On February 14, 1945 sixty-two B-17 Flying Fortresses assigned to the US Army Air Force’s 398th Bomb Group got lost on their way to the firebombing of Dresden and erroneously released their payloads over the Nazi-occupied Czech capital, Prague. At precisely 12:35 p.m., 152 tons of high explosives rained down on the central city and two suburbs, destroying around a hundred houses and many historical monuments. Another two hundred buildings were heavily damaged. Ironically, the destroyed monuments included one of Prague’s main synagogues. The raid killed 701 civilians and injured 1,184. 11,000 people were left homeless. Villa Gröbovka, the current CEELI Institute building, took a direct hit and remained heavily damaged until years after the war. No military or industrial targets of any kind were hit.
The history of the 398th Bombardment Group based at RAF Nuthampstead, which carried out the raid, indicates the attack was an accident. The radar navigational equipment on the aircraft was not functioning correctly and high winds en route produced a dead reckoning navigational error of some 70 miles. This caused the formation to arrive over the supposed “target”, which was believed to be Dresden, at the time bombing commenced. Prague was mostly obscured by broken clouds, with occasional glimpses of the Vltava river. Additionally, Prague and Dresden looked similar from the air, with rivers running through both cities. The bombing was carried out as a “blind attack” using radar.