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Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945 Paperback – January 18, 2005

3.9 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The allied bombing of Dresden created a massive fire that swept the city center, killing thousands of people and destroying its medieval heart. Debate began almost immediately: Was the destruction of this seemingly civilian city necessary militarily, or was it, some asked, equivalent to a war crime? Not just another in an endless parade of books on Dresden, Taylor's account may go a long way toward putting such questions to rest. It opens with the start, by British bombers, of the nighttime attack, and immediately turns to the past, meandering through several centuries of Dresden history, from its founding in the Middle Ages to the 20th century and the rise of the Nazis. Taylor, translator of The Goebbels Diaries, also covers the history of aerial bombardment and its international laws; gives glimpses of life under the Nazi regime; details the Allied bombing campaign against Germany; and, most excitingly, puts forth new information concerning Dresden's part in the German war effort, which turns out to be much greater than postwar information generally portrays. Five chapters of 30 describe the actual bombing of the city by the British and American air forces, and they do so effectively, weaving first-person accounts of the aircrews with those of the terrified German soldiers and civilians. The aftermath of the raid is concisely dealt with, in the process correcting common perception about the numbers actually killed (approximately 25,000, not up to 250,000, as often cited), and he offers a review of the postwar debate on the morality of the bombing. An afterword describes the author's experience at a recent ceremony for the dead of Dresden, and further corrects some longstanding misinformation that includes the alleged strafing of civilians by American aircraft. Taylor has used a variety of German, as well as Allied, sources to write an account not previously accomplished to this extent in English.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Of all the cities destroyed in World War II, Dresden rivals Hiroshima as a symbol of the war's cruelty. The rationale for the bombing of Dresden has been clouded by distortion of what happened there and has been interpreted as a perfidious British and American war crime by the last gasps of Nazi propaganda; that interpretation was continued by the East German communist regime until its collapse in 1989. Newly opened archives, therefore, presented Taylor with an opportunity to research anew the obliteration of the "Florence on the Elbe." Touching on assertions about the air attack that have made it controversial--that the city was of negligible military significance, or that its destruction was without purpose because the war was almost over--Taylor advances contrary evidence about the mounting of the attack and the cataclysmic firestorm it ignited. Cautious about drawing a particular moral conclusion, Taylor takes care to keep before readers details about the Nazi rule in Dresden, hinting at his own opinion in this professional, accessible review of the controversy over the city's fate. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (January 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060006773
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060006778
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #739,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Writing a perfect book on the massive bombing raids against Dresden on February 13-14, 1945, is an impossible task. First of all, the two people in my mind most responsible for it--Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Air Marshal Arthur Harris--are long dead and while alive were far from forthcoming about their motives for the attack. So that avenue is closed forever.

Next, there is the eternal question of 'Was this raid militarily justified?' Here, I give Frederick Taylor a passing grade, but not much more. In my judgment, he is not interested in looking panoramically and in detail at the arc of the war in early February 1945. Admittedly, this is an immensely complicated issue. But for this book, I think a closer assessment of the dynamics of the European war as of dawn on February 13, 1945, would have been desirable.

Then, there is the second eternal question of 'Was this raid morally defensible?' Here, I think Taylor does a journeyman's job, but doesn't go as deep as would be expected in a book that seeks to re-assess the import and legitimacy of the raid. I think the book would have benefited from greater scrutiny of this question.

Three areas of the study, however, are revelatory and worth a careful read. The first is a roughly 50-page-long, very rich description of the founding and development of the city of Dresden. While some other reviewers were less enthused about it, I think this part of the book is fascinating. Second, the actual nuts-and-bolts description of the aerial raid is as fascinating as it is chilling. Finally, the personal, eyewitness face that Taylor puts on the bombing is remarkable, as it gives a horrifying 'you are there' drama to the event.

I'm disappointed in a few things.
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`Dresden' - the book - is Taylor's contribution to the revived controversy surrounding the 1945 firestorm bombing of the city of Dresden. While extremely interesting and recounted in great detail, I still had mixed feelings about some of his conclusions. Taylor who is out to dispel the "myths" surrounding the notorious saturation bombing totes a questionable fine line as to whether he is arguing a case for military target legitimacy... or for complete annihilation.

He spends much time building a case for why Dresden was a legitimate military target. Nearly every German city had by this time been conscripted to the war effort, and yes, Dresden may have had legitimate targets, but the destruction inflicted upon the civilians was so ferociously excessive contrasted with the relatively minor damage done to military infrastructure, that it makes the argument almost moot.

The first RAF bombing raid excluded the Marshalling yards, Hauptbanhof, Marienbrücke railway bridge and troop barracks... obvious military targets if you are bombing to disable troop movement. It was -only- during the 2nd bombing raid, seeing that the Altstadt was completely engulfed in flames, that the RAF bomber leader made a snap decision - on his own - to target the fringes, otherwise the second target drop would have been exactly as the first.. the Altstadt itself. This is as much of an admission as you are ever going to get that the 1st and 2nd RAF raids were sent not so much for its military targets but for sheer chaos or "dehousing" as it was called.

The author however, does an excellent job revealing the lack of preparedness for a possible all out air raid, and shows how Dresden was truly undefended that night.
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I'm giving it 4 stars due to the injection of personal opinion by Taylor. I appreciated it for it's honesty and that it clarified his biases on certain points, making it easier to separate the evidence he presents from his opinions on the evidence. This can be jarring for anyone used to very dry, impersonal historical statements with unclear biases, but it also offers context. This book is well done from a 21st century perspective and Taylor's ability to reference archives and people that were unattainable during the Soviet era is exceptional. He also researches and explains the sources and evolution of many facts/myths from the decades since 1945.

Regarding morality issues: No single death or action that results in death is ever justified in any war, including WWII. It was a complete waste of human life on all sides. The bombing of Dresden was a waste of human life and also a valid military necessity. This book will aid the reader to identify what they feel is the appropriate moral shade of grey, as there is no black/white choice.

Several issues exist with many of the other reviews:
1. Many reviewers haven't read it, as demonstrated by completely ridiculous assertions on the book's contents.
2. Almost all judge the validity of the raid and its methods based on information that no one could have known in 1945, including the complete effects of large-scale bombing.
3. This book is based on written evidence from the 1940s under Nazi and Soviet regimes, and on the memories of individuals, which change and fade through time.
4. The evidence in this book is still varied in source from Allied and Nazi records, bomber crews, Dresden residents, and Jews working in military factories in Dresden at the time. Judge the evidence for itself, even if you don't like Taylor's writing style and conclusions.
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