16 March 1981
[PBS Television, “The Blitz”]
Rarely have I come across a television broadcast more vicious in intent and more warped in execution than your recent “Blitz on Britain.” As a survivor of the mass air raid executed against my native city of Prague, Bohemia, on the Christian Holy Day of Palm Sunday, 1945, by the Anglo-American strategic bomber force — a raid that maimed or murdered thousands a few seconds before the conclusion of the Second World War — I say this:
1. There can be no comparison between the brutality of the Anglo-American bomber offensive, on one hand, and the minimality of the German-Italian efforts, on the other.
As the commander of the British strategic air offensive, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris shows in hisBomber Offensive (Macmillan, New York, 1947) 23 German cities had more than 60 percent of their built-up area destroyed; 46 had half of it destroyed. 31 communities had more than 500 acres obliterated: Berlin, 6427 acres: Hamburg, 6200 acres; Duesseldorf, 2003; Cologne (through air attack), 1994. By contrast, the three favorite targets of the Luftwaffe: London, Plymouth and Coventry, had 600 acres, 400, and just over 100 acres destroyed.
2. Anglo-American strategic bombers, according to official sources of the West German government in 1962, dropped 2,690,000 metric tons of bombs on Continental Europe; 1,350,000 tons were dropped on Germany within its 1937 boundaries; 180,000 tons on Austria and the Balkans; 590,000 tons on France; 370,000 tons on Italy; and 200,000 tons on miscellaneous targets such as Bohemia, Slovakia and Poland. By contrast, Germany dropped a total of 74,172 tons of bombs as well as V-1 and V-2 rockets and “buzz bombs” on Britain — five percent of what the Anglo-Saxons rained down on Germany.
The Federal German Government has established the minimum count — not an estimate — of 635,000 German civilians were killed in France, Italy, Rumania, Hungary, Czecheslovakia, and elsewhere.
3. Both Germany and Britain initiated air raids on naval and military targets as of 3 September 1939. However, when the British attacks on port installations in Northern Germany ended in disaster, with a devastating majority of bombers downed — the Battle of the German Bight — Britain switched over to less costly night air raids on civilian targets such as Berlin and the Ruhr industrial region. By contrast, Germany replied in kind only in the winter months of 1940/41, a year later.
Observers indubitably British, such as the late Labour Minister Crossman, the scientist and writer C.P. Snow, and the Earl of Birkenhead, have demonstrated that it was not Germany but Britain that, after May, 1940, unleashed an official policy of unrestricted and unlimited raids on civilian populations under its new Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and his science advisor, Dr. Lindemann. Professor Lindemann, the later Viscount Cherwell, coolly calculated that, by using a force of 10,000 heavy bombers to attack and destroy the 58 largest German cities, one-third of the population of Germany would be “de-housed.” The assumption, of course, also was that out of those 25-27 million homeless at least ten percent — 2.5 to 3 million people — would be killed. On this score alone, Winston Churchill and his advisors deserve to rank among the maddest mass murderers in history. In fact, as West German records show, 131 German towns were hit by heavy strategic raids. Only the courage of the Luftwaffe pilots, the effectiveness of the air defense network and the strength of the fire fighting organization worked together to prevent a bloodbath to the extent envisioned by the Prime Minister.
4. Blood baths did occur when conditions were right.
When the Anglo-American bombing policy reached its first grand climax in a raid on Hamburg that stretched over several days and nights in July, 1943, a minimum of 40,000 to 50,000 civilians burned to death.
With the defensive power of the Reich worn down in the second half of 1944 and in 1945, the Anglo-Saxons indulged in ever more massive extermination raids against Europe. Communities of little or no military value, even if attacked previously, were now pulverized, preferably under conditions of the utmost horror. Christian holy days, and dates and sites of famous art festivals were select occasions for raids. Many of the most beautiful cities of Europe and the world were systematically pounded into nothingness, often during the last weeks of the war, among them: Wuerzburg, Hildesheim, Darmstadt, Kassel, Nuremberg, Braunschweig. Little Pforzheim in south-west Germany had 17,000 people killed. Dresden, one of the great art centers and in 1945 a refuge for perhaps a million civilians, was decimated with the loss of at least 100,000 souls. Europe from Monte Cassino to Luebeck and Rostock on the Baltic, from Caen and Lisieux in France to Pilsen, Prague, Bruenn, Budapest and Bucharest reeled under the barbaric blows of the bombers.
5. Nor did the extermination raids stop with Europe.
Cigar-chomping General Curtis LeMay demonstrated in. the Far East that record kills could be achieved without resort to atomic weapons. By applying the lessons learned in Europe to the wooden architecture of the Asian mainland and Japan he raised “fire storms” which surpassed even those of Hamburg, Pforzheim and Dresden-Mass raids by superheavy B-29 bombers against Osaka, Nagoya, Kobe and particularly, Tokyo-Yokohama, resulted in a minimum harvest of 125,000 to 150,000 kills per raid. More than 1.2 million Japanese civilians were killed through bombing. Millions of others fell victim to it, from Mukden, Manchuria, to Rangoon, Burma.
It goes without saying that LeMay and his colleagues could not have carried out their campaigns of mass annihilation without the backing of the highest political leaders in the land. In fact, the United States Government had placed orders for the immediate development of four-engined, superheavy, very-long-range bombers (the XB 15, the B-17, the XB 19, the B-24 and the B-29) starting in 1934.
Thus, the Roosevelt Administration had begun to lay plans for offensive, strategic, global war back in 1933, the year of its inception. With the later exception of Britain, none of the other “large” powers followed suit: neither France, Italy and Germany, nor Soviet Russia and Japan the latter with extensive holdings in the Pacific.
These are sobering facts. PBS, with its record of fine programming, has much to lose if it insists on presenting biassed reports such as “Blitz on Britain” or “UXB.” If you care to tap the unplumbed depths of sentimentality, envy and hatred, start a comic strip. In the meantime, we’ll change channels.
Give poor Alistair Cooke, who has been mightily discomfited of late, a much-needed respite.
Dr. A. R. Wesserle