Used to US planes overhead, Praguers ignored sirens during tragic air raid of February 1945

The bombardment of Prague in 1945, photo: Archive of DPP Praha

Saturday is the 70th anniversary of one of the blackest days experienced by the Czech lands during WWII, when US planes dropped some 150 bombs over Prague, leaving 700 people dead and levelling around 100 buildings. Foggy conditions had led the American airmen to mistake the city for Germany’s Dresden, over 100 kilometres to the north. I discussed the tragic error – and other aspects of the events of February 14, 1945 – with historian Jan Adamec.

Bomber B-17
“The pilots and military historians have argued that this mistake happened somewhere at the beginning of their flight. Their line of flight was shifted by 100 or 120 kilometres.

“So from the beginning they were on the wrong route and due to bad weather and fog and the all other conditions they mistook Prague for Dresden.

“However, it’s interesting that during the flight there was a disagreement between the pilots. One wing – around 12 bombers – decided not to drop the bombs on the target.

The bombardment of Prague in 1945 | Photo: Archive of JUDr. Jaroslav Lašťovka
“They were not sure it was Dresden so they dropped them somewhere else. So there was a disagreement among the pilots on the spot.”

The raid took place in the middle of the day and there was very high loss of life. Was that in part due to the fact that the people of Prague didn’t make use of the city’s air raid shelters?

“It’s kind of the tragedy of this raid that the people of Prague expected that the bombers they saw – and which they greeted – would as usual fly over the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia to hit the territory of the Third Reich, to Germany.

The bombardment of Prague in 1945,  photo: Archive of DPP Praha
“They had seen a lot of bombers flying over Czech territory but very few of them dropped bombs on the territory. So they did not expect it would be the case this time.

“Many of them, instead of going into basements, ignored the alarm. Because these alarms were so frequent and nothing happened. This is the reason there were so many casualties.”

Do we have any information regarding the reaction of the people of Prague to the bombings? The Nazis of course used them afterwards in anti-Allied propaganda, saying they had been deliberate.

“Well, Nazi propaganda naturally tried to exploit the bombing. And I expect some might have listened to it, especially those whose close relatives were killed or lost their homes.

The bombardment of Prague in 1945,  photo: Archive of DPP Praha
“But I would say that generally Nazi propaganda was not believed at all. Also it was the end of the war and everyone knew what the result would be and who the bad guys and the good guys were.”

Was that time – on February 14, 1945 – the only time that there was a major Allied bombing of Prague?

“There was an incident in November 1944 where an electricity power plant in the Holešovice district was hit. But until this February 1945 raid Prague was not the target.

“Later Prague was bombed, in March 1945, but that was an intentional bombing targeted at weapon producing capacities in the industrial districts of Prague, in Libeň, Kbely and Vysočany, where 245 people were killed.”