Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Informant Exclusive: The Mysterious US WW II Bombing Of Prague

On February 14, 1945,the bomb raid sirens pierced the air of Prague, then the capital of the Nazi protectorate of Bohemia.  Few paid any attention on that afternoon.  After all, allied warplanes had flown over the city numerous times in the past on their way to drop their bombs in Germany.  This time, however, things would be different.  The first warning was the humming of the warplanes close over the city.  Then the bombs began to drop, some 700 in total.  Destruction was slashed across a good swathe of the city.  Under the rumble of homes, churches and businesses, lay the corpses of 700.  Oddly, 65 years after that tragic day, no one has explained why American bombers unloaded their payload on one of Europe's most beautiful cities.
So why did what happen, happen?

There are many theories, or precisely, excuses for the U.S. bombing of Prague.

Number one is the massive bombing of Dresden, in Saxony, Germany.

On February 13, British Royal Air Force bombers began targeting the so-called Florence on the Elbe.  

When it was all over on February 15, Dresden had some 3,900 tons of high-explosives reined down on it.   

Such was the intensity of the bombing and the fires it caused, the air was sucked out of the sky.  

Such was the intensity of the blaze, its glow could be seen nearly two hundred miles away in Prague.

The death toll is still debated today.  Safe to say, tens of thousands died.  

It is said the U.S. bombers had been ordered to Dresden, put mistook Prague for that Saxony gem and dropped their bombs. 

This video shows a museum exhibit chronicling that day.  

The U.S. bombers had traveled hundreds of miles from their Italian bases, so at 30,000 plus feet in the air, and only about 200 miles away from Dresden, maybe the pilots did make a mistake, a fatal one.  

But on the 14th, Dresden was already burning.  Surely, the pilots would have known the Royal Air Force had already started the bombing of Dresden a day before?  

Didn't they seen even high up in the skies a tranquil, untouched city, and not a Dantesque inferno?

Or maybe it was too cloudy to see below?

Afterward, that was another circumstance that allegedly conspired against the bomber pilots.

But as this good account from Cesky Rozhlas illustrates, the skies were clear that day. 

Zdenek Podraha remembers the warplanes flying over the city skies.  

"Big groups of aeroplanes were flying over Vysocany heading north, presumably on their way to Dresden. A few planes broke away from the main group and turned back and dropped some bombs here and there. It was not a systematic bombing. Others flew very low above Radlice which was destroyed. We did not know about that then, we only knew what we saw on the horizon. I ran home of course, I was very scared. But Nusle where we used to live was untouched."

The standard narrative goes that the pilots made a mistake and were sorry. 

"Although some of navigators weren't sure whether this was the right target the deputy commander did not let them talk about their doubts - that would have meant breaking the radio silence. They went off course near Freiberg, from where they started their bombing run. They saw a city with a river flowing from south to east, similar to the Elbe in Dresden, and dense residential areas. After the raid, a few navigators said they thought it was the wrong target. But they did not know until they landed that they had bombed a civilian area of a friendly country."

The military ordered the pilots taking part to keep their mouths shut.

But the conscience of at least one got the better of him.  

Jaroslava Pekova lives in Karlin, one of the districts of Prague that was bombed.  

She told the Czech daily Mlada Fronta that in the early 1990s she was a tour guide showing the city sites to a group of seniors.  

Pekova told them of the U.S. bombing of Prague at the end of the war, and how it had been the unfortunate result of navigation system glitch.

At that point, an American stepped forward to disagree.

"Now that I see how beautiful Prague is, I'm so sorry, I was one of the pilots who dropped those bombs on you," said the man, according to Pekova.

Then came the bombshell, pardon the pun.

Again, according to Pekova, the American said the bombing wasn't the result of a navigation system snafu.

"He told me," continues Pekova, "we are trained.  We would never make such a mistake.  We dropped the bombs where we were supposed to.  I'm sorry, but we had to follow orders, we were soldiers."

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