Bombing of Dresden was an attack on the city of Dresden, the capital of the German state of Saxony, that took place in the final months of the Second World War in the European Theatre. In four raids between 13 and 15 February 1945, 722 heavy bombers of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and 527 of the (USAAF) dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city. The resulting firestorm destroyed fifteen square miles (39 square kilometres) of the city centre. Between 22,700 and 25,000 people were killed. Post-war discussion of whether or not the attacks were justified has led to the bombing becoming one of the moral causes célèbres of the war. A 1953 United States Air Force report defended the operation as the justified bombing of a military and industrial target, which was a major rail transport and communication centre, housing 110 factories and 50,000 workers in support of the German war effort.Several researchers have claimed that not all of the communications infrastructure, such as the bridges, were targeted, nor were the extensive industrial areas outside the city centre. Critics of the bombing argue that Dresden—sometimes referred to as “Florence on the Elbe” (Elbflorenz)—was a cultural landmark of little or no military significance, and that the attacks were indiscriminate area bombing and not proportionate to the commensurate military gains. Large variations in the claimed death toll have fuelled the controversy. In March 1945, the Nazi regime ordered its press to publish a falsified casualty figure of 200,000 for the Dresden raids, and death toll estimates as high as 500,000 have been given. The city authorities at the time estimated no more than 25,000 victims, a figure which subsequent investigations, including one commissioned by the city council in 2010, support.
Plans for a large and intense aerial bombing of Berlin and the other eastern cities had been discussed under the code name Operation Thunderclap in mid-1944, but had been shelved on 16 August. These were now re-examined.
Sir Charles Portal, the Chief of the Air Staff “We should use available effort in one big attack on Berlin and attacks on Dresden, Leipzig, and Chemnitz, or any other cities where a severe blitz will not only cause confusion in the evacuation from the East, but will also hamper the movement of troops from the West.”
The US Air Force Historical Division wrote a report in response to the international concern about the bombing – the report remained classified until December 1978. This said that there were 110 factories and 50,000 workers in the city supporting the German war effort at the time of the raid. According to the report, there were aircraft components factories; a poison gas factory (Chemische Fabrik Goye and Company); an anti-aircraft and field gun factory (Lehman); an optical goods factory (Zeiss Ikon AG); as well as factories producing electrical and X-ray apparatus (Koch & Sterzel AG); gears and differentials (Saxoniswerke); and electric gauges (Gebrüder Bassler). It also said there were barracks, hutted camps, and a munitions storage depot.
The USAF report also states that two of Dresden’s traffic routes were of military importance: north-south from Germany to Czechoslovakia, and east-west along the central European uplands. The city was at the junction of the Berlin–Prague–Vienna railway line, as well as the Munich–Breslau, and Hamburg–Leipzig lines. Colonel Harold E. Cook, a US POW held in the Friedrichstadtmarshaling yard the night before the attacks, later said that “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”
254 Lancasters carried 500 tons of high explosives and 375 tons of incendiaries (“fire bombs”).
The high explosives were intended to rupture water mains and blow off roofs, doors, and windows to create an air flow to feed the fires caused by the incendiaries that followed
The main bomber force, called Plate Rack, took off shortly after the Pathfinders. This group of 254 Lancasters carried 500 tons of high explosives and 375 tons of incendiaries (“fire bombs”). There were 200,000 incendiaries in all, with the high-explosive bombs ranging in weight from 500 pounds to 4,000 pounds—the so-called two-ton cookies