This article was originally published in 2016.
On the night of February 13-14, 1945, the British Royal Air Force (RAF) bomber command carried out two devastating attacks on the German city of Dresden. At the time, Dresden’s pre-war population of 640,000 had been swelled by the presence of an estimated 100,000-200,000 refugees. Seven hundred and twenty-two aircraft dropped 1,478 tons of high explosives and 1,181 tons of incendiaries on the city. The resulting firestorm destroyed an area of 13 square miles, including the historic Altstadt Museum. Shortly after noon on February 14, a fleet of 316 U.S. bombers made a third attack, dropping a further 488 tons of high explosives and 294 tons of incendiaries. On February 15, two hundred and eleven U.S. bombers made a fourth attack, dropping 466 tons of high explosives.
The fire-bombing of Dresden was considered to be a gratuitous crime on the part of the British which caused up to 300,000 deaths. Dresden was almost completely defenseless against the Anglo-American terror-attacks, which allowed the bombers to descend to lower levels and to maintain a steady height and heading, making their bombs even more effective.
Dresden had not previously been bombed during the war. The city was not considered a likely target because it was not a major contributor to the Nazi war economy and no key oil refineries or large armaments plants were located there. In the British Ministry of Economic Warfare’s 1943 “Bomber’s Baedeker,” Dresden was ranked 20th of 100 German towns in its importance to the German war effort. In fact, Dresden was best known worldwide as a site of architectural treasures and was sometimes referred to as the “German Florence.” Despite this, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered the Dresden raids based on a plan submitted in August 1944 by Sir Charles Portal, Britain’s Chief of the Air Staff.
Aftermath of the 1945 bombing of Dresden, Germany by Allied forces.
Codenamed “Operation Thunderclap,” the plan involved concentrating an entire attack on a single big town other than Berlin to try to inflict a single major blow on Germany using all available power. Portal opted for the “area bombing” of a city because cities afforded a big target. In January 1945, Churchill approved Portal’s plan,