David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial: Electronic Edition, by Richard J. Evans

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(f) Conclusion. >>

(a) Background

1. The city of Dresden was subject to two fierce attacks by British bombers on the night of 13/14 February 1945, followed the next day by two further attacks by American bombers. The attacks are rightly seen as the high point of the strategic air war in Europe. Ill chance played a role in sealing Dresden's fate. The head of the RAF's Bomber Command, Arthur Harris, anticipating the complications that such a long-range attack would probably entail, sent double the number of planes in the second wave of the attack. Dresden itself was ill-prepared for the attack. Flak batteries had been removed to the Eastern front and Dresden citizens had the illusion that their city would escape the fate of so many other German towns. German defence fighters remained grounded and the first attacking wave had unusually good weather, so that marking the target was achieved without hindrance.
2. Dresden was an important centre for administration, communications, and transport. After Berlin and Leipzig it was the largest city behind the eastern front, a military installation with garrisons and troops. Dresden's industries were fully integrated into the structure of armaments manufacture.1 Yet these war industries, although cited as a justification for the raid, were not even targeted. Instead, the British attacked the maze of timbered buildings which made up the historic heart of Dresden and which were so easy to ignite. In proportion to the stated aim of crippling Dresden as a transportation point, the attack was grotesquely large. Industrial production, although damaged, was not crippled, and even the main railway line remained severed for only four days.
 
3. The resulting firestorm blazed in the centre of a city clotted with refugees fleeing the encroaching Russian army. Fifteen square kilometres of Dresden were destroyed. The death-roll, whatever its final figure, was substantial. This, and the destruction of the historic heart one of Germany's finest cultural treasures, became the Focal Point of impassioned post-war debate about the respective crimes of the Allies and the Axis. It has proven hard to disentangle the strategic merits or limitations of Allied bombing from the ethical implications. Opinions have been divided between those who have seen the British bombing campaign as in some way as effective and therefore justifiable,2 and those who have condemned it not merely as ineffective but as calculated 'terror'.3
4. The conclusion reached by most historians is that Dresden was bombed in an effort to kill German morale and damage beyond repair the German people's will to resist the invading Allied armies on the Eastern and Western fronts. The Soviet advance westward was to be aided by disrupting the German rail network and fouling the transport arteries with refugees.4 As with Hiroshima and Nagasaki an effort may well have been made to impress and intimidate the Soviet Union with Anglo-American air power.5 None of this, however, has succeeded in   arguing away the impassioned moral debate which still surrounds the events of 13-14 February 1945.

Notes

1. Rudolf Förster, 'Dresden', in Marlene P. Hiller, Eberhard Jäckel and Jürgen Rohwer (eds.) Städte im 2. Weltkrieg. Ein internationaler Vergleich, (Essen, 1991), pp. 299-315, pp. 302-5.
2. Most commonly official air-force historians or historians close to them in their sympathies. For example C. Webster and N. Frankland, The Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany, 4 vols. (London. 1961); Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won (London, 1995), chapter 4.
3. For instance Geoffrey Best, Humanity n Warfare. The Modern History of the International Law of Armed Conflicts (Bristol, 1983), 2nd. ed., pp. 262-285; Reiner Pommerin, 'Zur Einsicht bomben? Die Zerstörung Dresdens in der Luftkrieg-Strategie des Zweiten Weltkriegs' in Reiner Pommerin (ed.), Dresden unterem Hakenkreuz (Cologne, 1998), pp. 227-245.
4. Overy, pp. 106 and 132; Best, p. 268; Pommerin, pp. 241-3.
5. Michael S. Sherry, The Rise of American Air Power. The Creation of Armageddon (New Haven/London, 1987), pp. 260-61.
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(f) Conclusion. >>

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