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1945: Thousands of bombs destroy Dresden

AUDIO : Eye-witness describes the raid on Dresden

British and US bombers have dropped hundreds of thousands of explosives on the German city of Dresden.

The city is reported to be a vital command centre for the German defence against Soviet forces approaching from the east.

Last night, 800 RAF Bomber Command planes let loose 650,000 incendiaries and 8,000lb of high explosives and hundreds of 4,000lb bombs in two waves of attack. They faced very little anti-aircraft fire.

As soon as one part of the city was alight, the bombers went for another until the whole of Dresden was ablaze.


"The Dresden trip took 12 hours. On this trip, I could still see the fires 500 miles away from Dresden. "

People's War memories

"There were fires everywhere with a terrific concentration in the centre of the city," said one Pathfinder pilot.

RAF crew reported smoke rising to a height of 15,000 ft (4,572 m).

This was followed by another attack in daylight by 311 US heavy bombers.

The Americans sent 450 B-17 Flying Fortress long-range bombers which arrived at 1230 local time. The pilots witnessed fires still blazing from the night before.

The same number of bombers flew to the city of Chemnitz, south-west of Dresden, to attack railways and factories and yet more attacked Magdeburg.

A major road bridge across the Rhine at Wesel was also hit.

The Times newspaper reports 19 German planes destroyed along with 98 locomotives and 185 railway cars.

Dresden is regarded by the Allies as the centre of its rail network linking eastern and southern Germany with Berlin, Prague and Vienna.

Last night, the RAF also hit oil plants at Nuremberg, Bonn and Dortmund.

Fighter Command Spitfires also pinpointed V weapons sites in the Netherlands that have launched hundreds of flying bombs against England in the last year.

In Context
Altogether 2,600 tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped creating a huge firestorm that destroyed Dresden.

With the city's population swollen from refugees fleeing the Soviet advance from the east, the death toll from fire and suffocation is unknown, but probably lies between 25,000 and 100,000.

The Dresden raid raised moral concerns about the bombing campaign. Even Winston Churchill, who had urged Bomber Command to attack east German cities, tried to dissociate himself from it.

On 28 March 1945, he drafted a memo to the British Chiefs of Staff in which he denounced the bombing of cities as "mere acts of terror and wanton destruction".

The attack was authorised by British Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, known as "Bomber Harris" for his enthusiastic support of the area bombing strategy.

The idea was to target large urban areas to whittle away at German public morale, cut off relief supplies to the eastern front and give support to the approaching Soviet armies.


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