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[Home] [Articles and Misc 576] [Dresden 13/14th February 1945 576]

Operation – Dresden – 13/14 February 1945.

Operation Thunderclap – First Raid - Firestorm - Civilian casualties 25000 +

Dresden Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-60015-0002

The Air Ministry had, for several months, been considering a series of particularly heavy area raids on German cities with a view to causing such confusion and consternation that the hard-stretched German war machine and civil administration would break down and the war would end. The general name given to this plan was Operation Thunderclap, but it had been decided not to implement it until the military situation in Germany was critical. That moment appeared to be at hand. Russian forces had made a rapid advance across Poland in the second half of January and crossed the eastern frontier of Germany. The Germans were thus fighting hard inside their own territory on two fronts, with the situation in the East being particularly critical. It was considered that Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig and Chemnitz - all just behind the German lines on the Eastern Front now - would be suitable targets. They were all vital communications and supply centres for the Eastern Front and were already packed with German refugees and wounded from the areas recently captured by the Russians.

As well as the morale aspect of the attacks, there was the intention of preventing the Germans from moving reinforcements from the West to face the successful Russian advance. The Air Ministry issued a directive to Bomber Command , at the end of January. The Official History. describes how Winston Churchill took a direct hand in the final planning of Operation Thunderclap - although Churchill, not surprisingly in view of the outcome, tried to distance himself from the Dresden raid afterwards.

On 4 February, at the Yalta Conference, the Russians asked for attacks of this kind to take place, but their involvement in the process only came after the plans had been issued. So, Bomber Command was specifically requested by the Air Ministry, with Churchill's encouragement to carry out heavy raids on Dresden, Chemnitz and Leipzig. The Americans were also asked to help and agreed to do so. The campaign should have begun with an American raid on Dresden on 13 February but bad weather over Europe prevented any American operations. It fell to Bomber Command to carry out the first raid.

The Berlin attack never took place but those on Dresden and Chemnitz were carried out in February and early March. The Dresden attack was particularly destructive and involved considerable loss of life. Recent research suggests a figure of around 25k civilian fatalities - men, women and children - the true number will never be known and may have been considerably higher.

At this stage of WW2 the German night fighter and flak defences were close to collapse and the resistance encountered by the bombers was negligible

Certain factors have to be born in mind when assessing this business however:-

1/ Dresden was an important German industrial and communications centre – by their own admission one of the foremost in the Reich.

2/ The raid did not use extraordinary means but was equivalent to many other similar raids against comparable targets.

3/ The raid was carried out through the normal chain of command and in compliance with the directives and agreements then in force.

4/ The Russians requested that heavy attacks be made on German cities in the line of their advance at Yalta in early Feb 45.

5/ The raid was undertaken with a military objective i.e. to severely limit the potential use of Dresden by the Germans to stop or delay the Soviet advance.

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103 Squadron detailed 19 aircraft for this attack on Dresden. All aircraft took off in good weather and this continued for the entire trip. First away F/L C H Short and crew at 2126 in NG360. On arrival in the target area. It was found covered in approximately 4/10ths cloud but the target indicators and fires from the previous attack were clearly seen by all crews. Markers appeared to be well placed and the bombing controlled by the Master Bomber very concentrated around these with it is thought good results as many fires and explosions were observed in the area. Bombing was from between 16500 ft and 19000 ft. The defences were very light consisting of a few bursts of heavy flak and a little fighter activity. P/O Rimmington is missing from this operation. F/O Forbes and F/O Havell landed at Hemswell. All the remaining aircraft returned to base. First back F/O G W Exel and crew at 0659 in LM131.

576 Squadron detailed 14 aircraft. First up S/L B A Templeman Rooke and crew at 2115 in SW276 .Weather for take off was clear and to 0400E stratus tops 14000 ft built up as far as 0700E. This fell away to 5/10ths tops 12000 ft and into the target area where 4/10ths tops 8000 ft prevailed. Fortunately a clear patch was found over the aiming point. Similar conditions prevailed on return with good visibility at base.

PFF opened the attack with Newhaven marking which was accurate and punctual. Some crews were able to identify the target visually from an earlier attack by 5 Group. Red and green TIs and R/P flares were used and a Master Bomber was in control of this attack and crews bombed on his instructions.

Meagre heavy flak bursting 12000 ft to 17000 ft was encountered. There were no searchlights. One aircraft T2 ( F/L Halnan ) reported sighting an enemy aircraft, probably a Ju88. This crew also reported seeing an aircraft on fire in the air go down and explode on the ground.

F/O Carter in A2 was forced to feather 1 engine before reaching the target. He pressed on with 3 engines and bombed from 12000 ft. After bombing a 2nd engine became u/s and was feathered. The aircraft landed at Juvincourt in France and the crew returned to base the following day.

S/L Rooke in G2 was engaged by predicted flak on the return journey at Nuremburg which rendered the starboard inner engine u/s, None of the crew were injured and from Strasbourg this aircraft set course direct to base. First back F/O H R McCelland and crew at 0640 in PB640.

F/L Carter in C2 was forced to abort due to a u/s ASI and landed at Carnaby after jettisoning the bomb load in the sea.

From this operation F/O Young and crew in O2 failed to return.

Shortly after take off 2 aircraft, 1 from 550 Squadron and 1 from 300 Squadron collided and crashed near the airfield. Fire crews and crash tenders from the station were called out and rendered good service in extinguishing the fires.

Training – 1 fighter affiliation exercise, 1 air to sea firing exercise and 1 air test were carried out.

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Dresden: 796 Lancasters and 9 Mosquitos were dispatched in two separate raids and dropped 1,478 tons of high explosive and 1,182 tons of incendiary bombs. The first attack was carried out entirely by No 5 Group, using their own low-level marking methods. A band of cloud still remained in the area and this raid, in which 244 Lancasters dropped more than 800 tons of bombs, was only moderately successful. The second raid, 3 hours later, was an all-Lancaster attack by aircraft of Nos 1, 3, 6 and 8 Groups, with No 8 Group providing standard Pathfinder marking. The weather was now clear and 529 Lancasters dropped more than 1,800 tons of bombs with great accuracy. Much has been written about the fearful effects of this raid. Suffice it to say here that a firestorm, similar to the one experienced in Hamburg in July 1943, was created and large areas of the city were burnt out. No one has ever been able to discover how many people died but was thought that the number was greater than the 40,000 civilians who died in the Hamburg firestorm. In recent years the Dresden figure has been revised down to around 25000.

Bomber Command casualties for the night were very low for an attack of this size. 6 Lancasters lost, with 2 more crashed in France and 1 in England.

311 American B-17s dropped 771 tons of bombs on Dresden the next day, with the railway yards as their aiming point. Part of the American Mustang-fighter escort was ordered to strafe traffic on the roads around Dresden to increase the chaos. The Americans bombed Dresden again on the 15th and on 2 March but it is generally accepted that it was the RAF night raid which caused the most serious damage.

Compiled by David Fell.

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