OK, first as to the refugees
michael mills wrote:On the question of German civilian refugees temporarily squatting in Dresden, are there any data in any other source?
Has it been demonstrated that there were no refugees squatting in Dresden at the time of the air-raids, or that their numbers were minimal?
I seem to recall that Kurt Vonnegut saw cartloads of refugees passing through Dresden when he was a POW there held in Schlachthof 5.
In any case, in early 1945 some millions of German civilians from the territories east of the Oder were fleeing to the West, and it is a reasonable assumption that numbers of them passed through Dresden.
I would say myself that Irving's failure to give a source for his statements about the presence of large numbers of unrecorded refugees in Dresden does not necessarily mean that he fabricated the claim out of thin air, as Mr Kaschner concludes. That claim would need to be checked against other sources, such as histories of the mass flight from the East.
As for the claim about low-level strafing of civilians by fighters, my understanding is that some survivors actually made that claim. It seems to me unlikely that the claim would have been totally fabricated, and it might be a case of a relatively small incident, say one strafing pass by a small number of aircraft, being exaggerated into something more major.
To my mind, the only situation in which it could be said with certainty that no strafing occurred would be if the position of all Allied fighter aircraft on the days of the Dresden raid or immediately thereafter was known, and none was anywhere near Dresden. If any fighter aircraft had been near Dresden at the relevant time, then some of them could have shot up a refugee convoy while passing over it, perhaps for a bit of sport, and simply not reported the incident officially.
I recall seeing colour footage taken by a forward-facing camera mounted in a Mustang that was strafing ground targets, and one of the targets engaged was a horse and cart. So it seems to me entirely possible that Allied fighters roaming in search of ground targets of opportunity could have shot up a group of refugees.
There were certainly many hundreds of thousands - even into the millions - of refugees who fled in advance of the Soviet armies in late 1944 into the Spring of 1945. My wife's Grandmother and Great-Aunt, plus several other more distant relatives, all from in or around Breslau in Silesia, were among them. But the refugees did not all flee at once nor did they all pass through Dresden. For example, Irving himself states, at 91, that from Breslau alone over 60,000 civilians had already been evacuated since the autumn of 1944.
But there indeed must have been many thousands of refugees in Dresden on February 13, 1945. The problem with Irving is not that he is fabricating the fact
of refugees, but that he is fabricating the number
- in that he has, or at least he offers us, no source for his numbers which, moreover, seem internally highly inconsistent. In his Preface Irving tells us, in justification to the otherwise astonishing 135,000 asserted death toll, (over three times that of Hamburg, with a population of 1.6 million) that Dresden had swollen to twice its normal size of 650,000, which, he claims, was due to "a massive influx of refugees from the East, Allied and Russian prisoners of war, and thousands of forced laborers." He fails to tell us there or elsewhere the source for his calculation of the over 650,000 population increase.
Nor is he of much help in informing us of the breakdown of its various components, although in Section 2 of his Appendix II (which, although replete with various figures, gives no source for the derivation of any of them) he states that there were "some 300,000 to 400,000 'homeless' refugees in the city before the raids" - by which I assume he meant at the time
of the raids. Which would leave 250,000 to 350,000 as the number of POWs and forced laborers. But although there were indeed POW camps in the vicinity of Dresden, there were none in the city itself. As Irving was later informed by the Swiss Red Cross "There were no PoW camps in Dresden itself, and consequently Mr. Kleinert's reports [a Red Cross representative who was inspecting the PoW camps at the time of the air raids] did not even allude to the air raids on the town." Evans Book at 163. So without the PoWs, the balance of the population increase would have to consist of forced laborers, but Irving gives no hint as to what in the world so many were doing there.
One would suppose that a sudden influx of 650,000 people into a city already of that size would have led to generally chaotic conditions, and that is the picture that Irving portrays. Yet Georg Feydt, at the time of the raid the Dresden Civil Defense Engineer, wrote in 1953 that "I cannot imagine a more peaceful and calm picture than Dresden on the afternoon of 13 February 1945." Götz Bergander, who at 18 had been assigned to help accommodate the incoming refugees, writing in 1977 remembered that most of them had somehow been quartered in emergency accomodations. He went on to estimate that on the 13-14 of February 9,000 had been temporarily lodged in the railway stations; 6,000 had been trecking with carts spread out over the whole of the city and 85,000 had been staying in emergency accommodations. There was no forced billeting in private homes or huge temporary camps erected. Bergander then doubled his estimate to include those who may have found their own lodging for the night, resulting in an estimate of 200,000 refugees.
The historian Friedrich Reichert, writing in 1994, quoted witnesses who attested to the fact that there was no billeting of refugees in either private houses or in public parks or squares, pointed out that due to numbers of men who were away on active service Dresden's resident population had dropped to 567,000, and to this added 100,000 temporary refugees to arrive at the city's total population at the time of the raids. Rudolf Förster's Article "Dresden", in Hiller, Jäckel and Rohwer (eds.) Städte in 2. Weltkrieg: Ein Internationaler Vergleich
(Essen, 1991) ( Cities in the Second World War: An International Comparison) had come up with the same number of refugees.
And Irving himself wrote, at 106, that military police had been stationed Dresden's outskirts to direct refugees with horses and carts round
the city, allowing entrance only to those on foot and those only for three days.
Yet in his 1995 edition Irving's alleged number of refugees in Dresden had increased from the 300,000 to 400,000 stated in one place in his original 1963 Book to "one or two million refugees".
As far as I know, the only attempt Irving ever made was to substantiate his "swollen to its double size" assertion for Dresden's population was in his 1966 Corgi paperback edition where he claimed that the Dresden City authorities had issued 1,250,000 ration cards by the time of the raids, citing statistics "provided by Mr. Howard Gee [further unidentified], who was given them [by whom? unanswered!] during a visit in June, 1963." This fact disappeared from the 1995 edition because as Irving himself admitted he had subsequently become aware that the Allies had dropped millions of fake ration cards to confuse the population and hamper the German administration.
The above is based primarily upon Evans Report and Evans Book at 172-5. Evans concludes at 172 that "It seemed obvious to me in the light of the increase which they underwent between the 1966 and 1995 editions of his book that these figures [as to the number of refugees in Dresden at the time of the raids] were entirely arbitrary. At no point did Irving give a source for any of them. They were figments of his own imagination."
I personally think Evans' judgemnt, harsh as it is, is overly kind. I may be a crabbed old cynic, but I've been told a pretty hefty passel of lies in my day, even many by my own clients, and have heard told at least a hundred times more. I've come to look for a hidden motive when I smell a whopper, and in Irving's case I can't help but ask myself: How can you tout a book as an exposé of "The Most Lethal Air Attack in History
" and "the single greatest massacre in human history"
(see my immediately previous post) without coming up with a death toll far and above that of Tokyo, Hiroshima, Hamburg or any other city bombed to smithereens in WWII?
Answer: You can't!
Next question: how can you produce a death toll in a city of 650,000 population which toll exceeds by over 3 times
that produced by the fire storm in Hamburg, which latter city had about 1 million more
residents? [ yes, Hamburg may have been better defended, but despite that as Irving himself states, Appendix II, it endured more than twice
the tonnage of bombs dropped and had almost twice
the number of people rendered homeless as did Dresden.]
And, as a follow up: how can you possibly explain the totally disproportionate death toll of over 20 times
that which you yourself quote, at 52, as resulting from the firestorm at Kassel, when Dresden's permanent population was less than 3 times
Kassel's, its total homes destroyed less than 3 times Kassel's
and the total tonnage of bombs dropped less than 2 times
that on Kassel????
Answer to both: Easy! You just pack Dresden to the very hilt with however many refugees you think it takes to give your figure at least a semblance of credibility!
: Alexander McGee, who in his The Devil's Tinderbox: Dresden, 1945
(London 1982) ends up taking Seydewitz' original 35,000 figure, and then on the basis of poor air raid protection and the number of refugees in the city (as to neither of which can I understand the relevance to the number of corpses actually counted) suggests it might be doubled to 70,000 "without fear of exaggeration". See Taylor, cited in my immediately preceding post, at 446, and hereafter simply "Taylor". But as Taylor suggests, what is one to do if one entitles the German edition of one's book Das Deutsche Hiroshima
(The German Hiroshima)?
Now as to strafing.
In my immediately previous post I quoted Irving's vivid account and his certainty
that "many casualties were caused by this low level strafing of the city", although the only specific casualties he cites were in fact caused by the British bombing the day before, as indicated by the very source he cited. He also reports, at 198, that one Mustang fighter had machine gunned three hospital blocks. As sources for this he gives Max Seydewitz, one Herr Nagel and one PoW John Heard, neither of the latter two are further identified. In his note, he also refers to a report by a "Breslau woman" and names her, but it is unclear whether this reference has anything to do with the strafing.
Ir researching for his own book, Götz Bergander managed to locate and interview Irving's witness to the alleged Tiergartenstrasse strafing - presumably Herr Nagel - who told him that in fact he himself had been unconscious at the time suffering from a shrapnel wound (not a machine-gun wound) from the bombing, but had been told of the strafing by others. Moreover, he said that the purported incident occured on the night of the 13th
, when no American, but only British aircraft were involved, and none likely capable of strafing. Probably what had been observed were Mosquito tactical bombers flying low to mark the target. Irving conveniently changed the date to the much more plausible next day, when the American daylight raid was made and the bombers were indeed accompanied by Mustang fighters.
At 164-5 of the Book, Irving describes at some length and in detail his version of a briefing that the pilots of the "A" and "B" Groups of P-51 Mustang pilots received prior to take off. As Irving would have it, the "B" Group pilots were to remain with the bombers, but:
"A"Group pilots were briefed that as soon as the bombers attack on Dresden was over, they were to dive to roof-top level and strafe what were euphemistically referred to as "targets of opportunity". Columns of soldiers being marched into or out of the wrecked city were to be machine-gunned, lorries lorries attacked by cannon fire, and locomotives and other transportation targets destroyed by rockets.
In his 1996 Corgi paperback edition, he added the following to the above:
Most of the pilots appear from eye-witness accounts to have decided that the safest attacking runs could be made along the Elbe river banks. Others attacked transport on the roads leading out of the city, crowded with columns of people. One ‘A’ Group P-51 of the 55th Fighter Squadron flew so low that it crashed into a wagon and exploded. The other fighter-pilots were, however, disappointed by the lack of opportunities for combat, especially the crews of the ‘B’ Group aircraft.
As a source for the above briefing and its results Irving gives "the account contained in the 20th Fighter Intelligence Bulletin for 14th February 1945". That sounds quite authoritative But Bergander pointed out that this ‘source’ is ‘a partly quite free interpretation’ from ‘Kings Cliffe. The 20th Fighter Group’, in which appeared the sentence: ‘Shortly after leaving the target ‘A’ Group hit the deck to strafe enemy transportation but found few targets.’ It also describes an incident where one fighter crashed and exploded. There was no mention of a briefing to "dive over roof tops". Moreover, Bergander discovered that although there had been an attack by Fighter Group "A" that day, it had been made against Prague
Dresden!! And as early as 1961
Irving had been provided a detailed report by one of the pilots explaining in detail that they had hit Prague and not Dresden!
The written orders for fighter escort on the US Dresden bombing mission on February 14 are available in the National Archives in Washington DC. They contradict everything in Irving's description. The pilots are instructed to make every attempt to conserve gasoline; any stafing will be done on withdrawal
; only "A"Groups are to strafe and only at Group Leader's discretion if no enemy aircraft have been encountered or are expected. In US air force terminology "On withdrawal" did not mean "as soon as the bombing attack was over" as Irving would have it, but rather "once the fighters had been withdrawn from their escort duties" which would be long after the bombing run when the risk of encountering enemy fighters was considered minimal.
And it is true that that the records show that a fighter from the 55th Fighter squadron belonging to the 20th Fighter Group was lost in the way that Irving describes. The problem is that the attack was not on a wagon but upon a truck carrying a Wehrmacht colonel, who was killed in the process, and occured near Donauwörth in Western Bavaria, on the fighter's way home from Prague, not Dresden, and over 200 miles West of Dresden.
Dr. Helmuth Schnatz, the author of several articles on the WW II air war in Germany, was inspired by Bergander's book to undertake his own investigation of the Dresden "strafing" allegation. To this he devoted some 10 years, and finally published the results in his Tiefflieger Über Dresden? Legenden und Wirklichkeit
(Low Flying Aircraft Over Dresden? Legends or Reality?) (Cologne, 2000), in which his conclusions demonstrated that Irving's "facts" were in truth nothing more than fantasies.
Certainly, as Mr. Mills suggests, it is possible
that one of the Mustang fighter pilots accompanying the US bombers on February 14th took off on a strafing foray as a frolic and adventure of his own. But Irving does not treat that as a possibility
, but would have us accept it as a certainty
! And there is no documentary evidence to support it, and much documentary evidence as well as tactical and logistical considerations to argue against it - to none of which does Irving pay the slightest heed.
The above comments on the strafing issue are based primarily on Evans Report Section 5.2 (c) (i)-(iii) and on Taylor, Appendix A, at 429-42. The former can be viewed at no charge under "Evidence" at:
The latter, unfortunately, is not for free, but can be ordered at a discount through this very site.
As a final - and I really hope final
comment - along with Michael Mills, I remember seeing news-reels of US fighter pilots in WW II strafing what were probably civilian refugees and other targets. I don't doubt for a moment that such incidents happened, and regretably and shamefully they were probably all too frequent. I think I even recounted on a post in this Forum that my late wife was strafed by US aircraft on more than one occasion toward the end of the war when she lived in Linz.
But that is far from my point or the topic of this thread. I am not trying here to justify the raid on Dresden, nor the decision making that lead to it, nor the manner in which it was conducted. I don't for a moment dispute the terrible horrors that that the inhabitants of Dresden suffered on those two days 60 years ago - I'm sure they were utterly agonizing and unspeakable.
My point simply is that David Irving can not be trusted as a historian, and frankly I don't see how that can be rationally disputed. Even had he not been held guilty of libel against Captain John Broome in his Convoy PQ 17 book, even had he not gone down in flames in his own libel case against Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt, in the case of his Dresden book the evidence is overwhelmingly compelling and conclusive. And it simply will not do to argue that the instances I've cited on this and previous posts are "incidental", "relatively minor" or "trivial details" in terms of the overall contents of his book. They form the essential basis
for his thesis. Without his exaggerated death toll figure, his sales pitch can't stand; without his refugee numbers his death toll can't stand; and without his lurid strafing legend the tale loses a significant portion of its horror and weakends his grounds for indictment of the cold and calculated inhumanity of the Allied air force leadership.
Again, with apologies for the length of this diatribe, and with regards, a weary Kaschner