Bombing of Dresden in World War II

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The Bombing of Dresden was a military bombing by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) as part of the allied forces between 13 February and 15 February 1945 in the Second World War. In four raids, 1,300 heavy bombers dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city, the Baroque capital of the German state of Saxony. The resulting firestorm destroyed 15 square miles (39 square kilometres) of the city centre.[1]

Adam Tooze, the British economic war historian states, "Wreaking havoc on the German home front was the essence of Britain's strategy and the atomic bomb was the ideal weapon for that job. On 7 May 1942, the British cabinet formally agreed that the RAF Bomber Command was to destroy 58 of Germany's largest towns and cities."[2] It was Britain's policy to destroy German cities. This was well known. The River Rhine was not crossed until 23 March 1945, after the Dresden raid. German V rockets were dropping on London and Antwerp at the time of raid.

A 1953 United States Air Force report written by Joseph W. Angell defended the operation as the justified bombing of a military and industrial target, which was a major rail transportation and communication centre, housing 110 factories and 50,000 workers in support of the Nazi war effort.[3] Against this, several researchers have argued that not all of the communications infrastructure, such as the bridges, were in fact targeted, nor were the extensive industrial areas outside the city centre.[4] It has been argued that Dresden was a cultural landmark of little or no military significance, a "Florence on the Elbe," as it was known, and the attacks were indiscriminate area bombing and not proportionate to the commensurate military gains.[5][6]

In the first few decades after the war, some death toll estimates were as high as 250,000, which are now considered unreasonable.[7][8][9] An independent investigation commissioned by the city council in 2010 reported a minimum of 22,700 victims with a maximum total number of fatalities of 25,000.[10]

In direct comparison with the bombing of Hamburg in 1943, which created one of the greatest firestorms raised by the RAF and United States Army Air Force,[11] killing roughly 50,000 civilians in Hamburg and practically destroying the entire city, and the bombing of Pforzheim in 1945, killing roughly 18,000 civilians,[12] the bombing raids over Dresden were not the most severe of World War II. However, they continue to be recognised as one of the worst examples of civilian suffering caused by strategic bombing, and have become exposed among the moral causes célèbres of the Second World War.[13] Post-war discussion, popular legends, historical revisionism and Cold War propaganda of the bombing includes debate by commentators, officials and historians as to whether or not the bombing was justified, and whether its outcome constituted a war crime.

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