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Why Was Dresden So Heavily Bombed?

February 12, 2020 in History

By Volker Janssen

By the end of the three-day Allied bombing attack of World War II, the German city had been leveled and tens of thousands were dead.

They had heard the “whump a whump” of distant aerial bombings many times before. But on February 13, 1945, the American prisoners of war heard Dresden’s fire sirens howl right above their heads. German guards moved them two stories down into a meat locker. When they came back to the surface, “the city was gone,” remembered writer and social critic Kurt Vonnegut—one of the American POWs who witnessed the bombing of Dresden.

The punishing, three-day Allied bombing attack on Dresden from February 13 to 15 in the final months of World War II became among the most controversial Allied actions of the war. The 800-bomber raid dropped some 2,700 tons of explosives and incendiaries and decimated the German city.

As a major center for Nazi Germany’s rail and road network, Dresden’s destruction was intended to overwhelm German authorities and services and clog all transportation routes with throngs of refugees. The Allied assault came a less than a month after some 19,000 U.S. troops were killed in Germany’s last-ditch offensive at the Battle of the Bulge, and three weeks after the grim discovery of the atrocities committed by Nazi forces at Auschwitz.

In an effort to force a surrender, the Dresden bombing was intended to terrorize the civilian population locally and nationwide. It certainly had that effect.

Dresden Bombing: A Barrage of Explosives and Incendiaries

A photograph shot by German WWII photographer Richard Peter shows a street cleared out after the February 13-15, 1945 Allied bombing attack on Dresden. In the background is a damaged high school.

View the 8 images of this gallery on the original article

In the time that Vonnegut and others hid underground, the British Bomber Command’s Blind Illuminator aircraft had rained explosives and incendiaries over the city. Then, “visual marker” aircraft swooped low to drop thousands of flares and fire-target markers. The main attack formation followed: over 500 heavy “Lancaster” bombers loaded with explosives and incendiaries. The U.S. Eighth Air Force attacked the next day with another 400 tons of bombs and launched yet another raid with 210 bombers on February 15.

With the German Luftwaffe destroyed and anti-aircraft defenses in shambles, the Royal Air Force lost only six planes. On the ground, however, thousands of small fires …read more


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