But the perpetrators of one of history's great outrages were to receive the laurels of glorious victory rather than a place in the war crimes dock.
Prelude to Holocaust
After nearly three years of unremitting Allied air offensives against Germany's civilian population, plans for the destruction of the open city of Dresden, incinerating at least 135,000 people, took shape on March 30, 1942. However the seeds of such inhuman hate had long since found fertile soil at 10 Downing Street and within the White House.
On the above date Prof. F. A. Lindemann, later, Lord Cherwell, the Prime Minister's Science Advisor and a Jewish refugee from Germany, delivered to Winston Churchill a fateful report. In his book Bomber Command Max Hastings stated that:
Cherwell's Report provided the final rationalization for the program Bomber Command was undertaking, and it would henceforth be paper-clipped to the plans of the bomber offensive.
Lindemann estimated that every 40 tons of bombs "dropped on built-up areas" would "make 4,000 to 8,000 people homeless.
This report to the PM stated:
In 1938 over 22 million Germans lived in 58 towns of over 100,000 inhabitants, which, with modern equipment, should be easy to find and hit.
Hastings concluded that Lindemann ".....[h]oped to create a nation of refugees, and no doubt also a good many corpses under the rubble, although he was too genteel to say so."
There were of course discussions and disagreements regarding strategic and tactical approaches to the bombing of Germany. But Lindemann's report is considered the basic text behind the wholesale bombing of civilian targets. Prior to the report's dispatch to Churchill, a February 14, 1942 Air Ministry directive to Bomber Command from Air Vice Marshal Sir Norman Bottomly contained the following Valentine's Day message:
You are accordingly authorized to employ your forces without restriction... [operations] should now be focused on the morale of the enemy civil population and in particular, of the industrial workers.
On February 22, while Churchill was staying at the White House, it was decided that Air Marshal Arthur Harris would leave his post as head of the RAF delegation in Washington (an assignment he had held in neutral America beginning June 12, 1941) to head Bomber Command. This fateful reassignment would team Harris with a PM of kindred instincts in one of Western history's most costly and ghastly undertakings.
The first chapters of World War II, from Germany's September 3, 1939 invasion of Poland to the May-June 1940 clash in the West when France capitulated and Britain was driven from the continent, saw a scarcity of bombing by the belligerents. This was largely the period of "Sitzkrieg" and "Bore War" during which Germany's bombing of Warsaw prior to Poland's surrender marked the only major incident; a relatively moderate attack that proved costly to Germany on the Propaganda front.
Throughout the 1939-40 months of frontal stalemate in the West, Hitler didn't order the Luftwaffe to bomb Britain (while working continually for a negotiated peace with London that would allow him to concentrate on his plan for land acquisition in the East and the destruction of Bolshevism's Soviet bastion). The Royal Air Force confined its activities to the dropping of propaganda leaflets. The bombing of the open city of Freiburg-im-Breisgau on May 10, 1940, killed 22 children, 13 women, 11 men and 11 soldiers. Whether the bombers were French, British or even German has never been determined but the civilians killed and the property destroyed were real and gave Propaganda Minister Josef Göbbels grist to promise that the Luftwaffe would answer the destruction "in a like manner."
Four days later the Germans bombed Rotterdam. From northern German airfields some 100 Heinkel III bombers were poised to attack remaining resistance zones in the city. However, surrender negotiations with the Dutch government were in progress. The raid, planned for 1500 hrs. (3 pm), was ordered postponed after takeoff on a flight of about 100 minutes to target areas. The Dutch government had been stalling during negotiating sessions. German terms were finally agreed to five minutes before the time set for the attack.
But the recall could not be signaled to those bombers that had crossed the Netherlands border. At that point they had reeled in their trailing aerials allowing long range reception. A swift fighter was dispatched to head off the bombers, and from a German Panzer position on the ground at Rotterdam, where the mission-scrub signal had been received, signal flares were fired to ward off an attack that began just as the flares went up. The signal was received in time to disengage 40 of the Heinkels.
The city's main water supply system was hit, and considerable fire ensued in one area (no incendiaries were dropped) due largely to hits on a margarine plant from which streams of burning oil flowed. In 1962 the Rotterdam government released figures showing that 980 people had been killed in the raid. The considerable devastation in the city gave Allied propagandists a field day, and Rotterdam became the greatest war atrocity story since Japan's "Rape of Nanking" in the 1930s.
In his 1963 book The Destruction of Dresden David Irving noted that
Ninety four tons of bombs had been dropped... By comparison, close to 9,000 tons of high explosives and incendiaries were dropped on the inland Ruhr port of Duisburg during the triple blow of 14th October 1944.
With Germany's bombing of Britain following France's surrender, strategic targets were singled out and hit with a high degree of accuracy. But on the night of August 24, 1940 (the main London targets being the vital East End dock-shipping-industrial areas), the target was the oil storage depot at Thames Haven. A navigational error led to the bombing of parts of the East End, the City and St. Giles.
The bombing of central London drew the immediate retaliatory response of the Royal Air Force. The following night it bombed Berlin, with slight effect. This enraged Hitler, who issued a command that may have cost Germany victory. He ordered that the Luftwaffe switch its attacks to London and away from RAF installations and radar sites. This allowed the severely depleted Fighter Command a short but much-needed period to regroup.
The Luftwaffe's incredibly costly (most particularly in terms of seasoned pilots and crew) London "Blitz" is dated from September 7, 1940 to May 16, 1941. Luftwaffe figures show that throughout this period 35,177 tons of bombs were dropped during 71 major attacks on London and other areas of industrial concentration, such as Hull, Liverpool and Manchester. The British calculated that, by the end of 1940, 13,339 Britons had been killed in raids.
The German raid ranking with Rotterdam in terms of propaganda value was the bombing of Coventry in November, 1940. In bombing this industrial city Coventry's Cathedral was nearly demolished. Pictures of its ruins filled America's newspapers and newsreel screens. In his 1975 book The First Casualty (the title evidently taken from U.S. Sen. Hiram Johnson's 1917 observation that "The first casualty, when war comes, is truth."), Philip Knightly noted that the London Times editorialized on the "butchery at Coventry... The wanton slaughter by a people pretending to be civilized who, it would seem, kill mostly for the joy of destroying." Of this Knightly wrote: "Coventry was actually a legitimate military target, one of the keys to the British war effort" containing such plants as the Standard Motor Co., the British Piston Ring Co., the Daimler motor works and Alvis aero-engine factory.
The British had known of Germany's intent to bomb Coventry due to an early intercept of Germany's Enigma code system by way of its Ultra codebreaking device. But Churchill vetoed interception of the Luftwaffe attack for fear that it would tip the Germans to the fact that their main code had been broken. Thus Coventry entailed a double deception on the part of the British. But this did not deter Churchill from ordering "Operation Rachel." This was the codename for the December 12, 1940 Bomber Command attack on Mannheim. On the PM's direct order it was to be a reprisal for the considerable damage done to Coventry and the first occasion in the relatively brief annals of air warfare that an entire city was to be the deliberate target of attack.
Britain had begun the war with a somewhat antiquated bomber capacity. But by 1942 and with America's full material support, Bomber Command was a formidable force. In the spring of 1942 Harris sold Churchill and Chief of Air Staff Sir Charles Portal on a 1,000-plane raid. Stretching all human and material resources, 1,047 planes, largely with inexperienced crews, were gathered. When Churchill and Harris discussed potential casualties, the PM said he was prepared for the loss of 100 planes.
Hamburg, Germany's second largest city, was to be the target. But weather conditions dictated a switch to the secondary target and Germany's third largest city, Cologne. The raid was carried out May 30 and it was a success. The city along the Rhine burned deep red well into the sky, the great Cathedral's twin spires (one of which would subsequently be destroyed) clear silhouettes to the airmen above. The raid had wrought instant devastation unequaled since biblical lore. Over 12,000 structures had been totally or partially destroyed, with 45,000 people left homeless. Remarkably, only 496 dead were counted. The water, power, gas and telephone complexes were in shambles and 36 factories were destroyed, 70 more badly damaged. Bomber Command was delighted at the loss of only 40 aircraft.
Max Hastings noted in Bomber Command that "It was a mere token of the destruction Bomber Command would achieve in 1942 and 1943..." In the latter months of 1942 U.S. Army Air Corps B-17s and B-26 Liberators began limited daylight operations against targets in France and Germany. The Air Corps' top brass under Gen. H.H. "Hap" Arnold, in conjunction with Bomber Command's leaders, were pushing for an all-out campaign of U.S.-daylight / RAF-night operations. The American airmen had an added incentive. They wanted the postwar establishment of a separate armed service co-equal with the Army and Navy. The bomber offensive was their prime opportunity to show what they could do, and it would lead to many an unnecessary but destructive mission.
The efforts of the Air Corps Bomber Command lobbying were fully rewarded at the Roosevelt-Churchill Casablanca conference in January, 1943. A Casablanca directive read:
Your primary aim will be the progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to the point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened...
Following Casablanca, America's bomber presence escalated markedly, with USAAF (U.S. Army Air Force) fields increasingly dotting the fields of eastern England. The stage was fully set for one of history's darkest dramas, and one that would place gold stars signifying a family member killed in action in the front windows of tens of thousands of American homes.
The physical punch to achieve what "Bomber" Harris had envisioned was now in place. Max Hastings wrote:
Long before Casablanca, or even before Cologne, Harris had conceived his campaign for the systematic laying-waste of Germany's cities, and he never had the slightest intention of being deflected from it.
In the summer of 1943 Bomber Command was to unleash its most lethal strike of the war save for Dresden, and it would provide the first major instance of British and American public doubt and criticism. Although Hamburg had "weathered" Harris's initial 1,000-plane raid, it would be visited in a manner that can only be recalled as a determined atrocity. In Bomber Harris author Dudley Saward states that the obliteration of Hamburg, "which went by the ominous code name of 'Gomorrah,' was planned to take place over a period of four nights."
Before his crews took off on the first assault the night of July 24-25, Harris told them:
The Battle of Hamburg cannot be won in a single night. It is estimated that 10,000 tons of bombs will have to be dropped to complete the process of elimination. To achieve the maximum effect of air bombardment this city should be subjected to sustained attack. On the first attack a large number of incendiaries are to be carried in order to saturate the fire service.
Few could misunderstand these words or the intent behind them. This was not a surgical or even carpet bombing strike against military or industrial targets. Clearly, this was the premeditated murder of a city and its people. In the series of four Hamburg raids, July 24 to August 3, Bomber Command dropped 8,621 tons of bombs on the city, 4,309 tons being incendiaries. Eighth Air Force B-17s dropped 771 tons of explosives during the third raid.
Initial deaths were estimated at 41,800, but many thousands more died subsequently or were never counted due to incineration, burial beneath rubble or having been blown to bits. The four-raid total may have equaled Great Britain's official total losses for the war of 51,509. The Bomber Command Diaries, published in 1985 by Penguin Books, London, states that the August 2-3 raid largely failed due to thunderstorms. Thus most of the destruction was wrought in three raids.
In The Destruction of Dresden Irving wrote that
When rescue teams finally cleared their way into hermetically sealed bunkers and shelters, after several weeks, the heat generated inside had been so intense that nothing remained of their occupants: only a soft undulating layer of gray ash was left in one bunker, from which the number of victims could only be estimated as 'between 250 and 300'...
Despite the highly restrictive censorship regulations applied to Allied war correspondents (already deemed supportive of the Allied cause as a condition of clearance) fairly large bits and pieces of what the bomber offense was about leaked to some prominent civilian figures. In England, among the most telling critics were the country's two premier military historians, Maj. Gen. J.F.C. Fuller and Captain Basil Liddell Hart.
In August, 1943 Fuller drafted an article (evidently not published) to the London Evening Standard in which he stated:
The worst devastation of the Goths, Vandals, Huns, Seljuks and Mongols pales into insignificance when compared to the material and moral damage now wrought...
Following the thousand-plane Cologne raid Hart drafted a private "reflection" that observed:
It will be ironical if the defenders of civilization depend for victory upon the most barbaric, and unskilled, way of winning a war that the modem world has seen... We are now counting for victory on success in the way of degrading it to a new low level...
As stated in The Army Air Forces in World War II, plans were drawn up in early June, 1944 to define the post-D-Day invasion bomber campaign. The recommended priorities to both Bomber Command and the U.S. 8th and 15th Air Force (in Italy) were, in order of priority, oil production, jet and V-weapons, ball bearing plants and tank factories. As Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower left both the American commanders (Gens. Spaatz and Doolittle) and Harris free to develop independently their strategic bombing campaigns as they saw fit. It was clearly an opportunity to curtail Harris's incredible excesses. But Eisenhower, essentially a high political functionary in uniform, based higher decisions on the wishes of the President and the Prime Minister.
The RAF's four-engined Lancaster war Britain's counterpart to America's B-17, and the mainstay of bomber command's air offensive. On the night of February 13-14, 1945 , Lancasters hit Dresden with fire and explosives.
On the scorched road to Dresden there were many occurrences similar to what happened at Hamburg. The Bomber Command Diaries, for the city of Darmstadt on the night of September 11-12, 1944, tell that 226 Lancasters and 14 Mosquitoes (light bombers, the four-engined Lancaster being Bomber Command's equivalent of the B-17), produced an outstandingly accurate and concentrated raid on this almost intact city of 120,000 people. A fierce fire area was created in the center and in the districts immediately south and east of the center. Property damage in this area was almost complete. Casualties were very heavy. The deaths of 8,433 people were actually reported to police stations. This figure was made up of German civilians - 1,766 men, 2,742 women and 2,129 children, 936 service personnel, 492 foreign workers and 368 prisoners of war.
The United States Strategic Bombing Survey, compiled after the war, concluded that deaths in Darmstadt that night may have exceeded the RAF figures (taken from initial German figures) by 5,000 because all deaths were not reported by the 49,200 made homeless by the raid and evacuated from the city. Today, the city of Darmstadt has final figures of 12,300 dead and 70,000 homeless.
The Infernal Firestorm - A Glimpse of Hell
Thus a long pattern of operational intent, in which everything on German soil that stood, moved or breathed was considered a legitimate recipient of the bomb bay payloads, had been established long before it became Dresden's turn. To begin with, the city was not an industrial center of even moderate importance. It had been bombed once, some 20 USAAF planes hitting with considerable accuracy the city's small industrial area as a secondary target at midday on October 7, 1944 during an attack on the Ruhland oil refinery.
This raid was at least consistent with both the publicly stated purpose and propaganda regarding the bombing campaign, in that it was a basically surgical strike against valid targets.
The essence of pre-holocaust Dresden was described in David Irving's book:
Not endowed with any one great capital industry like those of Essen and Hamburg, even though Dresden was of comparable size, the city's economy had been sustained in peacetime by its theaters, museums, cultural institutions and home industries.
Irving noted that "for the British prisoners of war... life could not easily be bettered. The Dresdeners were familiar with the English from pre-war days, when the city had been a cultural center and many made friends among the prisoners - a large section of which were from 1st Airborne Division contingent captured at Arnhem. The factor of pre-war English familiarity with Dresden, generations of students having visited it on the Grand Tour, would play a major part in the raid's aftermath."
Dresden's fate had been sealed at the February 4-11, 1945 FDR-Churchill-Stalin conference at Yalta. Reports about the Dresden decision center on Stalin's desire to see it savaged as a means of enhancing the Red Army's offensive by jamming up German troop movements. U.S. Chief of Staff George C. Marshall announced publicly that Dresden had been attacked at Stalin's specific request, although after the war the Soviets and East Germans repeatedly referred to the raid as a "diabolical plan" of Churchill's "to kill as many people as possible."
Roosevelt and Churchill were of course well aware of Dresden's particulars, including the fact that it was a hospital, prisoner of war and, now, refugee center.
The concession was allegedly made to soothe the increasingly arrogant and intransigent Kremlin dictator. But given the fact that at Yalta Stalin achieved control over Eastern Europe, in-effect control of Mongolia, Japan's Kurile Islands, an occupation zone in Korea and a guarantee of $20 billion in eventual German reparations, one might have thought that the bear had been amply fed.
After Yalta and the war, Churchill of course went into his "deeply suspicious of Stalin" act just as he had feigned surprise at FDR's unconditional surrender announcement at Casablanca. However, just before flying from Russia on February 14, at the very moment of Dresden's awesome trauma, he lauded his hosts' "great leader." And the ever theatrical PM, who certainly ranked with fellow dipsomaniac thespians John Barrymore and Richard Burton, lauded "The redeemed Crimea, cleansed by Russian valor from the foul taint of the Huns."
Dresden had once been a pivotal communications and rail center important to the Wehrmacht. But as Irving notes, by the time it received its fatal blow, "The city's strategic significance was scarcely marginal..." It was home to 630,000 permanent residents, its numbers swelled by German and Allied wounded, Allied POWs and hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing areas in the path of the Red Army's advance. The city's authorities were convinced that a non-strategic city with a large number of military hospitals, POW compounds, etc., would not receive anything approaching the annihilative smashing so many other cities and towns had undergone. Therefore most of the air defense and flak batteries that would otherwise be in Dresden were transferred to areas where it was assumed they'd be needed.
In The Bomber Command War Diaries the basic facts of the February 13-14 Dresden raids were recounted:
796 Lancasters and 9 Mosquitoes were dispatched in two separate raids and dropped 1,478 tons of high explosives and 1,182 tons of incendiary bombs... 311 American B-17s dropped 771 tons of bombs on Dresden the next day, with the railway yards as their aiming point. Part of the American Mustang (P-51) fighter escort was ordered to strafe traffic on the roads around Dresden to increase the chaos. The Americans bombed Dresden again on the 15th and on March 2 but it was generally accepted that it was the RAF night raid which caused the most serious damage.
Of the American strafing Irving noted:
British prisoners who had been released from their burning camps were among those to suffer the discomfort of machine gun attacks... Wherever columns of tramping people were marching in or out of the city they were pounced on by the fighters, and machine-gunned or raked with cannon fire.
On February 12 the last pre-attack refugee train had pulled into Dresden. People continued to flow into the city from the East, on foot or packed into horse drawn carts. Dresden had not been declared an open city, but few who would attempt to justify its devastation could deny its in-effect status as such.
One RAF Flight Engineer recalled that the brightness of the fires below allowed him to fill in his log sheet by the light that shot skyward. A crewman of another plane wrote:
I confess to taking a glance downward as the bombs fell, and I witnessed the shocking sight of a city on fire from end to end. Dense smoke could be seen drifting away from Dresden, leaving a brilliantly illuminated view of the town. My immediate reaction was a stunned reflection on the comparison between the holocaust below and the warnings of the evangelists in Gospel meetings before the war.
David Irving noted that:
In many cases during the night raids, people, finding that dense suffocating fumes from above were rolling down into the unventilated basements, broke down the wall breaches. Thus the smoke had access to the next-door cellars as well.
One survivor wrote:
The detonations shook the cellar walls. The sound of the explosives mixed with a new, strange sound, which seemed to come closer and closer, the sound of a thundering waterfall; it was the sound of the mighty tornado howling into the inner city.
The following passage is from Edward Jablonski's Airwar - Wings of Fire (Doubleday & Co.):
The horror and the terror on the ground was incredible, destruction was extensive, and the loss of life was frightful. The beautiful little city, its population swollen by an influx of refugees from the east fleeing before the Russians bent on revenge, pillage and rape, and its predominantly wooden buildings, ideal for incendiaries, all but vanished in a howling whirlwind of incineration. Although it is unlikely that the true toll will ever be known, the number of people probably killed at Dresden was about 135,000 [as compared with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, which killed 71,379].
In the 1966 book Ordeal by Fire author Roul Tunley described the Dresden experience of an American woman from New Jersey, Anne Wahle, who had gone to prewar Europe as the wife of an Austrian diplomat. She had survived the Hamburg raids and she and her three children would eventually walk and ride hundreds of miles from Dresden to safety. She recalled:
I had never seen anything like it. Howling gusts of hurricane force whipped flames in all directions. Nothing seemed to be spared. I watched little trains of flame race along garden paths and ignite a tree or even a stone ornament.
In The First Casualty Knightly wrote:
The flames ate everything organic, everything that would bum. People died by the thousands: cooked, incinerated or suffocated. Then American planes came the next day to machine-gun survivors as they struggled to the banks of the Elbe.
Knightly added that:
Precise casualty figures will never be known. The German authorities stopped counting when the known dead reached 25,000 and 35,000 were still missing. Some post-war sources put the number of dead at from 100,000 to 130,000, which would greatly exceed the number killed in the atom-bombing of Hiroshima... Dresden was merely a staging center for a half million refugees from Silesia. The [rail] yards were not even attacked. There were no ammunition workshops and factories, only a small works making optical lenses for gunsights.
Aftermath: Cover-ups and Lies
The horror extended well into the aftermath, with countless thousands lacking a bare subsistence food ration in addition to adequate winter shelter. Tens of thousands with various degrees of burns and other injuries went unattended.
Dresden had 19 major hospitals, all of them damaged to some degree during the raids and three of them totally wiped out. As the Allied air brass knew, Dresden was a center for convalescing Wehrmacht personnel from all fronts as well as for Allied wounded, a large number of them airmen.
Fully realizing the extent of the destruction and the circumstances under which it was meted out, London moved to cover its position even before the follow-up American raid. At 9 am on February 14 the Air Ministry released a full-length bulletin. Irving wrote:
In a statement describing the target city in unusual detail, the Air Ministry stressed the vital importance of Dresden to the enemy: As the center of a railway network and as a great industrial town it had become of the greatest value for controlling the German defenses against Marshal Koniev's Armies.
Knightly pointed out that Ministry of Defense records show that no war correspondents flew with the bombers, and that there were no eyewitness accounts save for a few air crews interviewed on their return, and they were given various concocted explanations as to why they were bombing the city - they were attacking German army headquarters, destroying an arms dump, knocking out an industrial area, or even 'wiping out a large poison gas plant.'
From The First Casualty:
The truth first came out in Sweden. At 10:15 am on February 15 a Swedish news bulletin transmitted in Danish to occupied Denmark said that the death toll in Dresden was already between 20,000 and 35,000.
Then newspapers in neutral countries began printing stories of the raid. On February 17, the Associated Press reported throughout America:
Allied air chiefs have made the long-awaited decision to adopt deliberate terror bombing of German population centers as a ruthless expedient of hastening Hitler's doom.
Despite the incredible chronological inaccuracy of the "long-awaited decision," the Dresden story, basically, was out. But British censors placed a solid clamp on the true nature of Dresden. They fed the Fleet Street press the official "major strategic target" line. Thus following the raid, readers of the Evening Standard read the lead story, under the headline "The Blasting of Dresden" and accompanied by a front page picture of bombs dropping on indistinguishable targets, without learning anything the government wished withheld.
In America, however, millions registered feelings of rage, disillusion and concern. Marshall's statement that the raid was staged at Stalin's request set off some anti-administration sentiments in Congress. But overall, Roosevelt's bitter enemies were wary of exposing themselves to accusations of criticism during wartime, a factor that had severely curtailed the Dewey-Bricker Republican ticket in 1944 when FDR won his fourth term.
In volume three of The Army Air Forces in World War II, published by the University of Chicago press, it was stated that "General Arnold was disconcerted about the publicity" that the AP story had generated and that "Eisenhower heard all about the issue, and AAF headquarters, aware of the damaging impression the recent publicity had made, took steps to prevent another break."
England's Fleet Street blackout did not prevent members of Parliament from becoming privy to Dresden's slaughter. Many MPs, especially those who had fond memories of the city, reacted with outrage. Churchill, the holocaust's ultimate button-pusher, became the target of considerable friendly fire.
In Bomber Harris Saward noted that "The whole question of the Allied bombing policy suddenly came under question." In March, Churchill wrote the Chiefs of Staff: "It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing the German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed." Saward found it amazing that "Churchill, of all people" would reach this conclusion in the wake of severe criticism. He noted that the PM "had been the greatest proponent of destroying Germany city by city..."
Few today realize that in early 1945 the U.S. carried out from England six robot missions of B-17s, each loaded with 10 tons of explosives. The planes were "war weary" craft that had been stripped of armor and armament. Pilots got the drone bombers airborne and pointed toward their German targets, then bailed out. None had been successful in hitting specific targets, and the project was scrapped due to British objections. Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal had expressed fears that the Germans, with a great number of planes but few surviving pilots, would be tempted to reply in kind. As to the German V-1 and V-2 rocket bombs that fell on England in 1944, few dispute that they were aimed at strategic targets but that there were a large number of civil casualties.
Following the war, involved American and British air commanders would fudge and rationalize the years of day-night civilian slaughter. A B-17 navigator, now a lawyer in Northern Virginia, recalls that in raiding Munich their PMI (Point of Maximum Impact) target was the large fountain in the center of the city's business district at high noon, "in order that we could catch the most people out at lunchtime."
But "Bomber" Harris remained unmoved by the slaughter, devastation of cultural landmarks and public criticism. The Cromwellian commander raged against any diversions of Bomber Command's mission. In a March 29, 1945 letter to Air Vice Marshal Sir Norman Bottomly, Harris wrote:
The [public] feeling, such as there is, over Dresden could easily be explained by a psychiatrist. It is connected with German bands and Dresden shepherdesses.
And in writing Bottomly, a man who knew all the grim details of the Dresden reality, Harris prompted the question of who might better benefit from the ministrations of a psychiatrist:
Actually Dresden was a mass of munitions works, an intact government center, and a key transportation point to the East. It is now none of these.
Writing of Harris after the war, the compilers of the official British history of WWII wrote:
Sir Arthur Harris made a habit of seeing only one side of a question, and then exaggerating it. He had a tendency to confuse advice with interference, criticism with sabotage and evidence with propaganda.
However, Harris was seen quite differently by America's two most celebrated figures of that period. In a July 13, 1945 letter that went well beyond cordial recognition, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote Harris:
My gratitude to you is a small token for the magnificent service which you have rendered, and my simple expression of thanks sounds totally inadequate. Time and opportunity prohibit the chance I should like to shake you and your men by the hand, and thank each of you personally for all that you have done.
On October 17, 1944 Harris had been awarded America's Legion of Merit with the degree of Chief Commander. The citation concluded:
He performed his complex task with inspiring leadership and with outstanding cooperation, skill and determination, reflecting great credit upon the service he represents and upon the Armed Forces of the United Nations.
[Signed] Franklin D. Roosevelt.
And of the long and terrible bombing offensive that emanated from Cherwell and Churchill, and that cost 50,000 American and 55,000 British and Commonwealth lives, Max Hastings observed:
It is almost beyond belief that the German army continued to resist so effectively even amidst the rubble of a nation. The Wehrmacht's dogged retreat, and the continued output from the factories until the final weeks, rendered the concept of morale bombing finally absurd. The German city of Dresden, once hailed as the "Florence of the Elbe" and an eternal testament to the architectural beauty of humankind, led a charmed life during the Second World War. Its great regard as a cultural center had precluded its inclusion as a bombing target for much of the war, and in contrast to the rest of Germany, it took on the reputation of being a haven from Allied planes who droned over the Third Reich day and night, bombing with impunity, killing thousands. To the refugees from bombed-out regions in other parts of the country, the city, with its immaculate streets and buildings, took on a vision of lost paradise. For Dresdeners on the other hand, the peace had become habitual. But that is not to say that the local population was oblivious of the danger of war. Allied bombers were a frequent subject of discussion by Dresdeners who pondered their city’s immunity from the war. One particular rumor was that Dresden had been spared from the bombing because Winston Churchill’s relatives lived in the city. Another rumor was certain that Dresden was exempt from the bombing because the allies intended to establish it as the post-war capital of a defeated Germany.1 But already events were moving against the city. In October 1944, American bombers raided the city’s Friedrichstadt marshaling yards, killing several civilians. Deluded by the myth of their own invincibility, Dresden remained ill-prepared for air attack. It hardly had any shelters or air defenses (most of its flak guns were on the Eastern Front). Few believed that the city was in any real danger. The townspeople pointed out that the city had survived numerous attacks and catastrophes in its seven hundred and fifty-year of recorded history, including a devastating siege by Austrian troops in 1760. Most believed that Dresden was capable of withstanding allied air raids, should they come. Most believed they would never come. They were fatally mistaken. Political Means for Political Gains Allied bomber commanders saw this as a final opportunity to prove one of the air arm’s oldest of maxims: that the demoralization of people by bombing would induce the enemy Government to sue for peace, thus obviating the need for a ground campaign. 6 So especially vehement was the British belief in this that the Royal Air Force (RAF) adopted the indiscriminate bombing of cities or “Area Bombing” as it was known, as the cornerstone of its offensive air tactics during the war. 7 Initially in 1944, the allied air effort had been pointed against Germany’s oil industries, one of the few targets that offered a glimmer of hope for affecting an early end to the war. While German armament production actually rose at the apex of the allied bombing campaign in 1944, allied strategists realized (correctly) that the destruction of the oil industries was a relatively easy means of immobilizing the German war machine. 8 Unfortunately for the allies, Air Vice-Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris, the chief of the RAF’s Bomber Command 9, was a fierce proponent of “Area Bombing” and argued that the bombing of cities was the only significant means of achieving victory. Infuriated with what he believed was a waste of time and effort in attacks on oil plants, Harris pushed his case for the resumption of the area bombing. He proposed bringing Germany to her knees with a series of cataclysmic air raids on Berlin, Leipzig and among other places, Dresden.10 In a letter to Churchill in September 1944, Harris argued that as the Germans would be expected to fight to their fullest in defense of their homeland, full emphasis must be placed to “knock Germany finally flat.” 11 The British attack went into action in two waves 17 on the night of 13/14 February. The first wave, consisting of 244 heavy-bombers carrying more than eight hundred tons of incendiaries and high-explosives, was scheduled to take off at 6 p.m. Aircrews attending the briefing were told that the city was being bombed to “block the supply [of troops and armaments] to the Russian Front.” 18 If that were true, then the raiders would have had instructions to bomb the five primary bridges 19 that connected North and South Dresden over the Elbe River and the city’s three train stations. Instead, however, raid leaders were given orders to concentrate the bombing in the center of Dresden, the culturally-rich Altstadt District. At precisely 10.03 p.m., the first British wave struck. Crippled by a chronic lack of flak guns and overflowing with refugees escaping the relentless advance of the Russian Army, Dresden was in no position to fend off an air raid. City officials had their hands full just trying to provide accommodations for the hundreds of displaced persons arriving every day. By nightfall, the city’s official population of 625,17421 had swelled to over a million. 22 Every Dresden family had been ordered to take in guests to keep people off the streets. 23 Yet, hundreds languished out in the open. The bombing left, in the words of British officers, “a fine concentration [of bombs], and fires visible for one hundred miles.”27 By eleven, much of the Altstadt district was in flames. City rescue services rushed into action, only to be caught in the second attack as was intended by raid planners. 28 Some of those buildings destroyed were the most architecturally beautiful in Germany, if not in Europe. The towering Frauenkriche, a grand Lutheran cathedral towering three hundred feet over the ground, fell on the morning of February 15. Dresdeners openly wept at its loss. 42 Its rubble lay in an unkempt heap until after the Iron Curtain fell, when a unified Germany prepared for its reconstruction in 1994. 43 Other equally famous monuments that were denied to future generations were the44: Gottfried Semper’s famed Opera House, the Zwinger Palace (also designed by Semper), the Albertinum, home to a priceless collection of sculptures, the Green Vaults art gallery (designed by famous Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel), the Dresden Academy of Arts and the famous Circus Sarassani. 45 References: SOURCES Documents Immediate Interpretation Report No.K.3742, Dresden, 18 February 1945. Interpretation Report No.K.4171, Dresden, 22 March 1945. Articles Hewitt, Kenneth, "Place Annihilation: Area Bombing and the Fate of Urban Places." Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 73, No. 2. (June 1983): 257-284. Historical Analysis of the 14-15 February 1945 Bombings of Dresden. Maxwell, AL: USAF Historical Division, Research Studies Institute, Air University. Meilinger, Phillip S., "Trenchard and ‘Moral Bombing’: The Evolution of Royal Air Force Doctrine before World War II." The Journal of Military History, Vol. 60, No. 2. (April 1996): 243-270. Schaffer, Ronald, "American Military Ethics in World War II: The Bombing of German Civilians." The Journal of American History Vol.67, No. 2 (September 1980): 318-334. Werrel, Kenneth P., "The Strategic Bombing of Germany in World War II: Costs and Accomplishments." The Journal of American History, Vol. 73, No. 3. (December 1986): 702-713. Books Irving, David, Apocalypse 1945: The Destruction of Dresden. London: Focal Point Publishing, 1995. McKee, Alexander, Dresden 1945: The Devil’s Tinderbox. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1982. Taylor, Frederick, Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945. New York: Harper Collins, 2004.
Dresden - 1945
In 1945, Dresden became an important objective for allied bombers. Not withstanding its immense reputation as a cultural storehouse, Dresden also possessed 127 factories, and by 1945 ranked as seventh in Germany’s list of important industrial cities. 2 Unknown to Dresdeners, the Nazi leadership in Berlin had also recently classified the city as a Verteidigungsbereich (“Defensive Area”) 3, negating all chances of the war passing them by. Furthermore the city was a vital nexus for military troops and equipment transporting to the Eastern Front. These circumstances allowed Dresden to become a military target in the sixth and final year of the Second World War.
Three massive allied air attacks — following close on the heels of one another on 13th/14th February 1945 succeeded in destroying nearly sixty percent of the city or 2.23 square miles of built-up area. 4 These attacks, executed within a space of just twenty-four hours, sealed Dresden’s fate and ensured its ignominious place in history, as an altar of destruction.
The sequence leading up to the bombing of Dresden became first linked in July 1944 when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill commented that: “The time might well come in the not too distant future when an all-out attack by every means at our disposal on German civilian morale might be decisive.” 5 That time came in early 1945, when the Anglo-American armies were on the threshold into Germany. The journey had not been easy. Taken aback by a series of impressive but failed German counter-attacks in late 1944-45, allied commanders feared that enemy resistance would stiffen in the fight for Germany. Their fears prompted an over-riding importance to end the war as soon as possible.
But Harris had promised victory over Germany in the past, each time coming up short. As a result he had little credibility left within government circles by 1945. Although Churchill was suspicious of Harris’s claims, he was also intrigued. In a reply letter to the Bomber chief days later, he wrote:
I agreed with your good letter, except that I do not think that you…can do it at all [knock Germany flat]. I recognize however that this is a becoming view for you to take … [and] I am for all cracking everything onto Germany.12
But Churchill had far different reasons for encouraging Harris than the British bomber leader could have perceived. Already wary of Josef Stalin’s post-war ambitions in Europe, Churchill was eager to intimidate the Russians with the power of Bomber Command. 13 A German city would have to be obliterated for the Red Army to realize that it had no leverage against the might of Allied air power. Accordingly, intelligence analysts began their search for an acceptable city (which had hitherto escaped the bombing unscathed), and isolated the lists of targets to within the planned Russian zone of occupation. 14
Almost immediately, the Saxon capital of Dresden topped the list. By January 31, an air attack had been planned and perhaps appropriately-christened, “Thunderclap”.
Officially, the allies would claim that bombing of Dresden was to hamper the movement of reinforcements and refugees in Eastern Germany. But it was not merely that alone. The allies were confident that a massive air attack on Dresden would result in a debilitating blow to German morale and an unavoidable aftershock to the corporeal unity of the Reich. As evidence of this, one need not go any further than an official study prepared by the British Directorate of Bomber Operations. The authors of this report coldly calculated that in an attack on a city, “with a daytime population of 300,000, we may expect 220,000 casualties … [of which] fifty percent or 110,000 may expect to be killed. It is suggested that such an attack…cannot help but have a shattering effect on political and civilian morale all over Germany…” 15
It is remarkable to note that even the precision-bombing US Army Air Force (USAAF) which normally disdained the British practice of “Area Bombing” joined in the fray by amending their original task into a quasi-indiscriminate raid on the city.16 This emendation would come back to haunt the Americans decades after the war, for although the British were largely responsible for the destruction of Dresden, the Americans would earn more than their share of the blame.
Spanking the Inferno
Operation “Thunderclap” was set to go in the second week of February 1945. The Americans were to open the attack on February 13, but a last-minute cancellation owing to bad weather put the British on first. The American attack might have served to prepare Dresden for the more grievous British raids later that night, but fate had intervened against the Germans.
Following three hours after the first would be a second wave (codenamed “Press-on Force”), consisting of 529 bombers with orders to finish the job. That was not all, on the following afternoon of the next day; the long-delayed Americans would go into action, with 311 American Flying Fortresses striking against the city’s rail-yards.
The RAF readied itself for action. Attending the customary briefing, the airmen listened to a standard telefaxed message from Bomber Command headquarters that few would forget. “Dresden is by far the largest un-bombed built-up area the enemy has,” the message read. “The intentions of the attack are to hit the enemy where he will feel it the most, and incidentally to show the Russians when they arrive, what Bomber Command can do.”20 Churchill’s influence is easily visible in the text.
Using the light thrown up by “Pathfinders,” 24 an elite British group that used flares and fire markers to mark a target, the British raiders unloaded their bombs on Altstadt and the adjoining Johannstadt, a mixed class suburb boasting elegant apartment houses, shops and minor factories. 25 Caught by surprise, Dresden’s air raid sirens began to wail only three minutes after the arrival of the British — at 10.06 p.m. Hundreds of people were caught out on the streets. This was especially true at the city main train station at Hauptbahnoff, where thousands of refugees had gathered for the night. In the ensuing panic to find shelter, hundreds perished in a stampede before the bombs cut down others. Others that made it into the shelter died of asphyxiation. The scene was replayed along every major street in central Dresden.
The first attack lingered on until 10.28 p.m., by which time the first wave had dropped 881.1 tons of bombs. It is interesting to note that a significant percentage of these (43%) were incendiaries — a weapon useless for little else except setting fires. 26
At 1.07 a.m., Dresden’s air-raid sirens wailed again to the anguish of its citizens. Approaching RAF aircrews claimed to have spotted the fires of Dresden as far away as Leipzig, sixty miles away29. This time the bulk of the bombing fell on the predominately residential Hauptbahnoff and Südvorstadt districts. Dresdeners scrambled for the supposed safety of the Elbe River and the sprawling Grosser Garten (an equivalent to New York’s Central park). Unfortunately, the routes to the Elbe were often blocked by fires and the Grosser Garten was being severely bombed. The famous zoo at the Grosser Garten and the majority of its animal population, already mauled in the first attack, were virtually wiped out in the second. In what were arguably some of the most heart-rending events of the night, zoo keepers were forced to put down many of their dearly-loved charges by pistol and machinegun. 30
As RAF planners had hoped, Dresden’s fire and rescue-services were caught out in the open as they went about their work. The majority of firefighters and rescue personnel out that night were killed.31 More than half of the city police and fireman’s vehicles were destroyed. The units themselves were scarred beyond recognition. One example was a volunteer fire brigade that came down from the nearby town of Bad Schandau and was absolutely destroyed. There was only one survivor. 32
Then the frightful happened, the fresh bombs joined the fires left by the old and coalesced into a terrifying inferno — in effect a firestorm. Sucking in fresh air from the surrounding area, the firestorm swept through Central Dresden like a tornado, snatching the old and young alike off the streets and throwing them into the flames. 33 British raid planners later denied that their intent had been to spark a firestorm, but the concentration of bombs had fallen in such a way that every opportunity had been presented to that eventuality.
By dawn on February 14, the Dresden landscape had ceased to exist. Countless bodies lay in streets and even more in collapsed shelters and homes. But Dresden’s ordeal was not over. At noon, the arrival of the American Eighth Air Force threw the smoldering city into pandemonium. The Americans had strict orders to concentrate their bombs on the city’s marshaling yards34 but many fell into the surrounding areas. Areas of the city that had previously survived the British bombs now crumbled under the weight of American munitions. As far as the allies were concerned, the raids had been an overwhelming success.
What Price Success?
Although the attack was a success numerically, its actual results amounted to a total failure. The bombing had failed to sever the many “lines of communications” 35 running through the city. Just one of the city’s five important bridges had been knocked down.3 6 Although the city’s railways had been badly hit, the damage was not permanent. True, an all-important line between the Neustadt and the Hauptbahnoff station had been severed, but the Germans managed to restore a single line between the two stations within days. 37 The Neustadt goods station was badly bombed as well, but continued to function. 38 If anything, the bombing of the Friedrichstadt marshalling yards was the only decisive success of the raid as the Americans are credited with having destroyed forty-five tracks in the yards alone, while the British destroyed eight hundred coaches and wagons. 39
As per the RAF’s “area bombing” expectations, any industries caught within the affected area were also destroyed. A German report mentioned that forty-one important factories had been damaged or destroyed as a result of the raid.40 In large, however, non-military targets such as public buildings, residential centers and homes suffered the most. In keeping with Churchill’s wish to impress the Russians, German authorities estimated that the bombers had destroyed nearly twelve thousand homes. Other lost buildings included:
24 banks, 26 insurance buildings, 31 stores and retail house, 647 shops, 64 storage and warehousing facilities, 2 market halls, 31 large hotels, 26 large public houses, 63 administrative buildings, 3 theatres, 18 film theatres, 11 churches, 6 chapels, 5 cultural-historical buildings, 19 hospitals (including private clinics), 39 schools, 5 consulates, 1 zoological garden, 1 water works, 1 train station, 19 postal facilities, 4 tram stations, 19 ships and barges. 41
Even in 1958, when the writer Alexander McKee visited the city, Dresden appeared little more than a near-inhabited wasteland whose shattered roads and once-plentiful neighborhoods had been overgrown by shrubs and weeds. As McKee later wrote: “[from the center of Dresden], it was possible to see a mile or more in every direction uninterruptedly, the view obstructed only by bushes, for it was clear of buildings.” 46
Yet, Dresden did not become a tragedy merely for the destruction of its built-up area or the loss of its unique cultural heritage. It is best remembered for its terrific loss in lives. Benumbed and angered by the destruction of Dresden, Nazi propagandists initially claimed that the city had suffered a death toll of 350,000 to 450,00047. Another report, released in March 1945 by the Dresden Police and the SS, known as “Tagesbefehl Nr 47” (Order of the Day 47), cited a mortality rate of 202,04048. Both were wrong. It is widely recognized by historians that the most authoritative figures come from a “Final Report” written by a Colonel Jurk at the behest of the Dresden Commander of Police, a few weeks after the bombings. Jurk’s extensive report (missing until 1965) showed that between 18,000 and 22,000 people had definitely died and about 35,000 people were missing 49 brings the total casualty rate to at least fifty thousand. 50 In comparison, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki claimed the lives of 66,000 and 39,000 respectively. 51
The death toll ensured that the allies managed to achieve another objective — the demoralization of Dresden. The survivors were almost certainly dispirited and there were many recorded incidents of anger directed against Hitler and symbols of the Nazi government.52 Yet, to the dismay of allied bomber leaders, the citizens did not go the expected extent of pressuring the government to make peace. Off course, in a totalitarian government such as the Reich’s, such expectations were completely unrealistic. But this last failure shattered the last allied hopes for achieving victory byair power alone.
Even less successful was Churchill’s intention to intimidate the Soviets. In retrospect, it is inconceivable how the British Prime Minister ever thought that this was possible, for the Russians were no strangers to destruction. Few Soviets for one, could forget the horror of Stalingrad which had been razed to the ground in a bloody and desperate battle in 1942-43. 53
Furthermore, the Soviets actually succeeded in turning the destruction of Dresden into a skilled propaganda campaign against the west. For decades after the war, Dresdeners were constantly reminded of the terrible Anglo-American conspiracy that had laid waste to their city. 54 The Russians even forbid the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche to serve as a reminder of the allied deed. 55
Just what had the Allies hoped achieve by bombing Dresden? They had hoped to bring a swift end to the war by demoralizing the population, prevent Dresden from being a key node on the eastern Germany transport network and show the might of allied bombers. Apart from the un-tempered destruction of a city in the final months of the war, causing the deaths of thousands, they succeeded in achieving little else.
Instead, the destruction of Dresden caused the opposite to happen. It cut short the meteoric career of Arthur Harris and nearly ruined the reputation of the allied air forces, especially RAF Bomber Command.56 It is ironic that while allies used overwhelming use of force as solution to a problem, the bombing of Dresden instead serves as a lesson of restraint in acts of belligerence.
1 David Irving, “Apocalypse 1945: The Destruction of Dresden” (London: Focal Point Publications): 94.
2 Taylor, 148.
3 Ibid., 225.
4 Kenneth Hewitt, “Place Annihilation and the Fate of Urban Places,” Annals of American Geographers, Vol. 73, No. 2 (June 1983): 266.
5 Ibid., 63.
6 Phillip S. Meilinger, “Trenchard and “Moral” Bombing: The Evolution of Royal Air Force Doctrine before World War II,” The Journal of Military History, Vol. 60, No. 2 (April 1996): 256, 266.
7 The notion that a country could be demoralized to a state of capitulation first emerged during the inter-war period but gained prominence in Britain in the early 1930s. Yet wartime experiences showed this premise to be completely false. For example, Britain’s own civilian morale, although battered during the German Blitz of 1940-41 had survived reasonably intact. Even allied experiences over the Germany from 1941-44 had indicated that the decline of civilian morale could not have a significant impact on the course of the war.
8 This is no exaggeration. The limited allied campaign against German oil in 1944 had succeeded in causing a grave fuel crisis in Germany. So much so, that during the famed Ardennes Offensive that winter, German armored and mechanized units had specific orders to capture allied fuel dumps in order to keep moving. Furthermore, the Luftwaffe, which was heavily dependant on high-octane aviation fuel, was virtually grounded for lack of fuel from late 1944 to the end of the war. (For more, refer to US Strategic Bombing Survey, European Theatre of Operations, Oil Report, August 1947)
9 Bomber Command: The primary heavy bomber arm of the British Royal Air Force (RAF); based in England throughout the war. Bomber Command was responsible for all British strategic bombing operations against Nazi Germany during the war. Its direct American counterpart in England was the famed Eight Air Force, which also participated in the assault on Dresden.
10 Alexander McKee, “Dresden 1945: The Devil’s Tinderbox” (New York: Barnes & Noble Books): 100-101.
11 Taylor, 174.
12 Ibid., 174.
13 Ibid., 105-106.
14 The allies had already decided which German regions would fall under Soviet control after the war. At the Yalta Conference, (4-11 February 1945), US, British and Russian delegates agreed to split a defeating Germany into four occupation zones (Russian, British, American and French) under a unified commission in Berlin. Under this agreement, the Soviets would gain control over nearly all of eastern Germany, including the province of Saxony and its capital, Dresden.
15 McKee, 64.
16 Unlike the RAF, the USAAF practiced a strict doctrine of precision-bombing aimed at industrial and transport targets. It is argued by historians however that by 1945 however, that much of this ‘precision’ had fallen in favor of indiscriminate bombing of populated centers, especially during “Thunderclap”. The official history of the AAF, “The Army Air Forces in World War II,” for one, testifies that, “[the US attack on Dresden was] frankly aimed at breaking the morale of the German people.” (Ronald Schaffer, “American Military Ethics in World War II” 319, 332-333; McKee, 64, 104-105)
It must be noted by the reader that the concept of “Morale Bombing” is synonymous with “Area Bombing”. (Author’s note)
17 The first RAF wave was codenamed “Plate-Rack Force” and consisted of aircraft from No. 5 Group, RAF – an elite bomber unit. The second wave consisted of aircraft from Nos. 1, 3, 6 (Canadian) and 8 (Pathfinder) Groups. (Martin Middlebrook, “Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book, 1939-1945” Midland Publishing 1995. Limited online version available at: http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/feb45.html)
18 Taylor, 215.
19 The Albert, the Augustus, the Carola, the Marien and its adjoining rail bridge.
20 Irving, 145.
21 1939 Population figure. It is believed that the city “base” population had not varied greatly by 1945. (Hewitt, 266.)
22 McKee, 45.
23 Taylor, 227.
24 As the British bombed by night, they evolved specialized tactics to identify and mark the target. The “Pathfinders” were at the heart of these tactics, using flares and markers to light up the target for the following “Main Force” of bombers.
25 Taylor, 237, 251.
26 Ibid., 257.
27 Irving, 169.
28 Ibid., 140.
29 McKee, 149.
30 Ibid, 194-197.
31 Taylor, 296.
32 Irving, 210.
33 Ibid., 203-240.
34 Here is an anomaly of the American raid. February 14 target orders delivered to senior Eight Air Force officers mentioned the “Dresden Marshalling Yard” as the target. But transcripts from the US 1st Air Division (the unit which conducted the raid) to Eight Air Force HQ declared that the primary target had been the “built up area [of] Dresden”. (Taylor, 318)
35 Military terminology for a transportation route or network, including rail-lines, roads and waterways. Can also encompass an air link from one place to another.
36 Just the Carola Bridge was destroyed. (McKee, 243)
37 Taylor, 356.
38 McKee, 243-244.
39 Taylor, 356.
40 Ibid., 358.
41 Ibid., 356-358.
42 Taylor, 342-343.
43 The German authorities intend to unveil the re-built church in 2006 – the 800th anniversary of Dresden.
44 It must be noted that some of the buildings listed here were re-built by the 1980s, but they were in effect replicas of the old.
45 Irving, 273-274.
46 McKee, 312.
47 Taylor, 443.
48 Ibid., 370.
49 This figure is backed up by another document found in West German archives in 1966. Dated 22 March 1945, this document: “Situation Reports on Air Raids on Reich No 1404” cites that although 18,375 bodies had been counted, the final death toll may be 25,000, with another 35,000 missing. (Irving, 289).
50 Ibid., 445-446.
51 This information was garnered from: http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/abomb/mp10.htm.
52 McKee, 249; Irving, 256.
53 Now Volgograd. Scene of a massive battle between the German Sixth Army and Russian forces from September 1942 to January 1943, which proved the turning point of the war on the Eastern Front.
54 Taylor, 392-393. Also see Historical Analysis of the 14-15 February 1945 Bombings of Dresden. Maxwell, AL: USAF Historical Division, Research Studies Institute, Air University.
55 Taylor, 398.
56 Harris ultimately resigned from the RAF in 1946. He is still identified today as enemy No. 1 in Dresden. Furthermore, the post-war controversy ensured that RAF Bomber Command was denied a customary campaign medal in recognition of its services during the war. (Taylor 388-389, 422)
The death toll was staggering. The full extent of the Dresden Holocaust can be more readily grasped if one considers that well over 250,000 -- possibly as many as a half a million -- persons died within a 14-hour period, whereas estimates of those who died at Hiroshima range from 90,000 to 140,000.
Allied apologists for the massacre have often "twinned" Dresden with the English city of Coventry. But the 380 killed in Coventry during the entire war cannot begin to compare with over 1,000 times that number who were slaughtered in 14 hours at Dresden. Moreover, Coventry was a munitions center, a legitimate military target. Dresden, on the other hand, produced only china--and cups and saucers can hardly be considered military hardware!
It is interesting to further compare the respective damage to London and Dresden, especially when we recall all the Hollywood schmaltz about the "London blitz." In one night, 1,600 acres of land were destroyed in the Dresden massacre. London escaped with damage to only 600 acres during the entire war.
In one ironic note, Dresden's only conceivable military target -- its railroad yards -- was ignored by Allied bombers. They were too busy concentrating on helpless old men, women and children.
If ever there was a war crime, then certainly the Dresden Holocaust ranks as the most sordid one of all time. Yet there are no movies made today condemning this fiendish slaughter; nor did any Allied airman--or Sir Winston--sit in the dock at Nuremberg. In fact, the Dresden airmen were actually awarded medals for their role in this mass murder. But, of course, they could not have been tried, because there were "only following orders."
This is not to say that the mountains of corpses left in Dresden were ignored by the Nuremberg Tribunal.
In one final irony, the prosecution presented photographs of the Dresden dead as "evidence" of alleged National Socialist atrocities against Jewish concentration-camp inmates!
Churchill, the monster who ordered the Dresden slaughter, was knighted, and the rest is history. The cold-blooded sadism of the massacre, however, is brushed aside by his biographers, who still cannot bring themselves to tell how the desire of one madman to "impress" another one let to the mass murder of up to a half million men, women and children.
~The Independent, London, December 20, 2001
The German city of Dresden, once hailed as the "Florence of the Elbe" and an eternal testament to the architectural beauty of humankind, led a charmed life during the Second World War. Its great regard as a cultural center had precluded its inclusion as a bombing target for much of the war, and in contrast to the rest of Germany, it took on the reputation of being a haven from Allied planes who droned over the Third Reich day and night, bombing with impunity, killing thousands. To the refugees from bombed-out regions in other parts of the country, the city, with its immaculate streets and buildings, took on a vision of lost paradise. For Dresdeners on the other hand, the peace had become habitual. But that is not to say that the local population was oblivious of the danger of war.
Allied bombers were a frequent subject of discussion by Dresdeners who pondered their city’s immunity from the war. One particular rumor was that Dresden had been spared from the bombing because Winston Churchill’s relatives lived in the city. Another rumor was certain that Dresden was exempt from the bombing because the allies intended to establish it as the post-war capital of a defeated Germany.1 But already events were moving against the city. In October 1944, American bombers raided the city’s Friedrichstadt marshaling yards, killing several civilians.
Deluded by the myth of their own invincibility, Dresden remained ill-prepared for air attack. It hardly had any shelters or air defenses (most of its flak guns were on the Eastern Front). Few believed that the city was in any real danger. The townspeople pointed out that the city had survived numerous attacks and catastrophes in its seven hundred and fifty-year of recorded history, including a devastating siege by Austrian troops in 1760. Most believed that Dresden was capable of withstanding allied air raids, should they come. Most believed they would never come. They were fatally mistaken.
Political Means for Political Gains
Allied bomber commanders saw this as a final opportunity to prove one of the air arm’s oldest of maxims: that the demoralization of people by bombing would induce the enemy Government to sue for peace, thus obviating the need for a ground campaign. 6 So especially vehement was the British belief in this that the Royal Air Force (RAF) adopted the indiscriminate bombing of cities or “Area Bombing” as it was known, as the cornerstone of its offensive air tactics during the war. 7
Initially in 1944, the allied air effort had been pointed against Germany’s oil industries, one of the few targets that offered a glimmer of hope for affecting an early end to the war. While German armament production actually rose at the apex of the allied bombing campaign in 1944, allied strategists realized (correctly) that the destruction of the oil industries was a relatively easy means of immobilizing the German war machine. 8 Unfortunately for the allies, Air Vice-Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris, the chief of the RAF’s Bomber Command 9, was a fierce proponent of “Area Bombing” and argued that the bombing of cities was the only significant means of achieving victory. Infuriated with what he believed was a waste of time and effort in attacks on oil plants, Harris pushed his case for the resumption of the area bombing. He proposed bringing Germany to her knees with a series of cataclysmic air raids on Berlin, Leipzig and among other places, Dresden.10 In a letter to Churchill in September 1944, Harris argued that as the Germans would be expected to fight to their fullest in defense of their homeland, full emphasis must be placed to “knock Germany finally flat.” 11
The British attack went into action in two waves 17 on the night of 13/14 February. The first wave, consisting of 244 heavy-bombers carrying more than eight hundred tons of incendiaries and high-explosives, was scheduled to take off at 6 p.m. Aircrews attending the briefing were told that the city was being bombed to “block the supply [of troops and armaments] to the Russian Front.” 18 If that were true, then the raiders would have had instructions to bomb the five primary bridges 19 that connected North and South Dresden over the Elbe River and the city’s three train stations. Instead, however, raid leaders were given orders to concentrate the bombing in the center of Dresden, the culturally-rich Altstadt District.
At precisely 10.03 p.m., the first British wave struck. Crippled by a chronic lack of flak guns and overflowing with refugees escaping the relentless advance of the Russian Army, Dresden was in no position to fend off an air raid. City officials had their hands full just trying to provide accommodations for the hundreds of displaced persons arriving every day. By nightfall, the city’s official population of 625,17421 had swelled to over a million. 22 Every Dresden family had been ordered to take in guests to keep people off the streets. 23 Yet, hundreds languished out in the open.
The bombing left, in the words of British officers, “a fine concentration [of bombs], and fires visible for one hundred miles.”27 By eleven, much of the Altstadt district was in flames. City rescue services rushed into action, only to be caught in the second attack as was intended by raid planners. 28
Some of those buildings destroyed were the most architecturally beautiful in Germany, if not in Europe. The towering Frauenkriche, a grand Lutheran cathedral towering three hundred feet over the ground, fell on the morning of February 15. Dresdeners openly wept at its loss. 42 Its rubble lay in an unkempt heap until after the Iron Curtain fell, when a unified Germany prepared for its reconstruction in 1994. 43 Other equally famous monuments that were denied to future generations were the44: Gottfried Semper’s famed Opera House, the Zwinger Palace (also designed by Semper), the Albertinum, home to a priceless collection of sculptures, the Green Vaults art gallery (designed by famous Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel), the Dresden Academy of Arts and the famous Circus Sarassani. 45
Immediate Interpretation Report No.K.3742, Dresden, 18 February 1945.
Interpretation Report No.K.4171, Dresden, 22 March 1945.
Hewitt, Kenneth, "Place Annihilation: Area Bombing and the Fate of Urban Places." Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 73, No. 2. (June 1983): 257-284. Historical Analysis of the 14-15 February 1945 Bombings of Dresden. Maxwell, AL: USAF Historical Division, Research Studies Institute, Air University.
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