February 1945: The Death Of Dresden

Posted: December 29, 2010 in World War 2
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The Plan Of Attack

It would be more probable that the confirmation of the order to attack Dresden was given in a general spirit of compliance with the memorandum tabled at Yalta by the Soviet Deputy Chief of Staff, General Antonov, on 4th February, in which he suggested that the Western strategic bomber forces might deliver attacks on communications near the Eastern front.

Once the order to bomb Dresden was confirmed Sir Arthur Harris raised no further objections to carrying it out. As he comments in his memoirs Bomber Offensive: “The attack on Dresden was at the time considered military necessity by much more important people that myself.”

The First Attack: 10:10PM, 13th February

At 10:09PM the ticking clock which replaced wireless broadcasts during alerts in Germany was sharply interrupted. The unmistakably Saxon voice of a very agitated announcer broke out of the loudspeakers: “Achtung, achtung, achtung! The first waves of the large enemy bomber formation have changed course, & are now approaching the city boundaries. There is going to be an attack. The population is instructed to proceed at once to the basements & cellars. The police have instructions to arrest all those who remain in the open.”

In his mosquito three thousand feet about the silent city, the Master Bomber was repeating over & over into his VHF transmitter: “Controller, to Plate-rack Force: Come in & bomb glow of red T.I.s as planned.”

It was exactly 10:10PM.

The Second Attack: 1:30AM, 14th February

Zero hour for the second attack on Dresden was 1:30AM. At 1:23AM the Blind Illuminator Lancasters released their sticks of flares across the aiming point, & at 1:28AM the Master Bomber arrived; to his horror, he found that the whole of the center of the city was being swept by a violent firestorm, making it impossible for him to identify the aiming point clearly.

From Irving:The Destruction of Dresden

Richard Pireau barely knew Dresden. All he could have told you was the vague direction of the Großer Garten, a large park in the center of the city. Again & again, impassable craters blocked his path. The soles of his shoes had been scorched away long ago. But he felt no pain. All he knew was that the fiery storm raging round him would soon close into an impassable ring. Shortly after 1 o’clock, he finally reached the park, where thousands were scrambling to safety, weak & exhausted like himself. Suddenly he was startled by a scream from thousands of throats. Incredulously he stared at the sky. All four corners of the park were lit up by white “Christmas tree” flares. Richard Pierau dropped to the ground & hid under a park bench. He was gripped by icy fear. Then another load of heavy bombs came screeching down remorselessly & there were more incendiaries. Richard scrambled in the earth, as hundreds of bombs & mines ploughed up the park. Then suddenly he was blown into the air. He lost consciousness. When he came to the next day, he was lying among a heap of dead bodies about to be taken to a mass grave.

The Third Attack: 12:12PM, 14th February

As the morning of February 14th dawned over Dresden, tens of thousands of people rushed out of the burning city along every road. A woman from Cologne, evacuated to Dresden, wrote: “Our ambulances, clearly marked with prominent red crosses were full of badly wounded people. When the low-level attack began, they refused to stay in the vehicles, but scrambled for shelter in the rubble. In front of us stood an open lorry, carrying wounded soldiers. The planes opened up with everything they had. Then the soldiers too, dropped off the lorry, running, staggering or crawling for dear life. One of them walked straight into the rain of bullets. He died on the spot. Again & again, the planes returned, firing on all the vehicles & killing scores of people.”

The Reaction In London

Churchill presented a minute to his Chiefs of Staff, in which he wrote: “It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, should be reviewed.” But Air Marshall Portal, Chief of Staff of the RAF, forced Churchill to withdraw his minute.

Similarly, a news item broadcast at 6PM on February 14th 1945, was amended in all further news bulletins. It went as follows, “Last night & again this morning, British & American Bombers delivered one of the power blows against Central Germany, as promised by the Allied leaders at Yalta. At night, 800 RAF bombers attacked Dresden, capital of Saxony, only some 70 miles from Marshal Koniev‘s front. The raid was the first major attack on this great industrial center. A terrific concentration of fires was started in the center of the city.”

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