24 May 2009

Don't do it, Mr. President!

Geoff's take:

On February 13, 1945, during the waning days of the second World War, the German city of Dresden was carpet-bombed to the ground by Allied Air Forces. In the sixty-four years that have followed, this single event has been cloaked in controversy. Many people, including some Catholic writers and clergy, have argued that this event was tragically unneccesary, because by that late date, the defeat of Germany was all but inevitable.

Playing on these sentiments, President Obama has expressed interest in formally appologizing to Germany for this action. I say, "Don't do it, Mr. President".

The bombing of Dresden was not an American undertaking. It was a British mission, in which the American Air Forces participated. It was concieved by the RAF, and approved by Sir Winstron Churchill. Thus, presuming an appology is owed (which I do not), that appology should come from the Right Honourable Gordon Brown, not the President of the United States.

Much of the controversy over the bombing centers on the idea that Dresden contained no vital military targets. This is a fallacy. The Zeiss optical factory was there, and this factory produced bomb sights for the Luftwaffe. The Zeiss factory was one of the buildings that was destroyed. According to Joseph Angell of the USAF historical commission, there were 110 factories, and 50,000 workers suipporting the Nazi war effort. These included aircraft parts, a poison gas plant, a gear factory, and an electric gauge factory. The German High Command weapons office also said that Dresden contrained 127 defense plants.

Dresden was also the hub of Nazi Germany's railway operations. Most major German rail lines converged at Dresden. Disrupting this rail system was crucial in enabling the Russian Advance, and in keeping Geman troops from blocking it.

Many people in Britain were dismayed by the bombing, mainly because Dresden had been a cultural center before the war, and they refused to see that Hitler had transformed it into a gear in the Nazi war machine.

Controversy really began to develop when the Associated Press was interviewing Air Commodore Colin Grierson two days after the raid. He said that the primary role in bombing Dresden was to disrupt supply and communications lines, but he then added an off-the-cuff remark that thje raid would help destroy "what's left of German morale".

AP reported this remark as an indication that the Allies had resorted to terror bombing. This story reached the House of Commons, and MP Richard Stokes raised his concerns on the House floor.

Under pressure from Stokes and other members of Parliament, Churchill began second guessing his decision, and eventually ordered an end to carpet bombing.

However, American General George Marshall, U. S. Army Chief of Staff, conducted an investigation into the bombings, and he concluded that they were, in fact, legitimate raids. His findings were classified, and since they weren't made public for another thirty-three years, many historians still might not be aware this investigation even took place.

Further, it was discovered that in spite of the claims of the German Ministry of Propaganda, the loss of life, while high, was not disprportionately higher than in the raids on other German cities.

The bombing itself was in proportion to the raids on Hamburg and Berlin. No evidence existed to indicate that Dresden had been singled-out for heavier bombing.

It's also a fallacy to assume the war was already won. The Allied victory was as much a product of Hitler's refusal to listen to his Generals as it was a product of superior Allied strategy. As late as November of 1944, Hitler was convinced that if he made a last-ditch offensive, he could still win the war. By this time, Normandy had already fallen to the Allies, and Hitler was effectively blocked in the west by the British and American forces. In the east, the Russian Army was steadily making its way to the German border.

Despite these odds, in December of 1944, Hitler launched an offensive in the Ardennes Forest, (known to the Allies as the Battle of the Bulge), in which he unleashed the Tiger Tank. This tank was larger, had heavier armor, and more powerful guns than the American Sherman tank, and if Hitler had used these tanks more effectively, he could have won the war, or at least prolonged it.

Nearly a month after Dresden, while allied forces were storming the Ludendorff bridge at Remagen, the Luftwaffe conducted a fly-by with one of its experimental jet fighters. Again, too little too late for the Nazis, but they were still fighting the Allies tooth and nail.

The bombings did create a firestorm that killed many civilians, but the exact number was greatly exaggerated by German newspapers, which were controlled by the Ministry of Propaganda. Josef Goebbels took the initial estimates of 10,000 dead, and inflated them to 100,000. Goebbels was a dyed-in-the-wool Nazi, so this is hardly surprising.

It's been argued that the raid didn't accomplish anything strategically, because Hitler didn't surrender as a result of the bombing of Dresden. But bear in mind that Germany didn't surrender until Hitler took his own life in the Berlin Bunker.

By that time, the Allies were already on German soil, and even that didn't make Hitler surrender. He finally commited suicide because the Russian forces were closing in on Berlin.

In a war, individual raids are like the gears in a watch. What they do individually is not as important as how they work together to accomplish the task.

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