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DRESDEN by Frederick Taylor


Tuesday, February 13, 1945

by Frederick Taylor

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-06-000676-5
Publisher: HarperCollins

Was Dresden an innocent city smashed into dust by Allied perfidy Allies, as the Vonnegutian legend has it? Or was it a legitimate target?

The answer is yes, writes English novelist/translator Taylor (The Kinder Garden, 1991), and with lots of qualifications. The Saxon city of Dresden, renowned for its sumptuous architecture, for china and glassware, for great works of art, invited destruction. The Nazis argued otherwise, holding that the Allied bombing of the city in February 1945—at first by 796 Lancaster bombers that dropped “more than twenty-six hundred tons of high explosives and incendiary devices on the target city, utterly destroying thirteen square miles of its historic center,” then by subsequent raids—was a crime against humanity such as the world had never seen. But Dresden was no innocent haven, Taylor argues, echoing Robin Neillands’s argument in The Bomber War (2001): Dresden served as an important rail center that brought reinforcements and supplies to the Eastern Front (though by that time the Russians were only 70 miles away), and it manufactured important war materiel, including aircraft engines and optical equipment. By Taylor’s account, the Allied raid still seems excessive: Why else were so many of the British bombs designed to blow apart streets, “thereby causing access problems for firefighters and other emergency services”? And why did the second wave of bombing follow the first by a full two hours, if not to lure sheltered Dresdeners out of hiding and into the open? Taylor allows that the second scenario may have been a matter of deliberate policy on the part of the vengeful RAF, which visited even greater devastation on less important targets in the closing days of the war. Interestingly, he revisits an old fire: namely, the thought that Dresden was so thoroughly destroyed simply to deny it to the Soviets at the gates.

A sure-to-be controversial argument that the bombing of Dresden “was not irrational, or pointless.”