What was the real reason that the Allies fire bombed Dresden, Germany on February 13, 1945?  This is one of history’s many arguments.  Known as the “Florence of the Elbe”, did Dresden meet the criteria for the strategic bombing raids on cities known for war production and manufacturing decided from the February 1945 Yalta Conference or was it just to punish the Germans and weaken their morale?  Dresden had never been a site for Germany’s war production or major industry.  It was a city known for rich artistic and architectural treasures. The “official” reason was that it was a communication center for Germany and needed to be eliminated to bring the war to an end.
At Yalta in 1945, the Big Three formalized plans for occupation zones in Germany. Stalin, above right, also agreed to join the U.N.. Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library

At Yalta in 1945, the Big Three formalized plans for occupation zones in Germany. Stalin, above right, also agreed to join the U.N.. Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library

Regardless of the real reason, the city was reduced to rubble with a death toll of 135,000 people.  Everyone has heard of the devastation to the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II history but Dresden was the single most destructive bombing of the war.  Since the Germans were already on the verge of surrender, this bombing has been the cause for much speculation and was considered disproportionate to the stated strategic goal.

The single most destructive bombing of the war.

  • More than 3,400 tons of explosives were dropped on the city
  • 800 American and British aircraft involved.
  • Two days of bombing set the city burning, littering the streets with charred corpses, including many children.
  • Eight square miles of the city was ruined
  • The total body count was between 35,000 and 135,000 (an approximation is all that was possible given that the city was filled with many refugees from farther east).
  • The hospitals that were left standing could not handle the numbers of injured and burned, and mass burials became necessary.

Have you read Slaughterhouse Five, by the novelist Kurt Vonnegut?  This antiwar novel detailed the Dresden experience as he was an American POW in Dresden at the time of the raid.

Aerial view of Dresden, Germany today

Aerial view of Dresden, Germany today

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6 responses

  1. Birgit says:

    Hi There! Hope all is well with you. My mom was on a school trip to Dresden when the bombs hit. She went off on her own to experience the city for herself. She remembered the tons of people sleeping in the streets so she believes (and so do I) that the figures are actually much, much higher. When the bombings hit, she knew, from her experience in Hamburg, to get out of the city so she did that and was on some small hill outside the city with other people and she watched as the planes made formations like in squares, and just bombed the hell out of the city. After, she went back to try to find her school mates, who were saved as they found a bomb shelter, and she remembered the black corpses in the snow. She talked about the black hands coming out of the snow, how everything was warped and twisted. It is a bombing that did not need to be done. Bomber Harris was one that believed it would hurt the morale…horrible.

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  2. larryzb says:

    The official death toll figures are very likely too low. The city’s population was swollen by refugees from the East fleeing the advancing Red Army.

    The intentional bombing of civilian population centers was listed as a war crime in the indictments at Nuremberg. You ask why was Dresden bombed? The larger question is why the Allied campaign of intentionally targeting civilian population centers in Germany?

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    • It was terrible time with actions in war that I can’t imagine the reason for such actions in hindsight. What other areas of Germany without another strategic purpose for bombing are you referring in your statement?

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      • larryzb says:

        Review the history of the British bombing campaign! Their purpose was to destroy cities and kill/maim civilians. I recommend you to read Among the Dead Cities by A C Grayling (a current British philosopher). Hundreds of German cities and towns were bombed in the last 3 years of the war. Strategic purpose? The British were killing civilians each night in their bombing raids. By civilians, we mean non-combatants.

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