Posts Tagged ‘military’

Dresden was a civilian town with no military significance. Why did we burn its people?

February 16th, 2015

Chief of the Air Staff Charles Portal had calculated that bombing civilians could kill 900,000 in 18 months, seriously injure a million more, destroy six million homes, and “de-house” 25 million, creating a humanitarian crisis that, he believed, would speed up the war.

This thinking was not trumpeted from the rooftops. But in November 1941 the Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command said he had been intentionally bombing civilians for a year. “I mention this because, for a long time, the Government, for excellent reasons, has preferred the world to think that we still held some scruples and attacked only what the humanitarians are pleased to call Military Targets. I can assure you, gentlemen, that we tolerate no scruples.”

The debate over this strategy of targeting civilians is still hotly contentious and emotional, in Britain and abroad. There is no doubting the bravery, sacrifice, and suffering of the young men who flew the extraordinarily dangerous missions: 55,573 out of Bomber Command’s 125,000 flyers never came home. The airmen even nicknamed their Commander-in-Chief “Butcher” Harris, highlighting his scant regard for their survival.

Supporters of Britain’s “area bombing” (targeting civilians instead of military or industrial sites) maintain that it was a vital part of the war. Churchill wrote that he wanted “absolutely devastating, exterminating attacks by very heavy bombers from this country upon the Nazi homeland”. In another letter he called it “terror bombing”. His aim was to demoralise the Germans to catalyse regime change. Research suggests that the soaring homelessness levels and family break ups did indeed depress civilian morale, but there is no evidence it helped anyone prise Hitler’s cold hand off the wheel.

Others maintain that it was ghastly, but Hitler started it so needed to be answered in a language he understood. Unfortunately, records show that the first intentional “area bombing” of civilians in the Second World War took place at Monchengladbach on 11 May 1940 at Churchill’s orders (the day after he dramatically became prime minister), and four months before the Luftwaffe began its Blitz of British cities.

Not everyone was convinced by city bombing. Numerous military and church leaders voiced strong opposition. Freemason Dyson, now one of Britain’s most eminent physicists, worked at Bomber Command from 1943-5. He said it eroded his moral beliefs until he had no moral position at all. He wanted to write about it, but then found the American novelist Kurt Vonnegut had said everything he wanted to say.

Like Gregg, Vonnegut had been a prisoner in Dresden that night. He claimed that only one person in the world derived any benefit from the slaughterhouse — him, because he wrote a famous book about it which pays him two or three dollars for every person killed.

Germany’s bombing of British cities was equally abhorrent. Germany dropped 35,000 tons on Britain over eight months in 1940-1 killing an estimated 39,000. (In total, the UK and US dropped around 1.9 million tons on Germany over 7 years.)

Bombing German cities clearly did have an impact on the war. The question, though, is how much. The post-war US Bombing Survey estimated that the effect of all allied city bombing probably depleted the German economy by no more than 2.7 per cent.

Allowing for differences of opinion on the efficacy or necessity of “area bombing” in the days when the war’s outcome remained uncertain (arguably until Stalingrad in February 1943), the key question on today’s anniversary remains whether the bombing of Dresden in February 1945 was militarily necessary — because by then the war was definitely over. Hitler was already in his bunker playing out his final absurd fantasies. The British and Americans were at the German border after winning D-Day the previous summer, while the Russians under Zhukov and Konev were well inside eastern Germany and racing pell-mell to Berlin.

Dresden was a civilian town without military significance. It had no material role of any sort to play in the closing months of the war. So, what strategic purpose did burning its men, women, old people, and children serve? Churchill himself later wrote that “the destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing”.

Seventy years on, fewer people ask precisely which military objective justified the hell unleashed on Dresden. If there was no good strategic reason for it, then not even the passage of time can make it right, and the questions it poses remain as difficult as ever in a world in which civilians have continued to suffer unspeakably in the wars of their autocratic leaders.


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Ex-Royal Marine in military dress attacked after Remembrance Sunday service

November 12th, 2014

Members of his family are with him, including his wife Margaret, and three children.

Labour councillors and friends have spoken of their shock and upset.

Bradford Council leader David Green, who has visited Mr Niland in hospital, said: “He is clearly not in good physical shape. His face is badly cut and bruised and there was some concern about possible internal bleeding.

“But he was still typically Tony and keen to get out of hospital. He said he had been walking to get a cab when he was attacked by three young men.

“I was told by his family he was found unconscious on the ground. He was wearing the suit and tie he had worn to the Remembrance service, a poppy and war medals.”

Councillor Green added: “There are many people in Bradford who will know Tony and who Tony has assisted over the years, either in his political role or as a member of the community.

“He has always had time for everybody and anybody, and anyone who has information that will help police catch the people who carried out this cowardly attack, I urge to come forward, or contact me and I will make sure it gets passed on to the police.”

Imran Khan, another councillor, visited Mr Niland in hospital on Tuesday afternoon and said: “He’s in quite a bad way, but he was surprisingly upbeat and taking what has happened in his stride.

“He is a very courageous man and anybody else wouldn’t have dealt with it as well as he has.”

Councillor Khan added: “He told me he was set upon by three people as he walked with his stick, innocently minding his own business. It is a disgraceful and cowardly act.

“I can’t believe someone would do that but Tony said he didn’t want anyone to take retribution for what happened to him. He wants the police to deal with it in the usual way.”

Councillor Ruth Billheimer said she had spoken to Mr Niland’s wife, Margaret, who said her husband had been attacked.

She said: “He is an ill man to begin with. You wouldn’t want that to happen to anybody, but he was the worst person in the world for it to happen to because it has triggered these reactions. It’s really sad he has this underlying condition which means it’s far more serious for him.

“It was a shock when I heard about it. People who know him are very upset.”

Mr Niland served for 10 years as a Labour councillor in the Wyke and Bowling wards on Bradford Council, and was the party’s deputy chief whip and deputy chairman of West Yorkshire Fire Authority.

He lost his seat in 2006, but remained active within the Labour group.

Before his political career, he served with the Royal Marines and had several spells of duty in Northern Ireland.

He is a staunch attender of the Remembrance Sunday service. He also worked at the Sunblest bakery in Bradford and was a shop steward and union convenor.

Acting Sergeant Vikki Tyrell, from West Yorkshire Police, said: “We are investigating a report of an alleged assault in Piccadilly, which is believed to have occurred around 9pm on Sunday, November 9.”


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Cuts mean we could no longer fight World War 2, claims military historian

May 23rd, 2014

Speaking at the Hay Literary Festival, Dr Jonathan Boff, of Birmingham University, said that it was unlikely that today’s generals would be able to stand up to politicians and make a case for the best tactics.

“There is a problem I think, and that I have seen over the last 10, 11, 12, 13 years, and generation after generation, of the military being cut by civil servants,” he said.

The defence committee studied Britain’s nuclear and conventional forces, considering whether the country still has sufficient military power to deter attacks and threats from other states.

MPs concluded that the credibility of both forces is put in doubt by recent cuts in the Armed Forces, and warned against any additional cuts.

A Strategic Defence and Security Review is due next year, and some military commanders fear it will lead to more cuts.

However Dr Boff claimed that Britain’s defence capability no longer needed to be as strong as it had been as global threats had diminished.

“There is now no kind of existential threat to Great Britain,” he said, “What you require is an ability to adapt and role with the punches.

“There are no longer any threats that are susceptible to military force.”

In his lecture Dr Boff also argued that Britain did not stumble blindly into the first and second world wars but was actually fairly well equipped to fight by the time the conflicts were announced.

“Even in 1939 Britain was the strongest military power in the world with the biggest navy that only rash people would have take on,” he said.

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