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Palm Beach Post

Sunday, May 2, 2004

 Altmarkt pyre

Victims were cremated on huge funeral pyres for days after the 1945 British raid. Air warfare 'expert" Frederick Taylor: Dresdeners had it coming to them.


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David Irving comments:

I ALREADY responded to a similar review of the leftwing "historian" Frederick Taylor's book on Dresden published by David "Ratface" Cesarani in The Independent earlier this year 2004.
   Cesarani is one of the first of a new wave of conformist (and often Jewish) historians trying to justify the Churchill government's air raid on Dresden, which burned alive over one hundred thousand people, mostly civilians, in the space of two hours on February 13, 1945 fifty-nine years ago tonight. Cesarani's thesis: They had it coming to them.
   If anybody were to suggest the same of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis, he would now be hauled off to jail. But here we have Cesarani criticizing my book, written forty-five years ago, on the basis of a book written years after the event by a leftwing British author, who has made not a little use of my own 1960s records and research, while giving me scant credit.
   One detail should suffice to show who was correct: Cesarani scoffs at the "obscene" notion that the British government's aim was to teach the Russians a lesson on the strength of the RAF bomber hordes   In his seminal history of RAF Bomber Command, author Max Hastings used a document, a two volume British internal monograph, Review of the Work of Int I, which had eluded even my researches -- and this quoted verbatim the briefing notes sent by teleprinter to every squadron of RAF Bomber Command taking part that night.
   To quote my book Apocalypse 1945: the Destruction of Dresden: "Bomber Command head- quarters had issued by teleprinter identical briefing instructions to every bomber airfield. The wording, which has survived, makes odd reading now. The seven thousand British airmen were to be told that afternoon that they were about to attack Dresden, 'far the largest unbombed built-up area the enemy has got.' 'The intentions of the attack are to hit the enemy where he will feel it most,' the telex said; it then added words pregnant with other implications: 'And incidentally to show the Russians when they arrive what Bomber Command can do.'

The sporting phrase which occurs to me right now is, I think, Game, set and match.

INCIDENTALLY, Henry Stimson reveals in his diary that one useful purpose of the Hiroshima bombing would be to show the Russians the strength of this new weapon. Here is a passage from vol.iii of Churchill's War (as yet unpublished, of course):

"It was Stimson who formally suggested employing the Bomb. The body-count would be Japanese, but it was the effect on the Russians that counted on him and other statesmen now. As early as May 14, 1945, after talking over this 'hot potato' with General Marshall, he had dictated into his files an opinion that the way to deal with Russia now was to 'let our actions speak for words.' The Russians, he felt, would understand actions better than anything else. 'We (Americans) have got to regain the lead and perhaps do it in a pretty rough and realistic way.' This time, he had reminded Marshall, Washington held all the cards -- 'a royal straight flush,' was how he put it. 'We mustn't fool about the way we play it,' he had said. 'We have coming into action a weapon which will be unique.'

The order to drop the A-bomb


Book Review: 'Dresden'

By Tom Blackburn, Special to The Palm Beach Post

DRESDEN: Tuesday, February 13, 1945, by Frederick Taylor. HarperCollins; 528 pages; $26.95.

WHEN the World War II Allies bombed Dresden, Germany, in 1944, they attacked an undefended target of no military value in a war already won. The city was crammed with refugees, and the firestorm killed more people than the atomic bombs at Hiroshima or Nagasaki. It was an atrocity by war-maddened democracies and a black mark against their leaders' names.

That's the story "everyone" knows. For pacifists, it shows the horrors even of just wars. To hawks, it proves "conventional" bombing is deadly enough to make the nuclear bomb just another weapon. It was convenient for Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels, who thought it up, and for the Soviet Union, which finally captured Dresden on the last day of the war and ruled it until the communist empire broke up.

"Frederick Taylor"

It's a great story, but Frederick Taylor, a British expert on modern Germany, had the wit to wonder how much of the story is true.

As it turns out, not much.

Dresden wasn't undefended. It had flak guns, and some fighters showed up when the Americans arrived for the third attack of the day, but Berlin had decided to concentrate its forces elsewhere. Despite the lessons from other German cities, Dresden had not prepared air-raid shelters. The gauleiter, Martin Mutschmann, had a state-of-the-art shelter at home, but -- wouldn't you just know? -- supplies ran out before he got around to protecting his followers.

Dresden was a legitimate military target as a center of war production; as one of two bottlenecks for troops and supplies headed to and from the Russian front; and as an administrative center for the war in the East. The general defending the Eastern front had a million troops at his disposal. The war was hardly over. U.S. and British forces were stuck at the Rhine, V-2 rockets were raining down on England and Belgium, and the Russians would lose 89,000 soldiers taking Berlin three months later.

Dresden wasn't a "refugee center." Tens of thousands passed through, but authorities gave them only a day to move on or not be fed. The city had one day's intake of refugees when it was hit.

It was hit with a heavy concentration designed to produce a firestorm -- in which small fires converged into a tornado-like blaze that sucked in more combustibles if conditions were right. Conditions were right.

The British accidentally discovered the possibilities at Hamburg. Their techniques were developed from examining the Luftwaffe's destruction of central Coventry.

Taylor is not saying that war isn't hell. He is showing, instead, that Dresden isn't emblematic of anything about World War II. On a per-capita basis, Pforzheim, which lost one-sixth of its population and 83 percent of its built-up area, suffered more grievously in its firestorm, and nobody shouts Pforzheim to prove a point.

Nobody did more to make Dresden a fighting word than David Irving, the British historian devoted to depicting Hitler as a poor, misunderstood sketch artist who couldn't catch a break. (Kurt Vonnegut contributed with his semi-autobiographical Slaughterhouse Five, but as a P.O.W. in Dresden, he was a target and took the attacks personally. He didn't engage in comparisons.)

In The Destruction of Dresden, a 1963 bestseller, Irving reported a death toll from the bombing of 135,000. After that number was shown to be a fake, Irving retreated to "up to 100,000." Careful study by Germans and Taylor puts the number closer to between 25,000 and 40,000.

That's mass carnage, but more in line with other events of the war. The V-2 campaign being carried on at the same time killed 2,754 Englishmen and 3,470 Belgians, mostly civilians. The number in Dresden would have been lower had Mutschmann done his job.

Taylor has written a thickly layered history of Dresden before, during and after Feb. 13-14, 1945. He even brings to light an irony others overlooked. Dresden was settled in the Dark Ages by invaders from northwestern Germany -- Saxons. Another group from the same tribe, at about the same time, gained a toehold in eastern England -- in exactly the area from which the bombers took off.

But this book is the history of air warfare and of propaganda more than of Saxony, and one wouldn't be going too far to call it a brilliant piece of work.

Tom Blackburn is a retired Palm Beach Post editorial writer.

Copyright © 2004, The Palm Beach Post.


Altmarkt horses

Our dossier on Dresden raid
Our dossier on Operation THUNDERCLAP 1944/1945
David Irving comments on Frederick Taylor, Dresden, 13 February 1945: A Radical's Diary
Cesarani: Dresden, a Legitimate Target 
Marais on Air War Statistics and Max Hastings' history

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