Bombing of Dresden in World War II

From New World Encyclopedia
Dresden before its destruction

The bombing of Dresden by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) between February 13 and February 15, 1945 remains one of the more controversial events of World War II. Historian Frederick Taylor said:

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…[1]

For some, this event made the World War II's status as a just cause dubious, although in retrospect most analysts still attribute less evil to the victors than they do to the defeated, especially following revelations regarding the full extent of Hitler's extermination program. Nonetheless, such mass bombing raises moral questions, since civilian casualties were inevitable. Even when only military objectives are targeted, civilian casualties occur. When those waging war identify themselves as standing on higher moral ground than their opponents, they risk slipping into a moral quagmire if the means they use to prosecute their cause begins to shed doubt on whether it is being justly pursued. A war that is just also has to be justly prosecuted. Alongside the Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the bombing of Dresden is said to have compromised the just cause of World War II, which otherwise for many appeared to have been without question a war in which the champions of democracy and freedom were pitted against oppression and evil.

Reasons for the attack

Early in 1945, the Allies' political-military leadership started to consider how they might aid the Soviets by using a strategic bomber force. The plan was to bomb Berlin and several other eastern cities in conjunction with the Soviet advance. In the summer of 1944, plans for a large and intense offensive targeting these cities had been discussed under the code name Operation Thunderclap, then shelved on August 16.[2] These were re-examined, but the decision was made to draw up a more limited plan. Sir Charles Portal, the chief of the air staff, noted on January 26, 1945, that "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.”[3] 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 factories, and submarine yards. Sir Norman Bottomley, deputy chief of the air staff, requested Arthur "Bomber" Harris, commander-in-chief of RAF Bomber Command and an ardent supporter of area bombing, 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."[4]

Arthur "Bomber" Harris

On the same day, Winston Churchill pressed the aecretary of state for air, Sir Archibald Sinclair, 1st Viscount Thurso: "I asked [yesterday] 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."[4] On January 27 Sinclair replied:

The Air Staff have now arranged that, subject to the overriding claims of attacks on enemy oil production and other approved target systems within the current directive, available effort should be directed against Berlin, Dresden, Chemnitz and Leipzig or against other cities where severe bombing would not only destroy communications vital to the evacuation from the east, but would also hamper the movement of troops from the west."[3][5]

The Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) had come to the conclusion that the Germans could reinforce their eastern front with up to 42 divisions (half a million men) from other fronts and that if the Soviet advance could be helped by hindering that movement, it could shorten the war. They thought that the Germans could complete the reinforcement by March 1945. The JIC's analysis was backed up by Ultra Enigma-code intercepts, which confirmed that the Germans had such plans.

The Soviets had several discussions with the Allies on how the strategic bomber force could help their ground offensives once the eastern front line approached Germany. The U.S. ambassador to Russia, W. Averell Harriman, discussed it with Josef Stalin as did General Eisenhower's deputy, British Air Marshal Arthur W. Tedder in January 1945, when he explained how the strategic bomber could support the Soviet attack as Germany began to shuffle forces between the fronts. On January 31, after studying the JIC recommendation which was contained in a document entitled "Strategic Bombing in Relation to the Present Russian Offensive" and consulting with the Soviets, Tedder and his air staff concurred and issued a recommendation that Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden, and associated cities should be attacked. The intention to use the strategic bomber forces in a tactical air-support role was similar to that for which Eisenhower had employed them before the Battle of Normandy in 1944. He was counting on strategic airpower in 1945 to "prevent the enemy from switching forces back and forth at will" from one front to the other.[6]

When the Allies met at the Yalta Conference on February 4, the Western Allies had already decided to target Dresden. The deputy chief of the Soviet general staff, General Aleksei Antonov, raised two issues at the conference relating to the Western Allied strategic bomber force. The first was the demarcation of a bomb-line running north to south where to avoid accidentally bombing Soviet forces; Western Allied aircraft would not bomb east of the line without specific Soviet permission. The second was to hamper the movement of troops from the western front, Norway and Italy, in particular by paralyzing the junctions of Berlin and Leipzig with aerial bombardment. In response to the Soviet requests, Portal (who was in Yalta) sent a request to Bottomley to send him a list of objectives which could be discussed with the Soviets. The list sent back to him included oil plants, tank and aircraft factories and the cities of Berlin and Dresden. In the discussions which followed, the Western Allies pointed out that unless Dresden was bombed as well, the Germans could route rail traffic through Dresden to compensate for any damage caused to Berlin and Leipzig. Antonov agreed and requested that Dresden be added to his list of requests. Once the targets had been agreed at Yalta, the Combined Strategic Targets Committee, SHAEF (Air), informed the USAAF and the RAF Bomber commands that Dresden was among the targets selected to degrade German lines of communication. Their authority to do this came directly from the Western Allies' Combined Chiefs of Staff.

RAF Air Staff documents state that it was their intention to use RAF bomber command to "destroy communications" to hinder the eastward deployment of German troops, and to hamper evacuation, not to kill the evacuees. The priority list drafted by Bottomley for Portal, so that he could discuss targets with the Soviets at Yalta, included only two eastern cities with a high enough priority to fit into the RAF targeting list as both transportation and industrial areas. These were Berlin and Dresden. Both were bombed after Yalta.

Soviet military intelligence asserted that trains stuck in the main station were troop trains passing through Dresden to the front. This proved incorrect, as they were trains evacuating refugees from the east[7]. RAF briefing notes mentioned a desire to show "the Russians, when they arrive, what Bomber Command can do." Whether this was a statement of pride in the RAF's abilities—or to show the Soviets that the Western Allies were doing all they could to aid the Soviet advance, or an early cold war warning—is unclear.

The attacks

Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster bombers

The railway yards, near the center of Dresden, had been targeted and bombed twice before the night of February 13 by the USAAF Eighth Air Force in daytime raids: on October 7, 1944, with 70 tons of high-explosive bombs, and then again with 133 bombers on January 16, 1945, during which 279 tons of high-explosives and 41 tons of incendiaries were dropped.[8]

The firebombing campaign was supposed to begin with an United States Army Air Forces Eighth Air Force raid on Dresden on February 13, but bad weather over Europe prevented any American operations, but the RAF Bomber Command carried out the first raid. During the evening of February 13, 796 Avro Lancasters and 9 De Havilland Mosquitoes were dispatched in two separate waves and dropped 1,478 tons of high explosive and 1,182 tons of incendiary bombs by the early hours of February 14. The first attack was carried out entirely by No. 5 Group RAF, using their own low-level marking methods. This allowed the first bombs to be released over Dresden at 22:14, with all but one bomber releasing all their bombs within two minutes. This last Lancaster bomber of No. 5 group dropped its bombs at 22:22.[8]

The second attack, 3 hours later, was an all-Lancaster attack by aircraft of 1, 3, 6 and 8 Group providing standard Pathfinder marking. The weather was now clear and 529 Lancasters dropped more than 1,800 tons of bombs with great accuracy. RAF casualties on the two raids were 6 Lancasters lost, with 2 more crashed in France and 1 in England.[8]

Later on the February 14 from 12:17 until 12:30, 311 American B-17s dropped 771 tons of bombs on Dresden, with the railway yards as their aiming point. Part of the American Mustang-fighter escort was ordered to strafe traffic on the roads around Dresden to increase the chaos. There are reports that civilians fleeing the firestorm engulfing Dresden in February 1945 were strafed by American aircraft, but these claims have been refuted by recent work by the historian Götz Bergander[9] [10] During this raid there was a brief but possibly intense dogfight between American and German fighters around Dresden. Some rounds may have struck the ground and been mistaken for strafing fire.[11] The Americans continued the bombing on February 15, dropping 466 tons of bombs. During these four raids a total of around 3,900 tons of bombs were dropped.

The firebombing consisted of by-then standard methods; dropping large amounts of high-explosive to blow off the roofs to expose the timbers within buildings, followed by incendiary devices (fire-sticks) to ignite them and then more high-explosives to hamper the efforts of the fire services. This eventually created a self-sustaining firestorm with temperatures peaking at over 1,500 °C. After the area caught fire, the air above the bombed area became extremely hot and rose rapidly. Cold air then rushed in at ground level from the outside and people were sucked into the fire.

After the main firebombing campaign between 13th and 15th, there were two further raids on the Dresden railway yards by the USAAF. The first was on March 2 by 406 B-17s which dropped 940 tons of high-explosive bombs and 141 tons of incendiaries. The second was on April 17 when 580 B-17s dropped 1,554 tons of high-explosive bombs and 165 tons of incendiaries.[6]

Impact of the attack

Out of 28,410 houses in the inner city of Dresden, 24,866 were destroyed. An area of 15 square kilometers was totally destroyed, among that 14,000 homes, 72 schools, 22 hospitals, 18 churches, 5 theatres, 50 banks and insurance companies, 31 department stores, 31 large hotels, 62 administration buildings, and factories. In total there were 222,000 apartments in the city. The bombing affected more than 80 percent of them with 75,000 of them being totally destroyed, 11,000 severely damaged, 7,000 damaged, and 81,000 slightly damaged. The size of the city was more than 300 square kilometers in area at the time. Although bombing destroyed the main railway station completely, the railway was working again within a few days.

The precise number of dead is difficult to ascertain and is not known. Estimates are made difficult by the fact that the city and surrounding suburbs which had a population of 642,000 in 1939[6] was crowded at that time with up to 200,000 refugees.[12] and thousands of wounded soldiers. The fate of some of the refugees is not known as they may have been killed and incinerated beyond recognition in the fire-storm, or they may have left Dresden for other places without informing the authorities. Earlier reputable estimates varied from 25,000 to more than 60,000, but historians now view around 25,000-35,000 as the likely range.[9][10] Research by the Dresden historian Friedrich Reichert has been quoted as pointing toward the lower part of this range,[13] although a later report by the Dresden Historian Commission in 2010 indicates that 35,000 would be more correct.[14] It would appear from such estimates that the casualties suffered in the Dresden bombings were not out of proportion to those suffered in other German cities which were subject to firebombing attacks during area bombardment.[6]

Contemporary official German records give a number of 21,271 registered burials, including 6,865 who were cremated on the Altmarkt.[10] There were around 25,000 officially buried dead by March 22, 1945, war related or not, according to official German report Tagesbefehl (“Order of the Day”) 47 ("TB47"). There was no registration of burials between May and September 1945.[15] War-related dead found in later years, from October 1945 to September 1957, are given as 1,557; from May 1945 until 1966, 1,858 bodies were recovered. None were found during 1990-1994, even though there was a lot of construction and excavation during that period. The number of people registered with the authorities as missing was 35,000; around 10,000 of those were later found to be alive.[10] In recent years, the estimates have become a little higher in Germany and lower in Britain; earlier it was the opposite.

There have been higher estimates for the number of dead, ranging as high as 300,000. They are from disputed and unreliable sources, such as the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda headed by Joseph Goebbels, Soviet historians, and David Irving, the now discredited self-taught historian[16] who retracted his higher estimates.[17] Several sources list the number as "somewhere between 35,000 and 135,000” dead,[18] with the higher figure in line with Irving's incorrect retracted estimates.

The Nazis made use of Dresden in their propaganda efforts and promised swift retaliation. The Soviets also made propaganda use of the Dresden bombing in the early years of the Cold War to alienate the East Germans from the Americans and British.

The destruction of Dresden was comparable to that of many other German cities, with the tonnage of bombs dropped lower than in many other areas. However, ideal weather conditions at the target site, the wooden-framed buildings, and "breakthroughs" linking the cellars of contiguous buildings and the lack of preparation for the effects of air-raids by Gauleiter Martin Mutschmann,[19] made the attack particularly devastating. For these reasons the loss of life in Dresden was higher than many other bombing raids during World War II. For example, Coventry, the English city which is now twinned with Dresden and is often compared and contrasted with it, lost 1,236 in two separate raids in 1940. In late 2004, an RAF man involved in the raid said in an interview on the BBC's Radio 4 that another factor was the lower-than-expected level of anti-aircraft fire, which allowed a high degree of accuracy on the part of the bombers.

Overall, Anglo-American bombing of German cities claimed between 305,000 and 600,000 civilian lives. (It is not clear if these totals include Austrians, of whom about 24,000 were killed and other territories in the Third Reich but not in modern Germany). Estimates:

  • 600,000; about 80,000 were children[20]
  • The Historical Atlas of the 20th Century lists the following totals and sources:[21]
    • more than 305,000 (1945 Strategic Bombing Survey);
    • 400,000 Hammond Atlas of the 20th Century (1996)
    • 410,000 R. J. Rummel, 100% democidal
    • 499,750 Michael Clodfelter, Warfare and Armed Conflict: A Statistical Reference to Casualty and Other Figures, 1618-1991
    • 593,000 John Keegan, The Second World War (1989)
    • 593,000 J. A. S. Grenville, citing "official Germany" in A History of the World in the Twentieth Century (1994)
    • 600,000 Paul Johnson, Modern Times (1983)

Whether these attacks hastened the end of the war is a controversial question.

Responses to the bombing


Development of a German political response to the raid took several turns. Initially some of the leadership, especially Robert Ley and Joseph Goebbels, wanted to use it as a pretext for abandonment of the Geneva Conventions on the Western Front. In the end, the only political action the German government took was to exploit it for propaganda purposes.[22]

Goebbels inflated the numbers of the dead by a factor of ten, and German diplomats circulated the figures, along with photographs of the destruction, the dead, and badly burned children, in neutral countries. By coincidence, the day before the Dresden raid, a German foreign affairs paper had been circulated to neutral countries describing Arthur Harris as "the arch enemy of Europe" and a leading proponent of "Terror Bombing."[22]

On February 16 the Propaganda Ministry issued a press release which outlined the Nazi line: Dresden had no war industries, it was a place of culture and clinics.[22] On February 25, a new leaflet with photographs of two burned children was released under the title "Dresden – Massacre of Refugees" and stated that not 100,000 but 200,000 had died. Since no official estimate had yet been developed, the numbers were speculative, but foreign journals such as the Stockholm Svenska Morgonbladet used phrases like "privately from Berlin."[22] 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."[22] On March 4, Das Reich, a weekly general newspaper founded by Goebbels, published a lengthy article emphasizing the suffering and the destruction of a cultural icon without mentioning any damage the attacks had caused to the German war effort.[22]

Taylor observes that this propaganda was quite effective as it not only influenced attitudes in neutral countries at the time but even reached the British House of Commons when Richard Stokes quoted information from the German Press Agency (controlled by the Propaganda Ministry). Taylor suggests that, although the destruction of Dresden would have affected people's perception of the Allies' claim to absolute moral superiority in any event, part of the outrage involves Goebbels' master stroke of propaganda.[22]


According to the Oxford Companion to the Second World War, at an off-the-record press briefing held by the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force two days after the raids, British Air Commodore Colin McKay Grierson told journalists that the aim of Operation Thunderclap had been to bomb large population centers and prevent relief supplies from getting through. 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, member of Parliament, asked questions in the House of Commons.[23]

Churchill appears to have initially approved, then to have distanced himself from the decision to bomb, then to have reaffirmed his support. He suggested that enough damage had already been done to Germany, which the Allies would have to cope with once Germany capitulated. The military viewpoint was that munitions works were scattered throughout Dresden, which made it a legitimate target.

Points of view

Was the bombing a war crime?

The Altmarkt (old market) square before its destruction

The nature of the bombing of Dresden has made it a unique point of contention and debate. Critics of the attack come from across the political spectrum, from far left to far right. Günter Grass, the German novelist, and Simon Jenkins, the former editor of The Times, have both referred to the Dresden bombing as a "war crime"[24]

Dr. Gregory H. Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, wrote:

The Holocaust was among the most evil genocides in history. But the Allies' firebombing of Dresden and nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were also war crimes—and ... also acts of genocide."[25] Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn, in their book The History and Sociology of Genocide state that "[the] definition of genocide also excludes civilian victims of aerial bombardment in belligerent states. In this we differ from Jean-Paul Sartre and Leo Kuper.[26]

Far right politicians in Germany also use Dresden as a symbol, holding rallies on the anniversary of the bombing, and arguing that Dresden represents moral parity between the Allies and the Axis. They promote the term Bombing Holocaust for the Allied aerial bombings, especially for the Dresden raids. By using this term in a speech to the parliament of Saxony on January 22, 2005, Udo Voigt, the chairman of the National Democratic Party of Germany, sparked a new public discussion about how to deal with the right wing extremists. Many German mainstream politicians consider their use of firebombing as an attempt to advance neo-Nazi causes by exploiting the intense sentiment surrounding the bombing: not only to win votes, but also as propaganda to place Nazi crimes in a more relativist context, especially the Holocaust. Some Germans consider the term a violation of German law which forbids Holocaust denial, but in April 2005 the Hamburg public prosecutor's office decided that Udo Voigt's description of the 1945 RAF bombing of Dresden as a "holocaust" was a constitutionally protected exercise of free speech since defamation was not the prime aim of the argument.[27]A leading British bishop, George Bell (1883-1958), withdrew his support for the just cause of the war following the bombing of Dresden.

The case for the bombing as a war crime

It is widely considered that the bombing of Dresden was excessive or at the very least regrettable. There is less support for the view that the bombing was a war crime or a crime against humanity.[28] Public declarations in support began shortly after the nature and scale of the attack became known.

Before the bombing, Dresden was regarded as a beautiful city and a cultural center, and was sometimes known as Elbflorenz, or Florence on the Elbe. Its notable architecture included the Zwinger Palace, the Dresden State Opera House, and the Dresden Frauenkirche, its historic cathedral. Before the war, the city's main industries had been the production of porcelain cups and saucers and tobacco products. 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 from the fighting on the Eastern Front.[29]

The absence of a direct military presence in the center of the city and the devastation known to be caused by firebombing is regarded by supporters of the war crime position as establishing their case on a prima facie basis. They contend that these points are sufficient in themselves, without considering the absence of military necessity, the civilian death toll, and Dresden's cultural significance.

Der Brand, the controversial work by independent German historian Jörg Friedrich, considers the available evidence in support of the view that the bombing (the Bombenkrieg) was a war crime. According to Friedrich, this is the case: German forces were in full retreat by February 1945, and the impact on civilians was out of all proportion to the military goal. He argues that the bombing was a war crime even under the legal standards of the time, because the Allies intended to cause as many civilian casualties as possible.

Friedrich also contends that the outcome of previous bombing attacks demonstrate that the Allied forces were aware of the destruction caused by incendiary bombs, and that due to the collapse of German air defense and improvements in bombing accuracy, future attacks were likely to cause ever increasing numbers of civilian deaths. Der Brand also documents in detail the oral history of local people as to what happened and how they felt, along with city records from the time.

Friedrich is careful to distance himself from neo-Nazi sympathizers, saying that the use of the word "holocaust" to describe the bombing is wrong because it blurs the distinction between total warfare and outright genocide.

However, Friedrich's case is disputed even by historians who regard the bombing as regrettable. Specifically, they dispute the crucial part of his case—the state of the German army in February 1945—and his willingness to place credibility on the post-war narrative of Dresdeners as to their level of complicity in the Nazi government.

The case against the bombing as a war crime

Ruins of the Frauenkirche in 1989

The United States military made the case that bombing of Dresden did not constitute a war crime, based on the following points:

  1. The raid had legitimate military ends, brought about by exigent military circumstances.
  2. Military units and anti-aircraft defenses were sufficiently close that it was valid not 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.[6]

Legitimacy of the military ends (the first point) depends on two claims, first, that the rail yards subjected to American precision bombing were an important logistical target, beyond their ordinary value as a communication center and, second, that the city was an important industrial center.

In reference to the first claim, an inquiry conducted at the behest of the U.S. Secretary of War, General George C. Marshall, concluded that the raid was justified by the available intelligence. The inquiry found that elimination of German ability to reinforce a counter-attack against Marshall Konev's extended line—or, alternatively, to retreat and regroup using Dresden as a base of operations—was an important military objective. As Dresden had been largely untouched during the war, it was one of the few remaining functional rail and communications centers. A secondary objective was to disrupt the industrial use of Dresden for munitions manufacture, which American intelligence believed to be the case. The fear of a Nazi breakout, such as had so nearly succeeded during the Battle of the Bulge—which ran from December 16, 1944 to January 25, 1945—less than three weeks before the bombing of Dresden, weighed on the minds of Allied planners.

The second claim was that Dresden was a militarily significant industrial center. 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.[30]

The United States Strategic Bombing Survey listed at least 110 factories and industries in Dresden,[6] albeit mainly in the outskirts, which were far less affected by the February 1945 raid. The city contained the Zeiss-Ikon optical factory and the Siemens glass factory, both of which, according to the Allies, were entirely devoted to manufacturing military gunsights. The immediate suburbs contained factories building radar and electronics components, and fuses for anti-aircraft shells. Other factories produced gas masks, engines for Junkers aircraft and cockpit parts for Messerschmitt fighters.[31]

Because of the concentration of undamaged industry, unusual in Germany at the time of the raids, the Allied planners had reason to believe that Dresden was a crucial to the effort to supply materiel for the defense of Germany itself.

The second of the five points addresses the prohibition, in the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, of "attack or bombardment" of "undefended" towns. The Hague Conventions were adopted before the rise of air power and whether their prohibitions applied to air attacks had not yet been clarified in any ratified convention (in part, because of German opposition to the draft Amsterdam convention of 1938). However, the inquiry found that the presence of active German military units in the area, and the presence of fighters and anti-aircraft near Dresden, was sufficient to qualify Dresden as "defended" under the second Hague Convention. By this stage in the war both the British and the Germans had integrated air defenses at the national level. Both countries stationed air-defenses as far forward as possible to intercept hostile aircraft before they reached their targets. For example, the British countermeasures for the V-1 flying bomb involved moving anti-aircraft guns from London to the North Downs and the coast. Consequently there were fewer anti-aircraft guns in the capital, but the guns still defended London. Similarly the Germans integrated their air defenses in a national air-defense system known as the Kammhuber Line, so an absence of local air-defense assets did not mean that a German city was undefended.

The third point is that the size of the Dresden raid, in terms of numbers and types of bombs and the means of delivery were commensurate with the military objective. On February 3, 1945, the Allies bombed Berlin and caused an estimated 25,000 civil fatalities; other raids in Japan caused civilian casualties over 100,000. 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 early 1945. The combination of clear skies over Dresden (whilst most of the surrounding region was overcast) and the lack of local preparedness for the attacks (in contrast to other major production centers) resulted in unprecedented effectiveness of the bombing.

The fourth point is that no extraordinary decision was made to single out Dresden, or to take advantage of the large number of refugees for the purpose of "terrorizing" the German populace. The intent of area bombing was to disrupt industrial production, not to kill dislocated civilians. 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.

The fifth point is that the firebombing achieved the intended effect of disabling a substantial fraction of industry in what was one of Germany's last centers of industrial production. It was estimated that over 25 percent of industrial capacity was disabled or destroyed, eliminating potential use of Dresden by the Germany military to launch counterstrikes to check the Soviet advance.

Insofar as Europe has enjoyed relative peace since 1945 and Germany has actively played a part in fostering that peace, it might be argued that the policy of carrying the war into Germany in 1945 contributed to this result. It is notable that Dresden, the great city of culture, has more obviously kept alive the memory of the war than has, for example, Dortmund. However, Nazi Germany would have been defeated without the aerial bombardment of historic inner cities, and this destruction may have complicated the ultimately necessary reconciliation with the people of the Federal Republic of Germany, established in 1949. The repentance that has generally typified postwar (or at least post-1968) German discourse about World War II is not a reaction to the destruction of German cities but is based on a frank popular assessment that, for twelve years, Germany disastrously lost its way.

Dresden and the Holocaust

During February 1945, several hundred remaining Jews still resident in Dresden were destined to be sent to their deaths in concentration camps. The chaos following the bombing provided many a chance to escape, while others were put to work in rebuilding the city, thus the bombing may have saved several hundred potential Holocaust victims.

An account in the diary of Victor Klemperer supports this. On February 12, 1945, the order was given to deliver call-up letters to virtually all of the remaining handful of Jews in Dresden to be deported, but the bombing the next night destroyed much of the train station and threw much of the city into chaos. Victor Klemperer and his wife, Eva, fled amid the chaos. He removed the "J" and yellow Star of David from his jacket and they began heading south. By walking, riding on carts, trucks and trains they eventually reached Bavaria. They had picked up temporary identification papers, which did not show his Jewish origins.[32]

Today, a placard at the Dresden Main Station memorializes the Jewish citizens of Dresden who were sent from there to the concentration camps.

Post-war reconstruction and reconciliation

Reconstructed Frauenkirche, 2005

After the war, and especially after German reunification, great efforts were made to rebuild some of Dresden's former landmarks, such as the Frauenkirche, the Semperoper, and the Zwinger. A new synagogue was also built. Despite its location in the Soviet occupation zone (subsequently the [[German Democratic Republic)]), in 1956 Dresden entered a twin-town relationship with Coventry, which had suffered the worst destruction of any English city at the hands of the Luftwaffe, including the destruction of its cathedral (the official death toll in Coventry, an important center of airplane and vehicle manufacturing, was 1,236). Groups from both cities were involved in moving demonstrations of post-war reconciliation.

During her visit to Germany in November 2004, Queen Elizabeth II hosted a concert in Berlin to raise money for the reconstruction of the Dresden Frauenkirche. The visit was accompanied by speculation in the British and German press, fuelled mostly by the tabloids, over a possible apology for the attacks, which did not occur. On February 13, 2005, a cross made by Alan Smith, the son of one of the bombers, from medieval nails recovered from the ruins of the roof of Coventry cathedral in 1940, was presented to the Lutheran Bishop of Saxony. On October 30, 2005, the Frauenkirche was rededicated, with some 1,800 guests including the Duke of Kent, Germany's president, Horst Köhler, and the previous and current chancellors, Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel, attending the service.[33]


  1. "Dresden Bombing is to be Regretted Enormously," interview with Frederick Taylor, Spiegel Online, February 11, 2005. Retrieved March 26, 2018
  2. Frederick Taylor, Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945 (New York: HarperCollins, 2004, ISBN 0060006765), 207.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Norman Longmate, The Bombers (London: Hutchinson, 1983, ISBN 0091515807), 332.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Taylor, 212.
  5. Taylor, 213.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 “Historical Analysis of the 14-15 February Bombings of Dresden.” Prepared by USAF Historical Division Research Studies Institute Air University. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  7. Anthony Beevor, Berlin: The Downfall 1945 (New York: Viking, 2002, ISBN 0670886955), 83.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Charles River Editors, The Firebombing of Dresden: The History and Legacy of the Allies’ Most Controversial Attack on Germany (Charles Rivers Editors, 2014, ISBN 978-1505327762).
  9. 9.0 9.1 Götz Bergander, Dresden im Luftkrieg: Vorgeschichte-Zerstörung-Folgen (Munich: Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, 1977).
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Richard J. Evans, Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust and the David Irving Trial (New York: Basic Books, 2002, ISBN 0465021530).
    A chapter in Evans’ book that refutes claims about the bombing made by David Irving, a convicted Holocaust denier.
  11. Taylor, 497-498.
  12. Taylor, 262-266.
    There were an unknown number of refugees in Dresden, so the historians Matthias Neutzner, Götz Bergander and Frederick Taylor have used historical sources and deductive reasoning to estimate that the number of refugees in the city and surrounding suburbs was around 200,000, or less, on the first night of the bombing.
  13. Friedrich Reichert, Verbrannt bis zur Unkenntlichkeit — Die Zerstörung Dresdens 1945. Dresden: Dresdner Museum, 1994.
  14. Die Bergung, Registratur und Bestattung der Dresdner Luftkriegstoten Dresden Historian Commission, March 17, 2010. Retrieved March 22, 2018.
  15. Helmut Schnatz, Luftkriegslegenden in Dresden Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  16. Richard Ingram, “Irving was the author of his own downfall.” The Independent, February 25, 2006: “In 1969, after David Irving's support for Rolf Hochhuth, the German playwright who accused Winston Churchill of murdering the Polish wartime leader General Sikorski, The Daily Telegraph issued a memo to all its correspondents. "It is incorrect," it said, "to describe David Irving as a historian. In [the] future we should describe him as an author." Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  17. David Irving, “The Dresden Raids” (Letter to the editor). The Times, July 7, 1966. A correction to David Irving’s book The Destruction of Dresden (London: William Kimber, 1963).
    In this letter Irving, who had previously used figures as high as 250,000 admitted the confirmed casualty figures were actually 18,375, expected to rise to 25,000 including those not registered in the city being taken into account.
  18. Bombing of Dresden Retrieved March 22, 2018.
  19. Taylor, 5.
  20. “Hamburg, Juli 1943” in Der Spiegel, 2003 (in German). Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  21. Matthew White, Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Primary Megadeaths of the Twentieth Century Historical Atlas of the 20th Century, Necrometrics, 2011. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 22.5 22.6 Taylor, 420-426.
  23. Longmate, 344.
  24. Michael Elliott, “Europe: Then And Now.” Time Magazine Europe, August 10, 2003. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  25. Gregory H. Stanton, “How we can prevent genocide.” Genocide Watch, 1998. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  26. Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990, ISBN 0300044461), 24.
  27. Hannah Cleaver, “German ruling says Dresden was a holocaust.” Daily Telegraph, April 12, 2005. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  28. Simon Jenkins, “Dresden: Time to Say We're Sorry.” The Wall Street Journal, February 14, 1995. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  29. Beevor, 83.
  30. Taylor, 169.
  31. Rebecca Grant, “The Dresden Legend.” Air Force Magazine Online 87:10 (October 2004). Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  32. “Victor Klemperer’s Dresden Diaries: Surviving the Firestorm.” Review in Der Spiegel, February 11, 2005. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  33. Luke Harding, “Cathedral hit by RAF is rebuilt.” The Guardian, October 31, 2005. Retrieved March 26, 2018.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Beevor, Anthony. Berlin: The Downfall 1945. New York: Viking, 2002. ISBN 0670886955
  • Bergander, Götz. Dresden im Luftkrieg: Vorgeschichte-Zerstörung-Folgen. Munich: Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, 1977.
  • Chalk, Frank, and Kurt Jonassohn. The History and Sociology of Genocide. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990. ISBN 0300044461
  • Clodfeiter, Michael. Warfare And Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty and Other Figures, 1494- 2007. McFarland, 2008. ISBN 978-0786433193
  • Evans, Richard J. Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust and the David Irving Trial. New York: Basic Books, 2002. ISBN 0465021530
  • Greenville, J.A.S. A History of the World in the Twentieth Century. Belknap Press, 1994. ISBN 978-0674399600
  • Johnson, Paul. Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties. Harpercollins, 1983. ISBN 978-0060151591
  • Keegan, John. The Second World War. Penguin Books, 2005. ISBN 978-0143035732
  • Longmate, Norman. The Bombers. London: Hutchinson, 1983. ISBN 0091515807
  • Reichert, Friedrich. Verbrannt bis zur Unkenntlichkeit — Die Zerstörung Dresdens 1945. Dresden: Dresdner Museum, 1994.
  • Taylor, Frederick. Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945. New York: HarperCollins, 2004. ISBN 0060006765

External Links

All links retrieved November 17, 2023.


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