- Dresden, Tuesday, 13 February 1945
Readers should not be misled by the title of this massive work. Far from an account of two catastrophic days in February 1945, the book surveys the whole history of the city of Dresden from its thirteenth-century foundation to the recent turn of the century post-Communist years, a comprehensive overall story which Taylor has thoroughly researched and sets out vividly.
Obviously leading up to the great destruction of the British and American air raids, Taylor provides us with necessary reminders of several matters [End Page 273] which in controversy and discourse over the raids have not been given the weight they deserve. Firstly, Taylor describes, in all its nastiness, the enthusiasm with which the vast majority of the citizens of Dresden welcomed and supported the Nazi government, and turned their eyes away from its increasing excesses, in particular the persecution of the Jewish members of the community. Secondly, he points out, well backed with detail, the fact that peri-urban Dresden did constitute a justifiable military target for bombing: numerous factories in the city's suburbs were engaged in manufacture related to military needs, and the city was a very important railway communication center for the Army's operations on the Eastern Front. As Taylor indicates, these were, however, not the targets for the bombers, and in some detail and with clinical detachment in three chapters he recounts the evolution of aircraft bombing theory, from the strategic to the frankly selective center-city fire-storming. Thirdly, Taylor reminds us of the aims of earlier Luftwaffe attacks on Britain, Hitler's and Goering's expressed desire in 1940 to see London turned into a huge conflagration, and the German policy of attacks on cultural centers such as Canterbury and Exeter.
Successive chapters give readers an interesting presentation on life in the interwar and Second World War years in the city, the coarse brutality of its regional Nazi administration, the city's narcissistic self-confidence that it would never be attacked, and the weakness of its antiaircraft defences. The best chapters in the book are those in Part 2, the early 1945 events leading to the war-weary decision to strike at Dresden, the Royal Air Force's operational plan and briefings, the accounts of the apocalyptic night provided by survivors, and the devastated state of the city after the British and later the American raids. One cannot read the descriptions of the fire storms without a profound sense of horror.
The work, admirable overall, is, however, not without blemishes. The author, a specialist in the German political right, devotes much space to the repulsive Nazi Gauleiter of Dresden, Martin Mutschmann, but makes no mention of a leading and honourable Dresden citizen in the opposition to Hitler, General Friedrich Olbricht, an opponent of Hitler from the outset, an active conspirator from 1943 onwards and one of the 20th July 1944 conspirators executed by the Nazis. The internal opposition to Hitler is dismissed in a few lines although material noting a Roman Catholic priest and a number of members from many walks of life is available and is interesting. The most reliable figures suggest over one thousand men were executed. In his description of the British domestic opposition to city bombing Taylor gives much credit to the Labour Member of Parliament, Richard Stokes, a critic of much less weight and importance than George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, who is not mentioned at all. Bell's repeated attacks on the policy cost him his otherwise excellent chances of becoming Archbishop of Canterbury. Nor is there any mention of the appeal that Dresden be spared in the Manchester Guardian of 12 February 1945. Taylor seems to suggest that the doubts in London about city bombing were a result of the effectiveness [End Page 274] of Goebbels's propaganda but although this was a factor, domestic British criticism was at least as important in the later decision to end these attacks.
Taylor leaves open the question of...