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Bombing of Arles France in World War II

Wikipedia and Rick's Provence book mention that many of the site's in Van Gogh's works were destroyed by Allied bombing in WW2. We were in Arles in December and asked locals about this because we wondered why the Allies would bomb a French city/area. The locals we talked with weren't aware of the bombings. A long internet search hasn't provided an answer either. Were there German targets there? Why else would U.S./Britain bomb Arles? I don't get it, but I'd sure like to know. Bob
Decorah, Iowa

Posted by
227 posts

Hi Bob
if you do a Google search Arles France+WW2 you will find lots of references to your question. Arles was held by German forces and liberated by the US.

Posted by
111 posts

Unfortunately, quite a bit of France (and other parts of Europe) were heavily damaged by Allied air raids, and a lot of civilians were killed and injured. The Allies targeted German marshalling yards prior to Normandy and the Provence landings and bomb sites weren't entirely accurate.

Posted by
12758 posts

Why plaster the Altstadt in Frankfurt while leaving Frankfurt-Höchst intact? Or, am I incorrect here?

Posted by
8064 posts

Why would the Allies have bombed Dresden, Rothenburg, Würzburg or Frankfurt? Cities where there was no real war industry going on. Demoralization plain and simple. Of course the German army was in France, so they were going to be bombed.

Posted by
27424 posts

Wasn't IG Farben in or near Frankfurt, Jo? I remember my mother talking about it.

Posted by
850 posts

Many of the bombing targets around Arles and nearby towns were the railroad bridges being used by the Germans and unfortunately places like Van Gogh's yellow house where he rented a room were destroyed in the process. The yellow house has since been rebuilt.

Posted by
8064 posts

Yes, I.G. Farben is in Frankfurt, but just their huge office building. Their factories were located by Auschwitz from where they pulled their laborers and people to experiment on. They were in bed with some interesting firms, like Standard Oil. Not a single one of the IG Farben directors served any prison time. Even tho they were making the Zyklon B gas, and all of the explosives and fuel for the nazis The 5th Army Corp took over the building after the war until about 1995. Eisenhower had his office there too. Remember, the Berlin Airlift was run out of Frankfurt, so lots of troops and infastructure to be taken care of. Look up the logistic facts for the airlift, if you want to really be astounded. I used to go over there for Mothers Day dinner in the Terrace Club. Today it is the Johann Goethe University with almost 40,000 students enrolled this year. I read somewhere that it was voted the most beautiful campus in Germany. The building has some tall, tinted windows that are original, so there is no way any bombs came down anyplace near this building. Frankfurt was mainly bombed with incendiary bombs on their Alt Stadt. All those old wooden fachwerk houses went up like dry kindling.

Posted by
671 posts

James, the Tuskeegee Airment flew fighter escorts to protect the bombers, so technically they did not drop the bombs. Nevertheless, the outcome was the same.

Posted by
18228 posts

"Why would the Allies have bombed Dresden, Rothenburg, Würzburg or Frankfurt?" Because they could. There was a lot of revenge destruction near the end of the war. Freudenstadt, in the northern Black Forest, was firebombed by French artillery, with heavy civilian casualties.

Posted by
2193 posts

Jo mentioned Standard Oil, but how about GM & Ford's significant role in building up the Nazi war machine? Oh yeah, both corporations also demanded and received millions from the US government after the war for bomb damage to their German plants (true corporate welfare...just like today). And if you toss in Henry Ford's acceptance of the Grand Cross of the German Eagle medal and his well-known anti-Semitic publications, all of that Fourth of July, hot dog, and apple pie propaganda is suddenly a bunch of crap. Dresden, et al...one would like to think we fight wars differently today, yet the civilian death count in Iraq and Afghanistan combined is in the hundreds of thousands...maybe over a million. Our own losses were in the thousands. And yet, we have psychotic people who wish to be President calling for another war in Iran? Whatever. The day I decided the only war worth fighting is the one in which our way of life is truly at stake (as in WWII) was the day I saw a family welcoming their hero back from Iraq at an east coast airport. I'm assuming he was coming home from Walter Reed or elsewhere. He was 18 or 19 at most, was disabled and in a wheelchair, was bandaged from head to foot, was missing a big part of his head, and appeared to be blind. His family and friends gave him the hero's welcome he deserved, but I couldn't help think anything other than fighting in Iraq so Halliburton can make money can't possibly be worth this high of a price. It moved me profoundly...I'll never forget it. And I'll never vote for anyone who takes matters of war lightly. Sorry, I got a bit off topic.

Posted by
263 posts

Been rereading Catch 22, the war novel by Joseph Heller. Yossarian was terrified of bombing runs over Avignon. When I visited there and Arles I guess I didn't realize (innocent me) how all encompassing the war was. In Arles, in a little park near the cement easel for the Yellow House, a memorial is dedicated to two Americans shot down there. The phrase "for our libety" appears on the memorial. Wtih sabers rattling in several places in the world, I think we all need to take time to remember the horrors war brings.

Posted by
8064 posts

Let us please not bring present day politics, wars, and events into the discussion if at all possible. It doesn't add much to the discussion of historic events and detracts, as people start posting heated remarks.

Posted by
12040 posts

I recall a lecture while I was in college about how bombing progressed from the prewar ideal of precision dive bombing to obliterating whole cities. Some air forces (particularly the Luftwaffe but not the RAF) developed sophisticated dive bombing planes and techniques before the war, the goal being accurate bombing with little waste of valuable munitions and minimization of collateral damage. Worked great in practice runs, but once the war actually began, they quickly learned how easy it was to shoot down a dive bomber. So, the next attempts were daylight bombing runs from high altitude. Same problem, too many bombers were shot down, and it was too difficult to reliably hit the targets from so high above. So, they gave up on the idea of precision bombing and moved to night-time area bombing. Basically, identify the area where the target lies and hit that entire area. At the begining of the Battle of Britain, both sides actually used some restraint to try to limit the damage to military and industrial targets (although the Luftwaffe had previously used terror-bombing in Poland and the Netherlands). On a night-time raid on Hamburg, though, the RAF accidently hit a residential area, and from that point, Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe to hit anything, residential, industrial or military, to which the RAF then responded in kind. By the time the US entered the bombing war, the goal of precision bombing had long since died, and both sides had started carpet bombing entire cities. Basically, trying to eliminate any and all capabilities to continue fighting, be they industrial, financial, agricultural, military or psychological. From carpet-bombing entire cities with high explosives, it isn't too far a moral step to move to fire bombing, and from there, just dropping one bomb to knock out everything (Hiroshima). War sucks, and watch out for that slippery slope.

Posted by
588 posts

There is still a big debate in Britain about the morality of carpet bombing towns in World War II, and it is felt that the crews of Bomber Command, who suffered appalling losses, have never received the honour they deserved. Some historic British cities suffered in what were called "Baedeker Raids". It was thought that Hitler deliberately ed towns of no strategic importance but where morale could be damaged. Bath suffered an air raid because of this, but it is said that Oxford was spared because Hitler hoped make Oxford his capital. All over Europe, towns were destroyed by bombing and fighting. Some were rebuilt in modern style (Le Havre, Caen, Brest, etc) while others were rebuilt as they had been (St Malo, Wroclaw, etc). All this rebuilding took tremendous resources over a long period, and was help by programmes like Marshall Aid. It is generally thought that American supremacy from the 1950s onwards was a result of the United States coming out of the war with its industries and infrastructure intact.

Posted by
1346 posts

This is always a tricky issue in my own life. My Father served in the South Pacific for much of WWII. He was part of the force massing for the final attack on Japan. The use of the atom bombs on Japan certainly helped convince their government to end the war without the invasion of its islands. It may well have saved my Father's life. The bombings of Dresden and Würzburg came very late. I am not sure that they significantly foreshortened WWII in Germany. Part of the motivation might have been in response to the end of WWI, when several Germans (Hitler) thought that they had not lost the war but rather that the Germany civilian government had knifed the army in the back. As a result, I think there was a desire to bring the war home to Germans, to make them pay the price at home of assaulting other nations. There is an excellent book, "The Lion's Bridge" by Rosemarie Scheller Rowan, that told of the fire bombing of Würzburg as she experienced it as a child. It is worthwhile to measure the allied goal of permanently ending German aggression against the terror that the child felt.

Posted by
2876 posts

At the time of the Dresden bombing thousands of Allied soldiers were still being killed every day and the Germans were indiscriminately raining down V-2 rockets on civilian populations in England, Belgium, and elsewhere. I think we should hesitate to judge wartime decisions of 65 years ago from the perspective of today.

Posted by
8064 posts

Another note to think about is that the first Concentration Camps were being liberated before they bombed Dresden. Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviets in Jan. 1945. I would guess that part of the decision for the Dresden bombing would be tied to some justified retalliation? It had to have entered there heads wouldn't you think? http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005131

Posted by
988 posts

Post WW2, there was a widely-held perception that Dresden paid the price for the devastation of Coventry. I remember those two cities being linked in that respect. One could always look at the concept that AH had demanded the destruction of all Germany and its peoples when it was apparent the war was lost. One could say the Allies were merely carrying out his "instructions" <sarcasm font> But we are way off the OP.

Posted by
1346 posts

"I think we should hesitate to judge wartime decisions of 65 years ago from the perspective of today." After any military or foreign affair action, it is necessary to review our actions and decisions, to formulate "lessons learned." It is how we learn and grow. Understand history or repeat it.

Posted by
1 posts

German forces occupied Arles when they took over the whole "free zone" (non Vichy) in November 1942 as a precaution when the allies invaded N. Africa. In the 3 months before the allied landing in S France in August 1944 a large number of bombing raids were carried out by the allies in order to destroy railway lines and stations and cut the bridges across the Rhone to hinder the German retreat. Arles had 8 raids between 25 June and 15 Aug which inflicted great damage to the buildings and considerable number of civilian deaths. Van Gogh's Yellow House was destroyed as well as mine on the Place de la Major. Most of the bridges up the Rhone got bombed. The bombing was actually carried out by groups from the Free French Airforce - thus ironically by Frenchmen themselves - flying American B26 Maurader medium bombers. As the Germans retreated up the west bank of the Rhone the whole thing was unnecessary but at the time I suppose the allies probably thought it was. Hope that helps. Anthony

Posted by
2215 posts

This is an interesting thread, if a bit off topic. I don't think you can ever defend the killing of innocent civilians, but at the same time, it's an inevitable byproduct of war. Judging when it was justified or not justified is not always easy, but it's worth examining. I would like to address the myth that WWII was the fight everyone knew was worth fighting. The fact is that before Pearl Harbor, the climate was not that different than it is today. There was much debate about the possibility of the US entering the war, and most people wanting to stay out of it. They didn't have all the facts we have today. It's always hard to judge when it makes sense to fight. One could certainly argue that if the US and Europe had been more prepared for war (had a stronger military) and fought back against Hitler sooner that many fewer lives would have been lost. To Michael in Des Moines, I don't think any politicians take war lightly. They may just view that fighting now will be better in the long run. I don't want to argue who's right and who's wrong, but only to point out that these judgments are difficult. it wasn't so clear as you seem to think before WWII either.

Posted by
64 posts

I have always maintained that it is totally unfair for those of us who didn't live through WWII to give our opinions on events that happened 55-60 years ago. My father was in the Pacific in May of 1945 while 3 uncles where in Belgium and Germany at the same time. I'm sure, at that time, my grandmother was all in favor of any tactic used by "her boys" that would shorten the war and bring them home safely. I'm fairly certain there were many mothers on the other side of the conflict that wanted nothing more than the safety of their loved ones, as well. We must learn from the mistakes of the past so we don't repeat them. But let the animosity and the backward-looking perspectives die now. If you were at least 18 years old in 1945 your opinion has historical merit. If not, give it a rest.

Posted by
638 posts

Well said Mick, I was looking for a way to say what you did, but everytime I wrote out my thoughts they came across as too strong. I only want to add, the enjoyment that we get today of visiting Europe (and other parts of the world)is because of the decisions that were made in 1945, no one is going to forget as long as we have the liberties we have today. My father also served in WWII, in North Africa and Italy.

Posted by
1346 posts

"If you were at least 18 years old in 1945 your opinion has historical merit. If not, give it a rest." I respectfully disagree. When the WWII generation dies, we are still entitled to an opinion about the causes and the conduct of the war. It is also (to me) necessary to remember and detest the concentration camps. Hopefully, our opinions will be informed and thoughtful. The Germans have done a heroic job of remembering what happened in WWII without obsessing about it. I hope that we follow their lead. Regards, Gary

Posted by
8975 posts

"...The Germans have done a heroic job of remembering what happened in WWII without obsessing about it..." That statement is a bit of an oxymoron, and "Heroic" is debatable. It took 40 years to build a Holocaust Museum/Memorial in Berlin, and there are still folks waiting to be compensated from Germany companies involved in forced labor during the war.