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LAURENCE REES: How do you see Dresden in the context of what is going on at the end of 1944?

TAMI BIDDLE: Everyone wants to talk about Dresden as a kind of one-off raid and somehow Dresden has become a flashpoint; everyone brings it up. As soon as strategic bombing is discussed in any context the Dresden raid comes up. But very rarely do people really put Dresden in its context.

Now, I think you have to go back and look at the trajectory of the war, the way the war had been going in 1944 and early 1945, to understand Dresden and why Dresden happens. Basically, after Normandy, and Normandy bogs down for a little while and there is concern about that, but by late July and into August there’s a breakthrough and things are very fast moving for a time. Paris is liberated, there’s a great battle at Falaise, there’s a lot of movement, and it looks to the Anglo-Americans like maybe they’ve got Hitler in the bag and maybe now they’re going to be able to move very quickly into Germany, and perhaps the war will be over by Christmas. There’s a lot of excitement and a lot of optimism, and I was reading the British newspapers a couple of months ago, and reading the papers for August and September, and it’s just jumping off the page, the exuberance, the thrill, the excitement about how well things are going in the summer. And then they start to go badly again, then you see things bog down at Arnhem, then you see the arrival of Messerschmitt 262 jet aircraft, just unfathomable because they’re going at twice the speed of anything the Anglo-Americans have got.

And then you’ve got V1s that are starting to land in Britain in June and terrifying V2s in September and October. And, in fact, the British government will not admit to the fact that V2s are landing for a good month. They’re sort of saying they are breaks in gas mains, and people are saying that we must have the worst gas infrastructure in the world if there are this many breaks in the gas mains. And there’s all kinds of speculation that this is the great new vengeance weapon that everybody had been talking about and fearing. But the government wouldn’t come out and admit it because I think they really feared the effect on national morale at that point. So things are starting to go south at this point, and then of course you get Herken Forest and the Battle of The Bulge.

The Battle of The Bulge is a great shock to everyone involved because I think they really thought they were putting the last nail in the coffin of the Third Reich and here Hitler comes back on the offensive. How can this be possible? And how had he come up with V1s and Messerschmitt 262s and if he could have, what else might he have up his sleeve? And we’d better get this thing over with because how much longer can our home fronts hold out? And the Americans are thinking about the war they’ve still got to fight in Japan. And so I think after this moment of very high optimism in the summer there’s a great plunge in December and January, and that’s when you start to see people saying, you know, we’ve really got to end this and we’d better use every tool we’ve got. Well, the tools they have are pretty limited. There’s a manpower crisis amongst the Americans; they’re dividing their forces between the Far Eastern theatre and the European theatre and the British don’t have a large army to begin with and they’re spread all around the world. So what tool is left? Well, the bombers. Let’s use the bombers to help the Russians in their attempt to break out against the Germans in their winter offensive. This might also just prove to the Russians the thing they’ve been trying to prove to them all along which is that the bombers really have had an impact and they have helped them, and have been a kind of Second Front in ways that the Russians have never fully appreciated. So here we have a chance to prove something to our allies but we also have a chance to create space for them to advance Westward.