The ruins of Dresden, 1945

Dresden in ruins after Allied bombings, February 1945.
Dresden in ruins after Allied bombings, February 1945.

At the end of World War II the city of Dresden was in ruins, all its buildings destroyed and thousands of civilians dead. The scale of the death and destruction, coming so late in the war, along with significant questions about the legitimacy of the targets destroyed have led to years of debate about whether the attack was justified, or whether it should be labeled a war crime. The bombing of Dresden has become one of the most controversial decisions made in the European theater.

Before World War II, Dresden was called “the Florence of the Elbe” and was regarded as one the world’s most beautiful cities for its architecture and museums, it had numerous beautiful baroque and rococo style buildings, palaces and cathedrals. Although no German city remained isolated from Hitler’s war machine, Dresden’s contribution to the war effort was minimal compared with other German cities. As Hitler had thrown much of his surviving forces into a defense of Berlin in the north, city defenses were minimal, and the Russians would have had little trouble capturing Dresden. It seemed an unlikely target for a major Allied air attack.

An important aspect of the Allied air war against Germany involved what is known as “area” or “saturation” bombing. In area bombing, all enemy industry–not just war munitions–is targeted, and civilian portions of cities are obliterated along with troop areas. Before the advent of the atomic bomb, cities were most effectively destroyed through the use of incendiary bombs that caused unnaturally fierce fires in the enemy cities. Such attacks, Allied command reasoned, would ravage the German economy, break the morale of the German people and force an early surrender.

Beginning on the night of February 13, 1945, more than 1,200 heavy bombers dropped nearly 4,000 tons of high-explosive and incendiary bombs on the city in four successive raids.
Beginning on the night of February 13, 1945, more than 1,200 heavy bombers dropped nearly 4,000 tons of high-explosive and incendiary bombs on the city in four successive raids.

On the night of February 13, 1945, hundreds of RAF bombers descended on Dresden in two waves, dropping their lethal cargo indiscriminately over the city. The city’s air defenses were so weak that only six Lancaster bombers were shot down. By the morning, some 800 British bombers had dropped more than 1,400 tons of high-explosive bombs and more than 1,100 tons of incendiaries on Dresden, creating a great firestorm that destroyed most of the city and killed numerous civilians.

Later that day, as survivors made their way out of the smoldering city, more than 300 U.S. bombers began bombing Dresden’s railways, bridges and transportation facilities, killing thousands more. On February 15, another 200 U.S. bombers continued their assault on the city’s infrastructure. All told, the bombers of the U.S. Eighth Air Force dropped more than 950 tons of high-explosive bombs and more than 290 tons of incendiaries on Dresden. Later, the Eighth Air Force would drop 2,800 more tons of bombs on Dresden in three other attacks before the war’s end.

After the war, investigators from various countries, and with varying political motives, calculated the number of civilians killed to be as little as 8,000 to more than 200,000. Estimates today range from 35,000 to 135,000. Looking at photographs of Dresden after the attack, in which the few buildings still standing are completely gutted, it seems improbable that only 35,000 of the million or so people in Dresden at the time were killed.

At the end of the war, Dresden was so badly damaged that the city was basically leveled. A handful of historic buildings–the Zwinger Palace, the Dresden State Opera House and several fine churches–were carefully reconstructed out of the rubble, but the rest of the city was rebuilt with plain modern buildings. American author Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007), who was a prisoner of war in Dresden during the Allied attack and tackled the controversial event in his book “Slaughterhouse-Five,” said of postwar Dresden: “It looked a lot like Dayton, Ohio, more open spaces than Dayton has. There must be tons of human bone meal in the ground”.

In this British Official Photo, on the night of February 13 and the morning of February 14, 1945, Lancasters of R.A.F. Bomber Command made two very heavy attacks on Dresden, Germany. Heavy bombers of the U.S. 8th Air Force attacked this target the following day. The smoke from fires still burning drifted across Dresden on February 14, 1945.
In this British Official Photo, on the night of February 13 and the morning of February 14, 1945, Lancasters of R.A.F. Bomber Command made two very heavy attacks on Dresden, Germany. Heavy bombers of the U.S. 8th Air Force attacked this target the following day. The smoke from fires still burning drifted across Dresden on February 14, 1945.
The demolished city of Dresden.
The demolished city of Dresden.
Over ninety percent of the city center was destroyed.
Over ninety percent of the city center was destroyed.
The destruction of the city provoked unease in intellectual circles in Britain. According to Max Hastings, 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 destruction of the city provoked unease in intellectual circles in Britain. According to Max Hastings, 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.
A general view of the a panorama display depicting the city of Dresden in the aftermath of the 1945 Allied firebombing.
A general view of the a panorama display depicting the city of Dresden in the aftermath of the 1945 Allied firebombing.
Children cleaning up the ruined city.
Children cleaning up the ruined city.
Theodor Rosenhauer in the midst of ruins in Dresden working on his oil painting “View of the Japanese Palace after the Bombing”.
Theodor Rosenhauer in the midst of ruins in Dresden working on his oil painting “View of the Japanese Palace after the Bombing”.
Women cleaning up the destroyed city.
Women cleaning up the destroyed city.
The destruction was appalling.
The destruction was appalling.
The attack had been prompted by Dresden’s position as a significant hub for both transport and industry.
The attack had been prompted by Dresden’s position as a significant hub for both transport and industry.
More than half of that bombing’s mass were explosives, wrecking Dresden’s buildings.
More than half of that bombing’s mass were explosives, wrecking Dresden’s buildings.
The explosive force created a firestorm, at a temperature above 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
The explosive force created a firestorm, at a temperature above 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Even at the time, the attack was questioned by Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain at the time. As he put it, “The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing.”
Even at the time, the attack was questioned by Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain at the time. As he put it, “The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing.”

Interesting fact:

  • Of 28,410 houses in central Dresden, 24,866 were destroyed. 15 sq km totally demolished—of which there were: 14,000 homes, 72 schools, 22 hospitals, 19 churches, 5 theaters, 50 banks, 31 dept stores, 31 hotels, 62 administrative buildings.

(Photo credit: Deutsche Fotothek / Picture Alliance / Getty Images).

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38 comments
  • funny how it’s become such an adorable city once more, one can only marvel at the unbreakable collective spirit and perseverance of its inhabitants. absolutely worth checking out, i say, you never know how long youre gonna be able to…

  • Now THIS was the REAL “Holocaust.” An horrific war crime perpetrated against a civilian population, a fiery conflagration that made humans ignite, and which otherwise suffocated a great many other innocents by using incendiary bombs that eliminated all usable and breathable oxygen in the bombing zone. The great German people rose from the rubble to rebuild this amazing city. The All-Lies responsible should have been tried and hanged for this abomination.

    Deutschland Uber Alles!!

    • Deutschland UNDER all, and deservedly so. What an abominable thing for you to say. Be their incredible arrogance as it may, there was no excuse whatsoever for the destruction of Dresden, except mindless vengeance for the mindless violence of the Germans. And that is no excuse at all.

    • So you say is was more a holocaust than the innocent people killed by Germans in the actual holocaust?

      You are as worthless as they come, I wish I could meet you face to face to see what human trash looks like.

      • I think this conversation is going in the wrong direction. it should not be about which act is the worst. holocaust or bombing of Dresden.

        both of them are awful and disgusting and as next generation we need to remember the destruction and brutality of war and don’t make the same mistake again and again.

        killing innocent and unarmed people is savage and unforgivable. it doesn’t matter who does that. whether Nazi done it or allied or now a days ISIS doing the same thing over and over.

        some times I wonder when mankind start to learn from history!!

        • Bravo! You hit the point! Exactly – no matter who is killing and making wars – it is a horrible and unforgivable act of anti-human behaviour.

    • You seem to have forgotten about all of the cities that the nazi’s bombed. The german population was, by the way, not completely innocent – as the people of for instance Rotterdam, were. They chose Hitler and the nazi’s and as long as everything went well for the nazi’s, they all loved it. A war crime, yes. But all thanks to Hitler.

    • Firstly, Germany undertook a great deal of pioneering work on the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in World War I. Secondly, Hitler introduced a new form of aggression in 1939. He ordered his military to attack Poland, thus starting World War II in Europe. “Blitzkrieg” soon came to mean lightning-fast assaults, not only by land troops and tank divisions, but also by warplanes bombing both military and civilian targets. The Germans hit the Polish capital of Warsaw especially hard, with indiscriminate bombing killing thousands of civilians. In May 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands on their way to France. Easily overcoming Dutch defenders, the Germans still bombed the centre of Rotterdam with explosive and fire bombs, killing tens of thousands. From Autumn1940 through spring 1941, Hitler’s air force struck London and other English cities with night bombing raids. The bombing of London, the main target of German planes, cost the lives of 30,000 people. Thirdly, Dresden boasted it was “one of the foremost industrial locations in the Reich” and 127 factories had secretly been switched to war work, making bomb-aiming apparatus, searchlights and parts for V-1 flying bombs to name but a few. Dresden was also about to take a more active role in the fighting. The German High Command had designated it as a defensive military strongpoint against the Russian advance from the east. It was also a vital link in the German rail network – 28 military transports a day came through Dresden with troops and tanks. The city was thus judged a war factory, a fortress and a transport hub. Let me make it clear, I detest violence and warfare and I am deeply saddened by the deaths of innocent civilians, whatever their nationality. However, I also detest Nazi hypocrisy .

    • Blame the Nazis for starting it and the German people for going along with the war. This military action was no where near as sick as the systematic murder perpetrated by the Germans.
      What a waste, either way. So shameful.

    • If I’m correct, the Allies bombed the shit out of Dresden as revenge for all the horrible things Germany did. And anyone who praises the Germans for what they did in World War II is exactly the type of person who needs to experience the concentration camps firsthand, lex talionis.

      After what Germany and Germans pulled, they honestly deserved to be wiped off the face of the planet forever, not just to deal with Germany but as a warning to all remaining nations that doing what Germany did will not be tolerated at all.

      If you EVER want to see justice done, we have YouTube now, so we can document German justice, German logic, and German morality and ethics practiced on Germans for the entire world to see.

      The gas chambers and mass graves for you, failures. Thought you were better by virtue of being “pure” and “Aryan” but that just made you weak, stupid, crazy, and inbred. You were defeated because you were arrogant and the rest of the world ganged up on you and your mad leader, Adolf Hitler.

      If Germany ever tries to pull this shit again, I’ll be advocating they use nuclear bombs and COMPLETELY DESTROY YOU, RIGHT AT THE BEGINNING so idiots like YOU never have a chance to draw breath in the first place.

      Deutschland, Niedrigsten der Niedrigen!

    • We had to put a stop to the Evil Nazis. Anyway was it ok for the Germans to burn London to the ground? or Coventry no it was not ok! Wind your neck in mate and do your history Germany was far from a victim. And I don’t blame Bomber Harris for what he had to do.

    • Germany is not greater or better than any other country, your country started 2 world wars and killed your own people in ww2. The Nazi’s did not care about the people only their arrogant and evil desire to control all people! You obviously have no conscience or moral compass; you should spend a few nights at Auschwitz!

    • So what about the crimes that took place in England Russia Poland France. The list can go on and on and on what the Germans did to so many lives.

    • Nord Land, you truly are a neo nazi, brainwashed, twisted individual.
      Your hypocrisy knows no bounds.
      What about the people of Warsaw, Stalingrad, London, Rotterdam hey? I could go on for hours.
      You Germs deserved every piece of vengeance you got, plus interest.
      You turds lit the fuse, so don’t fucking whimper like a pussy about the hammering you received.
      What do you think was going to happen, do you think the allies the allies would just say “Ok, game over, you Nazi pricks murdered millions of innocent people but we’ll leave it at that”?
      I don’t think so mate.
      “They sowed the wind, and now, they are going to reap the whirlwind”!- Bomber Harris.

    • Until Hitler’s overtaking power, Germany had been in the worst economic situation. It was him to bring comfort to the plundered nation. So German people had not other options. In addition, I suggest you read a book by Rudolf Czernin who had impartially and rightly explained the TRUTH about the causes and the war itself.

  • Recently, I have been reading many stories of those who suffered during the Blitz on London. I cannot imagine living under such extreme conditions, and this was only one city that suffered under Hitler. Yes, we know the bombing of Dresden was vengeance but Herr Hitler unleashed the fury of war that saw millions die needlessly on both sides. Time to put away the hatred after 70- odd years and accept history as it was. It cannot be changed and we living souls were not there to have had a hand in it. Sadly, Hitler could have been stopped, but then as now proves appeasement with monsters only delays the inevitable….

  • I never understood the point in killing innocent people in wars, WW2 included. The bombing of Dresden was mainly to target its people, and not typical targets (factories etc.). Deep in war, there comes a point in which each side (England and Germany), basically go about hitting each other like it’s going out of fashion. Both sides as bad as each other, in terms of air battle. But looking at the whole picture, when Germany bombed London, Germany paid the price on a mass scale. Being English, the history between England and Germany always boils down to WW2. And without the US involved, battered England probably would’ve fallen. When WW2 came to an end, nobody was a winner.

  • Well, Mr. Discolust (or whatever you real name might be), it is almost a year ago, you were here. And you have written a beautiful comment. Now, let’s see what we can make of it.

    “And anyone who praises the Germans for what they did in World Warr II is exactly the type of person who needs to experience the concentration camps firsthand, lex talionis.”

    Well, is this not a very good and beautiful response! Splendid, I would say! “Lex Talionis” (An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.) You know, Mr. Discolust, unlike you, there was once another Jew (a very courageous Jew to boot), who have written a book in the past, entitled, “An Eye for an Eye; The Story of Jews Who Sought Revenge For the Holocaust,” (fourth edition, 2000, published by Mr. Sack himself)

    Mr. John Sack, an honest and true Jewish historian, wrote about the revengeful attitude of Jews who killed thousands and thousands of innocent Germans just after the war. Unlike you, he was one of the few good and humane Jews who said it was wrong and criminal to kill those Germans. One of those Jewish mass murderers was Shlomo Morrell. After killing thousands of Germans (who had nothing to do with the Nazi party or even the war), Morell fled to Israel.

    Later on, however, the Polish government demanded that he should be delivered to Poland to brought before a court of committing war crimes. Israel, however, refused to do so, Even repeated attempts by Poland for delivering him, didn’t work out. And so it happened that Morell died peacefully at high age. You see, Mr. Dislocust, unlike you as a very vengeful and cruel Jew, Sack was an honest man. He was, in contradiction with you, NOT a man of “lex talionis.”

    2: “If you EVER want to see justice done, we have YouTube now, so we can document German justice, German logic, and German morality, and ethics practiced on Germans for the entire world to see.”

    You know, Dislocust, YouTube is a good channel. It differs with History Channel in this that there are also videos about what we apt could be called, the “Red Holocaust.” Now, what do I mean? Well, there are besides many videos about Hitler and the Nazis, also videos in which is described, for example, the Holodomor. Josef Stalin himself, the second ruler of Soviet Russia, was not a Jews (although opinions of him differ.) But he was surrounded by revengeful and cruel Jews of the worst kind! Lazare Kaganovich, nicknamed “the Wolf of the Kremlin”, is together with other Jews, responsible for the Holodomor, the greatest mass murders ever committed. Mr. Sever Plocker, another fine and good Jew, moderator of EyenetNews, wrote in 2006 that some of the greatest murderers of 20th history were Jews and who have “blood on their hands for eternity.” Now, it is very unlikely that you will reappear here again while your profile is removed. But I have one very urgent advice for you: Before you will point with on finger at me in a accusing way, you’ve got to point with four fingers at yourselves (and at other revengeful and cuel Jews as you are, of course!)

  • If there is any lesson to be learned from the war is that any human being is capable of doing horrible and good things given the right brainwashing. We simply are not yet civilized. The “Brainwashers” will always win as long as we have a fake democracy. I expierienced 98% of all the carpet bombing in Berlin as a 13 year old boy. I went through the Russian occuption, and yes, I happened to be in Chemnitz, which was also bombed on the day Dresden was leveled. Beware to folow any believe system, whether it is political or religious. Beware of the “Dogooders” and their good intentions. Make sure you seek an oposite view on any subject. In other words educate yourself.

  • Adolf Hitler was a mad man ! This war was his doing and he was to blame for anything that came before during and after his reign of terror. He surrounded himself with personal that were flawed in character in some form or fashion. He created the chaos around the world that resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians in every country…his own included!

  • After the war, investigators from various countries, and with varying political motives, calculated the number of civilians killed to be as little as 8,000 to more than 200,000. Estimates today range from 35,000 to 135,000. Looking at photographs of Dresden after the attack, in which the few buildings still standing are completely gutted, it seems improbable that only 35,000 of the million or so people in Dresden at the time were killed.

    Look – the definitive report from the Dresden Historical Commission itself published their final report on the subject around 2010.Between 18,000 and 25,000 dead. No more. This is based on their own research, on documents that were not even available for review until after the fall of the Soviet Union, and most important, is consistent with what the Dresden authorities said at the time.

    We didn’t have the reports of the Dresden authorities, because the Soviets occupied the city shortly afterwards. All we got was Goebbels exaggerating the number by an order of magnitude, for propaganda purposes. On the scale of WW-2 area bombings by both sides, that’s actually a fairly average-to-low-average death toll. There were a lot of air raids with much higher death tolls.

  • It is a vast mistake to assume all germans were pro hitler. My grandfather was a communist in Berlin and given a choice of going back to concentration camp or the Russian front where he died on the 6th day of the butchering Demyansk offensive. In war everyone loses. My other grandparents lived just outside of Dresden as I only recently found out.The Nazi’s were stupid to think this city would hold out just as Hitler in his futility had little schoolchildren in uniforms protecting ” the reich”. I get sick and tired of people who when they mention concentration camps by the way only refer to Jews. Hitler incarcerated and killed gyspies, estimated 250,000, homosexuals estimated 500,000 and as an Austrian Catholic in a mainly Lutheran country and a complicit Pope targeted Lutheran pastors like my other grandfather, shot 1940. stereotyping, revenge and
    hurtful comments prove people unfortunately never learn from past mistakes. Humanity?

  • Germany didn’t start Two world wars.
    WW1 started as Serbian terrorist killed Austrian prince.
    And UK, France and Russia declared war on Germany before Germany declared war on them.
    Study your history!

    • The UK and France declared war on Germany after Germany invaded Poland. Russia (USSR) did not declare war on Germany — it signed a non-aggression pact and the two divided up Poland. A year later, Germany invaded the USSR.

      Maybe you should do a bit more studying.

  • Smithers is spot on with regard to the converted industries in Dresden, (i.e. Zeis BTW) and his other comments. Winkdinkerson is right on, also. Read ‘Tail-End Charlies’. by John Nichol & Tony Rennell, which has ‘interesting’, details about Dresden, plus Bomber Command and the American Eighth’s attempts to stop Shitler bombers, fighters, doodlebugs(totally programmed to miss civilians!)V2s, etc etc from obtaining fuel, parts, rail-lines to shift them, and troops and armaments.
    The V2s of course were given even stricter orders than their earlier version, the V1, to fly around England for as long as it took, to find totally civilian-free, nasty, evil, factories which were making things to throw at morally superior Godmany.
    Unfortunately, the fact that these supremely moral engines of peace had to travel through filthy uncultured soulless English fouled ‘air’, infected the V’s and they just ignored(gasp)orders and dropped wherever the hell they liked, killing anything their blast could reach. I lost relatives in Sheffield due to the Huns moral methods, and two more in infantry, so for me, Reap what you sow!

  • Most of these comments makes me guess these are written by champions of ignorance, americans. Racism and ignorance. In Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia.. there were totalitarian regimes, you cant blame people. Look at the white rose resistance in germany, they all died. People did not vote. My granddad had to get the fascist card to work he had to support his family, communists were forced to flee or end in jail. People ignore these simple facts. US and britain started to bomb civilians, every city in my country was hit to be “liberated”. If you think italians deserved that than you should die for slavery crimes

  • Actually the UK got involved in world war 2 because we were allies with poland. Hitler invaded poland to claim back land which initially had belonged to germany. Hitler would never have tried to take over england there was nothing he wanted here. Bombing dresden was unnecessary and an act of spite by the british and US forces. There are good and bad in all races and there will always be wars where innocent people will die. Alot of germans didnt want to go to war but had no choice. As stated alot of these comments are written in ignorance check your facts read your history.

  • “It looked a lot like Dayton, Ohio, more open spaces than Dayton has. There must be tons of human bone meal in the ground”.

    Look at a picture of a real cremation, where the intention is to turn a human body into bone meal. At the end of the cremation, when all the flesh is burned away, you are still left with large bone skeletal remains, which has to be swept into a grinder to be ground into the fine powder we expect of human cremains.

    The reason I’m pointing this out, is the official count of Dresden bombing deaths is about 25,000. That number reflects what the Dresden authorities reported in 1945, and it reflects what historians say today, on review of the available evidence.

    So many people want to claim the number is up to an order of magnitude higher, because the burned bodies were turned to dust and could not be counted.

    That would be a surprise to any competent funeral director. Even when you are deliberately trying to burn a body, you are left with large skeletal remains that have to be deliberately ground to dust.

    Look at pictures of Dresden dead, they are gruesome, but can easily be counted as a body. An unidentified body is still a body, and it can still be counted.

  • The annihilation of Dresden was totally unnecessary by February 1945. The Soviets alone would have finished off the Third Reich by that late date. Hitler was doomed as the Russians pushed steadily west toward Berlin, where Hitler vowed to stay (and did stay) until the end. Hitler was the Third Reich and the Third Reich was Hitler. His end meant its end. Dresden was an utterly wasteful and near-criminal exercise. We (the Allies) were supposed to be better than that. By February 1945 most attention should have been focused on reconstruction, humanitarian relief, and preventing Russian domination of the area. Not destroying more cities.

  • Not only Germans were killed in Dresden. The city was brimming with refugees from the concentration camps hoping to survive. An estimated 35,000 survivors of slave labor and camps were killed in the bombings. Those who say this was justified don’t understand that this city was becoming the place were the victims were coming to survive the war. Dresden was a war crime.

  • What Churchill and Harris did along with the US Air Force were war crimes. The worst committed during WW2 yet somehow the Germans are cast as the villains. The victors write history, as they say. Germany could have easily done the same thing to London had they chosen to do so but they didn’t which is a testimony to their civility. If, as the Allied forces claimed, the Jews were being murdered in camps, the Germans could have and would have killed them all but they didn’t. That tells you all you need to know about who is telling the truth and who is not. Despite the total collapse of all of Germany, where no food was available to anyone, including prisoners in camps, most of the prisoners in these camps survived. The Red Cross kept meticulous records of German camp inmates and they reported 271,000 prisoners died while in the care of Germany. There is no doubt many more prisoners died from starvation following the collapse of Germany along with many times that number of Germans who also perished from starvation. It is unconscionable what the Allies perpetrated on the German civilian population. Germany did nothing close to this to any Allied countries.

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