What Was the Dresden Firebombing?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Dresden firebombing was a series of joint United States Air Force (USAF) and Royal Air Force (RAF) bombing raids conducted against the German city of Dresden in 1945. By the end of the bombing, the city of Dresden had been severely damaged, with an estimated 90% of the city center being completely destroyed in the Dresden firebombing. The events of the Dresden firebombing have long been considered controversial in some circles, with some people feeling that the bombing was not justified, and others going as far as to call it a war crime.

3,900 tons of explosives were dropped on Dresden in 1945.
3,900 tons of explosives were dropped on Dresden in 1945.

It is important to view the Dresden firebombing in context. The four raids took place in mid-February, 1945, when German defeat seemed likely, but not necessarily inevitable. Some military leaders suggested that undermining the morale of the German people and military could hasten the end of the war, thereby reducing casualties on all sides. Evidence seems to suggest that several leaders also specifically advocated using devastating bombing raids, like those which repeatedly damaged London during the war, as a political and military tool.

According to the USAF and RAF, Dresden was a valid military target. Military intelligence suggested that Dresden was being used to manufacture war-related materials, so military leaders argued that bombing Dresden would strike a significant blow to the Germans military machine. However, opponents of the Dresden firebombing have since argued that Dresden was deliberately targeted because of its role as a cultural landmark, suggesting that the city's involvement in military manufacturing was minimal.

Several independent investigations into the Dresden firebombing have been conducted, in an effort to determine whether or not the bombing was justified, and the results have been varied. Justified or not, 3,900 tons of explosives were dropped on Dresden between 13 and 15 February 1945, triggering a massive firestorm which engulfed the city. An estimated 40,000 people were killed in the firebombing, including prisoners of war held in Dresden and innocent civilians. Survivors of the Dresden firebombing described a hellish scene, and images of Dresden shortly after the bombing support this testimony.

Numerous cultural landmarks were destroyed in the Dresden firebombing, and in later years, both the United States and Great Britain worked to help restore or rebuild these landmarks. These rebuilding efforts occurred across Germany, as the Allies attempt to re-establish diplomatic relations with the German people, helping Germany recover from the Second World War in the process.

The Dresden firebombing was far from being the only controversial bombing raid in the Second World War. The events of the Second World War marked a major shift in the way that governments made war, as several parties in the war specifically targeted civilians to sow fear and dissent. As information from the Second World War is slowly declassified, additional information about events like the Dresden firebombing may emerge, allowing people to see a more complete picture.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


My mother came into Dresden only a day after the bombing. She was carrying me and my three year old sister fleeing the advancing Russians.

I did hear many horror stories from her about the dead lying everywhere. I've been in Dresden many times in the last few years. It's truly amazing how the city was rebuild after it was completely leveled. I can't help but thing about Dresden and places like the death camps and the Holocaust.

What is really the difference between the two? In both cases, it involved criminals for political gain. In Dresden, the killings were played down from 250,000 to 22,000 and in the other Holocaust from 6 million to much less then that number, by many sources. Stepping on an ant or killing 6 million or 50 million people is taking a life; only the perspective is different.

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