Bombing of Dresden, 13 and 14 February 1945



"German cities... will be subjected to an ordeal the like of which has never been experienced by a country in duration, severity and magnitude."
†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †† ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Churchill, 3 June 1942.

"In order to achieve the extirpation of nazi tiranny there are no lengths of violence to which we will not go."†††††††††
†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† † †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Churchill, 21 September 1943.


Dresden is the capital of Saxony. In the course of ages, the city became known as the Florence on the Elbe, Elbflorenz, an internationally renowned city of culture.In peacetime, the city had 630,000 inhabitants and ranked as the seventh city of Germany. The city, up until 1945, was spared the tragic fates of cities like Cologne, Essen, Hamburg and Berlin.There was not much industry and the industry that was present was not considered to be vital to the German war effort. Only the railroad marshalling yards had been attacked up until February, 1945.

Although residential areas had been bombed in other German cities and a firestorm had been created, by coincidence, in Hamburg in July, 1943, officially the targets remained weapon factories, U- boat yards, ammunition factories, synthetic oil plants, blast furnaces and oil refineries. Dresden had none of these. There were present, however, hundreds of thousands of refugees. The railroad marshalling yard was the third largest in Germany. The tracks from Berlin, Prague, Breslau,Warsaw,Leipzig and Nuremberg crossed each other here. Because of the rapidly shrinking nazi territory the marshalling yards even gained in importance.The USAAF, the American air force, already had attacked the marshalling yards several times.

Although strategically important objects were officially the target of the allies, the reality turned out to be much simpler. The following applied to Bomber Command:
"It must be emphatically stated that,with the exception of Essen, we never chose special industrial firms. The destruction of industrial installations always seemed to us to be a kind of bonus. Our target was always the city centre."
†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† † † †† † † † † † † † † † † † † †† † † Harris in Bomber Command, 1948

Dresden was flooded with refugees from Pomerania, Silesia and Eastern Prussia. These Germans were on the run for the Red Army. The population had risen to 1,3 million and thus had more than doubled.The Germans had relocated the anti air artillery,the Flak, already in December, 1944 and January, 1945 to other places in Germany. In this way, Dresden had become a practically undefended city. It was widely believed that the allies would spare the city because of the art treasures and the 26,000 prisoners of war that lived in the neighbourhood and in the city itself. On the nearby Fliegerhorst 38/III Klotzsche remained some fighters and 18 Me 110 night fighters but these lacked fuel. Besides, the training of German pilots in this stage of the war was not thorough.

In February, 1945, Nazi Germany was reeling from all the blows it had received. The Ardennes offensive had turned out to be a costly and lost gamble.On 8 February, 1945, the allied campaign against the Reichswald began with operation Veritable and later Blockbuster and Grenade while on the eastern front, the Soviets had just concluded one of their most successful offensives, the Vistula-Oder offensive that had brought the Russians to 70 kms from Berlin.Next to the heavy losses that the Wehrmacht had suffered, the loss of the industrial area of Silesia was a hard blow for the German war effort. Further to the south, the front ran roughly a 100 kms from Dresden. By this fact the city had become hinterland for that front. Transports to the front had to cross the Elbe or go through Dresden.

The Red Army prepared for its final push to Berlin. According to a secret report of the Joint Intelligence Committee that was presented to Churchill on 21 January,1945, the war could be ended in April if the Soviet offensive succeeded. If not, the war could last into November.

Churchill thought that the heavy bombers could help the Russian offensive significantly. He deliberated the deployment with Secretary of State for Air Sir Archibald Sinclair. In this way the British could show that they had been faithful allies and in the same time they could show the Soviets what power Bomber Command had. On the conference from Jalta from 4 until 11 February, 1945 Stalin agreed with the British plans. Already before the conference Air Marshall Arthur Harris had received the order to prepare the mission.


Ardennes offensive
Battle of the Bulge, ďVon Rundstedt offensiveď or ďdie Wacht am Rheinď. Final large German offensive in the west from December 1944 through January 1945.
Bomber Command
RAF unit which controlled strategic and sometimes tactical bombing (as in Normandy)
Happened spontaneously in Hamburg in 1943. This was the ultimate goal of each bombardment. The firestorm could no longer be extinguished and burned down everything in its path. Surface temparatures of 800-1,000 degrees Celcius and wind speeds upto 240 km/hour, so double hurricane force, were reported. Bomber Command only succeeded a few times in creating the desired firestorm, that is in Hamburg on 27 July 1943, Kassel on the 22 October 1943, Darmstadt on 11 September 1944 and Dresden on 13-14 February 1945. Bomber Command always selected the medieval city centres (Altstadt) as target because of the many high wooden buildings and narrow streets.
Flieger-/Flugabwehrkanone. German anti-aircraft guns.
Largest Soviet ground formation. It was attached to a certain area which gave its name to the units involved. For instance the Voronezh front.
Abbreviation of a national socialist.
Attack on a smaller or larger scale.
Red Army
Army of the Soviet Union.
German armed military forces, divided in ground forces, air force and navy.

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Air attack on Dresden
(Source: wikipedia)

Dresden, Florence on the Elbe around 1900
(Source: wikimedia)

Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Travers Harris
(Source: wikipedia)

Situation of the battlefields in Europe during the bombing of Dresden.White is still in German hands, pink is allied, grey is neutral and red is the recent conquests of the Allies.
(Source: wikipedia)


Article by:
Peter ter Haar
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