Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Early Accounts of Dresden bombing

Text: Phillip Knightley, The First Casualty pages 343-344.  Revised 2000 edition Prion books

Comment: To test the claim that it was Goebbels who originally forged the famous Tagesbefehl 47, rather than the East Germans.  Phillip Knightley presents no evidence to support a briefing by Goebbels of 200 000 death toll.

Ministry of Defence records show that there were no war correspondents with the planes over Dresden, and so there were no eye-witness accounts of the bombing, except for thos of a few air crews interviewed on their return, and they had been given various concocted explanations as to why they were bombing the city - they were attacking German army headquarters, destroying an arms dump, knocking out an industrial area, or even "wiping out a large poison gas plant."

Both British and American newspapers correctly assessed the raid as "one of the most devastating 24 hour periods of aerial warfare ever known."  British newpapers at first accepted and published without query the official line, that Dresden was an important military target.  Dresden was merely a staging centre for half a million refugees from Silesia.  The marshalling yards were not even attacked.  There were not ammunition workshops and factories, only a msall works making optical lenses for gunsights.
The truth first came out in Sweden.  At  10:15 PM on February 15 a Swedish news bulletin transmitted in Danish to occupied Denmark said that the death toll in Dresden was already between 20,000 and 35,000.  Newspapers in Switzerland and other neutral countries began to print horrifying accounts of the raid.  Then, on February 17, after a briefing at Allied Supreme Headquarters in paris, the Associated Press reported throughout the United States: "Allied Air Chiefs have made the long-awaited decision to adopt deliberate terror bombings of German population centers as ruthless expedient of hastening Hitler's doom."  This decision, of course, had been taken long before, and the bombing of German population centres had been going on for nearly three years.  In Britain, the authorities imposed a total ban on the publication of the AP dispatch, and it was not until March 5, nealry three weeks after the event, that the Manchester Guardian published an account suggesting that the bombing of Dresden had killed large numbers of civilian refugees in a particularly unpleasant manner.
In fact the only prompt, factual and comprehensive report at this early stage was that of Rudolph Sparing, war correspondent of the German Overseas News Agency. He wrote: "The Dresden catastrophe is without precedent. In the inner town not a single block of buildings, not a single detached building, remains intact or even capable of reconstruction. The town area is devoid of human life. A great city has been wiped from the map of Europe." – Daily Telegraph, March 5th 1945


In view of the interest in inflating the Dresden death toll, it might be worth noting this passage from The Fire by Joerg Friedrich,
page 310
The Dresden raid was different, which harkened back to Alied plans to carry out a "thunderclap" in the summer of 1944, a colossal massacre with more than 100 000 casualties.  They had been thinking of Berlin.  This in turn was a moderate version of the gas and germ-warfare attack that Churchill had wanted to impose on sixty German cities.
The Eighth Air Force would find out just how hard it is to kill 100,000 people when they hit Berlin with a half a thunderclap in February 1945.  Instead of the planned two thousand aircraft, only 937 participated; instead of five thousand tons of bombs only 2,266 were dropped, and they killed only 2,893 civilians instead of the projected 110,000.  Even a miserably defended metropolis with totally insufficient air-raid facilities resisted total destruction by virtue of its sheer volume.  The Allied principle of closed zones of annihilation could be best implemented on areas of under two square miles.  Small and medium sized cities with a densely built historical Old Town were vulnerable to firestorms.  And only fire could seal the death zone.

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