Dresden: Firebombing and City Essay

Submitted By sarahhoward11
Words: 2941
Pages: 12

Civilians have suffered in war from the beginning of time. When the barbarians sacked Rome they slaughtered men, women, and children. When the French stormed Spanish towns during the peninsular war the citizens inside were killed and the towns raped and pillaged. These acts had never been seen as anything but a typical act of war, but with the beginning of aerial warfare countries now harnessed the power to destroy and massacre huge groups of people. At this time they redefined the term “war crime” however the question of what is and isn’t a war crime is still often confused. I do not believe that the Dresden bombing was a war crime based off the events leading to the bombing, how the bombing was carried out, and policies of the time period. In a report titled German Strategy and Capacity to Resist, a special British Joint Intelligence Subcommittee predicted that Germany “could collapse as early as mid-April if overrun by the Soviets”(Biddle, 414). However it also warned that they might hold out until November if they could prevent the Soviets from taking key locations. Therefore, any assistance able to be given to the Soviets could shorten the war. Soon after this report the shock to military populations by the German counterattack known as the Battle of the Bulge ended the speculation that the war was almost over and without a doubt contributed to the decision to aerially bombard German cities. The goal of aerial forces was to destroy the fighter aircraft of the enemy, “first by hitting them on the ground and then by taking out the factories that were producing them”(Firebombing of Dresden). On the 24th of July 1943, the raid on Hamburg was to be a prelude of what was to come with the attack on Dresden. The raid was not as destructive as anticipated however the USAAF attacked Hamburg’s military industrial targets, the submarine yard and aircraft engine factory, using daylight precision bombing. Later raids to the city on the 26 and 27th destroyed an area greater than thirteen square miles and an estimated “22,000 died, many cremated by the resulting firestorm or dying from asphyxiation”(Biddle, 416) caused by carbon monoxide and other gases. At the end of 1944 the German army was, while retreating on all fronts, not yet defeated. The Western Allies, in order to aid the Soviets with the use of a strategic bomber force, planned to bomb several eastern cities in conjunction with the Soviet advance. This was put into place mainly to cause confusion among German troops and refugees evacuating from the east and hamper reinforcements from the west. It was suggested that coordinated air attacks by the RAF to aid the current Soviet offensive could have a detrimental effect on German moral. The bombing took place in the final months of the Second World War in four raids between 13 and 15 February 1945. The resulting firestorm destroyed “fifteen square miles of the city centre killing between 22-25,000 people”(Krammer, 210). A decision to bomb Dresden was undertaken due to several reasons: request from the Russians at the Yalta conference in February, it was a German base of operations against Marshall Koniev’s left flank as he advanced into Germany, a munitions storage in the old Dresden arsenal, and its status as a troop reinforcement and transportation center. Dresden was Germany’s seventh-largest city and the largest remaining unbombed built-up area. In an official 1942 guide to the city it was described as “one of the foremost industrial locations of the Reich”(Biddle, 435) and included a list of 127 medium-to-large factories and workshops supplying the army with material. The US Air Force Historical Division wrote a response to the bombing which was classified until December 1978, in the report they listed “aircraft components factories; a poison gas factory (Chemische Fabrik Goye and Company); an anti-aircraft and field gun factory (Lehman); an optical goods factory (Zeiss Ikon AG); as well as factories producing