Daily Archives: February 15, 2015

A final comment on Dresden, by Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

I just noticed a post by Dom on Facebook, noting the misquoting of Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, by (amazingly) the Daily Mail, regarding his comments and reflections on the Dresden Op.

I must confess, that personally, I am not religious in the slightest and do not therefore use the words of a religious leader to carry extra weight or validity as an observation, but I do think Justin offers a balanced and through necessity after all these years, a conciliatory opinion.

Given the willingness by the media to jump on simple facts and figures that will support a ‘good story’, I include the ridiculous contortion by the Daily Mail and then the post that Justin made on his blog as a response – I think he captures the balanced opinion of the events of that night and the hostages that both the city of Dresden, its people, Bomber Command and the crews that flew in it have become, since that night.

From the Daily Mail ………..

Archbishop ‘says sorry’ for bombing the Nazis: Justin Welby attacked for ‘bizarre apology’ for Dresden raids, but makes no reference to RAF heroes killed by Hitler

The Archbishop of Canterbury last night issued an extraordinary apology for the British bombing of Dresden during the Second World War.

In what was immediately criticised as an insult to the young men who gave their lives to defeat the Nazis, the Most Rev Justin Welby told the German people of his ‘profound feeling of regret and deep sorrow’ over the attack.

His comments at a ceremony in Dresden to mark the 70th anniversary of the bombings came amid a growing row about BBC coverage of the commemoration in which Britain was described as ‘worse than the Nazis’ over the raids that killed thousands at the end of the war.

Former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth criticised the Archbishop, saying: ‘I do not hear Angela Merkel apologising for the Blitz.’ And historian Professor Anthony Glees said it was wrong to take a single incident in the war and say sorry for it. Archbishop Welby said the bombing of Dresden, which killed an estimated 25,000, ‘diminished all our humanity’.

But he made no reference to the 55,573 British aircrew killed in the struggle to overthrow Hitler, nor to the German bombing of London and Coventry.

Tory MP Philip Davies said: ‘These remarks do sound to me like an apology. For the Archbishop to make an apology for our defeat of Hitler is bizarre. I would have thought the last thing we should be doing is apologising. We should be praised for defeating Hitler. These words are an insult to the young men who gave their lives in the defeat of Germany.’

The Archbishop – whose great uncle Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal was one of the main architects of Britain’s campaign of bombing German cities – told the congregation he thought it was ‘miraculous’ that they were welcoming him given the ‘brutal and devastating’ nature of the attack.

From Justin Welby’s blog as a reply……….

Reflections on Dresden

“Dresden on the 70th anniversary of the allied bombing is a place of deep emotion and sorrow. The Frauenkirche, the great church in the central square, destroyed on the night of 13th February 1945 and rebuilt after the liberation from Communist rule, is full much of the day, and in the evening it is a place of quiet reflection as hundreds of people come to pray, listen to music and stories of reconciliation and light candles. During the day there had been a powerful ceremony with contributions from the cities of Coventry, Rotterdam and Warsaw among others.

The feeling is different but parallel to that of Coventry Cathedral where I worked for five years, in charge of the ministry of reconciliation which since World War II has stretched around the world.   There too ruins gave birth to a new church, the Cathedral; there too hope sprang from death and ashes. The two churches are linked by a twinning relationship, as are the cities.

Both places attract young people caught by the hope of peace and reconciliation. Both are very powerful reminders of what Wilfred Owen called “the pity of war”. In many wars it is the civilians who bear the brunt of the pain, and especially from 1939-1945. They are almost always innocent. In Coventry and Dresden that was especially so.

Neo Nazis had attempted to cause trouble in Dresden, as always. The people of Dresden, as always, reject the manipulation of the truth of the events of 1945 and link hands in a symbolic circle round the city centre to keep out such lies.

What a sadness then that late in the evening someone showed me a headline in the Daily Mail saying that I had apologised for the RAF bombing the Nazis. No honest reading of what I said in the church and on the BBC afterwards could come anywhere near such an idea. Contrary to the Mail’s report, on the BBC I spoke clearly of the bombing of British cities, mentioning especially Coventry and London. I also spoke of the terrible losses of the heroic crews of Bomber Command. My grandmother’s brother was killed on his first mission, in a Wellington. My exact words (to BBC Radio 5 Live, and please excuse the incoherence!) were:

5 Live: And in the sense of Dresden, is one of the ways forward to apologise for what happened? Do you think Britain and America should apologise for what happened in Dresden?”

JW: “That’s a very complicated question, because when you listen to people who were in Bomber Command and you hear of their suffering, I lived in Coventry and you see the suffering there, in London we know of the Blitz, and in many other cities right across the United Kingdom and round the world, I think it’s more complicated than ‘should we apologise?’. I think there is a deep need for profound sorrow at the events and the causes of such dreadful times as Europe lived through. And there’s also reason for hope and encouragement that Europe has become a centre of reconciliation in the world – a great miracle.

The contrast with the sorrow of Dresden, the deep recognition of the cruelty, tragedy and evil of war, could not have been greater.

So I want to get back to the moving and tragic recognition in Dresden that the great evil of the Nazis created a great war, and during it terrible things were done, by necessity, by the nature of war. Churchill said “jaw-jaw is better than war-war”. So let us mourn and learn, honour the heroism of those who defeated Hitler and his regime, celebrate our freedoms, and in the strength of Jesus Christ struggle for peace and reconciliation, of which he is the source.”

see the article on Justin’s blog here.

Dresden: another 75 (NZ) Squadron perspective

GA Russell

“Russ” Russell, Bombing Leader at 75 (NZ) Squadron, Mepal, 1944 – 45. – photo from “Dying For Democracy”, by Flt Lt G A Russell DFC.

Many thanks to Chris for providing another perspective on the events of the 13th/ 14th February 1945 Dresden Op…….

My uncle Gerry Newey flew as Wireless Operator with Johnny Wood and Doug Williamson in JN-Dog, the lead aircraft on that Dresden op’ 70 years ago.

Neither his logbook nor diary give any hint as to the significance of the raid, but they convey the satisfaction of seeing a job well done, and perhaps some degree of elation at witnessing and being part of such an awe-inspiring event.

In his diary, he wrote a typically off-hand summary of the trip:

“Did a D.I. on Dog & waited in the mess all morning. Had briefing & took off at 2150 for Dresden.
Good trip & we made a real mess of the city. Plenty of big fires. A nine hour trip.”

The crews were briefed before each op’, and there is no question – this op’ was presented as a military target, just another in a long line of targets in or nearby major cities.

The briefing that day is remembered by 75 (NZ) Squadron’s Bombing Leader, Flight Lieutenant Alan “Russ” Russell, DFC, in his book, “Dying For Democracy”.

“The participating air crews were briefed by the Squadron Commander, the Navigation Leader, the Gunnery Leader, the Wireless Leader, and the Intelligence Officer, who always made interesting remarks about each target. On this occasion he mentioned that Dresden was the central base for the whole of Germany’s very extensive variety of communication systems, especially the telephone. This included both telegraphy and radio, none of which had so far been damaged. Consequently Hitler’s leaders in all of his war fronts were being kept fully informed of what was daily required of them.

The weather man for the Squadron advised the crews about the weather we would have to confront and pass through.

Finally, as Bombing Leader, I gave the crews the details of their bomb loads. Always at briefings there would be a large area map illustrating the intended target. Dresden was a very big German city, only a few miles from the Russian border.

Six hours before our briefing, an unarmed, lively, Mosquito twin-engined reconnaissance aircraft flew over the target area and obtained many photographs which, during the briefing, were projected onto a large screen for the bomber crews to see. The wide expanse of the city included extensive railway marshalling yards, with many railway wagons already connected into long trains.

One particularly clear shot was of a very long line of flat-topped railway wagons with each wagon supporting a military tank. Many of the long lines were of closed freight wagons. We could see no railway coaches suitable for troop movement. Intelligence however, stated that there were masses of armed troops billeted both within and near the city.

The railway marshalling yards at Dresden were laid out like a huge letter’ Y ‘ and the junction of the members of the letter Y was given as our aiming point. The black and purple night target map which each bomb aimer carried to the target area, showed the railway yards very clearly. It also showed that the railway yards would make a good broad target. I always found those maps of the target area very useful. High over the target it was too dark inside the aircraft to be able to read the target map, so I always committed it to memory and that was easy as it covered solely the target area.”

Not only did Russell brief the crews before they left, he actually flew on the Dresden op’, as a fill-in Bomb Aimer for his old 218 Squadron Skipper, F/L Don Thomson, who had since been posted to 75 (NZ) Squadron.

(Note that the Form 541 lists F/S Hilray Hubert Stratford, Thomson’s usual Bomb Aimer, as flying this op’).

“On this date it transpired that Don’s Bomb Aimer was ill so I would fly with Don once again.”

Flight No 36. Dresden. Germany. 13/2/1945.
Mk I Lancaster PB820 (JN-V)
Pilot.    F/Lt Don Thomson.
Load carried. 1 x 4,000 lb HC, 3 x 750. No 15 cluster of 4 lb incendiaries, 1 x 500. No 17 cluster of 4 lb incendiaries and 1 x 350 lb Munroe container of information leaflets, all printed in German.
Total weight 7,431 lbs = 3.32 tons. (A light load.)
Distance flown.      1,902 miles.
Time airborne.     9 hours exactly.


Don Thomson and his crew, loaded up and ready to go. – photo from Dying For Democracy, by Flt Lt G A Russell DFC.

Russell recalls that the initial Pathfinder Force Target Markers found that the target was covered in 10/10ths cloud, and they had to use the “Wanganui” marking method, which combined unquenchable flares dropped on the ground with parachute flares dropped from high above. The Master Bomber would direct the bomber stream by advising which coloured sky flares were closest to the ground flares, the glow of which was hopefully visible through the cloud.

“In my case, I was really impressed, because as I sighted on a floating flare in the sky, at the moment of releasing my bombs, the dimming, yet still faintly visible unquenchable flare on the ground, lined up perfectly in my sight. Wonders never cease!

From 20,000 ft I dropped my bomb load, including the 350 lb Munroe ‘bomb’ which shattered some two or three thousand feet above ground, scattering leaflets far and wide, ‘information’ for the population below. On this occasion, they would mostly be wasted because the resulting fire storm was much more fierce, and destroyed a much greater area, than ever expected.”

Russell doesn’t expand on the logic of combining incendiaries and paper leaflets in the same bomb load!!

Gerry Newey

Gerry’s logbook says simply “H. Flak, 5/10 clouds. Bloody good results.”

Skipper Johnny Wood’s entry in the ORB Form 541 says “Glow in sky seen from 140 miles on return.”

Bomber Command’s crews were driven relentlessly, “night after night”, to attack targets that were chosen for maximum impact on the German military effort, to help shorten the war.

As Russell argues, the men did not have the luxury of political or moral perspective on individual operations, they had a job to do. They weren’t privy to the overall strategies behind the choice of targets and methods employed, but if they were to work, it was critical that each individual played his part as instructed.

Reference, “Dying For Democracy”, by Flt Lt G A Russell DFC, 1997, self-published (Russell), Wanganui, NZ.