The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging


by J F Myburgh

1. Shortly after 6 pm on the night of 13 February 1945 244 bombers from 5 Group of the Royal Airforce (RAF) took off from bases in England. They constituted the first wave of bombers. Three hours later, the second wave took off, consisting of 529 Lancaster bombers. In total 773 bombers set off for Germany.

2. Their destination was Dresden. Dresden is in East Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the border with the Czech Republic. It is the capital of the state of Saxony. The area was settled in about 7600 BC but its origins as a German city are traced back to 1206 when the Margrave of Meissen chose the city as his interim residence. According to Wikipedia Dresden "...had a long history as the capital and royal residence for the Electors and Kings of Saxony, who for centuries furnished the city with cultural and artistic splendor. The city was known as the Jewel Box, because of its baroque and rococo city centre." In 2006 Dresden celebrated its 800th anniversary. From 1485 it was the seat of the Dukes of Saxony. It is described by Anthony Beevor1 as "...this baroque jewel on the Elbe was one of the great architectural and artistic treasures of Europe." Max Hastings describes Dresden in 1945 as: "...a city which an important section of educated Englishman had heard and read of, and perhaps seen. Since the 18th century, the old town had stood for all that was finest, most beautiful and cultured in Germany, a haven where Trollopian heroines sought exile, visited by generations of young English noblemen on the Grand Tour."2 According to Sven Lindquist "Dresden was the Florence of Germany - an old cultural capital, full of art treasures and architectural masterpieces that the bombing had left untouched throughout five years of war".3

3. Dresden's population in early 1945 was about 1,2 million, according to one estimate, with 600 000 permanent residents and 600 000 refugees fleeing from the Soviet army. But according to Wilmott ao4 the city "was crammed with at least 1 million refugees". The inhabitants of the city consisted almost entirely of the elderly, women and children.

4. The city was largely undefended:
- most of its anti-aircraft guns had been moved to the Eastern Front or the Western Front to defend the Ruhr; and
- there were only 10 night-fighters stationed nearby.

5. Pathfinders of 5 Group dropped green marker flares to define the bounds of the city centre. 100 white magnesium flares were then dropped to light up the ground. This was followed by 1000-pound target indicator canisters whose red flares lit up the aiming point near the soccer stadium just to the west of the River Elbe.

6. Two waves of Lancasters dropped 2646 tons of bombs which were a mixture of high explosive used to demolish walls and roofs and 1811 4-pound incendiaries which set the ruins alight. The attack created a firestorm, which consumed 15 square miles of the city.

7. The following morning, 14 February 1945, more than 400 Flying Fortresses of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) dropped 771 tons of bombs on the railway yards which had not been aimed for by the RAF bombers. In the afternoon 210 B-17s, with their visibility obscured by the smoke blind-bombed the city with another 461 tons.

8. In total, almost 4000 tons of bombs were dropped on Dresden in less than 24 hours.

9. Estimates of the number of people killed in the bombing vary. The firestorm left bodies mummified or reduced to ash, making it impossible to accurately count the number of dead. According to Martin Gilbert5 "the death toll at Dresden has never been calculated with precision. In all, 39 773 'officially identified dead' were found in the city and registered, most of them burnt to death. At least 20 000 more bodies were buried beneath the ruins, or incinerated beyond recognition, even as bodies. The inscription on the mass grave in Dresden's main cemetery asks 'How many died? Who knows the number?' it hazards no answer." Max Hastings is of the view that the number killed by both the RAF and USAAF raids "...killed a minimum of 30 000 and perhaps as many as 100 000 people." 6 The number of severely wounded was 2 212; 13 718 were slightly wounded. Bishop writes that "...the latest and best estimate [is], between 25 000 and 40 000 had been killed." 7 Sven Lindquist calculated that about 100 000 civilians were killed "- the precise number is impossible to determine, since so many bodies could never be identified or even separated from one another once they had passed into 'the semi-liquid way that dust actually returns to dust.' These are the words of Kurt Vonnegut. As a prisoner of war in Dresden he survived the raid and helped dig out the corpses.8 Overy:9 writing in 2013, however, stated: "Recent estimates from a historical commission in Dresden have confirmed that the original figure suggested by the police president of Dresden in March 1945 of approximately 25 000 dead is the best available estimate."

10. Goebbels claimed at the time that 250 000 had been killed "by the judicious addition of an additional zero to the provisional casualty estimate."10

11. As far as physical destruction is concerned:
- 75 000 out of 220 000 homes were destroyed and 18 500 severely damaged;
- there were 18 million cubic metres of rubble.

12. Dresden was bombed again by the USAAF's B017s on 2 March and 17 April 1945; killing 453 people. Prior to the bombing on 13/14 February 1945 Dresden had been bombed by the USAAF in daylight raids on 7 October 1944 and 16 January 1945, which had killed 591 people.

13. What was the Allies' justification for the bombing of Dresden before 13 February 1945?

14. On 27 January 1945 Norman Bottomley, the deputy to Charles Portal, Chief of the Air Staff of the RAF, sent Arthur "Bomber" Harris, the commander-in-chief of Bomber Command, a report of the Joint Intelligence Committee ("JIC"), dated 25 January 1945.11 The JIC report "...concluded that the Soviet offensive would be greatly helped by heavy attacks on Berlin, though priority was still to be assigned to oil targets."12 Bottomley asked Harris to prepare attacks on Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig and Chemnitz. He then drafted a paper for the chiefs of staff meeting which was to take place on 31 January 1945.

The paper summarized the grounds for the bombing:
"Evacuation Areas: Evacuees from German and German-occupied Provinces to the East of Berlin are streaming westward through Berlin itself and through Leipzig, Dresden and other cities in the East of Germany. The administrative problems involved in receiving the refugees and re-distributing them are likely to be immense. The strain on the administration and upon the communications must be considerably increased by the need for handling military reinforcements on their way to the Eastern Front. A series of heavy attacks by day and night upon these administrative and control centres is likely to create considerable delays in the deployment of troops at the Front and may well result in establishing a state of chaos... It is for these reasons that instructions have been issued for heavy scale attacks to be delivered on these centres at the earliest possible moment."13

15. Bomber Command's briefing notes issued to groups and squadrons shortly before the bombers took off on 13 February 1945 were:
"Dresden, the seventh largest city in Germany and not much smaller than Manchester, is also far the largest untouched built-up area the enemy has got. In the midst of winter with refugees pouring westwards and troops to be rested, roofs are at a premium, not only to give shelter to workers, refugees and troops alike, but to have the administrative services displaced from other areas. At one time well known for its china, Dresden has developed into an industrial city of first-class importance, and like any other large city with its multiplicity of telephone and rail facilities, is of major value for controlling the defence of that part of the front now threatened by Marshall Koniev's breakthrough. (The underlining is provided).
The intentions of the attack are to hit the enemy where he will feel it most, behind an already partially collapsed front, to prevent the use of the city in the way of further advance, and incidentally to show the Russians when they arrive what Bomber Command can do."

16. Max Hasting's comment is:
"Much of this, of course, was fantasy. Dresden was not a city of major industrial significance... Since the eighteenth century, the old town had stood for all that was finest, most beautiful and cultured in Germany."14

17. And what was the justification provided for the destruction of the old city and the killing of some 25 000 old men, women and children after the bombing?

18. As Max Hastings points out "...on the news of the destruction of Dresden a major wave of anger and dismay swept through Whitehall and the Air Ministry, echoed in Parliament..."15

19. On 17 February 1945 an Associated Press release from SHAEF16 reported that "Allied Air Chiefs" had made a decision to "adopt deliberate terror bombing of German population centres as a ruthless expedient to hastening Hitler's doom." The attacks on Dresden, Chemnitz and Berlin had been launched "for the avowed purposes of heaping more confusion on Nazi road and rail traffic, and to "sap German morale." Max Hastings comments: "This dispatch - which of course was perfectly accurate, although its news was three years old - was hastily suppressed by the censor in Britain. But it had already been widely distributed in America, causing a major public controversy whose echoes soon reached London."17

20. General Marshall, the US Army Chief of Staff, then justified the bombing of Dresden on the grounds that it had been done at the request of the Russians.

21. That was not correct. At the Yalta conference (in early 1945) the Soviet delegation "...demanded agreement on a formal "bombline" in eastern Germany, running through Berlin, Leipzig and Vienna, beyond which Western air forces would not bomb for fear of hitting Soviet forces and equipment. The discussions at Yalta were resolved on 7 February [1945] by agreeing on the term 'zone of limitation' to describe areas which either side could currently bomb, freeing Dresden and other cities from the Soviet proscription. It has often been argued that the Soviet side at Yalta asked for raids on Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden, but the discussion with the Soviet chief of staff, Marshall Aleksei Antonov, recorded in the minutes, only mentions the bombing of Berlin and Leipzig; Portal seems to have insisted on including Dresden, since this was on the list of cities suggested by the Air Ministry. Though Harris later argued at the height of the Cold War that the request to bomb Dresden had come 'from the other side of the Iron Curtain', there can be little doubt that the plan was always a Western one."18

22. In February 1945 Harris wrote a memorandum to the Air Ministry in these terms:
"I...assume that the view under consideration is something like this: no doubt in the past we were justified in attacking German cities. But to do so was always repugnant and now that the Germans are beaten anyway we can properly abstain from proceeding with these attacks. This is a doctrine to which I could never subscribe. Attacks on cities like any other act of war are intolerable unless they are strategically justified. But they are strategically justified in so far as they tend to shorten the war and preserve the lives of Allied soldiers. To my mind we have absolutely no right to give them up unless it is certain that they will not have this effect. I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier."

23. In early March 1945 a Labour Party MP,19 Richard Stokes, asked Sir Archibald Sinclair, the Air Minister, whether terror bombing was the policy of the RAF. Sinclair replied: "It does not do the Honourable member justice to come here to this House and suggest that there are a lot of Air Marshalls or pilots or anyone else sitting in a room trying to think how many German women and children they can kill." And Lindquist's comment simply was: "That was of course precisely what they were doing."20 Bishop describes Sinclair's reply as "spurious indignation."21

24. On 28 March 1945 Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, composed this memorandum for the Chief of Staffs Committee and the Chief of Air Staff:
"It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land. We shall not, for instance, be able to get housing materials out of Germany for our own needs because some temporary provision would have to be made for the Germans themselves. The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing. I am of the opinion that military objectives must henceforth be more strictly studied in our own interests rather than that of the enemy.
The Foreign Secretary has spoken to me on this subject, and I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives, such as oil and communications behind the immediate battle-zone, rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction, however impressive. (The underlining is provided.)

25. Max Hastings' comment is: "It is impossible to regard this memorandum as anything other than a calculated attempt by the Prime Minister to distance himself from the bombing of Dresden and the rising controversy surrounding area bombing." Overy writes that "...the entire episode of Dresden is missing from his [Churchill's] history of the Second World War. It is possible that the publicity surrounding bombing as a result of Dresden worried Churchill as he contemplated a general election at some point in the next few months;..."22 Bishop describes Churchill's statement as "...disingenuous and hypocritical whichever way it was looked at. As the official history pointed out, it ignored the fact that Dresden had happened six weeks before, when the situation had been much more uncertain. The plan of attacking important cities in eastern Germany had been approved at all levels the previous year and had Churchill's enthusiastic backing."23

26. Harris, however, remained unapologetic. On 29 March 1945 he wrote to Bottomley:
"I would not regard the whole of the remaining cities of Europe as worth the bones of one British grenadier. The feeling over Dresden could easily be explained by any psychiatrist. It is connected with German bands and Dresden shepherdesses."24 Overy writes that "... Harris was outraged. He replied that city bombing had always been strategically justified because it would shorten the war and save the lives of Allied soldiers, an assertion difficult to reconcile with the five long years of British bombing."25

27. Portal then persuaded Churchill to withdraw his paper and issue a new one, dated 1 April 1945:
"It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of the so-called 'area bombing' of German cities should be reviewed from the point of view of our own interests. If we come into control of an entirely ruined land, there will be a great shortage of accommodation for ourselves and our Allies; and we shall be unable to get housing materials out of Germany for our own needs... We must see to it that our attacks do not do more harm to ourselves in the long run than they do to the enemy's immediate war effort..."

28. What is missing from the revised statement of Churchill is any reference to:
- "increasing the terror, though under other pretexts";
- "the destruction of Dresden [remaining] a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing";
- "mere acts of terror and wanton destruction."

29. Max Hastings wrote in 1979: "it was the most futile and the most distasteful phase of the bomber offensive, and it was also that in which the airmen disastrously damaged their place in history. They did not then know the exact date upon which Germany would concede defeat, but it was apparent for months beforehand that the end was so close that the razing of cities could do nothing to hasten it."26


The devastation caused in Germany by Allied bombing

30. Estimates of the number of civilians killed in Germany by Bomber Command and the USAAF vary between:
- 300 000 to 600 000,27 and
- 600 000.28

The number of injured is estimated to be about 600 000 seriously injured and millions more less severely.29 About 5 million people lost their homes. By 1945 the major city centres of Germany had been reduced to rubble.30 "The cities touched by the Blitz were scarred but not devastated. In 1945 Germany's 70 biggest cities and towns were in ruins and one in five dwelling places destroyed."31 It follows that between five and ten times as many German civilians were killed by bombing as British civilians.

The bombing of Hamburg

31. The bombing of Hamburg between 24 July to 3 August 1943 bore the codename Operation Gomorrah. Bomber Command bombed during the day. 9 000 tons of bombs were dropped. The result was " ...the single largest loss of civilian life in one city throughout the whole European war, exceeded only by the 250 000 Japanese killed in the firebombing of Tokyo and the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki."32 Estimates of the total number of civilians killed vary between 37 000 and 42 000. 37 000 were wounded. According to Max Hastings: "In one week Bomber Command [and the USAAF] had killed more people than the Luftwaffe had achieved in the eight months of the Blitz in England in 1940-41."33 Between 900 000 and 1 million people evacuated the city. 61% of Hamburg houses and apartments were destroyed or damaged. So were 580 industrial premises and 2 632 shops. Destroyed also were 277 schools, 24 hospitals, 58 churches, 83 banks, 12 bridges and 76 public buildings.

32. On the night of 27 July 1943 Hamburg was engulfed by a firestorm: "The illusion of a hurricane was caused by the scale and intense heat of the conflagration which caused fire winds that drove the flames across natural firebreaks. The inferno created a pillar of hot air and debris that rose quickly to a height of more than two miles above the city. Greedy for more oxygen, the fire drew in cold air from the surrounding area with such force that the new winds reached hurricane-force strength in the area of the fire, collapsing buildings, uprooting trees and sucking human bodies into the flames where they were swiftly incinerated or mummified. Acting like giant bellows, the winds created temperatures in excess of 800C that destroyed everything combustible barring brick and stone. Oxygen was sucked out of the thousands of basement and cellar shelters, leaving their inhabitants to die slowly of carbon monoxide poisoning. An estimated 18 474 people died during the night."34

33. The Hamburg police president gave the following description in his official report:
"The streets were covered with hundreds of corpses. Mothers with their children, youths, old men, burnt, charred, untouched and unclothed, naked with a waxen pallor lie dummies in a shop window, they lay in every posture, quiet and peaceful or cramped, the death struggle shown in the expression on their faces."

Hamburg was bombed again 69 times before the end of the war.


34. At the commencement of the war Bomber Command tried to limit its bombing raids on defined targets by "precision bombing." That was also the ostensible policy of the USAAF once the United States joined the war: the Americans bombing during the day and the British at night. But by early 1942 the policy of Bomber Command had changed, and what was embarked on was called "area bombing"- the bombing of German cities with the inevitable and foreseeable consequence of killing the elderly, women and children.

35. The bombing of German cities was justified on various ground, such as:
- being in retaliation and revenge for the bombing of British cities during the Blitz;
- to break morale;
- to shorten the war;
- to defeat Germany;
- to make a contribution to the war effort at a time when the Soviet Union was on its own fighting the German army on the Eastern Front.


36. The Blitz is the name given to the bombing of London and other British cities, such as Liverpool, Hull, Bristol, Cardiff, Portsmouth, Southampton, Birmingham, Belfast, Coventry, Glasgow, Manchester and Sheffield, by the Luftwaffe during the period 7 September 1940 to 11 May 1941, a period of 8 months. On 28 March 1941 it was announced that 28 859 civilians had been killed and 40 166 seriously wounded in the previous seven months.35 The total number of civilians killed in the eight-month period that the Blitz lasted is given as 41 000 with 137 000 injured36 or 43 000 killed and three times that many injured.37

37. Including those killed by V1 and V2 rockets38 late in the war, the total killed was "just over 60 000."39

Area bombing

38. The change from precision to area bombing came about for a much more prosaic reason, and that was the inability of Bomber Command to hit its targets. In July 1941 Prof Lindemann, scientific advisor to the British Government, asked Bomber Command whether he might investigate bombing accuracy by analysing photographs taken during operations. Portal agreed. Lindemann instructed a young economist on his staff in the Statistical Section, David Bensusan-Butt to examine 650 photographs taken in 100 raids between 2 June and 25 July 1941. On 18 August 1941 Butt produced his report, which showed that:
- in general only one in five of all bombers reached within five miles of the target;
- of those recorded as actually bombing, the proportions was one in four over Germany, one in 10 over the Ruhr, and on moonless or hazy nights one in 15.

"Churchill was alarmed by the revelations: 'It is an awful thought,' he wrote to Portal, 'that perhaps three-quarters of our bombs go astray.'"40 Lindemann presented the paper to the Cabinet, which accepted the proposal of area bombing. Harris, who was appointed as head of Bomber Command in February 1942, was given the task of implementing the new policy.

39. At the start of the bombing campaign Harris said:
"The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish illusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind."

40. In August 1943 Harris wrote:
"The aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive should be unambiguously stated [as] the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilised life throughout Germany...the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale, and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing, are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories."

The attitude to bombing and killing civilians before WWII

41. According to Overy:
- "The air raiding [during the First World War] was widely condemned as a vicious and cowardly attack on the innocent. The final death toll of 1239 from all Zeppelin and bomber raids included 366 women and 252 children. Bombing represented, according to The Times, 'relapses into barbarism', a language regularly applied to aerial bombing for the next twenty-five years."41
- "The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 explicitly prohibited the use of bombing from the air, and Convention IV in 1907 spelt out that this prohibition extended to attacks on civilians or the destruction of civilian property by aerial bombardment. Although the convention had the force of international law, not all of those states present at The Hague subsequently ratified its provisions, including Germany and France...At the Washington Disarmament Conference in 1922...agreement was reached to establish a committee of international jurists to draw up definite rules of engagement for air warfare. The Commission met at The Hague between December 1922 and February 1923 and drew up what became known as The Hague Rules for Air Warfare. No state ratified the rules, but they were widely understood to define what was regarded as acceptable practice in future air war and they were used as a reference point in subsequent discussions of the legal implications of civilian bombing. Bombing was governed by two principal articles:
Article 22 outlawed any bombing deliberately intended to destroy civilian property or kill non-combatants; Article 24 restricted bombing only to known and identifiable military objectives and, most significantly, only permitted bombing of those objectives 'in the immediate vicinity of the operation of the land forces.' In this case bombing could be lawfully conducted, even when the military objective was close to habitation."42 (Underlining provided.)
- The Geneva Disarmament Conference convened in February 1932. "The only delegation to support the abolition of all military aircraft was Spain; the only country to endorse the complete abolition of aerial bombing was the Netherlands. In July 1932 a resolution from the Czech Foreign Minister...that 'air attack against the civilian population shall be absolutely prohibited', was approved, but its significance was much reduced by the failure to reach any agreement restricting the bombing aircraft that might carry it out."43
- "Restrictions on bombing never became a national political priority for any major state after the failure at Geneva, except in the curious case of Hitler's appeal to Britain and France to consider outlawing bombing, which he included in a more comprehensive 'Peace Plan' to them on 31 March 1936 in the wake of the remilitarization of the Rhineland two weeks before.
- From among the thirty-two separate articles included in Hitler's plan, Article 26 recommended convening two conferences for the express purpose of bringing air warfare into 'the moral and humane atmosphere of the protection afforded to non-combatants or the wounded by the Geneva Convention'...During the historic meeting with Neville Chamberlain in his apartment on 30 September [1938] shortly after signing the Munich Agreement, Hitler once again explained that he personally found the idea of bombing women and children repellant."44
- "The last time an international effort was made to define the rules governing bombing came on 30 September 1938, the same day as Chamberlain's meeting with Hitler in Munich, when the League of National Assembly at Geneva passed unanimously a British resolution confirming the main provisions of The Hague Rules drawn up fifteen years before. Although the resolution was not legally binding, it was regarded as if it represented collective legal opinion."45

42. On the first day of the war (3 September 1939) President Roosevelt appealed to warring parties "...under no circumstances undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations or of unfortified cities."46 According to Max Hastings "...Britain hastened to accept President Roosevelt's appeal to the belligerents to renounce the bombing of civilian targets."47

The initial attitude to bombing and killing civilians during WWII

43. On 7 September 1939 Slessor, the Director of Plans of the RAF, wrote a memorandum to the Chief of Air Staff that "indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations as such will never form part of our policy." He nevertheless, "urged that Bomber Command commence bombing oil plants and power stations in the Ruhr."48

44. In January 1940 an editorial in the Daily Mail newspaper stated: "We are fighting for a moral issue" and denounced proposals for bombing Germany, "We should do nothing unworthy of our cause."49

45. In 1940 Neville Chamberlain, then British Prime Minister, promised: "Whatever the lengths to which others may go, His Majesty's Government will never resort to the deliberate attack on women and children, and other civilians for purposes of mere terrorism."50

46. In a document dated 5 October 1942 Portal, Chief of the Air Staff, referred to the misuse of bombs in the next two years which was calculated would kill almost a million civilians. " " The Air Ministry asked to be spared such calculations: 'it is necessary and undesirable in any document about our bombing policy to emphasise this aspect, which is contrary to the principles of international law, such as they are, and also contrary to the statement made some time ago by the PM [Winston Churchill], that we should not direct our bombing to terrorise the civilian population; even in retaliation'."51 (The underlining is provided).

47. A week later, on 12 October 1942, the Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Policy) produced a memorandum which was circulated to Command and Group Air Officers Commanding which "sought to clarify and codify the reality of what had been taking place over Europe for many months":52
"1. The following rules govern our bombardment policy in British, Allied or neutral territory occupied by the enemy: Bombardment is to be confined to military objectives, and must be subject to the following general principles:
(1) The intentional bombardment of civilian populations, as such, is forbidden.
(2) It must be possible to identify the objective.
(3) The attack must be made with reasonable care to avoid undue loss of civilian life in the vicinity of the target.
2. German, Italian and Japanese territory:
Consequent upon the enemy's adoption of a campaign of unrestricted air warfare, the Cabinet have authorized a bombing policy which includes the attack of enemy morale. The foregoing rules do not, therefore, apply to our conduct of air warfare against German, Italian and Japanese territory." [Underlining provided.]

Post-war assessment

48. Max Hastings succinctly stated in his 1979 work, Bomber Command: "Contrary to the view of the British official historians, most civilised men would agree that there is a significant moral distinction between the incidental and deliberate destruction of civilian life in war..."53

49. In his seminal work, The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945, published in 2013, Richard Overy wrote:
"It would be easy to condemn each air force for rapidly violating whatever sense it had that civilian targeting was not a legitimate act of war. The legal position is scarcely open to doubt: bombing deliberately carried out in conditions in which heavy civilian casualties and destruction of civilian property were bound to occur, violated every accepted norm in the conduct of modern warfare, whether it was done by German, British or American air forces. The legal issue was well understood at the time. In summer 1945 the victorious Allies at first intended to add the bombing of cities to the indictment they were drawing up for the major German war criminals. On the advice of the British Foreign Office this particular charge was quietly withdrawn since it was self-evident that German defence lawyers would have little difficulty in tarring Allied bombing with the same brush...Had bombing of civilians not been regarded as legally problematic, the major powers would not have agreed only four years later, in the new Geneva Convention of 1949, conditions 'relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war,' which allowed in the event of conflict for protective areas for children, mothers, the elderly, and any civilians not directly connected with the war effort..."
The real issue to understand is how this process of escalating violence came to be justified at the time. The simplest answer is that both sides responded to what they saw as the violations carried out by the other...The idea that German forces had 'sowed the wind' and would as a result 'reap the whirlwind' of heavy retaliatory bombing ran through much of the public defence of bombing during the war, and since...
The historical narrative of the bombing war nevertheless confirms that there existed throughout the conflict a wide gap between what was claimed for bombing and what it actually achieved in material and military terms, just as there existed a wide gap between the legal and ethical claims made on its behalf and the deliberate pursuit of campaigns in which civilian deaths were anticipated and endorsed...Strategic bombing proved in the end to be inadequate in its own terms for carrying out its principal assignments and was morally compromised by deliberate escalation against civilian populations."54


  1. The Second World War (2012) p716 ("Beevor").
  2. Bomber Command (1979) p413 ("Hastings").
  3. A History of Bombing, para 214.
  4. World War II (2004) by Wilmott ao p265 ("Wilmott").
  5. Second World War (1989) p641:
  6. Bomber Command (1979) p411.
  7. Bomber Boys: Fighting Back (1940-1945) (2007) p346.
  8. Para 214.
  9. The Bombing Wat: Europe 1939-1945 (2013) p395.
  10. Overy p395.
  11. Portal was commander in chief of Bomber Command until October 1940 when he was made Chief of the Air Staff. Harris was appointed head of Bomber Command in February 1942.
  12. Overy p391.
  13. Overy p393.
  14. P413.
  15. P413.
  16. Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force.
  17. P414.
  18. Overy pp393-4.
  19. Member of Parliament.
  20. Para 217.
  21. P353.
  22. P396.
  23. P352-3.
  24. Max Hastings p415.
  25. p396.
  26. P410.
  27. Hastings p9.
  28. Overy p17.
  29. Overy p17.
  30. Hastings p9.
  31. Bishop p xxxiii.
  32. Overy p327.
  33. p244-246.
  34. Overy p334.
  35. Martin Gilbert p641.
  36. Beevor p441.
  37. Corrigan p114.
  38. The V1 rockets killed 6 184 people. The V2 rocket killed 2 700 Londoners: Max Hastings, The Secret War, pp428-429.
  39. Bishop.
  40. Overy p267.
  41. p21.
  42. pp29-30.
  43. pp 30-31.
  44. p32.
  45. p32.
  46. Lundquist para 174
  47. p64.
  48. Hastings p64.S
  49. Hastings p64.
  50. Lindquist para 177.
  51. Lindquist para 200.
  52. Hastings pp201.
  53. p423.
  54. pp629-633. Address to SAMHS Jhb branch on 8 February 2018

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