Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Myth of the Good War: The Bombing of Dresden

The hypothesis that the attack on Dresden was intended to intimidate the Soviets explains not only the magnitude of the operation but also the choice of the target. To the planners of Thunderclap, Berlin had always loomed as the perfect target. By early 1945, however, the German capital had already been bombed repeatedly. Could it be expected that yet another bombing raid, no matter how devastating, would have the desired effect on the Soviets when they would fight their way into the capital? Destruction wreaked within 24 hours would surely loom considerably more spectacular if a fairly big, compact, and “virginal” – i.e. not yet bombed – city were the target. Dresden, fortunate not to have been bombed thus far, was now unfortunate enough to meet all these criteria. Moreover, the British American commanders expected that the Soviets would reach the Saxon capital within days, so that they would be able to see very soon with their own eyes what the RAF and the USAAF could achieve in a single operation. Although the Red Army was to enter Dresden much later than the British and the Americans had expected, namely, on May 8, 1945, the destruction of the Saxon capital did have the desired effect. The Soviet lines were situated only a couple of hundred of kilometers from the city, so that the men and women of the Red Army could admire the glow of the Dresden inferno on the nocturnal horizon. The firestorm was allegedly visible up to a distance of 300 kilometers.

Dresden was obliterated in order to intimidate the Soviets with a demonstration of the enormous firepower that permitted bombers of the RAF and the USAAF to unleash death and destruction hundreds of kilometers away from their bases, and the subtext was clear: this firepower could be aimed at the Soviet Union itself. This interpretation explains the many peculiarities of the bombing of Dresden, such as the magnitude of the operation, the unusual participation in one single raid of both the RAF and USAAF, the choice of a “virginal” target, the (intended) enormity of the destruction, the timing of the attack, and the fact that the supposedly crucially important railway station and the suburbs with their factories and Luftwaffe airfield were not targeted. The bombing of Dresden had little or nothing to do with the war against Nazi Germany: it was an American British message for Stalin, a message that cost the lives of tens of thousands of people.

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