Dresden: The World War Two bombing 75 years on

Dresden: The World War Two bombing 75 years on

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The bombing of Dresden created a firestorm that destroyed the centre of the city [GETTY IMAGES]

“The firestorm is incredible… Insane fear grips me and from then on I repeat one simple sentence to myself continuously: ‘I don’t want to burn to death’. I do not know how many people I fell over. I know only one thing: that I must not burn.”

On 13 February 1945, British aircraft launched an attack on the eastern German city of Dresden. In the days that followed, they and their US allies dropped nearly 4,000 tons of bombs in the assault.

The ensuing firestorm killed 25,000 people, ravaging the city centre, sucking the oxygen from the air and suffocating people trying to escape the flames.

Dresden was not unique. Allied bombers killed tens of thousands and destroyed large areas with attacks on Cologne, Hamburg and Berlin, and the Japanese cities of Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Dresden Was Known as the ‘German Florence’ on the Elbe

Dresden, germany, bombing

A colour image of Dresden from 1900, showing a number of monuments which were later heavily damaged in the bombing [Getty Images]

Read: Leningrad, January 1943, Operation Spark (Lots of trophies)

Observers noted that the bombing of Dresden did not only mean the death of civilians, but the destruction of a center of European culture and Baroque splendor. Since the rule of Augustus the Strong (1670-1733), the “German Florence” on the Elbe, was home to famous collections of art, porcelain collection, prints, scientific instruments, and jewelry.

Many Germans perceived a particular injustice in the late bombing of Dresden in February in 1945—a sentiment that gained some international traction in the postwar years. Dresden was a densely crowded city in the winter of 1945, filled with refugees fleeing the advancing Red Army. For most of them, the end of the war looked near and inevitable and a full-scale attack unnecessary.

Allied strategists, however, were afraid of allowing the Wehrmacht to regroup within Germany’s border if they eased on their pressure. The U.S. Army alone had suffered almost 140,000 casualties from December to January 1945 and 27,000 in the week prior to the Dresden bombing alone—the heaviest losses in the Western Allies’ war against Hitler.

The ruins of Dresden Frauenkirche, a Lutheran church. In the background is the dome of the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. [Deutsche Fotothek/Picture Alliance/Getty Images]

By February 1945, Dresden was only about 250km (155 miles) from the Eastern Front, where Nazi Germany was defending against the advancing armies of the Soviet Union in the final months of the war.

The city was a major industrial and transportation hub. Scores of factories provided munitions, aircraft parts and other supplies for the Nazi war effort. Troops, tanks and artillery travelled through Dresden by train and by road. Hundreds of thousands of German refugees fleeing the fighting had also arrived in the city.

At the time, the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) said it was the largest German city yet to be bombed. Air chiefs decided an attack on Dresden could help their Soviet allies – by stopping Nazi troop movements and also by disrupting the German evacuations from the east.

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RAF bombers dropped incendiary bombs as well as explosive weapons on German cities to maximise damage [Getty Images]

RAF bomber raids on German cities had increased in size and power after more than five years of war.

Planes carried a mix of high explosive and incendiary bombs: the explosives would blast buildings apart, while the incendiaries would set the remains on fire, causing further destruction.

Most of Dresden was destroyed after the British and US attack

Dresden, germany, war

Dresden in ruins [Getty Images]

Nazi Germany immediately used the bombing to attack the Allies. The Propaganda Ministry claimed Dresden had no war industry and was only a city of culture. Though local officials said about 25,000 people had died – a figure historians agree with now – the Nazis claimed 200,000 civilians were killed.

Tens of thousands died, many suffocated in the firestorm [Getty Images]

City at nowadays

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This digital composite image shows the ruins of the Frauenkirche church and the empty pedestal for a statue of Martin Luther in 1946 still wrecked from the Allied firebombing of February 13, 1945 (William Vandevert, The LIFE Picture Collection) as well as the reconstructed church and statue on January 22, 2015 [Sean Gallup/Getty Images]

The city center used to be occupied by residential buildings before the destructive war. Today, only few of them can still be found there. Most buildings are now used by shops, museums, hotels, restaurants, or they have been turned into office spaces.

Dresden’s historic city center has been rebuilt, largely after the fall of the Berlin Wall and mainly due to the financial support coming from western German states that were and still are obliged to transfer money to the east of the country.

A variety of buildings were constructed in a modern way.

Other buildings were totally rebuilt, based on old photos and the use of original stones found in the rubble.

This digital composite image shows the ruins at Theaterplatz square in 1946 still wrecked from the Allied firebombing of February 13, 1945 (Fred Ramage, Keystone) as well as the square today, including the Catholic Hofkirche church (C) and Residenzschloss Dresden palace (R), on February 7, 2015 [Sean Gallup/Getty Images]

Dresden, Germany

Many parts of Dresden remained as ruins throughout its time as part of East Germany [Getty Images]

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