Inside The Allies’ Disturbing Bombing Of Dresden At The End Of World War II

Published October 1, 2021
Updated November 16, 2021

Was the Allies bombing of Dresden in February 1945 a justifiable act or a horrific war crime that should have been punished?

By February 13, 1945, Germany had all but lost the war. Hitler was in hiding, yet British and American bombs burned the militarily insignificant civilian city of Dresden to the ground — and claimed the lives of approximately 25,000 innocent people with it.

In four separate bomb raids over three days, the Allies attempt to demoralize the Germans certainly succeeded. But was it justifiable so late in the war?

Dresden Bombing By Allies
Destroyed City
Corpse From Dresden Bombing
Inside The Allies’ Disturbing Bombing Of Dresden At The End Of World War II
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Winston Churchill categorized the killing of innocent people in Dresden "terror bombing," – and terrifying it was. Flames engulfed the entire city. The unimaginable heat completely vaporized small children. Civilians who took shelter underground melted into liquid and bones.

In the words of survivor Kurt Vonnegut, "Dresden was like the moon... nothing but minerals."

Others, including Dresden bombing survivor Lothar Metzger, recalled the event this way:

"We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burnt to death, burning people ran to and fro, burnt coaches filled with civilian refugees, dead rescuers and soldiers, many were calling and looking for their children and families, and fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from. I cannot forget these terrible details. I can never forget them."

Metzger was just ten years old at the time.

These people in Dresden weren't active Nazis. There was no military base in this city of historic, Baroque architecture. Afterward, even Churchill questioned the bombing of Dresden, saying "the destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing."

As people continue to mourn civilian deaths as a cost of war, the moral implications of the Dresden bombing still hang in the air. The photos above serve as a poignant reminder of what's really at stake when war divides us.

See why many categorize the Dresden bombing as a war crime and discover which other events join its ranks in this look at the worst Allied war crimes of World War II. Then, have a look at some stirring World War II photos that bring the entire catastrophe to life.

Erin Kelly
An All That’s Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she’s designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.