February 13, 14, 15. In four waves, 722 British heavy bombers and 427 USAAF assets dropped about 4000 tons of high explosive and incendiary munitions on a quaint little bedroom community called Dresden.
This was part of British Air Minister Arthur Harris’s strategy of Strategic Bombing.
A survivor commented:
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, survivor.
There were 25,000 civilian deaths.
This was not commonly accepted as a way to go to war. I believe as the news bureaus began showing desiccated bodies lined up on the sidewalk, aside rubble in lines as long as bodies, this soon viewed as a war crime.
The fires burned for weeks and what was destroyed was seen as military industrial capability.
The British defended the strikes as a way to stop up to 25,000 people who were helping to build munitions.
The real reasons were simpler. Leipzig, Dresden and Chemnitz were corrideors through which displaced Germans were traversing, and these were also well worn routes from weapons manufacturers to distribution centers.
The attacks were designed to wear people down.
The British Chief of Staff General Ismay was said to have opined: “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.”