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Bombing of Dresden in World War II

The bombing of Dresden in World War II by the Allies remains controversial after more than 50 years. Dresden, the capital of the German state of Saxony, was fire-bombed by Allied air forces (the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) over three days (February 13-15, 1945) near the end of World War II. Air Marshall Arthur Harris[?], inventor of area bombing, ordered the action. He was never held accountable for this alleged war crime.


85% of Dresden was destroyed

Dresden was widely considered a city of little war-related industrial or strategic importance. Dresden itself was most noted as a cultural centre, with noted architecture in the Zwinger Palace, the Dresden State Opera House and its historic churches. It has been claimed that the bombing was at the request of Russia, to attack a German armoured division in transit through the city. However, RAF briefing notes indicate that one of the motives was to show "the Russians when they arrive, what Bomber Command can do" (that is, to intimidate the Russians).

At the time, town was full of refugees fleeing from the advancing Red Army. Bomber Command was ordered to attack Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig and other east German cities to "cause confusion in the evacuation from the east" and "hamper the movements of troops from the west". This directive led to the raid on Dresden and marked the erosion of one last moral restriction in the bombing war: the term "evacuation from the east" did not refer to retreating troops but to the civilian refugees fleeing from the advancing Russians. Although these refugees clearly did not contribute to the German war effort, they were considered legitimate targets simply because the chaos caused by attacks on them might obstruct German troop reinforcements to the Eastern Front. There are reports that even civilians fleeing the firestorm engulfing Dresden in February 1945 were strafed by British and American aircraft.

The fire-bombing consisted of dropping large amounts of high-explosive 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 'fire storm' with temperatures peaking at over 1500 degrees C. After the area caught fire, the air above the bombed area, become extremely hot and rose rapidly. Cold air then rushed in at ground level from the outside and people were sucked into the fire.

3,900 tonnes of bombs were dropped. 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, 19 churches, 5 theaters, 50 bank and insurance companies, 31 department stores, 31 large hotels, and 62 administration buildings.

The precise number of dead is difficult to ascertain and is not known. Numbers vary from 35,000 to 135,000 dead. There have been larger estimates for the number of dead, ranging as high as a quarter of a million, but they are from disputed sources, primarily the Nazi Propaganda Ministry and holocaust denier David Irving. The Nazis made use of Dresden in their propaganda and promised swift retaliation.

The Dresden bombing is a strongly debated decision, and the action is still widely perceived as lacking military justification, even within the context of the controversial area bombing policy pursued against Germany by Britain's Bomber Command[?] in 1942-1945. The city has never regained its pre-war population of 630,000.

There are anecdotes of the pilots and crew having problems years later. Some had nightmares, some thought they would go to hell as war criminals, some had unshakable visions of the fires and the burning cities.

Author Kurt Vonnegut had been captured during the Battle of the Bulge and was a prisoner of war near Dresden during the bombing. He later wrote about his experiences and feelings in his novel Slaughterhouse-Five.

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