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Creating a firestorm

LAURENCE REES: We were talking about Dresden, to what extent is it possible or useful for us to use words like this was ‘immoral’, or this was ‘wrong’?

TAMI BIDDLE: I think from the perspective of the people who were planning the Dresden raid it looked pretty much like all the other raids that they were running right at that same time. It was unusual in the fact that they had now decided to pick out a set of cities and put increased pressure on those cities in an effort to advance the Red Army. And I think at some level this set of raids really is different; whatever constraints had existed to that point, they all fall away in February of 1945. Whatever little boundaries, little shreds of constraint that may have still existed, it all kind of deteriorated at that point. But from the narrow perspective of the people who are planning these raids Dresden looks no different to Paris or the raid he does next night at Chemnitz. In fact he carries about a hundred thousand more incendiaries to Chemnitz. It doesn’t become a firestorm because the circumstances weren’t as good. The weather over the city was such that they couldn’t get the really concentrated target marking which allowed the subsequent Lancasters to drop right on one location which created this intense conflagration firestorm. The fire becomes self-feeding and all the oxygen’s pulled in around it and becomes this horrific maelstrom. But to Harris it doesn’t look very different from the Chemnitz raid, it doesn’t look very different from the Pforzheim raid and it doesn’t look very different from the raids he’s been doing throughout the war on Berlin where he’s trying to get a firestorm every single night he goes out if he can. You just get certain circumstances where everything kind of comes together and you get a firestorm. It doesn’t happen all that often. Hamburg, Darmstadt, Dresden. At Dresden it happens because there was a break in the weather.