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:
“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.
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.
Filed under: Crime of war