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Old 02-14-2019, 01:46 AM
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Default Bombing of Dresden, Feb 1945--thousands mass-murdered, perhaps as many as 200,000+

The blood of Dresden

Following is an extract from Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut in which he describes the scenes of ‘obscene brutality’ he witnessed as a prisoner of war in Dresden which inspired his classic novel Slaughterhouse-Five.

Link: https://pulsemedia.org/2011/06/25/the-blood-of-dresden/

Dresden before the allied bombing

It was a routine speech we got during our first day of basic training, delivered by a wiry little lieutenant: “Men, up to now you’ve been good, clean, American boys with an American’s love for sportsmanship and fair play. We’re here to change that.

“Our job is to make you the meanest, dirtiest bunch of scrappers in the history of the world. From now on, you can forget the Marquess of Queensberry rules and every other set of rules. Anything and everything goes.

“Never hit a man above the belt when you can kick him below it. Make the bastard scream. Kill him any way you can. Kill, kill, kill – do you understand?”

His talk was greeted with nervous laughter and general agreement that he was right. “Didn’t Hitler and Tojo say the Americans were a bunch of softies? Ha! They’ll find out.”

And of course, Germany and Japan did find out: a toughened-up democracy poured forth a scalding fury that could not be stopped. It was a war of reason against barbarism, supposedly, with the issues at stake on such a high plane that most of our feverish fighters had no idea why they were fighting – other than that the enemy was a bunch of bastards. A new kind of war, with all destruction, all killing approved.

A lot of people relished the idea of total war: it had a modern ring to it, in keeping with our spectacular technology. To them it was like a football game.

[Back home in America], three small-town merchants’ wives, middle-aged and plump, gave me a ride when I was hitchhiking home from Camp Atterbury. “Did you kill a lot of them Germans?” asked the driver, making cheerful small-talk. I told her I didn’t know.

This was taken for modesty. As I was getting out of the car, one of the ladies patted me on the shoulder in motherly fashion: “I’ll bet you’d like to get over and kill some of them dirty Japs now, wouldn’t you?”

We exchanged knowing winks. I didn’t tell those simple souls that I had been captured after a week at the front; and more to the point, what I knew and thought about killing dirty Germans, about total war. The reason for my being sick at heart then and now has to do with an incident that received cursory treatment in the American newspapers. In February 1945, Dresden, Germany, was destroyed, and with it over 100,000 human beings. I was there. Not many know how tough America got.

I was among a group of 150 infantry privates, captured in the Bulge breakthrough and put to work in Dresden. Dresden, we were told, was the only major German city to have escaped bombing so far. That was in January 1945. She owed her good fortune to her unwarlike countenance: hospitals, breweries, food-processing plants, surgical supply houses, ceramics, musical instrument factories and the like.

Since the war [had started], hospitals had become her prime concern. Every day hundreds of wounded came into the tranquil sanctuary from the east and west. At night, we would hear the dull rumble of distant air raids. “Chemnitz is getting it tonight,” we used to say, and speculated what it might be like to be the bright young men with their dials and cross-hairs.

“Thank heaven we’re in an ‘open city’,” we thought, and so thought the thousands of refugees – women, children and old men who came in a forlorn stream from the smouldering wreckage of Berlin, Leipzig, Breslau, Munich. They flooded the city to twice its normal population.

There was no war in Dresden. True, planes came over nearly every day and the sirens wailed, but the planes were always en route elsewhere. The alarms furnished a relief period in a tedious work day, a social event, a chance to gossip in the shelters. The shelters, in fact, were not much more than a gesture, casual recognition of the national emergency: wine cellars and basements with benches in them and sandbags blocking the windows, for the most part. There were a few more adequate bunkers in the centre of the city, close to the government offices, but nothing like the staunch subterranean fortress that rendered Berlin impervious to her daily pounding. Dresden had no reason to prepare for attack – and thereby hangs a beastly tale.

Dresden was surely among the world’s most lovely cities. Her streets were broad, lined with shade-trees. She was sprinkled with countless little parks and statuary. She had marvellous old churches, libraries, museums, theatres, art galleries, beer gardens, a zoo and a renowned university.

It was at one time a tourist’s paradise. They would be far better informed on the city’s delights than am I. But the impression I have is that in Dresden – in the physical city – were the symbols of the good life; pleasant, honest, intelligent. In the swastika’s shadow, those symbols of the dignity and hope of mankind stood waiting, monuments to truth. The accumulated treasure of hundreds of years, Dresden spoke eloquently of those things excellent in European civilisa-tion wherein our debt lies deep.

I was a prisoner, hungry, dirty and full of hate for our captors, but I loved that city and saw the blessed wonder of her past and the rich promise of her future.

In February 1945, American bombers reduced this treasure to crushed stone and embers; disembowelled her with high explosives and cremated her with incendiaries.

The atom bomb may represent a fabulous advance, but it is interesting to note that primitive TNT and thermite managed to exterminate in one bloody night more people than died in the whole London blitz. Fortress Dresden fired a dozen shots at our airmen. Once back at their bases and sipping hot coffee, they probably remarked: “Flak unusually light tonight. Well, guess it’s time to turn in.” Captured British pilots from tactical fighter units (covering frontline troops) used to chide those who had flown heavy bombers on city raids with: “How on earth did you stand the stink of boiling urine and burning perambulators?”

A perfectly routine piece of news: “Last night our planes attacked Dresden. All planes returned safely.” The only good German is a dead one: over 100,000 evil men, women, and children (the able-bodied were at the fronts) forever purged of their sins against humanity. By chance, I met a bombardier who had taken part in the attack. “We hated to do it,” he told me.

The night they came over, we spent in an underground meat locker in a slaughterhouse. We were lucky, for it was the best shelter in town. Giants stalked the earth above us. First came the soft murmur of their dancing on the outskirts, then the grumbling of their plodding towards us, and finally the ear-splitting crashes of their heels upon us – and thence to the outskirts again. Back and forth they swept: saturation bombing.

“I screamed and I wept and I clawed the walls of our shelter,” an old lady told me. “I prayed to God to ‘please, please, please, dear God, stop them’. But he didn’t hear me. No power could stop them. On they came, wave after wave. There was no way we could surrender; no way to tell them we couldn’t stand it any more. There was nothing anyone could do but sit and wait for morning.” Her daughter and grandson were killed.

Our little prison was burnt to the ground. We were to be evacuated to an outlying camp occupied by South African prisoners. Our guards were a melancholy lot, aged Volkssturmers and disabled veterans. Most of them were Dresden residents and had friends and families somewhere in the holocaust. A corporal, who had lost an eye after two years on the Russian front, ascertained before we marched that his wife, his two children and both of his parents had been killed. He had one cigarette. He shared it with me.

Dresden after the allied bombing

Our march to new quarters took us to the city’s edge. It was impossible to believe that anyone had survived in its heart. Ordinarily, the day would have been cold, but occasional gusts from the colossal inferno made us sweat. And ordinarily, the day would have been clear and bright, but an opaque and towering cloud turned noon to twilight.

A grim procession clogged the outbound highways; people with blackened faces streaked with tears, some bearing wounded, some bearing dead. They gathered in the fields. No one spoke. A few with Red Cross armbands did what they could for the casualties.

Settled with the South Africans, we enjoyed a week without work. At the end of it, communications were reestablished with higher headquarters and we were ordered to hike seven miles to the area hardest hit.

Nothing in the district had escaped the fury. A city of jagged building shells, of splintered statuary and shattered trees; every vehicle stopped, gnarled and burnt, left to rust or rot in the path of the frenzied might. The only sounds other than our own were those of falling plaster and their echoes.

I cannot describe the desolation properly, but I can give an idea of how it made us feel, in the words of a delirious British soldier in a makeshift POW hospital: “It’s frightenin’, I tell you. I would walk down one of them bloody streets and feel a thousand eyes on the back of me ’ead. I would ’ear ’em whis-perin’ behind me. I would turn around to look at ’em and there wouldn’t be a bloomin’ soul in sight. You can feel ’em and you can ’ear ’em but there’s never anybody there.” We knew what he said was so.

For “salvage” work, we were divided into small crews, each under a guard. Our ghoulish mission was to search for bodies. It was rich hunting that day and the many thereafter. We started on a small scale – here a leg, there an arm, and an occasional baby – but struck a mother lode before noon.

We cut our way through a basement wall to discover a reeking hash of over 100 human beings. Flame must have swept through before the building’s collapse sealed the exits, because the flesh of those within resembled the texture of prunes. Our job, it was explained, was to wade into the shambles and bring forth the remains. Encouraged by cuffing and guttural abuse, wade in we did. We did exactly that, for the floor was covered with an unsavoury broth from burst water mains and viscera.

A number of victims, not killed outright, had attempted to escape through a narrow emergency exit. At any rate, there were several bodies packed tightly into the passageway. Their leader had made it halfway up the steps before he was buried up to his neck in falling brick and plaster. He was about 15, I think.

It is with some regret that I here besmirch the nobility of our airmen, but, boys, you killed an appalling lot of women and children. The shelter I have described and innumerable others like it were filled with them. We had to exhume their bodies and carry them to mass funeral pyres in the parks, so I know.

The funeral pyre technique was abandoned when it became apparent how great was the toll. There was not enough labour to do it nicely, so a man with a flamethrower was sent down instead, and he cremated them where they lay. Burnt alive, suffocated, crushed – men, women, and children indiscriminately killed.

For all the sublimity of the cause for which we fought, we surely created a Belsen of our own. The method was impersonal, but the result was equally cruel and heartless. That, I am afraid, is a sickening truth.

When we had become used to the darkness, the odour and the carnage, we began musing as to what each of the corpses had been in life. It was a sordid game: “Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief . . .” Some had fat purses and jewellery, others had precious foodstuffs. A boy had his dog still leashed to him.

Renegade Ukrainians in German uniform were in charge of our operations in the shelters proper. They were roaring drunk from adjacent wine cellars and seemed to enjoy their job hugely. It was a profitable one, for they stripped each body of valuables before we carried it to the street. Death became so commonplace that we could joke about our dismal burdens and cast them about like so much garbage.

Not so with the first of them, especially the young: we had lifted them on to the stretchers with care, laying them out with some semblance of funeral dignity in their last resting place before the pyre. But our awed and sorrowful propriety gave way, as I said, to rank callousness. At the end of a grisly day, we would smoke and survey the impressive heap of dead accumulated. One of us flipped his cigarette butt into the pile: “Hell’s bells,” he said, “I’m ready for Death any time he wants to come after me.”

A few days after the raid, the sirens screamed again. The listless and heartsick survivors were showered this time with leaflets. I lost my copy of the epic, but remember that it ran something like this: “To the people of Dresden: we were forced to bomb your city because of the heavy military traffic your railroad facilities have been carrying. We realise that we haven’t always hit our objectives. Destruction of anything other than military objectives was unintentional, unavoidable fortunes of war.”

That explained the slaughter to everyone’s satisfaction, I am sure, but it aroused no little contempt. It is a fact that 48 hours after the last B-17 had droned west for a well-earned rest, labour battalions had swarmed over the damaged rail yards and restored them to nearly normal service. None of the rail bridges over the Elbe was knocked out of commission. Bomb-sight manufacturers should blush to know that their marvellous devices laid bombs down as much as three miles wide of what the military claimed to be aiming for.

The leaflet should have said: “We hit every blessed church, hospital, school, museum, theatre, your university, the zoo, and every apartment building in town, but we honestly weren’t trying hard to do it. C’est la guerre. So sorry. Besides, saturation bombing is all the rage these days, you know.”

There was tactical significance: stop the railroads. An excellent manoeuvre, no doubt, but the technique was horrible. The planes started kicking high explosives and incendiaries through their bomb-bays at the city limits, and for all the pattern their hits presented, they must have been briefed by a Ouija board.

Tabulate the loss against the gain. Over 100,000 noncombatants and a magnificent city destroyed by bombs dropped wide of the stated objectives: the railroads were knocked out for roughly two days. The Germans counted it the greatest loss of life suffered in any single raid. The death of Dresden was a bitter tragedy, needlessly and wilfully executed. The killing of children – “Jerry” children or “Jap” children, or whatever enemies the future may hold for us – can never be justified.

The facile reply to great groans such as mine is the most hateful of all clichés, “fortunes of war”, and another: “They asked for it. All they understand is force.”

Who asked for it? The only thing who understands is force? Believe me, it is not easy to rationalise the stamping out of vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored when gathering up babies in bushel baskets or helping a man dig where he thinks his wife may be buried.

Certainly, enemy military and industrial installations should have been blown flat, and woe unto those foolish enough to seek shelter near them. But the “Get Tough America” policy, the spirit of revenge, the approbation of all destruction and killing, have earned us a name for obscene brutality.

Our leaders had a carte blanche as to what they might or might not destroy. Their mission was to win the war as quickly as possible; and while they were admirably trained to do just that, their decisions on the fate of certain priceless world heirlooms – in one case, Dresden – were not always judicious. When, late in the war, with the Wehrmacht breaking up on all fronts, our planes were sent to destroy this last major city, I doubt if the question was asked: “How will this tragedy benefit us, and how will that benefit compare with the ill-effects in the long run?”

Dresden, a beautiful city, built in the art spirit, symbol of an admirable heritage, so antiNazi that Hitler visited it but twice during his whole reign, food and hospital centre so bitterly needed now – ploughed under and salt strewn in the furrows.

There can be no doubt that the allies fought on the side of right and the Germans and Japanese on the side of wrong. World war two was fought for near-holy motives. But I stand convinced that the brand of justice in which we dealt, wholesale bombings of civilian populations, was blasphemous. That the enemy did it first has nothing to do with the moral problem. What I saw of our air war, as the European conflict neared an end, had the earmarks of being an irrational war for war’s sake. Soft citizens of the American democracy had learnt to kick a man below the belt and make the bastard scream.

The occupying Russians, when they discovered that we were Americans, embraced us and congratulated us on the complete desolation our planes had wrought. We accepted their congratulations with good grace and proper modesty, but I felt then as I feel now, that I would have given my life to save Dresden for the world’s generations to come. That is how everyone should feel about every city on earth.
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Old 02-14-2019, 10:33 PM
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Default Re: Bombing of Dresden, Feb 1945--thousands mass-murdered, perhaps as many as 200,000+

Dresden 1945: The Devil's Tinderbox

Link: http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v06/v06p247_Lutton.html

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

Reviewed by Charles Lutton

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.


From The Journal of Historical Review, Summer 1985 (Vol. 6, No. 2), pages 247-250.
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Old 02-14-2019, 10:41 PM
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Default Re: Bombing of Dresden, Feb 1945--thousands mass-murdered, perhaps as many as 200,000+

The revenger’s tragedy

Link: https://www.newstatesman.com/europe/...er-war-bombing

The British government has long denied that wartime air raids on German cities were intended to kill

Leo McKinstry
17 December 2009

The scene was apocalyptic in its scale of devastation. As the RAF bombers released their cargo of incendiaries on the night of 27 July 1943, the northern German port of Hamburg was engulfed in one of the worst firestorms in history. The flaming mass of bombs sent warm air soaring thousands of feet into the sky, creating a vacuum at ground level that was filled by winds gusting at 150mph. These tornadoes not only fanned the conflagration, but also scythed through almost everything in their path.

Trees were uprooted, buildings were destroyed and people were hurled through the air. Some burned to death in the street or in their homes from the sheer intensity of the heat. Other victims, screaming in agony, were stuck in the roadways as the asphalt turned to boiling liquid.

Thousands were asphyxiated by lack of oxygen, or died of smoke inhalation as they sought shelter in cellars. Those who made it to the rivers or canals fared little better: the scorching heat continued to suck oxygen out of the air, while the fire was spread across water surfaces by exploding oil tankers and the debris of burning coal barges.

The next morning, long after the bombers had left, much of Hamburg was a smouldering wilderness of death. The smoke was so thick that it blotted out the sun. There were corpses everywhere, many of them little more than twisted, blackened remnants of humanity. Occasionally, to the anguish of the rescue parties, a naked figure, charred beyond recognition, might emit a faint sound of life.

The raid that caused this inferno was one of a series of Allied attacks carried out against Hamburg in late July 1943, leaving roughly 45,000 people dead, including 21,000 women and 8,000 children. In addition, 1.2 million refugees left the city in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, many of them mentally and physically scarred. One distraught mother was found to be carrying her dead infant in her suitcase.

In terms of civilian slaughter, the Hamburg campaign of mid-1943 was the most destructive assault by the Royal Air Force in the entire Second World War. The death toll was higher than that inflicted in the Dresden raid of February 1945, where as many as 25,000 people were estimated to have been killed. Yet, for all their historic lethalness, neither the Hamburg nor the Dresden raid was a departure from the RAF bombing strategy that prevailed from early 1942 until the end of the war. Far from being unfortunate or freak occurrences, they represented the ultimate fruition of British air policy. Bomber Command's entire strategic offensive seems to have been based on the belief that the Nazi regime could be destroyed through wholesale, indiscriminate killing of Germany's urban population.

Night after night, the RAF pounded the residential districts of German cities, its deadly effectiveness increasing as the bomber fleet, led by the mighty, four-engined Avro Lancasters, grew in size and the Reich's defences weakened. On the night of 23 February 1945, 367 Lancasters dropped 1,825 tons of bombs on the town of Pforzheim, causing another firestorm that killed 17,600 people, a quarter of the population. This was proportionately a higher casualty rate than at Nagasaki in Japan, where the second atomic bomb was dropped a few months later. In March 1945, 225 Lancasters dropped 1,127 tons of bombs on the medieval city of Würzburg in a raid lasting just 17 minutes. More than 5,000 people died, 66 per cent of them women and 14 per cent children. "The inner core of Würzburg had become a cauldron of fire. The roar was deafening and the smoke suffocating," wrote one witness.

Both during and after the war, the government maintained that it was never Britain's policy to carry out carpet bombing of civilian targets. "We have always adhered firmly to the principle that we attack none but military objectives," declared Archibald Sinclair, the secretary of state for air, in the Commons in October 1943. The mounting toll of civilian deaths was presented as a regrettable consequence of raids against factories, energy plants, transport networks or military installations, not as an end in itself.

Even after victory was achieved, this unconvincing line was maintained. In one lecture, Charles Portal, the chief of the Air Staff for most of the war, said that it was "a curious and widespread fallacy that our bombing of the German cities was really intended to kill and frighten Germans and that we camouflaged this intention by the pretence that we would destroy industry. Any such idea is completely and utterly false. The loss of life, which amounted to some 600,000 killed, was purely incidental." But as a study of wartime archives demonstrates, both Sinclair and Portal were being dishonest with the public. Urban destruction through "concentrating bomb-loads on the densest and most vulnerable areas of cities", to quote one Air Staff paper, was the primary goal of Brit*ain's air offensive over Germany.

It had not always been that way. After war had been declared on 3 September 1939, RAF Bomber Command mounted only occasional, sporadic raids against German military or naval targets, and pilots were under strict instructions not to put civilian lives at risk. "Indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations as such will never form part of our policy," the RAF's director of plans, John Slessor, pronounced with an air of moral certitude. The depths of caution were well illustrated by an episode in the war cabinet in 1939, when one minister suggested mounting a raid on a German armaments works. Kingsley Wood, then the air secretary, professed his outrage, saying that he would not countenance an attack on "private property".

There were a number of factors that led Britain's military and political leaders privately to adopt the policy of urban bombing from early 1941, even if the strategy was never openly declared in public. One was the Luftwaffe's Blitz against British cities, which began in September 1940 and was symbolised by the notorious raid on Coventry in November that left nearly 600 people dead.

In a sense, the bombing of Germany was a sustained act of revenge for these atrocities. Arthur Harris, the head of RAF Bomber Command, frequently justified the air offensive by adapting the Old Testament quotation, whereby the Germans had "sown the wind" and therefore deserved to "reap the whirlwind". Another factor was the disastrous failure of Britain's armed forces on almost every front, from continental Europe to the Far East. Bombing Germany's cities seemed the only way to hit back at the Reich.

Because the bombers had to use the darkness of night as protective cover against German defences, their aiming could not be accurate, so the government made a virtue of necessity by declaring that whole cities, rather than specific sites, were targets. The arrival of the Lancaster, which first went into service in December 1941, transformed the threat of the bomber fleet with its phenomenal ability to carry huge loads. Designed by the far-sighted Avro engineer Roy Chadwick, it was a weapon of unique menace in the European theatre, capable of lifting a bomb weighing ten tons in its enormous bomb bay, stretching two-thirds of the way along the fuselage. Without the Lancaster, it would never have been possible to mount an effective offensive at all.

Arthur Harris, who first took up his post at Bomber Command in February 1942, was also vital in adopting an aggressive bombing policy. Ferociously independent, stubborn and dogmatic, Harris was a veteran of the First World War and his experience of the Western Front had filled him with loathing for the idea of another land campaign in Europe. He passionately believed that the way to defeat Germany was not by invasion, but by smashing its economy with repeated hammer blows at its industrial workforce.

“The cities of Germany, including their working populations, are literally the heart of Germany's war potential," he once wrote. With his hatred of the Reich, he rarely had the slightest hesitation about inflicting carnage. "What we want to do, in addition to the horrors of fire, is to bring masonry crashing down on top of the Boche, to kill the Boche and to terrify the Boche," he told the Air Staff. Sometimes this belligerent spirit revealed itself in a morbid sense of humour. On one occasion he was being driven at high speed in his black Bentley to London from Bomber Command headquarters in High Wycombe when his car was stopped by the police.

“You could have killed someone," said the aggrieved constable through Harris's window. "Young man, I kill thousands of people every night," was his laconic reply.

Harris was ruthless in implementing the bombing strategy but, until the last stages of the war, he had the full support of his political and military superiors. Indeed, as unpublished papers show, the air ministry and Air Staff had taken an uncompromising stance towards the German population long before Harris's appointment. Typical was a paper, now in the archives of Cambridge University, written in August 1941 by the bombing operations directorate of the air ministry. This argued that the focus of future British attacks must be "the people in their homes and in factories, also the services such as electricity, gas and water upon which the industrial and domestic life of the area depends".

Warming to this theme, the directorate then found support for such theories in the Luftwaffe's bombing of Coventry. To most Britons, this attack had been an outrage. To the Air Staff, it was an inspiration. The assault on Coventry, argued the paper, was "one of the most successful raids carried out by the German Air Force on this country", with a ton of high explosive and incendiaries for every 800 citizens. "If Bomber Command could carry out a raid on the Coventry scale every month, the result would be a complete state of panic in the industrialised west of Germany", as well as "considerable loss of life and limb, widespread destruction and damage to the houses of workers".

This was the outlook that existed throughout the top of the RAF and the government, contrary to public denials. In September 1941, Norman Bottomley, the deputy chief of the Air Staff, urged "saturation by incendiaries" to achieve the twin objectives of breaking "the morale of the population" and making "people conscious of constant physical danger". His boss, Charles Portal, was just as hardline, telling Winston Churchill in late 1941 that if Bomber Command were provided with a force of 4,000 planes, huge damage could be inflicted on Germany, including the destruction of six million homes and "civilian casualties estimated at 900,000 killed". Already in 1941, wrote Portal to the prime minister: "We have caused death and injury to 93,000 civilians. The result was achieved with a fraction of the bomb-load we hope to employ in 1943."

Portal largely got his wish, as bomber production was hugely stepped up. By the end of the war, no fewer than 7,377 Lancasters had been produced, operating in a force of 56 squadrons. In private, the Air Staff had no compunction about using the term "terror bombing" to describe their strategy, as is clear in one paper, from the bombing operations directorate in January 1945, which set out the case for a "spectacular catastrophe" from the air to break the will of the German population in the east. Code-named Operation Thunderclap, such an assault would adhere to "the basic principle of true morale bombing", which was "to provoke a state of terror by air attack". It was this mentality that led, a few weeks later, to the raid by 796 Lancasters on Dresden.

The fierce controversy over Dresden, which flared up in the final months of the war, did not perturb Harris. With characteristic bullishness, he remarked: "I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier." But what had angered him about the Air Staff was the refusal to be open with the public about strategic bombing. Brutally frank himself, he despised the euphemisms and evasions that his superiors used to cover up the reality.

“The aim of Bomber Command should be unambiguously and publicly stated," he wrote in 1943. "That aim is the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers and the disruption of civilised life throughout Germany." He wanted the government to declare its commitment to "the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale", and he expressed his contempt of the official eagerness "to downplay the obliteration of German cities and their inhabitants".

One of Harris's arguments in favour of greater openness was that the cover-up was an insult to the heroic men who flew in his command. They risked their lives in the hostile night skies over Germany, he said, yet the government seemed to regard their missions as so "disreputable" that their purpose could not be mentioned in public. The failure to be clear about the RAF's objective "to eliminate entire cities" would, he warned, "inevitably affect adversely the morale of crews and I would urge that this rather than the appeasement of sentimental and humanitarian scruples should be our primary consideration". But Harris never got the unequivocal statement he wanted from the government.

Whatever the debate about the morality of urban bombing, Harris was absolutely correct in his praise for the Bomber Command aircrews, which showed the most remarkable courage in the face of daunting odds. Of the 125,000 men who served in the command during the war, no less than 44 per cent were killed in action. When the campaign was at its most dangerous in early 1944, the chances of a bomber crewman surviving were lower than those for a British soldier at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Yet even in the face of anti-aircraft fire, blinding searchlights and menacing fighters, the aircrews continued on their missions. "All war is brutal," Harris told his group commanders soon after taking over at High Wycombe. "It is going to be a damned sight more brutal still. The fact remains that if there are any weaker brethren who cannot stomach it, the sooner we dispose of them, the better." Hardly any of his recruits showed that they did not have the stomach for the job.Yet the tragedy of the bomber war is that there could have been an alternative strategy, one made possible by the brilliance of the Lancaster and the reliability of its crews. In a host of daring raids, most notably the Dambusters attack of May 1943, the Lancaster proved that it could be a rapier as well as a bludgeon.

In the Dams raid, led by Guy Gibson, the Lancasters succeeded in dropping their bouncing bombs from just 60 feet above the water to an accuracy of a few yards, even while under fierce anti-aircraft fire. Other precision attacks, such as those on the French railway system in the run-up to D-Day in 1944, also achieved striking results, the Lancaster's effectiveness enhanced by the introduction of ever more sophisticated navigational technology and bombsights. For all its unparalleled lifting capacity, the Lancaster was also highly manoeuvrable and fast, capable of over 300mph in a dive. "You couldn't break that aircraft. You could pull it about and do steep turns and all that. The Lancaster was magnificent," said one pilot.

But neither the virtues of Chadwick's design nor the skills of the bomber crews were ever fully exploited, because of Harris's myopic obsession with the mass killing of German civilians. The bomber chief never had any enthusiasm for precision raids on specific sites, such as oil plants, railway depots and army barracks, which he dismissed as "panacea targets". He even privately said that the Dams raid "achieved nothing", and in early 1945 threatened to resign when Portal, who had begun to see the ineffectiveness of continued mass urban destruction, urged him to concentrate more on Germany's oil supplies.

Portal should have forced the issue much earlier. If the Lancaster fleet had been allowed to focus on targets of real military and economic value, it is likely that the German war machine would have collapsed more quickly and the conflict may have finished months earlier. Urban bombing might have been Brit*ain's only way of fighting back against Nazi Germany in the middle years of the war but, by 1945, Bomber Command's strategy had descended into gruesome futility.

Leo McKinstry's most recent book is "Lancaster: the Second World War's Greatest Bomber" (John Murray, £20)
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Default Re: Bombing of Dresden, Feb 1945--thousands mass-murdered, perhaps as many as 200,000+

How Many Germans Died under RAF Bombs at Dresden in 1945?

John Wear

Link: https://inconvenienthistory.com/11/1/6600

Introduction

The bombing of Dresden remains one of the deadliest and morally most-problematic raids of World War II. Three factors make the bombing of Dresden unique: 1) a huge firestorm developed that engulfed much of the city; 2) the firestorm engulfed a population swollen by refugees; and 3) defenses and shelters even for the original Dresden population were minimal.[1] The result was a high death toll and the destruction of one of Europe’s most beautiful and cultural cities.

Many conflicting estimates have been made concerning the number of deaths during the raids of Dresden on February 13-14, 1945. Historian Richard J. Evans estimates that approximately 25,000 people died during these bombings.[2] Frederick Taylor estimates that from 25,000 to 40,000 people died as a result of the Dresden bombings.[3] A distinguished commission of German historians titled “Dresden Commission of Historians for the Ascertainment of the Number of Victims of the Air Raids on the City of Dresden on 13/14 February 1945” estimates the likely death toll in Dresden at around 18,000 and definitely not more than 25,000.[4] This later estimate is considered authoritative by many sources.

While exact figures of deaths in the Dresden bombings can never be obtained, some Revisionist historians estimate a death toll at Dresden as high as 250,000 people. Most establishment historians state that a death toll at Dresden of 250,000 is an absolute impossibility. For example, Richard Evans states:

Even allowing for the unique circumstances of Dresden, a figure of 250,000 dead would have meant that 20% to 30% of the population was killed, a figure so grossly out of proportion to other comparable attacks as to have raised the eyebrows of anyone familiar with the statistics of bombing raids…even if the population had been inflated by an influx of refugees fleeing the advance of the Red Army.[5]

Population of Dresden

Historians generally agree that a large number of German refugees were in Dresden during the night of February 13-14, 1945. However, the estimate of refugees in Dresden that night varies widely. This is a major reason for the discrepancies in the death toll estimates in the Dresden bombings.

Marshall De Bruhl states in his book Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden:

Nearly every apartment and house [in Dresden] was crammed with relatives or friends from the east; many other residents had been ordered to take in strangers. There were makeshift campsites everywhere. Some 200,000 Silesians and East Prussians were living in tents or shacks in the Grosser Garten. The city’s population was more than double its prewar size. Some estimates have put the number as high as 1.4 million.

Unlike other major German cities, Dresden had an exceptionally low population density, due to the large proportion of single houses surrounded by gardens. Even the built-up areas did not have the congestion of Berlin and Munich. However, in February 1945, the open spaces, gardens, and parks were filled with people.

The Reich provided rail transport from the east for hundreds of thousands of the fleeing easterners, but the last train out of the city had run on February 12. Transport further west was scheduled to resume in a few days; until then, the refugees were stranded in the Saxon capital.[6]

David Irving states in The Destruction of Dresden:

Silesians represented probably 80% of the displaced people crowding into Dresden on the night of the triple blow; the city which in peacetime had a population of 630,000 citizens was by the eve of the air attack so crowded with Silesians, East Prussians and Pomeranians from the Eastern Front, with Berliners and Rhinelanders from the west, with Allied and Russian prisoners of war, with evacuated children’s settlement, with forced laborers of many nationalities, that the increased population was now between 1,200,000 and 1,400,000 citizens, of whom, not surprisingly, several hundred thousand had no proper home and of whom none could seek the protection of an air-raid shelter.[7]

A woman living on the outskirts of Dresden at the time of the bombings stated: “At the time my mother and I had train-station duty here in the city. The refugees! They all came from everywhere! The city was stuffed full!”[8]

Frederick Taylor states in his book Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945 that Dresden had been accepting refugees from the devastated cities of the Ruhr, and from Hamburg and Berlin, ever since the British bombing campaign began in earnest. By late 1943 Dresden was already overstretched and finding it hard to accept more outsiders. By the winter of 1944-1945, hundreds of thousands of German refugees were traveling from the east in an attempt to escape the Russian army.[9]

The German government regarded the acceptance of Germans from the east as an essential duty. Der Freiheitskampf, the official German organ for Saxony, urged citizens to offer temporary accommodation:

There is still room everywhere. No family should remain without guests! Whether or not your habits of life are compatible, whether the coziness of your domestic situation is disturbed, none of these things should matter! At our doors stand people who for the moment have no home—not even to mention the loss of their possessions.[10]

However, Taylor states that it was general policy in Dresden to have refugees on their way to the west to continue onwards within 24 hours. Fleeing the Russians was not a valid justification for seeking and maintaining residence in Dresden. Taylor states that the best estimate by Götz Bergander, who spent time on fire-watching duties and on refugee-relief work in Dresden, was that approximately 200,000 nonresidents were in Dresden on the night of February 13-14, 1945. Many of these refugees would have been living in quarters away from the targeted center of Dresden.[11]

The Dresden historian Friedrich Reichert estimates that only 567,000 residents and 100,000 refugees were in Dresden on the night of the bombings. Reichert quotes witnesses who state that no refugees were billeted in Dresden houses and that no billeting took place in Dresden’s parks or squares. Thus, Reichert estimates that the number of people in Dresden on the night of the bombings was not much greater than the official figure of Dresden’s population before the war.[12]

Reichert’s estimate of Dresden’s population during the bombings is almost certainly too low. As a RAF memo analyzed it before the attack:

Dresden, the seventh largest city in Germany and not much smaller than Manchester is also [by] far the largest unbombed built-up area the enemy has got. In the midst of winter with refugees pouring westwards and troops to be rested, roofs are at a premium, not only to give shelter to workers, refugees and troops alike, but also to house the administrative services displaced from other areas…[13]

Alexander McKee states in regard to Dresden:

Every household had its large quota of refugees, and many more had arrived in Dresden that day, so that the pavements were blocked by them, as they struggled onwards or simply sat exhausted on their suitcases and rucksacks. For these reasons, no one has been able to put a positive figure to the numbers of the dead, and no doubt no one ever will.[14]

The report prepared by the USAF Historical Division Research Studies Institute Air University states that “there may probably have been about 1,000,000 people in Dresden on the night of the 13/14 February RAF attack.”[15] I think the 1 million population figure cited in this report constitutes a realistic and conservative minimum estimate of Dresden’s population during the Allied bombings of February 13-14, 1945.

Did Only 25,000 People Die?

If the 25,000 death-toll estimate in Dresden is accurate, we are left with the odd result that Allied air power, employed for textbook purposes to its full measure and with no restrictions, over an especially vulnerable large city near the end of the war, when Allied air superiority was absolute and German defenses nearly nonexistent, was less effective than Allied air power had been in previous more-difficult operations such as Hamburg or Berlin. I think the extensive ruins left in Dresden suggest a degree of complete destruction not seen before in Germany[NJP1] .

The Dresden bombings created a massive firestorm of epic proportions, and were in no way a failed mission with only a fraction of the intended results. The fires from the first raid alone had been visible more than 100 miles from Dresden.[16] The Dresden raid was the perfect execution of the Bomber Command theory of the double blow: two waves of bombers, three hours apart, followed the next day by a massive daylight raid by more bombers and escort fighters. Only a handful of raids ever actually conformed to this double-strike theory, and those that did were cataclysmic.[17]

Dresden also lacked an effective network of air-raid shelters to protect its inhabitants. Hitler had ordered that over 3,000 air-raid bunkers be built in 80 German towns and cities. However, not one was built in Dresden because the city was not regarded as being in danger of air attack. Instead, the civil air defense in Dresden devoted most of its efforts to creating tunnels between the cellars of the housing blocks so that people could escape from one building to another. These tunnels exacerbated the effects of the Dresden firestorm by channeling smoke and fumes from one basement to the next and sucking out the oxygen from a network of interconnected cellars.[18]

The vast majority of the population of Dresden did not have access to proper air-raid shelters. When the British RAF attacked Dresden that night, all the residents and refugees in Dresden could do was take refuge in their cellars. These cellars proved to be death traps in many cases. People who managed to escape from their cellars were often sucked into the firestorm as they struggled to flee the city.[19]

Dresden was all but defenseless against air attack, and the people of Dresden suffered the consequences. The bombers in the Dresden raids were able to conduct their attacks relatively free from fear of harassment by German defenses. The master bombers ordered the bombers to descend to lower levels, and the crews felt confident to do so and to maintain a steady altitude and heading during the bombing runs. This ensured that the Dresden raids were particularly concentrated and thus particularly effective.[20] The RAF conducted a technically perfect fire-raising attack on Dresden.[21]

The British were fully aware that mass death and destruction could result from the bombing of Germany’s cities. The Directorate of Bombing Operations predicted the following consequences from Operation Thunderclap:

If we assume that the daytime population of the area attacked is 300,000, we may expect 220,000 casualties. Fifty per cent of these or 110,000 may expect to be killed. It is suggested that such an attack resulting in so many deaths, the great proportion of which will be key personnel, cannot help but have a shattering effect on political and civilian morale all over Germany.”[22]

The destruction of Dresden was so complete that major companies were reporting fewer than 50% of their workforce present two weeks after the raids.[23] By the end of February 1945, only 369,000 inhabitants remained in the city. Dresden was subject to further American attacks by 406 B-17s on March 2 and 580 B-17s on April 17, leaving an additional 453 dead.[24]

Comparison to Pforzheim Bombing

A raid that closely resembles that of Dresden occurred 10 days later on February 23, 1945 at Pforzheim. Since neither Dresden nor Pforzheim had suffered much damage earlier in the war, the flammability of both cities had been preserved.[25] A perfect firestorm was created in both of these defenseless cities. These cities also lacked sufficient air-raid shelters for their citizens.

The area of destruction at Pforzheim comprised approximately 83% of the city, and 20,277 out of 65,000 people died according to official estimates.[26] Sönke Neitzel also estimates that approximately 20,000 out of a total population of 65,000 died in the raid at Pforzheim.[27] This means that over 30% of the residents of Pforzheim died in one bombing attack.

The question is: If more than 30% of the residents of Pforzheim died in one bombing attack, why would only approximately 2.5% of Dresdeners die in similar raids 10 days earlier? The second wave of bombers in the Dresden raid appeared over Dresden at the very time that the maximum number of fire brigades and rescue teams were in the streets of the burning city. This second wave of bombers compounded the earlier destruction many times, and by design killed the firemen and rescue workers so that the destruction in Dresden could rage on unchecked.[28] The raid on Pforzheim, by contrast, consisted of only one bombing attack. Also, Pforzheim was a much smaller target, so that it would have been easier for the people on the ground to escape from the blaze.

The only reason why the death-rate percentage would be higher at Pforzheim versus Dresden is that a higher percentage of Pforzheim was destroyed in the bombings. Alan Russell estimates that 83% of Pforzheim’s city center was destroyed versus only 59% of Dresden’s.[29] This would, however, account for only a portion of the percentage difference in the death tolls. Based on the death toll in the Pforzheim raid, it is reasonable to assume that a minimum of 20% of Dresdeners died in the British and American attacks on the city. The 2.5% death rate figure of Dresdeners estimated by establishment historians is an unrealistically low figure.

If a 20% death rate figure times an estimated population in Dresden of 1 million is used, the death-toll figure in Dresden would be 200,000. If a 25% death-rate figure times an estimated population of 1.2 million is used, the death toll figure in Dresden would be 300,000. Thus, death-toll estimates in Dresden of 250,000 people are quite plausible when compared to the Pforzheim bombing.

How Were the Dead Disposed Of?

Historian Richard Evans asks:

And how was it imaginable that 200,000 bodies could have been recovered from out of the ruins in less than a month? It would have required a veritable army of people to undertake such work, and hundreds of sorely needed vehicles to transport the bodies. The effort actually undertaken to recover bodies was considerable, but there was no evidence that it reached the levels required to remove this number.[30]

Richard Evans does not recognize that the incineration of corpses on the Dresden market square, the Altmarkt, was not the only means of disposing of bodies at Dresden. A British sergeant reported on the disposal of bodies at Dresden:

They had to pitchfork shriveled bodies onto trucks and wagons and cart them to shallow graves on the outskirts of the city. But after two weeks of work the job became too much to cope with and they found other means to gather up the dead. They burned bodies in a great heap in the center of the city, but the most effective way, for sanitary reasons, was to take flamethrowers and burn the dead as they lay in the ruins. They would just turn the flamethrowers into the houses, burn the dead and then close off the entire area. The whole city is flattened. They were unable to clean up the dead lying beside roads for several weeks.[31]

Historians also differ on whether or not large numbers of bodies in Dresden were so incinerated in the bombing that they could no longer be recognized as bodies. Frederick Taylor mentions Walter Weidauer, the high burgomaster of Dresden in the postwar period, as stating

[T]here is no substance to the reports that tens of thousands of victims were so thoroughly incinerated that no individual traces could be found. Not all were identified, but—especially as most victims died of asphyxiation or physical injuries—the overwhelming majority of individuals’ bodies could at least be distinguished as such.”[32]

Other historians cite evidence that bodies were incinerated beyond recognition. Alexander McKee quotes Hildegarde Prasse on what she saw at the Altmarkt after the Dresden bombings:

What I saw at the Altmarkt was cruel. I could not believe my eyes. A few of the men who had been left over [from the Front] were busy shoveling corpse after corpse on top of the other. Some were completely carbonized and buried in this pyre, but nevertheless they were all burnt here because of the danger of an epidemic. In any case, what was left of them was hardly recognizable. They were buried later in a mass grave on the Dresdner Heide.[33]

Marshall De Bruhl cites a report found in an urn by a gravedigger in 1975 written on March 12, 1945, by a young soldier identified only as Gottfried. This report states:

I saw the most painful scene ever….Several persons were near the entrance, others at the flight of steps and many others further back in the cellar. The shapes suggested human corpses. The body structure was recognizable and the shape of the skulls, but they had no clothes. Eyes and hair carbonized but not shrunk. When touched, they disintegrated into ashes, totally, no skeleton or separate bones.

I recognized a male corpse as that of my father. His arm had been jammed between two stones, where shreds of his grey suit remained. What sat not far from him was no doubt mother. The slim build and shape of the head left no doubt. I found a tin and put their ashes in it. Never had I been so sad, so alone and full of despair. Carrying my treasure and crying I left the gruesome scene. I was trembling all over and my heart threatened to burst. My helpers stood there, mute under the impact.[34]

The incineration of large numbers of people in Dresden is also indicated by estimates of the extreme temperature reached in Dresden during the firestorm. While no survivor has ever reported the actual temperature reached during the Dresden firestorm, many historians estimate that temperatures reached 1,500° Centigrade (2,732° Fahrenheit).[35] Since temperatures in a cremation chamber normally reach only 1,400 degrees to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit[36], large numbers of people in Dresden would have been incinerated from the extreme heat generated in the firestorm.

Historians also differ on whether or not bodies are still being recovered in Dresden. For example, Frederick Taylor states: “Since 1989—even with the extensive excavation and rebuilding that followed the fall of communism in Dresden—no bodies have been recovered at all, even though careful archaeological investigations have accompanied the redevelopment.”[37]

Marshall De Bruhl does not agree with Taylor’s statement. De Bruhl notes that numerous other skeletons of victims were discovered in the ruins of Dresden as rubble was removed or foundations for new buildings were dug. De Bruhl states:

One particularly poignant discovery was made when the ruins adjacent to the Altmarkt were being excavated in the 1990s. The workmen found the skeletons of a dozen young women who had been recruited from the countryside to come into Dresden and help run the trams during the war. They had taken shelter from the rain of bombs in an ancient vaulted subbasement, where their remains lay undisturbed for almost 50 years.[38]

Conclusion

The destruction from the Dresden bombings was so massive that exact figures of deaths will never be obtainable. However, the statement from the Dresden Commission of Historians that “definitely no more than 25,000” died in the Dresden bombings is probably inaccurate. An objective analysis of the evidence indicates that almost certainly far more than 25,000 people died from the bombings of Dresden. Based on a comparison to the Pforzheim bombing and the other similar bombing attacks, a death toll in Dresden of 250,000 people is easily possible.

ENDNOTES

[1] McKee, Alexander, Dresden 1945: The Devil’s Tinderbox, New York: E.P. Dutton, Inc., 1984, p. 275.

[2] Evans, Richard J., Lying about Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial, New York: Basic Books, 2001, p. 177.

[3] Taylor, Frederick, Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945, New York: HarperCollins, 2004, p. 354.

[4] http://www.spiegel.de/international/...-a-581992.html.

[5] Evans, Richard J., Lying about Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial, New York: Basic Books, 2001, p. 158.

[6] DeBruhl, Marshall, Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden, New York: Random House, Inc., 2006, p. 200.

[7] Irving, David, The Destruction of Dresden, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964, p. 98.

[8] Ten Dyke, Elizabeth A., Dresden: Paradoxes of Memory in History, London and New York: Routledge, 2001, p. 82.

[9] Taylor, Frederick, Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945, New York: HarperCollins, 2004, pp. 134, 227-228.

[10] Ibid., p. 227.

[11] Ibid., pp. 229, 232.

[12] Evans, Richard J., Lying about Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial, New York: Basic Books, 2001, p. 174.

[13] Taylor, Frederick, Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945, New York: HarperCollins, 2004, pp. 3, 406. See also River, Charles Editors, The Firebombing of Dresden: The History and Legacy of the Allies’ Most Controversial Attack on Germany, Introduction, p. 2.

[14] McKee, Alexander, Dresden 1945: The Devil’s Tinderbox, New York: E.P. Dutton, Inc., 1984, p. 177.

[15] http://glossaryhesperado.blogspot.co...-bombings.html.

[16] Cox, Sebastian, “The Dresden Raids: Why and How,” in Addison, Paul and Crang, Jeremy A., (eds.), Firestorm: The Bombing of Dresden, 1945, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006, pp. 44, 46.

[17] DeBruhl, Marshall, Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden, New York: Random House, Inc., 2006, pp. 204-205.

[18] 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, pp. 68-69.

[19] Ibid., pp. 69, 72, 76.

[20] Cox, Sebastian, “The Dresden Raids: Why and How,” in Addison, Paul and Crang, Jeremy A., (eds.), Firestorm: The Bombing of Dresden, 1945, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006, pp. 52-53.

[21] Davis, Richard G., Carl A. Spaatz and the Air War in Europe, Washington, D.C.: Center for Air Force History, 1993, p. 557.

[22] Hastings, Max, Bomber Command, New York: The Dial Press, 1979, pp. 347-348.

[23] Cox, Sebastian, “The Dresden Raids: Why and How,” in Addison, Paul and Crang, Jeremy A., (eds.), Firestorm: The Bombing of Dresden, 1945, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006, p. 57.

[24] Overy, Richard, The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War over Europe, 1940-1945, New York: Viking Penguin, 2014, p. 314.

[25] Friedrich, Jörg, The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, New York, Columbia University Press, 2006, p. 94.

[26] Ibid., p. 91. See also DeBruhl, Marshall, Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden, New York: Random House, Inc., 2006, p. 255.

[27] 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.

[28] DeBruhl, Marshall, Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden, New York: Random House, Inc., 2006, p. 210. See also McKee, Alexander, Dresden 1945: The Devil’s Tinderbox, New York: E.P. Dutton, Inc., 1984, p. 112.

[29] Russell, Alan, “Why Dresden Matters,” in Addison, Paul and Crang, Jeremy A., (eds.), Firestorm: The Bombing of Dresden, 1945, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006, p. 162.

[30] Evans, Richard J., Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial, New York: Basic Books, 2001, p. 158.

[31] Regan, Dan, Stars and Stripes London edition, Saturday, May 5, 1945, Vol. 5, No. 156.

[32] Taylor, Frederick, Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945, New York: HarperCollins, 2004, p. 448.

[33] McKee, Alexander, Dresden 1945: The Devil’s Tinderbox, New York: E.P. Dutton, Inc., 1984, p. 248.

[34] DeBruhl, Marshall, Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden, New York: Random House, Inc., 2006, pp. 253-254.

[35] Alexander McKee cites estimates of 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (McKee, Alexander, Dresden 1945: The Devil’s Tinderbox, New York: E.P. Dutton, Inc., 1984, p. 176).

[36] http://nfda.org/planning-a-funeral/c...n/160.html#hot.

[37] Taylor, Frederick, Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945, New York: HarperCollins, 2004, p. 448.

[38] DeBruhl, Marshall, Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden, New York: Random House, Inc., 2006, p. 254.


[NJP1]Any citations, particularly graphic ones?

Author(s):
John Wear

Title:
How Many Germans Died under RAF Bombs at Dresden in 1945?

Sources:

Dates:
published: 2019-03-24, first posted: 2019-03-25 02:08:05
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The Allied Destruction of Dresden, 75th Anniversary

by Brett Wilkins/ Posted on February 11, 2020

Link: https://original.antiwar.com/Brett_W...h-anniversary/

The Allied destruction of Dresden wasn’t the biggest or deadliest aerial bombardment of a German city during World War II. But it is by far the most infamous, largely due to Kurt Vonnegut’s antiwar masterpiece Slaughterhouse-Five. February 13 marks the 75th anniversary of what Vonnegut, who survived the bombing as a prisoner-of-war, called "carnage unfathomable."

Butcher Harris and British Terror Bombing

By early 1945 the once-unstoppable German army was in retreat on all fronts. Its desperate last-ditch counteroffensives against the rapidly advancing Allied forces in the west – the Battle of the Bulge and Operation Baseplate – had failed, while in the east the Red Army rolled into German territory during the first Silesian Offensive. The time was right, British commanders argued, for large-scale aerial attacks on cities in eastern Germany that would aid the Soviet offensive and crush German morale.

Long before this time the British had implemented a policy of what they called "terror bombing," or the total deliberate destruction of German cities, as a method of breaking the will of the German people to continue fighting. Waves of Royal Air Force (RAF) warplanes bombed densely populated cities under cover of night, abandoning any pretense of precision targeting and causing widespread, indiscriminate death and destruction. The chief of the RAF Bomber Command, Arthur "Bomber" Harris, declared his desire to visit "the horrors of fire" on the German people. Once Harris was pulled over by a British police officer for speeding in his black Bentley. "You could have killed someone," the constable admonished him. "Young man," the commander retorted, "I kill thousands of people every night."

He wasn’t lying. Although the British government insisted that it was never its policy to target civilians, the truth was something altogether different. As Harris said after Luftwaffe bombers blitzed British cities, since the Germans had "sown the wind" they should "reap the whirlwind." In 1943, Harris wrote that "the aim is the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers and the disruption of civilized life throughout Germany" while "downplaying the obliteration of German cities and their inhabitants."

"Bomber" was indeed a fitting nickname for Harris, but his men had another one for him – "Butcher." He lived up to the moniker. Around 50 German cities were subjected to horrific aerial bombardment, often with incendiary bombs designed to spark massive firestorms and maximize death, destruction and terror. In July 1943, some 45,000 civilians including 21,000 women and 8,000 children died during more than a week of relentless bombing in Hamburg. In February 1945 hundreds of Lancaster bombers leveled Pforzheim, killing nearly a third of the population. The list went on and on.

‘Fire, Only Fire’

Harris and other RAF commanders proposed simultaneous attacks on Berlin, Chemnitz, Dresden and Leipzig in the winter of 1945. Dresden, Germany’s seventh-largest city, was the largest urban area in the Third Reich that hadn’t yet been bombed. It had been spared from Allied attack because it was an important cultural city – known as the Jewel Box for its celebrated architecture – with relatively few significant military targets. It was a city of refuge, with 19 hospitals and more than a million refugees fleeing the horrors of the Red Army advance encamped there. They were drawn by Dresden’s reputation as a safe haven from the flames of war that had engulfed most of the rest of Germany, a reputation reinforced by the presence of some 25,000 Allied prisoners of war held in and around the city.

The first RAF warplanes approached the city after 9:30 p.m. on February 13. Some 200,000 incendiary bombs along with 500 tons of high-explosive munitions including two-ton "blockbuster" bombs were dropped during the initial raids, sparking thousands of fires that could be seen from 500 miles (800 km) away in the air. The heat generated by the inferno melted human flesh, turning many victims into piles of goop. Men, women, children, the sick, the elderly, refugees and Allied POWs and even the animals in the city zoo – all were incinerated together. The 2700º Fahrenheit (1480° C) firestorm sucked all the oxygen from the air; many thousands suffocated to death. Lothar Metzger, who was nine years old at the time, later recalled:

About 9:30 p.m. the alarm was given. We children knew that sound and… hurried downstairs into our cellar… My older sister and I carried my baby twin sisters, my mother carried a little suitcase and the bottles with milk for our babies. On the radio we heard with great horror the news: "Attention, a great air raid will come over our town!" … Some minutes later we heard a horrible noise – the bombers. There were nonstop explosions. Our cellar was filled with fire and smoke and was damaged, the lights went out and wounded people shouted dreadfully. In great fear we struggled to leave this cellar…

We did not recognize our street any more. Fire, only fire wherever we looked… 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… Inconceivable panic. Dead and dying people were trampled upon… 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… The twins had disappeared… we never saw my two baby sisters again.

The following morning, a wave of more than 300 United States Army Air Force Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers pounded the survivors with over 700 tons of explosives. On February 15, US warplanes bombed the city’s southeastern suburbs, as well as the nearby towns of Meissen and Prina. By the time it was all over, some 25,000 men, women and children were dead and nearly 90 percent of the homes in central Dresden were obliterated. Many of the targets that could have been considered of military interest – a few factories, the railway system – remained relatively unscathed. Nazi military trains were chugging through the city again within three days of the bombing.

‘Are We Beasts?’

British and American officials insisted Dresden was chosen as a target because of its industrial and transportation infrastructure. This is only partially true. On the eve of the bombing, the Red Army was a mere 80 miles (130 km) from Dresden and the US and Britain, knowing that Europe would be carved up between themselves and the Soviets after the war, wanted to impress Stalin with a massive show of force. An RAF memo to airmen the night of the attack explained that "the intentions of the attack are to hit the enemy where he will feel it most" and "to show the Russians when they arrive what Bomber Command can do." A few months later, the United States would wage the world’s first and only nuclear war, obliterating two Japanese cities and killing hundreds of thousands of their people, in what was partly yet another bid to shock and awe the Soviets.

The Dresden bombing shocked the world’s conscience. Churchill, not known for outpourings of compassion, was appalled by the savagery of the attack, calling it "an act of terror and wanton destruction." After seeing photographs of the devastated city, the prime minister asked, "Are we beasts? Are we taking this too far?" In a top secret memo dated March 28, 1945, 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.

Others defended the bombing. "Butcher" Harris acknowledged 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 fully justified." However, he asserted that terror bombing would "shorten the war and preserve the lives of Allied soldiers." Harris infamously added: "I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British grenadier."

As many as 600,000 German civilians were killed by Allied bombing over the course of the war. Many of these victims died during the war’s final months, when Germany’s defeat was certain and such slaughter served no valid military purpose. And while the Nazis may have started the air war by bombing British cities, killing 14,000 civilians during the Blitz, the whirlwind they reaped – to paraphrase Harris – was so grossly disproportionate that it would forever stain the Allies’ self-righteous claims of having waged the "last good war."
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Apocalypse 1945: The Destruction of Dresden

Hardcover – July 20, 2007


by David Irving (Author, Editor), Walter Hahn (Illustrator)

Link: https://www.amazon.com/Apocalypse-19...s%2C194&sr=1-1

AT 10.10 P.M. ON THE NIGHT of February 13-14, 1945 the R.A.F. Master Bomber broadcast the cryptic order: 'Controller to Plate-Rack Force: Come in and bomb glow of red T.I.s as planned.' The ill-famed attack on Dresden had begun. The target city was among Germany's largest, but it alone had developed no single major war industry. The German authorities had made it a centre for the evacuation of wounded servicemen, and by February 1945 most schools, restaurants, and public buildings had been converted into military hospitals. In selecting Dresden for this purpose, the German government probably hoped that this, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, often compared with Florence for its graceful Baroque architectural style, would be spared the attentions of the allied bombers.

By 1945, the legend was deeply entrenched in the population's mind that Dresden was a city that would never be bombed. It was not to be. In February 1945, with the Soviet armies making striking advances in their invasion of Silesia and East Prussia, and when the war's political and military directors were meeting at Yalta, Mr Winston Churchill was urgently in need of some display both of his offensive strength and of his willingness to assist the Russians in their drive westwards. Dresden, the 'virgin target' just seven miles behind the eastern Front, became the victim of Mr Churchill's desire for a spectacular blow. By a combination of delays and poor weather, the raid, the climax of the strategic air offensive against Germany, and the most crushing air-raid of the war, was not delivered until the day that Mr Churchill was departing from Yalta. The city was undefended -- it had no guns, and even the German night-fighter force was grounded by Bomber Command's brilliant tactics of deception and trickery. It had no proper air-raid shelters.

On the night of the attack, Dresden was housing hundreds of thousands of refugees from Silesia, East Prussia, and from western Germany in addition to its own population of 630,000. Up to 100,000 people, perhaps more, were killed in two to three hours, burned alive, that night. Yet until the author's first book on it appeared in 1963 the raid on Dresden scarcely figured in any official indices of the war. A veil had been drawn across this tragedy. Why was there this official silence about the Dresden tragedy? Certainly little discredit reflected on the officers and men of the bomber forces; equally the two commanders, Sir Arthur Harris and General Carl Spaatz, were not acting out of hand. The directives and orders confronting them were painfully clear. Stung by foreign revulsion at this new St. Valentine's Day Massacre, the British Prime Minister - who had ordered it - penned an angry minute to his Chief of Staff, even before the war ended, rasping that, "The Destruction of Dresden remains a query against the conduct of Allied Bombing." It is from this remarkably forgetful minute that the subtitle of this documentary account is taken.

For the first time, the full story, ommitting nothing, of the historical background to this cruel blow and of its unexpected political consequences, is told. First three, and now forty years' research in England, Germany, and the U.S.A., and the active cooperation of the military authorities in London, Washington, and Moscow, produce a detailed account of this tragedy.

Editorial Reviews

"David Irving attracts credibility and attention by his indefatigable energy, intelligence, and resourcefulness." --Tom Bower, Daily Mail, March 27, 1996

"There can be few operations of war as causeless, as purposeless, and as brutal as the attack on Dresden on the attack of February 13, 1945. In "The Destruction of Dresden," Mr. David Irving has analyzed, in an objective manner, the causes and result of this gratuitous act. As Air Marshal Sir Robert Saundby comments in his foreword, the bombing of Dresden was "a great tragedy," the purposes of which are "difficult to determine." He agrees that Mr. Irving "tells dispassionately and honestly" the story of a deeply tragic example, in time of war, of man's inhumanity to man." We should be grateful to the author for having devoted long study to this question and for having provided us with as accurate an account of what acttually happened as we are likely to obtain. It was, in fact, an operation unworthy of our history. Nobody could contend that Dresden was a legitimate strategic target; nobody could contend that this terror raid shortened the war or satisfied our Russian allies. I am not surprised that most Englishmen should strive to forget about Dresden." --Sir Harold Nicholson, The Observer

"In devoting a book to this one violent moment of the war, with its antecedents and something of its aftermath, Mr. David Irving has rendered the British people a great service. They have to know. The Dresden event is a part of British (as well as of German, and European, and human) history. It is a piece of a mosaic that makes up the British character and a brushstroke, out of many, in the image that Britain presents to foreign peoples - an image the British are at best imperfectly aware of, and that has consequences which they often find it difficult to understand. Dresden also has lessons necessary to an understanding of the nature of war. What is necessary is to know what happened and to understand how it came to happen. And the only way is to read Mr. Irving's excellent and terrible book. --The Economist
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The blood of Dresden

Link: https://pulsemedia.org/2011/06/25/the-blood-of-dresden/

Following is an extract from Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut in which he describes the scenes of ‘obscene brutality’ he witnessed as a prisoner of war in Dresden which inspired his classic novel Slaughterhouse-Five.

Dresden before the allied bombing

It was a routine speech we got during our first day of basic training, delivered by a wiry little lieutenant: “Men, up to now you’ve been good, clean, American boys with an American’s love for sportsmanship and fair play. We’re here to change that.

“Our job is to make you the meanest, dirtiest bunch of scrappers in the history of the world. From now on, you can forget the Marquess of Queensberry rules and every other set of rules. Anything and everything goes.

“Never hit a man above the belt when you can kick him below it. Make the bastard scream. Kill him any way you can. Kill, kill, kill – do you understand?”

His talk was greeted with nervous laughter and general agreement that he was right. “Didn’t Hitler and Tojo say the Americans were a bunch of softies? Ha! They’ll find out.”

And of course, Germany and Japan did find out: a toughened-up democracy poured forth a scalding fury that could not be stopped. It was a war of reason against barbarism, supposedly, with the issues at stake on such a high plane that most of our feverish fighters had no idea why they were fighting – other than that the enemy was a bunch of bastards. A new kind of war, with all destruction, all killing approved.

A lot of people relished the idea of total war: it had a modern ring to it, in keeping with our spectacular technology. To them it was like a football game.

[Back home in America], three small-town merchants’ wives, middle-aged and plump, gave me a ride when I was hitchhiking home from Camp Atterbury. “Did you kill a lot of them Germans?” asked the driver, making cheerful small-talk. I told her I didn’t know.

This was taken for modesty. As I was getting out of the car, one of the ladies patted me on the shoulder in motherly fashion: “I’ll bet you’d like to get over and kill some of them dirty Japs now, wouldn’t you?”

We exchanged knowing winks. I didn’t tell those simple souls that I had been captured after a week at the front; and more to the point, what I knew and thought about killing dirty Germans, about total war. The reason for my being sick at heart then and now has to do with an incident that received cursory treatment in the American newspapers. In February 1945, Dresden, Germany, was destroyed, and with it over 100,000 human beings. I was there. Not many know how tough America got.

I was among a group of 150 infantry privates, captured in the Bulge breakthrough and put to work in Dresden. Dresden, we were told, was the only major German city to have escaped bombing so far. That was in January 1945. She owed her good fortune to her unwarlike countenance: hospitals, breweries, food-processing plants, surgical supply houses, ceramics, musical instrument factories and the like.

Since the war [had started], hospitals had become her prime concern. Every day hundreds of wounded came into the tranquil sanctuary from the east and west. At night, we would hear the dull rumble of distant air raids. “Chemnitz is getting it tonight,” we used to say, and speculated what it might be like to be the bright young men with their dials and cross-hairs.

“Thank heaven we’re in an ‘open city’,” we thought, and so thought the thousands of refugees – women, children and old men who came in a forlorn stream from the smouldering wreckage of Berlin, Leipzig, Breslau, Munich. They flooded the city to twice its normal population.

There was no war in Dresden. True, planes came over nearly every day and the sirens wailed, but the planes were always en route elsewhere. The alarms furnished a relief period in a tedious work day, a social event, a chance to gossip in the shelters. The shelters, in fact, were not much more than a gesture, casual recognition of the national emergency: wine cellars and basements with benches in them and sandbags blocking the windows, for the most part. There were a few more adequate bunkers in the centre of the city, close to the government offices, but nothing like the staunch subterranean fortress that rendered Berlin impervious to her daily pounding. Dresden had no reason to prepare for attack – and thereby hangs a beastly tale.

Dresden was surely among the world’s most lovely cities. Her streets were broad, lined with shade-trees. She was sprinkled with countless little parks and statuary. She had marvellous old churches, libraries, museums, theatres, art galleries, beer gardens, a zoo and a renowned university.

It was at one time a tourist’s paradise. They would be far better informed on the city’s delights than am I. But the impression I have is that in Dresden – in the physical city – were the symbols of the good life; pleasant, honest, intelligent. In the swastika’s shadow, those symbols of the dignity and hope of mankind stood waiting, monuments to truth. The accumulated treasure of hundreds of years, Dresden spoke eloquently of those things excellent in European civilisa-tion wherein our debt lies deep.

I was a prisoner, hungry, dirty and full of hate for our captors, but I loved that city and saw the blessed wonder of her past and the rich promise of her future.

In February 1945, American bombers reduced this treasure to crushed stone and embers; disembowelled her with high explosives and cremated her with incendiaries.

The atom bomb may represent a fabulous advance, but it is interesting to note that primitive TNT and thermite managed to exterminate in one bloody night more people than died in the whole London blitz. Fortress Dresden fired a dozen shots at our airmen. Once back at their bases and sipping hot coffee, they probably remarked: “Flak unusually light tonight. Well, guess it’s time to turn in.” Captured British pilots from tactical fighter units (covering frontline troops) used to chide those who had flown heavy bombers on city raids with: “How on earth did you stand the stink of boiling urine and burning perambulators?”

A perfectly routine piece of news: “Last night our planes attacked Dresden. All planes returned safely.” The only good German is a dead one: over 100,000 evil men, women, and children (the able-bodied were at the fronts) forever purged of their sins against humanity. By chance, I met a bombardier who had taken part in the attack. “We hated to do it,” he told me.

The night they came over, we spent in an underground meat locker in a slaughterhouse. We were lucky, for it was the best shelter in town. Giants stalked the earth above us. First came the soft murmur of their dancing on the outskirts, then the grumbling of their plodding towards us, and finally the ear-splitting crashes of their heels upon us – and thence to the outskirts again. Back and forth they swept: saturation bombing.

“I screamed and I wept and I clawed the walls of our shelter,” an old lady told me. “I prayed to God to ‘please, please, please, dear God, stop them’. But he didn’t hear me. No power could stop them. On they came, wave after wave. There was no way we could surrender; no way to tell them we couldn’t stand it any more. There was nothing anyone could do but sit and wait for morning.” Her daughter and grandson were killed.

Our little prison was burnt to the ground. We were to be evacuated to an outlying camp occupied by South African prisoners. Our guards were a melancholy lot, aged Volkssturmers and disabled veterans. Most of them were Dresden residents and had friends and families somewhere in the holocaust. A corporal, who had lost an eye after two years on the Russian front, ascertained before we marched that his wife, his two children and both of his parents had been killed. He had one cigarette. He shared it with me.

Dresden after the allied bombing

Our march to new quarters took us to the city’s edge. It was impossible to believe that anyone had survived in its heart. Ordinarily, the day would have been cold, but occasional gusts from the colossal inferno made us sweat. And ordinarily, the day would have been clear and bright, but an opaque and towering cloud turned noon to twilight.

A grim procession clogged the outbound highways; people with blackened faces streaked with tears, some bearing wounded, some bearing dead. They gathered in the fields. No one spoke. A few with Red Cross armbands did what they could for the casualties.

Settled with the South Africans, we enjoyed a week without work. At the end of it, communications were reestablished with higher headquarters and we were ordered to hike seven miles to the area hardest hit.

Nothing in the district had escaped the fury. A city of jagged building shells, of splintered statuary and shattered trees; every vehicle stopped, gnarled and burnt, left to rust or rot in the path of the frenzied might. The only sounds other than our own were those of falling plaster and their echoes.

I cannot describe the desolation properly, but I can give an idea of how it made us feel, in the words of a delirious British soldier in a makeshift POW hospital: “It’s frightenin’, I tell you. I would walk down one of them bloody streets and feel a thousand eyes on the back of me ’ead. I would ’ear ’em whis-perin’ behind me. I would turn around to look at ’em and there wouldn’t be a bloomin’ soul in sight. You can feel ’em and you can ’ear ’em but there’s never anybody there.” We knew what he said was so.

For “salvage” work, we were divided into small crews, each under a guard. Our ghoulish mission was to search for bodies. It was rich hunting that day and the many thereafter. We started on a small scale – here a leg, there an arm, and an occasional baby – but struck a mother lode before noon.

We cut our way through a basement wall to discover a reeking hash of over 100 human beings. Flame must have swept through before the building’s collapse sealed the exits, because the flesh of those within resembled the texture of prunes. Our job, it was explained, was to wade into the shambles and bring forth the remains. Encouraged by cuffing and guttural abuse, wade in we did. We did exactly that, for the floor was covered with an unsavoury broth from burst water mains and viscera.

A number of victims, not killed outright, had attempted to escape through a narrow emergency exit. At any rate, there were several bodies packed tightly into the passageway. Their leader had made it halfway up the steps before he was buried up to his neck in falling brick and plaster. He was about 15, I think.

It is with some regret that I here besmirch the nobility of our airmen, but, boys, you killed an appalling lot of women and children. The shelter I have described and innumerable others like it were filled with them. We had to exhume their bodies and carry them to mass funeral pyres in the parks, so I know.

The funeral pyre technique was abandoned when it became apparent how great was the toll. There was not enough labour to do it nicely, so a man with a flamethrower was sent down instead, and he cremated them where they lay. Burnt alive, suffocated, crushed – men, women, and children indiscriminately killed.

For all the sublimity of the cause for which we fought, we surely created a Belsen of our own. The method was impersonal, but the result was equally cruel and heartless. That, I am afraid, is a sickening truth.

When we had become used to the darkness, the odour and the carnage, we began musing as to what each of the corpses had been in life. It was a sordid game: “Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief . . .” Some had fat purses and jewellery, others had precious foodstuffs. A boy had his dog still leashed to him.

Renegade Ukrainians in German uniform were in charge of our operations in the shelters proper. They were roaring drunk from adjacent wine cellars and seemed to enjoy their job hugely. It was a profitable one, for they stripped each body of valuables before we carried it to the street. Death became so commonplace that we could joke about our dismal burdens and cast them about like so much garbage.

Not so with the first of them, especially the young: we had lifted them on to the stretchers with care, laying them out with some semblance of funeral dignity in their last resting place before the pyre. But our awed and sorrowful propriety gave way, as I said, to rank callousness. At the end of a grisly day, we would smoke and survey the impressive heap of dead accumulated. One of us flipped his cigarette butt into the pile: “Hell’s bells,” he said, “I’m ready for Death any time he wants to come after me.”

A few days after the raid, the sirens screamed again. The listless and heartsick survivors were showered this time with leaflets. I lost my copy of the epic, but remember that it ran something like this: “To the people of Dresden: we were forced to bomb your city because of the heavy military traffic your railroad facilities have been carrying. We realise that we haven’t always hit our objectives. Destruction of anything other than military objectives was unintentional, unavoidable fortunes of war.”

That explained the slaughter to everyone’s satisfaction, I am sure, but it aroused no little contempt. It is a fact that 48 hours after the last B-17 had droned west for a well-earned rest, labour battalions had swarmed over the damaged rail yards and restored them to nearly normal service. None of the rail bridges over the Elbe was knocked out of commission. Bomb-sight manufacturers should blush to know that their marvellous devices laid bombs down as much as three miles wide of what the military claimed to be aiming for.

The leaflet should have said: “We hit every blessed church, hospital, school, museum, theatre, your university, the zoo, and every apartment building in town, but we honestly weren’t trying hard to do it. C’est la guerre. So sorry. Besides, saturation bombing is all the rage these days, you know.”

There was tactical significance: stop the railroads. An excellent manoeuvre, no doubt, but the technique was horrible. The planes started kicking high explosives and incendiaries through their bomb-bays at the city limits, and for all the pattern their hits presented, they must have been briefed by a Ouija board.

Tabulate the loss against the gain. Over 100,000 noncombatants and a magnificent city destroyed by bombs dropped wide of the stated objectives: the railroads were knocked out for roughly two days. The Germans counted it the greatest loss of life suffered in any single raid. The death of Dresden was a bitter tragedy, needlessly and wilfully executed. The killing of children – “Jerry” children or “Jap” children, or whatever enemies the future may hold for us – can never be justified.

The facile reply to great groans such as mine is the most hateful of all clichés, “fortunes of war”, and another: “They asked for it. All they understand is force.”

Who asked for it? The only thing who understands is force? Believe me, it is not easy to rationalise the stamping out of vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored when gathering up babies in bushel baskets or helping a man dig where he thinks his wife may be buried.

Certainly, enemy military and industrial installations should have been blown flat, and woe unto those foolish enough to seek shelter near them. But the “Get Tough America” policy, the spirit of revenge, the approbation of all destruction and killing, have earned us a name for obscene brutality.

Our leaders had a carte blanche as to what they might or might not destroy. Their mission was to win the war as quickly as possible; and while they were admirably trained to do just that, their decisions on the fate of certain priceless world heirlooms – in one case, Dresden – were not always judicious. When, late in the war, with the Wehrmacht breaking up on all fronts, our planes were sent to destroy this last major city, I doubt if the question was asked: “How will this tragedy benefit us, and how will that benefit compare with the ill-effects in the long run?”

Dresden, a beautiful city, built in the art spirit, symbol of an admirable heritage, so antiNazi that Hitler visited it but twice during his whole reign, food and hospital centre so bitterly needed now – ploughed under and salt strewn in the furrows.

There can be no doubt that the allies fought on the side of right and the Germans and Japanese on the side of wrong. World war two was fought for near-holy motives. But I stand convinced that the brand of justice in which we dealt, wholesale bombings of civilian populations, was blasphemous. That the enemy did it first has nothing to do with the moral problem. What I saw of our air war, as the European conflict neared an end, had the earmarks of being an irrational war for war’s sake. Soft citizens of the American democracy had learnt to kick a man below the belt and make the bastard scream.

The occupying Russians, when they discovered that we were Americans, embraced us and congratulated us on the complete desolation our planes had wrought. We accepted their congratulations with good grace and proper modesty, but I felt then as I feel now, that I would have given my life to save Dresden for the world’s generations to come. That is how everyone should feel about every city on earth.
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