Dresden: Tuesday 13 February 1945 by Frederick Taylor

Dresden: Tuesday 13 February 1945 by Frederick TaylorDresden: Tuesday, 13 February, 1945 by Frederick Taylor
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc on February 7th 2005
Genres: History, War
Pages: 608

At 9.51 p.m. on Tuesday 13 February 1945, Dresden's air-raid sirens sounded as they had done many times during the Second World War. But this time was different. By the next morning, more than 4,500 tons of high explosives and incendiary devices had been dropped on the unprotected city.

At least 25,000 inhabitants died in the terrifying firestorm and thirteen square miles of the city's historic centre, including incalculable quantities of treasure and works of art, lay in ruins. In this portrait of the city, its people, and its still-controversial destruction, Frederick Taylor has drawn on archives and sources only accessible since the fall of the East German regime, and talked to Allied aircrew and survivors, from members of the German armed services and refugees fleeing the Russian advance to ordinary citizens of Dresden.

The bombing of Dresden during the Second World War has become one of those events which have brought into question the ‘righteousness’ of some of the Allies actions in that conflict. It does seem strange, however, that this one incident should have drawn such ire, in a war where a thousand other outrages occurred. This book seeks not only to examine what occurred on that fateful night, and the following day, but to unpack some of the mythology, and propaganda which surrounds the history of the event, as it has been told previously. Dresden is not only a history book in itself, it serves as a critique of some of the previous literature which covers the bombing of Dresden.

The author proposes that part of the reason the bombing was so offensive was the historic nature of the city; its beautiful works of art and architecture, and the beginning of the book is a retelling of much of the history of the city itself, reaching far back beyond the Second World War. This serves to provide interesting context and background to a layperson such as myself to whom Dresden might have otherwise been just another city. As he works his way into the subject, he sets about debunking some of the allegations that the city was a wholly non-military target, by explaining some of the factories and works which were producing war materiel.

The author brings us the stories of the aircrews who were flying the missions, putting a human face on the air war. To borrow an excuse from another party, it is true that they were just following orders, and that decisions were being made in the war cabinet far above them. It also brings us the very human stories of the ordinary German citizens who were living desperate lives of deprivation under wartime conditions. The author does an excellent job of capturing their terrifying experiences, and torment which resulted from the loss of their loved ones.

There is no getting around the fact that war is a brutal thing, and there are always going to be brutal acts and incidents which – while seemingly justified at the time – in hindsight seem unconscionable or unforgivable. One only has to look at the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan that came some 6 months after the Dresden raids to see further acts of brutality which ultimately changed the course of history, and the world as a whole. The book does not seek to excuse, or scold any parties, and takes a fairly neutral stance, rather focusing on bringing the reader the very human stories of the people who were suffering on the ground through the great firestorm.

Written with the benefit of hindsight, and with access to historical records, and personal interviews, Dresden is a wonderful piece of narrative non-fiction that is engaging, heart-wrenching and thought-provoking throughout.

Rating Report
Overall: five-stars

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