The Dresden Massacre

On the eve of Britain’s Second World War on Germany in 1939 Arthur Bomber Harris was single-minded in his view of how it should be waged:

“I could see only one vista through the wood which seemed to end in the faintest gleam of daylight. That was the bomber offensive. But in any case I knew that this would only be undertaken fate de mieux, after other methods had failed… In the circumstances that I foresaw… the bomber offensive would be our only hope at getting at Germany, and I determined to see to it, as far as I could, that the offensive got there, and got where it hurt.

“I certainly had faith in the bomber offensive – if it could be got going, and if the Germans did not find effective counter-measures before we had built up the force. The surest way to win a war is to destroy the enemy’s war potential. And all that I had seen and studied of warfare in the past had led me to believe that the bomber was the predominant weapon for this task in this war…” (Bomber Offensive, p.31)

In the early months of the War Harris was prohibited from bombing on land. The belief was that a bomber force needed to be built before anything of substance was unleashed on Germany lest Hitler naturally would be provoked into retaliating against London. Only when England had the superiority needed for the destruction of Germany was the bomber offensive to be unleashed. Harris played along, especially since the RAF suffered heavy losses against the Luftwaffe in its sea and air operations during 1939 (p.36). The so-called Phoney War was a “breathing space” a time of preparation for the World War to come.

After England had lost the Battle of France the emphasis was put on a bomber offensive as the main aspect of its World War on Germany. Harris realised that a naval blockade of Germany would not win the war like the last time: “like the greater part of our economic warfare at the beginning of the war, the whole plan of attack overlooked the fact that Germany was not effectively encircled as she had been in the last war.” (p.45)

Harris notes that the Germans were almost wholly unprepared for the Battle of Britain. Hitler never imagined he would have to engage in such a thing. He greatly admired the British Empire, always thought the English would see sense and share their great “civilising mission” with him when they understood he was only fighting them by accident and his real ambitions lay eastward against the common enemy, Bolshevism.

And so the Luftwaffe had only small numbers of trained bomber crews or defences on their bombers. Their defenceless aircraft were easy meat for the British fighters according to Harris and if Hitler was ever serious about invading Britain (which he wasn’t, as Churchill knew from Enigma), it was the threat of the British bomber fleet against a seaborne landing that deterred him. Churchill moved vast amounts of military hardware abroad, particularly to Egypt, when he was pretending that the British island was under mortal peril from Germany. And Harris reveals that large amounts of resources, including supposedly precious aircrew and aircraft, were diverted from waging the so-called Battle of Britain by building up a bomber force in reserve during 1940 in preparation for the main act of the War, the Bomber offensive against Germany (pp.47-8).

Britain lost the European war in 1940 and only refused a settlement in the hope that the World War it declared could be expanded into a real World War. In 1914/5 the Minister in the British Cabinet whose main aim was to spread and escalate the war into the Balkans and Middle East was Churchill. His strategy had been to bring as much of the world as possible, regardless of consequence, into the conflict to destroy Germany. And he was the man brought back again in 1940 to do so again.

Churchill, a fierce anti-Bolshevik who had praised Hitler for preventing the Soviet poison from entering the German veins, gambled that Germany would turn on Russia, and America might be brought into the conflict if things were not allowed to settle down. He had no means or will to prosecute the World War Britain had declared to finality against Germany. His only aim was that England could at least get on the winning side. And while Britain proved incapable of fighting toe to toe with the Germans its contribution to the war was the instigation of terrorist attacks on areas under German occupation and aerial bombing – called terror bombing in Germany.

In 1940 – before Churchill took power – there was an unspoken agreement between the warring powers that civilian bombing was not a desirable development for anyone. From the fall of Poland in September 1939 until the battle for France in May 1940 there was very little fighting done on the ground or in the air. The air forces of Britain, France and Germany had ample opportunity to wage war against the civilian populations of their opponents, as a substitute for land war. But though a bombing holocaust was predicted by the press and governments issued gas-masks and evacuated children to the countryside, nothing happened. They all returned when the Luftwaffe did not appear in the form that Hugh Trenchard had built the RAF up to be.

“The construction of bombing airplanes would soon be abandoned as superfluous and ineffective if bombing as such were branded as an illegal barbarity. If, through the Red Cross Convention, it definitely turned out possible to prevent the killing of a defenceless wounded man or prisoner, then it ought to be equally possible, by analogous convention, and finally to stop the bombing of equally defenceless civil populations.”

That quote is from Adolf Hitler, who was against civilian bombing as a form of warfare – and whose air force was nearly always used – even in the ruthless Russian campaign – primarily for military objectives in support of the German ground forces.

In 1940 the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, declared bombing to be “absolutely contrary to international law” stating that “the British Government would never resort to the deliberate attack on women and children for the purposes of mere terrorism.” Chamberlain gave instructions during the Norwegian campaign in 1940 that “it is clearly illegal to bombard a populated area in the hope of hitting a legitimate target which is known to be in the area but which cannot be precisely located and identified.” This statement is recorded in Volume I of Churchill’s History of the Second World War (p.482). But Churchill, upon taking power, instigated an illegal inversion of Chamberlain’s policy in the mass civilian bombings of German cities during 1942/5. Trenchard had told Churchill that he should not hold back just because the Germans were not bombing. They would bomb when the RAF bombed them. That, after all, was what the bomber fleet being built was for. So it was best to get in first.

 

 

After England had lost the Battle of France the emphasis was put on a bomber offensive as the main aspect of its World War on Germany. Harris realised that a naval blockade of Germany would not win the war like the last time: “like the greater part of our economic warfare at the beginning of the war, the whole plan of attack overlooked the fact that Germany was not effectively encircled as she had been in the last war.” (p.45)

Harris notes that the Germans were almost wholly unprepared for the Battle of Britain. Hitler never imagined he would have to engage in such a thing. He greatly admired the British Empire, always thought the English would see sense and share their great “civilising mission” with him when they understood he was only fighting them by accident and his real ambitions lay eastward against the common enemy, Bolshevism.

And so the Luftwaffe had only small numbers of trained bomber crews or defences on their bombers. Their defenceless aircraft were easy meat for the British fighters according to Harris and if Hitler was ever serious about invading Britain (which he wasn’t, as Churchill knew from Enigma), it was the threat of the British bomber fleet against a seaborne landing that deterred him. Churchill moved vast amounts of military hardware abroad, particularly to Egypt, when he was pretending that the British island was under mortal peril from Germany. And Harris reveals that large amounts of resources, including supposedly precious aircrew and aircraft, were diverted from waging the so-called Battle of Britain by building up a bomber force in reserve during 1940 in preparation for the main act of the War, the Bomber offensive against Germany (pp.47-8).

Britain lost the European war in 1940 and only refused a settlement in the hope that the World War it declared could be expanded into a real World War. In 1914/5 the Minister in the British Cabinet whose main aim was to spread and escalate the war into the Balkans and Middle East was Churchill. His strategy had been to bring as much of the world as possible, regardless of consequence, into the conflict to destroy Germany. And he was the man brought back again in 1940 to do so again.

Churchill, a fierce anti-Bolshevik who had praised Hitler for preventing the Soviet poison from entering the German veins, gambled that Germany would turn on Russia, and America might be brought into the conflict if things were not allowed to settle down. He had no means or will to prosecute the World War Britain had declared to finality against Germany. His only aim was that England could at least get on the winning side. And while Britain proved unwilling to fight toe to toe with the Germans its contribution to the war was the instigation of terrorist attacks on areas under German occupation and aerial bombing – called terror bombing in Germany.

In mid-1941 Britain ceased to be of significance in the World War it had refused to wage and had lost to Germany. Its reduced ambition was to be a minor ally of Communist Russia and to lure the US into another World War in order to manipulate its power to the advantage of the British Empire. In such a context its attempt to exterminate a sizeable section of the German populace was despicable bloody-mindedness.

In 1940 – before Churchill took power – there was an unspoken agreement between the powers at war that civilian bombing was not a desirable development for anyone. From the fall of Poland in September 1939 until the battle for France in May 1940 there was very little fighting done on the ground or in the air. The air forces of Britain, France and Germany had ample opportunity to wage war against the civilian populations of their opponents, as a substitute for land war. But though a bombing holocaust was predicted by the press and governments issued gas-masks and evacuated children to the countryside, nothing happened. They all returned when the Luftwaffe did not appear in the form that Hugh Trenchard had built the RAF up to be.

“The construction of bombing airplanes would soon be abandoned as superfluous and ineffective if bombing as such were branded as an illegal barbarity. If, through the Red Cross Convention, it definitely turned out possible to prevent the killing of a defenceless wounded man or prisoner, then it ought to be equally possible, by analogous convention, and finally to stop the bombing of equally defenceless civil populations.”

That quote is from Adolf Hitler, who was against civilian bombing as a form of warfare – and whose air force was nearly always used – even in the ruthless Russian campaign – primarily for military objectives in support of the German ground forces.

In 1940 the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, declared bombing to be “absolutely contrary to international law” stating that “the British Government would never resort to the deliberate attack on women and children for the purposes of mere terrorism.” Chamberlain gave instructions during the Norwegian campaign in 1940 that “it is clearly illegal to bombard a populated area in the hope of hitting a legitimate target which is known to be in the area but which cannot be precisely located and identified.” This statement is recorded in Volume I of Churchill’s History of the Second World War (p.482). But Churchill, upon taking power, instigated an illegal inversion of Chamberlain’s policy in the mass civilian bombings of German cities during 1942/5. Trenchard had told Churchill that he should not hold back just because the Germans were not bombing. They would bomb when the RAF bombed them. That, after all, was what the bomber fleet being built was for. So it was best to get in first.

RAF raid on Berlin on the night of May 11th 1940, although itself trivial, was a deliberate breach of the fundamental rule of civilised warfare in Europe that hostilities should only be waged against the enemy combatant forces. Its aim was to anger Hitler and divert him from attacking military targets in England so that he would be provoked into blitzing London. Hitler obliged.

According to the booklet, The Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany published by H.M Stationery Office, London in 1961:

The Fight at Odds is a book issued by HM Stationary Office, and described by its author, Dennis Richards, as “officially commissioned and based throughout on official documents which had been read and approved by the Air Ministry Historical Branch.” Richards revealed that the British introduced anti-civilian bombing to goad Hitler into bombing cities and raise the stakes in the war:

“If the Royal Air Force raided the Ruhr, destroying oil plants with its most accurately placed bombs and urban property with those that went astray, the outcry for retaliation against Britain might prove too strong for the German generals to resist. Indeed, Hitler himself would probably lead the clamour. The attack on the Ruhr was therefore an informal invitation to the Luftwaffe to bomb London. The primary purpose of these raids was to goad the Germans into undertaking reprisal raids of a similar character on Britain. Such raids would arouse intense indignation in Britain against Germany and so create a war psychosis without which it would be impossible to carry on a modern war.” (p.122)

In March 1942 Churchill’s War Cabinet accepted a plan put before it by Professor Lindemann in which ‘top priority’ as an objective for air attack was in future to be given to obliterating “working-class houses in densely populated residential areas.”

This decision of the War Cabinet was kept a closely guarded secret from the British public for nearly twenty years until it was revealed in 1961 in a book called Science and Government by the physicist and novelist, Sir Charles Snow. Snow described the genesis of this policy:

“Early in 1942 Professor Lindemann, by this time Lord Cherwell and a member of the Cabinet, laid a cabinet paper before the Cabinet on the strategic bombing of Germany. It described in quantitative terms the effect on Germany of a British bombing offensive in the next eighteen months (approximately March 1942 – September 1943). The paper laid down a strategic policy. The bombing must be directed essentially against German working-class houses. Middle-class houses have too much space round them and so are bound to waste bombs; factories and ‘military objectives’ had long since been forgotten, except in official bulletins, since they were much too difficult to find and hit. The paper claimed that – given a total concentration of effort on the production and use of aircraft – it would be possible, in all the larger towns of Germany (that is, those with more than 50,000 inhabitants), to destroy 50 per cent of all houses.” (pp. 47-48.)

The Terror bombing proposed in the Lindemann Plan was a novelty in warfare rendered possible by the Allied conquest of the air. It was not, as the Germans complained, indiscriminate. On the contrary, it was concentrated on working class houses because, as Professor Lindemann maintained, a higher percentage of killing per ton of explosives dropped could be got from bombing houses built close together, rather than by bombing middle class houses surrounded by gardens.

In 1943 the British bombing of Germany was one-tenth of what it became in 1944. As the Russian Army closed in the Germans had to strip their air-defences to bolster their land defences. That meant that Dresden and other cities were almost defenceless.

The RAF’s objective of carrying out a “thunderclap” raid – a colossal massacre of more than 100,000 deaths – that would destroy German civilian morale had been frustrated during 1944. It had been attempted on Berlin but the city without a centre and with effective fire-breaks had refused to burn. The effective bunker system had protected the civilian population to the extent that the British had to lose 3,000 airmen to kill 10,000 Berliners. A thousand-bomber attempt at a “thunderclap” in February 1945 had been calculated to kill 110,000 but had only killed 3,000.

The British idea of closed zones of annihilation that killed to the maximum could be most effectively be achieved within areas of 2 square miles according to the scientists. Small and medium sized cities with densely packed old towns were vulnerable to fire-storms and only fire could enhance the casualties to “thunderclap” proportions.

Dresden was chosen as a target because it fulfilled this criteria for a colossal massacre. It had been ignored by the Allied bombers for four years because it was militarily insignificant. The USAF had attacked targets nearby with as much as 8,000 tons of bombs but Dresden was not considered worthwhile.

In September 1944 a firestorm had been attempted in Stuttgart by the RAF but the use of tunnels by the populace had frustrated the attempted massacre. Then they succeeded with Darmstadt, which lost over 10% of its population in one night, with casualties ten times higher than the larger raid on Stuttgart. Only in the town of Pforzheim did the RAF achieve a better result – annihilating a third of the population in one night.

Churchill had planned to attack 60 German towns through germ-warfare. By late 1943 a four-pound anthrax spore bomb had been developed with the code-name ‘N’. Churchill was assured by Lord Cherwell that using this four Lancasters could kill anyone found within a square mile of its impact. Churchill ordered half a million anthrax bombs from the US in March 1944. But the US push for D-Day and landings on the continent frustrated the plan to achieve the easy and cheap mass extermination Churchill desired since the anthrax had an unpredictable spread (PRO PREM 3/65 cited in Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman, A Higher Form of Killing, pp.100-1).

Dresden was not a military target in any reasonable sense of the term. The object was not to destroy the German ability to continue the war – which was on its last legs. It was to incinerate the inhabitants by use of a technique perfected over the previous two years. The German racial stock was to be culled by the English Social Darwinists.

The use of terror bombing of German cities by the RAF was a very different strategy from the earlier bombings of cities – like the German attacks on London – where a scattering of bombs were dropped on selected targets over a couple of hours. What RAF Bomber Command did was drop a huge concentration of bombs in a very short period with the intention of making an inferno of working class districts to burn up the labour force and their dependants. And then the Americans did the same the next day to bomb the bombed and the dying. The concentration of incendiaries produced a firestorm whose effect was not in the sum total of each bomb but in the multiplying effect of the fire-storm created.

The British scientists had used method study to plan the desired massacre. The fan principle had been developed by RAF No. 5 Bomber Group. The fan was a quarter of a circle with a vortex. The quality of the bombing was determined by how much the entire fan area could be covered equally by fire, blast waves and explosions. Then fire was spread like paste. A Master Bomber and a Marker Leader made sure no gaps developed that would prevent the fire closing up. The fire had to spread faster than firefighters could handle it. Otherwise there would be plenty of fires but no annihilation. It was important that bombs were not dropped randomly on a city. The exact angle taken by each bomber, the precise overshoot and the distance between pivot and bomb release, were all important to achieve the maximum number of people incinerated.

The only real debate on the subject of terror bombing took place in the House of Commons on the 6th March 1945, three weeks after the mass terror air raid on Dresden. In it the cat came out of the bag with regard to Dresden.

The debate was initiated by Richard Stokes, M.P., who demanded to be told why an authorised report, issued regarding the raid by the Associated Press Correspondent from Supreme Allied Headquarters in Paris, had gloatingly described “this unprecedented assault in daylight on the refugee-crowded capital, fleeing from the Russian tide in the East.” Stokes declared it showed that “the long-awaited decision had been taken to adopt deliberate terror-bombing of German populated centres as a ruthless expedient to hasten Hitler’s doom.”

Stokes read this report and reminded the House of Commons that it had been widely published in America and broadcast by Paris Radio. On the morning of The 17th February the Censor had released it in Britain but in the evening of that day it had been suppressed from publication – presumably as a result of the unease that it might have aroused.

Stokes asked,

“Is terror bombing now part of our policy? Why is it that the people of this country who are supposed to be responsible for what is going on, the only people who may not know what is being done in their name? On the other hand, if terror bombing be not part of our policy, why was this statement put out at all? I think we shall live to rue the day we did this, and that it (the air raid on Dresden) will stand for all time as a blot on our escutcheon.”

After the war the Labour Minister, Richard Crossman described the bombing of Dresden as “the worst massacre in the history of the world” and wrote: “The devastation of Dresden in February, 1945, was one of those crimes against humanity whose authors would have been arraigned at Nuremberg if that court had not been perverted.”

The following extract is taken from Advance To Barbarism by Frederick Veale, published in Britain and the U.S. in 1953. It was graced by a Foreward written by the celebrated Dean Inge of St. Paul’s. In the Chapter on Dresden entitled The Splendid Decision Veale wrote the most powerful indictment of those responsible for the massacre at Dresden. The extract is taken from the 1968 edition, written after David Irving’s book on Dresden had appeared:

“Reverting to the authoritative work of Air Marshal Harris, Bomber Offensive, it is noteworthy that even the gallant Air Marshal’s hardihood falters in regard to the mass bombing by some two thousand heavy bombing planes of Dresden on the night of February 13th, 1945, when the normal population of ‘this large and splendid city’ was swollen by a horde of terrified women and children from the eastern provinces of Germany in flight from the most dreadful fate which had ever confronted a large European population since the Mongol invasion of 1241. In February, 1945, the war had, of course, long ceased to be a military operation and had become merely the breaking of the desperate but hopeless resistance of a defeated people, the leaders of which faced death and the remainder slavery. Selecting his words with obvious care, the Air Marshal writes, ‘I will only say that the attack on Dresden was at the time considered a military necessity by much more important people than myself.’

“It will be noted that the Air Marshal pointedly refrains from endorsing the opinion of these important people. He leaves it open to speculation whether this was due to a modest shrinking from associating himself with so much importance or whether, after reflecting on the facts and circumstances, to sheer horror. It is further to be noted that he attributes this opinion to these important people as held by them only ‘at the time’, from which it may be deduced that he cannot bring himself to believe that any sane person could still hold such an opinion. Finally, it will be noted that he loyally refrains from disclosing the identity of these important people.

“An examination of the situation existing at the time of this great mass air raid will provide an explanation of the Air Marshal’s studied reticence. In February, 1945, the war had been won and no military purpose remained to be served by indiscriminate bombing. From the East, the Russian hordes were advancing steadily and irresistibly. In the centre, they had reached the Oder on a wide front on each side of Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, only 50 miles east of Berlin; on the right wing, the greater part of East Prussia which for seven hundred years had served as an advanced bastion of Europe against Asia, had been subdued; on the left wing, Lower Silesia had been overrun, although the capital, Breslau, closely surrounded, continued to offer a resistance as heroic as this city had offered the Mongol hordes of Batu almost exactly seven hundred years before. In the West, the armies of General Eisenhower were advancing on a wide front to the Rhine. The surviving German armies in the field continued to resist, not from any lingering hope that defeat could be averted but because their enemies’ insistence on unconditional surrender made it seem preferable to a people brought up for generations on the tradition of Frederick the Great to go down fighting to the last. The publication of the infamous Morgenthau Plan had left it in no doubt what were the conqueror intentions whether Germany surrendered at once or a final stand was made. The only military problem remaining in February, 1945 (if such it can be called) was the question along what line running North and South across Germany the invaders of Germany from the West would meet the invaders of Germany from the East. In fact, the campaign which had commenced on the Normandy beaches in the previous summer had become a mere race with the Soviet hordes, a race in which anything which the Germans could do to retard the progress of the latter, although of no practical benefit to themselves, would be of enormous political value to the Western Powers. Nevertheless, the British and Americans decided to launch a mass air attack on Dresden: then about 70 miles behind the scanty German forces resisting desperately the Russian advance across Lower Silesia.

“Very little authoritative information has been available until very recently concerning this mass air raid. In the earliest books which dealt with the last stage of the war, the course usually adopted was to refer airily to the bombing of Dresden as the last of a long series of mass air raids in which it happened that an exceptionally large number of people were killed. As a result of this general reticence little could be added for a long time to the following reference to this air raid published in The Times three days after it had taken place:

‘Dresden, which had been pounded on Tuesday night by 800 of the 1,400 heavies sent out by the R.A.F. and was the main object of 1,350 Fortresses and Liberators on the following day, yesterday received its third heavy attack in thirty-six hours. It was the principal target for more than 1,100 United States 8th Army Air Force bombers.’

“Other British newspapers reported similarly. In none of them was any attempt made to explain why Dresden should have been selected as the target for such a terrific concentration of force. Reference to a guide book will provide no clue. The modern city of Dresden has grown up round the medieval town, now known as the Altstadt which lies at the southern end of the bridge crossing the Elbe. In the eighteenth century Dresden became one of the great show cities of the world through the construction of a number of magnificent public buildings, all of which were erected in the Altstadt district of the city. Within a radius of half a mile from the southern end of the Augustus Bridge was built a unique group of palaces, art galleries, museums and churches—the Schloss, containing the famous Grünes Gewölbe with its priceless art treasures; the beautiful Brühl Terrasse extending along the left bank of the Elbe; the beautiful Catholic Cathedral; the domed Frauen Kirche; the Opera House; the Johanneum Museum and, above all, the famous Zwinger Museum containing one of the finest collections of pictures in the world, including among its many treasures Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, purchased by the Elector, Augustus II, in 1745, for 20,000 ducats. Within this small area, so well known to British and American travellers on the continent, there were, and could be, no munition factories or, in fact, industries of any kind. The resident population of this district was small. The main railway station of Dresden is situated a mile away to the South and the railway bridge which carries the main line to Berlin is half a mile away down the river.

The following brief details of this raid, which are now well established, are added in amplification of the contemporary report from The Times set out above.

“On the morning of the fateful February 13, 1945, fast enemy reconnaissance planes were observed flying over the city. The inhabitants of Dresden had had no experience of modern air warfare and the appearance of these planes aroused curiosity rather than apprehension. Having been for so long outside any theatre of war, the city lacked anti-aircraft defences and these planes were able to observe in complete safety all that they desired. No doubt, they observed and reported that all the roads through and around Dresden were filled with dense throngs moving westward. It is impossible, however, that these throngs could have been mistaken for troop concentrations. It was common knowledge that the German High Command had thrown in its last reserves to reinforce the crumbling battlefronts and consequently there existed no troops which could possibly be massing so far from any fighting. It was also common knowledge that a frantic orgy of murder, rape and arson was taking place in those districts of Silesia which had been overrun by the Soviet hordes. It should not have been difficult to deduce in these circumstances that many people in districts threatened by the Russian advance would decide to try to escape westwards.

“Some hours after night had fallen, about 9.30 p.m., the first wave of attacking planes passed over Dresden. The focus of the attack was the Altstadt. Terrific fires soon broke out which were still blazing when the second wave of attackers arrived shortly after midnight. The resulting slaughter was appalling, since the normal population of the city of some 600,000 had been recently swollen by a multitude of refugees, mostly women and children, their menfolk having remained behind to defend their homes. Every house in Dresden was filled with these unfortunates, every public building was crowded with them, many were camping in the streets. Estimates of their number vary between 300,000 and 500,000. There were no air raid shelters. There were, in fact no air raid defences of any kind, unless we so regard the enormous cloud of stifling black smoke which, after the first attack, covered the city and into which the second and third waves of attackers dropped their bombs. Adding a unique touch to the general horror, the wild animals in the zoological gardens, rendered frantic by the noise and glare, broke loose; it is said that these animals and terrified groups of refugees were machine-gunned as they tried to escape across the Grosser Garten by low-flying planes and that many bodies riddled by bullets were found later in this park.

“Long after the bombing crews had comfortably eaten their breakfasts and retired to rest, having carried out their orders without the loss of a single plane, Dresden remained completely hidden by a vast cloud of black smoke. Parts of the city continued to burn for days. Not one of the famous buildings in the Altstadt mentioned above escaped destruction. Fortunately some time before the raid the priceless art treasures in the Zwinger Museum, including Raphael’s masterpiece of the Virgin and Child, had been removed and hidden in a place of safety.

“A few weeks after the raid the Russian forces occupied the ruins of Dresden. It is possible to claim that this raid achieved the result of accelerating by a few days the progress of the Russian advance. This is satisfactory to some since, otherwise, the painful admission would be unavoidable that the raid had no influence whatever on the contemporary course of events.

The number of casualties will probably always remain a subject for speculation. Most of the victims were refugee women and children escaping from Silesia. The homes which they left behind them have since been confiscated and are now occupied by foreign squatters. The circumstances made it impossible for the authorities to undertake the task of trying to identify the victims. So enormous were the number of bodies that nothing could be done but to pile them on timber collected from the ruins and there to burn them.

“In the Altmarkt one funeral pyre after another disposed of five hundred bodies or parts of bodies at a time. This gruesome work went on for weeks. Estimates as to the total number of casualties vary between very wide limits. Some put the figure as high as a quarter of a million, and this figure was put forward as the probable total at the Manstein Trial in 1949, when the court was solemnly considering the charges of inhumanity brought against the German Field Marshal. The Swiss paper, Flugwehr und Technik, writes, ‘In the three great attacks on Dresden the number of dead from reliable sources is reported at 100,000.’ Air Marshal Sir Robert Saundby in his preface to David Irving’s above-mentioned book accepts the estimate of 135,000. Having regard to the fact that there were at the time over a million people crowded into the city and to the complete lack of air raid shelters, this would appear an absurdly conservative estimate. Generalmajor Hans Rumpf mentions an estimate of 250,000, but says that ‘we do not know and never shall know how many perished.’ At that time hundreds of thousands of families living in Silesia and Pomerania disappeared without trace and are no doubt dead, but it is impossible to say whether they were massacred in their homes by the advancing Red Army, were butchered on their flight by the Polish and Czech partisans operating behind the German lines, or were slaughtered in Dresden by the bombs of the R.A.F.’

“The late Father Ronald Knox once confessed himself somewhat disturbed by the thought that the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima sent thousands to their death without an opportunity to offer a prayer. To the secular mind it may seem that the best that can be said for the dropping of the first atomic bomb is that sudden death literally fell from a blue sky on the doomed city. What took place there may seem far less ‘disturbing’ than what had taken place a few months before in Dresden, when dense crowds of homeless women and children had surged this way and that for hours in search of a place of safety in a strange city amid bursting bombs, burning phosphorus and falling buildings.

“In his above cited preface to David Irving’s book Air Marshal Saundby writes, ‘I am still not satisfied that I fully understand why it happened.… That the bombing of Dresden was a great tragedy none can deny; that it was really a military necessity few, after reading this book, will believe. It was one of those terrible things that sometimes happen in wartime, brought about by an unfortunate combination of circumstances. Those who approved it were neither wicked nor cruel, though it may well be that they were too remote from the harsh realities of war to understand fully the appalling destructive power of air bombardment in the Spring of 1945.’

“… the Dresden Massacre was not one of those terrible things which are brought about by an unfortunate combination of circumstances. It was the final outcome of a policy deliberately chosen three years before when the Lindemann Plan was adopted: a great number of working-class homes were indeed destroyed in this mass air raid in accordance with the plan. The origin of the Dresden Massacre can, however, be traced back for another two decades when what was regarded as a novel conception of warfare was put forward by the chiefs of the newly established Air Force, relatively youthful men who were intoxicated by the military possibilities of the heaver-than-air flying machine, an invention dating only from the experiments of the Wright brothers at the beginning of the century. This novel conception of warfare… was well expressed by Air Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard in 1923 when he wrote: ‘The Army policy is to defeat the enemy army: our policy is to defeat the enemy nation.’

“The Dresden Massacre was the result of the gradual conversion by the Air Force chiefs of the politicians to this primitive conception of warfare. During the period between the world wars little progress had been made, but immediately war broke out in September 1939 the Air Staff began to clamour for leave to carry their ideas of warfare into practice. When Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in May, 1940, they obtained his permission to adopt a definition of military objectives so wide as to render the term in practice meaningless: their final triumph came two years later with the adoption of the Lindermann Plan which initiated terrorism as a means to victory…

“Although one of his first acts when he took office was to give way to the frantic entreaties of the Air Staff for a free hand, there is some evidence that Churchill gave way with some reluctance, and thereafter was never free from twinges of conscience This is not really surprising. Churchill had started his career in the Victorian Epoch as a professional soldier, and never lost the traditional outlook of the professional soldier of his youth. He had an unrivalled knowledge of every campaign fought in the civil wars of Europe during the previous two and a half centuries, all of which had been fought in accordance with the Rules of Civilized Warfare. Regarding history from an early age as a drama in which it was his ambition to play a leading role, he was deeply concerned with what view future historians would take of him, unlike so many of his colleagues who were indifferent to the judgment of posterity so long as they successfully performed the task which at the moment they had in hand…

“The Australian diplomat Lord Casey, who was sent to Washington in December, 1940, to sabotage in advance any attempt it was feared Lloyd George might make to induce President Roosevelt to support a negotiated peace, in his memoirs entitled Personal Experiences (Constable, London, 1962) records the following entry in his diary for the 27th June, 1943, on which day he visited Chequers where a film of the bombing campaign was shown for the entertainment of the Prime Minister and his guests: ‘In the course of the film showing the bombing of German towns from the air, very well and dramatically done, W. C. suddenly sat bolt upright and said to me: ‘Are we beasts? Are we taking this too far?’ 

Of the innumerable anecdotes told of Sir Winston Churchill, this is likely to become the most frequently quoted by his admirers. There is no reason to question its authenticity since its narrator, Lord Casey, was clearly surprised that ‘a very well and dramatically done’ film should disturb the Prime Minister’s equanimity. It is consistent also with the minute dated the 28th March 1945, which Sir Winston Churchill sent to the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Charles Portal, six weeks after the mass raid on Dresden: ‘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 he reviewed. The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing. I am of the opinion that military objectives must henceforth be more strictly studied in our own interests rather than that of the enemy. I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives, such as oil and communications behind the immediate battle-zone, rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction, however impressive.'”

Naturally, Air Marshal Portal, one of the foremost champions of the bombing policy which had been carried out for the previous three years with the Government’s entire approval, expostulated at the frank wording of this minute. The Prime Minister withdrew it and substituted one tactfully worded, but nevertheless referring to ‘the question of so-called ‘area bombing’ of German cities.’ In fact, as Sir Charles Webster and Dr. Noble Frankland say in their official history of the Air Offensive, that immediately after victory became certain, ‘The Prime Minister and others in authority seemed to turn away from the subject as though it were distasteful to them and as though they had forgotten their own recent efforts to initiate and maintain the offensive.’…

“Since the publication in 1961 of the official history of terror bombing, The Strategic Air Offensive against Germany, 1939-45, it has become clear that adoption was also supported by the Foreign Secretary, Sir Anthony Eden. On the 15th April, 1942, only a month after its adoption, Sir Anthony wrote to the Air Minister, Sir Archibald Sinclair, expressing the view that ‘the psychological effects of bombing have little connection with the military and economic importance of the target.’ He went on to suggest that the psychological effects of attacking a medium-sized town were greater than those of attacking, with equal force, a larger town, and added: ‘I wish to recommend therefore that in the selection of targets in Germany, the claims of smaller towns of under 50,000 inhabitants which are not too heavily defended, should be considered, even though those towns contain only targets of secondary importance.’

“’There is no reason to suppose,’ comment the joint authors of this authoritative work, ‘that Sir Archibald Sinclair found these views morally repugnant.’ Quite the contrary in fact! They proceed to quote a letter written the following month by Sir Archibald declaring that he was ‘in full agreement’ with the views of an unnamed M.P. who had written him emphatically supporting terror bombing and proclaiming that he was ‘all for the bombing of working-class areas in German cities. I am a Cromwellian—I believe in ‘slaying in the name of the Lord’.” (Advance to Barbarism, pp. 130-8)

David Irving’s book, The Destruction of Dresden, was published about 50 years ago. It appeared at a time when it was not generally known in England what Britain had done to Dresden in February 1945, when the war was being wound up. It caused quite a stir in England and made many react with revulsion.

There had only been a few critics of Churchill’s conduct of the war (mostly from British military backgrounds, like Captain Grenfell) who wondered whether the World War which Britain had declared, supposedly to free Poland from totalitarian government and which had resulted in totalitarian government installed across half of Europe, had really been worth it. But there was little actual knowledge of the things that the Allies had visited on Germany in punishment for its success against the Anglo-French armies.

Irving had written his book on Dresden after finding out the facts for himself when he had being working in Germany as a welder. It has a Foreword by an Air Marshall of the RAF, Sir Robert Saundby. And it is too fair by half on Britain, if anything.

In the last decade or so – 25 years after his book on Dresden – Irving has been accused of denying the Jewish Holocaust and has been ostracized as a result from respectable academic circles. About fifteen years ago he was prevented from speaking in a number of Irish universities on this basis, although at the time no evidence from his books was produced to justify the assertion (Irving’s books published into the 1980s reveal no denial – rather the argument that the Nazi regime got on with the killing of the Jews rather independently of the Fuhrer.)

What this has to do with his work on Dresden – which should be allowed to stand on its own merits – is neither here nor there. But, of course, if slogans to do with “fascism” or “anti-Semitism” are thrown thought is not necessary.

Irving did not, as some have suggested, in any edition of The Destruction of Dresden from 1963 to 1985, state that 250,000 had died in Dresden. He said in a prominently displayed author’s note that the accepted minimum estimate was 35,000, the post-war German estimate was 135,000, and American sources had put it at 200,000.

It is quite obvious why accurate figures for casualties in Dresden were hard to come by – the British bomber crews incinerated tens of thousands of refugees seeking shelter from the advancing Soviet armies in Dresden, as well as foreign labourers and prisoners of war. Its 600,000 population was swollen by an estimated further 500,000 refugees fleeing from the Red Army. It was both hard to count the bodies, or what was left of them, and know who had been there before the incineration and account for them afterwards.

Nobody knows for sure just how many innocent civilians were bombed and burned to death in Dresden. Most accounts now put the total between 40,000 and 50,000. What was beyond dispute was that its destruction was of no military significance whatsoever. It did not shorten the war by a minute, it was entirely unnecessary and neither was it really intended to be of any military consequence.

The war to all intents and purposes was won in February 1945 and the city itself had no military, political or industrial significance. And the British Government was well aware that it was defenceless against air attack.

A few years ago a British writer, Frederick Taylor wrote a book that sought to justify the massacre at Dresden. A reviewer in The Irish Times noted:

“He makes the case that bombing Dresden’s railway Infrastructure knocked out the vital gateway to Sudetenland and Bohemia: 20,000 officers passed through one of Dresden’s two main train stations each day. Eye wit­nesses described Dresden, not as a city of culture, but an armed camp: thou­sands of German troops, tanks and artillery. Weeks before the attack the Nazis reclassified Dresden a Verteigiungsbereich, a defence area of strategic mili­tary importance.”

Surely the fact that the Red Army was bearing down upon it would make Dresden “a defence area of strategic mili­tary importance.” If “20,000 officers passed through one of Dresden’s two main train stations each day” the whole officer corp of the German army would have gone through it in just over a week!

But was the railway junction the target of the bombers, as Taylor asserts? We have first hand evidence to suggest it wasn’t – or at least to verify it became the “target” only after the event, for reasons of propaganda.

This letter by a member of bomber-crew, Mr.A. Williams of Nottingham; published in The Observer, August 8th 1984 suggests that the real target for the bombers was not the military facilities of Dresden but the people of the city and refugees from the Soviet advance:

“On 13th, February, 1945, I was a navigator on one of the Lancaster bombers which devastated Dresden. I well remember the briefing by our Group Captain. We were told that the Red Army was thrusting towards Dresden and that the town would be crowded with refugees and that the centre of the town would be full of women and children. Our aiming point would be the market place.

“I recall that we were somewhat uneasy, but we did as we were told. We accordingly bombed the target and on our way back our wireless operator picked up a German broadcast accusing the RAF of terror tactics, and that 65,000 civilians had died. We dismissed this as German propaganda.

“The penny didn’t drop until a few weeks later when my squadron received a visit from the Crown Film Unit who were making the wartime propaganda films. There was a mock briefing, with one notable difference. The same Group Captain now said, ‘as the market place would be filled with women and children on no account would we bomb the centre of the town. Instead, our aiming point would be a vital railway junction to the east.’

“I can categorically confirm that the Dresden raid was a black mark on Britain’s war record. The aircrews on my squadron were convinced that this wicked act was not instigated by our much-respected guvnor ‘Butch’ Harris but by Churchill. I have waited 29 years to say this, and it still worries me.”

A week or so later the RAF destroyed the small jewellery and clock producing town of Pforzheim, reducing it to ashes on the night of 23 February. It was still flammable because it had been ignored up until then as militarily insignificant. It had dense working-class housing, narrow streets, sandstone buildings and no firewalls. It was undefended and had minimal fire-protection. It was a laboratory waiting for the fire-storm experiment.

There was a fire zone of nearly two miles whipped up and a third of the inhabitants, 20,000 were incinerated. Metal became molten and Pforsheim turned into lava. Master Bomber Edwin Swales was awarded the Victoria Cross for his work in the RAF’s most successful raid ever, in terms of proportion of inhabitants killed to total population (1:3). British physicists had worked out the mechanics of the firestorm in an area-wide conflagration, with vertically flaring hot air, producing a storm that sucked in horizontally to fill the vacuum that further fanned the area blaze.

At the death Churchill attempted to distance himself from the bombing campaign he had himself ordered:

“It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land. … The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing. … I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives, such as oil and communications behind the immediate battle-zone, rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction, however impressive.” (Memo to the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Chief of Air Staff, March 28, 1945, in Max Hastings, Bomber Command, p. 344.)

 

 

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