Necessary or Not, Dresden Lingers

The rededication of the Frauenkirche in Dresden is meant to signify an English apology to the Germans for the most savage of all acts of the strategic bombing campaign of the Second World War. In February 1945, Dresden, historically the capital of the old kingdom of Saxony and a famous cultural and aesthetic centre, was devastated by a joint Anglo-American bombing raid, the British by night, the Americans by day.

Until the raid, Dresden remained almost the last of Germany's large cities not to have been laid waste. By the time the raids finished, much of historic and modern Dresden had been flattened and 35,000 people, mostly civilians, had been killed.

As a result, Dresden became a catchword for all that the opponents of the strategic bombing campaign most detested. In the controversy that ensued, the casualty figure was inflated; a number as large as 200,000 was widely cited while the name of Dresden was used to brand Air Marshall Harris, head of RAF Bomber Command, a war criminal.

As the event receded into history, attempts were made to establish an objective account and above all to explain why so late in the war an undamaged German city, often described as a civilian target, was subjected to an all-out attack. The official explanation was that Dresden was a major communications centre, close behind Germany's eastern frontier which the Red Army was about to cross in its final offensive from Poland towards Berlin.

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