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THE UNFORTUNATE VALENTINE’S DAY OF 1945

Tereza

The picture above is a curtesy of Drips.cz

If you celebrated in your country, you probably spend yesterday eating some chocolate and saw in the store many red hearts. If you were in Prague, you could do the Valentine stuff, or took part in many Carnival’s festivities and pork feasts. Unfortunately, for we Praguer, 14th February is not only about fun, we also remembered the 70th year anniversary of a mysterious air bombing by the US Airforce.  

Prague was very lucky during the Second World War as it was damaged very little in comparison to other large cities just across the border. There were only a few occasions when British and American bombers attacked factories in Pilseň, Pardubice, or Prague. Absolutely unexpected was the February 1945 attack which left in its wake 701 casualties and the destruction of tens of houses on Prague streets.  Nobody really knows what happened, but we know that Prague was not the intended target.

That day, 461 US B-17 bombers departed for Dresden. But the sky was full of low clouds, and strong winds caused 60 of the bombers to fly off course already after passing the Netherlands. Their radar system broke down, and they could only orient themselves by what they could see below, through thick clouds. They were carrying 2 tons of munitions, which they had to drop, otherwise they would not have enough fuel to return back to the UK. Their target was Dresden, but the targeted city seemed to be a bit further then it was supposed to be. When they finally reached the Protectorate (Occupied Czech Republic), the weather cleared up and first big city they saw was Pilsner, but they assumed it had to be Cvikov. A few minutes later, they saw a city with a river running through it.  The main navigator gave the signal that that they had finally reached the target. Not everybody, in the fleet, however, agreed with the main navigator. It took them longer to reach the target, the river bends in a different angle, it does not look damaged from previous bombing and the anti-air defense was firing from the wrong angle as well.

The pictures above are curtesy of Ministery of Defense of the Czech Republic

The bombing happened, and it resulted in a large number of casualties. Prague was not prepared for an air bombing as well as cities in Germany as nobody expected that Prague would be ever a target. Though most houses did have air raid shelters. The biggest problem was that the inhabitants of Prague themselves did not expect any air strikes, and therefore, many of them ignored the sirens. The rumor at the time was that the war was almost over and the alliance promised to the President in exile, Beneš, that Prague would be spared. But the technology at that time had a lot of faults and mistakes like the Valentine’s Day Prague bombing happened.

The bombing, besides a large toll of human casualties, caused damage to the historical heritage of the city. One architectural symbol that was almost completely destroyed was a Gothic church founded by Charles IV in 14th century - Emauzy at Palackého square. It is important to remember that WWII was very much present in the Czech lands as in other European cities, even though the cities were not damaged to the same extent.


 


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