Dresden: A City Lost
Dresden was once called, “Florence on the Elbe,” before the widespread destruction sustained during the war and was numbered among the most beautiful cities in the world, noted for its architecture and great art treasures. On the eve of February 13, 1945, phosphorus and high explosive bombs devastated the city. “Everyone was convinced, that there would be no attack here.” (Owings, 191) Dresden was of no means a principal military point, furthermore, the majority of its inhabitants actually believed that they would endure the war unharmed.
Initially, the alleged reasoning for Dresden being bombed seemed to be related with the operation known as “Thunderclap.” Dresden was only one of the casualties affiliated with this the operation. This operation was instigated to reduce German civilian morale. According to a secret report dated, August 02, 1944, the rudimentary principles of the maneuver, “Thunderclap was that an “attack must be delivered in such density that it imposes as nearly as possible a hundred percent risk of death to the individual in the area to which it is applied.” (“Was the Bombing of Dresden Justifiable,” 7) Collectively, between 35,000 to 135,000 human beings are estimated to have lost their lives. The report stated further, “the total weight of the attack must be such as to produce an effect amounting to a national disasterthe target chosen should be one involving the maximum associations, both traditional and personal, for the whole population.” (“Was the Bombing of Dresden Justifiable,” 7) Furthermore, “The area selected should embrace the highest density of population.” (“Was the Bombing of Dresden Justifiable,” 7) Dresden was Germany’s seventh largest city, in addition, by February 1945 refugees fleeing westward before the advancing Soviet military forces had doubled Dresden’s population.
An additional supposed purpose of the utter devastation of this capital of Saxony on the Elbe River was that apparently German troops were going through Dresden to fight the Red army. Therefore, the USSR requested the British and Americans to commence a bombing assault on Dresden to hinder the German troops besides there is hardly any evidence to show this migration of troops to the Eastern Front. It was stated in 1953 by a German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung that, “The explanation of the Americans that Dresden was bombed, on Soviet instructions, to hinder the movement of troop reinforcements through Dresden, is a clear contradiction of the facts. It would have been simple for the RAF to have destroyed the railway between Dresden and the Czech frontier.” (“Was the Bombing of Dresden Justifiable,” 5) Although, according to David Irving, the writer of The Destruction of Dresden, “the Russians deny this.” (“Was the Bombing of Dresden Justifiable,” 5)
Ultimately the perpetrating reason behind the mass destruction of this city that was originally a Slavic settlement called Drezdane conclusively devastated its inhabitants. When the waves of attacks arrived there was no escape. Over thirteen hundred British and U.S. bombers dropped more than three thousand tons of high explosive bombs and incendiaries which started a firestorm. Any living being caught outdoors was incinerated. Many of the people in cellars suffocated, then burned. Temperatures soared as high as one thousand eight hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Low flying planes machine-gunned the fleeing population along the banks of the Elbe River. The exact number of casualties will never be known. A total of twenty seven thousand houses and seven thousand public buildings were destroyed. The following excerpt is from an article by Robert L. Koenig who submits a comparison between tragedies suffered by Dresden and by Hiroshima. The article states that, ” The firebombing of Dresden was the most intense of the European war, killing somewhere between 35,000 and 135,000 people-a number impossible to confirm because so many bodies were burned without being counted or identified. By comparison, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed at least 80,000 Japanesewhich helped end the war against Japan, the firebombing of Dresden had little, if any, military significance in ending the war in Europe. The main target of the allied bombers was Dresden’s historic central city and rail yards, rather than the industries and military encampments elsewhere in Dresden.” (Koenig, 1)
“Prisoners of war from many lands came together that morning at such and such a place in Dresden.”(Vonnegut, 213) A POW, Thomas Jones, who had worked on the cleanup of the ruined city recalled, “There must have been a couple hundred tiny babies, all dead, in a pile ten feet highpeople would still be sitting there dead, on benches, weeks after the bombing. We’d drag bodies into the streets, pile them up by the hundreds, pour gas on them, and burn them up. Nobody was counting.” (Koenig, 3)
In conclusion, it is incomprehensible whether or not the rationalization for the horrendous actions collating with the bombing of Dresden or any city is thoroughly justifiable in a moment of war. A statement by Robert Saunby, the chief aide of Sir Arthur Harris, the commander-in-chief of the Royal Air Force Bomber Command, in 1963, expressed some doubts of the bombing of Dresden. His statement is as follows; “the bombing of Dresden was a great tragedy none can denyit was one of those terrible things that sometimes happen in wartime, brought about by an unfortunate combination of circumstances.”