What were the military justifications for the bombing of Dresden?

What were the military justifications for the bombing of Dresden?

I have seen an assertion that Dresden was the only major German city no to put up a protracted resistance to the Soviet Army. The person who asserted this declined to provide references; I still do not know if his assertion is true.

The debate on the bombing that started post war is thoroughly documented, I'm not trying to restart it, I'm more interested in how was the bombing justified from a military perspective at the time.


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 transportation and communication centre, housing 110 factories and 50,000 workers in support of the German war effort.wikipedia

As @Luke has said, this is a far broader and more provacative question than is normally covered on this site, but I choose to take OP at his word and attempt a brief answer. I'm also going to endorse and respect OP's request to ignore the moral side. That isn't to say that there is no moral side, but merely that the OP requested that it be out of scope for the answer.

WWII was a total war

The Second World War can be considered the quintessential total war of modernity. The level of national mobilization of resources on all sides of the conflict, the battlespace being contested, the scale of the armies, navies, and air forces raised through conscription, the active targeting of civilians (and civilian property), the general disregard for collateral damage, and the unrestricted aims of the belligerents marked total war on an unprecedented and unsurpassed, multicontinental scale. wikipedia: Total War emphasis added

According to the theory, victory depended on the ability of the nations involved to muster an unprecedented level of industrial committment, and to deliver that to the front. Defeating the adversary's army merely prolonged the conflict; victory was only possible by degrading the adversary's ability to produce and deliver military supplies.

Dresden was a critical junction of communications and industrial production. Destroying Dresden halted the production of military supplies and delivery to the battlefield.


Less well known is that Dresden was home to a plasma physics laboratory led by Prof Max Steenbeck, part of the Ardenne institute for nuclear physics.

According to the autobiography of Nazi nuclear physicist Rolf Wideroe he and a team of others recovered an advanced particle accelerator which earlier in the war had been used as a particle beam weapon against Allied bombers in the Frankfurt area.

Rolf Wideroe

Dresden "Death Ray" machine

Wideroe noted that his team dug the device out of the rubble and transported it SW to Burggrub near Bayeruth where General Patton's Army captured the device intact on 14th April 1945.

Auergesselschaft

Given that the US 8th Air Force also pulverised the Auer Uranium refinery at Oranienberg on 15th March 1945, it may be that the destruction of Dresden was intended to destroy nuclear facilities to prevent them falling into Soviet hands.


Firebombing of Dresden

On the evening of February 13, 1945, a series of Allied firebombing raids begins against the German city of Dresden, reducing the 𠇏lorence of the Elbe” to rubble and flames, and killing roughly 25,000 people. Despite the horrendous scale of destruction, itਊrguably accomplished little strategically, since the Germans were already on the verge of surrender.

Among the conclusions reached at the February 1945 Yalta Conference of the Allied powers was the resolution that the Allies would engage in concerted strategic bombing raids against German cities known for war-production and manufacturing, in an effort to bring the Nazi war machine to a crashing halt. The tragic irony of the raid on Dresden, a medieval city renowned for its rich artistic and architectural treasures, is that during the war it had never been a site of war-production or major industry. Both Allies and Germans alike have argued over the real purpose of the firebombing the ostensible “official” rationale was that Dresden was a major communications center and bombing it would hamper the German ability to convey messages to its army, which was battling Soviet forces at the time. But the extent of the destruction was, for many, disproportionate to the stated strategic goal—many believe that the attack was simply an attempt to punish the Germans and weaken their morale.

More than 3,400 tons of explosives were dropped on the city by 800 American and British aircraft. The firestorm created by the two days of bombing set the city burning for many more days, littering the streets with charred corpses, including many children. Eight square miles of the city was ruined, and the total body count was betweenꀢ,700 and 25,000 dead, according to a report published by the city of Dresden in 2010. The hospitals that were left standing could not handle the numbers of injured and burned, and mass burials became necessary.


The Bombing of Dresden: Was the Attack Fully Justified?

Was Operation Thunderclap—the 1945 air raid on the German city—a military necessity or an Allied war crime? The question is still debated.

The cloud cover was still thick, so the bombs were dropped again using H2X radar. The southeastern suburbs and two nearby towns were hit this time, along with bridges, train stations, depots, warehouses, and railroad marshaling yards.

Kurt Vonnegut, a private serving in the 423rd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division, was one of thousands of Americans captured by the Germans in December 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. Transported to Dresden, Vonnegut was housed, not in a regular POW camp, but in a large building used as a slaughterhouse.

Luckily, Vonnegut and the other POWs with him survived the bombings and firestorm. (He would use his experiences in Dresden as the basis for his 1969 semi-autobiographical historical novel, Slaughterhouse Five.)

After the second raid, his captors put him and the other prisoners to work retrieving bodies for mass burial. “But there were too many corpses to bury,” he said. “So instead the Nazis sent in troops with flamethrowers. All these civilians’ remains were burned to ashes.”

In a new introduction to the 1976 reprint of the novel, Vonnegut wrote, “The Dresden atrocity, tremendously expensive and meticulously planned, was so meaningless, finally, that only one person on the entire planet got any benefit from it. I am that person. I wrote this book, which earned a lot of money for me and made my reputation, such as it is. One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I’m in.”

Life magazine also noted, “Dresden’s authorities finally cordoned off the center of the city and set up 25-foot-long
grills where thousands of the victims were cremated.”

Tens of Thousands of Buildings Destroyed by 2,700 tons of U.S. Bombs

In the aftermath of the attacks, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, attempting to gain sympathy from the international community, stated that Dresden was only a historic city of culture and that it held no war industries. The Third Reich also inflated the number of casualties, claiming that more than 200,000 civilians had been killed. (That figure has been repeated for decades, but in 2008 an independent historical commission formed by the city of Dresden concluded that approximately 25,000 persons died in Dresden and another 30,000 were injured—still a tremendous number.)

The city itself was a silent, dead, burned-out shell. Thousands of structures had been destroyed in a 15-square-mile radius. There was no electricity or water. No vehicles moved. The stench of burned wood and human flesh hung over the city like a shroud, and Dresden’s architectural treasures lay in ruins. A handful of stunned survivors picked their way through the still-burning rubble, searching for relatives or anything of value.

The RAF reported that 78,000 dwellings had been totally destroyed, with another 27,700 left uninhabitable and a further 64,500 damaged but repairable.

In March and April, nearly 1,000 U.S. Eighth Air Force planes would return and drop more than 2,700 tons of bombs on Dresden before Germany surrendered.

Was the Bombing of Dresden Justified?

Within days after the February attacks, the claimed necessity of the bombing of Dresden came under scrutiny. A number of critics have questioned the tactics used and have even accused the British and Americans of “indiscriminate terror bombing”—a phrase that had been used to condemn the Germans’ use of saturation bombing of civilians in cities in Poland, Britain, Belgium, and elsewhere.

In March 1945, Churchill himself sent a memo intended for the British Chiefs of Staff and the Chief of the Air Staff: “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….

Horrific photo of a German corpse found in the ruins still wearing a Nazi armband.

“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.”

In response, Chief Air Marshal Arthur Harris wrote, “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….

“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.”

In the United States, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, who also felt the heat from the destruction of Dresden, authorized an inquiry that came to the conclusion that the raid, based on the intelligence available, was fully justified because Dresden was a place through which German forces could be moved to reinforce their lines on the Eastern Front.

Some historians also believe that Roosevelt and Churchill worried that after the war their ally Stalin and the USSR might become a threat and wanted the obliteration of Dresden to serve as a demonstration of Allied military power—and a warning to Stalin to not challenge the West.

For his part, Air Chief Marshal Harris never softened or wavered from his view that conducting saturation bombings of German cities was completely necessary. “The Germans started the war,” was his firm conviction until the day he died in 1984.

Survivors of the bombing and firestorm remove rubble from the streets of Dresden in March 1946 by then the city was under Soviet occupation and more hardships lay ahead.

(Unfortunately, the historical record shows that the first intentional “area bombing” of civilians in World War II was conducted by the RAF against Mönchengladbach, Germany, on May 11, 1940, on Churchill’s orders the day after he became prime minister, and four months before the Luftwaffe began its Blitz of British cities.)

Harris continued, “The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.”

In his postwar memoir, Bomber Command, Harris wrote, “I know that the destruction of so large and splendid a city at this late stage of the war was considered unnecessary even by a good many people who admit that our earlier attacks were as fully justified as any other operation of war. Here I will only say that the attack on Dresden was at the time considered a military necessity by much more important people than myself.”

A historian wrote, “Few mourned the destruction of German cities that built the weapons and bred the soldiers that by 1945 had killed more than 10 million Allied soldiers and even more civilians. The firebombing of Dresden would prove the exception to this rule,” and many of the generals and airmen of Britain and the United States have since been criticized by some as being no better than the Nazi war criminals.

At the end of the war, Dresden was so badly damaged and beyond repair that much the city was basically leveled by dynamite and bulldozers. However, a handful of ruined historic buildings—the Frauenkirche, Zwinger Palace, State Opera House, and several others—were carefully reconstructed to their former glory out of the rubble, but the rest of the city was rebuilt in the ugly “socialist modern” style.

Today Dresden has experienced a renaissance and returned to life as one of Germany’s most important cities—a center of education and technological advancement.

Regardless, the debate over the attacks of February 13 and 15, 1945, continues to this day and those attacks remain as one of the more controversial actions of World War II.

Perhaps the last word should go to British historian Frederick Taylor, who wrote, “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.”


What were the military justifications for the bombing of Dresden? - History

It was February 1945, and the Bombing of Dresden had yet to commence. At this point in the war, the citizens of the capital of the German state of Saxony were beginning to think that they were living a charmed life. After all, they knew that every other major German city except theirs had been flattened by countless Allied air raids since 1940.

And yet here they were, virtually untouched. (Dresden had, in fact, been first bombed by the U.S. Eighth Air Force on October 7, 1944, and again on January 16, 1945, but the damage and casualties were minimal.)

Perhaps the Dresdeners felt lucky because the city on the Elbe River, 120 miles south of Berlin, was well known as a cultural treasure—the “Florence on the Elbe” and the “Jewel Box”—and was regarded as one the world’s most beautiful cities for its architecture and museums, with few industrial or military sites worth bombing.

Among its treasures were the baroque Zwinger Palace, the State Opera House known as the Semper Oper, and the Frauenkirche, the latter built in the 1700s. Here too, the world-famous Dresden china and porcelain had been made for decades. There seemed no good reason for the status quo to change.

But Dresden’s luck was about to run out.

“I Can Assure You, Gentlemen, That We Tolerate no Scruples.”

Air Chief Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris, head of Britain’s Royal Air Force Bomber Command, had a special desire to wipe every major German city off the map, even though it was plainly obvious that targets were becoming fewer, and the end of the war was just weeks away.

Early in the war, British Chief of the Air Staff Charles Portal had calculated that a concerted program to bomb the Third Reich’s cities could kill 900,000 people in 18 months, seriously injure a million more, destroy six million homes, and leave 25 million Germans homeless, thus creating a humanitarian crisis that, he believed, would lead to the collapse of the Nazi government.

In 1941, Harris had said that he had been intentionally bombing civilians for a year. “I mention this,” he said, “because, for a long time, the Government, for excellent reasons, has preferred the world to think that we still held some scruples and attacked only what the humanitarians are pleased to call ‘military targets.’ I can assure you, gentlemen, that we tolerate no scruples.”

British Air Chief Marshall Arthur “Bomber” Harris, head of the RAF’s Bomber Command, was a strong proponent of taking the war to Germany’s civilian populace.

Harris was no doubt remembering that the German Luftwaffe had first engaged in “area bombing tactics” when it helped Francisco Franco in his civil war to topple the Spanish government in 1937, and then again when it bombed Polish cities during Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939. Still in the forefront of his mind was the Luftwaffe’s indiscriminate bombing of London and other British cities during the Battle of Britain in 1940.

Germany Ramps up its Attacks on Great Britain

Albert Speer, Nazi Germany’s Minister of Armaments, recalled a meeting in 1940 when Adolf Hitler endorsed Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring’s proposal to hit London with a massive number of incendiary bombs: “Göring wants to use innumerable incendiary bombs of an altogether new type to create fires in all parts of London. Fires everywhere. Thousands of them. Then they’ll unite in one giant area conflagration.”

“Göring has the right idea,” said Hitler. “Explosive bombs don’t work, but it can be done with incendiary bombs—total destruction of London. Of what use will their fire department be once that really starts?”

Out to avenge the bombings of London, Coventry, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Southampton, Bath, Bristol, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, Newcastle, and other cities, the Royal Air Force struck back hard at German population centers. In 1942, the U.S. Eighth Air Force set up shop in Britain and in 1943 began bombing Germany in earnest along with its British counterparts.

To retaliate, German rocket scientists (such as Werner von Braun) developed the world’s first long-range offensive missile in 1944. Hitler named it the V-1, for “Vergeltung”—the German word for “vengeance”—and ordered the Luftwaffe to step up attacks against Great Britain.

Why Dresden Became a Target for Bombing

Dresden had a population of 630,000, making it Germany’s seventh largest city. But a flood of refugees fleeing the Soviet advance in the East had swelled the population to over a million by early February 1945.

And the city was woefully unprepared for any sort of major aerial attack. Most of the antiaircraft batteries that ringed it had been removed to protect other cities.

In early 1945, the handwriting was on the wall: Nazi Germany was doomed. In January, the advancing Soviets had uncovered the death factory at Auschwitz in Poland. This exposed the Nazis’ crimes for all to see, further hardening Allied resolve to totally destroy the Third Reich—to drive a silver stake into its heart so that it could never rise again.

In northeastern Germany, the Red Army had captured East Prussia and reached the Oder River, less than 50 miles from Berlin, and was bulldozing its way toward the German capital.

From February 4 to February 11, the “Big Three” Allied leaders—U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin—met at Yalta in the Soviet Crimea (the Argonaut Conference) and hammered out their visions of the postwar world.

Other than deciding on how German territory would be carved up and administered by which power, there was little discussion about how the final military operations would be conducted. However, after General Aleksei Antonov, deputy chief of the Soviet General Staff, requested that the Allies apply some of their aerial firepower in the East, Churchill and Roosevelt promised Stalin that they would continue their bombing campaign against Germany to aid the advance of Soviet forces.

American bombs cascade down on Dresden, February 14, 1945. More than 3,900 tons of high-explosive and incendiary bombs would be dropped on the city in the two-day raid.

Dresden, therefore, became a target in early 1945. Allied intelligence revealed that, far from being an inoffensive center of culture, Dresden and the surrounding area was home to 127 factories that manufactured everything from rifles and machine guns to artillery pieces, aircraft components, precision optical devices, and poison gas (the latter manufactured by Chemische Fabrik Goye, GmbH).

Dresden was also a key rail hub, with lines running to Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Munich, Breslau, Leipzig, and Hamburg. The Wehrmacht’s headquarters had also been relocated from Berlin to the Taschenbergpalais in Dresden, and there were at least one ammunition depot and several military hospitals.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff of both the United States and Britain had earlier in the war authorized the aerial attacks on German cities to accomplish “the progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial, and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened.”

Colonel Harold E. Cook, an American prisoner of the Germans in Dresden, stated after the war, “I saw with my own eyes that Dresden was an armed camp: thousands of German troops, tanks, and artillery, and miles of freight cars loaded with supplies supporting and transporting German logistics toward the east to meet the Russians.”

Thus, RAF Bomber Command and the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) determined that Dresden was a legitimate military target and decided to mount a joint attack on the city at the direct request of the Soviet government. There would be four separate raids commencing on February 13. Seven hundred and twenty-two heavy bombers of the British Royal Air Force and 527 of the USAAF would drop more than 3,900 tons of high explosives and incendiary devices as part of the planned bombing of Dresden.

Hellish Firestorm: The Bombing’s Two Waves

The U.S. Eighth Air Force was scheduled to fly the initial strikes during the bombing of Dresden on February 13 but they were canceled because of poor weather. The weather did not stop Bomber Command, however. A historian wrote, “To support the attack, Bomber Command dispatched several diversionary raids designed to confuse the German air defenses.

“These struck targets in Bonn, Magdeburg, Nuremberg, Böhlen, and Misburg, near Hannover. For Dresden, the attack was to come in two waves, with the second coming three hours after the first. This approach was designed to catch German emergency response teams exposed and increase casualties.”

The first wave was a flight of Avro Lancaster bombers from 83 Squadron, No. 5 Group, based at RAF Coningsby. They would be the pathfinders and would light up the target area with incendiaries.

Close on their tails was a group of DeHavilland Mosquitoes that dropped 1,000-pound bombs to mark the aiming points for the rest of the raiders. The main bomber force, consisting of 254 Lancasters, would arrive next with a mixed load of 500 tons of high-explosive bombs and 375 tons of incendiaries.

An aerial bomb damage assessment photo shows Dresden still smoldering after the February 13-14, 1945, attacks. A number of fires are still burning fiercely in the vicinity of the central goods depot and railroad marshalling yards south of the Elbe River.

As the RAF bombers approached, air raid sirens began wailing across Dresden at 9:51 pm. Because the city lacked adequate bomb shelters, many civilians took to their basements. Thirteen minutes later the incendiary bombs began falling on Dresden, setting whole blocks ablaze.

Fire brigades rushed into the heart of the burning city, working without success to contain the fires that were now devouring block after block of apartments, shops, churches, and historic structures. The firemen were fighting a losing battle, struggling with broken water mains and having to run lines to the Elbe River.

Soon Dresden was engulfed in the kind of hellish firestorm that had destroyed Hamburg in July 1943 and killed 41,800 people. Tornado-like winds roared through the city, sucking up oxygen and feeding the inferno.

A British paratrooper, Victor Gregg, who had been taken prisoner at Arnhem, Holland, was a POW at Dresden, and he said, “The people of Dresden believed that as long as the Luftwaffe kept away from Oxford, Dresden would be spared.”

Such was not the case, however. Gregg said that about 10:30 pm on the night of February 13, “The air raid sirens started their mournful wailing and because this happened every night, no notice was taken. The sirens stopped and, after a short period of silence, the first wave of pathfinders was over the city, dropping its target flares.

“As the incendiaries fell, the phosphorus clung to the bodies of those below, turning them into human torches. The screaming of those who were being burned alive was added to the cries of those not yet hit. There was no need for flares to lead the second wave of bombers to their target, as the whole city had become a gigantic torch. It must have been visible to the pilots from a hundred miles away. Dresden had no defenses, no antiaircraft guns, no searchlights, nothing.” (Read more about the bombing operations that shaped the Second World War inside WWII History magazine.)

“We saw terrible things”: Accounts from Dresdeners

In a 2014 BBC interview, Gregg further recalled that the POWs were sent into the city on a detail to search for survivors. In one incident, it took his team seven hours just to get into a 1,000-person air raid shelter where they found no survivors or corpses—just a green-brown liquid with bones sticking out of it what had once been a group of human beings had all been melted by the intense heat. He also noted that, in areas farther from the town center, he and his team found adults shriveled to three feet in length. (Gregg wrote a book about his experiences titled Dresden: A Survivor’s Story.)

A civilian survivor, Lothar Metzger, and his mother, wife, and twin children had taken refuge in a cellar with many others. He recalled that it was “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.”

Metzger continued: “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.”

Recovered bodies from the firestorm that consumed Dresden many suffocated in air raid shelters. Initial German estimates put the number of dead at around 200,000 postwar analysis lowered the numbers to around 25,000.

Another Dresdener, Margeret Freyer, also never forgot the horror she witnessed. “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 a 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.”

Other Germans who survived had vivid, horrible memories that stayed with them for the rest of their lives. Nora Lang was 13 years old when the bombers struck and set fire to her family’s apartment building. The family ran to the neighborhood air raid shelter, and when the “all clear” sounded, they emerged to a vision of Hell. “Behind us everything was burning,” she recalled, “[and] in front of us everything was burning.”

Anita John, 12 in 1945, said that when she and her parents rushed to the cellar of their apartment building with 13 neighbors during the first raid, her mother covered her with her body to protect her. Once the bombing stopped, Anita emerged from the cellar after but could not find her parents. She only realized that they were dead when she saw their bodies laid out in the street in front of the rubble of the building all the other people in the cellar, including her parents, had suffocated due to the firestorm that sucked almost all the oxygen out of the basement. How she survived she did not know.

Thirteen-year-old Karl-Heinrich Fiebiger was home alone when the attacks began. He ran for safety through the burning city to no place in particular. He remembered a sticky substance released by the bombs raining down and getting in his hair. After he ran from his family’s apartment building, it was destroyed by a bomb his older sister and her two small children died. It took three weeks before he was reunited with his mother.

Another survivor, Hanns Voight, said later, “Never had I expected to see people interred in that state: burnt, cremated, torn and crushed to death. Sometimes the victims looked like ordinary people apparently peacefully sleeping. The faces of others were wracked with pain, the bodies stripped almost naked by the [fire] tornado…. Here the victim was a shapeless slab, there a layer of ashes shoveled into a zinc tub.”

Kurt Vonnegut Witnesses the Attack

About a half hour after the first wave struck, a group of Messerschmitt Me-110 night fighters lifted off from the Luftwaffe’s Klotzsche airfield, five miles north of Dresden, but they were too late to intercept the first bombers due to the shortage of aviation fuel, the planes had not been allowed to take off until receiving specific authorization from higher headquarters. And, with most of its antiaircraft guns having been removed to defend elsewhere, Dresden was essentially undefended as the bombers struck—a sitting duck.

The burned-out remains of the heart of Dresden, 1945. Some 78,000 buildings were destroyed and tens of thousands more damaged.

Three hours after the first strike, while the firefighters were still struggling to put out the inferno, the main force of 529 bombers came over and added to the destruction with more bombs. By dawn on the 14th, hundreds of British bombers had swept over Dresden and dropped more than 1,400 tons of high-explosive bombs and more than 1,100 tons of incendiaries.

On the morning of February 14, the bombing of Dresden left the city dying and burning, its own funeral pyre. But its agony was not yet over.

The next day it was the U.S. Eighth Air Force’s turn. A force of 316 Boeing B-17s arrived and bombed through cloud cover using H2X—a new ground-scanning radar developed for bombing when the target could not be visually sighted. Some of the bombers flew off course, and instead of bombing Dresden, hit Prague in Czechoslovakia, 120 miles to the south-southeast. The “Mighty Eighth” dropped more than 950 tons of high-explosive bombs and more than 290 tons of incendiaries on Dresden that day.

The cloud cover was still thick, so the bombs were dropped again using H2X radar. The southeastern suburbs and two nearby towns were hit this time, along with bridges, train stations, depots, warehouses, and railroad marshaling yards.

Kurt Vonnegut, a private serving in the 423rd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division, was one of thousands of Americans captured by the Germans in December 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. Transported to Dresden, Vonnegut was housed, not in a regular POW camp, but in a large building used as a slaughterhouse.

Luckily, Vonnegut and the other POWs with him survived the bombings and firestorm. (He would use his experiences in Dresden as the basis for his 1969 semi-autobiographical historical novel, Slaughterhouse Five.)

After the second raid, his captors put him and the other prisoners to work retrieving bodies for mass burial. “But there were too many corpses to bury,” he said. “So instead the Nazis sent in troops with flamethrowers. All these civilians’ remains were burned to ashes.”

In a new introduction to the 1976 reprint of the novel, Vonnegut wrote, “The Dresden atrocity, tremendously expensive and meticulously planned, was so meaningless, finally, that only one person on the entire planet got any benefit from it. I am that person. I wrote this book, which earned a lot of money for me and made my reputation, such as it is. One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I’m in.”

Life magazine also noted, “Dresden’s authorities finally cordoned off the center of the city and set up 25-foot-long
grills where thousands of the victims were cremated.”

Tens of Thousands of Buildings Destroyed by 2,700 tons of U.S. Bombs

In the aftermath of the attacks, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, attempting to gain sympathy from the international community, stated that Dresden was only a historic city of culture and that it held no war industries. The Third Reich also inflated the number of casualties, claiming that more than 200,000 civilians had been killed. (That figure has been repeated for decades, but in 2008 an independent historical commission formed by the city of Dresden concluded that approximately 25,000 persons died in Dresden and another 30,000 were injured—still a tremendous number.)

The city itself was a silent, dead, burned-out shell. Thousands of structures had been destroyed in a 15-square-mile radius. There was no electricity or water. No vehicles moved. The stench of burned wood and human flesh hung over the city like a shroud, and Dresden’s architectural treasures lay in ruins. A handful of stunned survivors picked their way through the still-burning rubble, searching for relatives or anything of value.

The RAF reported that 78,000 dwellings had been totally destroyed, with another 27,700 left uninhabitable and a further 64,500 damaged but repairable.

In March and April, nearly 1,000 U.S. Eighth Air Force planes would return and drop more than 2,700 tons of bombs on Dresden before Germany surrendered.

Was the Bombing of Dresden Justified?

Within days after the February attacks, the claimed necessity of the bombing of Dresden came under scrutiny. A number of critics have questioned the tactics used and have even accused the British and Americans of “indiscriminate terror bombing”—a phrase that had been used to condemn the Germans’ use of saturation bombing of civilians in cities in Poland, Britain, Belgium, and elsewhere.

In March 1945, Churchill himself sent a memo intended for the British Chiefs of Staff and the Chief of the Air Staff: “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….

Horrific photo of a German corpse found in the ruins still wearing a Nazi armband.

“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.”

In response, Chief Air Marshal Arthur Harris wrote, “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….

“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.”

In the United States, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, who also felt the heat from the destruction of Dresden, authorized an inquiry that came to the conclusion that the raid, based on the intelligence available, was fully justified because Dresden was a place through which German forces could be moved to reinforce their lines on the Eastern Front.

Some historians also believe that Roosevelt and Churchill worried that after the war their ally Stalin and the USSR might become a threat and wanted the obliteration of Dresden to serve as a demonstration of Allied military power—and a warning to Stalin to not challenge the West.

For his part, Air Chief Marshal Harris never softened or wavered from his view that conducting saturation bombings of German cities was completely necessary. “The Germans started the war,” was his firm conviction until the day he died in 1984.

Survivors of the bombing and firestorm remove rubble from the streets of Dresden in March 1946 by then the city was under Soviet occupation and more hardships lay ahead.

(Unfortunately, the historical record shows that the first intentional “area bombing” of civilians in World War II was conducted by the RAF against Mönchengladbach, Germany, on May 11, 1940, on Churchill’s orders the day after he became prime minister, and four months before the Luftwaffe began its Blitz of British cities.)

Harris continued, “The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.”

In his postwar memoir, Bomber Command, Harris wrote, “I know that the destruction of so large and splendid a city at this late stage of the war was considered unnecessary even by a good many people who admit that our earlier attacks were as fully justified as any other operation of war. Here I will only say that the attack on Dresden was at the time considered a military necessity by much more important people than myself.”

A historian wrote, “Few mourned the destruction of German cities that built the weapons and bred the soldiers that by 1945 had killed more than 10 million Allied soldiers and even more civilians. The firebombing of Dresden would prove the exception to this rule,” and many of the generals and airmen of Britain and the United States have since been criticized by some as being no better than the Nazi war criminals.

At the end of the war, Dresden was so badly damaged and beyond repair that much the city was basically leveled by dynamite and bulldozers. However, a handful of ruined historic buildings—the Frauenkirche, Zwinger Palace, State Opera House, and several others—were carefully reconstructed to their former glory out of the rubble, but the rest of the city was rebuilt in the ugly “socialist modern” style.

Today Dresden has experienced a renaissance and returned to life as one of Germany’s most important cities—a center of education and technological advancement.

Regardless, the debate over the attacks of February 13 and 15, 1945, continues to this day and those attacks remain as one of the more controversial actions of World War II.

Perhaps the last word should go to British historian Frederick Taylor, who wrote, “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.”


What were the military justifications for the bombing of Dresden? - History

From the April 2003 Idaho Observer:

Why did the Allies reduce Dresden to rubble?

As is so often the case of the history we are taught in schools, the books tell a tale differently than what we can learn from first-hand accounts of those who actually lived through the experience. It is from the memories of common people who survived the Dresden Bombing of February 13-14, 1945, that we can understand why somewhere between 130,000 and 300,000 common people had to die. The truth is the Allies (Churchill's England, Stalin's Russia and Roosevelt's U.S.) mass murdered them.

On Saturday afternoon of February, 14, 2003, my wife, another couple and their son and I arrived at the home of our dear friend Edda West near Nelson, B.C., Canada. We had dinner and spent the evening talking about a variety of things. When we decided to retire late that evening, we gave Edda a copy of the December edition of Current Concerns -- an opposition newspaper from Zurich, Switzerland.

When we awoke the next morning, the morning after the 58th anniversary of the Dresden bombing, Edda described how she had stayed up for hours reading the survivor account of the Dresden bombing in Current Concerns.

That morning turned out to be very special. We knew Edda had been born in Estonia in 1943 and had been transported in a wagon by her mother and grandmother all the way to Germany as they fled their country ahead of the Russians (who had established a pattern of murdering and brutalizing Estonians for centuries). What we didn't know was that she was a Dresden survivor.

For 45 minutes we were all captivated by the story this lovely, passionate woman related as she recounted the horrors of that day. Three years old at the time, she does not remember specifics -- only the horror that she relived over and over again in nightmares until she was 12. However, she lived with her mother and grandmother telling the stories and she retold many of them for us that morning.

I do not believe I have ever been so moved by a person's story in all my life.

When we got back home, I wrote a letter to Eva-Maria Fullner of Current Concerns (with whom The IO trades a subscription) and told her about this experience.

A few weeks later, Eva-Maria called and said she was in New York and wanted to come for a visit. She also asked if Edda could come.

We called Edda who was elated with the thought of coming down to meet Eva-Maria.

The time with Edda and Eva-Maria during the weekend of March 15 was a resumption of the morning of Feb. 15, but it lasted all weekend. We had these amazing conversations that were only interrupted by sleeping.

Edda wrote a 3,900-word surviver account of Dresden that can be found in the April edition of Current Concerns (http://www.currentconcerns.ch/archive/2003/02/20030230.php ).

We will only excerpt from Edda's story, but we encourage everyone who wants to understand what really happened at Dresden to find the entire article at the website above and, while you are at it, take a look at the article from December as well.

Why? Because the Allies (this time called the Coalition) are about to reduce another large city to rubble and mass murder a lot of innocent people. We think it's important to know that pro-government historians are allowed to bury mass murder stories only when the survivors maintain their silence.

The Dresden Bombing: An eyewitness account

My grandmother would always begin the story of Dresden by describing the clusters of red candle flares dropped by the first bombers, which like hundreds of Christmas trees, lit up the night sky - a sure sign it would be a big air raid. Then came the first wave of hundreds of British bombers that hit a little after 10 p.m. the night of February 13-14, 1945, followed by two more intense bombing raids by the British and Americans over the next 14 hours. History records it as the deadliest air attack of all time, delivering a death toll that exceeded the atomic blasts on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In 20 minutes of intense bombing, the city became an inferno. The second bombing raid came three hours after the first and was “intended to catch rescue workers, firefighters and fleeing inhabitants at their fullest exposure.” Altogether, the British dropped nearly 3,000 tons of explosives that shattered roofs, walls, windows, whole buildings, and included hundreds of thousands of phosphorous incendiaries, which were small firebombs that sprinkled unquenchable fire into every crevasse they rolled into, igniting the inferno that turned Dresden into a “hurricane of flames.”

By the time the Americans flew in for the third and last air raid, smoke from the burning city nearly obliterated visibility. One American pilot recollects, “We bombed from 26,000 feet and could barely see the ground because of clouds and long columns of black smoke. Not a single enemy gun was fired at either the American or British bombers.”

The Americans dropped 800 tons of explosives and fire bombs in 11 minutes. Then, according to British historian David Irving in his book, The Destruction of Dresden, American P-51 fighter escorts dived to treetop level and strafed the city's fleeing refugees.

My grandmother described the horrific firestorm that raged like a hurricane and consumed the city. It seemed as if the very air was on fire. Thousands were killed by bomb blasts, but enormous, untold numbers were incinerated by the firestorm, an artificial tornado with winds of more than 100 miles an hour that “sucked up its victims and debris into its vortex and consumed oxygen with temperatures of 1,000 degrees centigrade.”

Many days later, after the fires had died down, my grandmother walked through the city. What she saw was indescribable in any human language. But the suffering etched on her face and the depths of anguish reflecting in her eyes as she told the story bore witness to the ultimate horror of man's inhumanity to man and the stark obscenity of war.

Dresden, the capital of Saxony, a centre of art, theatre, music, museums and university life, resplendent with graceful architecture -- a place of beauty with lakes and gardens -- was now completely destroyed. The city burned for seven days and smoldered for weeks.

My grandmother saw the remains of masses of people who had desperately tried to escape the incinerating firestorm by jumping head first into the lakes and ponds. The parts of their bodies that were submerged in the water were still intact, while the parts that protruded above water were charred beyond human recognition. What she witnessed was a hell beyond human imagination a holocaust of destruction that defies description.

It took more than three months just to bury the dead, with scores of thousands buried in mass graves. Irving wrote, “an air raid had wrecked a target so disastrously that there were not enough able-bodied survivors left to bury the dead.”

Confusion and disorientation were so great from the mass deaths and the terror, that it was months before the real degree of devastation was understood and authorities, fearful of a typhus epidemic, cremated thousands of bodies in hastily erected pyres fueled by straw and wood.

German estimates of the dead ranged up to 220,000, but the completion of identification of the dead was halted by the Russian occupation of Dresden in May.

Elisabeth, who was a young woman of around 20 at the time of the Dresden bombing, has written memoirs for her children in which she describes what happened to her in Dresden. Seeking shelter in the basement of the house she lived in she writes, “Then the detonation of bombs started rocking the earth and in a great panic, everybody came rushing down. The attack lasted about half an hour. Our building and the immediate surrounding area had not been hit. Almost everybody went upstairs, thinking it was over but it was not. The worst was yet to come and when it did, it was pure hell. During the brief reprieve, the basement had filled with people seeking shelter, some of whom were wounded from bomb shrapnel.

“One soldier had a leg torn off. He was accompanied by a medic, who attended to him but he was screaming in pain and there was a lot of blood. There also was a wounded woman, her arm severed just below her shoulder and hanging by a piece of skin. A military medic was looking after her, but the bleeding was severe and the screams very frightening.

“Then the bombing began again. This time there was no pause between detonations and the rocking was so severe, we lost our balance, and were tossed around in the basement like a bunch of ragdolls. At times the basement walls were separated and lifted up. We could see the flashes of the fiery explosions outside. There were a lot of fire bombs and canisters of phosphorous being dumped everywhere. The phosphorus was a thick liquid that burned upon exposure to air and as it penetrated cracks in buildings, it burned wherever it leaked through. The fumes from it were poisonous. When it came leaking down the basement steps somebody yelled to grab a beer (there was some stored where we were), soak a cloth, a piece of your clothing, and press it over your mouth and nose. The panic was horrible. Everybody pushed, shoved and clawed to get a bottle.

“I had pulled off my underwear and soaked the cloth with the beer and pressed it over my nose and mouth. The heat in that basement was so severe it only took a few minutes to make that cloth bone dry. I was like a wild animal, protecting my supply of wetness. I don't like to remember that.

“The bombing continued. I tried bracing myself against a wall. That took the skin off my hands -- the wall was so hot. The last I remember of that night is losing my balance, holding onto somebody but falling and taking them too, with them falling on top of me. I felt something crack inside. While I lay there I had only one thought -- to keep thinking. As long as I know I'm thinking, I am alive, but at some point I lost consciousness.

“The next thing I remember is feeling terribly cold. I then realized I was lying on the ground, looking into the burning trees. It was daylight. There were animals screeching in some of them. Monkeys from the burning zoo. I started moving my legs and arms. It hurt a lot but I could move them. Feeling the pain told me that I was alive. I guess my movements were noticed by a soldier from the rescue and medical corps.

“The corps had been put into action all over the city and it was they who had opened the basement door from the outside. Taking all the bodies out of the burning building. Now they were looking for signs of life from any of us. I learned later that there had been over a hundred and seventy bodies taken out of that basement and twenty seven came back to life. I was one of them -- miraculously!

“They then attempted to take us out of the burning city to a hospital. The attempt was a gruesome experience. Not only were the buildings and the trees burning but so was the asphalt on the streets. For hours, the truck had to make a number of detours before getting beyond the chaos. But before the rescue vehicles could get the wounded to the hospitals, enemy planes bore down on us once more. We were hurriedly pulled off the trucks and placed under them. The planes dived at us with machine guns firing and dropped more fire bombs.

“The memory that has remained so vividly in my mind was seeing and hearing humans trapped, standing in the molten, burning asphalt like living torches, screaming for help which was impossible to give. At the time I was too numb to fully realize the atrocity of this scene but after I was 'safe' in the hospital, the impact of this and everything else threw me into a complete nervous breakdown. I had to be tied to my bed to prevent me from severely hurting myself physically. There I screamed for hours and hours behind a closed door while a nurse stayed at my bedside.

“I am amazed at how vivid all of this remains in my memory. (Elizabeth is in her late 70s at the time of this writing). It is like opening a floodgate. This horror stayed with me in my dreams for many years. I am grateful that I no longer have a feeling of fury and rage about any of these experiences any more -- just great compassion for everybody's pain, including my own.

“The Dresden experience has stayed with me very vividly through my entire life. The media later released that the number of people who died during the bombing was estimated in excess of two hundred and fifty thousand -- over a quarter of a million people. This was due to all the refugees who came fleeing from the Russians, and Dresden's reputation as a safe city. There were no air raid shelters there because of the Red Cross agreement.

“What happened with all the dead bodies? Most were left buried in the rubble. I think Dresden became one mass grave. It was not possible for the majority of these bodies to be identified. And therefore next of kin were never notified. Countless families were left with mothers, fathers, wives, children and siblings unaccounted for to this day.” [end quote]

According to some historians, the question of who ordered the attack and why, has never been answered. To this day, no one has shed light on these two critical questions. Some think the answers may lie in unpublished papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Winston Churchill and perhaps others. History reports that the British and American attack on Dresden left more than 2-1/2 times as many civilians dead as Britain suffered in all of World War II, and that one in every 5 Germans killed in the war died in the Dresden holocaust.

Some say the motive was to deliver the final blow to the German spirit -- that the psychological impact of the utter destruction of the heart centre of German history and culture would bring Germany to its knees once and for all.

Some say it was to test new weapons of mass destruction, the phosphorous incendiary bomb technology. Undoubtedly the need for control and power was at the root. The insatiable need of the dominators to exert control and power over a captive and fearful humanity is what drives acts of mass murder like the Dresden firebombing and Hiroshima.

I think there was also an additional hidden and cynical motive which may be why full disclosure of the Dresden bombing has been suppressed. The Allies knew full well that hundreds of thousands of refugees had migrated to Dresden in the belief that this was a safe destination and the Red Cross had been assured Dresden was not a target. The end of the war was clearly in sight at that point in time and an enormous mass of displaced humanity would have to be dealt with. What to do with all these people once the war ended? What better solution than the final solution? Why not kill three birds with one stone? By incinerating the city, along with a large percentage of its residents and refugees, the effectiveness of their new firebombs was successfully demonstrated. Awe and terror was struck in the German people, thereby accelerating the end of the war. And finally, the Dresden firebombing ensured the substantial reduction of a massive sea of unwanted humanity, thereby greatly lessening the looming burden and problem of postwar resettlement and restructuring.

We may never know what was in the psyche of those in power or all the motives that unleashed such horrific destruction of civilian life - the mass murder of a defenseless humanity who constituted no military threat whatsoever and whose only crime was to try to find relief and shelter from the ravages of war. Without the existence of any military justification for such an onslaught on helpless people, the Dresden firebombing can only be viewed as a hideous crime against humanity, waiting silently and invisibly for justice, for resolution and for healing in the collective psyches of the victims and the perpetrators.


Aftermath of Dresden

The attacks on Dresden effectively destroyed over 12,000 buildings in the city's old town and inner eastern suburbs. Among the military targets destroyed were the Wehrmacht's headquarters and several military hospitals. In addition, several factories were badly damaged or destroyed. Civilian deaths numbered between 22,700 and 25,000. Responding to the Dresden bombing, the Germans expressed outrage stating that it was a city of culture and that no war industries were present. In addition, they claimed that over 200,000 civilians had been killed.

The German propaganda proved effective in influencing attitudes in neutral countries and led some in Parliament to question the policy of area bombing. Unable to confirm or refute the German claims, senior Allied officials distanced themselves from the attack and began to debate the necessity of continuing area bombing. Though the operation caused fewer casualties than the 1943 bombing of Hamburg, the timing was called into question as the Germans were clearly heading towards defeat. In the years after the war, the necessity of the Dresden bombing was officially investigated and widely debated by leaders and historians. An inquiry conducted by US Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall found that the raid was justified based on the intelligence available. Regardless, the debate over the attack continues and it is viewed as one of the more controversial actions of World War II.


Why Dresden's History is Dreadful

The immediate casualties of war and conflict are measured not only in blood and treasure, but also in historical truth.

And 69 years to the day since the Allied firebombing of Dresden, we are reminded that no particular event has been more neglected in the popular Western narrative of the Second World War than the event labeled by witness and American novelist Kurt Vonnegut as the "greatest massacre in European history."

Many people in the Anglo-Saxon world are simply unaware that that the single largest causality event in WWII was carried out not by atomic bombs, but by 3,000 tons of British and American incendiary bombs unleashed on a defenseless German city of no clear industrial or military importance.

On February 13-15, 1945, in the waning days of the war, m ore people died as a result of the Allied firebombing of Dresden than either of the atomic bomb attacks in Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

" Dresden was like the moon now nothing but minerals," wrote Vonnegut in his most celebrated Slaughterhouse Five , a semi-autobiographical narrative set in Dresden at the time of the bombing. As an American prisoner of war brought to Dresden, Vonnegut survived the bombing by hiding in the infamous slaughterhouse. He was subsequently ordered to collect and burn the thousands of bodies rendered lifeless by Anglo-American firebombs, which he describes in vivd detail in several of his most classic works.

It is estimated that over 135,000 people lost their lives in the destruction of Dresden, including a incredibly high number of civilians escaping the Eastern Front who found refuge in the city just days before the bombing.

Once the decimation of the city had been made public, even Britain's top war leaders questioned such a powerful blow to a city deemed so unimportant to the German industrial machine.

" 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, should be reviewed," wrote British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Royal Air Force Air Marshall Arthur Harris on March 29 1945 .

Even H arris, nicknamed 'Bomber Harris', later wrote that such an offensive was most likely not necessary to the British campaign, and Germany was on her last ropes.

" I know that the destruction of so large and splendid a city at this late stage of the war was considered unnecessary even by a good many people who admit that our earlier attacks were as fully justified as any other operation of war," later wrote H arris in his autobiography .

He was responsible for overseeing the execution of the Casablanca Directive, the 1943 draft document outlining the goals for all British and American air raids on Germany. It was this order which brought forth Operation Gomorrah , the large-scale bombings in Hamburg, which killed over 50,000 in just two days.

" Your primary object 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 a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened," reads the directive.

As the bombings were regarded as military necessary, Harris and his equals in the American Air Force did not question the orders to come from above.

" Here I will only say that the attack on Dresden was at the time considered a military necessity by much more important people than myself," reflected Harris after the war.

" The Allied Air Commanders have made the long awaited decision to adopt the deliberate terror bombing of great German population centers as a ruthless expedienbt to hasten Hitler's doom," wrote Associated Press reporter Howard Cowan in the Washington Star in the days following the bombing .

The figure of 135,000 dead has since fallen into the realm of great controversy in Britain and Germany.

The original death toll was produced by Hanns Voigt, a Dresden schoolteacher assigned to count the dead in the days following the strategic attack. He assembled up to 90,000 index cards filled with information on found bodies, and ascertained the figure of 135,000 deaths after considering the influx of refugees to the city, the number of trapped civilians incinerated in cellars and basements, and the 10,000-20,000 wedding rings recovered from destroyed homes and charred corpses.

Voigt's initial reports along with bulletins from the Dresden police and German military are what make up the main evidence found in British historian David Irving's The Destruction of Dresden, written in 1963, singled out as the most extensive study of the bombings.

Despite the sheer number of civilian casualties, the firebombing and tragic loss of human souls at Dresden has unfortunately fallen victim to the political agendas of radical parties and activist historians who wish to discredit Irving's work.

In the years since, the total number of persons who perished in Dresden has become indeed become a political issue, declared to be overestimated by modern historians who dare not deviate from state-sanctioned history and grossly underestimated by fascist political activists seeking to create some type of moral equivalence with the killings of the Nazi regime.

The modern-day National Democratic Party in Germany each year commemorates the anniversary of Dresden, labeling it their own "Bombenholocaust," a purposefully provocative term which reignites political debate on the nature and scale of the bombings.

Apart from such provocation, a number of officially sanctioned historical committees have had the pretense of settling the issue, but have only served to limit the lessons learned from such a horrendous attack on German civilians.

What remains at issue is why the people of Dresden were targeted and how many perished as a result of the air attack, not to excuse or whitewash crimes of either side. It remains a human tragedy nonetheless.

A Nov.11, 1945 City Planning Authority survey in Dresden found that 75,358 homes and 11,116 residential buildings were "totally destroyed" by the bombings, meaning they were completely bombed out and could have housed few survivors.

This would seem to corroborate the claims of Voigt in the days and months after the bombing.

On the other hand, the Historical Commission on the Aerial Bombing of Dresden between 13th and 15th February 1945, sanctioned by the city of Dresden, came to the conclusion in March 2010 that "up to 25,000 citizens lost their lives" in the bombing raids.

Considering the earlier claims of Voigt and Irving, why would a historical body presumably made up of esteemed historians and archivists now severely undercut the numbers first floated by one of the first authorities on the scene in 1945.

Any analysis of this death toll, whether 135,000 or 25,000, must be viewed independent of any of the documented revelations about the mass killing of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, communists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and many other minorities within Germany at the time. Comparisons, justifications, or anachronistic moralizing only serve to politicize and further bury the truth on such a tragic event.

That hasn't stopped historians ready to enter the political fray.

German historians such as Joerg Friedrich have concentrated their academic efforts on dismantling the justification for the bombing of Dresden, which he did in the 591-page Der Brand.

Others, like American historian Deborah Lipstadt, have taken up the tragedy in order to accuse anyone who attaches significance to Dresden as taking part in "immoral equivalences," somehow downplaying the atrocious crimes committed by the Nazi regime.

That couldn't be further from the truth.

The precise reason why Dresden should remain relevant is precisely because so many people perished and because it was perpetuated by the Allied powers, the same military and political rulers who months later would condemn half the upper echelons of Nazi power to death sentences for "crimes against humanity."

It's not about justification or moral equivalence, it's about the truth.

It's about the dangers of allowing the state to commit war, write its own history, and downplay the indiscriminate killings which plagued all races, religions, and peoples of the European continent.

Despite the wishes of politically correct historians or hate-hungry fascists, the purpose of history is to document accurately the many happenings of the past into a single narrative that will provide some type of lessons and enlightenment today.

On the 69th anniversary of the firebombing of Dresden, let those lessons remain visible and transparent so people can get the truth and hope to make a better world.

At the very least, we owe that to the millions who have perished from this Earth by the hands of their fellow men.

Yaël Ossowski is a Canadian journalist living in Vienna, Austria.


Conclusion

While there were some legitimate military targets in Dresden, the bombing of Dresden constituted area bombing at its worst. The British bombers especially were not interested in any purely military or economic targets instead, they concentrated on destroying as much of the vital center of the city as possible. The Dresden bombings were a violation of the humanitarian principles that people have been striving to enunciate as a way of controlling and limiting war.

Read more – After The Firestorm: Debating the Dresden Death Toll

[1] McKee, Alexander, Dresden 1945: The Devil’s Tinderbox, New York: E.P. Dutton, Inc., 1984, pp. 69, 244.

[4] Evans, Richard J., Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial, New York: Basic Books, 2001, p. 150.

[5] Levine, Alan J., The Strategic Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945, Westport, CT, Praeger, 1992, p. 179.

[6] Neitzel, Sönke, “The City Under Attack,” in Addison, Paul and Crang, Jeremy A., (eds.), Firestorm: The Bombing of Dresden, 1945, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006, p. 76.

[7] Grayling, A.C., Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan, New York: Walker & Company, 2006, pp. 259-260.

[8] Taylor, Frederick, Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945, New York: HarperCollins, 2004, pp. 218, 359.

[10] Neitzel, Sönke, “The City Under Attack,” in Addison, Paul and Crang, Jeremy A., (eds.), Firestorm: The Bombing of Dresden, 1945, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006, p. 77.


What were the military justifications for the bombing of Dresden? - History

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Dresden 1945: The Devil's Tinderbox by Alexander McKee. New York: E.P. Duffon, Inc., 1982, 1984, with maps, photographs, index, $18.95, ISBN 0-525-24262-7.

The destruction of the virtually undefended German city of Dresden by bombers of the Royal Air Force and U.S. Army Air Force, in mid-February, 1945, remains one of the most controversial episodes of the Second World War. In 1963, British historian David Irving published a pathbreaking study on this topic. Another widely-published British military historian, Alexander McKee, has produced a new account of the Dresden bombing, based in part upon an examination of official records recently declassified, as well as interviews from survivors of the attack and Allied airmen who flew in the raids.

McKee had doubts about the efficacy of area bombing when, as a soldier with the 1st Canadian Army, he witnessed the results of the Allied bombing of "friendly" French towns. Following visits to the cities of Caen and Lisieux, he wrote in his personal war diary:

Lisieux and Caen are examples of the inflexibility of the four motor heavy bombers: it cannot block a road without bringing down a city. I'm not surprised that our troops advancing between Caen and Lisieux were fired on by French civilians. No doubt many Frenchmen found it hard to be liberated by a people who seem, by their actions, to specialise in the mass murder of their friends.

McKee was an eye-witness to the final destruction of the towns of Emmerich and Arnhem. He related that, "In Emmerich I saw no building whatever intact … This process, when the town was an Allied one, we referred to with bitter mockery as 'Liberation.' When you said that such-and-such a place had been 'liberated,' you meant that hardly one stone still stood upon another."

The bombing of urban areas which might contain targets of military importance was a policy advocated by leading British air strategists long before the outbreak of the war. McKee reviewed the writings of the air power theorists of the 1920s and 30s, observing that "retreading them now is like browsing through a British Mein Kampf. The horror to come is all there between the lines. What they are really advocating is an all-out attack on noncombatants, men, women, and children, as a deliberate policy of terror.

After sifting through the evidence, the author refers to these proferred justifications as the "standard white-wash gambit." There was a military barracks in Dresden, but it was located on the out skirts of the "New Town," miles away from the selected target area. There were some hutted camps in the city &ndash full of starving refugees who had fled from the advancing Red Terror in the East. The main road route passed on the west outside the city limits. The railway network led to an important junction, but this, too, passed outside the center of the "Old City," which was the focal point for the bombing attacks. No railway stations were on the British target maps, nor, apparently, were bridges, the destruction of which could have impeded German communications with the Eastern Front. And despite the claims of U.S. Air Force historians, writing in 1978, that "The Secretary of War had to be appraised of … the Russian request for its neutralization," the author has unearthed no evidence of such a Soviet request.

What the author has discovered about the attack is that:

  • By the end of Summer, 1944, "there is evidence that the Western Allies were contemplating some terrible but swift end to the war by committing an atrocity which would terrify the enemy into instant surrender. Without doubt, the inner truth has still to be prised loose, but the thread of thought can be discerned."
  • "The bomber commanders were not really interested in any purely military or economic targets … What they were looking for was a big built-up area which they could burn … The attraction Dresden had for Bomber Command was that the centre of the city should burn easily and magnificentlv: as indeed it was to do."
  • At the time of the attacks on February 13/14, 1945, the inhabitants of Dresden wore mostly women and children, many of whom had just arrived as refugees from the East. There were also large numbers of Allied POWs. Few German males of military age were left in the city environs. The author cites the official Bomber Command history prepared by Sir Charles Webster and Dr. Noble Frankland, which reveals that "the unfortunate, frozen, starving civilian refugees were the first object of the attack, before military movements."
  • Dresden was virtually undefended. Luftwaffe fighters stationed in the general vicinity were grounded for lack of fuel. With the exception of a few light guns, the anti-aircraft batteries had been dismantled for employment elsewhere. McKee quotes one British participant in the raid, who reported that "our biggest problem, quite truly, was with the chance of being hit by bombs from other Lancasters flying above us."
  • Targets of genuine military significance were not hit, and had not even been included on the official list of targets. Among the neglected military targets was the railway bridge spanning the Elbe River, the destruction of which could have halted rail traffic for months. The railway marshalling yards in Dresden were also outside the RAF target area. The important autobahn bridge to the west of the city was not attacked. Rubble from damaged buildings did interrupt the flow of traffic within the city, "but in terms of the Eastern Front communications network, road transport was virtually unimpaired."
  • In the course of the USAF daylight raids, American fighter-bombers strafed civilians: "Amongst these people who had lost everything in a single night, panic broke out. Women and children were massacred with cannon and bombs. It was mass murder." American aircraft even attacked animals in the Dresden Zoo. The USAF was still at it in late April, with Mustangs strafing Allied POWs they discovered working in fields.
  • The author concludes that, "Dresden had been bombed for political and not military reasons but again, without effect. There was misery, but it did not affect the war." Some have suggested that the bombing of Dresden was meant to serve as a warning to Stalin of what sort of destruction the Western Powers were capable of dealing. If that was their intent, it certainly failed to accomplish the objective.

Once word leaked out that the Dresden raids were generally viewed as terrorist attacks against civilians, those most responsible for ordering the bombings tried to avoid their just share of the blame. McKee points out that:

In both the UK and the U.S.A. a high level of sophistication was to be employed in order to excuse or justify the raids, or to blame them on someone else. It is difficult'to think of any other atrocity &ndash and there were many in the Second World War &ndash which has produced such an extraordinary aftermath of unscrupulous and mendacious polemics.

Who were the men to blame for the attacks? The author reveals that:

It was the Prime Minister himself who in effect had signed the death warrant for Dresden, which had been executed by Harris [chief of RAF Bomber Command]. And it was Churchill, too, who in the beginning had enthusiastically backed the bomber marshals in carrying out the indiscriminate area bombing policy in which they all believed. They were all in it together. Portal himself [head of the RAF], Harris of course, Trenchard [British air theorist] too, and the Prime Minister most of all. And many lesser people.

An aspect of the Dresden bombing that remains a question today is how many people died during the attacks of February 13/14, 1945. The city was crammed with uncounted refugees and many POWs in transit. when the raids took place. The exact number of casualties will never be known. McKee believed that the official figures were understated, and that 35,000 to 45,000 died, though "the figure of 35,000 for one night's massacre alone might easily be doubled to 70,000 without much fear of exaggeration, I feel."

Alexander McKee has written a compelling account of the destruction of Dresden. Although the author served with the British armed forces during the war, his attitude toward the events he describes reminds this reviewer of McKee's fellow Brit, Royal Navy Captain Russell Grenfell, who played a key role in the sinking of the battleship Bismarck, but who, after the war, wrote a classic of modern Revisionism, Unconditional Hatred: German War Guilt and the Future of Europe (1953). Likewise, Dresden, 1945, deserves a place in any Revisionists' library.


Dresden 1945: The Devil’s Tinderbox

A review of Dresden 1945: The Devil’s Tinderbox, by Alexander McKee. New York: E.P. Dutton, Inc., 1982, 1984, with maps, photographs, index

THE DESTRUCTION of the virtually undefended German city of Dresden by bombers of the Royal Air Force and U.S. Army Air Force, in mid-February, 1945, remains one of the most controversial episodes of the Second World War. In 1963, British historian David Irving published a pathbreaking study on this topic. Another widely-published British military historian, Alexander McKee, has produced a new account of the Dresden bombing, based in part upon an examination of official records recently declassified, as well as interviews from survivors of the attack and Allied airmen who flew in the raids.

McKee had doubts about the efficacy of area bombing when, as a soldier with the 1st Canadian Army, he witnessed the results of the Allied bombing of “friendly” French towns. Following visits to the cities of Caen and Lisieux, he wrote in his personal war diary:

“Lisieux and Caen are examples of the inflexibility of the four-motor heavy bombers: it cannot block a road without bringing down a city. I’m not surprised that our troops advancing between Caen and Lisiel=c were fired on by French civilians. No doubt many Frenchmen found it hard to be liberated by a people who seem, by their actions, to specialise in the mass murder of their friends.”

McKee was an eye-witness to the final destruction of the towns of Emmerich and Arnhem. He related that, “In Emmerich I saw no building whatever intact …. This process, when the town was an Allied one, we referred to with bitter mockery as ‘Liberation.’ When you said that such-and-such a place had been ‘liberated,’ you meant that hardly one stone still stood upon another.”

The bombing of urban areas which might contain targets of military importance was a policy advocated by leading British air strategists long before the outbreak of the war. McKee reviewed the writings of the air power theorists of the 1920s and 30s, observing that “retreading them now is like browsing through a British Mein Kampf. The horror to come is all there between the lines. What they are really advocating is an all-out attack on non-combatants, men, women, and children, as a deliberate policy of terror?”

After sifting through the evidence, the author refers to these proferred justifications as the “standard white-wash gambit.” There was a military barracks in Dresden, but it was located on the out skirts of the “New Town,” miles away from the selected target area. There were some hutted camps in the city-full of starving refugees who had fled from the advancing Red Terror in the East. The main road route passed on the west outside the city limits. The railway network led to an important junction, but this, too, passed outside the center of the “Old City,” which was the focal point for the bombing attacks. No railway stations were on the British target maps, nor, apparently, were bridges, the destruction of which could have impeded German communications with the Eastern Front. And despite the claims of U.S. Air Force historians, writing in 1978, that “The Secretary of War had to be appraised of … the Russian request for its neutralization,” the author has unearthed no evidence of such a Soviet request.

What the author has discovered about the attack is that:

  • By the end of Summer, 1944, “there is evidence that the Western Allies were contemplating some terrible but swift end to the war by committing an atrocity which would terrify the enemy into instant surrender. Without doubt, the inner truth has still to be prised loose, but the thread of thought can be discerned.”
  • “The bomber commanders were not really interested in any purely military or economic targets …. What they were looking for was a big built-up area which they could burn …. The attraction Dresden had for Bomber Command was that the centre of the city should burn easily and magnificentlv: as indeed it was to do.”
  • At the time of the attacks on February 13-14, 1945, the inhabitants of Dresden were mostly women and children, many of whom had just arrived as refugees from the East. There were also large numbers of Allied POWs. Few German males of military age were left in the city environs. The author cites the official Bomber Command history prepared by Sir Charles Webster and Dr. Noble Frankland, which reveals that “the unfortunate, frozen, starving civilian refugees were the first object of the attack, before military movements “
  • Dresden was virtually undefended. Luftwaffe fighters stationed in the general vicinity were grounded for lack of fuel. With the exception of a few light guns, the anti-aircraft batteries had been dismantled for employment elsewhere. McKee quotes one British participant in the raid, who reported that “our biggest problem, quite truly, was with the chance of being hit by bombs from other Lancasters flying above us.”
  • Targets of genuine military significance were not hit, and had not even been included on the official list of targets. Among the neglected military targets was the railway bridge spanning the Elbe River, the destruction of which could have halted rail traffic for months. The railway marshalling yards in Dresden were also outside the RAF target area. The important autobahn bridge to the west of the city was not attacked. Rubble from damaged buildings did interrupt the flow of traffic within the city, “but in terms of the Eastern Front communications network, road transport was virtually unimpaired.”
  • In the course of the USAF daylight raids, American fighter- bombers strafed civilians: “Amongst these people who had lost everything in a single night, panic broke out. Women and children were massacred with cannon and bombs. It was mass murder.” American aircraft even attacked animals in the Dresden Zoo. The USAF was still at it in late April, with Mustangs strafing Allied POWs they discovered working in fields.
  • The author concludes that, “Dresden had been bombed for political and not military reasons but again, without effect. There was misery, but it did not affect the war.” Some have suggested that the bombing of Dresden was meant to serve as a warning to Stalin of what sort of destruction the Western Powers were capable of dealing. If that was their intent, it certainly failed to accomplish the objective.

Once word leaked out that the Dresden raids were generally viewed as terrorist attacks against civilians, those most responsible for ordering the bombings tried to avoid their just share of the blame. McKee points out that:

“In both the UK and the U.S.A. a high level of sophistication was to be employed in order to excuse or justify the raids, or to blame them on someone else. It is difficult to think of any other atrocity — and there were many in the Second World War — which has produced such an extraordinary aftermath of unscrupulous and mendacious polemics.”

Who were the men to blame for the attacks? The author reveals that:

“It was the Prime Minister himself who in effect had signed the death warrant for Dresden, which had been executed by Harris [chief of RAF Bomber Command]. And it was Churchill, too, who in the beginning had enthusiastically backed the bomber marshals in carrying out the indiscriminate area bombing policy in which they all believed. They were all in it together. Portal himself [head of the RAF, Harris of course, Trenchard [British air theorist] too, and the Prime Minister most of all. And many lesser people.”

An aspect of the Dresden bombing that remains a question today is how many people died during the attacks of February 13-14, 1945. The city was crammed with uncounted refugees and many POWs in transit. when the raids took place. The exact number of casualties will never be known. McKee believed that the official figures were understated, and that 35,000 to 45,000 died, though “the figure of 35,000 for one night’s massacre alone might easily be doubled to 70,000 without much fear of exaggeration, I feel.”

Alexander McKee has written a compelling account of the destruction of Dresden. Although the author served with the British armed forces during the war, his attitude toward the events he describes reminds this reviewer of McKee’s fellow Brit, Royal Navy Captain Russell Grenfell, who played a key role in the sinking of the battleship Bismarck, but who, after the war, wrote a classic of modern revisionism, Unconditional Hatred: German War Guilt and the Future of Europe (1953). Likewise, Dresden 1945 deserves a place in any revisionist’s library.