Notice outside the reconstruction site of the Frauenkirche in Dresden [Public domain; author: Sir James]
This week in the war, between 13 February and 15 February 1945, bombs from RAF Bomber Command and the USAAF rained down on the ancient city of Dresden in eastern Germany—–a result, in part, of an agreement between the ‘Big Three’ reached at the Yalta conference
Architecturally baroque and famous for its china, the city had been spared the air raids that had ravaged so many German cities further to the west.
By the time the Dresden attack was over, between 20,000 and 30,000 of the city’s citizens lay dead. (Wartime and early postwar estimates put the death toll vastly higher.) To this day, there is still considerable debate as to whether or not the bombing could be justified on military grounds. For an in-depth discussion, see Frederick Taylor’s Dresden (HarperCollins, 2004).
Infantry advance through the Reichswald during Operation Veritable, 8 February 1945 [Public domain]
This week in the war, 8 February 1945, saw the launch of Operation Veritable
. The Canadians headed south from Nijmegen, aiming to dislodge the Germans from the west bank of the Rhine.
The Red Army had already crossed the Oder at a number of places and were only sixty miles from Berlin.
That night in the capital of the Reich, Hitler admired a model that had been built to show the planned postwar reconstruction of Linz—a city dear to the Fuehrer’s heart and the location of the planned Fuehrermuseum. Hitler still made a show (an outward show, at least) of being optimistic about the future.
Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin at the Yalta conference, February 1945 (Molotov is visible on the left) [Public domain]
This week in the war saw the start of the Yalta conference between the big three, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin. (De Gaulle was not invited.)
The conference took place at Yalta in the Crimea between 4 and 11 February 1945. The purpose was to lay out the groundwork for postwar Europe—Poland in particular.
Stalin agreed to free elections in Poland (a promise that he later broke) and, in their turn, the Russians obtained agreement from Britain and the United States to use their air superiority to bomb lines of communication in the east of Germany, notably in the Berlin-Dresden-Leipzig area. (This would doom Dresden which, at that point, had suffered only minor damage from bombardment from the air.)
Soviet soldiers talk with children just liberated from Auschwitz concentration camp, January 1945 [Public domain]
This week in the war, on 27 January 1945, Soviet troops arrived at Auschwitz.
Belsen would eventually be liberated by British troops and Dachau by the Americans, and both of those camps would become well known to the public in Britain and America. But Auschwitz and its numerous satellite camps was destined to stand out by virtue of the enormity of scale.
Of Jews murdered in the Third Reich during World War II, a million were murdered in Auschwitz alone. So were many thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of Soviet POWs, Poles, gay men, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others whom the Nazis saw as enemies or undesirables.
27 January is now commemorated as International Holocaust Memorial Day.
Louis Renault, Washington, 1940 [Public domain]
This week in the war, on 16 January 1945, the newly formed French government under Charles de Gaulle nationalized the factories belonging to the French car manufacturer, Louis Renault.
The nationalization was in retaliation to Renault’s perceived collaboration with the German forces of occupation—although the case was never proven. (Plus he had visited Washington in 1940 to meet with President Roosevelt and hold discussions around tank production in the Renault factories.)
Louis Renault died under unclear circumstances while he was in Fresnes prison, waiting for his trial.
French aviatrix Helene Boucher at the wheel of a Renault Vivasport, 1934 [Public domain]
He had the reputation of being somewhat of a tyrant and was ill-regarded by the working classes in France.
Under the new legislative act, the firm became a government corporation—Régie nationale des usines Renault. In 1947, the 4 CV, produced in Renault’s Billancourt plant, became a huge success.
Poster depicting the Philippine resistance movement [Public domain]
This week in the war, on the morning of 9 January 1945, American troops landed in force on Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. They were soon contacted by a runner sent by Captain Ray C. Hunt of the US Army Air Corps.
Hunt had escaped from the Bataan Death March and, for over two years, had been fighting behind enemy lines with the Filipino resistance movement.
Hunt had been a staff sergeant when captured by the Japanese but was promoted to captain by the Filipinos and went on to lead a large and effective unit of resistance fighters.
Germany’s Arado 234B Blitz bomber, the world’s first jet-powered bomber [Public domain]
This week in the war, 1 January 1945, saw Germany’s jet powered Arado Ar 234 Blitz
bombers (manufactured by the Arado aircraft company) launch their first night attack. The raid, which was against targets around Brussels, was part of Operation Bodenplatte
, the Luftwaffe’s last major air offensive.
The launch of Operation Bodenplatte had been planned for mid-December and was meant to support Hitler’s Ardennes offensive (The Battle of the Bulge). However, the operation was delayed by bad weather and was launched a few minutes after the start of the new year, 1 January 1945, when almost a thousand Luftwaffe fighters attacked airfields in France, Belgium, and Holland.
Allied losses were mostly in planes destroyed on the ground. German losses were in the air and so included pilots. The Luftwaffe lost over 200 pilots, killed, missing, or captured. Viewed in this light, the operation was a failure.