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Winston Churchill and the bombing of Dresden

INF 13/213; Churchill

From 13th to 15th February 1945, the final year of the Second World War, approximately 1,200 bombers from Britain and the United States attacked the German city of Dresden during four night time and daylight raids. Dresden was seen as an important transport hub for the German army as well as containing factories contributing to the German war effort. However it also contained many beautiful medieval buildings and residential areas. Precision bombing was not possible so the entire city was bombed destroying many buildings and starting tremendous fires.

Before long, eleven square miles of Dresden were consumed by a firestorm; creating a vacuum caused by the rapid rise of hot air causing people to collapse and be burned in the fires. The city was widely destroyed and between 22,000 and 25,000 people were killed.

Some historians have argued that this attack was not justifiable on military grounds because the German armies were in retreat and the war was nearly over. Others say that it helped to shorten the war in Europe by hindering Germany’s war effort, particularly against the invading forces of the Soviet Union.

The attack was jointly undertaken by British and American forces but responsibility for it has often been laid on the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Why was Dresden targeted so late in the war? What was the outcome of the attack? How far was Winston Churchill responsible for the attack?

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?