IBDP Extended Essays and Internal Assessments on the Dresden Bombing


 What reasons did the USAAF and RAF use to justify the Bombing of Dresden on the 14 -15 February 1945?

The United States Army Air Force and Royal Air Force’s joint bombing of the city of Dresden on the 14th and 15th of February, 1945 has remained one of the most controversial Allied acts of World War II. In this paper, the question, “What reasons did the USAAF and RAF use to justify the Bombing of Dresden on the 14 -15 February 1945?” will be explored because it is essential to understand American and British justifications before diving into the scholarly debate on morality that has divided historians for decades. This paper discusses the presence of military and economic targets and the greater political goals at stake. Dresden’s similarity to other raids in procedure and munitions is discussed, as well as its successes. Finally, moral justifications are briefly touched upon. When examining the evidence, one comes to the conclusion that the USAAF and RAF used many sound reasons to justify the bombing of Dresden.

On February the 14th and 15th, the Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Force conducted joint raids on the German city of Dresden. The seventh largest city in Germany, Dresden had remained largely unscathed by the world war that raged throughout Europe. It had only been subjected to two bombing raids previously and so was set upon by thousands of refugees seeking to escape the advancing Red Army on the eastern front.]Dresden was a famous cultural center of Northern Germany and was considered one of the most beautiful cities in the country. Home to several historical locations such as the Zwinger Museum and the Frauenkirche Cathedral, this beautiful city had earned the name “the Florence of the North.” Thanks to considerable railroad infrastructure, Dresden was also “one of the greatest commercial centres of Germany” and “a primary communication centre. It was this fact that drew the attention of Allied forces in the beginning of 1945, as the Soviet army began to surge into Germany. The bombing raid has been described as “the most barbaric, senseless act of the war” and the topic remains highly controversial today. When trying to make sense of the moral and ethical debate that rages on between historians, it is important to pose the following question: What reasons did the USAAF and RAF use to justify the bombing of Dresden on 14-15 February 1945?

Critics of the bombing of Dresden have argued that the city held no value as a military target. Kurt Vonnegut, the author of Slaughterhouse 5 said that “the bombing of Dresden didn’t shorten the war by one second.” This widely held view was supported by the apparent lack of industrial or military targets in the area. However, according to USAAF intelligence, there were actually “at least 110 factories and industrial enterprises that were legitimate military targets, and were reported to have employed 50,000 workers in arms plants alone.” These included aircraft component factories, Chemische Fabric Goye and Company (a poison gas factory), Lehmen (an anti-aircraft and field gun factory), and many other factories that produced optical goods, electrical and x-ray apparatuses, gears and differentials, and electric gauges. Dresden also was home to a barracks, camps, and one or more munitions storage depots.  The Germans themselves were aware of the value of Dresden as a wartime producer. In the 1942 publication of the Dresdner Jahrbuch (Dresden Yearbook), Dresden is singled out as an industrial city: “Anyone who knows Dresden only as a cultural city, with its immortal architectural monuments and unique landscape environment, would rightly be very surprised to be made aware of the extensive and versatile industrial activity, with all its varied ramifications, that make Dresden… one of the foremost industrial locations of the Reich." The German Army High Command’s Weapon office maintained a coded handbook that identified industrial targets within the city. Those familiar with Dresden describe the codebook as “very incomplete” since it excluded many smaller manufacturers and suppliers. Still, the German Army High Command listed some 127 factories that were crucial to the war effort. Many of these factories were precision engineering companies but as the war drew on, the luxury producers that Dresden was known for converted their factories to the production of wartime goods as well, greatly increasing Dresden’s military significance  However the main prize and perhaps most important target in Dresden was its rail yards. On February the 4th the leaders of the Allied forces Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt met at Yalta to discuss the future of the offensive in Europe, and Germany’s division into areas of control. Besides securing the USSR’s cooperation in the future United Nations, Roosevelt was concerned about the future of the Pacific War. Having experienced the tremendous costs of “island hopping” and fighting a fanatical Imperial Japanese Army, the United States was particularly concerned with the tremendous casualties predicted to be suffered upon the eventual invasion of the Japanese homeland. Roosevelt hoped to secure the commitment of Russian forces to the Pacific front upon the conclusion of the war in Europe. Stalin was concerned about cooperation between Allied Air Forces and the advancing Soviet soldiers.  A plan was made to have a designated bombing line beyond which Allied bombers would not bomb without express Soviet permission. This measure was taken to avoid the accidental bombing of the Russian army. But more importantly the Russians wanted to disrupt German transportation and communication. A Soviet officer present at the meeting stated that “Air action [could] hinder the enemy from carrying out the shifting of his troops to the east from the western front, from Norway and Italy.” The Russians demanded that more railway stations and marshaling yards be bombed in order to disrupt both German troop deployment and refugee movement. Specifically, the Russians expressed that the city of Dresden would make an excellent target and would be a critical German transportation hub as the Wehrmacht was shifting its forces east.  The importance of the Dresden transport hub is made clear when examining figures from October 1944. “A total of twenty-eight military trains, altogether carrying almost twenty thousand officers and men, were in transit through Dresden-Neustadt each day.”Author Frederick Taylor continues, “There is no reason to believe that three months later, in the first weeks of 1945, with Russian offensives on the Oder and in the region of Budapest, and the Ardennes offensive against the Anglo-Americans going into reverse, the frantic yo-yoing movement between eastern and western fronts would have decreased substantially from the level in October of the previous year. That was part of the Allies’ calculation when they started to place Dresden in their sights.”  The allies needed no urging. The Targets Committee of the British Air Ministry convened to plan strategy and locations to be struck. They sent their recommendations to SHAEF, Bomber Command, and the U.S. Strategic Air Force Command stating that “The following targets have been selected for their importance in relation to the movements of Evacuees from, and of military forces to, the Eastern Front.” They named Berlin, Dresden, and Leipzig as targets to be attacked immediately.  And so the Allies scheduled the raid on Dresden as a favour to the Russian government, because of political and military benefits. Roosevelt was pushing to secure Russian support in the Pacific, and destroying the strategic rail yards at Dresden was one of the best ways to do that. Churchill supported the action and had urged the RAF to find ways of “harrying the German retreat.” [14]  But nonetheless, there were other motives afoot as the bombing went forward. An RAF internal memo from January 1945 shows that even as the fires of war in Europe began to extinguish, a new war, the Cold War, was beginning to emerge. “The intentions of the attack are to hit the enemy where he will feel it most, behind an already partially collapsed front, to prevent the use of the city in the way of further advance, and incidentally to show the Russians when they arrive what Bomber Command can do.” [15]Already the United States and United Kingdom were trying to find ways to give themselves the upper hand over their communist ally. In the words of Jacques R. Pauwels, “It was crucially important to make it clear to Stalin that the military power of the Western Allies, in spite of recent setbacks in the Belgian Ardennes, should not be underestimated. The Red Army admittedly featured huge masses of infantry, excellent tanks, and a formidable artillery, but the Western Allies held in their hands a military trump which the Soviets were unable to match. That trump was their air force, featuring the most impressive collection of bombers the world had ever seen. This weapon made it possible for the Americans and the British to launch devastating strikes on targets that were far removed from their own lines.” [16]This manoeuvring prior to the Cold War was also evident following the bombing when the Russians denied ever making a request for a strike on Dresden. The denials can be attributed to the communist regime that occupied East Germany, and its desire to paint the capitalists as the enemy of the East German people.[17]  In total, 1249 bomber aircraft were used on the 14th and 15th. The RAF conducted a night raid on Dresden with 722 Lancaster bombers on the evening of the 13/14th destroying warehouses, public utilities, warehouses, and nearly obliterating the old city center. A firestorm (see Figure 1) was created and British estimates at the time indicated that perhaps four-fifths of the cities arms production capacity was obliterated. Estimates were later revised to state that 23% of industrial buildings were seriously damaged and 56% of non-dwelling, non-industrial buildings were also severely damaged. The intention of RAF bomber command in this raid was “to devastate the city area itself and thereby choke communications within the city and disrupt the normal civilian life upon which the larger communications activities and the manufacturing enterprise of the city depended.” In addition, the widespread are raid also targeted many industrial buildings within the city centre.[18]  The following days 527 bombers from the American Eight Air Force conducted raids against railway facilities in the city. This was deemed a great success due to extensive damage and its paralysing effect upon communications. According to an official Air Force Historical Studies Office analysis of the bombing, “The city’s passenger terminals and major freight stations, warehouse, 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.” [19]  Initial estimates of the casualties in Dresden were astounding: 250,000 dead. This incredible number was seized up as a rallying cry of the injustice and atrocious actions of allied “war criminals.” The bombing of Dresden joined the ranks of other bombings that were supposedly carried out with the single intention of murdering civilians, an idea that was often proclaimed in the German media (see Figure 2). While the terrorist aspect of the bombings continues to be trumpeted, German post war estimates have been revised to 25,000 killed and 30,000 wounded. The United States and Germany both hold these new statistics figures to be accurate, and when one looks at data from other similar bombings the numbers seem sound. [20]  In fact, the casualties suffered at Dresden were not disproportional from other bombing campaigns throughout World War II. Dresden with its influx of refugees could have had as many as 1,000,000 people in the city on the night of the bombings. Hamburg, the first city and the only European city to have a similar firestorm form inside it, had a total of 1,738,000 people and suffered 41,800 killed. Dresden suffered .025 percent dead compared to .024 percent dead in Hamburg. [21]By comparing the statistics, it becomes very clear that Dresden was not a unique situation.  Indeed, that became one of the main justifications employed by both the RAF and USAAF. Both Air Forces have argued that the bombing of Dresden went forward in complete compliance with the framework and set of established policies described in official bombing directives. The Combined Chiefs of Staff set out the rules dictating use of British and American strategic air forces in the European Front prior to the bombing of Dresden. It was agreed that RAF Bomber command would employ night area bombing to destroy German industrial areas and population sectors. The American 8th Air Force was responsible for daylight precision bombings against specific targets of importance within the area already targeted by the RAF. This directive was approved on January 21st 1943, and inaugurated on the June 10th 1943, long before the raid on Dresden ever occurred. While there were certain alterations to procedure and target prioritization throughout the war, this fundamental principle of combined Allied air attacks remained unchanged[22].  The decision to use area bombing can be credited to the leader of RAF Bomber Command, General Arthur Harris. Harris believed that the war could be won by systematically breaking German cities. To him, area bombing was the only way to cripple German industry and demoralize the German public[23]. Winston Churchill directly approved of increased night, and thus, area bombing. “We shall bomb Germany by day as well as night in ever increasing measure, casting upon them month by month a heavier discharge of bombs, and making the German people taste and gulp each month a sharper dose of the miseries they have showered upon mankind.” [24]And yet even he questioned its effectiveness, “It is very disputable whether bombing by itself will be a decisive factor in the present war. On the contrary, all that we have learnt since the war began shows that its effects, both physical and moral, are greatly exaggerated. There is no doubt that British people have been stimulated and strengthened by the attack made upon them so far.” [25]Joseph Goebbels wrote similarly, after bombings on other German cities, “They are using air terror solely to terrorize. They cannot understand that they will never reach their goal. They do not see that they are driving our people together, not apart.”[26]  The United States did not participate in area bombing for several reasons. The first is that technical differences allowed the 8th Air Force to bomb with greater precision. The 8th used HX2 radar bomb as well as direct visual bombing whereas the British were only able to employ the “marker and visual method.” Additionally, American authorities were always against area bombing and did not want American forces employed in its practice.[27]  In order to proceed with a bombing raid, immense quantities of explosives, incendiaries, and bomber aircraft are required. When considering the bombing of Dresden it is important to look at the quantities of these supplies used. The RAF attacked Dresden with 722 bombers carrying 2659.3 tons of high explosives and incendiaries. In similar raids against Hamburg the RAF used between 726 and 740 bombers in three raids carried out from the 24th to the 30th of July in 1943. But perhaps more astonishing is the amount of munitions used in other area raids on cities such as Cologne, Hamburg, and Frankfurt-am-Rain. In those raids the RAF dropped, in combined HE and incendiary ordnance, 15879 tons, 8214 tons, and 7290 tons respectively. [28]  The story is similar for the 8th Air Force. In total, 527 bombers dropped 1247.6 tons of ordnance in the raids on the 14th and 15th. In the subsequent attacks on Leipzig and Berlin, the other critical parts of German transportation, substantially more force was used. On February 21st 1945, 1198 bombers carrying 2868.8 tons destroyed rail yards in Leipzig and a few days later on February 26th 1945, 1089 bombers carrying 2778 tons bombed the railways in Berlin. The USAAF in their historical analysis wrote that, “Analysis of the Eighth Air Force’s operational missions indicates, in fact, that the goals of the attacks on the Dresden marshaling yards was relatively small as compared with many sources of precision attacks in which it employed larger forces and means.” [29] These other bombings, though much more massive in scale, were only feebly protested.[30]  Furthermore, the USAAF and RAF use the success of the operation to justify its undertaking. The war in Europe was coming to its close but any regrouping of German forces in the east could have spelled disaster for the advancing Russian army, stretched out as it tried to quickly advance on Berlin. An American soldier captured and held at Dresden during the war confirmed that the railways were being used for that end. “The night before the RAF/USAAF raids on February 13.14, we were shunted into the Dresden marshaling yard, where for nearly twelve 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.” [31]  A Russian force less than 70 miles east of Dresden led by Marshal Koniev was particularly vulnerable to counterattack and the Allied bombing of Dresden ensured that no German communication or reinforcement was possible through Dresden. The Allies also cite “the destruction or disruption of Dresden’s manufacturing activities, particularly of military goods, and the further reduction of Germany’s critically short railway rolling stock and operating facilities” as a substantial contribution to the war effort.[32]  Perhaps most important was the overall strategic objective brought to pass thanks to the bombing of Dresden. Eisenhower and Stalin both agreed that a key step towards the utter annihilation of German forces was to join American and Russian forces together, cutting Germany in half. The proposed location was a line “through Erfurt-Leipzig-Dresden.”On April 27th 1945, American and Russian forces were finally united at Torgau successfully dividing Hitler’s Germany. V-E day was only eleven days later and Major Koniev’s armies successfully entered and captured Dresden.[33]  Moral stances of Allied leaders and soldiers also played a part in the justification of the raid. In the early days of the war, the United Kingdom was heavily bombed in an air campaign known as the Blitz. From the September 7th to November 12th 1940 London was bombed everyday with only ten scattered days of respite. The Luftwaffe used 13,000 tons of HE and millions of incendiaries. 13,000 were killed and 250,000 people were left homeless. On May 10th 1941 London suffered its heaviest raid, leaving thousands left without water or public utilities. In Coventry on November 14th and 15th 1940, 449 German bombers left 1/3 of the cities inhabitants homeless. Dozens of raids were carried out on other cities with industrial capability such as Belfast, Glasglow, Newcastle, Plymouth, and Manchester. [34]General Arthur Harris expressed his view on the subject, ““The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, and Warsaw they put their theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.”[35]  This opinion that Germany deserved whatever wrath fell upon it because it had dealt the first blow was held by many of the airmen who participated in the bombing. Lt. John Morris, an airman with the 8th Air Force said, ““I’m hardly ashamed of having gone to Dresden that day. It was sound strategy to prevent the Wehrmacht from falling back to regroup and be lethal again. So we bombed the hell out of the railroad marshaling yards and road hubs along the Wehrmacht’s eastern border. I don’t rejoice at the 35,000 Germans killed there. I doubt there were many Jews in that number. The good burghers of Dresden had shipped them all off to Auschwitz.” He also tried to place the bombing in perspective, “It is true that the RAF purposely started a firestorm, causing many of the casualties. It was a tactic they frequently tried. But they, and we, killed more people in other cities, on other days. So did the Russians. So did the Japanese. So did the Germans. Dresden was not unique.” [36]Lt. Dave Nagel said, “If you saw London, like I saw it, you wouldn’t have any remorse. I don’t know anyone who was remorseful. I didn’t hate anyone, but near the end we were nervous, up-tight… As time went on, for me a dead German was the best German.”[37]  Frank Musgrove, an RAF navigator who participated in the bombing raid had this to say, “On the very same day [as the raid]... the Russians, with unspeakable ferocity, finally took and destroyed... the historic city of Budapest... which had been under relentless bombardment for fifty days... In the words of author Antony Beevor, “The end of this terrible battle for the city [Budapest] was marked by an orgy of killing, looting, destruction and rape.” ...On 13 February the whole of Western Europe should remember these events in Budapest as well as reflect deeply on Dresden. We should all resolve to do whatever it takes to prevent such debasement and degradation ... of Western European civilization ever happening again.”[38]  The moral argument is the weakest rationalization for the bombing of Dresden. There are of course many servicemen who remain ashamed of their participation in Dresden. Roy Akehurst, a wireless operator who took part in the raid on Dresden, was appalled by the firestorm he had helped to create,” It struck me at the time, the thought of the women and children down there. We seemed to fly for hours over a sheet of fire - a terrific red glow with thin haze over it. I found myself making comments to the crew: ‘Oh God, those poor people.’ It was completely uncalled for. You can't justify it.”[39] Ultimately it is impossible to empirically decide upon the absolute morality or immorality of Dresden, however it is important to investigate the emotional and moral justifications that contributed to the decision making process. Understanding the situation at the time gives us insight into the motivations guiding bombing policy.

What reasons did the USAAF and RAF use to justify the bombing of Dresden on 14-15 February 1945? The answer is many, some of them very sound. The presence of rail yards and other valid targets, the strategic and industrial outcomes, adherence to established protocol, comparisons to other bombing raids, and the sense of “tit for tat” provide a compelling argument. While admittedly, the source most cited in this essay is a report created by the United States Air Force, the statistics and justifications contained therein are sound when compared with other accounts. Nonetheless, a beautiful city was ravaged on those days in 1945. But as the most widespread and destructive war raged throughout Europe, loss was common place. Soldiers on both sides did unthinkable things; Civilians on both sides bore unbearable things. Hatred and fear reigned in the hearts of many people and essentially good people committed atrocious acts. The bombing of Dresden and many other actions of the war were terrible and regrettable and it may be impossible to come to a firm conclusion on whether or not they were ultimately morally and ethically justified. But Dresden was not an isolated incident and today should remind us of the terrible things possible in war, to ensure that it never happens again.


Ambrose, Stephen E. Citizen Soldiers: the U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1997. Print.
Bytwerk, Randall. "Life Goes On." Calvin College - Distinctively Christian, Academically Excellent, Always Reforming. Web. 10 Dec. 2010. .
Bytwerk, Randall. "Nazi Article on RAF Bombing Raids." Calvin College - Distinctively Christian, Academically Excellent, Always Reforming. Web. 10 Dec. 2010. .
Holmes, Richard. World War II: the Definitive Visual Guide : from Blitzkrieg to Hiroshima. London: Dorling Kindersley, 2009. Print.
Musgrove, Frank. Dresden and the Heavy Bombers: an RAF Navigator's Perspective. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Aviation, 2005. Print.
Pauwels, Jacques R. " 60 Years Ago, February 13-14, 1945: Why Was Dresden Destroyed: Information Clearing House - ICH." INFORMATION CLEARING HOUSE. NEWS, COMMENTARY & INSIGHT. 9 Feb. 2010. Web. 10 Dec. 2010. .
Simkin, John. "Area Bombing." Spartacus Educational - Home Page. Sept. 1997. Web. 10 Dec. 2010. .
Simkin, John. "Bombing of Dresden." Spartacus Educational - Home Page. Sept. 1997. Web. 29 Apr. 2010. .
Simkin, John. "Firestorms." Spartacus Educational - Home Page. Sept. 1997. Web. 10 Dec. 2010. .
Spencer, Andy. "Real History and the Dresden Air Raids 1945." Welcome to the World of Real History. 2007. Web. 10 Dec. 2010. .
Taylor, Fred. Dresden: Tuesday, 13 February 1945. London: Bloomsbury, 2004. Print.
USAF Historical Division. "The Bombing of Dresden." Air Force History Program. Web. 29 Apr. 2010. .
Ward, Geoffrey C., Ken Burns, and Lynn Novick. The War: an Intimate History, 1941-1945. New York: A.A. Knopf, 2007. Print.

[1] Simkin, John. "Bombing of Dresden." Spartacus Educational - Home Page. Web. 29 Apr. 2010.
[2] Simkin, John. "Bombing of Dresden." Spartacus Educational - Home Page. Web. 29 Apr. 2010.
[3] USAF Historical Division. "The Bombing of Dresden."
[4] Ambrose, Stephen E. Citizen Soldiers: the U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945.
[5] Ambrose, Stephen E. Citizen Soldiers: the U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945.
[6] USAF Historical Division. "The Bombing of Dresden."
[7] Taylor, Fred. Dresden: Tuesday, 13 February 1945
[8] Taylor, Fred. Dresden: Tuesday, 13 February 1945
[9] Taylor, Fred. Dresden: Tuesday, 13 February 1945
[10] Ward, Geoffrey C., Ken Burns, and Lynn Novick. The War: an Intimate History, 1941-1945.
[11] Taylor, Fred. Dresden: Tuesday, 13 February 1945
[12] Taylor, Fred. Dresden: Tuesday, 13 February 1945
[13] Ward, Geoffrey C., Ken Burns, and Lynn Novick. The War: an Intimate History, 1941-1945.
[14] Ambrose, Stephen E. Citizen Soldiers: the U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945.
[15] Simkin, John. "Bombing of Dresden.".
[16] Pauwels, Jacques R. " 60 Years Ago, February 13-14, 1945: Why Was Dresden Destroye : Information Clearing House - ICH."
[17] Ambrose, Stephen E. Citizen Soldiers: the U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945.
[18] USAF Historical Division. "The Bombing of Dresden."
[19] USAF Historical Division. "The Bombing of Dresden."
[20] USAF Historical Division. "The Bombing of Dresden."
[21] USAF Historical Division. "The Bombing of Dresden."
[22] USAF Historical Division. "The Bombing of Dresden."
[23] Ambrose, Stephen E. Citizen Soldiers: the U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945.
[24] Simkin, John. "Area Bombing."
[25] Simkin, John. "Area Bombing."
[26] Bytwerk, Randall. "Life Goes On."
[27] USAF Historical Division. "The Bombing of Dresden."
[28] USAF Historical Division. "The Bombing of Dresden."
[29] USAF Historical Division. "The Bombing of Dresden."
[30] Ambrose, Stephen E. Citizen Soldiers: the U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945.
[31]Taylor, Fred. Dresden: Tuesday, 13 February 1945
[32] USAF Historical Division. "The Bombing of Dresden."
[33] USAF Historical Division. "The Bombing of Dresden."
[34] Holmes, Richard. World War Il: the Definitive Visual Guide : from Blitzkrieg to Hiroshima.
[35] Holmes, Richard. World War Il: the Definitive Visual Guide : from Blitzkrieg to Hiroshima.
[36] Ambrose, Stephen E. Citizen Soldiers: the U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945.
[37] Ambrose, Stephen E. Citizen Soldiers: the U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945.
[38] Musgrove, Frank. Dresden and the Heavy Bombers: an RAF Navigator's Perspective.
[39] Simkin, John. "Firestorms."

 IBDP History Internal Assessment


Was the Allies’ World War II operation militarily justifiable?

Word Count: 1,867

A. Plan of the Investigation

            The bombing of the culturally rich German city of Dresden during the final months of World War II remains a controversial topic, most notably due to the disputed necessity of the operation. This investigation evaluates the following question: Was the Allied bombing of Dresden between the 13th and 15th of February, 1945, a militarily justifiable operation? In order to come to a conclusion, the investigation will determine the British Royal Air Force’s and United States Army Air Force’s objectives  in carrying out the operation. The investigation will then determine whether or not these objectives were achieved. Heavy emphasis will be placed on official military sources that directly mention the plans for, and outcomes of, the raid. Newspaper articles and anecdotal evidence from civilians will not be considered, due to their unofficial nature. Sources will include The Destruction of Dresden, by David Irving and the United States Air Force (USAF) Historical Division’s report Historical Analysis of the 14-15 February 1945 Bombings of Dresden.

Word count: 163
    1.    Summary of Evidence              
At this point in the war, the end of 1944, the German army was in retreat on both the western and eastern fronts. The Soviet army crossed the Oder River on February 8, 1945, taking up positions 45 miles east of Berlin.[1] With Germany being hemmed in on both sides, the Western Allies’ plans to use strategic bombing as a way to aid the Soviets began to coalesce. The British and the Americans felt knocking out transportation centers serving Germany’s eastern front could help the Soviets, by preventing the transfer of forces among sectors of the eastern front, as well as the transfer of troops from the western front to the eastern front.[2]             
In early 1945, Royal Air Force (RAF) officers began to discuss the feasibility of such operations. On January 22, Air Commodore Sydney Bufton, the RAF director of bomber operations, suggested to Air Marshal Sir Norman Bottomley, Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, that a coordinated air attack aiding the Soviets would have a detrimental effect on German morale.[3] Arthur Harris, AOC Bomber Command, proposed a simultaneous attack on Chemnitz, Leipzig and Dresden when he heard of this plan.[4]             
On January 25 British Prime Minister Winston Churchill became involved, most likely due to a British Joint Intelligence Subcommittee report entitled German Strategy and Capacity to Resist, prepared for his eyes only. The report predicted that Germany could fall by mid-April if the Soviets overwhelmed them at their eastern defences. However, the report also foretasted that the Germans could hold on until November if they could prevent the Soviets from capturing Silesia. Therefore any assistance to the Soviets on the eastern front would shorten the war.[5]              According to Frederick Taylor, Sir Douglas Evil sent a memo to the Chiefs of Staff Committee on February 1, stating that interfering with civilian evacuation was a key factor in the decision to bomb Dresden’s city center. As Britain had realized after the bombing of Coventry, the loss of infrastructure was more damaging than the loss of war plants.[6]             
On February 4th, while at the Yalta Conference, the Deputy Chief of the Soviet General Staff, General Aleksei Antonov, asked about the idea of obstructing the transfer of German troops from the western front by bombarding Berlin and Leipzig. Sir Charles Portal, Chief of the Air Staff, had Bottomley send him a list of objectives he could discuss with the Soviets. This list included oil plants, tank and aircraft factories, and the cities of Berlin and Dresden.[7]            
 The first bombs were released at 22:14 on the night of February 13th by the main bomber force of 254 Lancasters, flying at 2,400 meters).[8] Almost all of the force’s 500 tons of high explosives and 375 tons of incendiaries were released within two minutes.[9] [10] Three hours later thousands of fires burned in the city and could be seen more than 97 kilometers away on the ground, and 800 kilometers away in the air, with smoke rising to 4,600 meters. The Pathfinders expanded the target, dropping flares on either side of the firestorm, including the main train station, and a large park. The German sirens sounded again at 01:05, but because there the electricity was out, these were small hand-held sirens that couldn’t be heard beyond a block.[11] Between 01:21 and 01:45, 529 Lancasters dropped more than 1,800 tons of bombs.           
  On February 15th, American forces joined their British counterparts. 316 B-17 Flying Fortresses bombed Dresden, dropping 771 tons of bombs.[12] [13] The 379th bombardment group started to bomb Dresden at 12:17 aiming at marshalling yards in the Friedrichstadt district west of the city centre as the area was not obscured by smoke and cloud. The 303rd group flew over Dresden 2 minutes after the 379th found that the their view was obscured by clouds so they bombed Dresden using H2X to help them target this location. The groups that came after the 303rd, (92nd, 306th, 379th, 384th and 457th) also found Dresden obscured by clouds and they too used H2X to locate the target. This caused high inaccuracy with a wide dispersal over the Dresden area. The 306th, last to launch their bombs, finished by 12:30.[14]

Word count: 700

    1.    Evaluation of Sources
            An account of the fire bombing of Dresden and a criticism of the Allied bombing campaign against Germany, The Destruction of Dresden launched David Irving’s career, and the discussion of the the effectiveness of the campaign. The book contains detailed research, with hundreds of footnotes citing primary sources, as well as lengthy appendices. However, historian Deborah Lipstadt, in her book Denying the Holocaust, in which she sought to show what she perceived as the danger of the denial movement, called Irving a Holocaust denier, falsifier, and bigot, saying that he manipulated and distorted historical documents, using The Destruction of Dresden as an example.[15] In a libel trial against Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books, many of Irving’s offenses, including the distortion of the casualty number in Dresden, came to light.[16] As a result, the book is now banned in Germany.            
 Most notably, during the trial, a contemporary of Irving’s, Sir Richard J. Evans, showed that Irving knowingly relied on forged evidence, namely a document known as the Tagesbefehl (Order of the Day) no. 47, dated 22nd March, 1945, and attributed to a Colonel Grosse.[17] The document stated that 250,000 people died as a result of the Allies’ raid. However, according to Evans, the text is indicative of clumsy forgery, especially when it claims that 68,650 bodies were incinerated in Dresden’s Altmarkt, since it would have taken weeks and many gallons of gasoline to burn so many corpses in the available space.[18] Furthermore, in May 1966, reports made by the Berlin Chief of Police from the spring of 1945 putting the death toll at 25,000 came to light, yet Irving continued to rely on the Tagesbefehl in subsequent editions of his book.[19] While such ignorance of sources calls the book’s contents as a whole into question, Irving’s raising of such issues as the motives for and effectiveness of the raid are still worthy of discussion and consideration.             
The United States Air Force Historical Division’s report, Historical Analysis of the 14-15 February 1945 Bombings of Dresden, does just that, clearly stating its purpose at the beginning of the report:“To provide a more detailed and definitive account of the reasons for and the nature and consequences of the February 1945 Dresden bombings than has heretofore been available.”[20] However, as this report comes from the division of the American military directly responsible for the bombing, it must be kept in mind that the Air Force may be trying to save its reputation with the report, especially as it was written in 1953. However, the source’s origin also makes it valuable in that it provides the strategic perspective of those who executed the bombing.

Word count: 405

    1.    Analysis
             A major issue surrounding the debate of the bombing of Dresden was the attack’s proximity to the end of the war, raising the question of whether it was needed to shorten the war. Whether or not the bombing shortened the war is difficult to determine, but whether or not it achieved its objective is not as difficult. According to the U.S. Air Force, the raid had “legitimate military ends” citing Dresden’s rail-yards as an important target, as well as the city’s 110 factories supporting the German war effort.[21] (Frederick Taylor and Marshall de Bruhl also cite Dresden as an important river port and a center of freight traffic on the Elbe river, one of the major waterways of Europe). Additionally, the report notes that Dresden’s military units and anti-aircraft defenses were close enough to consider the city “defended” and that the raid was carried out through the normal chain of command.[22] Most importantly, however, the Air Force notes that it achieved its military objective (at least 23 percent of industrial buildings were destroyed or severely damaged, and damage to infrastructure and communications limited the potential use of Dresden to stop the Soviets’ advance) without excessive loss of civilian life (“[t]he specific forces and means employed in the Dresden bombings were in keeping with the forces and means employed by the Allies in other aerial attacks on comparable targets in Germany.”)[23]             
However, Alexander McKee has cast doubt on the meaningfulness of the targets the Air Force mentions. According to McKee, the military barracks listed as a target were far out of town, and in fact not targeted during the raid.[24] Additionally, the “hutted camps” the report describes as military targets were actually for refugees.[25] The Autobahn bridge west of Dresden was not targeted or attacked, and the British forces’ target maps did not mark any railway stations or bridges.[26] McKee writes in his book The Devil's Tinderbox: Dresden, 1945 that “[t]he standard whitewash gambit, both British and American, is to mention that Dresden contained targets X, Y and Z, and to let the innocent reader assume that these targets were attacked, whereas in fact the bombing plan totally omitted them and thus, except for one or two mere accidents, they escaped.”[27]            
David Irving elucidates on this point, describing that target photographs taken by American bomber aircraft showed “on the one hand...a target city less than three-tenths covered by cloud, on the other hand...the carpet of bombs from the Group...detonating in the township of Dresden–Übigau two miles from the nearest railroad yards...”[28] Irving adds, “Other Bombardment Groups were equally wide of the mark, if they were indeed aiming for the Dresden-Friedrichstadt marshaling yards. All the patterns of bombs were reported falling in areas widely separated from the yards.”[29]              Furthermore, German historian Sonke Nietzel writes of the outcome of the raid, “it is difficult to find any evidence in German documents that the destruction of Dresden had any consequences worth mentioning on the Eastern Front. The industrial plants of Dresden played no significant role in Germany industry at this stage in the war.”[30]

Word count: 520
    1.    Conclusion

            While it may be impossible to pass judgment on the morality of the bombing of Dresden, it is not difficult to decide whether the attack was militarily justifiable. If the Allies’ objective was to neutralize a German city which was central to the Axis Powers’ campaign, the Allies failed in achieving that objective. Dresden not only was unimportant to the campaign, but what factories and railways it did have were not destroyed. Therefore, the bombing was not militarily justifiable.

Word count: 79

    1.    List of Sources
    1.    Addison, Paul, and Jeremy A. Crang. Firestorm: The Bombing of Dresden. London: Pimlico, 2006.       1.    Davis, Richard D. Bombing the European Axis Powers: A Historical Digest of the Combined Bomber Offensive 1939-1945. Montgomery, Alabama: Air University Press, 2006.       1.    De Bruhl, Marshall. Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden. New York: Random House, 2006.       1.    Early, Lisa. The National Archives, UK, “Extracts from a report on Dresden prepared by Bomber Command, October 1944.” Accessed January 4, 2013. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/heroesvillains/g1/cs1/g1cs1s5a.htm.       1.    Early, Lisa. The National Archives UK, “Extracts from an Air Ministry report on Dresden Railway Marshaling Yard as a possible target, 27 February 1942.” Accessed January 4, 2013. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/heroesvillains/g1/cs1/g1cs1s2a.htm.       1.    Early, Lisa. The National Archives UK, “Extracts from secret reports to Bomber Command headquarters on the attack on Dresden, 14 February 1945.” Accessed January 4, 2013. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/heroesvillains/g1/cs2/g1cs2s1a.htm.       1.    Emory University, "Holocaust Denial on Trial, Myth/Fact Sheets: Dresden was an undefended cultural city of no of military or industrial importance." Last modified 2007. Accessed January 3, 2013. http://www.hdot.org/en/learning/myth-fact/dresden1.       1.    Evans, Richard J. Telling Lies About Hitler: The Holocaust, History and the David Irving Trial. London: Verso Books, 2002.       1.    Harris, Arthur. Bomber Offensive. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Books, 2005.       1.    Historical Analysis of the 14-15 February 1945 Bombings of Dresden. U.S. Air Force Historical Division, 1953. http://www.afhso.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-110208-030.pdf (accessed January 3, 2013).       1.    Irving, David. Apocalypse 1945: The Destruction of Dresden. London: Parforce UK Ltd., 1995.       1.    Lipstadt, Deborah. Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.       1.    Longmate, Norman. The Bombers. Bergvlei, South Africa: Hutchinson Group, 1983.       1.    McKee, Alexander. Dresden 1945: The Devil’s Tinderbox. London: Souvenir Press Ltd., 1982.       1.    Middlebrook, Martin. Bomber Command War Diaries : An Operational Reference Book, 1939-45. London: Penguin Books, 1985.       1.    Overy, Richard. Why the Allies Won. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1995.       1.    Simkin, John. Spartacus Educational, "Bombing of Dresden." Accessed January 4, 2013. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWdresden.htm.       1.    Taylor, Frederick. Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945. New York: Harper Collins, 2004.       1.    The Nizkor Project, "XI: Justification: The bombing of Dresden." Last modified 2012. Accessed January 4, 2013. http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/people/i/irving-david/judgment-11-01.html.

FOOTNOTES:   [1] Frederick Taylor, Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945, (New York: Harper Collins, 2004), 262.  [2] Richard G. Davis, Bombing the European Axis Powers: A Historical Digest of the Combined Bomber Offensive 1939-1945, (Montgomery, Alabama: Air University Press, 2006), 489.  [3] Paul Addison, and Jeremy A. Crang, Firestorm: The Bombing of Dresden, (London: Pimlico, 2006), 21.  [4] Norman Longmate, The Bombers, (Bergvlei, South Africa: Hutchinson Group, 1983), 332.  [5] Davis, Bombing the European Axis Powers, 491.  [6] Taylor, Dresden, 215.  [7] Ibid., 217-20.  [8] Marshall De Bruhl, Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden, (New York: Random House, 2006), 209-11.  [9] Taylor, Dresden, 277-96, 365.  [10] Longmate, The Bombers, 162-64.  [11] De Bruhl, Firestorm, 206.  [12] Addison et al., Firestorm, 65.  [13] Davis, Bombing the European Axis Powers, 504.  [14] Taylor, Dresden, 374.  [15] Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, (New York: Penguin Books, 1994), 111.  [16] The Nizkor Project, XI: Justification: The Bombing of Dresden, (2012).  [17] Ibid.  [18] Ibid.  [19] Ibid.  [20] Historical Analysis of the 14-15 February 1945 Bombings of Dresden, (U.S. Air Force Historical Division, 1953) http://www.afhso.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-110208-030.pdf (accessed January 3, 2013).  [21] Ibid.  [22] Ibid.  [23] Ibid.  [24] Alexander McKee, Dresden 1945: The Devil’s Tinderbox, (London: Souvenir Press Ltd., 1982), 61-2.  [25] Ibid., 61-2.  [26] Ibid., 62-3.  [27] Ibid., 61.  [28] David Irving, Apocalypse 1945: The Destruction of Dresden, (London: Parforce UK Ltd., 1995), 262.  [29] Ibid., 262.  [30] Addison et al., Firestorm, 76.


Was the Allies’ bombing Dresden in World War II between the 13th and 15th of February 1945 a justified military operation?


  Plan of Investigation

    This essay seeks to determine if the Allies’ bombing Dresden in World War II between the 13th and 15th of February 1945 was a justified military operation. To do so, the objectives of the United States Army Air Force and the Royal Air Force for the bombing will be investigated and establish if these objectives were accomplished by looking at the USAAF’s own analysis of the Dresden bombing. To analyse the success of the Dresden bombing emphasis will be placed on official documents, which discuss the plans and the outcomes of the operation. The sources will include David Irving’s The Destruction of Dresden and the biography of RAF AOC-in-C Sir Arthur Harris due to their incorporation of primary sources and official documents.

Word Count: 122

Summary of Evidence

    By February 1945, German troops were retreating from both the eastern and the western fronts – Soviet troops were now pushing the German troops westwards, ultimately crossing the Oder River and halting 60 kilometres east of Berlin on February 8th.  Having encircled Germany, and with the Soviets so close to Berlin, General Eisenhower stopped the American advance on Berlin to avoid casualties, turning instead to strategic bombing to aid the Soviets. The Americans and British believed the best way to do so was by destroying transportation centres in the east of Germany to stop the transfer of troops between the western and eastern fronts along with the transfer of troops between the different east German sectors.
    In 1945 the British Royal Air Force (RAF) began to discuss the logistics of such an operation. When Arthur Harris, Air Officer Commander in Chief of the RAF Bomber Command, was asked for his opinion, he proposed a coinciding air raid on Dresden, Leipzig and Chemnitz due to them being focal points in German communication, which were housing many evacuees. Soon after a special joined intelligence subcommittee handed a reported entitled “German Strategy and Capacity to Resist” to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, predicting that Germany could fall by April if the Soviet troops defeated their eastern troops, however also stated that Germany could continue until November if the Soviets failed to capture Silesia. Thus any aid to the Soviets would be essential to ensure a quick end to the war. 
    One of the key factors in the decision to bomb Dresden, as mentioned in a memo sent by Sir Douglas Evill to the Chiefs of Staff Committee on February 1st, was the obstructing of mass civilian movement; attacks on heavily industrialized areas where main rail junctions and telephone systems were located would cause chaos. Britain had grown to believe that the loss of infrastructure was more crucial and had more severe effects than the loss of war plants after the air raid on Coventry in 1940. 
    At Yalta General Aleksei Antonvo, Deputy Chief of the Soviet General Staff, discussed the topic of interfering with the movement of German from the western front, by destroying the Berlin-Leipzig railway. Sir Charles Portal, also present at Yalta, had Air Marshall Sir Normal Bottomley send him a list of objectives to discuss with the Soviets; the objectives included raids on oil plants, tank and aircraft factories, and the cities of Berlin and Dresden.
    On February 13th at 22:14 the main bomber force of 254 Lancasters, flying at 2, 400 meters, released the first bombs. Within two minutes, nearly all of the force’s 375 tons of incendiaries and 500 tons of high explosives were released. After three hours thousands of fires burned in Dresden which could be seen on the ground from more than 97 kilometres away and from 800 kilometres in the air, with smoke rising to more than 4,500 meters. This caused the Pathfinders to enlarge their target, dropping flares on both sides of the firestorm, containing the Dresden central train station and a large park; between 01:21 and 01:45, 529 Lancasters dropped over 1,800 tons of bombs.
    On February 15th, the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) joined the RAF; 316 B- 17 Flying Fortresses bombed Dresden dropping 771 tons of bombs. At 12:17 the 379th bombardment group began bombing Dresden, aiming at a marshalling yard in the western Friedrichstadt district of Dresden due to the area not being veiled by smoke. Two minutes later the 303rd group arrived joining the 379th – as the view was now obscured by smoke they proceeded to bomb the area using H2X radars to locate their targets. The groups following the 303rd (the 92nd, 306th, 379th, 384th and 457th) also found Dresden obscured causing them to too rely on H2X radars to locate targets. By 12:30 the 306th group, the last group to bomb Dresden, had finished. More than 3,400 tons of highly explosive bombs and other incendiary weapons had been dropped on Dresden.

Word Count: 680

Evaluation of Sources

Probert, Henry. Bomber Harris: His Life and Times. MBI Publishing Company, 2006. Print.

Probert’s critical account not only relies on recent research but also on Harris’ private papers, which for the first time allows an insight into his life – especially while he was head of the RAF where his tactics frequently clashed with Churchill and other Allied leaders. Bomber Harris is thus a new and most comprehensive representation of Sir Harris, which means to portray him in a more positive light as well as explaining why he carried out certain military raids. Probert presents Harris’ point of view while also presenting opposing views making the book a well-rounded one. Additionally a wide base of reference is offered, which allows further research into the circumstances in the RAF and Nazi Germany, during WWII. Even if Bomber Harris does favor Harris in some ways, due to the use of his personal papers, Probert provides the most complete and rounded pictures of Sir Arthur Harris, analyzing and revealing his tactics, motives and work during his RAF years and the bombing of Dresden but also opens insights into Harris’ personal life. As a result, Bomber Harris is a valuable source to consider when discussing the motives behind and the successfulness of the Dresden bombing.

Irving, David A. The Destruction of Dresden. Williamm Kimber and Co. Limited, 1963. Print.

Irving’s book is extremely informative; as a criticism of the Allies’ overall bombing of Germany and a discussion of the campaigns successfulness, containing much research and many footnotes referring to primary sources. It was written during the 1960’s morality debates about World War II area bombing of civilian populations in Nazi Germany, and thus acts as a persuasive argument against the morality of the raids. David Irving has however been criticized, most notably by Deborah Lipstadt in her book Denying the Holocaust in which she calls Irving “one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial” who not only distorted but also manipulated facts to conform to his ideology, using The Destruction of Dresden as an example. In a libel trial against Lipsatdt and Penguin Group, a number of Irving’s offenses, including the misrepresentation of the casualty numbers in Dresden, surfaced. 
    During the trial, historian Richard J. Evans who had analyzed Irving’s book proved that Irving knowingly relied on forged evidences; especially from the Tagesbefehl no. 47, a document dated March 22ed 1945, which was accredited to Colonel Grosse, which stated that 250,000 people died due to the raid. According to Evans however, the text is a bad forgery – particularly its claim that 68,650 were incinerated in Dresden’s Altmarkt as it would have taken many weeks and liters of gasoline to burn this number of victims in the space. Moreover, reports of the Berlin Chief of Police made in the spring of 1945, surfaced in May 1966, placed the death toll at 25,000, Irving nevertheless persisted in relying on the Tagesbefehl in the following edition of his book. While Irving’s ignorance of sources makes the contents of the book questionable, the raising of issues as the motives and effectiveness of the raid are still worthy of discussion and consideration.

Word Count: 502


    One of the key issues when discussing the Dresden bombing is the raid’s closeness to the end of the war, causing dispute over whether it was needed and did in fact contribute to shortening the war. It is difficult to determine if the bombing did actually end the war faster, but determining whether the raid did or did not accomplish its goals is not as problematic.
    As stated by the USAAF, the Dresden bombing had “legitimate military ends” focusing on Dresden’s important railway junction and on more than 110 factories and enterprises that manufactured weaponry required by the German army. Sir Arthur Harris stated that Dresden was “a mass of munitions works, an intact government centre, and a key transportation point to the East” which had to be eliminated. According to Marshall De Bruhl the river Elbe was also an important factor in the bombing, as it acted as a means of communication and traffic due to it being one of the major waterways in Germany and Europe. The US Air Force’s report also states that military units and anti-aircraft defences were close enough to Dresden to defend the city. Furthermore, and most notably, the report states that the USAAF had achieved its military objective – more than 56 percent of non-industrial buildings and 23 percent of all industrial buildings had been destroyed or damaged, thus disabling Dresden from hindering the Soviets’ advance. In addition, this was achieved without an excessive amount of casualties: “the casualties in the Dresden bombing were not disproportionate to those suffered in area attacks on other German cities”, while it destroyed Dresden as a potential control and administrative centre. The primary aims of the RAF, which were also carried out successfully, were preventing the transport of military supplies and movement in all directions, in addition to “destroying what was left of German morale”.
    Nevertheless, historians like David Irving and Alexander McKee disagree about the importance of the US Air Force’s targets. Irving argues that military barracks, which the USAAF listed, as military targets were located far outside of Dresden (see Document A), and were in reality, not targeted by the raid. Also, the “hutted camps” described in the USAAF’s report as military targets were in reality camps for refugees seeking sanctuary from the eastern front, while Dresden’s industrial areas were in the city’s outskirts and not in the targeted city centre (see Document A). According to Irving, only the Zeiss-Ikon optical works were seriously damaged in the raid, while most of the other industrial plants were left scarcely damaged in comparison to the rest of the city. In addition, the Autobahn bridge west of Berlin was not targeted or attacked while no bridges or railway stations were marked on the RAF’s maps (see Document B). McKee writes; “the standard whitewash gambit, both British and American, is to mention that Dresden contained targets X, Y and Z, and to let the innocent reader assume that these targets were attacked, whereas in fact the bombing plan totally omitted them and thus, except for one or two mere accidents, they escaped”. Moreover, the German historian Sönke Neitzel argues, “it is difficult to find any evidence in German documents that the destruction of Dresden had any consequences worth mentioning on the Eastern Front. The industrial plants of Dresden, and its strategic significance played no notable role in Germany industry at this stage in the war.”

Word Count: 570


    While the morality of the Dresden bombing is a question beyond the scope of this investigation to judge and evaluate, it however is not too difficult to judge the effectiveness and military validity of the Dresden bombing. The Allies’ goal had been to neutralize a city, which was key to the German offensive and her war efforts; this was not achieved through the Dresden bombing as Dresden was not only unimportant to the Axis Powers’ campaign, but most of its factories and railway connections were not harmed during the air raid. As a result, the bombing of Dresden on the 13th and 15th of February 1945 was not a militarily justified operation.

Word Count: 112
Works Cited

 Addison, Paul, and Jeremy A. Crang, eds. Firestorm: The Bombing of Dresden. London:     Pimlico, 2006. Print.  Davis, Richard G. Bombing the European Axis Powers: A Historical Digest of the     Combined Bomber Offensive, 1939 -1945. 2010. Print.  De Bruhl, Marshall. Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden. Random     House, 2006. Print.  Gericke, Gerda. " The Destruction of Dresden's Frauenkirche." Deutsche Welle 26 Oct.     2005: DW. Web. 13 Aug. 2013. .  Hastings, Max. Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944–1945. London: Macmillan,     2004. Print.  Irving, David A. The Destruction of Dresden. Williamm Kimber and Co. Limited, 1963.     Print.  Lipstadt, Deborah E. Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth & Memory.     New York: Penguin Group, 1994. Print.  Longmate, Norman. The Bombers: The RAF Offensive Against Germany 1939-1945. 1st     ed. Arrow Books, 1988. Print.  McKee, Alexander. The Devil's Tinderbox: Dresden, 1945. 1st ed. Dutton Adult, 1984.     Print.  Milward, Alan S. War, Economy and Society, 1939–1945. Berkeley, CA: University of     California Press, 1979. Print.  Probert, Henry. Bomber Harris: His Life and Times. MBI Publishing Company, 2006.     Print.  Taylor, Frederick. Dresden: Tuesday 13 February 1945. Harper Perennial, 2005. Print.  Webster, Sir Charles, and Noble Frankland. The Strategic Air Offensive against Germany,     1939-1945. 4 volumes. History of the Second World War. HMSO, 1961. Print.  Williams, Andrew. D-Day to Berlin. London: Hodder, 2005. Print.  "Historical Analysis of the 14-15 February 1945 Bombings of Dresden." U.S. Air Force Historical Division. 1953. Web. 13 Aug. 2013. .  "XI: Justification: The Bombing of Dresden." The Nizkor Project. 2012. Web. 13 Aug.     2013. .  "14 February 1945: Thousands of bombs destroy Dresden." BBC On this Day, 14     February 1945 BBC. Web. 23 July 2013.         05.stm>.

To what extent was it fair for the Allies to bomb Dresden at the end of the Second World War?

Plan of Investigation

This investigation is an examination of the bombing in Dresden at the end of World War II. February 13 to 14 of 1945, a group of armed units from the Allies (Britain, France, Soviet Union and the USA) bombed Dresden in Germany after the war was suspected to soon be over. Over one thousand American and British Air Forces were sent over Dresden and dropped up to 3,900 tons of explosives over the city. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, sent their Red Army towards Berlin prior the attack. The Allies believed it to be necessary to invade Dresden so they would be able to bring Nazi Germany under immediate control. The Germans, however, did not agree with their reasoning. Two of the sources used in the essay, Dresden: Tuesday 13 February 1945, written by Frederick Taylor, and The End, written by Ian Kershaw.

The investigation will be focused on the perspectives that the western Allies had on the bombing and how Germany reacted to the dangerous situation.

Summary of Evidence

After multiple years of disputing between Germany and Russia, the Red Army, serving under Joseph Stalin, had begun to attack the Eastern Front of Germany in early February 1945, as an attempt to achieve land to improve their own industrialization process. Soon after, the offence in Germany began to weaken, which has led them to retreat. By February 8, the Red Army advancing towards Berlin, however still in Silesia rampaging untouched towns and injuring innocent civilians. This was when the Eastern Allies decided they would get involved. The United States and Britain thought it would be appropriate to send air forces over Germany to support the Soviets taking over the land. The air force bombed Dresden in the evening of February 13, 1945.

Dresden, famously known as the “Florence of the Elbe”, was a major industrial city during the 1940s, being the capital of the state Saxony. As the Western Allies flew in with their planes releasing explosives in the previously unharmed city. 805 aircraft from the British Royal Air Force and United States Air Force bombed the area, with a population of 630 thousand people. After the raid from the Red Army, thousands of refugees fled to safety in Dresden. Historians, such as Norman Longmate, blame British Prime Minister Churchill for the raging warfare as he asked for “suggestions how to blaze 600,000 refugees”, therefore killing thousands of innocent people.

The Allies believed the bombing of Dresden was reasonable for multiple reasons. Firstly, in 1945, Germany was under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler. Although the world war was at a near end, many countries still felt threatened under Hitler’s power and the Nazi regime. Arthur Harris, a Marshal of the Royal Air Force, believed that any city corrupted by Nazis was a justified reason to attack. Dresden was also a major industrial city, which meant that many weapons were manufactured during the war. The Russian army was equally a threat to the alliance between United States and the United Kingdom. Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were worried that the Joseph Stalin would undermine the agreements made during the war conference, including their first meeting the Tehran Conference in 1943. The Tehran Conference was the first meeting between the Big Three planning the strategies against Nazi Germany. The British and United States Air Force were therefore sent to prevent the spread of Nazism and ensure their relationship with the Soviet Union to remain unthreatened.

In a different point of view, Dresden did not believe the Allies had a reason to bomb their city. The city was not involved in the war and was known to be a very cultural city promoting arts and musical development. However, the city was industrial and created weapons for the army during the course of the war. After the bombing of Dresden, in March 1945, the government of Germany decided to use the casualties as propaganda against the Allies. The media increased the the number of deaths and bombs dropped on the city by thousands. The actual amount of victims in Dresden was approximately 25,000, yet the press published 500,000 deaths. The propaganda continued to refuse that Dresden was an industrial city, producing weapons, and instead promoted how cultural they were. In the end, it benefited the the Nazi regime as Germany used the bombing to enrage the people, however ignored the effects it had on the city.

Evaluation of Sources

The book, Dresden: Tuesday 13 February 1945, was written by British historian Frederick Taylor (published in 2004). His well researched book is a compilation of personal narratives from spectators and participators who have witnessed and taken part of the bombing in Dresden. The purpose of these documentations is to inform people today about the tragedy in Dresden. The author mentions in the preface that when he was a student in the 1960s, there were no published books ever printed on Dresden and that it was known only as a legend. Taylor made it clear that he created this book to educate future generations on the controversial occurrence of the past. Even though the bombing of Dresden was close to the end of the war, it had an impact on the relations between the countries. The descriptions within the book are valuable because there are first hand experiences which have been recorded, making them more reliable than secondary sources. On the other hand, there are limitations, as every humans perspective is biased. Men and women who previously took part with the Allies would believe the bombing of Dresden was the right, or fair, decision to make. Civilians from Dresden, however, would obviously be against their views.
The second source, The End, a book written by Ian Kershaw (published in 2011), which documents the end of the Second World War. This includes the bombing of Dresden in 1945. Unlike the first source, the book is opinionated by the author himself. Kershaw believes that the bombing had no effect on the outcome of the war. The purpose of this book is to elaborate how the Nazi regime failed between the years on 1944 - 1945. Kershaw also describes how Nazi Germany was “not just destructive, but also self-destructive.” The knowledge from the book is valuable for further studies of the end of the war. It explains in detail how Germany destroyed and failed their own country under the rule of Hitler. The descriptions are, however, limited. The book is written primarily by Ian Kershaw, a British historian, who states his own opinionated facts. The history was written many years after the bombing, unlike the the first source, making it less accurate. Therefore, The End is an alternative transcription of the end of the war than the first source, focusing on Dresden alone.



The bombing of Dresden was significant in World War II, although the war was inevitably ending by 1945. The western Allies flew in their Air Forces, while the Soviets were conquering Saxony and aiming to take Berlin. The people in Dresden consisted of innocent working class people and refugees who fled from the Red Army. Was is fair for the Allies to bomb Dresden at this point of the war?

The previous sources, Dresden: Tuesday 13 February 1945 and The End, provide information to discover whether is was fair or not to bombard Dresden. Kershaw describes in his book that Germany was the cause for its own destruction. In the end, it all came down to Hitler. Kershaw wrote, "... in any organized body, political or military, was completely impossible ... Hitler's mass charismatic appeal had long since dissolved but the structures and mentalities of his charismatic rule lasted until his death in the bunker." He thought that the attack was inevitable and the outcome would have no other variation. Dresden: Tuesday 13 February 1945 shows both of the controversial perspectives. Günther Kannegiesser experience the explosions in first hand, “During the first attack, I still had my parents with me... There was no beginning and no end to the bombing, it seemed, just these endless explosions everywhere.” Then again, as mentioned previously, there were commanders and soldiers who believed the Nazi needed to be stopped under any circumstances.

The Allies had their justified reasons for the bombing, but only to a certain extent. The Americans and the British felt threatened by the power of the Nazi Regime. Hitler, using Article 48, was able to control Germany as a dictator. The Soviet Union had planned to take Germany’s land to strengthen their own government. Stalin sent the Red Army to invade Saxony to later reach Berlin. Not only did this threaten Hitler, but it made the western countries wary of their alliance with Russia. Therefore, the United States sent their Air Forces, along with the British Air Force, to drop bombs on Dresden. Although a cultural city, Dresden had industries producing weapons for for the Nazis, giving them another fair reason to attack. The needed to remove the weapons and armoury from their enemy. Overall, these reasons were justified from the Allies point of view, however, Germany did not believe it was reasonable.

Dresden was a harmless city. Many refugees were sent there after the Red Army raided Saxony and destroyed their homes. Churchill mentioned himself how he planned to “blaze 600,000 refugees”. The United States Air Force did, however, give a warning days before to remove all women and children who could be in danger. It gave the citizens time to build shelters and bunkers for protection. The warning was not enough to prevent the cause of 25,000 deaths. Hitler used these casualties to promote his regime. Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda leader, raised the number of deaths up to 500,000 to frighten and anger German citizens. The media raised awareness and cause many to retaliate against the Allied men. In the end, by May 1945, the Nazis were overpowered and lost the war as the Allies took over the country.

Overall, the Allies had reasons for the bombing of Dresden, which prevented the continuation of the war. Hitler used the situation against his own people, while they were in their moment of weakness.


It was justified for the Allies to bomb Dresden at the end of the war because it ended the Nazi regime and defeated Hitler. On the other hand, the Allies were selfish in this case because they bombed Dresden to reclaim their relationship with Russia. The explosions killed many innocent German citizens who were not involved in the war until then. Refugees, women and children were lost. Historians, like Ian Kershaw, believe that the outcome of the war would not have changed if the attack would not have occurred. Frederick Taylor, on the other hand, believed that it not only supported the allies, but also Germany through it’s propaganda. In conclusion, the attack of Dresden in 1945 was fair, but only to a certain extent, as it may have not have effected the end of World War II.


Taylor, Frederick. Dresden: Tuesday, 13 February 1945. London: Bloomsbury, 2004. Print.

Khalifa, Hodieb. "Dresden Holocaust: A Massacre Committed by Churchill to Appease Stalin." Nein. N.p.: All Classic Books, 2013. 250-51. Print.

Bergander, Götz. Dresden Im Luftkrieg: Vorgeschichte, Zerstörung, Folgen. Würzburg: Flechsig, 1998. Print.

Kershaw, Ian. The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945. New York: Penguin, 2011. Print.

Judt, Tony. Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945. New York: Penguin, 2005. Print.

Longmate, Norman. The Bombers: The RAF Offensive against Germany, 1939-1945. London: Hutchinson, 1983. Print.

Overy, Richard J. The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945. N.p.: Allen Lane, 2013. Print.

Ross, Stewart Halsey. Strategic Bombing by the United States in World War II: The Myths and the Facts. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003. Print.


BBC's insult to hero pilots
Dresden coverage attacks Britain Despite dedicating more than 32 minutes of airtime to the 70th anniversary of the Dresden bombings, the BBC barely mentioned the British airmen who lost their lives.