Photo: Inside an RAF bomber cockpit. The aircraft nears the inferno, the bomb-aimer poises to press the bomb release (copyright photo by Air Commodore H I Cozens, from Apocalypse 1945: the Destruction of Dresden)
Edinburgh, Sunday, February 27, 2005
The bombing of Dresden 60 years ago has provoked fierce debate on the Allies' ethics.
Did Nazis get tip-off about Dresden blitz?
by Murdo MacLeod
HITLER and the Nazi leadership may have known beforehand about the massive Allied raid on Dresden, according to new evidence from Germany.
The letter has opened a debate in Germany as to whether the Nazi leadership, including Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring, might have decided to leave the city to its fate for propaganda reasons, or even as part of Hitler's belief that the German people, having "failed" him, deserved to be left to their fate.
The gunner, Günther Brückner, was stationed at an airfield used by special German Air Force intelligence planes that snooped on Allied radio traffic. His now yellowing letter has added to the controversy over the raid, which has been described by some critics of the Allied bombing campaign as a "war crime".
The letter has already been checked by German police forensics experts, who have said it dates from 1945. Investigators now want proof that it was written before the raid and have passed it on to the German army's investigations unit at Potsdam.
Brückner's short letter is dated February 1, 1945, shortly after a minor raid on Dresden in January 1945, with 376 casualties. It says: "It is indicated: that a second raid will be carried out on Dresden on 13 February."
Brückner was assigned to an anti-aircraft unit at a Luftwaffe base at Eggbeck in the far north of Germany. The base hosted a special squadron of modified Junkers Ju-88 fighter bombers which contained powerful radio receivers. The planes flew across the North Sea as close to Britain as possible to eavesdrop on Allied radio transmissions.
The letter came to light following an appeal from the city's museum for documents relating to the end of the war for a special 60th anniversary exhibition. It was handed in by an elderly female relative of Brückner's and is now on display.
The preciseness of the prediction has fascinated historians. Franz-Josef Heuser, the director of Dresden's Museum of Military History, said: "We have put it on display as an interesting exhibit in its own right. What we know, after having it inspected by the police, is that it dates from about 1945. We don't know whether it was before or after the raid.
"But it raises as many questions as it answers. The fact that the supposed date of writing is written a couple of times strikes me as very strange, as if to emphasise that it was supposedly written on February 1. Why write the date more than once? When you write a letter, do you normally repeat the date of writing? Then again it was a strange time."
But Heuser suggested that few people would have had a motive to fake such a letter. He said: "Would the Nazis forge it? Unlikely, since it would open them to an accusation that they left their own people to die. If the Allies forged it, or someone sympathetic to the Allies, what would be the point?"
Heuser also criticised attempts by the German far-right to compare the bombing of Dresden with the Holocaust. In recent weeks, German hardliners have exploited the anniversary of Dresden to gain political support. Heuser said: "The way the whole Dresden anniversary is being politicised is of great concern."
Dr Jill Stephenson, from Edinburgh University's history department, and a specialist in the Second World War, said: "One option, and they did this at Nuremberg -- which was very heavily bombed -- was to move the people out of the city overnight. They slept in the fields and returned the next day. Whether that would have been possible in Dresden is another question altogether, the city was full of refugees and moving them out again, with the Russian army only a short distance away, would have been very difficult."
Some in Germany have accused the regime of leaving their own people defenceless in the face of the bombing, and claimed that by refusing to surrender the Nazis condemned many more Germans to death.
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