On February 13-14, 1945 the British Royal Air Force gave the final clearance to commence what would later become known as one of the greatest atrocities that has ever been commited against a civilian population. That night the RAF launched 796 bombers and 9 Mosquitoes which carried 1,478 tons of explosives in addition to 1,182 tons of incendiary bombs (Dear 311) which turned the city of Dresden, Germany into a virtual inferno. This attack included another strike by the US Air Force the following morning. The attack on Dresden was never a legitimate act of war, and its result was the terroristic mass murder of over 135,000 people.
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Bombing civilian targets in enemy territory became an open issue on March 30, 1942 when the Prime Minister’s science advisor, Professor F.A. Lindemann (who later was recognized as Lord Cherwell) delivered to Winston Churchill a report which contained a strong argument in favor of striking civilian targets. .Cherwell.s report contained the final rationalization for the program Bomber Command was undertaking and it would henceforth be paper-clipped to the plans of the bomber offensive.(Hastings). In his report, Lindemann estimated that forty tons of explosives detonated in heavily populated areas would destroy the homes of 4,000-8,000 people. The report also stated that there was a population of 22 million people in fifty-eight of the major cities in Germany. Lindemann claimed that a nation of refugees could be the result of strategic air attacks. It is wildly believed among scholars that the information contained in this report was the basis of the attack on Dresden.
Lindemann¦s figures were correct, but his thinking was immoral and inhumane. The people to whom his statistics referred so objectively were innocent civilians, more than half of them women and children. The assault upon them was nothing more that out-right murder. Any benefit gained by destroying these civilians. lives, families, and homes was countered ten-fold by the moral reprehensibility of such a clearly criminal act.
The city of Dresden was a historic center of Europe, and was known worldwide for its splendid architecture. It was the capital of Saxony, and located along the banks of the Elbe river. Dresden had very little industrial activity, and it was a target only once before in a small raid by the US Air Force in October of 1944. It was a city that was also known for its production of fine China, and its glorious museums (Dear 311). The city was not at all suspected to be a target for attack because of the population influx that had occurred in result of refugees running from allied forces. Due to this situation, the Germans moved most of their air defense stations to other cities that were more likely targets. The city had become a hub for not only refugees, but also for POW camps, and hospitals. Of the 19 hospitals in the city, three were totally demolished, and the rest were partially damaged. Many of these hospitals housed wounded allied soldiers. (Barnes Review 10) The attack resulted in the incineration of over 135,000 civilians. The motive behind the attack was to destroy the city, and in effect weaken enemy morale both militarily, and on the home front. The Allied forces did not take into account the political harm that this tremendous loss of civilian lives would bring upon them.
In January, 1943, at the Roosevelt-Churchill Casablanca Conference this directive read “Your primary aim will be the progressive destruction and dislocation of the German Military, industrial and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to the point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened..(Barnes Review). The method comprised to strip the Germans of their morale was the destruction of their cities. People was the result of the firestorm that the incendiary bombs created. The explosions required oxygen, and as a result it created gust moving toward the center. These gusts became intense fireballs, and scorched everything in the city. One eye witness said ¦Howling gusts of hurricane force whipped flames in all directions. Nothing seemed to be spared. I watched little trains of flame race alone garden paths and ignite a tree of even stone ornament. Very little survived the path of this burning storm. Most of the city was destroyed, and the death toll was enormous. Even Churchill himself went on record to admit that this had not been a positive military procedure. He was quoted in saying “we…see to it that our attacks do not do more harm to ourselves in the long run than…to the enemy’s war effort.”
(Parrish 164)_) Even though it was later admitted a mistake by the allies, it is possible that they had valid military intentions, but did not carefully weigh all of the cause and effects they would result. The idea that lowering the morale of an enemy nation was a key strategy, and was taken very seriously by the commanders of the allied forces. There was a major train station in the city of Dresden, and even though it was one of few sites not greatly damaged, the use of the city as a transportation hub was terminated by the Germans. It is very true that destroying homes results in refugees which cause problems inside the country, but blowing the homes up and killing the people was the only to accomplish this goal. The idea of lowering morale probably should have been investigated a little more thoroughly, but the allies did what they felt they had to do in order to terminate Hitler’s Reign.
The bombing of Dresden was not a legitimate act of war, it was a horrible mass murder of a civilian community, but it may have aided the allied cause in some ways. Even though the allies had lost respect on their home front, and subjected themselves to the criticism of the media, in some ways the result helped the cause. It is only logical that this Holocaust in Dresden lowered morale throughout Germany’s civilians. Germany had to have realized at this point how terrible the war had become, and what its results could be. This is a terrible way to get that point across, but the point was made quite successfully, at the expanse of 135,000 lives, mostly of women, children, and elders.
The bombing of Dresden was a terrible mistake on the part of the allied forces. They failed to properly predict the consequences of their actions, and as a result destroyed a beautiful city, and a large percentage of its inhabitants. Even if the death numbers were not intended to be so high, negligence is no excuse. The results of any aggression are responsibility of the aggressor, and in this case the aggressor’s actions resulted in mass murder.