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Posted Sunday, April 11, 2004

Sequence of some British documents leading up to the raid on Dresden (sources: see below).

[On the evening of January 25, 1945, Churchill asked the air ministry what the bombers were doing about the German retreat from Breslau.]

January 26, Sinclair replied, beginning:

'Prime Minister, You asked me last night whether we had any plans to harrying the German retreat from Breslau.'

Wholly misunderstanding what underlay Churchill's question -- those tempting scenes of chaos as the refugees streamed westwards before the Russian armies -- Sinclair explained that retreating enemy forces were best attacked by the Tactical Air Forces, particularly when, as now, cloud cover made it impossible to bomb from high level; there should be excellent opportunities for 'ground strafing' by the Russian fighter squadrons. Their heavy bombers were best left maintaining the attack on Hitler's oil plants. [1]

On January 26, there was a phone conversation between Harris and Sir Norman Bottomley, the deputy chief of air staff. In this, the question of attacks on the 'industrial areas' of Berlin, Dresden, Chemnitz, and Leipzig was discussed. Evill afterwards sent by courier to Harris a copy of the JIC Paper (45) 34(O) Final) dated January 25, -- asking whether conditions had now arisen to justify THUNDERCLAP, a four-day series of heavy air attacks on Berlin, releasing upwards of twenty-five thousand tons of bombs on the city, in conjunction with the Russian offensive.

Evill advised Harris that Portal was against THUNDERCLAP, since even if it was done on the heaviest scale with resulting heavy bomber losses, it would not in his view be decisive.

'He [Portal] agrees however that subject to the overriding claims of oil and other approved target systems within the current directive, we should use available effort in one big attack on Berlin had related attacks on Dresden, Leipzig, Chemnitz or any other cities where a severe blitz will not only cause confusion in the evacuation from the East but will also hamper the movement of troops from the West.' Bottomley therefore requested Harris, in the rather archaic language of their relations, to undertake 'such attacks' as soon as moon and weather conditions allowed, 'with the particular object of exploiting the confused conditions which are likely to exist in the above mentioned cities during the successful Russian advance.'[2]

On January 26, Portal had sent a lengthy and tersely worded minute to DCAS ruling out thunderclap, as four consecutive days were unlikely to come at this time of the year. 'Subject to the overriding claims of oil and such other agreed targets as the rocket and jet engine factories, submarine building yards for marginal effort etc, we should use available effort in one big attack on Berlin and attacks on Dresden, Leipzig, Chemnitz or any other cities where a severe blitz will not only cause confusion in the evacuation from the East but will also hamper the movement of troops' [from the western to the eastern front. Page is torn] Portal concluded, 'I understand from you that Harris is quite prepared to take on Berlin as soon as the moon has waned a little and that he can also take on any of the four [sic] other cities named.' Evill, the DCAS, informed Harris of Portal's views n the matter on January 27. [3]

Sinclair duly informed Churchill of this on January 27, responding to Churchill's minute M.115/5:

"The Air Staff have now arranged that, subject to the overriding claims of attacks on enemy oil production and other approved target systems within the current directive, available effort should be directed against Berlin, Dresden, Chemnitz and Leipzig or against other cities where severe bombing would not only destroy communications vital to the evacuation front he east, but would also hamper the movement of troops from the west.

[Explaining why this task should fall to RAF Bomber Command rather than to the Americans, Sinclair continued:] "The use of the night bomber force offers the best prospects of destroying these industrial cities without detracting from our offensive on oil targets, which is now in a critical phase. The Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Bomber Command, has undertaken to attempt this task as soon as the present moon has waned and favourable conditions allow. This is unlikely to be before about 4th February."[4]

In Churchill's absence at Malta en route to Yalta, the Vice Chiefs sitting in London had analysed the possible use of chemical warfare by the Germans [JIC(45)36(O) Final] and Strategic Bombing in relation to the present Russian Offensive [JIC(45)31(O) and Bombing of Berlin [JIC(45)34(O) Final).]

"The VCAS pointed that it would be unlikely that weather conditions at present would permit four days consecutive bombing, so that the THUNDERCLAP attack envisaged by JIC was unlikely to prove practicable; nevertheless, a less severe attack might well assist Russian operations by creating confusion in the German rear." [5]

Meeting at Malta on January 31, 1945 to consider the JIC recommendations (JIC(45)31(O) (revised Final) -- assessing how their bomber forces might now help the Russians - and (45) 34(O) Final) -- asking whether conditions had now arisen to justify THUNDERCLAP a four-day series of heavy air attacks on Berlin in conjunction with the Russian offensive - Sir Charles Portal had suggested that if they could reduce their weight of attack on the enemy communications (railways, etc) 'it would be possible to attack tank factories and also to make heavy attacks on the four cities Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig, and Chemnitz, where the resulting confusion was most likely to hamper enemy efforts to transfer forces between the Western and Eastern fronts.'[6]

The Vice Chief of Air Staff Douglas Evill sent a note from London to the chiefs of staff on February 1, 1945 (COS(45)92(O) recommending a modification of the directive on bombing target priorities sent to the strategic bomber forces. Enemy oil and tank production should continue to get top priority, but then he mentioned specifically what he called 'evacuation areas' - the big cities like Berlin, Leipzig, and Dresden through which 'evacuees' were streaming westwards from the eastern provinces of German and the Reich. The strain on the Germans of handling the refugees fleeing westwards, and moving reinforcements to the east for the battle made these cities particularly tempting targets.

'A series of heavy attacks by day and night upon these administrative and control centres is likely to create considerable delays in the deployment of troops at the Front, and may well result in establishing a state of chaos in some or all of these centres.'

The strategic bombers should there be turned against these 'focal points of the evacuation area behind the eastern front.' Attacks on the enemy's jet-fighter defences and submarine yards should take lower priority.[7]

February 1, 1945, typewritten letter from Churchill to his wife Clementine, aboard HMS Orion [Malta]

My darling Clemmie

. . . I am free to confess to you that my heart is saddened by the tales of the masses of German women and children flying along the roads everywhere in 40-mile long columns to the West before the advancing Armies. I am clearly convinced that they deserve it; but that does not remove it from one's gaze. The misery of the whole world appals me and I fear increasingly that new struggles may arise out of those we are successfully ending.

All the news from Magneto [Yalta], our destination, continues to prove that the Big Three in their first and most important action have managed to pick out the very worst place in the whole world for their Meeting.

Your ever loving husband, W

On February 5, 1945 Sir Charles Portal, British Chief of Air Staff, signalled from Yalta to London that the Russians had again proposed a strategic "bomb-line" running through Stettin to Berlin to Dresden to Zagreb.

"To enable me to argue against this please send Most Immediate a few good objectives against which we desire to maintain our attacks until they become involved in tactical situation on land. Reply must reach me by 1000C tomorrow 6th February." [8]

In his reply on February 5, the Deputy Chief of Air Staff sent to Portal a list of good objectives for attack until the tactical situation on land -- i.e. the proximity of friendly armies -- prevented them.

  • First priority, 'A', were Oil targets like Pölitz, Ruhland, and seven oil refineries in the Vienna area;
  • Second priority, 'B', were the only two transportation and industrial areas listed, which were Berlin and Dresden.
  • 'C' and 'D' were factories making tanks and self-propelled guns, and jet engines.[9]

Sources of the above documents:

  1. Sinclair to Churchill, Jan 26, 1945 (PRO file AIR.8/1745).
  2. Bottomley to Harris, Jan 27, 1945 (PRO file AIR.8/1745).
  3. Portal to DCAS, Bottomley, Jan 26; and note by Bottomley, Jan 27, 1945 (PRO file AIR.8/1745).
  4. Sinclair to Churchill, Jan 27, 1945 (PRO file AIR.8/1745).
  5. Hollis to Ismay, FLEECE 12, Jan 30, 1945 (PRO file CAB.120/175).
  6. COS (ARGONAUT) 2nd meeting, Jan 31 1945 (PRO file AIR.8/1745).
  7. (COS(45)92(O) Vice Chief of Air Staff Douglas Evill to COS, Feb 1, 1945 (PRO file AIR.8/1745).
  8. Portal to DCAS, JASON 139, Feb 5, 1945 (PRO file CAB.120/179).
  9. DCAS to Portal, FLEECE 178, Feb 5, 1945 (PRO file CAB.120/176).



. . . on this website:

Index to this dossier on Allied bombing strategy
David Irving: Apocalypse 1945: the Destruction of Dresden (free download)
Sept 14, 1944: JCS minutes that British object to Combined Chiefs of Staff recording their decision that Germany should be bombed for morale purposes
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