted at historic cities. They were a retaliation for the RAF raid on the German port of Lübeck on March 28, when 234 British bombers destroyed 2,000 buildings, killed 312 civilians and left 15,000 Lübeck residents homeless.
In reprisal, the Luftwaffe attacked English cathedral cities. The Germans called their air attacks “Baedeker Raids” for the German publisher of its famed tourist guidebooks. Exeter was the first city to be attacked. Much of the city was damaged and 70 people were killed. Baron Gustav Braun von Sturm of the Luftwaffe said: “’We shall go out and bomb every building in Britain marked with three stars in the Baedeker Guide." The task was given to Luftflotte 3.
Exeter was bombed again twice in the next fortnight. Bath was attacked April 25 and 26, York on April 28 resulting in the destruction of 15th-century Guildhall, and Norwich on April 27 and 29. The RAF then launched a "1000 Bomber" raid on Cologne (Köln). The Luftwaffe responded by targeting Canterbury, which was bombed on May 31, June 2 and June 6. It was reminiscent of Mahatma Gandhi's statement: "An eye for an eye and the whole world is blind."
Despite the tit-for-tat vandalism, Oxford and Cambridge were spared. Oxford is on any three-star list in England. Dr Malcolm Graham, Head of Oxfordshire Studies at Westgate Library, in his book Oxfordshire At War, says that Oxford's escape from Baedeker raids "has never been satisfactorily explained."
Oxford had been one of the cities included in the invasion plans for 1940, which included only central Oxford, not the farther-out Morris Radiators factory on Woodstock Road or the Cowley works. A squadron of Heinkel III bombers was reportedly on its way to obliterate Morris Radiators and probably Cowley on August 30, 1940. It was attacked by RAF fighters and turned back, and no second attempt to bomb Cowley was tried.
See also: Why didn't Hitler bomb Oxford?