Historical Background

The Allied bombing of Dresden created a perfect firestorm that destroyed a city whose population was swollen by refugees. No one can ever say that the firestorm at Dresden was an accident.[1] The 650,000 four-pound incendiary sticks dropped on Dresden were designed to create widespread destruction over an extremely large area of the city.[2]

Also, no one can ever say that the decision to bomb Dresden did not originate at the highest levels of the Allied governments. Operation Thunderclap, as the bombing of Dresden and other German cities was known, did not originate merely with Sir Arthur Harris and British Bomber Command.[3]


The British Royal Air Force (RAF) began the bombing of Dresden on Feb. 13, 1945, between 10:13 P.M. and 10:28 P.M. A total of 881.1 tons of bombs fell on the central districts of Dresden, of which 57% by weight were high explosive and 43% incendiaries. These bombs included 172 4,000-pound and 26 2,000-pound air mines designed to create huge waves of high-pressure air. These monster bombs blew out large numbers of windows and doors and increased the through-draft needed for the little fires from tens of thousands of stick incendiaries to spread and combine as quickly as possible.[4]

As midnight approached, the firestorm from the bombings had the heart of Dresden in its grip, and there was very little anyone could do about it. One person later exclaimed,

“The whole of Dresden was an inferno!”

Most people in Dresden could not have predicted that things would get even worse.[5]

A second wave of 550 RAF bombers—more than twice the size of the first wave—attacked new sections of Dresden from 1:21 to 1:45 A.M. A mixture of high-explosive and incendiary bombs poured down on the Grosser Garten, where Dresdeners had assembled after escaping their burning homes. The British were now bombing the dispossessed and homeless. Other new areas in Dresden hit by the second wave of RAF bombers included Löbtau and Friedrichstadt, the Südvorstadt and the Hauptbahnhof, and the suburbs of Räcknitz, Zschernitz and Plauen. An extremely big attack of incendiaries also fed the fires already created at Johannstadt and Striesen.[6]

The RAF decision to spread the attacks in the second wave of bombings created a new, wider area of concentrated devastation, resulting in the greatest area of a city ever destroyed in a single night. It was this second wave of bombing outside the already burning areas of the city which turned the raid of Dresden into a byword for slaughter. Dresden and large areas of its suburbs became killing grounds without compare.[7] In the two raids, 796 RAF bomber aircraft had dropped a total of 2,659.3 tons of bombs, consisting of 1,477.7 tons of high explosive bombs and 1,181.6 tons of incendiary bombs.[8]

A third wave of 316 B-17s of the U.S. Eighth Air Force approached the blazing ruins of Dresden shortly after midday on Feb. 14, 1945. This attack was followed by another 211 heavy bombers from the U.S. Eighth Air Force to complete the destruction of Dresden. While it was planned to bomb the marshaling yard visually in both of these American raids, the smoke and clouds from the previous British bombings frustrated these attempts. The American raids became primarily an exercise in radar bombing, resulting in the majority of the bombs being spread over the city of Dresden instead. These last two American raids added an additional 1,235 tons to the total weight of bombs dropped on Dresden.[9]

The bombing of Dresden killed tens of thousands of civilians and destroyed one of Europe’s most beautiful and cultural cities. The question is: Was the destruction of Dresden militarily justified?

This Article Will Discuss The Evidence For & Against, The Conclusion May Surprise You.


Reasons Why Dresden Was a Legitimate Military Target

      Many historians have stated that Dresden was a legitimate military target. Dresden was by any measure an important rail hub, destination and transfer point. Three important routes of the German railway system converged at Dresden: Berlin-Prague-Vienna; Munich-Breslau; and Hamburg-Leipzig-Prague. Two main lines also connected Dresden with Leipzig and Berlin. While the Dresden-Saxony railroad system ranked only seventh in Germany in mileage, it was third in the country in total tonnage carried.[10]

Dresden was used as a transit point for military traffic. An American prisoner of war wrote after the war:

“The night before the RAF/USAFF raids on Feb. 13-14, we were shunted into the Dresden marshaling yard, where for nearly 12 hours German troops and equipment rolled into and out of Dresden. I saw with my own eyes that Dresden was an armed camp: thousands of German troops, tanks and artillery and miles of freight cars loaded with supplies supporting and transporting German logistics towards the East to meet the Russians.”[11]

A report prepared by the USAF Historical Division Research Studies Institute Air University states:

      The Eighth Air Force raids against the city’s railway facilities on 14 and 15 February resulted in severe and extensive damage that entirely paralyzed communications. The city’s passenger terminals and major freight stations, warehouses, and storage sheds were, when not totally destroyed, so severely damaged that they were unusable. Roundhouses, railway repair and workshops, coal stations, and other operating facilities, were destroyed, gutted, or severely damaged. The railway bridges over the Elbe river–vital to incoming and outgoing traffic–were rendered unusable and remained closed to traffic for many weeks after the raids.

The report concludes: “Dresden was a legitimate military target…The Dresden bombings were in no way a deviation from established bombing policies set forth in official bombing directives.”[12]

The American air force also claimed Dresden had 110 factories, machine shops, and industrial sites employing 50,000 workers that were legitimate military targets. Marshall de Bruhl writes:

      These installations included dispersed aircraft factories; a poison-gas factory (Chemische Fabric Goye); an antiaircraft and field gun factory (Lehman); and Germany’s most famous optical instruments firm (Zeiss-Ikon). There were also manufacturers of electrical products and X-ray apparatus (Kock and Sterzel); small arms (Seidel and Naumann); molds and metal packings (Anton Reich); gears and differentials (Saxonizwerke); and electric gauges (Gebruder Bassler).[13]

In justifying the Dresden bombings, British Commander Sir Arthur Harris stated:

“Actually Dresden was a mass of munitions works, an intact government center, and a key transportation center. It is now none of these things.”[14]

The USAF Historical Division Research Studies Institute Air University report justifies the bombing of Dresden:

“…Dresden was one of the greatest commercial and transportation centers of Germany and the historic capital of the important and populous state of Saxony. It was, however, because of its geographical location and topography and as a primary communications center that Dresden assumed major significance as a military target in February 1945, as the Allied ground forces moved eastward and the Russian armies moved westward in the great combined operations designed to entrap and crush the Germans into final defeat.”[15]


READ ON FOR PART 2 –Reasons Why the Dresden Bombings Were Not Militarily Justified 



[1] Taylor, Frederick, Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945, New York: HarperCollins, 2004, pp. 246-250.

[2] Friedrich, Jörg, The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, New York, Columbia University, 2006, pp. 16-17.

[3] DeBruhl, Marshall, Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden, New York: Random House, Inc., 2006, p. 156.

[4] Taylor, Frederick, Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945, New York: HarperCollins, 2004, pp. 256-257.

[5] Ibid., pp. 267-269.

[6] Ibid., pp. 274, 277-278.

[7] Ibid., p. 284.

[8] Ibid., p. 7. See also http://glossaryhesperado.blogspot.com/2008/04/facts-about-dresden-bombings.html.

[9] Cox, Sebastian, “The Dresden Raids: Why and How,” in Addison, Paul and Crang, Jeremy A., (eds.), Firestorm: The Bombing of Dresden, 1945, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006, pp. 48-51.

[10] DeBruhl, Marshall, Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden, New York: Random House, Inc., 2006, pp. 280-281.

[11] Taylor, Frederick, Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945, New York: HarperCollins, 2004, p. 163.

[12] http://glossaryhesperado.blogspot.com/2008/04/facts-about-dresden-bombings.html.

[13] DeBruhl, Marshall, Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden, New York: Random House, Inc., 2006, p. 281. See also http://glossaryhesperado.blogspot.com/2008/04/facts-about-dresden-bombings.html.

[14] Taylor, Frederick, Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945, New York: HarperCollins, 2004, p. 378.

[15] http://glossaryhesperado.blogspot.com/2008/04/facts-about-dresden-bombings.html.

Image Arthur “Bomber” Harris image Bombed Out