14 February 1945. The end of the war was months away, and excitement was in the air. National headlines boasted of imminent victory and how global peace was on the horizon. But what, with the benefit of hindsight, can we draw from these stories?
The Dresden bombing is reported here as a surge forward, a military necessity that enabled the advance of Marshal Koniev’s awaiting troops. The writing is littered with ‘great blows’ being delivered to the Germans, with important railways, roads, telephone services, and a supposed munitions workshop all razed to the ground by a mighty force of 1,350 US and 800 British bombers.
In fact, the necessity of the bombings has been in contention ever since. Dresden was used as a refugee camp for evacuated civilians from other towns, thousands of whom were killed. Researchers have since argued that Dresden was a cultural landmark of no military significance, and that it was deliberately targeted to terrorize the German populace.
Although perhaps not the most severe of WWII, the Dresden bombing raids are still recognised as one of the worst examples of civilian suffering caused by strategic bombing.
B. Kill, murder, A ND poison?
Paul Schmidt’s statement here could be perceived as a slight exaggeration. As Allied troops entered Germany, the civilian population were, predominantly, frightened and willing to comply with the invaders. Conjuring up an image of a desperate race of semi-feral murderous children was a ploy designed, no doubt, to instil fear in the Allies, and to whip the German people into a state of violent defiance.
C. A second disaster
Another air accident very nearly took place that day; one that could have dramatically altered the outcome of the war. President Roosevelt, on his way to the Yalta conference, was flying on board the Sacred Cow with pilot Major Henr y T Myers.
The presidential plane had an escort of P-51 fighters close at hand and, as they approached Soviet air space, the escort leader spotted an approaching Russian plane. He at once took it to be a threat and ordered an attack. Knowing that a dogfight would not be the best way to herald the arrival of the President for the Yalta conference, the quick-thinking pilot, Myers, countermanded the order. He then dived the 1,000ft necessary to avoid the path of the Soviet plane which, seemingly unaware of the panic it had caused, did not alter its heading or altitude.
D. Parachute padre
Father Egan was the 2nd Battalion’s Roman Catholic chaplain who had been long associated with the Parachute Regiment, having served in the post for the 1st Para Brigade in North Africa. Throughout the battle at Arnhem Bridge, Egan would visit the wounded crammed in the cellars of the houses from which the airborne troops were fighting.
Though medical supplies were extremely short, he did his best to tend them, dress their wounds, and comfort them. On one visit to Battalion HQ, which had been relentlessly shelled during the day and was consequently on fire, he made his way among the wounded in the cellar. One, Sergeant Jack Spratt, joked to Egan, ‘Well, Padre, they’re throwing everything at us but the kitchen stove.’ Just as he was finishing his sentence, the building received a direct hit, which caused part of the ceiling to fall in and showered those in the cellar with plaster and dust from the room above. The occupants then noticed that through the ceiling had fallen the kitchen stove. Spratt said ‘I knew the bastards were close, but I didn’t believe they could hear us talking!’
E. Yalta neglected
Surprisingly, this is one of only two articles mentioning one of the most important moments of the closing months of WWII: the Yalta Conference. The conference ended only three days before this paper was published, yet it is mentioned just twice, in passing, in two short articles. Though described by the Japanese spokesman as ‘a masterpiece of power politics’, the whole event appears to warrant a mere couple of inches of newspaper copy.