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Winston Churchill and the bombing of Dresden

INF 13/213; Churchill

In February 1945, the last year of World War 2, Britain sent 300 Lancaster bombers to attack the crowded German city of Dresden. This attack was not the precision bombing of specific military targets. It was deliberate bombing of a whole area. The bombs destroyed city buildings and started tremendous fires.

Before long, eleven square miles of Dresden were consumed by a firestorm. The vacuum caused by the rapid rise of hot air created tornadoes that tossed furniture, trees and debris into the air. People were caught in fires as hot as 1000 °C. The city was devastated. No one knows how many thousands died.

The German armies were in retreat at this time and the war was nearly over. Some historians have argued that this attack was not justifiable on military grounds, that it was nothing more than a slaughter of civilians. But others say it helped to shorten the war in Europe.

Ultimate responsibility for this attack lay with the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Was the bombing of Dresden a justifiable act during wartime? How closely was Winston Churchill involved in the decision to attack the city? Does this cast a shadow upon Churchill's reputation as the heroic icon of twentieth century British history?

Find out more from the original sources in these case studies:
1. Why target Dresden?

2. What did the bombing of Dresden achieve?

3. Was Churchill responsible?