A St Valentine’s Day Massacre

February 14th may well be celebrated as the most romantic day of the year; a day when starry-eyed lovers send each other cards and gifts, and swear undying love, but February 14th, 1945, was the day a host of unwelcome gifts fell from out the sky.

At least, that’s what the people of Dresden in East Germany remember.

It was the date when hundreds of Lancasters and Halifaxes of RAF Bomber Command began a series of raids on the city. Each aircraft dropped a selection of explosives, ranging from 500lb HE bombs to 4,000lb (two ton) “Blockbusters” that could destroy a whole city block. Each aircraft also carried around 100 30lb incendiary devices. These night attacks were followed up with daytime raids by the USAF – hundreds of Flying Fortresses dropping 771 tons of mixed HE and incendiary devices.

The result was a firestorm that massacred both the city and its people. Historians still argue over the numbers of dead. The figure stands somewhere between 25,000 and 100,000. At that time, the city’s population was swollen by thousands of refugees fleeing the Russian advance from the east. The German army was falling back, and in just over two months Adolf Hitler would commit suicide.

An account from one survivor, Lothar Metzer:[1]

“It is not possible to describe! Explosion after explosion. It was beyond belief, worse than the blackest nightmare. So many people were horribly burnt and injured. lt became more and more difficult to breathe. lt was dark and all of us tried to leave this cellar with inconceivable panic. Dead and dying people were trampled upon, luggage was left or snatched up out of our hands by rescuers. The basket with our twins covered with wet cloths was snatched up out of my mother’s hands and we were pushed upstairs by the people behind us. We saw the burning street, the falling ruins and the terrible firestorm. My mother covered us with wet blankets and coats she found in a water tub.

We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burnt to death, burning people ran to and fro, burnt coaches filled with civilian refugees, dead rescuers and soldiers, many were calling and looking for their children and families, and fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from.

I cannot forget these terrible details. I can never forget them.

Horrific, and just one of many such accounts.

Arguments for and against the destruction of Dresden have rolled on now for more than six decades. Those in favor argue it shortened the war and “saved lives”. Similar excuses were bandied after the nuclear destructions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the Americans six months later.

Frankly, the use of such barbarism against innocents, most of whom played no active role in the war and just wanted it to stop, can never, ever, be excused by attempting to manipulate statistics. Yet it happens in every war, and those responsible are never brought to justice, because they are the victors.

The winners are never guilty of war crimes, only the defeated. Axis officials were tried and executed for what was done to Allied soldiers and civilians, but similar crimes perpetrated on Axis nations are still, in many instances, not even recognized as such.

Winston Churchill tried vainly to distance himself from the attacks on Dresden, blaming RAF Chief, Arthur Harris, for the decision. Both were equally to blame. The crime was not only in the massacre of civilians, but in the orders that sent hundreds of young men as assassins to commit the terrible deed. For them there was no choice; orders had to be obeyed. Many suffered the psychological effects of their actions for the remainder of the lives.

War has that effect. Invariably, since the third decade of the twentieth century, the term ‘cannon-fodder’ has meant civilians rather than soldiers.[2]

It’s time we stopped the politicians from playing their lethal games with our lives and liberty. It’s time we stopped listening to their lying indoctrinations, and justifications, for actions that will leave thousands dead, maimed, and suffering.

Thousands of us; never of them.

The people of Dresden have learned.

February 14th is a commemoration of their St Valentine’s Day Massacre. Remember that as you read the expressions of love on the card you receive from your wife, or husband, boy or girlfriend, and ask yourself which is the most precious to you – that love, or the word of a politician happy to destroy it for you.

The people of Dresden know the answer.

[1] – The Fire-bombing of Dresden, an eye-witness account.

[2] – A Panel of Timewitnesses.

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9 Replies to “A St Valentine’s Day Massacre”

  1. I can’t read about Dresden, ever, without getting very upset. Innocent civilians, men, women, children, elderly, handicapped, patients in hospitals,dying horrific deaths for absolutely no reason. The evil of war brought to a new level once more, no one learning after the terrible fire bombings in Japan which razed wooden cities to the ground in a matter of minutes. It was not only nuclear in Japan. The true beginning of ‘collateral damage’.
    Thanks for this post, RJA, well done.

  2. My grandfather was a bomb aimer in a Lancaster. Whilst at school, I interviewed him as part of a school project about his role in the war. Dresden was the one part he didn’t want to talk very much about – he did give me some information, but I always felt that it upset him too much.

    Our war makers seem to believe that civilian casualties are acceptable – “collateral damage” as though they are buildings.

  3. That brought me down to earth, RJ. Thanks – it’s a good thing to remind us of these matters.

    My late partner served in Bomber Command during WW2, as a very young man. He was decorated by the French and the British but threw his medals into the Thames in protest. He hated to talk about the war, and especially the Dresden bombings.

    The leaders of this world never seems to learns lessons though. There’s a streak of ugliness in human nature that won’t go away. We’re stuck with it, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it without strong protest.

  4. Plus you hear things like the nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan to intimidate Russia. I know Dresden was an intense period in Kurt Vonnegut’s life – think he was a POW there and it inspired Slaughterhouse Five, my favorite anti-war novel.

    ps. Blogger now has added a feature that allows other non blogger blog writers to comment without a Blogger account.

  5. WWW – yes, war at a new level. The invention of the aeroplane, coupled with horrific weapons, should have sounded the death knell for war. Instead, politicians found they could inflict horrific injuries on innocent civilians and get away with it, simply by feeding their populations with intense propaganda. My own country was as guilty as any – see the so-called news report video in the sidebar – and committed acts as gross and outrageous as any perpetrated by the Nazis; all hidden behind a curtain of righteous indignation.

    Jo – there were many like your grandfather, who had to live with the knowledge of what they were forced to do. “Collateral damage” is a phrase used frequently about Iraq. It’s easier to say than, “We don’t do Iraqi body counts,” and slips into the psyche as something more acceptable than “‘x’ number of dead civilians”. All part of that intense propaganda I mentioned above.

    Twilight – the leaders of this world learn their lessons well. They learn how to cover up their crimes, hide their monetary gains, and whip up popular support with just the right lies and deceit. There is a streak of ugliness in human nature and power seems to have the effect of intensifying it. You are right to protest it.

    Flimsy – Kurt Vonnegut was indeed a prisoner of war in Dresden at the time. He was one of only seven to escape the firestorm with his life. One reason for the nuclear attacks on Japan was to end the war quickly, so a political advantage could be gained over Stalin, whose troops were likely to overrun Japan from the north and steal a march on the Americans if the combat festered on for months. Of course, the propaganda stated it was to shorten the war and ‘save lives’. At the time, it would have saved 220,000 lives if the bombs had not been used, plus God-knows how many thousands that have suffered slow, lingering, deaths since. No-one cared about Japanese lives, though. Brits and Americans were all that mattered, just as today no-one cares about an Iraqi body count, but governments stay or fall over American troop deaths.

    Thanks for the info re; blogger. It’s time they got their act together.

    TOB – I was born in Barrow-in-Furness and moved to the Wirral (for our American friends, that’s just across the Mersey from Liverpool) when I was two years old, in 1948. I well remember the vast areas of open wasteland known as ‘bomb-sites’ that covered parts of the Wirral and Liverpool, and the dereliction that covered much of the area around that time. Thanks for the photograph. It brings back some memories. Of course, this destruction was typical of what happened to most ports and major cities in Britain. Kinda puts 9/11 into perspective, doesn’t it?

  6. Twilight – Hull and the north eastern British towns of Leeds and Sheffield took a hammering, though much of the German Luftwaffe of the time was based in northern France and Belgium, closer to London, the Midlands, and Liverpool, than Hull. Nevertheless, 1,200 civilians lost their lives in the Hull blitz and 3,000 were injured. Over three-quarters of the total housing stock was either destroyed or damaged. As I said above, it certainly puts 9/11 into perspective.

  7. America has always hated Russia. We were happy to see Germany fighting them and that was one of the reasons we chose neutrality for so long. As far as Japan went, we had been blanket bombing them for some time and they were already defeated. We had developed the atomic bomb and wanted to impress Russia with our weaponry so they hurried and dropped them before the war ended. I had a book that claimed this (damn, I sold it before I could read the whole thing) and it was well referenced. I wish I could remember the name. Truman sold the people that the bombs shortened the war, but that was not the real purpose of dropping them.

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