Air war above the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
May 1944 is generally regarded as the start of the air war in the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia. As part of Operation Pointblank, allied air forces launched an offensive aimed at striking the German petrochemical industry.
The American Air Force together with the British Royal Air Force continuously bombed ‘selected strategic targets.’ Given their track record of ‘strategic German targets’ (ie towns with NO military installations or value) it should come as no surprise that the Sudetenland would escape their attention!
A hell on earth!
Like a bolt from the blue, on the residential quarters of the historic center of Prague, bombs rained down. Without the slightest warning, all of a sudden it was like hell on earth!
On Wednesday 14th February 1945, the 8th Air Force USAAF sent four big combat units composed of 1337 B-24 Liberator bombers and B-17 Flying Fortress together with 962 fighters North American P-51 Mustang and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. Their target was principally the German town Dresden, the dreadful destruction of which started the night before with 772 Lancasters and RAF Halifaxes.
No one could understand — why the Americans decided to strike at the Prague? What for?
Later, when the Americans were asked for an explanation about the destruction of Prague, their version was announced, almost mockingly: they said that all sixty bombers were off course, and that in fact they were, at first, going to bomb Dresden. Prague was bombed by accident!
In the course of a mere five minutes, between 12.35 and 12.40, the city was struck by 152.5 tons of bombs. The raid first struck Radlice and then Smíchov, hitting the area between Palacky Bridge and Flora. Apart from Vinohrady, it also hit part of New Town, Vršovice, Nusle and Žižkov.
Bombing takes its toll
Prague suffered heavy losses within that 5 minute period with 637 fatalities and 3450 wounded. Ninety- three houses were completely flattened, 190 were severely hit and 1,500 damaged, on top of that 11,000 Prague residents suddenly became homeless.
The raid had one tragic consequence. After the war, the ruins were quickly cleared. One of the bombed houses belonged to a butcher called Maceška. In the course of clear-up, rescuers uncovered one cellar which was empty. However, in 1970, when the building was excavated, workers discovered another cellar… only this one just happened to have 23 human skeletons incarcerated inside.
They were all that remained of these survivors of the bombing itself. Only silent marks of desperation scratched into the basement walls bear witness to the endless night of their wait for rescue. Tragically the light and hope brought by rescuers never penetrated those walls; it was a wait that was in vain.
Once the planes had gone he grabbed his camera!
Stanislav Maršál started taking photographs immediately after the air raid, capturing mainly Vinohrady but also the heavily damaged Benedictine Monastery Na Slovanech and Charles Square. He was one of the very few who documented the dead bodies of air raid victims, be it directly on the spot where they died or in churches where they were brought afterwards or during funeral services that were held on the Míru Square.
At the end of 2008, the Military History Institute in Prague bought several thousand unique (and some as yet unpublished) photographs of the bombing of Prague, taken by Stanislav Maršál, which are currently archived in the Military History Institute in Prague. A book ‘Bomby na Prahu: nálety z roku 1945 objektivem Stanislava Maršála’ (Bombs on Prague: the bombing of 1945, through the lens of Stanislav Maršál), was published in 2011, containing many of these photos. Some of which are shown here: