Was Churchill responsible?

Letter from Churchill to Harris

Excerpted from the National Archives:

“In 1992 the Queen Mother unveiled a bronze statue of Arthur Harris, the head of Bomber Command during World War 2. The event caused international criticism and people attacked the statue. They were protesting against the deaths and destruction caused by the bombing of Dresden.

As head of Bomber Command, Harris was responsible for bombing operations. However, he and his colleagues questioned and double-checked the decision to attack Dresden. Harris wrote in his autobiography: ‘I know that the destruction of so large and splendid a city at this late stage of the war was considered unnecessary even by a good many people who admit that our earlier attacks were as fully justified as any other operation of war. Here I will only say that the attack on Dresden was at the time considered a military necessity by much more important people than myself, …’. (Bomber Offensive, 1947, p. 242)

Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister and also the Minister for Defence when the policy of area bombing took place. He had a major input into military strategy. Historians debate whether he was directly involved in the decision to bomb Dresden. He wasn’t consulted about every bombing raid, but there is some suggestion he supported the decision to attack Dresden, perhaps as a result of a request from Britain’s allies, the Russians.”

Visit the National Archives website to read:

Air Ministry Comments on Harris

Letter from Churchill on area bombing

Harris’ view on Dresden, 1945


2 responses to “Was Churchill responsible?

  • Amy Scott

    The telegram you’ve included in this post is striking. I am particularly interested by the statement, at the end of the page, that there is a need to focus on more precise “military operations…rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction, however impressive.” I can’t quite tell, but is this a telegram to or from Churchill? I am going to look through the links you’ve also posted to research more on this. The balance between “precision” and “wanton destruction” is a vital one, even in this era of sophisticated warfare. Libyans are claiming that NATO has killed civilians and it seems difficult to divine if these casualties occurred, and, if they did, were they necessary. While killing a relatively small number of civilians is not really comparable to destroying Dresden, the balance between precision and destruction applies to both situations. Presumably modern warfare has made it possible to be precise…but it is not possible to be perfectly precise. War makes clear to us that there is no clear right and wrong, but rather a grey area in which ideals and strategy can become hopelessly muddled.

  • Angels 14

    The letter is from Churchill. If you follow the links, you can find other versions of the letter (where he tones down the language quite a bit). You’ll have to forgive the area of the website that I found these (they are surrounded by activities for school children!) The documents are clearly presented though, so you can just ignore the suggested ‘learning activities’!

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