Nashville (6): The Myth of Dresden and “Revenge Firebombing”

Nashville (6): The Myth of Dresden and “Revenge Firebombing”

Dresden: 13 February 2023

The Mar­tin Gilbert Learn­ing Cen­tre pre­sent­ed a lec­ture by Lady Gilbert on the 1945 bomb­ing of Dres­den. Lady Gilbert includ­ed Sir Martin’s sto­ry of how a retired Sovi­et gen­er­al backed his claim that the Rus­sians asked for the attack on Dres­den She also remind­ed us to Sir Martin’s fur­ther response to Juan Williams (below), as to why Dres­den in par­tic­u­lar is so engraved on the memory.

Myth and Reality

The largest sec­tion of Win­ston Churchill, Myth and Real­i­ty exam­ines the Sec­ond World War, the lead­ing source of Churchill myths. Did an actor deliv­er his broad­casts? Did he let Coven­try be bombed to pro­tect his sources of intel­li­gence? Was Churchill against the Sec­ond Front in France? Did he exac­er­bate the Ben­gal famine, destroy Monte Cassi­no abbey, refuse to bomb Auschwitz or feed the oppressed in occu­pied Europe? No. But no canard is more per­sis­tent than the sto­ry that Churchill fire­bombed Dres­den in hatred and revenge for Germany’s bomb­ing of Coven­try. That one has been around for over fifty years. Con­tin­ued from Part 5.

Here is the truth. Churchill looked with hor­ror on what he called “the hideous process of bomb­ing open cities from the air.” He sanc­tioned it at times for four rea­sons: 1) The Ger­mans start­ed it, over War­saw and Rot­ter­dam. 2) The British peo­ple demand­ed it after they were bombed. 3) Britain’s mil­i­tary chiefs con­sid­ered it the best way to attack Ger­many. 4) For a long time it was the only sub­sti­tute for the “Sec­ond Front” the Rus­sians demand­ed. Nev­er­the­less, Churchill chal­lenged the indis­crim­i­nate bomb­ing of civil­ians. Of the three allied lead­ers, he was the only one who did.

The horror of Dresden

Between Feb­ru­ary 13th and 15th, 1945, 800 Allied bombers destroyed 1600 acres in Dres­den and killed 25,000 peo­ple. It was blood­thirsty and unnec­es­sary. And at least as far back as Kurt Von­negut’s Slaugh­ter­house-Five, Churchill has been exco­ri­at­ed for this mur­der­ous act.

There is a vast sub­text, too lengthy to recite here. The main points are twofold: Dres­den was on the list of 58 cities which Air Mar­shal “Bomber” Har­ris was grind­ing his way through. Far more impor­tant, bomb­ing Dres­den was request­ed by the Sovi­et high command.

A Sovi­et intel­li­gence report (lat­er proven erro­neous) indi­cat­ed that one or two Ger­man armored divi­sions were in Dres­den on their way to rein­force the East­ern Front. Accord­ing­ly the Russians—who would lat­er denounce the attack as an Anglo-Amer­i­can war crime—made the request that led to Dresden’s destruction.

Churchill arriv­ing (in a Packard) at the Yal­ta Con­fer­ence, Feb­ru­ary 1945. (Packard Club)

Iron­i­cal­ly, Churchill had left Lon­don for the Yal­ta Con­fer­ence when the Sovi­et request came in. He wasn’t even there to give the order. The task fell to Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Clement Attlee. Churchill did not learn of the Russ­ian request until he arrived in Yal­ta on Feb­ru­ary 4th. Stal­in’s first ques­tion to him was, “Why haven’t you bombed Dres­den?” Hugh Lunghi, Churchill’s inter­preter, remem­bered that he had per­son­al­ly deliv­ered the mes­sage to the Rus­sians that the attack had been ordered.

Martin Gilbert’s revelation

Forty years lat­er, Churchill’s biog­ra­ph­er Sir Mar­tin Gilbert revealed these facts in a Moscow lec­ture before high-rank­ing, dis­be­liev­ing Red Army offi­cers. Mar­tin said: “Then to my res­cue arose an old gen­er­al, bedi­zened with medals. Dur­ing the war he had been deputy to Gen­er­al Alek­sei Antonov, the Sovi­et chief of staff….

Shuf­fling to the micro­phone, he said in a thick Russ­ian accent: “Every­thing the Pro­fes­sor says…is true!” You could have heard a pin drop.

Sir Mar­tin revealed this at a Wash­ing­ton Churchill lec­ture in 2004. Our mod­er­a­tor, Juan Williams of Fox News, was incred­u­lous. “Why then has the con­tro­ver­sy over Dres­den nev­er ceased?” Juan asked. “It is a hor­ri­ble fact. We can­not erase it from the record.” Sir Mar­tin replied:

Who can say why one out of thou­sands of his­tor­i­cal events cre­ates inter­est while the oth­ers do not? The fire­bomb­ing of Tokyo was far more dev­as­tat­ing, and yet we nev­er hear Tokyo dis­cussed. To bomb Dres­den, at request of the Sovi­ets, was but one small part in a broad cam­paign. Churchill didn’t even order it. Yet there is no rea­son to sup­pose he would have react­ed any dif­fer­ent­ly than Attlee.

Part 7: Post-Second World War

Final­ly, Win­ston Churchill, Myth and Real­i­ty cov­ers the post­war years. We con­sid­er his sup­posed pro­pos­al to nuke Moscow. his alleged desire for spheres of influ­ence, the non­sense sto­ry about his sup­posed unhap­py mar­riage. Appen­dices cov­er minor myths, and quotes ascribed to Churchill which he nev­er said. Since the book is now in its sec­ond life as a paper­back, I will be glad to sum­ma­rize any chap­ter here at the request of any reader.

The rest of my Nashville paper cov­ers my final chap­ter, “The Com­mon Touch,” which showed how deeply, con­trary to his crit­ics, Churchill cared for ordi­nary peo­ple. This top­ic is already cov­ered by a five-part series here­in. Click here. 

2 thoughts on “Nashville (6): The Myth of Dresden and “Revenge Firebombing”

  1. Did Churchill order the attack at Stalin’s request, or did he not order it at all? Make up your mind.

    Re-read the arti­cle. —RML

  2. Churchill did order Dres­den bomb­ing, Bomber Har­ris did not give the order with­out Churchill. It’s in the ear­ly records author David Irv­ing exposed them. How­ev­er who knows what records are still locked in the archives. Irv­ing is demo­nized as a Holo­caust Denier which is false, he didn’t deny the Holo­caust, he did ques­tion the offi­cial nar­ra­tive. Ques­tions and foren­sic inves­ti­ga­tions are for­bid­den on the facts of the Holocaust.

    Sor­ry, but that’s just not true. Churchill was en route Yal­ta when the Sovi­et request came in. Har­ris was a good sol­dier, and woiuld have obeyed the Deputy Prime Min­is­ter. Thus Churchill’s sur­prise when Stal­in at Yal­ta asked, “Why haven’t you bombed Dres­den?” The bombers hadn’t left yet.

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