Was the Bombing of Dresden and Hamburg Justified

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  • Topic: Strategic bombing, World War II, Bombing of Dresden in World War II
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  • Published : March 7, 2013
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Was the bombing of Dresden and Hamburg justified?

During the Second World War, allied forces targeted German cities for mass aerial bombardment. Two of the cities which felt the full brunt of RAF bombings were Dresden and Hamburg. This air campaign killed an estimated 600,000 civilians and destroyed or seriously damaged some six million homes. The strategy used also came at a cost as Bomber Command throughout the bombing campaigns had 57,143 men killed. The target’s for area bombing were chosen in June 1940 with indiscriminate bombings being forbidden; However as the War progressed, the decision to not use indiscriminate Bombings was overturned. It can be argued here that the experiences which were felt in Britain from aerial bombardment may have overturned this viewpoint. Michael Walzer (1977) states that ‘the aiming points are to be the built-up areas, not, for instance, the dockyards or aircraft factories, the raids were explicitly declared to the destruction of civilian morale’. Walzer also points out that a study made in 1941 indicated that of those planes that actually succeeded in attacking their target (about two thirds of the attacking force), only one third dropped their bombs within five miles of the point aimed at’. This illustrates that even if British bombers intended to hit factories and docks, it is highly unlikely that they would hit their target. In this essay the justification of the bombing campaign will be investigated. As mentioned previously British Bomber command throughout the war didn’t have the accuracy to perform precision bombings. This inaccuracy led to the British war cabinet contemplating whether or not it was an effective policy in the first place, ‘The choice was between abandoning bombing altogether or intentionally continuing to bomb civilians’. This was a big choice for the British war cabinet to make as at the time the British war effort was closer to defeat than it was victory, ‘And it was made when no other decision seemed possible if there was to be any sort of military offensive against Nazi Germany’. One of the aims of the offensives was to relieve some of the pressure which the Russians were receiving on the eastern front. This is an important factor in why Britain carried on bombing German cities as they needed to illustrate to the Russians that they were willingly participating in the war effort. Jonathan Glover corroborates this point, ‘Dresden was bombed partly in response to Churchill’s demand for some highly visible evidence before he met Stalin at Yalta’. Despite this, it offers no justification for the killing of innocent civilians. Walzer’s states ‘Today many experts believe that the war might have ended sooner had there been a greater concentration of air power against targets such as the German oil refineries’. If such an alternative had occurred, it would be seen as a more just action than that of the bombings and firestorms which occurred in Dresden and Hamburg. This can be seen as a more justified action because it is directly attacking the German war effort, compared to that of bombing the centre of a city which is killing two birds with one stone: killing civilians to get down morale and attacking the German war effort. A debate addressed in Glover (1999) illustrates the problem on justifying area bombings by giving two points of view. Firstly, Sir Arthur Harris argues that, ’ The destruction of those cities has fatally weakened the German war effort and is now enabling allied soldiers to advance into the heart of Germany with negligible casualties’. On the other hand, this has also been disputed as ‘sustained attacks on the chemical industry could have rendered Germany defenseless’. If this is such the case then why weren’t mass area bombings placed on more viable and effective targets, such as economic resources. A clear point to be made about Dresden is that it didn’t fulfill its objectives, because the city was felt to be a major communications hub, and...
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