Bombing of Dresden in World War II
The Bombing of Dresden was an attack on the city of Dresden, the capital of the German state of Saxony, that took place in the final months of the Second World War in the European Theatre. In four raids between 13 and 15 February 1945, 722 heavy bombers of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and 527 of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosivebombs and incendiary devices on the city. The bombing and the resulting firestorm destroyed over 1,600 acres (6.5 km2) of the city centre. An estimated 22,700 to 500,000 people were killed. Three more USAAF air raids followed, two occurring on 2 March and 17 April aimed at the city's railroad marshaling yard and one small raid on 17 April aimed at industrial areas.
Post-war discussion of whether or not the attacks were justified has led to the bombing becoming one of the moral causes célèbres of the war.
A 1953 United States Air Force report defended the operation as the justified bombing of a military and industrial target, which was a major rail transport and communication centre, housing 110 factories and 50,000 workers in support of the German war effort. Several researchers have claimed that not all of the communications infrastructure, such as the bridges, were targeted, nor were the extensive industrial areas outside the city centre. Critics of the bombing argue that Dresden—sometimes referred to as "Florence on the Elbe" (Elbflorenz)—was a cultural landmark of little or no military significance, and that the attacks were indiscriminate area bombing and not proportionate to the commensurate military gains.
Large variations in the claimed death toll have fueled the controversy. In March 1945, the German government ordered its press to publish a falsified casualty figure of 200,000 for the Dresden raids, and death toll estimates as high as 500,000 have been given. The city authorities at the time estimated no more than 25,000 victims, a figure which subsequent investigations, including one commissioned by the city council in 2010, support.
Early in 1945, after the German offensive, known as the Battle of the Bulge, had been exhausted, and after the Red Army had launched their Silesian Offensivesinto pre-war German territory, the German army was retreating on all fronts, but not yet defeated. On 8 February 1945, the Red Army crossed the Oder River, with positions just 70 km from Berlin. As the Eastern and Western Fronts were getting closer, the Western Allies started to consider how they might aid the Soviets with the use of the strategic bomber force. The plan was to bomb Berlin and several other eastern cities in conjunction with the Soviet advance, in order to cause confusion among German troops and refugees and to hamper German reinforcement from the west.
A special British Joint Intelligence Subcommittee report titled German Strategy and Capacity to Resist, prepared for Winston Churchill's eyes only, predicted that Germany might collapse as early as mid-April if the Soviets overran them at their eastern defences. Alternatively, the report warned that the Germans might hold out until November if they could prevent the Soviets from taking Silesia. Hence any assistance provided to the Soviets on the Eastern Front could shorten the war. At the time of bombing, the Soviets were conducting their Lower Silesian Offensive.
Plans for a large and intense aerial bombing of Berlin and the other eastern cities had been discussed under the code name Operation Thunderclap in mid-1944, but it had been shelved on 16 August. These were now re-examined, and the decision made to draw up a more limited operation.
On 22 January, the RAF director of bomber operations, Air Commodore Sydney Bufton, sent a memo to the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sir Norman Bottomley, suggesting that what appeared to be a coordinated air attack by the RAF to aid the current Soviet offensive would have a detrimental effect on German morale. On 25 January, the Joint Intelligence Committee expressed support for the idea, as it tied in with the ULTRA-based intelligence that dozens of German divisions which had been deployed in the west were being moved to reinforce the Eastern Front and that theinterdiction of these troop movements should be given a high priority. Arthur Harris, AOC Bomber Command(nicknamed "Bomber" Harris in the British press, and known as an ardent supporter of area bombing) was asked for his opinion, and proposed a simultaneous attack on Chemnitz, Leipzig and Dresden. That evening Churchill asked theSecretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair, what plans had been drawn up to carry out these proposals. He passed on the request to Sir Charles Portal, the Chief of the Air Staff, who answered that "We should use available effort in one big attack on Berlin and attacks on Dresden, Leipzig, and Chemnitz, or any other cities where a severe blitz will not only cause confusion in the evacuation from the East, but will also hamper the movement of troops from the West". However, he mentioned that aircraft diverted to such raids should not be taken away from the current primary tasks of destroying oil production facilities, jet aircraft factories, and submarine yards.
Churchill was not satisfied with this answer and, on 26 January, pressed Sinclair for a plan of operations: "I asked [last night] whether Berlin, and no doubt other large cities in east Germany, should not now be considered especially attractive targets.... Pray report to me tomorrow what is going to be done".
In response to Churchill's enquiry Sinclair approached Bottomley, who asked Harris to undertake attacks on Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig, and Chemnitz, as soon as moonlight and weather allowed, "with the particular object of exploiting the confused conditions which are likely to exist in the above mentioned cities during the successful Russian advance". This activity allowed Sinclair to inform Churchill on 27 January of Air Staff agreement, "subject to the overriding claims" on other targets under the Pointblank Directive, strikes against communications in these cities to disrupt civilian evacuation from the east and troop movement from the west would be made.
On 31 January, Bottomley sent a message to Portal saying a heavy attack on Dresden and other cities "will cause great confusion in civilian evacuation from the east and hamper movement of reinforcements from other fronts". British historian Frederick Taylor mentions a further memo sent to the Chiefs of Staff Committee by Sir Douglas Evill on 1 February, in which Evill states interfering with mass civilian movements was a major, even key, factor in the decision to bomb the city centre. Attacks there, where main rail junctions, telephone systems, city administration, and utilities were located, would result in chaos. Britain had learned this after the Coventry Blitz, when loss of this crucial infrastructure had longer-lasting effects than attacks on war plants.
During the Yalta Conference on 4 February, the Deputy Chief of the Soviet General Staff, General Aleksei Antonov, raised the issue of hampering the reinforcement of German troops from the western front by paralysing the junctions of Berlin and Leipzig with aerial bombardment. In response, Portal, who was in Yalta, asked Bottomley to send him a list of objectives to be discussed with the Soviets. Bottomley's list included oil plants, tank and aircraft factories, and the cities of Berlin and Dresden. A British interpreter later claimed that Antonov and Joseph Stalin asked for the bombing of Dresden, but there is no mention of these requests in the official record of the conference and the claim may be Cold War propaganda.
The night of 13/14 February
The Dresden attack was to have begun with a USAAF Eighth Air Force bombing raid on 13 February 1945. The Eighth Air Force had already bombed the railway yards near the centre of the city twice in daytime raids: once on 7 October 1944 with 70 tons of high-explosive bombs killing more than 400, then again with 133 bombers on 16 January 1945, dropping 279 tons of high-explosives and 41 tons of incendiaries.
On 13 February 1945, bad weather over Europe prevented any USAAF operations, and it was left to RAF Bomber Command to carry out the first raid. It had been decided that the raid would be a double strike, in which a second wave of bombers would attack three hours after the first, just as the rescue teams were trying to put out the fires. Other raids were carried out that night to confuse German air defences. Three hundred and sixty heavy bombers (Lancasters and Halifaxes) bombed a synthetic oil plant inBöhlen, 60 miles (97 km) from Dresden, while de Havilland Mosquito medium bombers attacked Magdeburg, Bonn, Misburg near Hanover, and Nuremberg.
In February 1945, when Polish pilots in the RAF were preparing to bomb Dresden in aid of the Red Army, the terms of the Yalta agreement were made known to them. There was a huge uproar since parts of Poland were to be handed over to the Soviet Union. There was talk of mutiny among the Polish pilots and their British officers removed their side arms. However, the Polish Government ordered the pilots to follow their orders and fly their missions over Dresden which they did.
The first of the British aircraft took off at around 17:20 hours CET for the 700-mile (1,100 km) journey. This was a group of Lancasters from Bomber Command's 83 Squadron, No. 5 Group, acting as the Pathfinders, or flare force, whose job it was to find Dresden and drop magnesium parachute flares, known to the Germans as "Christmas trees", to light up the area for the bombers. The next set of aircraft to leave England were the twin-engined Mosquito marker planes who would identify the target areas and drop 1,000-pound target indicators (TIs)" which gave off a red glow for the bombers to aim at. The attack was to be centred on the Ostragehege sports stadium, next to the city's medieval Altstadt(old town), with its congested, and highly combustible, timbered buildings.
The main bomber force, called "Plate Rack", took off shortly after the Pathfinders. This was a group of 254 Lancasters carrying 500 tons of high explosives and 375 tons of incendiaries ("fire bombs"). There were 200,000 incendiaries in all, with the high-explosive bombs ranging in weight from 500 pounds to 4,000 pounds—the so-called two-ton "cookies", also known as "blockbusters," because they had the power to destroy an entire large building or street. The high explosives were intended to rupture water mains, and blow off roofs, doors, and windows, creating an air flow that would feed the fires caused by the incendiaries that followed.
The Lancasters crossed into French airspace near the Somme, then into Germany just north of Cologne. At 22:00 hours, the force heading for Böhlen split away from Plate Rack, which turned south east toward the Elbe. By this time, ten of the Lancasters were out of service, leaving 244 to continue to Dresden.
The sirens started sounding in Dresden at 21:51 (CET). Wing CommanderMaurice Smith, flying in a Mosquito, gave the order to the Lancasters: "Controller to Plate Rack Force: Come in and bomb glow of red target indicators as planned. Bomb the glow of red TIs as planned.". The first bombs were released at 22:14, the Lancasters flying in low at 8,000 feet (2,400 m), with all but one Lancaster's bombs released within two minutes, and the last one releasing at 22:22. The fan-shaped area that was bombed was 1.25 miles (2.01 km) long, and at its extreme about 1.75 miles (2.82 km) wide. The shape and total devastation of the area was created by the bombers of No. 5 Group flying over the head of the fan (Ostragehege stadium) on prearranged compass bearings and releasing their bombs at different prearranged times.
The second attack, three hours later, was by Lancaster aircraft of 1, 3, 6 and 8 Groups, 8 Group being the Pathfinders. By now, the thousands of fires from the burning city could be seen more than 60 miles (97 km) away on the ground, and 500 miles (800 km) away in the air, with smoke rising to 15,000 feet (4,600 m). The Pathfinders therefore decided to expand the target, dropping flares on either side of the firestorm, including the Hauptbahnhof, the main train station, and theGroßer Garten, a large park, both of which had escaped damage during the first raid. The German sirens sounded again at 01:05, but as there was practically no electricity, these were small hand-held sirens that were heard within only a block. Between 01:21 and 01:45, 529 Lancasters dropped more than 1,800 tons of bombs.
On the morning of 14 February 431 bombers of the 1st Bombardment Division of the United States VIII Bomber Command were scheduled to bomb Dresden at around midday, and the 3rd Bombardment Division were to follow the 1st and bomb Chemnitz, while the 2nd Bombardment Division would bomb a synthetic oil plant in Magdeburg. The bomber groups would be protected by the 784 North American P-51 Mustangs of VIII Fighter Command which meant that there would be almost 2,100 aircraft of the United States Eighth Air Force over Saxony during 14 February.
There is some confusion in the primary sources over what was the target in Dresden, whether it was the marshalling yardsnear the centre or centre of the built up area. The report by the 1st Bombardment Division's commander to his commander states that the targeting sequence was to be the centre of the built up area in Dresden if the weather was clear. If clouds obscured Dresden and if it was clear over Chemnitz, then Chemnitz was to be the target. If both were obscured then the centre of Dresden would be bombed using H2X radar. The mix of bombs to be used on the Dresden raid was about 40% incendiaries, much closer to the RAF city busting mix than that usually used by the USAAF in precision bombardments. Taylor compares this 40% mix with the raid on Berlin on 3 February where the ratio was 10% incendiaries. This was quite a common mix when the USAAF anticipated cloudy conditions over the target.
316 B-17 Flying Fortresses bombed Dresden, dropping 771 tons of bombs. The rest misidentified their targets. Sixtybombed Prague, dropping 153 tons of bombs on the Czech city while others bombed Brux and Pilsen. The 379th bombardment group started to bomb Dresden at 12:17 aiming at marshalling yards in the Friedrichstadt district west of the city centre as the area was not obscured by smoke and cloud. The 303rd group arrived over Dresden 2 minutes after the 379th found that the their view was obscured by clouds so they bombed Dresden using H2X radar to target this location. The groups that followed the 303rd, (92nd, 306th, 379th, 384th and 457th) also found Dresden obscured by clouds and they too used H2X to locate the target. H2X aiming caused the groups to bomb inaccurately with a wide dispersal over the Dresden area. The last group to bomb Dresden was the 306th and they had finished by 12:30.
Strafing of civilians has become a traditional part of the oral history of the raids since a March 1945 article in the Nazi-run weekly newspaper Das Reich claimed that this had occurred. For example, British historian Alexander McKee inDresden 1945 (1982) quotes eyewitnesses who state that strafing did occur. According to an RAF webpage on the history of RAF Bomber Command, "[p]art of the American Mustang-fighter escort was ordered to strafe traffic on the roads around Dresden to increase the chaos and disruption to the important transportation network in the region". (see alsoYeager's description of similar Second World War missions)
Historian Götz Bergander, who was himself an eyewitness of the raids, found no reports on strafing for 13–15 February, neither by any of the pilots nor by the German military and police. He asserted in Dresden im Luftkrieg (1977) that only a few tales of civilians being strafed were reliable in details, and all were related to the daylight attack on 14 February. He concluded that some memory of eyewitnesses was real, but that it had misinterpreted the firing in an airfight as being deliberately aimed at people on the ground. Historian Helmut Schnatz found, in 2000, that there was an explicit order to RAF pilots not to strafe civilians on the way back home from Dresden. He also reconstructed timelines with the result that strafing would have been almost impossible due to lack of time and fuel. Frederick Taylor in Dresden (2004), basing most of his analysis on the work of Bergander and Schnatz, concludes that no strafing took place, although some stray bullets from an aerial dog fight may have hit the ground and been mistaken for strafing by those in the vicinity. The official historical commission collected 103 detailed eyewitness accounts and let the local bomb disposal services search according to their assertions: They did not find any bullets or fragments thereof which would have been used by planes of the Dresden raids.
On 15 February, the 1st Bombardment Division's primary target—the Böhlen synthetic oil plant near Leipzig—was obscured by cloud, so the Division's groups diverted to their secondary target, which was the city of Dresden. As Dresden was also obscured by clouds the groups targeted the city using H2X. The first group to arrive over the target was the 401st, but it missed the city centre and bombed Dresden's southeastern suburbs, with bombs also landing on the nearby towns of Meissen and Pirna. The other groups all bombed Dresden between 12:00 and 12:10. They failed to hit the marshalling yards in the Friedrichstadt district and, as on the previous raid, their ordnance was scattered over a wide area.
German defensive action
Although 84 heavy anti-aircraft guns had been deployed around Dresden in the summer of 1944, by the middle of January, these had all been withdrawn to the east to counter the Soviet offensive. Ten Messerschmitt Me 110 night fightersof Nachtjagdgeschwader 5 based at Dresden-Klotzsche airfield were deployed against the first wave of RAF bombers, but they were ineffective because of the British radar jamming operation. A further eighteen fighters from the same unit were held on the ground because of "bad fighting conditions". Their pilots had the frustrating experience of watching the burning city in the distance while sitting in their cockpits awaiting orders to take off.
Of a total of 796 British bombers that participated in the raid, six bombers were lost, three of those hit by bombs dropped by aircraft flying over them. On the following day, a single US bomber was shot down, as the large escort force was able to prevent Luftwaffe day fighters from disrupting the attack.
On the ground
It is not possible to describe! Explosion after explosion. It was beyond belief, worse than the blackest nightmare. So many people were horribly burnt and injured. It became more and more difficult to breathe. It was dark and all of us tried to leave this cellar with inconceivable panic. Dead and dying people were trampled upon, luggage was left or snatched up out of our hands by rescuers. The basket with our twins covered with wet cloths was snatched up out of my mother's hands and we were pushed upstairs by the people behind us. We saw the burning street, the falling ruins and the terrible firestorm. My mother covered us with wet blankets and coats she found in a water tub.
We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burnt to death, burning people ran to and fro, burnt coaches filled with civilian refugees, dead rescuers and soldiers, many were calling and looking for their children and families, and fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from.
I cannot forget these terrible details. I can never forget them.
— Lothar Metzger, survivor.
The sirens had started sounding in Dresden at 21:51 (CET). Frederick Taylor writes that the Germans could see that a large enemy bomber formation—or what they called "ein dicker Hund" (lit: a fat dog, a "major thing")—was approaching somewhere in the east. At 21:39, the Reich Air Defence Leadership issued an enemy aircraft warning for Dresden, although, at that point, it was thought Leipzig might be the target. At 21:59, the Local Air Raid Leadership confirmed that the bombers were in the area of Dresden-Pirna. Taylor writes the city was largely undefended; a night fighter force of tenMesserschmitts at Klotzsche airfield was scrambled, but it took them half an hour to get into an attack position. At 22:03, the Local Air Raid Leadership issued the first definitive warning: "Warning! Warning! Warning! The lead aircraft of the major enemy bomber forces have changed course and are now approaching the city area".
By early morning on 14 February, Ash Wednesday, the centre of the city, including its Altstadt, was engulfed in a firestorm, with temperatures peaking at over 1500 °C (2700 °F).
To my left I suddenly see a woman. I can see her to this day and shall never forget it. She carries a bundle in her arms. It is a baby. She runs, she falls, and the child flies in an arc into the fire.
Suddenly, I saw people again, right in front of me. They scream and gesticulate with their hands, and then—to my utter horror and amazement—I see how one after the other they simply seem to let themselves drop to the ground. (Today I know that these unfortunate people were the victims of lack of oxygen). They fainted and then burnt to cinders.
Insane fear grips me and from then on I repeat one simple sentence to myself continuously: "I don't want to burn to death". I do not know how many people I fell over. I know only one thing: that I must not burn.
— Margaret Freyer, survivor.
There were very few public air raid shelters—the largest, underneath the main railway station, was housing 6,000 refugees. As a result, most people took shelter in their cellars, but one of the air raid precautions the city had taken was to remove the thick cellar walls between rows of buildings, and replace them with thin partitions that could be knocked through in an emergency. The idea was that, as one building collapsed or filled with smoke, those using the basement as a shelter could knock the walls down and run into adjoining buildings. With the city on fire everywhere, those fleeing from one burning cellar simply ran into another, with the result that thousands of bodies were found piled up in houses at the end of city blocks.
A Dresden police report written shortly after the attacks reported that the old town and the inner eastern suburbs had been engulfed in a single fire that had destroyed almost 12,000 dwellings. The same report said that the raids had destroyed 24 banks, 26 insurance buildings, 31 stores and retail houses, 640 shops, 64 warehouses, 2 market halls, 31 large hotels, 26 public houses, 63 administrative buildings, 3 theatres, 18 cinemas, 11 churches, 6 chapels; 5 other cultural buildings, 19 hospitals including auxiliary, overflow hospitals, and private clinics, 39 schools, 5 consulates, the zoo, the waterworks, the railways, 19 postal facilities, 4 tram facilities, and 19 ships and barges. The Wehrmacht's main command post in the Taschenbergpalais, 19 military hospitals and a number of less significant military facilities were also destroyed. Almost 200 factories were damaged, 136 seriously damaged (including several of the Zeiss Ikon precision optical engineering works), 28 with medium to serious damage, and 35 with light damage.
An RAF assessment showed that 23 percent of the industrial buildings, and 56 percent of the non-industrial buildings, not counting residential buildings, had been seriously damaged. Around 78,000 dwellings had been completely destroyed; 27,700 were uninhabitable, and 64,500 damaged, but readily repairable.
During his post-war interrogation, Albert Speer, Minister of Armaments and War Production for the Third Reich, indicated that Dresden's industrial recovery from the bombings was rapid.
According to official German report Tagesbefehl (Order of the Day) no. 47 ("TB47") issued on 22 March the number of dead recovered by that date was 20,204, including 6,865 who were cremated on the Altmarkt square, and the total number of deaths was expected to be about 25,000. Another report on 3 April put the number of corpses recovered at 22,096. Three municipal and 17 rural cemeteries outside Dresden recorded up to 30 April 1945 a total of at least 21,895 buried bodies of the Dresden raids, including those cremated on theAltmarkt.
A number of refugees fleeing westwards from the advancing Soviet forces were in the city at the time of the bombing. Although exact figures are unknown, reliable estimates based on train arrivals, foot traffic, and the extent to which emergency accommodation had to be organised, place the refugee population at between 100–200,000. The city authorities did not distinguish between residents and refugees when establishing casualty numbers and "took great pains to count all the dead, identified and unidentified". This was largely achievable because most of the dead succumbed to suffocation; in only four places were recovered remains so badly burned that it proved impossible to ascertain the number of victims. The uncertainty introduced by this is thought to amount to a total of no more than 100. 35,000 people were registered with the authorities as missing after the raids, around 10,000 of whom were later found to be alive.
A further 1,858 bodies were discovered during the reconstruction of Dresden between the end of the war and 1966. Since 1989, despite extensive excavation for new buildings, no war-related bodies have been found. Seeking to establish a definitive casualty figure, in part to address propagandisation of the bombing by far-right groups, the Dresden city council in 2005 authorized an independent Historian commission to conduct a new, thorough investigation, collecting and evaluating all possible sources by modern scientific methods. The results were published 2010 and stated that a minimum of 22,700 and a maximum of 25,000 people were killed.
Wartime political responses
Development of a German political response to the raid took several turns. Initially, some of the leadership, especially Robert Ley and Joseph Goebbels, wanted to use it as a pretext for abandonment of the Geneva Conventions on theWestern Front. In the end, the only political action the German government took was to exploit it for propaganda purposes. Goebbels is reported to have wept with rage for twenty minutes after he heard the news of the catastrophe, before launching into a bitter attack on Hermann Göring, the commander of the Luftwaffe: "If I had the power I would drag this cowardly good-for-nothing, this Reich marshal, before a court. ... How much guilt does this parasite not bear for all this, which we owe to his indolence and love of his own comforts. ...".
On 16 February, the Propaganda Ministry issued a press release that stated that Dresden had no war industries; it was a city of culture.
On 25 February, a new leaflet with photographs of two burned children was released under the title "Dresden—Massacre of Refugees," stating that 200,000 had died. Since no official estimate had been developed, the numbers were speculative, but newspapers such as the Stockholm Svenska Morgonbladet used phrases such as "privately from Berlin," to explain where they had obtained the figures. Frederick Taylor states that "there is good reason to believe that later in March copies of—or extracts from—[an official police report] were leaked to the neutral press by Goebbels's Propaganda Ministry ... doctored with an extra zero to make [the total dead from the raid] 202,040". On 4 March, Das Reich, a weekly newspaper founded by Goebbels, published a lengthy article emphasizing the suffering and destruction of a cultural icon, without mentioning any damage the attacks had caused to the German war effort.
Taylor writes that this propaganda was effective, as it not only influenced attitudes in neutral countries at the time, but also reached the British House of Commons when Richard Stokes, a Labour Party Member of Parliament (MP), a long term opponent of area-bombing, quoted information from the German Press Agency (controlled by the Propaganda Ministry). It was Stokes' questions in the House of Commons that were in large part responsible for the shift in the UK against this type of raid. Taylor suggests that, although the destruction of Dresden would have affected people's support for the Allies regardless of German propaganda, at least some of the outrage did depend on Goebbels' massaging of the casualty figures.
British[ British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was ultimately responsible for the bombing even though he later tried to distance himself from it.
The destruction of the city provoked unease in intellectual circles in Britain. According toMax Hastings, by February 1945, attacks upon German cities had become largely irrelevant to the outcome of the war and the name of Dresden resonated with cultured people all over Europe—"the home of so much charm and beauty, a refuge for Trollope'sheroines, a landmark of the Grand Tour." He writes that the bombing was the first time the public in Allied countries seriously questioned the military actions used to defeat the Germans.
The unease was made worse by an Associated Press story that the Allies had resorted toterror bombing. At a press briefing held by the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force two days after the raids, British Air Commodore Colin McKay Griersontold journalists:
First of all they (Dresden and similar towns) are the centres to which evacuees are being moved. They are centres of communications through which traffic is moving across to the Russian Front, and from the Western Front to the East, and they are sufficiently close to the Russian Front for the Russians to continue the successful prosecution of their battle. I think these three reasons probably cover the bombing.
One of the journalists asked whether the principal aim of bombing Dresden would be to cause confusion among the refugees or to blast communications carrying military supplies. Grierson answered that the primary aim was communications to prevent them moving military supplies, and to stop movement in all directions if possible. He then added in an offhand remark that the raid also helped destroy "what is left of German morale." Howard Cowan, an Associated Press war correspondent, subsequently filed a story saying that the Allies had resorted to terror bombing. There were follow-up newspaper editorials on the issue and a longtime opponent of strategic bombing, Richard Stokes MP, asked questions in the House of Commons on 6 March.
Churchill subsequently distanced himself from the bombing. On 28 March, in a memo sent by telegram toGeneral Ismay for the British Chiefs of Staff and the Chief of the Air Staff, he wrote:
It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land… The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing. I am of the opinion that military objectives must henceforward be more strictly studied in our own interests than that of the enemy.
The Foreign Secretary has spoken to me on this subject, and I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives such as oil and communications behind the immediate battle-zone, rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction, however impressive.
Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris, head of RAF Bomber Command, strongly objected to Churchill's comparison of the raid to an "act of terror," a comment Churchill withdrew in the face of Harris's protest.
Having been given a paraphrased version of Churchill's memo by Bottomley, on 29 March, Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris wrote to the Air Ministry:
I ... assume that the view under consideration is something like this: no doubt in the past we were justified in attacking German cities. But to do so was always repugnant and now that the Germans are beaten anyway we can properly abstain from proceeding with these attacks. This is a doctrine to which I could never subscribe. Attacks on cities like any other act of war are intolerable unless they are strategically justified. But they are strategically justified in so far as they tend to shorten the war and preserve the lives of Allied soldiers. To my mind we have absolutely no right to give them up unless it is certain that they will not have this effect. I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier.
The feeling, such as there is, over Dresden, could be easily explained by any psychiatrist. It is connected with German bands and Dresden shepherdesses. Actually Dresden was a mass of munitions works, an intact government centre, and a key transportation point to the East. It is now none of these things.
The phrase "worth the bones of one British grenadier" was an echo of a famous sentence used by Otto von Bismarck: "The whole of the Balkans is not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier". Under pressure from the Chiefs of Staff and in response to the views expressed by Portal and Harris among others, Churchill withdrew his memo and issued a new one. This was completed on 1 April 1945:
It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of the so called 'area-bombing' of German cities should be reviewed from the point of view of our own interests. If we come into control of an entirely ruined land, there will be a great shortage of accommodation for ourselves and our allies. ... We must see to it that our attacks do no more harm to ourselves in the long run than they do to the enemy's war effort.
British historian Frederick Taylor wrote of the attacks: "The destruction of Dresden has an epically tragic quality to it. It was a wonderfully beautiful city and a symbol of baroque humanism and all that was best in Germany. It also contained all of the worst from Germany during the Nazi period. In that sense it is an absolutely exemplary tragedy for the horrors of 20th century warfare and a symbol of destruction".
A number of factors have made the bombing a unique point of contention and debate. These include the beauty of the city, and its importance as a cultural icon; the deliberate creation of a firestorm; the number of victims killed; the extent to which it was a necessary military target; and the fact that it was attacked toward the end of the war, raising the question of whether the bombing was needed to hasten the end.
Legal considerations See also: Aerial bombardment and international law § International law up to 1945
The Hague Conventions, addressing the codes of wartime conduct on land and at sea, were adopted before the rise of air power. Despite repeated diplomatic attempts to update international humanitarian law to include aerial warfare, it was not updated before the outbreak of World War II. The absence of positive international humanitarian law does not mean that the laws of war did not cover aerial warfare, but there was no general agreement of how to interpret those laws.
Falsification of evidence
The bombing of Dresden has been used by Holocaust deniers and pro-Nazi polemicists—most notably by the British writerDavid Irving in his book The Destruction of Dresden—in an attempt to establish a moral equivalence between the war crimes committed by the Nazi regime and the indiscriminate killing of German civilians by Allied bombing raids. As such, "grossly inflated" casualty figures have been promulgated over the years, many based on a figure of over 200,000 deaths quoted in a forged version of the casualty report, Tagesbefehl No. 47, that originated with Hitler's Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels.
That it was necessary or justified Marshall inquiry
An inquiry conducted at the behest of U.S. Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, stated the raid was justified by the available intelligence. The inquiry declared the elimination of the German ability to reinforce a counter-attack against Marshal Konev's extended line or, alternatively, to retreat and regroup using Dresden as a base of operations, were important military objectives. As Dresden had been largely untouched during the war due to its location, it was one of the few remaining functional rail and communications centres. A secondary objective was to disrupt the industrial use of Dresden for munitions manufacture, which American intelligence believed to be the case. The shock to military planners and to the Allied civilian populations of the German counterattack known as the Battle of the Bulge had ended speculation that the war was almost over, and may have contributed to the decision to continue with the aerial bombardment of German cities.
The inquiry concluded that by the presence of active German military units nearby, and the presence of fighters and anti-aircraft within an effective range, Dresden qualified as "defended". By this stage in the war both the British and the Germans had integrated air defences at the national level. The German national air-defence system could be used to argue—as the tribunal did—that no German city was "undefended".
Marshall's tribunal declared that no extraordinary decision was made to single out Dresden (e.g. to take advantage of the large number of refugees, or purposely terrorize the German populace). It was argued that the intent of area bombing was to disrupt communications and destroy industrial production. The American inquiry established that the Soviets, pursuant to allied agreements for the United States and the United Kingdom to provide air support for the Soviet offensive toward Berlin, had requested area bombing of Dresden in order to prevent a counterattack through Dresden, or the use of Dresden as a regrouping point after a strategic retreat.
U.S. Air Force Historical Division report
A U.S. Air Force table showing the tonnage of bombs dropped by the Allies on Germany's seven largest cities during the war.
A report by the U.S. Air Force Historical Division (USAFHD) analyzed the circumstances of the raid and concluded that it was militarily necessary and justified, based on the following points:
- The raid had legitimate military ends, brought about by exigent military circumstances.
- Military units and anti-aircraft defences were sufficiently close that it was not valid to consider the city "undefended."
- The raid did not use extraordinary means but was comparable to other raids used against comparable targets.
- The raid was carried out through the normal chain of command, pursuant to directives and agreements then in force.
- The raid achieved the military objective, without excessive loss of civilian life.
The first point regarding the legitimacy of the raid depends on two claims: first, that the railyards subjected to American precision bombing were an important logistical target, and that the city was also an important industrial centre. Even after the main firebombing, there were two further raids on the Dresden railway yards by the USAAF. The first was on 2 March 1945, by 406 B-17s, which dropped 940 tons of high-explosive bombs and 141 tons of incendiaries. The second was on 17 April, when 580 B-17s dropped 1,554 tons of high-explosive bombs and 165 tons of incendiaries.
As far as Dresden being a militarily significant industrial centre, an official 1942 guide described the German city as "one of the foremost industrial locations of the Reich" and in 1944, the German Army High Command's Weapons Office listed 127 medium-to-large factories and workshops which supplied the army with materiel. Dresden was the seventh largest German city and by far the largest unbombed built-up area left and thus was contributing to the defence of Germany itself.
According to the USAFHD, there were 110 factories and 50,000 workers supporting the German war effort in Dresden at the time of the raid. These factories manufactured fuses and bombsights (at Zeiss Ikon A.G.), aircraft components,anti-aircraft guns, field guns, and small arms, poison gas, gears and differentials, electrical and X-ray apparatus, electric gauges, gas masks, Junkers aircraft engines, and Messerschmitt fighter cockpit parts.
The second of the five points addresses the prohibition in the Hague Conventions, of "attack or bombardment" of "undefended" towns. The USAFHD report states that Dresden was protected by anti-aircraft defences, antiaircraft guns, and searchlights, under the Combined Dresden (Corps Area IV) and Berlin (Corps Area III) Luftwaffe Administration Commands.
The third and fourth points say that the size of the Dresden raid—in terms of numbers, types of bombs and the means of delivery—were commensurate with the military objective and similar to other Allied bombings. On 23 February 1945, the Allies bombed Pforzheim and caused an estimated 20,000 civilian fatalities; a raid on Tokyo on 9–10 March caused over 100,000 civilian casualties. The tonnage and types of bombs listed in the service records of the Dresden raid were comparable to (or less than) throw weights of bombs dropped in other air attacks carried out in 1945. In the case of Dresden, as in many other similar attacks, the hour break in between the RAF raids was a deliberate ploy to attack the fire fighters and rescue crews.
In late July 1943, the city of Hamburg was bombed in Operation Gomorrah by combined RAF and USAAF strategic bomber forces. Four major raids were carried out in the span of 10 days, of which the most notable, on 27–28 July, created a devastating firestorm effect similar to Dresden's, killing at least 45,000 people. Two thirds of the remaining population reportedly fled the city after the raids.
The fifth point is that the firebombing achieved the intended effect of disabling the industry in Dresden. It was estimated that at least 23% of the city's industrial buildings were destroyed or severely damaged. The damage to other infrastructure and communications was immense, which would have severely limited the potential use of Dresden to stop the Soviet advance. The report concludes with:
The specific forces and means employed in the Dresden bombings were in keeping with the forces and means employed by the Allies in other aerial attacks on comparable targets in Germany. The Dresden bombings achieved the strategic objectives that underlay the attack and were of mutual importance to the Allies and the Russians.
That it was not necessary or justified Military reasons
The journalist Alexander McKee cast doubt on the meaningfulness of the list of targets mentioned in the 1953 USAF report, pointing out that the military barracks listed as a target were a long way out of the city and were not in fact targeted during the raid. The "hutted camps" mentioned in the report as military targets were also not military but were camps for refugees. It is also stated that the important Autobahn bridge to the west of the city was not targeted or attacked, and that no railway stations were on the British target maps, nor any bridges, such as the railway bridge spanning the Elbe River. Commenting on this, McKee says: "The standard whitewash gambit, both British and American, is to mention that Dresden contained targets X, Y and Z, and to let the innocent reader assume that these targets were attacked, whereas in fact the bombing plan totally omitted them and thus, except for one or two mere accidents, they escaped". McKee further asserts "The bomber commanders were not really interested in any purely military or economic targets, which was just as well, for they knew very little about Dresden; the RAF even lacked proper maps of the city. What they were looking for was a big built up area which they could burn, and that Dresden possessed in full measure".
According to the historian Sonke Neitzel, "it is difficult to find any evidence in German documents that the destruction of Dresden had any consequences worth mentioning on the Eastern Front. The industrial plants of Dresden played no significant role in German industry at this stage in the war". Wing Commander H. R. Allen said, "The final phase of Bomber Command's operations was far and away the worst. Traditional British chivalry and the use of minimum force in war was to become a mockery and the outrages perpetrated by the bombers will be remembered a thousand years hence".
A memorial at cemetery Heidefriedhof in Dresden. It reads: "Wieviele starben? Wer kennt die Zahl?; An deinen Wunden sieht man die Qual; der Namenlosen die hier verbrannt; im Höllenfeuer aus Menschenhand." ("How many died? Who knows the count?; In your wounds one sees the ordeal; Of the nameless who in here were conflagrated; In the hellfire made by hands of man.") Military facilities in the north
In the north of Dresden there were remarkable military facilities in the Albertstadtwhich were not hit by the bombings. Today they are used as officers school ("Offiziersschule des Heeres") for the German Bundeswehr and Germany's military history museum (from prehistoric to modern times).
As an immoral act, but not a war crime
...ever since the deliberate mass bombing of civilians in the second world war, and as a direct response to it, the international community has outlawed the practice. It first tried to do so in the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, but the UK and the US would not agree, since to do so would have been an admission of guilt for their systematic "area bombing" of German and Japanese civilians.
— A.C. Grayling.
Frederick Taylor told Der Spiegel, "I personally find the attack on Dresden horrific. It was overdone, it was excessive and is to be regretted enormously", but "a war crime is a very specific thing which international lawyers argue about all the time and I would not be prepared to commit myself nor do I see why I should. I'm a historian". Similarly, British philosopher A. C. Grayling has described British area bombardment as an "immoral act" and "moral crime" because "destroying everything ... contravenes every moral and humanitarian principle debated in connection with the just conduct of war", but "it is not strictly correct to describe area bombing as a 'war crime'.".
As a war crime
Though no one involved in the bombing of Dresden was ever charged with a war crime, there are those that hold the opinion that the bombing was a war crime.
According to Dr. Gregory Stanton, lawyer and president of Genocide Watch:
...every human being having the capacity for both good and evil. The Nazi Holocaust was among the most evil genocides in history. But the Allies’ firebombing of Dresden and nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were also war crimes – and as Leo Kuper and Eric Markusen have argued, also acts of genocide. We are all capable of evil and must be restrained by law from committing it.
Historian Donald Bloxham states, "The bombing of Dresden on 13–14 February 1945 was a war crime". He further argues there was a strong prima facie case for trying Winston Churchill among others and a theoretical case Churchill could have been found guilty. "This should be a sobering thought. If, however it is also a startling one, this is probably less the result of widespread understanding of the nuance of international law and more because in the popular mind 'war criminal', like 'paedophile' or 'terrorist', has developed into a moral rather than a legal categorisation".
German author Günter Grass is one of a number of intellectuals and commentators who have also called the bombing a war crime.
Proponents of the war crime position argue the devastation known to be caused by firebombing was greater than anything that could be justified by military necessity alone, and this establishes their case on a prima facie basis. The Allies were aware of the effects of firebombing, as British cities had been subject to them during the Blitz. War crime proponents say that Dresden did not have a military garrison, that most of the industry was in the outskirts and not in the targeted city centre, and that the cultural significance of the city should have precluded the Allies from bombing it.
British historian Antony Beevor wrote that Dresden was considered relatively safe, having been spared previous RAF night attacks, and that at the time of the raids there were up to 300,000 refugees in the city seeking sanctuary from the fighting on the Eastern Front. In Fire Sites, Austrian historian Jörg Friedrich agrees the RAF's relentless bombing campaign against German cities in the last months of the war served no military purpose.
Far-right in Germany
Far-right politicians in Germany have sparked a great deal of controversy by promoting the term "Bombenholocaust" ("holocaust by bomb") to describe the raids. Der Spiegel writes that, for decades, the Communist government of East Germany promoted the bombing as an example of "Anglo-American terror," and now the same rhetoric is being used by the far right. An example can be found in the
Sources: wikipedia.org, news.lv
|3||Nina Liepins Terzens Karklis|
|8||Sir Winston Churchill|