Thursday, 18 March 2010

An item in The Times today caught my eye. A commission of German historians has concluded that the death toll from the notorious bombing of Dresden on 13th February 1945 was no more than 25,000.

This is significant in a number of respects. Firstly, it puts to bed the long-running argument about the 'morality' of the bombing, which had in turn been fuelled by the assumption that as many as 200,000 civilians died in the city that night.

The moral outrage than many felt - in some cases genuinely, and in some cases with a rather more nefarious ulterior motive - was primarily a result of that disproportionate figure. If the assumption is now that 'only' 25,000 died that night, then it rather robs the dissenters of their case.

Secondly, it is highly likely that the original figure was shamlessly inflated by the Nazis themselves, most probably by simply adding a '0' to their own casualty estimate. They certainly had a track-record of doing this. A few weeks later, a massive daylight USAAF raid on Berlin caused huge destruction and large-scale loss of life - but the Nazi authorities claimed that fully 25,000 Berliners lost their lives that day. Given that Berlin was the best defended and best-prepared city in the whole of Europe, this figure is utterly implausible. No Allied raid - even during the "Battle of Berlin" of 1943 - came even close to such a total; with most registering hundreds of deaths, rarely even thousands.

Thirdly, it is worth mentioning that 25,000 deaths that night is still an enormous figure. As the above example demonstrates, air raid death figures rarely reached even four figures. So, even the 'downgraded' Dresden death-toll should still serve to remind us of the horror of the air war.
We should remember that the 25,000 deaths reaped in a single night (or couple of nights) at Dresden represents fully half of the British civilian death toll from air attack over 6 years of warfare...

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