February 13, 1945
A two-day firestorm rains down on the German town of Dresden, killing between 22,700 – 25,000
The firestorm was a raid by the British Royal Air Force and United States Air Force. Though the city of Dresden was a civilian target, it was strategically chosen due to its 110 factories, communication centers, and railway transportation. Critics of the firestorm cited their view that Dresden was not a strategic target, holding more cultural significance than tactical, and noted that while the city did have some military value, the large industrial areas outside of the city and bridges were not targeted. Winston Churchill was ultimately responsible for choosing to target Dresden, but attempted to distance himself from it. In a memo, he wrote “The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing. I am of the opinion that military objectives must henceforward be more strictly studied in our own interests than that of the enemy.”
One survivor recounted the experience:
“It is not possible to describe! Explosion after explosion. It was beyond belief, worse than the blackest nightmare. So many people were horribly burnt and injured. It became more and more difficult to breathe. It was dark and all of us tried to leave this cellar with inconceivable panic. Dead and dying people were trampled upon, luggage was left or snatched up out of our hands by rescuers. The basket with our twins covered with wet cloths was snatched up out of my mother’s hands and we were pushed upstairs by the people behind us. We saw the burning street, the falling ruins and the terrible firestorm. My mother covered us with wet blankets and coats she found in a water tub.
We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burnt to death, burning people ran to and fro, burnt coaches filled with civilian refugees, dead rescuers and soldiers, many were calling and looking for their children and families, and fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from.
I cannot forget these terrible details. I can never forget them.”
— Lothar Metzger
Directly after the attack, Nazi Germany used the firestorm as propaganda, claiming the civilian death toll to be between 250,000 and 500,000. However, Dresden city authorities claimed at the time the casualties did not exceed 25,000, and a 2010 study confirmed the Dresden city officials’ estimates.
Bodies of civilian casualties
(Photo By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-08778-0001 / Hahn / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5420481)
Air raid shelters did not always protect those who sought shelter
(Photo By Deutsche Fotothek, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7937537)
Various civilian casualities
(Photo By Deutsche Fotothek, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7937387)