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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Dresden Raid

13 to 15 February 1945

Theatre: Western Europe
Location: Dresden, eastern Germany
Players: Allies: Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris's RAF Bomber Command; General James Doolittle's 8th US Army Air Force (USAAF).
Outcome: The devastation of the German city of Dresden.

There were five bombing raids on Dresden in 1945. The 8th USAAF bombed Dresden on 16 January and 2 March, as well as carrying out raids co-ordinated with Bomber Command on 14 and 15 February. Targeting Dresden's marshalling yards, the US raids also caused damage in the city.

Bomber Command bombed Dresden on 13 February, sending in two waves of bombers three hours apart. Six out of 800 bombers were lost in the raid. As at Hamburg in 1943, the bombers dropped a combination of explosives and incendiaries; as at Hamburg, the second wave caused a citywide firestorm.

With the city's population swollen with refugees from the east, the death toll from fire and suffocation is unknown, but probably lies between 40,000 and 100,000. The bombing caused an outcry; even Churchill, who had urged Bomber Command to attack east German cities, dissociated himself from 'bombing cities simply for the sake of increasing terror, though under other pretexts'. In a comment to the British Chiefs of Staff, Churchill said 'the destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing'.

Long range fighters had given the Allies air superiority; the Normandy landings had broken the Luftwaffe's radar network. The German armed forces, everywhere in retreat, were suffering from fuel shortages created by a US led bombing campaign against the oil industry. (Harris had disparaged the oil campaign as a 'panacea', calling instead for continued attacks on enemy morale.)

Three years of 'morale' bombings had not brought German surrender, which now seemed imminent in any case; nor can any clear military rationale for the Dresden bombing be identified. With air superiority assured and precision bombing perfected, British bombers were free to bomb whatever targets they were given. Over Dresden in February 1945, they did so.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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