One thing I hate about having a website is that I often miss big anniversaries. If an upcoming date is 75th anniversary of broadcast TV, or the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, you can bet I’ll find out about it two or three days after the fact, thus missing a chance to commemorate it on my site. Heck, the Steelers win in last year’s Super Bowl made me forget the 30th anniversary of Sid Vicious’ death, something I had been counting down for years!
So this time I won’t forget: today marks the 65th anniversary of the Allies’ bombing of Dresden in World War II.
After the atomic bombing of Japan, the bombing of Dresden is considered one of the Allies’ most controversial actions during the war. Although Dresden was a manufacturing and communications center for Nazi Germany, the Allies didn’t bother bombing the city’s suburbs, where such manufacturing took place. Instead they bombed the city center, allegedly in hopes of disrupting both communications and to cause panic and confusion amongst refugees – something the Brits learned for themselves when the Germans bombed Coventry (contrary to popular belief, Churchill and other British leaders didn’t let Coventry get bombed so as to prevent the Germans from finding out that the Allies had broken their Enigma machines; while the British knew from decrypted Enigma traffic that the German bombers were coming, they had no idea what their target was. Churchill himself thought it was London, not Coventry).
In any event, American and British planes they bombed the hell out Dresden, dropping almost 4,000 tons of high-explosives and incendiary devices over three days, which destroyed a 15 square mile area in the heart of the city. The resulting fires in Dresden were so intense that firestorms were created – fires so large and intense that they create their own wind patterns. Temperatures in these fires peaked at 2700 °F (1500 °C). Thousands died. One survivor recounted her experience thusly:
It is not possible to describe! Explosion after explosion. It was beyond belief, worse than the blackest nightmare. So many people were horribly burnt and injured. It became more and more difficult to breathe. It was dark and all of us tried to leave this cellar with inconceivable panic. Dead and dying people were trampled upon, luggage was left or snatched up out of our hands by rescuers. The basket with our twins covered with wet cloths was snatched up out of my mother’s hands and we were pushed upstairs by the people behind us. We saw the burning street, the falling ruins and the terrible firestorm. My mother covered us with wet blankets and coats she found in a water tub.
We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burnt to death, burning people ran to and fro, burnt coaches filled with civilian refugees, dead rescuers and soldiers, many were calling and looking for their children and families, and fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from.
I cannot forget these terrible details. I can never forget them.
Over 12,000 homes, 24 banks, 640 shops, 64 warehouses, 31 large hotels, 3 theatres, 18 cinemas, 11 churches, 19 hospitals, 39 schools, 5 consulates, 19 post offices, the zoo, the waterworks and the railways were destroyed. 250,000 people were initially feared dead, although the actual number has been almost continually reduced over time. An independent investigation carried out by the city of Dresden in 2006 puts the “official” casualty numbers between 18,000 and 25,000.
The bombing was controversial because the Allies seemed to be targeting civilians, not industrial facilities, in the raid. There have been several reports over the years which indicate that the British wanted to either scare the advancing Soviets or get revenge on the Germans for the bombing of London (or both). There was even pressure a few years ago for the British government to apologize to the Germans for the incident!
Whatever the case may be, the Germans have lovingly restored much of downtown Dresden, a process that’s taken 50 years.