Histories of the bombing campaign against German cities in WW2 often mention that German civilians towards the end of war were prey to fantastical rumours that such-and-such a city "is being spared" because a senior Allied leader once holidayed there, or has a distant relative there or plans to set up his post-war HQ there. Such stories speak of the ignorance and fatalism that prevailed in the late phase of WW2 Germany. The most famous and deluded example is Dresden, supposedly spared (up till the point when it was firebombed) because Churchill's aunt lived there.

But were there any genuine cases of German cities receiving specially lenient treatment by Allied bombers for personal or other unusual reasons?

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    never heard of that. Cities weren't chosen at random anyway, and many were never bombed because there was simply nothing of military value there. If such rumours existed, that could well explain them, towns being passed over because they simply weren't worth the effort.
    – jwenting
    Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 2:56
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    There wasn't one person deciding this, so that wouldn't happen. The people involved in the decisions might have had reasons like that, but since they were not the only person involved in the decisions, that would only have had a small influence, and not decided the outcome as a whole. Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 6:06
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    I've heard similar claims about Kyoto in Japan.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 13:14
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    Btw, in the movie "Emperor" it is claimed that General Bonner Fellers tried (but did not succeed) to protect the town where his japanese lover Aya lived. However, I don't know if there is any truth to this, the person Aya is clearly based on this friend Yuri Watanabe, but both she and Feller were married and had families since before the war, so the movie is clearly not trustworthy on this issue. Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 21:03
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    According to 1945 by G.Dallas (which gives no reference), the RAF Bomber Command had a list of historical cities that should be preserved for their historical and artistic value if possible. The same book claims that no German cities on that list were spared (this is why I insert this as a comment) but that Rome, Florence and Paris might (or would) have been more severely bombed had they not be on it.
    – Olivier
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 9:29

4 Answers 4


A possible candidate is Wiesbaden. According to Wikipedia:

There is a persistant rumour that the U.S. Army Air Force spared the town with the intention of turning it into a postwar HQ, but USAAF sources claim this to be a myth, arguing that Wiesbaden's economic and strategic importance simply did not justify more bombing.[citation needed] Wiesbaden was host to the Headquarters, U.S. Air Forces, Europe based at the former Lindsey Air Station from 1953 to 1973.

American armed forces have been present in Wiesbaden since World War II. The U.S. 1st Armored Division was headquartered at the Wiesbaden Army Airfield, just off the Autobahn toward Frankfurt, until the Division completed relocation to Fort Bliss, Texas in 2011. Wiesbaden is now home to the U.S. Army Europe Headquarters and Mission Command Center.[6]

There were air raids in WWII which according to Wikipedia destroyed 18 percent of the city. However, that is much less than the destruction wrought on Frankfurt am Main, 30 miles to the east, which saw 70 percent destroyed by allied bombing raids.

Architectural model of Frankfurt's old city destroyed in WW II

Architectural model of Frankfurt's old city destroyed in WW II (Historisches Museum Frankfurt). Via Wikimedia Commons.

In contrast to Frankfurt, Wiesbaden has many more buildings from the late 19th and early 20th century in the historicist, classicist, and even art nouveau style. These buildings are lovingly preserved and give this city a much more prosperous and traditional look than Frankfurt.

Typical building in Wiesbaden

1891 building typical of Wiesbaden's cityscape. Via Wikimedia Commons.

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    Frankfurt had a lot more military targets spread all over the city. Wiesbaden had less and AFAIK always had them more concentrated on the outskirts. Major difference. Just because one city suffered less damage doesn't mean it was "spared for sentimental reasons". No, it simply made no sense bombing it back to the stone age because there were only so many bombs to go around and they were used to better effect elsewhere.
    – jwenting
    Commented Sep 29, 2013 at 2:51
  • I believe Dresden was spared early on because it was always to be targeted by fire-bombing, and a virgin target would provide both better data on fire-bombing effectiveness, and would likely enhance effectiveness of the fire bombing. Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 4:04
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    @PieterGeerkens that's an interesting claim and worthy of a question in its own right. i've never heard it anywhere else though. Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 17:53
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    @PieterGeerkens: Dresden was 'spared' because it was not important to the Western allies; it was destroyed at the request of the Russians as it was a transportation hub for the Eastern front.
    – sds
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 18:49
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    Dresden was also spared until late in the war just because of location. It was too deep in Germany for escorted missions until late in the war.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 16:38

Heidelberg, Germany was indeed spared for the reason cited above that it was already selected as the future headquarters of the US Army. The reason being that the US Army needed a site with working infrastructure. However, a key reason for it being selected was that it did not have any heavy industry or else the priorities of ending the war would have had priority over a future US Headquarters. The decision to place the headquarters in a non-industrial city was part of the selection process.

I lived in Heidelberg for a dozen years starting from the mid 1960s and this was common knowledge and even taught in school at Heidelberg American Elementary School, which I attended. At the time, our family employed a German maid who stated that months before the war ended that several planes dropped paper notices notifying residents that the city would be spared as it would become the seat of the US Military post-war. I subsequently heard this same story from several other elderly Germans. After the war it held numerous commands.

While I was there it was simultaneously the Headquarters of the US Army Europe (USAREUR), the 7th Army, 4th Allied Tactical Air Forces, and NATO Central Army Group (CENTAG). Heidelberg also housed Patton Barracks and the 130th Station U.S. Army Hospital, which as a side note is where the famed General George S. Patton died. At its height approximately 25-30,000 Americans lived in Heidelberg and had two elementary schools, a middle school, and high school where the graduating senior class each year in the 1970s was numbering around 400 graduates. Just to give you a sense for its size.

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    History is told through the people who experience it.
    – Kurt W.
    Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 11:52
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    Although we prefer strongly sourced answers, we've accepted first person experience/primary source in the past. On the other hand, the answer would be significantly corroborated by either a link to the leaflets or to the school curriculum.
    – MCW
    Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 11:57
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    The German Wikipedia page for Heidelberg states the leaflets were mentioned by many elderly residents and also gives this source (also in German): rnz.de/…
    – fgysin
    Commented Oct 6, 2020 at 14:22
  • Supposedly the leaflets were titled with a German rhyme: "Heidelberg werden wir schonen, in Heidelberg wollen wir wohnen", which roughly translates to "We will spare Heidelberg because we want to live there".
    – fgysin
    Commented Oct 6, 2020 at 14:24
  • @C'estMoi in my youth I met soldiers from WW1, and also WW2 who had been japanese prisoners of war. I saw their faces and heard their words with their intonations as they spoke. Would their oral testimony of events personally experienced be any more intrinsically valuable if someone wrote it down and printed it out? Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 7:59

The one German town not mentioned here that was TOTALLY and PURPOSELY saved by the Allies was Heidelberg. The reason was that it was chosen to be the HQ for all USA military after the war. I visited it numerous times in 1981 and found the town totally intact (a student pub in Old Town had initials carved in the bar from over 700 years ago) and I visited the American base and it was huge. I had heard that one other town in Germany was saved, and from the comments here it seems that it was either Wiesbaden or Rothenberg. Another possibility is Augsburg since it is infested in all directions by American intelligence agency buildings, as I also found out in 1981.

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    This would be improved if you include a source for the "chosen to be the HQ..." assertion, which proves that the town was spared for that purpose.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 7:33
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    Neither "explanation" makes any sense. Correlation does not make causation. More likely the cities were chosen for their post-war purpose because they were relatively undamaged and in a convenient spot, not the other way around.
    – jwenting
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 11:13

Yes, we know of at least one such instance: John J Mccloy, US high comissionar for Germany and a well known pro nazi character, saved an entire city from bombing;

(Wikipedia) In March 1945 in World War II, German soldiers were stationed in Rothenburg to defend it. On March 31, bombs were dropped over Rothenburg by 16 planes, killing 37 people and destroying 306 houses, 6 public buildings, 9 watchtowers, and over 2,000 feet (610 m) of the wall. The U.S Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy knew about the historic importance and beauty of Rothenburg, so he ordered US Army General Jacob L. Devers not use artillery in taking Rothenburg. Battalion commander Frank Burke (Medal of Honor) ordered six soldiers of the 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division to march into Rothenburg on a three-hour mission and negotiate the surrender of the town. First Lieutenant Noble V. Borders of Louisville, Kentucky; First Lieutenant Edmund E. Austingen of Hammond, Indiana; Private William M. Dwyer of Trenton, New Jersey; Private Herman Lichey of Glendale, California; Private Robert S. Grimm of Tower City, Pennsylvania; and Private Peter Kick of Lansing, Illinois were sent on the mission. When stopped by a German soldier, Private Lichey who spoke fluent German and served as the group’s translator, held up a white flag and explained, “We are representatives of our division commander. We bring you his offer to spare the city of Rothenburg from shelling and bombing if you agree not to defend it. We have been given three hours to get this message to you. If we haven’t returned to our lines by 1800 hours, the town will be bombed and shelled to the ground.”[3] The local military commander Major Thömmes gave up the town, ignoring the order of Adolf Hitler for all towns to fight to the end and thereby saving it from total destruction by artillery. American troops of the 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division occupied the town on April 17, 1945, and in November 1948 McCloy was named Honorable Protectorate of Rothenburg. After the war, the residents of the city quickly repaired the bombing damage. Donations for the rebuilding were received from all over the world. The rebuilt walls feature commemorative bricks with donor names. Traffic-reducing measures were put in place in a significant portion of Rothenburg to increase safety and accommodate tourism.

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    According to this, the city was bombed. Undefended cities facing capture were never bombed or shelled for kicks by Allied forces.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 16:40
  • @Oldcat yeah but it as talked to surrender instaead of being wiped out as planned. Have you even read the segment?
    – Bak1139
    Commented Jun 20, 2014 at 3:49
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    Technically, according to the cited wiki page, the city of Rothenburg was bombed. McClory did not ask/nor direct the city to not be bombed. He asked/ordered it to not be needlessly shelled by artillery. So, this answer does not answer the question as asked. Oldcat's first sentence is precisely accurate.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 15:19
  • had it not for him the city had been demolished....given the fact he had many freindly relations with prominnet nazi industrial figures and an acquanitce of hitler and known for his genreatly friendly inclinaction towards germans and german , this was not a random act of kindness..In most and even all his actions such as being a prominent supporter and the excecutioner of the marshal plan mccloy always acted inf avor and in aid of germans, as a result of his very personal desires and reasons..given this info and your evidently poor research...is this some sort of Vendate?
    – Bak1139
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 20:29
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    No @Bak1139, you have no evidence it would have been demolished. Maybe his actions led to some targets being reconsidered and assets moved elsewhere where they could be of more use, but that's as far as it would have gone.
    – jwenting
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 11:15

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