5-055 Memorandum for the Secretary of War, March 6, 1945

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: March 6, 1945

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for the Secretary of War

March 6, 1945 Washington, D.C.


SUBJECT: Bombing of Dresden.1

Dresden is a communication center of major importance, through which reinforcements pass to reach the Russian Front. On March 4 a London announcement stated that Dresden “as the center of a railway network and a great industrial town, has become of the greatest value for conducting any defense the Germans may organize against Marshal Konev’s2 armies”. Dresden is closely related with the German potentialities for launching a counterattack against the southern wing of the great Russian Bulge.

February 13/14. 796 Lancasters bombed Dresden on this night. The attack is stated to have taken place in two waves, the first wave bombed on accurate markers starting fires and the second wave reported fires and accurate bombing.

February 14. Dresden was bombed by 311 U.S. heavy bombers. The target was the marshalling yard and both H2X3 and visual methods were used. Visual results appeared excellent.

February 15. 211 U.S. heavy bombers bombed the Dresden marshalling yard. Pathfinder methods were used and results were unobserved.

March 2. Dresden was bombed by 540 U.S. heavy bombers using Pathfinder methods. Oil installations were the primary targets but due to overcast conditions the marshalling yard was bombed as a target of opportunity.

Attached is the clipping giving the statement from the German Transocean News Agency.4

G. C. Marshall

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.

1. Anglo-American bombing of the city of Dresden in mid-February resulted in the press questioning the action because of the large number of civilian casualties. “Today we can only speak of what once was Dresden in the past tense,” reported a German Transocean News Agency correspondent, referring to the massive air attacks in mid-February. (New York Times, March 5, 1945, pp. 1, 4.) On March 5 Secretary of War Stimson asked the War Department to investigate the matter. Marshall issued the following memorandum based on statistics from Army Air Forces headquarters. (March 5, 1945, Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 50: 163]; Joe L. Loutzenheiser Memorandum for General Giles, March 6, 1945, NA/RG 165 [OCS, 384.5].)

2. Marshal Ivan Stephanovich Konev was commander of the First Ukrainian Front.

3. The H2X was a bombing radar developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

4. Stimson replied in a handwritten note: “I doubt this report makes the case any better—on the face of it the British on Feb 13 bombed the city. While our bombing was said to be aimed at military objectives the results were practically unobserved. I think the city should be photographed carefully and the actual facts made known.” Stimson’s reply was forwarded to General Arnold’s office for action, which dispatched a message (W-49485) to General Carl Spaatz’s headquarters at U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe. (Stimson to Marshall, [March 6, 1945], and Frank McCarthy Memorandum for the Commanding General, Army Air Forces, March 6, 1945, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

General Spaatz’s headquarters prepared a report on Allied air attacks on targets in Dresden. “The heaviest attacks were made by the R.A.F. on the night of 13/14 February 1945 and by Eighth Air Force the following day. Due to the proximity of these two attacks and the absence of intervening photographic coverage, it has been impossible to allocate damage to the attacking air forces.” According to the report, “very substantial damage was done to the communications targets which were the targets of the Eighth Air Force, as well as to other industrial objectives and public buildings. In addition, the city itself suffered very heavily as a result of widespread fires presumably caused by incendiaries. In this connection, it is to be noted that the R.A.F. dropped 1181.6 tons of incendiaries, whereas the Eighth Air Force dropped only 296.5 tons of incendiaries.” (U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe Headquarters to Commanding General, Army Air Forces, n.d. [reply to W-49485], and George C. McDonald Digest of Air Attacks on Targets in Dresden,” March 28, 1945, NA/RG 18 [USSTAF Historical Division Film, 519.523].) For more information regarding the Allied air attack on Dresden, see Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, eds., Europe: ARGUMENT to V-E Day, January 1944 to May 1945, a volume in The Army Air Forces in World War II (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), pp. 725-32; Charles Webster and Noble Frankland, The Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany, 1939-1945, volume 3, Victory, a volume in the History of the Second World War (London: HMSO, 1961), pp. 99-117.

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 5, “The Finest Soldier,” January 1, 1945-January 7, 1947 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), pp. 79-80.

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