Bombing of Dresden in World War II
Overview
 
The Bombing of Dresden
Dresden
Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the Czech border. The Dresden conurbation is part of the Saxon Triangle metropolitan area....

was a military bombing by the British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 (RAF) and the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) and as part of the Allied forces
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 between 13 February and 15 February 1945 in the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. In four raids, 1,300 heavy bombers dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bomb
Bomb
A bomb is any of a range of explosive weapons that only rely on the exothermic reaction of an explosive material to provide an extremely sudden and violent release of energy...

s and incendiary device
Incendiary device
Incendiary weapons, incendiary devices or incendiary bombs are bombs designed to start fires or destroy sensitive equipment using materials such as napalm, thermite, chlorine trifluoride, or white phosphorus....

s on the city, the Baroque
Baroque
The Baroque is a period and the style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music...

 capital of the German
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 state of Saxony
Saxony
The Free State of Saxony is a landlocked state of Germany, contingent with Brandenburg, Saxony Anhalt, Thuringia, Bavaria, the Czech Republic and Poland. It is the tenth-largest German state in area, with of Germany's sixteen states....

. The resulting firestorm
Firestorm
A firestorm is a conflagration which attains such intensity that it creates and sustains its own wind system. It is most commonly a natural phenomenon, created during some of the largest bushfires, forest fires, and wildfires...

 destroyed 15 square miles (39 square kilometres) of the city centre.

A 1953 United States Air Force
United States Air Force
The United States Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the American uniformed services. Initially part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of...

 report written by Joseph W.
Encyclopedia
The Bombing of Dresden
Dresden
Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the Czech border. The Dresden conurbation is part of the Saxon Triangle metropolitan area....

was a military bombing by the British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 (RAF) and the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) and as part of the Allied forces
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 between 13 February and 15 February 1945 in the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. In four raids, 1,300 heavy bombers dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bomb
Bomb
A bomb is any of a range of explosive weapons that only rely on the exothermic reaction of an explosive material to provide an extremely sudden and violent release of energy...

s and incendiary device
Incendiary device
Incendiary weapons, incendiary devices or incendiary bombs are bombs designed to start fires or destroy sensitive equipment using materials such as napalm, thermite, chlorine trifluoride, or white phosphorus....

s on the city, the Baroque
Baroque
The Baroque is a period and the style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music...

 capital of the German
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 state of Saxony
Saxony
The Free State of Saxony is a landlocked state of Germany, contingent with Brandenburg, Saxony Anhalt, Thuringia, Bavaria, the Czech Republic and Poland. It is the tenth-largest German state in area, with of Germany's sixteen states....

. The resulting firestorm
Firestorm
A firestorm is a conflagration which attains such intensity that it creates and sustains its own wind system. It is most commonly a natural phenomenon, created during some of the largest bushfires, forest fires, and wildfires...

 destroyed 15 square miles (39 square kilometres) of the city centre.

A 1953 United States Air Force
United States Air Force
The United States Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the American uniformed services. Initially part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of...

 report written by Joseph W. Angell defended the operation as the justified bombing of a military and industrial target, which was a major rail transportation and communication centre, housing 110 factories and 50,000 workers in support of the Nazi
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 war effort. However, several researchers have discovered that not all of the communications infrastructure, such as the bridges, were in fact targeted, nor were the extensive industrial areas outside the city centre. It is argued that Dresden was a cultural landmark of little or no military significance, a "Florence
Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

 on the Elbe
Elbe
The Elbe is one of the major rivers of Central Europe. It rises in the Krkonoše Mountains of the northwestern Czech Republic before traversing much of Bohemia , then Germany and flowing into the North Sea at Cuxhaven, 110 km northwest of Hamburg...

" (Elbflorenz), as it was known, and the attacks were indiscriminate area bombing and not proportionate to the commensurate military gains
Military necessity
Military necessity, along with distinction, and proportionality, are three important principles of international humanitarian law governing the legal use of force in an armed conflict.-Attacks:...

.

In March 1945, the Nazi regime ordered its press to publish a death toll of 200,000 for the Dresden raids. Death toll estimates as high as 500,000 have been given. An independent investigation commissioned by the city council in 2010 reported a maximum of 25,000 victims.

Dresden was not the only city destroyed by the Allies. The bombing of the larger city of Hamburg
Bombing of Hamburg in World War II
The Allied bombing of Hamburg during World War II included numerous strategic bombing missions and diversion/nuisance raids. As a large port and industrial center, Hamburg's shipyards, U-boat pens, and the Hamburg-Harburg area oil refineries were attacked throughout the war...

 in 1943 created one of the greatest firestorms raised by the RAF and USAAF, killing roughly 50,000 civilians in Hamburg and practically destroying the entire city. The Allies also bombed the smaller city of Pforzheim
Bombing of Pforzheim in World War II
During the latter stages of World War II, Pforzheim, a town in southwestern Germany, was bombed a number of times. The largest raid, and one of the most devastating area bombardments of the war was carried out by the Royal Air Force on the evening of February 23, 1945. As many as 17,600 people,...

 in 1945, killing roughly 18,000 civilians,, suggesting that the bombing raids over Dresden were actually not the most severe of World War II. However, they continue to be recognized as one of the many examples of civilian suffering caused by Allied strategic bombing
Strategic bombing
Strategic bombing is a military strategy used in a total war with the goal of defeating an enemy nation-state by destroying its economic ability and public will to wage war rather than destroying its land or naval forces...

, and have become exposed among the moral causes célèbres
Cause célèbre
A is an issue or incident arousing widespread controversy, outside campaigning and heated public debate. The term is particularly used in connection with celebrated legal cases. It is a French phrase in common English use...

 of the Second World War.
Post-war discussion, popular legends, historical revisionism
Historical revisionism
In historiography, historical revisionism is the reinterpretation of orthodox views on evidence, motivations, and decision-making processes surrounding a historical event...

 (or negationism
Historical revisionism (negationism)
Historical revisionism is either the legitimate scholastic re-examination of existing knowledge about a historical event, or the illegitimate distortion of the historical record such that certain events appear in a more or less favourable light. For the former, i.e. the academic pursuit, see...

) and Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 propaganda of the bombing includes debate by commentators, officials and historians as to whether or not the bombing was justified, and (if not) whether its outcome constituted a war crime
War crime
War crimes are serious violations of the laws applicable in armed conflict giving rise to individual criminal responsibility...

. It is notable that the V-2 was presented by Nazi
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 propaganda as a retaliation for the bombers that attacked ever more German cities from 1942 until Germany surrendered.

Background

At the end of 1944, the German army was retreating on both fronts, but not yet defeated. In the east, the Soviets were pushing the Germans westward. On 8 February 1945, they crossed the Oder River, with positions just 70 km from Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

. As the Eastern
Eastern Front (World War II)
The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of World War II between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union, Poland, and some other Allies which encompassed Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945...

 and Western Fronts
Western Front (World War II)
The Western Front of the European Theatre of World War II encompassed, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and West Germany. The Western Front was marked by two phases of large-scale ground combat operations...

 were getting closer, the Western Allies started to consider how they might aid the Soviets with the use of the strategic bomber
Strategic bomber
A strategic bomber is a heavy bomber aircraft designed to drop large amounts of ordnance onto a distant target for the purposes of debilitating an enemy's capacity to wage war. Unlike tactical bombers, which are used in the battle zone to attack troops and military equipment, strategic bombers are...

 force. The plan was to bomb Berlin and several other eastern cities in conjunction with the Soviet advance, in order to cause confusion among German troops and refugees evacuating from the east and to hamper their reinforcement from the west.

A special British Joint Intelligence Subcommittee report titled German Strategy and Capacity to Resist, prepared for Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

's eyes only, predicted that Germany might collapse as early as mid-April if the Soviets overran them at their eastern defences. Alternatively, the report warned that the Germans might hold out until November if they could prevent the Soviets from taking Silesia
Silesia
Silesia is a historical region of Central Europe located mostly in Poland, with smaller parts also in the Czech Republic, and Germany.Silesia is rich in mineral and natural resources, and includes several important industrial areas. Silesia's largest city and historical capital is Wrocław...

. Hence any assistance provided to the Soviets on the Eastern Front could shorten the war.

Plans for a large and intense offensive targeting Berlin and the other eastern cities had been discussed under the code name Operation Thunderclap
Operation Thunderclap
In August 1944 plans were drawn for an operation code named Thunderclap but it was shelved and never implemented. The plan envisaged a massive attack on Berlin that would cause 220,000 casualties with 110,000 killed, many of them key German personnel, which would shatter German morale...

 in mid-1944, but it had been shelved on 16 August. These were now re-examined, and the decision made to draw up a more limited operation.

On 22 January, the RAF director of bomber operations, Air Commodore
Air Commodore
Air commodore is an air-officer rank which originated in and continues to be used by the Royal Air Force...

 Sydney Bufton, sent a memo to the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff
Deputy Chief of the Air Staff
The Deputy Chief of the Air Staff was a senior appointment in the Royal Air Force. The incumbent was the deputy to the Chief of the Air Staff. The post existed from 1918 to 1968 or 1969...

, Air Marshal Sir Norman Bottomley
Norman Bottomley
Air Chief Marshal Sir Norman Howard Bottomley KCB CIE DSO AFC RAF was the Yorkshire-born successor to Arthur 'Bomber' Harris as Commander-in-Chief of RAF Bomber Command in 1945.-RAF career:...

, suggesting that what appeared to be a coordinated air attack by the RAF to aid the current Soviet offensive would have a detrimental effect on German morale. On 25 January, the Joint Intelligence Committee expressed support for the idea, as it tied in with the ULTRA-based intelligence that dozens of German divisions
Division (military)
A division is a large military unit or formation usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. In most armies, a division is composed of several regiments or brigades, and in turn several divisions typically make up a corps...

 which had been deployed in the west were being moved to reinforce the Eastern Front and that the interdiction
Interdiction
Interdiction is a military term that refers to the act of delaying, disrupting, or destroying enemy forces or supplies en route to the battle area. A distinction is often made between strategic and tactical interdiction...

 of these troop movements should be given a high priority. Arthur Harris
Sir Arthur Harris, 1st Baronet
Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Travers Harris, 1st Baronet GCB OBE AFC , commonly known as "Bomber" Harris by the press, and often within the RAF as "Butcher" Harris, was Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of RAF Bomber Command during the latter half of World War...

, AOC
Air Officer Commanding
Air Officer Commanding is a title given in the air forces of Commonwealth nations to an air officer who holds a command appointment. Thus, an air vice marshal might be the AOC 38 Group...

 Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF's bomber forces from 1936 to 1968. During World War II the command destroyed a significant proportion of Nazi Germany's industries and many German cities, and in the 1960s stood at the peak of its postwar military power with the V bombers and a supplemental...

 (nicknamed "Bomber" Harris in the British press, and known as an ardent supporter of area bombing) was asked for his opinion, and proposed a simultaneous attack on Chemnitz
Chemnitz
Chemnitz is the third-largest city of the Free State of Saxony, Germany. Chemnitz is an independent city which is not part of any county and seat of the government region Direktionsbezirk Chemnitz. Located in the northern foothills of the Ore Mountains, it is a part of the Saxon triangle...

, Leipzig
Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

 and Dresden. That evening Churchill asked the Secretary of State for Air
Secretary of State for Air
The Secretary of State for Air was a cabinet level British position. The person holding this position was in charge of the Air Ministry. It was created on 10 January 1919 to manage the Royal Air Force...

, Sir Archibald Sinclair
Archibald Sinclair, 1st Viscount Thurso
Archibald Henry Macdonald Sinclair, 1st Viscount Thurso KT, CMG, PC , known as Sir Archibald Sinclair, Bt between 1912 and 1952, and often as Archie Sinclair, was a British politician and leader of the Liberal Party....

, what plans had been drawn up to carry out these proposals. He passed on the request to Sir Charles Portal, the Chief of the Air Staff, who answered that "We should use available effort in one big attack on Berlin and attacks on Dresden, Leipzig, and Chemnitz, or any other cities where a severe blitz will not only cause confusion in the evacuation from the East, but will also hamper the movement of troops from the West". However, he mentioned that aircraft diverted to such raids should not be taken away from the current primary tasks of destroying oil production facilities, jet aircraft
Jet aircraft
A jet aircraft is an aircraft propelled by jet engines. Jet aircraft generally fly much faster than propeller-powered aircraft and at higher altitudes – as high as . At these altitudes, jet engines achieve maximum efficiency over long distances. The engines in propeller-powered aircraft...

 factories, and submarine yards
Submarine pen
A submarine pen is a bunker which is designed to protect submarines from air attack.The term is generally applied to submarine bases constructed during World War II, particularly in Germany and the occupied countries which were also known as U-boat pens .-Background:Amongst the first...

.

Churchill was not satisfied with this answer and, on 26 January, pressed Sinclair for a plan of operations: "I asked [last night] whether Berlin, and no doubt other large cities in east Germany, should not now be considered especially attractive targets.... Pray report to me tomorrow what is going to be done."

In response to Churchill's enquiry Sinclair approached Bottomley, who asked Harris to undertake attacks on Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig, and Chemnitz, as soon as moon and weather conditions allowed, "with the particular object of exploiting the confused conditions which are likely to exist in the above mentioned cities during the successful Russian advance." This activity allowed Sinclair to inform Churchill on 27 January of Air Staff agreement, "subject to the overriding claims" on other targets under the Pointblank Directive
Pointblank directive
Operation Pointblank was the code name for the primary portion of the Allied Combined Bomber Offensive intended to cripple or destroy the German aircraft fighter strength, thus drawing it away from frontline operations and ensuring it would not be an obstacle to the invasion of Northwest Europe....

, strikes against communications in these cities to disrupt civilian evacuation from the east and troop movement from the west would be made.

On 31 January, Bottomley sent a message to Portal saying a heavy attack on Dresden and other cities "will cause great confusion in civilian evacuation from the east and hamper movement of reinforcements from other fronts". British historian Fredrick Taylor
Frederick Taylor (historian)
Frederick Taylor is a British historian and author of such works as Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945 about the bombing of Dresden in World War II....

 mentions a further memo sent to the Chiefs of Staff Committee
Chiefs of Staff Committee
The Chiefs of Staff Committee is composed of the most senior military personnel in the British Armed Forces.-History:The Chiefs of Staff Committee was initially established as a sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence in 1923. It remained as such until the abolition of the CID upon the...

 by Sir Douglas Evill
Douglas Evill
Air Chief Marshal Sir Douglas Claude Strathern Evill, GBE, KCB, DSC, AFC, RAF was a Royal Naval Air Service pilot during World War I and senior commander in the Royal Air Force during World War II.-Early life:...

 on 1 February, in which Evill states interfering with mass civilian movements was a major, even key, factor in the decision to bomb the city center. Attacks there, where main rail junctions, telephone systems, city administration, and utilities were located, would result in chaos. Britain had learned this after the Coventry Blitz
Coventry Blitz
The Coventry blitz was a series of bombing raids that took place in the English city of Coventry. The city was bombed many times during the Second World War by the German Air Force...

, when loss of this crucial infrastructure had longer-lasting effects than attacks on war plants.

During the Yalta Conference
Yalta Conference
The Yalta Conference, sometimes called the Crimea Conference and codenamed the Argonaut Conference, held February 4–11, 1945, was the wartime meeting of the heads of government of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, represented by President Franklin D...

 on 4 February, the Deputy Chief of the Soviet General Staff, General Aleksei Antonov
Aleksei Antonov
Aleksei Innokentievich Antonov was a General of the Soviet Army, awarded the Order of Victory for his efforts in World War II.-Career:...

, raised the issue of hampering the reinforcement of German troops from the western front by paralysing the junctions of Berlin and Leipzig with aerial bombardment. In response, Portal, who was in Yalta
Yalta
Yalta is a city in Crimea, southern Ukraine, on the north coast of the Black Sea.The city is located on the site of an ancient Greek colony, said to have been founded by Greek sailors who were looking for a safe shore on which to land. It is situated on a deep bay facing south towards the Black...

, asked Bottomley to send him a list of objectives to be discussed with the Soviets. Bottomley's list included oil plants, tank and aircraft factories, and the cities of Berlin and Dresden. A British interpreter later claimed that Antonov and Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

 asked for the bombing of Dresden, but there is no mention of these requests in the official record of the conference and the claim may be Cold War propaganda
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

.

Military and industrial profile

Dresden was Germany's seventh-largest city and, according to the RAF at the time, the largest remaining unbombed built-up area. Taylor writes that an official 1942 guide to the city described it as "one of the foremost industrial locations of the Reich" and in 1944, the German Army High Command's Weapons Office listed 127 medium-to-large factories and workshops that were supplying the army with materiel
Materiel
Materiel is a term used in English to refer to the equipment and supplies in military and commercial supply chain management....

. The contribution to the Nazi war effort may not have been as significant as the planners thought.

The US Air Force Historical Division wrote a report in response to the international concern about the bombing, which was classified until December 1978. This said that there were 110 factories and 50,000 workers in the city supporting the German war effort at the time of the raid. According to the report, there were aircraft components factories; a poison gas factory (Chemische Fabrik Goye and Company); an anti-aircraft and field gun
Field gun
A field gun is an artillery piece. Originally the term referred to smaller guns that could accompany a field army on the march and when in combat could be moved about the battlefield in response to changing circumstances, as to opposed guns installed in a fort, or to siege cannon or mortars which...

 factory (Lehman
Lehman
- People :*Albert Lehman, American Olympic medalist lacrosse player* Bruce Lehman , American patent lawyer* David Lehman , American poetry editor* Edward E...

); an optical goods factory (Zeiss Ikon AG); as well as factories producing electrical and X-ray apparatus (Koch & Sterzel AG); gears and differentials (Saxoniswerke); and electric gauges (Gebrüder Bassler). It also said there were barracks, hutted camps, and a munitions storage depot.

The USAF report also states that two of Dresden's traffic routes were of military importance: north-south from Germany to Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

, and east-west along the central European uplands. The city was at the junction of the Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

-Prague
Prague
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 2.3 million...

-Vienna
Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

 railway line, as well as the Munich
Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

-Breslau, and Hamburg
Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

-Leipzig
Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

. Colonel Harold E. Cook, a US POW
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

 held in the Friedrichstadt
Friedrichstadt (Dresden)
Friedrichstadt is a neighborhood in central Dresden, Germany. A factory district in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it is known as the home of the founders of the artistic association known as Die Brücke.- History :...

 marshaling yard the night before the attacks, later said that "I saw with my own eyes that Dresden was an armed camp: thousands of German troops, tanks and artillery and miles of freight cars loaded with supplies supporting and transporting German logistics
Military logistics
Military logistics is the discipline of planning and carrying out the movement and maintenance of military forces. In its most comprehensive sense, it is those aspects or military operations that deal with:...

 towards the east to meet the Russians."

An RAF memo issued to airmen on the night of the attack said:
In the raid, major industrial areas in the suburbs, which stretched for miles, were not targeted. According to Donald Miller "the economic disruption would have been far greater had Bomber Command targeted the suburban areas where most of Dresden's manufacturing might was concentrated".

In the air

The night of 13/14 February

The Dresden attack was to have begun with a USAAF
United States Army Air Forces
The United States Army Air Forces was the military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force....

 Eighth Air Force
Eighth Air Force
The Eighth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force Global Strike Command . It is headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana....

 bombing raid on 13 February 1945. The Eighth Air Force had already bombed the railway yards near the centre of the city twice in daytime raids: once on 7 October 1944 with 70 tons of high-explosive bombs killing more than 400, then again with 133 bombers on 16 January 1945, dropping 279 tons of high-explosives and 41 tons of incendiaries
Incendiary device
Incendiary weapons, incendiary devices or incendiary bombs are bombs designed to start fires or destroy sensitive equipment using materials such as napalm, thermite, chlorine trifluoride, or white phosphorus....

.

On 13 February 1945, bad weather over Europe prevented any USAAF operations, and it was left to RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF's bomber forces from 1936 to 1968. During World War II the command destroyed a significant proportion of Nazi Germany's industries and many German cities, and in the 1960s stood at the peak of its postwar military power with the V bombers and a supplemental...

 to carry out the first raid. It had been decided that the raid would be a double strike, in which a second wave of bombers would attack three hours after the first, just as the rescue teams were trying to put out the fires. Other raids were carried out that night to confuse Nazi air defences
Defense of the Reich
The Defence of the Reich is the name given to the strategic defensive aerial campaign fought by the Luftwaffe over German occupied Europe and Germany itself during World War II. Its aim was to prevent the destruction of German military and civil industries by the Western Allies...

. Three hundred and sixty heavy bombers (Lancasters
Avro Lancaster
The Avro Lancaster is a British four-engined Second World War heavy bomber made initially by Avro for the Royal Air Force . It first saw active service in 1942, and together with the Handley Page Halifax it was one of the main heavy bombers of the RAF, the RCAF, and squadrons from other...

 and Halifaxes
Handley Page Halifax
The Handley Page Halifax was one of the British front-line, four-engined heavy bombers of the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. A contemporary of the famous Avro Lancaster, the Halifax remained in service until the end of the war, performing a variety of duties in addition to bombing...

) bombed a synthetic oil plant in Böhlen
Böhlen
Böhlen is a town in the Free State of Saxony, Germany, south of Leipzig. Its main features are a small airport and a power-plant. It is located in the newly built Neuseenland, the lakes created in the former open-pit mining areas.- References :...

, 60 miles (96.6 km) from Dresden, while de Havilland Mosquito
De Havilland Mosquito
The de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito was a British multi-role combat aircraft that served during the Second World War and the postwar era. It was known affectionately as the "Mossie" to its crews and was also nicknamed "The Wooden Wonder"...

 medium bombers attacked Magdeburg
Magdeburg
Magdeburg , is the largest city and the capital city of the Bundesland of Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. Magdeburg is situated on the Elbe River and was one of the most important medieval cities of Europe....

, Bonn
Bonn
Bonn is the 19th largest city in Germany. Located in the Cologne/Bonn Region, about 25 kilometres south of Cologne on the river Rhine in the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, it was the capital of West Germany from 1949 to 1990 and the official seat of government of united Germany from 1990 to 1999....

, Misburg near Hannover, and Nuremberg
Nuremberg
Nuremberg[p] is a city in the German state of Bavaria, in the administrative region of Middle Franconia. Situated on the Pegnitz river and the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal, it is located about north of Munich and is Franconia's largest city. The population is 505,664...

.

The first of the British aircraft took off at around 17:20 hours CET
Central European Time
Central European Time , used in most parts of the European Union, is a standard time that is 1 hour ahead of Coordinated Universal Time . The time offset from UTC can be written as +01:00...

 for the 700 miles (1,126.5 km) journey. This was a group of Lancasters
Avro Lancaster
The Avro Lancaster is a British four-engined Second World War heavy bomber made initially by Avro for the Royal Air Force . It first saw active service in 1942, and together with the Handley Page Halifax it was one of the main heavy bombers of the RAF, the RCAF, and squadrons from other...

 from Bomber Command's 83 Squadron
No. 83 Squadron RAF
No. 83 Squadron RAF was a Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force squadron active from 1917 until 1969. It was operative during both World War I and World War II.-Establishment and early service:...

, No. 5 Group
No. 5 Group RAF
No. 5 Group was a Royal Air Force bomber group of the Second World War, led during the latter part by AVM Sir Ralph Cochrane.-History:The Group was formed on 1 September 1937 with headquarters at RAF Mildenhall....

, acting as the Pathfinders
Pathfinder (RAF)
The Pathfinders were elite squadrons in RAF Bomber Command during World War II. They located and marked targets with flares, which a main bomber force could aim at, increasing the accuracy of their bombing...

 or flare force, whose job it was to find Dresden and drop magnesium
Magnesium
Magnesium is a chemical element with the symbol Mg, atomic number 12, and common oxidation number +2. It is an alkaline earth metal and the eighth most abundant element in the Earth's crust and ninth in the known universe as a whole...

 parachute flares to light up the area for the bombers. The next set of aircraft to leave England were the twin-engined Mosquito marker planes
De Havilland Mosquito
The de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito was a British multi-role combat aircraft that served during the Second World War and the postwar era. It was known affectionately as the "Mossie" to its crews and was also nicknamed "The Wooden Wonder"...

 who would identify the target areas and drop 1,000-pound target indicators (TIs), known to the Germans as "Christmas trees," which gave off a red glow for the bombers to aim at. The attack was to be centred on the sports stadium, next to the city's medieval Altstadt (old town), with its congested, and highly combustible, timbered buildings.

The main bomber force, called "Plate Rack", took off shortly after the Pathfinders. This was a group of 254 Lancasters carrying 500 tons of high explosives and 375 tons of incendiaries
Incendiary device
Incendiary weapons, incendiary devices or incendiary bombs are bombs designed to start fires or destroy sensitive equipment using materials such as napalm, thermite, chlorine trifluoride, or white phosphorus....

, or fire bombs. There were 200,000 incendiaries in all, with the high-explosive bombs ranging in weight from 500 pounds to 4,000 pounds — the so-called two-ton "cookies
Blockbuster bomb
Blockbuster or "cookie" was the name given to several of the largest conventional bombs used in World War II by the Royal Air Force...

", also known as "blockbusters," because they had the power to destroy a city block. The high explosives were intended to rupture water mains, and blow off roofs, doors, and windows, creating an air flow that would feed the fires caused by the incendiaries that followed.

The Lancasters crossed into French airspace
Airspace
Airspace means the portion of the atmosphere controlled by a country above its territory, including its territorial waters or, more generally, any specific three-dimensional portion of the atmosphere....

 near the Somme
Somme
Somme is a department of France, located in the north of the country and named after the Somme river. It is part of the Picardy region of France....

, then into Germany just north of Cologne
Cologne
Cologne is Germany's fourth-largest city , and is the largest city both in the Germany Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and within the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, one of the major European metropolitan areas with more than ten million inhabitants.Cologne is located on both sides of the...

. At 22:00 hours, the force heading for Böhlen split away from Plate Rack, which turned south east toward the Elbe. By this time, ten of the Lancasters were out of service, leaving 244 to continue to Dresden.

The sirens started sounding in Dresden at 21:51 (CET). Wing Commander
Wing Commander (rank)
Wing commander is a commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many other Commonwealth countries...

 Maurice Smith, flying in a Mosquito, gave the order to the Lancasters: "Controller to Plate Rack Force: Come in and bomb glow of red target indicators as planned. Bomb the glow of red TIs as planned.". The first bombs were released at 22:14, the Lancasters flying in low at 8000 feet (2,438.4 m), with all but one Lancaster's bombs released within two minutes, and the last one releasing at 22:22. The fan-shaped area that was bombed was one-and-a-quarter miles long, and at its extreme about one-and-three-quarter miles wide.

The second attack, three hours later, was by Lancaster aircraft of 1
No. 1 Group RAF
Number 1 Group of the Royal Air Force is one of the two operations groups in Air Command.The group is today referred to as the Air Combat Group, as it controls the RAF's combat fast-jet aircraft and has airfields in the UK plus RAF Unit Goose Bay in Canada, which is used extensively as an...

, 3
No. 3 Group RAF
Number 3 Group of the Royal Air Force was an RAF group first active in 1918, again in 1923-26, part of RAF Bomber Command from 1936 to 1967, and part of RAF Strike Command from 2000 until it disbanded on 1 April 2006.-The 1930s and World War II:...

, 6 and 8 (Pathfinder Force)
No. 8 Group RAF
No. 8 Group RAF was a Royal Air Force group which existed during the final year of World War I and during World War II.-Formation in World War II:...

 Groups, 8 Group being the Pathfinders. By now, the thousands of fires from the burning city could be seen more than 60 miles (96.6 km) away on the ground, and 500 miles (804.7 km) away in the air, with smoke rising to 15000 feet (4,572 m). The Pathfinders therefore decided to expand the target, dropping flares on either side of the firestorm, including the Hauptbahnhof
Dresden Hauptbahnhof
is one of two main inter-city transit hubs in the German city of Dresden. Designed by Ernst Giese and Paul Weidner, it was built between 1892 and 1897 at the southern border of the inner city and was important in the growth and development of the city....

, the main train station, and the Großer Garten
Großer Garten
The Großer Garten is a baroque style park in Dresden. It is oblong in shape and covers an area of about 2 km² in a central location of the city. Established in 1676, it has been a public garden since 1814. Pathways and avenues are arranged symmetrically throughout its area...

, a large park, both of which had escaped damage during the first raid. The German sirens sounded again at 01:05, but as there was practically no electricity, these were small hand-held sirens that were heard within only a block. Between 01:21 and 01:45, 529 Lancasters dropped more than 1,800 tons of bombs.

14–15 February

On the morning of 14 February 431 bombers of the 1st Bombardment Division of the United States VIII Bomber Command
VIII Bomber Command
The VIII Bomber Command is an inactive United States Army Air Forces unit that is better known as the later appellation Eighth Air Force, as was popularized in post-World War II filmsand is frequently called the First Eighth Air Force by its veterans and successors in the services.The command was...

 were scheduled to bomb Dresden at around midday, and the 3rd Bombardment Division were to follow the 1st and bomb Chemnitz
Chemnitz
Chemnitz is the third-largest city of the Free State of Saxony, Germany. Chemnitz is an independent city which is not part of any county and seat of the government region Direktionsbezirk Chemnitz. Located in the northern foothills of the Ore Mountains, it is a part of the Saxon triangle...

, while the 2nd Bombardment Division would bomb a synthetic oil
Synthetic oil
Synthetic oil is a lubricant consisting of chemical compounds that are artificially made . Synthetic lubricants can be manufactured using chemically modified petroleum components rather than whole crude oil, but can also be synthesized from other raw materials...

 plant in Magdeburg
Magdeburg
Magdeburg , is the largest city and the capital city of the Bundesland of Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. Magdeburg is situated on the Elbe River and was one of the most important medieval cities of Europe....

. The bomber groups would be protected by the 784 P-51 Mustang
P-51 Mustang
The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang was an American long-range, single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber used during World War II, the Korean War and in several other conflicts...

s of VIII Fighter Command
VIII Fighter Command
The VIII Fighter Command is an inactive United States Air Force organization. Its last assignment was with the United States Air Forces in Europe, being stationed at RAF Honington, England. It was inactivated on 20 March 1946....

 which meant that there would be almost 2,100 aircraft of the United States Eighth Air Force
Eighth Air Force
The Eighth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force Global Strike Command . It is headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana....

 over Saxony during 14 February.

There is some confusion in the primary sources over what was the target in Dresden, whether it was the marshalling yards near the centre or centre of the built up area. The report by the 1st Bombardment Division's commander to his commander states that the targeting sequence was to be the centre of the built up area in Dresden if the weather was clear. If clouds obscured Dresden and if it was clear over Chemnitz, then Chemnitz was to be the target. If both were obscured then the centre of Dresden would be bombed using H2X radar
H2X radar
H2X radar was an American development of the British H2S radar, the first ground mapping radar to be used in combat. It was used by the USAAF during World War II as a navigation system for daylight overcast and nighttime operations...

. The mix of bombs to be used on the Dresden raid was about 40% incendiaries, much closer to the RAF city busting mix than that usually used by the USAAF in precision bombardments. This was quite a common mix when the USAAF anticipated cloudy conditions over the target.

316 B-17 Flying Fortresses bombed Dresden, dropping 771 tons of bombs. The rest misidentified their targets. Sixty bombed Prague
Bombing of Prague in World War II
The Bombing of Prague occurred during the end of World War II when the US Army Air Forces carried out an air raid over Prague. The city was the capital of Czechoslovakia and the main city of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia...

, dropping 153 tons of bombs on the Czech city while others bombed Brux and Pilsen. The 379th bombardment group started to bomb Dresden at 12:17 aiming at marshalling yards in the Friedrichstadt district west of the city centre as the area was not obscured by smoke and cloud. The 303rd group arrived over Dresden 2 minutes after the 379th found that the their view was obscured by clouds so they bombed Dresden using H2X radar
H2X radar
H2X radar was an American development of the British H2S radar, the first ground mapping radar to be used in combat. It was used by the USAAF during World War II as a navigation system for daylight overcast and nighttime operations...

 to target this location. The groups that followed the 303rd, (92nd, 306th, 379th, 384th and 457th) also found Dresden obscured by clouds and they too used H2X to locate the target. H2X aiming caused the groups to bomb inaccurately with a wide dispersal over the Dresden area. The last group to bomb Dresden was the 306th and they had finished by 12:30.

Strafing
Strafing
Strafing is the practice of attacking ground targets from low-flying aircraft using aircraft-mounted automatic weapons. This means, that although ground attack using automatic weapons fire is very often accompanied with bombing or rocket fire, the term "strafing" does not specifically include the...

 of civilians has become a traditional part of the oral history of the raids since a March 1945 article in the Nazi-run weekly newspaper Das Reich
Das Reich (newspaper)
Das Reich was a weekly newspaper founded by Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister of the Third Reich, in May 1940...

 claimed that this had occurred. For example, British historian Alexander McKee
Alexander McKee (author)
Alexander McKee was a British military historian and amateur diver. He served in the army in World War II and wrote articles for army newspapers and became writer/producer for the British Forces Network...

 in Dresden 1945 (1982) quotes eyewitnesses who state that strafing did occur. According to an RAF webpage on the history of RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF's bomber forces from 1936 to 1968. During World War II the command destroyed a significant proportion of Nazi Germany's industries and many German cities, and in the 1960s stood at the peak of its postwar military power with the V bombers and a supplemental...

, "[p]art of the American Mustang-fighter escort was ordered to strafe traffic on the roads around Dresden to increase the chaos and disruption to the important transportation network in the region."

Historian Gotz Bergander – an eyewitness of the raids himself – found no reports on strafing for February 13–15, neither by any of the pilots nor the German military and police. He asserted in Dresden im Luftkrieg (1977, new edition 1998) that only few tales of civilians being strafed were reliable in details, and all were related to the daylight attack on February 14. He concluded that some memory of eyewitnesses was real, but missinterpreted firing in an airfight as deliberately aimed at people on the ground. Historian Helmut Schnatz found in 2000, that there was an explicit order to RAF pilots not to strafe civilians on the way back home from Dresden. He also reconstructed timelines with the result that strafing would have been almost impossible due to lack of time and fuel. Frederick Taylor in Dresden, (2004) basing most of his analysis on the work of Bergander and Schnatz, concludes that no strafing took place, although some stray bullets from an aerial dog fight may have hit the ground and been mistaken for strafing by those in the vicinity. The official historian commission collected 103 detailed eyewitness accounts and let the local bomb disposal services search according to their assertions: They did not find any bullets or fragments thereof which would have been used by planes of the Dresden raids.

On 15 February, the 1st Bombardment Division's primary target — the Böhlen
Böhlen
Böhlen is a town in the Free State of Saxony, Germany, south of Leipzig. Its main features are a small airport and a power-plant. It is located in the newly built Neuseenland, the lakes created in the former open-pit mining areas.- References :...

 synthetic oil plant near Leipzig
Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

 — was obscured by cloud so the Division's groups diverted to their secondary target which was the city of Dresden. As Dresden was also obscured by clouds the groups targeted the city using H2X. The first group to arrive over the target was the 401st, but they missed the centre and bombed southeastern suburbs with bombs landing on the nearby towns of Meissen
Meissen
Meissen is a town of approximately 30,000 about northwest of Dresden on both banks of the Elbe river in the Free State of Saxony, in eastern Germany. Meissen is the home of Meissen porcelain, the Albrechtsburg castle, the Gothic Meissen Cathedral and the Meissen Frauenkirche...

 and Pirna
Pirna
Pirna is a town in the Free State of Saxony, Germany, capital of the administrative district Sächsische Schweiz-Osterzgebirge. The town's population is over 40,000. Pirna is located near Dresden and is an important district town as well as a Große Kreisstadt...

. The other groups all bombed between 12:00 and 12:10. They failed to hit the marshalling yards in the Friedrichstadt district and, as on the previous raid, their ordnance was scattered over a wide area.

On the ground

The sirens had started sounding in Dresden at 21:51 (CET). Frederick Taylor writes that the Germans could see that a large enemy bomber formation — or what they called "ein dicker Hund" (lit: a fat dog, a "major thing") — was approaching somewhere in the east. At 21:39, the Reich Air Defence Leadership issued an enemy aircraft warning for Dresden, although, at that point, it was thought Leipzig might be the target. At 21:59, the Local Air Raid Leadership confirmed that the bombers were in the area of Dresden-Pirna
Pirna
Pirna is a town in the Free State of Saxony, Germany, capital of the administrative district Sächsische Schweiz-Osterzgebirge. The town's population is over 40,000. Pirna is located near Dresden and is an important district town as well as a Große Kreisstadt...

. Taylor writes the city was largely undefended; a night fighter force of ten Messerschmitt
Messerschmitt
Messerschmitt AG was a famous German aircraft manufacturing corporation named for its chief designer, Willy Messerschmitt, and known primarily for its World War II fighter aircraft, notably the Bf 109 and Me 262...

s at Klotzsche airfield was scrambled, but it took them half an hour to get into an attack position. At 22:03, the Local Air Raid Leadership issued the first definitive warning: "Warning! Warning! Warning! The lead aircraft of the major enemy bomber forces have changed course and are now approaching the city area."

By early morning on 14 February, Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday, in the calendar of Western Christianity, is the first day of Lent and occurs 46 days before Easter. It is a moveable fast, falling on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter...

, the center of the city, including its Altstadt, was engulfed in a firestorm
Firestorm
A firestorm is a conflagration which attains such intensity that it creates and sustains its own wind system. It is most commonly a natural phenomenon, created during some of the largest bushfires, forest fires, and wildfires...

, with temperatures peaking at over 1500 °C (2700 °F).


There were very few public air raid shelters — the largest, underneath the main train station, was housing 6,000 refugees. As a result, most people took shelter in their cellars, but one of the air raid precautions the city had taken was to remove the thick cellar walls between rows of buildings, and replace them with thin partitions that could be knocked through in an emergency. The idea was that, as one building collapsed or filled with smoke, those using the basement as a shelter could knock the walls down and run into adjoining buildings. With the city on fire everywhere, those fleeing from one burning cellar simply ran into another, with the result that thousands of bodies were found piled up in houses at the end of city blocks.

A Dresden police report written shortly after the attacks reported that the old town and the inner eastern suburbs had been engulfed in a single fire that had destroyed almost 12,000 dwellings. The same report said that the raids had destroyed 24 banks, 26 insurance buildings, 31 stores and retail houses, 640 shops, 64 warehouses, 2 market halls, 31 large hotels, 26 public houses, 63 administrative buildings, 3 theatres, 18 cinemas, 11 churches, 6 chapels; 5 other cultural buildings, 19 hospitals including auxiliary, overflow hospitals, and private clinics, 39 schools, 5 consulates, the zoo, the waterworks, the railways, 19 postal facilities, 4 tram
Tram
A tram is a passenger rail vehicle which runs on tracks along public urban streets and also sometimes on separate rights of way. It may also run between cities and/or towns , and/or partially grade separated even in the cities...

 facilities, and 19 ships and barges. The Wehrmacht
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

's main command post in the Taschenbergpalais
Taschenbergpalais
Taschenbergpalais is a grand hotel in Taschenberg, Dresden, Germany. It is located near Dresden Castle and Zwinger.-History:The building was built from 1705 to 1708 by Johann Friedrich Karcher as a palace for countess Anna Constanze von Hoym. It was destroyed in 1945 by The Second World War and it...

, 19 military hospitals and a number of less significant military facilities were also destroyed. Almost 200 factories were damaged, 136 seriously damaged (including several of the Zeiss Ikon precision optical engineering works), 28 with medium to serious damage, and 35 with light damage.

An RAF assessment showed that 23 percent of the industrial buildings, and 56 percent of the non-industrial buildings, not counting residential buildings, had been seriously damaged. Around 78,000 dwellings had been completely destroyed; 27,700 were uninhabitable, and 64,500 damaged, but readily repairable.

During his post-war interrogation, Albert Speer
Albert Speer
Albert Speer, born Berthold Konrad Hermann Albert Speer, was a German architect who was, for a part of World War II, Minister of Armaments and War Production for the Third Reich. Speer was Adolf Hitler's chief architect before assuming ministerial office...

, Minister of Armaments and War Production for the Third Reich, indicated that Dresden's industrial recovery from the bombings was rapid.

Casualties

According to official German report Tagesbefehl (Order of the Day) no. 47 ("TB47") issued on 22 March the number of dead recovered by that date was 20,204, including 6,865 who were cremated on the Altmarkt square, and the total number of deaths was expected to be about 25,000. Another report on 3 April put the number of corpses recovered at 22,096. Three municipal and 17 rural cemeteries outside Dresden recorded up to April 30, 1945 a total of at least 21,895 buried bodies of the Dresden raids, including those cremated on the Altmarkt. A further 1,858 bodies of victims were found during the rebuilding of Dresden between the end of the war and 1966. Since 1989, despite the extensive excavation for new buildings, no war-related bodies have been found. The number of people registered with the authorities as missing was 35,000; around 10,000 of those were later found to be alive. Documents found by the Dresden Historian commission in April 2010 prove at least 22,700 dead, of which 20,100 are known by name.

German

Development of a German political response to the raid took several turns. Initially, some of the leadership, especially Robert Ley
Robert Ley
Robert Ley was a Nazi politician and head of the German Labour Front from 1933 to 1945. He committed suicide while awaiting trial for war crimes.- Early life :...

 and Joseph Goebbels
Joseph Goebbels
Paul Joseph Goebbels was a German politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. As one of Adolf Hitler's closest associates and most devout followers, he was known for his zealous oratory and anti-Semitism...

, wanted to use it as a pretext for abandonment of the Geneva Conventions
Geneva Conventions
The Geneva Conventions comprise four treaties, and three additional protocols, that establish the standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment of the victims of war...

 on the Western Front
Western Front (World War II)
The Western Front of the European Theatre of World War II encompassed, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and West Germany. The Western Front was marked by two phases of large-scale ground combat operations...

. In the end, the only political action the German government took was to exploit it for propaganda purposes. Goebbels is reported to have wept with rage for twenty minutes after he heard the news of the catastrophe, before launching into a bitter attack on Hermann Göring
Hermann Göring
Hermann Wilhelm Göring, was a German politician, military leader, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. He was a veteran of World War I as an ace fighter pilot, and a recipient of the coveted Pour le Mérite, also known as "The Blue Max"...

, the commander of the Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

: "If I had the power I would drag this cowardly good-for-nothing, this Reich marshal, before a court.... How much guilt does this parasite not bear for all this, which we owe to his indolence and love of his own comforts...."

On 16 February, the Propaganda Ministry
Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda
The Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda was Nazi Germany's ministry that enforced Nazi Party ideology in Germany and regulated its culture and society. Founded on March 13, 1933, by Adolf Hitler's new National Socialist government, the Ministry was headed by Dr...

 issued a press release that stated that Dresden had no war industries; it was a city of culture.

On 25 February, a new leaflet with photographs of two burned children was released under the title "Dresden — Massacre of Refugees," stating that 200,000 had died. Since no official estimate had been developed, the numbers were speculative, but newspapers such as the Stockholm
Stockholm
Stockholm is the capital and the largest city of Sweden and constitutes the most populated urban area in Scandinavia. Stockholm is the most populous city in Sweden, with a population of 851,155 in the municipality , 1.37 million in the urban area , and around 2.1 million in the metropolitan area...

 Svenska Morgonbladet used phrases such as "privately from Berlin," to explain where they had obtained the figures. Frederick Taylor states that "there is good reason to believe that later in March copies of — or extracts from — [an official police report] were leaked to the neutral press by Goebbels's Propaganda Ministry ... doctored with an extra zero to make [the total dead from the raid] 202,040." On 4 March, Das Reich
Das Reich
Das Reich is the name of:* a German SS-division, see 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich* a national socialist newspaper, see Das Reich * the main work of German right-wing intellectual Friedrich Hielscher...

, a weekly newspaper founded by Goebbels, published a lengthy article emphasizing the suffering and destruction of a cultural icon, without mentioning any damage the attacks had caused to the German war effort.

Taylor writes that this propaganda was effective, as it not only influenced attitudes in neutral countries at the time, but also reached the British House of Commons
British House of Commons
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which also comprises the Sovereign and the House of Lords . Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members , who are known as Members...

 when Richard Stokes
Richard Stokes
Major Sir Richard Rapier Stokes MC was a British Labour politician who served briefly as Lord Privy Seal in 1951....

, a Labour Party
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 Member of Parliament
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 (MP), a long term opponent of area-bombing, quoted information from the German Press Agency (controlled by the Propaganda Ministry). It was Stokes' questions in the House of Commons that were in large part responsible for the shift in the UK against this type of raid. Taylor suggests that, although the destruction of Dresden would have affected people's support for the Allies regardless of German propaganda, at least some of the outrage did depend on Goebbels' massaging of the casualty figures.

British

The destruction of the city provoked unease in intellectual circles in Britain. According to Max Hastings
Max Hastings
Sir Max Hugh Macdonald Hastings, FRSL is a British journalist, editor, historian and author. He is the son of Macdonald Hastings, the noted British journalist and war correspondent and Anne Scott-James, sometime editor of Harper's Bazaar.-Life and career:Hastings was educated at Charterhouse...

, by February 1945, attacks upon German cities had become largely irrelevant to the outcome of the war and the name of Dresden resonated with cultured people all over Europe — "the home of so much charm and beauty, a refuge for Trollope’s
Anthony Trollope
Anthony Trollope was one of the most successful, prolific and respected English novelists of the Victorian era. Some of his best-loved works, collectively known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire, revolve around the imaginary county of Barsetshire...

 heroines, a landmark of the Grand Tour
Grand Tour
The Grand Tour was the traditional trip of Europe undertaken by mainly upper-class European young men of means. The custom flourished from about 1660 until the advent of large-scale rail transit in the 1840s, and was associated with a standard itinerary. It served as an educational rite of passage...

." He writes that the bombing was the first time the public in Allied countries seriously questioned the military actions used to defeat the Nazis.

The unease was made worse by an Associated Press
Associated Press
The Associated Press is an American news agency. The AP is a cooperative owned by its contributing newspapers, radio and television stations in the United States, which both contribute stories to the AP and use material written by its staff journalists...

 story that the Allies had resorted to terror bombing. At a press briefing held by the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force
Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force
Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force , was the headquarters of the Commander of Allied forces in north west Europe, from late 1943 until the end of World War II. U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was in command of SHAEF throughout its existence...

 two days after the raids, British Air Commodore Colin McKay Grierson
Colin McKay Grierson
Air Commodore Colin McKay Grierson CBE RAF, was a senior officer in the Royal Air Force during and after World War II....

 told journalists:
One of the journalists asked whether the principal aim of bombing Dresden would be to cause confusion among the refugees or to blast communications carrying military supplies. Grierson answered that the primary aim was communications to prevent them moving military supplies, and to stop movement in all directions if possible. He then added in an offhand remark that the raid also helped destroy "what is left of German morale." Howard Cowan, an Associated Press war correspondent, subsequently filed a story saying that the Allies had resorted to terror bombing. There were follow-up newspaper editorials on the issue and a long time opponent of strategic bombing, Richard Stokes MP
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

, asked questions in the House of Commons on 6 March.

Churchill subsequently distanced himself from the bombing. On 28 March, in a memo sent by telegram to General Ismay for the British Chiefs of Staff and the Chief of the Air Staff, he wrote:
Having been given a paraphrased version of Churchill's memo by Bottomley, on 29 March, Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris
Sir Arthur Harris, 1st Baronet
Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Travers Harris, 1st Baronet GCB OBE AFC , commonly known as "Bomber" Harris by the press, and often within the RAF as "Butcher" Harris, was Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of RAF Bomber Command during the latter half of World War...

 wrote to the Air Ministry:
The phrase "worth the bones of one British grenadier" was an echo of a famous sentence used by Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck
Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg , simply known as Otto von Bismarck, was a Prussian-German statesman whose actions unified Germany, made it a major player in world affairs, and created a balance of power that kept Europe at peace after 1871.As Minister President of...

: "The whole of the Balkans is not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier." Under pressure from the Chiefs of Staff and in response to the views expressed by Portal and Harris among others, Churchill withdrew his memo and issued a new one. This was completed on 1 April 1945:

Timeline for all the raids

Table of the air raids on Dresden by the Allies during World War II.
Date Target area Force Aircraft High explosive
bombs on target
(tons)
Incendiary
bombs on target
(tons)
Total tonnage
7 October 1944 Marshalling Yards 8th AF 30 72.5 72.5
16 January 1945 Marshalling Yards 8th AF 133 279.8 41.6 321.4
14 February 1945 City Area RAF BC 772 1477.7 1181.6 2659.3
14 February 1945 Marshalling Yards 8th AF 316 487.7 294.3 782
15 February 1945 Marshalling Yards 8th AF 211 465.6 465.6
2 March 1945 Marshalling Yards 8th AF 406 940.3 140.5 1080.8
17 April 1945 Marshalling Yards 8th AF 572 1526.4 164.5 1690.9
17 April 1945 Industrial Area 8th AF 8 28.0 28

Post-war reconstruction and reconciliation

After the war, and again after German reunification
German reunification
German reunification was the process in 1990 in which the German Democratic Republic joined the Federal Republic of Germany , and when Berlin reunited into a single city, as provided by its then Grundgesetz constitution Article 23. The start of this process is commonly referred by Germans as die...

, great efforts were made to rebuild some of Dresden's former landmarks, such as the Frauenkirche
Dresden Frauenkirche
The Dresden Frauenkirche is a Lutheran church in Dresden, eastern Germany.Built in the 18th century, the church was destroyed in the firebombing of Dresden during World War II. It has been reconstructed as a landmark symbol of reconciliation between former warring enemies...

, the Semperoper
Semperoper
The Semperoper is the opera house of the Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden and the concert hall of the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden . It is located near the Elbe River in the historic center of Dresden, Germany.The opera house was originally built by the architect Gottfried Semper in 1841...

 (the Saxony state opera house) and the Zwinger Palace
Zwinger
The Zwinger is a palace in Dresden, eastern Germany, built in Baroque style. It served as the orangery, exhibition gallery and festival arena of the Dresden Court....

 (the latter two were rebuilt before reunification).

Despite its location in the Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 occupation (the Deutsche Demokratische Republik), in 1956 Dresden entered a twin-town relationship with Coventry
Coventry
Coventry is a city and metropolitan borough in the county of West Midlands in England. Coventry is the 9th largest city in England and the 11th largest in the United Kingdom. It is also the second largest city in the English Midlands, after Birmingham, with a population of 300,848, although...

. As a centre of military and munitions production, Coventry suffered some of the worst attacks on any English city at the hands of the Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

 during the Coventry Blitz
Coventry Blitz
The Coventry blitz was a series of bombing raids that took place in the English city of Coventry. The city was bombed many times during the Second World War by the German Air Force...

es of 1940 and 1941, which killed over 1,200 civilians and destroyed its cathedral
Coventry Cathedral
Coventry Cathedral, also known as St Michael's Cathedral, is the seat of the Bishop of Coventry and the Diocese of Coventry, in Coventry, West Midlands, England. The current bishop is the Right Revd Christopher Cocksworth....

.

The Dresden synagogue
Semper Synagogue
Semper Synagogue, also known as the Dresden Synagogue, was built in 1838-40 for the Jewish community of Dresden by Gottfried Semper. It was an early example of the Moorish Revival style of synagogue architecture. The Semper was the first synagogue to feature the richly ornamented interior that...

, which was burned during Kristallnacht
Kristallnacht
Kristallnacht, also referred to as the Night of Broken Glass, and also Reichskristallnacht, Pogromnacht, and Novemberpogrome, was a pogrom or series of attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on 9–10 November 1938.Jewish homes were ransacked, as were shops, towns and...

 on 9 November 1938, was rebuilt
New Synagogue (Dresden)
The New Synagogue in Dresden was completed in 2001 and designed by architects Rena Wandel-Hoefer and Wolfgang Lorch. It was built on the same location as the Semper Synagogue designed by Gottfried Semper, which was destroyed in 1938, during the Kristallnacht.The boundary wall of the New Synagogue...

 in 2001 and opened for worship on 9 November. The original synagogue's Star of David
Star of David
The Star of David, known in Hebrew as the Shield of David or Magen David is a generally recognized symbol of Jewish identity and Judaism.Its shape is that of a hexagram, the compound of two equilateral triangles...

 was installed above the entrance of the new building – Alfred Neugebauer, a local firefighter, saved it from the fire and hid it in his home until the end of the war. Dresden's Jewish population declined from 4675 in 1933, to 1265 in 1941 (the eve of the implementation of the Nazis' extermination programme), to just a handful after almost all of those who had remained were forcibly sent to Riga
Riga
Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. With 702,891 inhabitants Riga is the largest city of the Baltic states, one of the largest cities in Northern Europe and home to more than one third of Latvia's population. The city is an important seaport and a major industrial, commercial,...

, Auschwitz and Theresienstadt between 1941 and 1945. On the morning of 13 February 1945, the Jews remaining in Dresden were ordered to report for deportation on 16 February. But as one of them, Victor Klemperer
Victor Klemperer
Victor Klemperer was a businessman, journalist and eventually a Professor of Literature, specialising in the French Enlightenment at the Technische Universität Dresden. His diaries detailing his life under successive German states—the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany and the German...

, recorded in his diaries: "...on the evening of this 13 February the catastrophe overtook Dresden: the bombs fell, the houses collapsed, the phosphorus flowed, the burning beams crashed on to the heads of Aryans and non-Aryans alike and Jew and Christian met death in the same firestorm; whoever of the [Jews] was spared by this night was delivered, for in the general chaos he could escape the Gestapo
Gestapo
The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Beginning on 20 April 1934, it was under the administration of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police...

." But in recent years the Jewish population has swelled in Dresden, as it has elsewhere in Germany. Paul Spiegel
Paul Spiegel
Paul Spiegel was leader of the Zentralrat der Juden in Germany and the main spokesman of the German Jews...

, the then head of Germany's Jewish Community
Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland
The Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland is a federation of German Jews organizing many Jewish organisations in Germany. It was founded on July 19, 1950, as a response to the increasing isolation of German Jews by the international Jewish community and increasing interest in Jewish affairs by the ...

, called the new synagogue a concrete expression of the Jewish community's desire to stay.
In 1990, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a group of prominent Dresdeners formed an international appeal known as the "Call from Dresden" to request help in rebuilding the Lutheran
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

 Frauenkirche, the destruction of which had over the years become a symbol of the bombing. The baroque Church of Our Lady (completed in 1743) had initially appeared to survive the raids, but collapsed a few days later, and the ruins were left in place by later Communist governments as a symbol of British aggression.

A British charity, the Dresden Trust, was formed in 1993 to raise funds in the UK in response to the call for help, raising £600,000 from 2,000 people and 100 companies and trusts in Britain. One of the gifts they made to the project was an eight-metre high orb and cross made in London by goldsmiths Gant MacDonald, using medieval nails recovered from the ruins of the roof of Coventry Cathedral
Coventry Cathedral
Coventry Cathedral, also known as St Michael's Cathedral, is the seat of the Bishop of Coventry and the Diocese of Coventry, in Coventry, West Midlands, England. The current bishop is the Right Revd Christopher Cocksworth....

, and crafted in part by Alan Smith, the son of a pilot who took part in the raid.

During her visit to Germany in November 2004, Queen Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
Elizabeth II is the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize,...

 hosted a concert in Berlin to raise money for the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche. The visit was accompanied by speculation in the British and German press, fueled mostly by the tabloids, over a possible apology for the attacks, but none was forthcoming.

The new Frauenkirche—reconstructed over seven years by architects using 3D computer technology to analyse old photographs and every piece of rubble that had been kept—was formally consecrated
Consecration
Consecration is the solemn dedication to a special purpose or service, usually religious. The word "consecration" literally means "to associate with the sacred". Persons, places, or things can be consecrated, and the term is used in various ways by different groups...

 on 30 October 2005, in a service attended by some 1,800 guests, including Germany's president, Horst Köhler; previous and current chancellors, Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel; and the Duke of Kent.

Post-war debate

British historian Frederick Taylor
Frederick Taylor (historian)
Frederick Taylor is a British historian and author of such works as Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945 about the bombing of Dresden in World War II....

 wrote of the attacks: "The destruction of Dresden has an epically tragic quality to it. It was a wonderfully beautiful city and a symbol of baroque humanism and all that was best in Germany. It also contained all of the worst from Germany during the Nazi period. In that sense it is an absolutely exemplary tragedy for the horrors of 20th century warfare and a symbol of destruction."

A number of factors have made the bombing a unique point of contention and debate. These include the beauty of the city, and its importance as a cultural icon; the deliberate creation of a firestorm; the number of victims killed; the extent to which it was a necessary military target; and the fact that it was attacked toward the end of the war, raising the question of whether the bombing was needed to hasten the end.

Legal considerations

The Hague Conventions
Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907)
The Hague Conventions were two international treaties negotiated at international peace conferences at The Hague in the Netherlands: The First Hague Conference in 1899 and the Second Hague Conference in 1907...

, addressing the codes of wartime conduct on land and at sea, were adopted before the rise of air power. Despite repeated diplomatic attempts to update international humanitarian law
International humanitarian law
International humanitarian law , often referred to as the laws of war, the laws and customs of war or the law of armed conflict, is the legal corpus that comprises "the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Conventions, as well as subsequent treaties, case law, and customary international law." It...

 to include aerial warfare, it was not updated before the outbreak of World War II. The absence of positive international humanitarian law does not mean that the laws of war
Laws of war
The law of war is a body of law concerning acceptable justifications to engage in war and the limits to acceptable wartime conduct...

 did not cover aerial warfare, but there was no general agreement of how to interpret those laws.

Falsification of evidence

The bombing of Dresden has been manipulated by Holocaust deniers
Holocaust denial
Holocaust denial is the act of denying the genocide of Jews in World War II, usually referred to as the Holocaust. The key claims of Holocaust denial are: the German Nazi government had no official policy or intention of exterminating Jews, Nazi authorities did not use extermination camps and gas...

 and pro-Nazi polemicists—most notably by the British writer David Irving
David Irving
David John Cawdell Irving is an English writer,best known for his denial of the Holocaust, who specialises in the military and political history of World War II, with a focus on Nazi Germany...

 in his book The Destruction of Dresden
The Destruction of Dresden
The Destruction of Dresden is a 1963 non-fiction book which describes the February 1945 bombing of Dresden in World War II. The book is based on a series of 37 articles written on the strategic bombing during World War II by David Irving called Wie Deutschlands Städte starben for the German...

—in an attempt to establish a moral equivalence between the death toll of Jews in German concentration camps and the indiscriminate killing of German civilians by Allied bombing raids. As such, "grossly inflated" casualty figures have been promulgated over the years, many based on a figure of over 200,000 deaths quoted in a forged version of the casualty report, Tagesbefehl No. 47, that originated with Hitler's Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels
Joseph Goebbels
Paul Joseph Goebbels was a German politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. As one of Adolf Hitler's closest associates and most devout followers, he was known for his zealous oratory and anti-Semitism...

.

Marshall inquiry

An inquiry conducted at the behest of U.S. Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, stated the raid was justified by the available intelligence. The inquiry declared the elimination of the German ability to reinforce a counter-attack against Marshal Konev's extended line or, alternatively, to retreat and regroup using Dresden as a base of operations, were important military objectives. As Dresden had been largely untouched during the war due to its location, it was one of the few remaining functional rail and communications centres. A secondary objective was to disrupt the industrial use of Dresden for munitions manufacture, which American intelligence believed to be the case. The shock to military planners and to the Allied civilian populations of the German counterattack known as the Battle of the Bulge
Battle of the Bulge
The Battle of the Bulge was a major German offensive , launched toward the end of World War II through the densely forested Ardennes mountain region of Wallonia in Belgium, hence its French name , and France and...

 had ended speculation that the war was almost over, and may have contributed to the decision to continue with the aerial bombardment of German cities.

The inquiry concluded that by the presence of active German military units nearby, and the presence of fighters and anti-aircraft within an effective range, Dresden qualified as "defended". By this stage in the war both the British and the Germans had integrated air defences at the national level. The German national air-defence system could be used to argue—as the tribunal did—that no German city was "undefended".

Marshall's tribunal declared that no extraordinary decision was made to single out Dresden (e.g. to take advantage of the large number of refugees, or purposely terrorize the German populace). It was argued that the intent of area bombing was to disrupt communications and destroy industrial production. The American inquiry established that the Soviets, pursuant to allied agreements for the United States and the United Kingdom to provide air support for the Soviet offensive toward Berlin, had requested area bombing of Dresden in order to prevent a counter attack through Dresden, or the use of Dresden as a regrouping point after a strategic retreat.

U.S. Air Force Historical Division report

align="bottom" style="caption-side:bottom; text-align:left; font-weight:normal;"|A U.S. Air Force table showing the number of bombs dropped by the Allies on Germany's seven largest cities during the war.
City Population in 1939 American tonnage British tonnage Total tonnage
Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

4,339,000 22,090 45,517 67,607
Hamburg
Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

1,129,000 17,104 22,583 39,687
Munich
Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

841,000 11,471 7,858 19,329
Cologne
Cologne
Cologne is Germany's fourth-largest city , and is the largest city both in the Germany Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and within the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, one of the major European metropolitan areas with more than ten million inhabitants.Cologne is located on both sides of the...

772,000 10,211 34,712 44,923
Leipzig
Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

707,000 5,410 6,206 11,616
Essen
Essen
- Origin of the name :In German-speaking countries, the name of the city Essen often causes confusion as to its origins, because it is commonly known as the German infinitive of the verb for the act of eating, and/or the German noun for food. Although scholars still dispute the interpretation of...

667,000 1,518 36,420 37,938
Dresden
Dresden
Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the Czech border. The Dresden conurbation is part of the Saxon Triangle metropolitan area....

642,000 4,441 2,659 7,100


A report by the U.S. Air Force Historical Division (USAFHD) analyzed the circumstances of the raid and concluded that it was militarily necessary and justified, based on the following points:
  1. The raid had legitimate military ends
    Military necessity
    Military necessity, along with distinction, and proportionality, are three important principles of international humanitarian law governing the legal use of force in an armed conflict.-Attacks:...

    , brought about by exigent military circumstances.
  2. Military units and anti-aircraft defences were sufficiently close that it was not valid to consider the city "undefended."
  3. The raid did not use extraordinary means but was comparable to other raids used against comparable targets.
  4. The raid was carried out through the normal chain of command, pursuant to directives and agreements then in force.
  5. The raid achieved the military objective, without excessive loss of civilian life.


The first point regarding the legitimacy of the raid depends on two claims: first, that the railyards subjected to American precision bombing were an important logistical target, and that the city was also an important industrial centre. Even after the main firebombing, there were two further raids on the Dresden railway yards by the USAAF. The first was on 2 March 1945, by 406 B-17s, which dropped 940 tons of high-explosive bombs and 141 tons of incendiaries. The second was on 17 April, when 580 B-17s dropped 1,554 tons of high-explosive bombs and 165 tons of incendiaries.

As far as Dresden being a militarily significant industrial centre, an official 1942 guide described the German city as "one of the foremost industrial locations of the Reich" and in 1944, the German Army High Command's Weapons Office listed 127 medium-to-large factories and workshops which supplied the army with materiel. Dresden was the seventh largest German city and by far the largest unbombed built-up area left and thus was contributing to the defence of Germany itself.

According to the USAFHD, there were 110 factories and 50,000 workers supporting the German war effort in Dresden at the time of the raid. These factories manufactured fuses and bombsights (at Zeiss Ikon A.G.), aircraft components, anti-aircraft guns
88 mm gun
The 88 mm gun was a German anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery gun from World War II. It was widely used by Germany throughout the war, and was one of the most recognizable German weapons of the war...

, field gun
Field gun
A field gun is an artillery piece. Originally the term referred to smaller guns that could accompany a field army on the march and when in combat could be moved about the battlefield in response to changing circumstances, as to opposed guns installed in a fort, or to siege cannon or mortars which...

s, and small arms
Small arms
Small arms is a term of art used by armed forces to denote infantry weapons an individual soldier may carry. The description is usually limited to revolvers, pistols, submachine guns, carbines, assault rifles, battle rifles, multiple barrel firearms, sniper rifles, squad automatic weapons, light...

, poison gas
Chemical warfare
Chemical warfare involves using the toxic properties of chemical substances as weapons. This type of warfare is distinct from Nuclear warfare and Biological warfare, which together make up NBC, the military acronym for Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical...

, gear
Gear
A gear is a rotating machine part having cut teeth, or cogs, which mesh with another toothed part in order to transmit torque. Two or more gears working in tandem are called a transmission and can produce a mechanical advantage through a gear ratio and thus may be considered a simple machine....

s and differentials, electrical and X-ray apparatus, electric gauges, gas mask
Gas mask
A gas mask is a mask put on over the face to protect the wearer from inhaling airborne pollutants and toxic gases. The mask forms a sealed cover over the nose and mouth, but may also cover the eyes and other vulnerable soft tissues of the face. Some gas masks are also respirators, though the word...

s, Junkers aircraft engines, and Messerschmitt
Messerschmitt
Messerschmitt AG was a famous German aircraft manufacturing corporation named for its chief designer, Willy Messerschmitt, and known primarily for its World War II fighter aircraft, notably the Bf 109 and Me 262...

 fighter cockpit parts.

The second of the five points addresses the prohibition in the Hague Conventions
Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907)
The Hague Conventions were two international treaties negotiated at international peace conferences at The Hague in the Netherlands: The First Hague Conference in 1899 and the Second Hague Conference in 1907...

, of "attack or bombardment" of "undefended" towns. The USAFHD report states that Dresden was protected by anti-aircraft defences, antiaircraft guns, and searchlights, under the Combined Dresden (Corps Area IV) and Berlin (Corps Area III) Luftwaffe Administration Commands.

The third and fourth points say that the size of the Dresden raid — in terms of numbers, types of bombs and the means of delivery — were commensurate with the military objective and similar to other Allied bombings. On 23 February 1945, the Allies bombed Pforzheim
Bombing of Pforzheim in World War II
During the latter stages of World War II, Pforzheim, a town in southwestern Germany, was bombed a number of times. The largest raid, and one of the most devastating area bombardments of the war was carried out by the Royal Air Force on the evening of February 23, 1945. As many as 17,600 people,...

 and caused an estimated 20,000 civilian fatalities; a raid on Tokyo
Bombing of Tokyo in World War II
The bombing of Tokyo, often referred to as a "firebombing", was conducted by the United States Army Air Forces during the Pacific campaigns of World War II. The U.S. mounted a small-scale raid on Tokyo in April 1942, with large morale effects...

 on 9–10 March caused over 100,000 civilian casualties. The tonnage and types of bombs listed in the service records of the Dresden raid were comparable to (or less than) throw weights of bombs dropped in other air attacks carried out in 1945. In the case of Dresden, as in many other similar attacks, the hour break in between the RAF raids was a deliberate ploy to attack the fire fighters and rescue crews.

In late July 1943, the city of Hamburg
Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

 was bombed in Operation Gomorrah by combined RAF and USAAF strategic bomber forces. Four major raids were carried out in the span of 10 days, of which the most notable, on 27–28 July, created a devastating firestorm
Firestorm
A firestorm is a conflagration which attains such intensity that it creates and sustains its own wind system. It is most commonly a natural phenomenon, created during some of the largest bushfires, forest fires, and wildfires...

 effect similar to Dresden's, killing at least 45,000 people. Two thirds of the remaining population reportedly fled the city after the raids.

The fifth point is that the firebombing achieved the intended effect of disabling the industry in Dresden. It was estimated that at least 23% of the city's industrial buildings were destroyed or severely damaged. The damage to other infrastructure and communications was immense, which would have severely limited the potential use of Dresden to stop the Soviet advance. The report concludes with:

That the bombing was not necessary or justified

Military reasons

The historian Alexander McKee has cast doubt on the meaningfulness of the list of targets mentioned in 1953 USAAF report and point out that the military barracks listed as a target were a long way out of town and not in fact targeted during the raid. The 'hutted camps' mentioned in the report as military targets were also not military but were provided for refugees. It is also pointed out that the important Autobahn bridge to the west of the city was not targeted or attacked and that no railway stations were on the British target maps, nor were the bridges, such as the railway bridge spanning the Elbe River. Commenting on this Alexander McKee stated that: "The standard whitewash gambit, both British and American, is to mention that Dresden contained targets X, Y and Z, and to let the innocent reader assume that these targets were attacked, whereas in fact the bombing plan totally omitted them and thus, except for one or two mere accidents, they escaped" McKee further asserts, "The bomber commanders were not really interested in any purely military or economic targets, which was just as well, for they knew very little about Dresden; the RAF even lacked proper maps of the city. What they were looking for was a big built up area which they could burn, and that Dresden possessed in full measure"

According to historian Sonke Neitzel
Sönke Neitzel
Sönke Neitzel is a German historian who has written extensively about the Second World War. He is Professor of History at the University of Mainz, having also held posts at the University of Karlsruhe, University of Bern, and the University of Saarbrucken but will take over the Chair of Modern...

, "it is difficult to find any evidence in German documents that the destruction of Dresden had any consequences worth mentioning on the Eastern Front. The industrial plants of Dresden played no significant role in Germany industry at this stage in the war" Wing Commander H. R. Allen said, "The final phase of Bomber Command's operations was far and away the worst. Traditional British chivalry and the use of minimum force in war was to become a mockery and the outrages perpetrated by the bombers will be remembered a thousand years hence"

Dresden's military facilities in the north

In the north of Dresden there were remarkable military facilities which were not hit by the bombings. Today they are still there, used as officer education buildings for the German Bundeswehr
Bundeswehr
The Bundeswehr consists of the unified armed forces of Germany and their civil administration and procurement authorities...

 and hosting Germany's military-historic museum (from stone-age to modern times).

Allegations that it was an immoral act, but not a war crime

Frederick Taylor told Der Spiegel
Der Spiegel
Der Spiegel is a German weekly news magazine published in Hamburg. It is one of Europe's largest publications of its kind, with a weekly circulation of more than one million.-Overview:...

, "I personally find the attack on Dresden horrific. It was overdone, it was excessive and is to be regretted enormously", but "a war crime is a very specific thing which international lawyers argue about all the time and I would not be prepared to commit myself nor do I see why I should. I'm a historian." Similarly, British philosopher A. C. Grayling
A. C. Grayling
Anthony Clifford Grayling is a British philosopher. In 2011 he founded and became the first Master of New College of the Humanities, a private undergraduate college in London. Until June 2011, he was Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London, where he taught from 1991...

 has described British area bombardment as an "immoral act" and "moral crime" because "destroying everything ... contravenes every moral and humanitarian principle debated in connection with the just conduct of war
Just War
Just war theory is a doctrine of military ethics of Roman philosophical and Catholic origin, studied by moral theologians, ethicists and international policy makers, which holds that a conflict ought to meet philosophical, religious or political criteria.-Origins:The concept of justification for...

", but "it is not strictly correct to describe area bombing as a 'war crime'."

Allegations that it was a war crime

Though no one involved in the bombing of Dresden was ever charged with a war crime, there are those that hold the opinion that the bombing was a war crime
War crime
War crimes are serious violations of the laws applicable in armed conflict giving rise to individual criminal responsibility...

.

According to Dr. Gregory H. Stanton, lawyer and president of Genocide Watch
Genocide Watch
Genocide Watch is an international organization based in the United States which attempts to predict, prevent, limit, eliminate, and punish genocide throughout the world through reporting, public awareness campaigns, and judicial or quasi-judicial follow-up...

:
Historian Donald Bloxham
Donald Bloxham
Donald Bloxham is a Professor of Modern History, specializing in genocide, war crimes and other mass atrocities studies. He is the editor of the Journal of Holocaust Education....

 states, "The bombing of Dresden on 13–14 February 1945 was a war crime." He further argues there was a strong prima facie
Prima facie
Prima facie is a Latin expression meaning on its first encounter, first blush, or at first sight. The literal translation would be "at first face", from the feminine form of primus and facies , both in the ablative case. It is used in modern legal English to signify that on first examination, a...

 case for trying Winston Churchill among others and a theoretical case Churchill could have been found guilty. "This should be a sobering thought. If, however it is also a startling one, this is probably less the result of widespread understanding of the nuance of international law and more because in the popular mind 'war criminal', like 'paedophile' or 'terrorist', has developed into a moral rather than a legal categorisation."

German author Günter Grass
Günter Grass
Günter Wilhelm Grass is a Nobel Prize-winning German author, poet, playwright, sculptor and artist.He was born in the Free City of Danzig...

 is one of a number of intellectuals and commentators who have also called the bombing a war crime.

Proponents of the war crime position argue the devastation known to be caused by firebombing was greater than anything that could be justified by military necessity
Military necessity
Military necessity, along with distinction, and proportionality, are three important principles of international humanitarian law governing the legal use of force in an armed conflict.-Attacks:...

 alone, and this establishes their case on a prima facie basis. The Allies were aware of the effects of firebombing, as British cities had been subject to them during the Blitz
The Blitz
The Blitz was the sustained strategic bombing of Britain by Nazi Germany between 7 September 1940 and 10 May 1941, during the Second World War. The city of London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 76 consecutive nights and many towns and cities across the country followed...

. War crime proponents say that Dresden did not have a military garrison, that most of the industry was in the outskirts and not in the targeted city centre, and that the cultural significance of the city should have precluded the Allies from bombing it.

British historian Anthony Beevor wrote that Dresden was considered relatively safe, having been spared previous RAF night attacks, and that at the time of the raids there were up to 300,000 refugees in the city seeking sanctuary
Flight and evacuation of German civilians during the end of World War II
Plans to evacuate German population from the occupied territories in Central and Eastern Europe and from Eastern Germany were prepared by German authorities at the end of World War II. However, the evacuation in most of the areas was delayed until the last moment, when it was too late to conduct it...

 from the fighting on the Eastern Front. In Fire Sites, Austrian historian Jörg Friedrich
Jörg Friedrich
Jörg Friedrich is a German author and historian. Friedrich is best known for his publication Der Brand , in which he portrays the Allied bombing of civilian targets during World War II as systematic and in many ways pointless mass murder...

 agrees the RAF's relentless bombing campaign against German cities in the last months of the war served no military purpose.

Far-right in Germany

Far-right politicians in Germany have sparked a great deal of controversy by promoting the term "Bombenholocaust" ("holocaust by bomb") to describe the raids. Der Spiegel writes that, for decades, the Communist government of East Germany promoted the bombing as an example of "Anglo-American terror," and now the same rhetoric is being used by the far right. An example can be found in the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands
National Democratic Party of Germany
The National Democratic Party of Germany – The People's Union , is a far right German nationalist party. It was founded in 1964 a successor to the German Reich Party . Party statements self-identify as Germany's "only significant patriotic force"...

 (NPD). A party's representative, Jürgen Gansel, described the Dresden raids as "mass murder," and "Dresden's Holocaust of bombs." This provoked an outrage in the German parliament and triggered responses from Jewish interest groups and the media, especially since German law forbids denial or minimization of the Holocaust
The Holocaust
The Holocaust , also known as the Shoah , was the genocide of approximately six million European Jews and millions of others during World War II, a programme of systematic state-sponsored murder by Nazi...

. However, prosecutors said that it was legal to call the bombing a holocaust. In 2010, several demonstrations by organizations opposing the far-right blocked a demonstration of far-right organizations
2010 Dresden anti-fascist blockade
The 2010 Dresden anti-fascist blockade, organized by the umbrella group Dresden Without Nazis , an anti-fascist alliance of several German organizations, was a counter-demonstration against a planned march of neo-nazis in Dresden on February 13, 2010...

.

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was a 20th century American writer. His works such as Cat's Cradle , Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions blend satire, gallows humor and science fiction. He was known for his humanist beliefs and was honorary president of the American Humanist Association.-Early...

's novel Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death
Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about World War II experiences and journeys through time of a soldier called Billy Pilgrim...

 (1969) was a satirical
Satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

 novel that used some elements from his experiences as a prisoner of war
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

 at Dresden during the bombing. His account relates that over 135,000 were killed during the firebombings. Vonnegut recalled "utter destruction" and "carnage unfathomable." The Germans put him and other POWs to work gathering bodies for mass burial. "But there were too many corpses to bury. So instead the Nazis sent in troops with flamethrower
Flamethrower
A flamethrower is a mechanical device designed to project a long controllable stream of fire.Some flamethrowers project a stream of ignited flammable liquid; some project a long gas flame. Most military flamethrowers use liquids, but commercial flamethrowers tend to use high-pressure propane and...

s. All these civilians' remains were burned to ashes."

In the special introduction to the 1976 Franklin Library
Franklin Library
The Franklin Library, the distributing arm of the publishing division The Franklin Press , was the United States' largest distributor of great 'classic title' books produced in fine bindings for collectors—similar to the mantle carried now by Easton Press—until the company permanently closed,...

 edition of the novel, he wrote:

"The Dresden atrocity, tremendously expensive and meticulously planned, was so meaningless, finally, that only one person on the entire planet got any benefit from it. I am that person. I wrote this book, which earned a lot of money for me and made my reputation, such as it is. One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I'm in."


This experience was also used in several of his other books and is included in his posthumously published stories: Armageddon in Retrospect
Armageddon in Retrospect
Armageddon in Retrospect is a collection of short stories and essays about war and peace written by Kurt Vonnegut. It is the first posthumous collection of his previously unpublished writings. The book includes an introduction by Mark Vonnegut as well as a letter from Kurt to his family about his...

.

Other

The German diarist Victor Klemperer
Victor Klemperer
Victor Klemperer was a businessman, journalist and eventually a Professor of Literature, specialising in the French Enlightenment at the Technische Universität Dresden. His diaries detailing his life under successive German states—the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany and the German...

, includes a first-hand account of the firestorm in his published works.

Miles Tripp
Miles Tripp
Miles Barton Tripp was an English writer of thirty-seven works of fiction including crime novels and thrillers, some of which he wrote under noms de plume Michael Brett and John Michael Brett. He served in RAF Bomber Command during World War II, flying thirty-seven sorties as a bomber-aimer...

, who was a bomb aimer in one of the aircraft which bombed Dresden, wrote a novel, Faith is a Windsock (1953), plus a non-fiction work, The Eighth Passenger (1969), based on his experiences.

The bombings also are a central theme in the 2006 German TV production Dresden by director Roland Suso Richter. Despite the romantic plot between a British bomber pilot and a German nurse, the movie attempts to reconstruct the facts surrounding the Dresden bombings from both the perspective of the RAF pilots as well as the Germans in Dresden at the time.

Jonathan Safran Foer
Jonathan Safran Foer
Jonathan Safran Foer is an American author best known for his novels Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close...

's novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a 2005 novel by Jonathan Safran Foer.The book's narrator is a nine-year-old boy named Oskar Schell. Two years before the story begins, Oskar's father dies on 9/11...

 (2005) incorporates the bombings into essential parts of the story.

Daniel Bukvich
Daniel Bukvich
Daniel Bukvich is an American Composer and Percussionist. He has been a Professor of Percussion and Music theory at the Lionel Hampton School of Music at the University of Idaho since 1978. Dan is heavily involved in the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival and "DancersDrummersDreamers®", both major...

 wrote a musical interpretation of the events called "Symphony No. 1 (In Memorium, Dresden, 1945)".

Józef Mackiewicz
Jozef Mackiewicz
Józef Mackiewicz was a Polish writer and commentator. He staunchly opposed communism, referring to himself as "anticommunist by nationality".- Life and career :...

, a Polish writer, included a shockingly realistic description of the bombing of Dresden in the final part of his quasi-documentary novel Colonel Miasoyedov's Case (1962).

The main action of the novel Closely Observed Trains, by Czech author Bohumil Hrabal
Bohumil Hrabal
Bohumil Hrabal was a Czech writer, regarded as one of the best writers of the 20th century.- Life and work :...

, takes place on the night of the first raid.

The hatecore band Rahowa, in their album, Declaration of War, recorded a song "Avenge Dresden" about the Bombings, demonizing Churchill and sympathizing with Hitler while alluding to the Creativity Movement and Holocaust denier David Irving
David Irving
David John Cawdell Irving is an English writer,best known for his denial of the Holocaust, who specialises in the military and political history of World War II, with a focus on Nazi Germany...

.

In the 1983 Pink Floyd album The Final Cut
The Final Cut
The Final Cut may refer to:*The Final Cut , a 1983 album by Pink Floyd*"The Final Cut" , a song by Pink Floyd*The Final Cut , a 1983 "video EP" by Pink Floyd*The Final Cut , an industrial music group...

, "The Hero's Return", the protagonist lives his years after WWII tormented by "desperate memories", part of him still flying "over Dresden at angels 1–5" (fifteen-thousand feet).

See also

  • Bombing of Guernica
    Bombing of Guernica
    The bombing of Guernica was an aerial attack on the Basque town of Guernica, Spain, causing widespread destruction and civilian deaths, during the Spanish Civil War...

  • Carpet bombing
    Carpet bombing
    Carpet bombing is a large aerial bombing done in a progressive manner to inflict damage in every part of a selected area of land. The phrase invokes the image of explosions completely covering an area, in the same way that a carpet covers a floor. Carpet bombing is usually achieved by dropping many...

  • Total war
    Total war
    Total war is a war in which a belligerent engages in the complete mobilization of fully available resources and population.In the mid-19th century, "total war" was identified by scholars as a separate class of warfare...

  • Siege of Dresden
    Siege of Dresden
    The Siege of Dresden took place in July 1760 during the Seven Years War when a Prussian force led by Frederick the Great unsuccessfully besieged the city of Dresden in Saxony....

    , 1760. In some histories the term "bombardment of Dresden" refers to an early bombardment by the Prussian army in July 1760 which destroyed many buildings but killed only 49 citizens;

Further reading

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