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Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden. By Marshall De Bruhl. (Random House: 2006. Pg. 368.) ISBN: 0679435344.

Reviewed by Herbert White - March 5, 2007

The carpet bombing of German cities by the Allies was a technique whereas the Allies would, at night, fly massive squadrons of bombers over the targeted city and bomb the city into oblivion. The targeting of German civilian population centers was, in part, in retaliation to the Nazi's blitz of London. It was also done in an attempt to demoralize the civilian population and to disrupt German Infrastructure. The technique of carpeting bombing began in 1942 with the carpet bombing of Cologne, Germany. The practice continued throughout the rest of World War II, with perhaps the most controversial raid taking place in February 1945 with the bombing of Dresden, when the end of the war against the Nazi's appeared imminent. At the time, Dresden was a haven for Nazi-sympathizers and a major center for armaments manufacturing, and it was also thought, incorrectly, that Dresden was a major staging point for troops being transferred East - toward the advancing Soviet troops.

In the bombing of Dresden, both British and American forces attacked the city with a combination of thousands of tons of incendiary bombs and high explosives. What ensued was a massive firestorm that saw temperatures rise above 1,500 degrees Celsius. The ensuing firestorm incinerated large sections of the city, it armaments factories, and more than 25,000 civilians. (The actual death toll has never been calculated as the city was full of refugees and wounded soldiers at the time of the bombing, and many of the dead were never recovered.)

In Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden Marshall De Bruhl provides an historical overview of the Allied tactic of carpet bombing, the reasons for its use, and how it was carried out. He also examines why the Allies felt that they had no other choice than to target German civilian population centers, and the impact that this tactic had on the targeted cities - and their survivors.

De Bruhl conducts this study in an impartial manner, presenting the story of the bombing of Dresden from both the viewpoint of the Allies, and the Germans. In this account he incorporates the most up-to-date research on the bombing, eyewitness accounts, and contemporary reports on the aftermath of the raid. In writing this book, De Bruhl has interwoven biographical sketches of major figures involved in the carpet bombing campaigns, including Hugh Trenchard, RAF Bomber Command Air Marshal Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris and the American Commander, General Carl Spaatz. He explores the V-Weapons campaign that the German waged against England, and how this campaign encouraged the practice of carpet bombing. Conversely, he explores how the bombing of Dresden may have been used as a warning to Imperial Japan, and as an aid to the Soviet advance on Germany. He also outlines the Nazi response to the bombing of Dresden.

Firestorm is an important contribution to the volume of works on World War II military tactics and it is essential reading for anyone who wants to truly understand why the Allies choose to decimate Dresden so late in the war, its impact, and its long term consequences.

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