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Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresdenby Marshall De Bruhl
Synopses & Reviews
On February 13 and 14, 1945, three successive waves of British and U.S. aircraft rained down thousands of tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs on the largely undefended German city of Dresden. Night and day, Dresden was engulfed in a vast sea of flame, a firestorm that generated 1,500-degree temperatures and hurricane-force winds. Thousands suffocated in underground shelters where they had fled to escape the inferno above. The fierce winds pulled thousands more into the center of the firestorm, where they were incinerated. By the time the fires burned themselves out, many days later, a great city–known as “the Florence on the Elbe”–lay in ruins, and tens of thousands, almost all of them civilians, lay dead.
In Firestorm, Marshall De Bruhl re-creates the drama and horror of the Dresden bombing and offers the most cogent appraisal yet of the tactics, weapons, strategy, and rationale for the controversial attack. Using new research and contemporary reports, as well as eyewitness stories of the devastation, De Bruhl directly addresses many long-unresolved questions relating to the bombing: Why did the strike occur when the Allies victory was seemingly so imminent? Was choosing a city choked with German refugees a punitive decision, intended to humiliate a nation? What, if any, strategic importance did Dresden have? How much did the desire to send a “message”–to Imperial Japan or the advancing Soviet armies–factor into the decision to firebomb the city?
Beyond De Bruhls analysis of the moral implications and historical ramifications of the attack, he examines how Nazi and Allied philosophies of airpower evolved prior to Dresden, particularly the shift toward “morale bombing” and the targeting of population centers as a strategic objective. He also profiles the architects and prime movers of strategic bombing and aerial warfare, among them aviation pioneer Billy Mitchell, RAF air marshal Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris, and the American commander, General Carl Spaatz.
The passage of time has done nothing to quell the controversy stirred up by the Dresden raid. It has spawned a plethora of books, documentaries, articles, and works of fiction. Firestorm dispels the myths, refutes the arguments, and offers a dispassionate and clear-eyed look at the decisions made and the actions taken throughout the bombing campaign against the cities of the Third Reich–a campaign whose most devastating consequence was the Dresden raid. It is an objective work of history that dares to consider the calculus of war.
"De Bruhl puts his experience as a book editor to good use in this narrative of the still-controversial bombing of Dresden in 1945. Making comprehensive, sophisticated use of archival records and published sources, De Bruhl reminds readers that although Dresden's museums, churches and porcelain factories made it one of Germany's loveliest cities, there was still a war on when Allied bombers targeted the manufacturing and communications center for the Nazi war machine. Recognizing what he calls 'the fatal escalation' of the air war against German civilians, De Bruhl also demonstrates the time, effort and blood it cost to establish air superiority over Germany. He establishes the determination of the Third Reich's leaders to continue the war at all costs — a demand the German people accepted. He also examines the often-overlooked V-Weapons campaign mounted against Britain in June 1944, which silenced those Britons who questioned mass bombing of civilians. Certainly neither the British nor the American air forces had any compunction at mounting the raid De Bruhl describes as 'theory put into flawless practice.' When the last bombers left, Dresden was no longer a major producer of armaments. In a war begun by Germany, that was — and is — the bottom line." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"On the evening of Dec. 29, 1940, Arthur Harris looked on from the Air Ministry roof in London as German bombers set the city ablaze. 'Well, they have sown the wind,' he said. Four years and 46 days later, Dresden reaped the whirlwind. London survived the Luftwaffe's onslaught, and the city's fortitude during the Blitz passed into legend. Dresden's legacy is more problematic. Largely... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) incinerated by British and American bombers in mid-February 1945, it has been rebuilt and to a great extent restored to its former glory. But its destruction often is cited as proof that the Allies, too, committed war crimes, and that Germans, too, were victims. 'Bomber' Harris, who ran the Royal Air Force's Bomber Command from 1942 through 1945, was untroubled by second thoughts. As Marshall de Bruhl makes clear in 'Firestorm,' Harris never regretted the decision to target the Saxon capital. Had he not done worse to Hamburg? Besides, the Germans started the war; they had fire-bombed British cities; and in the war's final months, they still were terrorizing London with V-1 buzz-bombs and V-2 ballistic missiles. Why the fuss about Dresden? The answer is that Dresden was beautiful; it still was mostly undamaged in February 1945; and in hindsight, its destruction served no purpose since the war was almost over. This was 'the Florence of the Elbe,' a jewel box of Baroque architecture that had played host to Goethe and Schiller, Bach and Schumann, Wagner and Richard Strauss. Inevitably, Germans seeking to shrug off the historical burden of Nazism have seized upon Dresden as an exculpatory event. Here was a cherished symbol of everything the world still reveres about German culture, cruelly and uselessly obliterated by Harris' bombers. In this view, Dresden was not merely a crime; it was a mistake. There are, as De Bruhl notes, some rather large holes in this theory. Dresden was a loyal city of the Reich, as supportive of the Nazis as any other burg. It was also a transportation and manufacturing center and therefore qualified as a legitimate military target, insofar as any city can be considered one. The war in Europe appeared far from over when the Dresden raid was mounted; and the number of its victims, while considerable, has been grossly exaggerated by the Nazi apologist David Irving. (Current estimates place Dresden's death toll at somewhere between 25,000 and 40,000, far below Irving's estimate of 135,000.) De Bruhl, whose previous book was a biography of Sam Houston, devotes much space to the overall air war in Europe from 1939 to 1945. In this context, he views the bombing of German cities as a necessary evil. He compares the Dresden firestorm to 'the purifying fire that brings to a close Wagner's epic 'Ring of the Nibelung.' To De Bruhl, 'the fires of World War II were necessary in order to destroy an evil society and portend a new beginning for Germany.' Mark Lewis is writing a book about the American experience in the Philippines." Reviewed by Mark Lewis, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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De Bruhl re-creates the drama and horror of the 1945 Dresden bombings and offers the most cogent, clear-eyed appraisal yet of the tactics, weapons, strategy, and rationale for the controversial attack.
About the Author
Marshall De Bruhl was for many years an executive and editor with several major American publishing houses, specializing in history and biography, most notably as editor of, and contributor to, the Dictionary of American History and the Dictionary of American Biography. He is also the author of Sword of San Jacinto: A Life of Sam Houston, and co-compiler of The International Thesaurus of Quotations. He lives in Ashville, North Carolina.
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