http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/programs/2007/02/12/#tuesdayIt was on this day, February 13, in 1945 that Allied planes began the bombing of the German city of Dresden in World War II. At the beginning of the war, both Hitler and Churchill vowed that they would not attack civilian targets. But the German's broke their promise and used incendiary bombs on London, and Great Britain quickly followed suit. By 1943, the British had begun firebombing cities like Hamburg, creating firestorms that reached 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit, with hurricane-force winds, which boiled all the water in the city and sucked all the oxygen out of the atmosphere, killing tens of thousands of people. The Allied military commanders argued that saturation bombing of German cities was the only way to force the Nazis to surrender.
One of the cities on the list for possible firebombing was Dresden, long considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and often called Florence on the Elbe. It had also become a sanctuary for refugees from all over Germany. Allied military commanders considered it an appropriate target because it was a source of optical equipment used in German submarines and fighter planes.
But still, Dresden might not have been bombed on this day if it hadn't been for the good weather. When cloud breaks were reported over the city, the British RAF went ahead with the attack and dropped 2,700 tons of bombs on Dresden, half of them incendiary. An area of almost 13 square miles was totally destroyed. No one knows exactly how many people died. Estimates have ranged from 35,000 to more than 135,000.
One of the survivors was an American GI named Kurt Vonnegut, who'd been a prisoner of war since the Battle of the Bulge. The night of the bombing, he and his fellow prisoners were locked in a slaughterhouse underground, and when they climbed up to the surface after the bombing was over they found the city had been reduced to ashes. The Germans forced Vonnegut and his fellow soldiers to collect the bodies, and they found that most of the people had died of asphyxiation.
Vonnegut spent 20 years trying to write about the experience. He finally had to give up on writing a true account of the event, and instead wrote the novel Slaughterhouse Five (1969), because he said, "You can't remember pure nonsense. It was pure nonsense ... the destruction of that city."
The war in Europe ended just three months after the bombing of Dresden.
Slaughterhouse Five is an excellent movie.
Remembering the Dresden bombing
I have heard that the firebombin in Germany, particularly Dresden, was in retaliation for the German firebombing of Coventry. Apparently the British new that the Germans were planning to that and when, because of interceptions of secret transmission. However, the British could not act on that information without tipping off the Germans that they had intercepted the information.
http://www.winstonchurchill.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=106"Churchill's head of Bomber Command, Air Marshal Harris, seemed to think German morale might still be broken by bombing, but Churchill rebuked him after Dresden, and again, just as strongly for bombing Potsdam shortly thereafter. His mind had already turned to how the Allies would govern and occupy Germany; the time for destroying it was passing.
"Harris had none of Churchill's moral qualms about the strategic bombing campaign, or if he did, he hid them well. He created a list of some fifty major target cities, usually selected for their size, war production, or critical location on transportation routes. Harris was grimly working through the list, complaining when the Combined Chiefs 'distracted' him with special targets related to ground campaigns or special interests like oil or U-boat pens.
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