|by Paul Holden, PRO|
18 October 2005
ACA Learns the Truth about Dresden
One of their own members, Roy Pullan, gave a talk to the last meeting of the Woking branch of the Aircrew Association on the subject of "The Bombing of Dresden in February 1945". He related the sequence of events from the decision to make the attack, to its aftermath, using information that has become available about Dresden since the unification of Germany. The object of the talk was to review those events as dispassionately as possible, and to separate fact from myth.
Dresden was not quite the city that was portrayed by Josef Goebbels. The illusion of Dresden as a city of no strategic importance to the German war machine had been created - an idyllic backwater nestling on the Elbe, far removed from the demands of war, in a country involved in a total war. The reality was somewhat different
The Germans' own Dresden Year Book of 1942 stated that those knowing Dresden only for its unique architecture, and immortal monuments, would rightly be very surprised at the extensive and versatile industrial city that made Dresden one of the foremost industrial locations of the Reich. Dresden was the largest garrison town in Germany, and was also a very large and important railway junction vital to reinforcing the Russian front. Prior to the war Dresden was better known to the outside world for its Meissen porcelain and its Baroque architectural legacy. This was to play an important part in the post war myths that this was a city of no military or industrial importance.
The 1944 Handbook of the German Army Weapons Command stated that Dresden contained 127 factories manufacturing military equipment, weapons and munitions This number related to the larger factories; it did not include smaller suppliers or workshops. By far the largest was the firm of Zeiss-Ikon, which employed 14,000 workers.
Without question, the attack on Dresden caused enormous damage and very heavy casualties. The total number of dead would eventually total between 25,000 and 35,000, confirmed by the "Final report of the Higher Police and SS Führer for the Upper Elbe" making it second only to Hamburg in July 1943, when 46,000 people died in the firestorm. It was the reports by the German Propaganda Ministry to the Swedish and Swiss newspapers that commenced the creation of the Dresden myth. Figures in the foreign press increased with wild abandon, despite reliable figures now reaching Berlin. An interim report from the authorities in Dresden gave a revised total of the dead as 20,204. The Propaganda Ministry ensured that these appeared in public as 202,040 by the simple expedient of multiplying by 10. The predicted total of 25,000 appeared as 250,000.
The destruction of Dresden was one more ghastly event in an apparently endless series of ghastly events in which thousands were dying daily. If the facts regarding industrial activity had been revealed at the time, and if the shameless exploitation of the number of the city's dead had not occurred, then perhaps the myths surrounding Dresden would not have resonated for the last 60 years, and much less vilification might have been heaped upon Sir Arthur Harris and Bomber Command.
Present day critics far removed in time and distance from the realities of war can summon up righteous indignation and condemnation, but one needs to judge this event from the viewpoint of those engaged in the war, not with the benefit of hindsight, and with the comforting knowledge of never knowing the emotion and fears of that time.
Germany and the Germans followed a dark and terrible path in the 1930's and 40's for which they and millions of others paid a terrible price. From the depth of feeling that Dresden has aroused, it is doubtful if agreement will ever be reached between those who think that it was morally wrong and those who feel that Dresden, in the circumstances of that war, was a legitimate target. But it is fervently to be hoped that whatever view is held, all are of one mind - NEVER AGAIN!