The Bombing of Dresden
Today is the 60th Anniversary of the Bombing of Dresden. On the night of 13th February, RAF Bombers dropped their bomb loads over Dresden in two bombing waves. Later the next day, American bombers dropped yet more bombs on Dresden's railways and bridges. In the resulting firestorms, between 35,000 and 135,000 civilians died (there is much controversy over the exact number) and the city was razed to the ground.
Sir Arthur Travers Harris, who was Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command from 1942 to 1945, ordered the obliteration of this historic city. With hindsight, it is indeed easy to condemn the wholesale bombing of German cities as immoral and as a 'war crime'. Nevertheless, one should remember that, at the time of the Dresden raid, the action was fully supported by the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and by the Allies. Shortly afterwards, Winston Churchill did have second thoughts about the policy of bombing cities purely for the sake of terrorising the population and disrupting communication and, within a few weeks, the Allies halted all area bombing. Churchill distanced himself from Bomber Command - the debate about the morality of bombing raids was already under way.
Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris was convinced that air power would be the decisive factor in winning the war and that strategic bombing would help to prevent the whole scale slaughter of forces on the ground as had happened in the First World War. In 1942, he instigated huge waves of bomber raids on big cities such as Cologne or Hamburg in the belief that he could bring about the swift collapse of the German Reich. Later on in the war, the selective targeting of Hitler's V rocket sites and attacks on oil targets was hugely successful.
However, the collective guilt over the bombing of defenceless civilians remains. One result of all this controversy was that Bomber Command was refused their request for a special campaign medal after the war. This is also an injustice. An injustice to the extremely brave men of RAF Bomber Command, many who died for their country. Did you know that Bomber Command actually suffered a higher casualty rate than any other part of the British military with some 57, 000 to 58,000 aircrew lost? The sacrifice these young men made should be recognised. The surviving veterans also deserve recognition for their extreme bravery and patriotism. The Americans got a campaign medal, why not Bomber Command? After sixty years, isn't it time that the British Government redressed this injustice to a heroic group of men who followed orders, who believed they were assisting the war effort and who undoubtedly made it possible for the Allies to win the war?