http://www.airforcehistory.hq.af.mil/Po ... resden.htm
HISTORICAL ANALYSIS OF THE 14-15 FEBRUARY 1945
BOMBINGS OF DRESDEN
USAF Historical Division
Research Studies Institute
1. The reasons for and the nature and consequences of the bombing of Dresden, Germany, by Allied air forces on 14-15 February 1945 have repeatedly been the subject of official and semi-official inquiries and of rumor and exaggeration by uninformed or inadequately informed persons. Moreover, the Communists have with increasing frequency and by means of distortion and falsification used the February 1945 Allied bombings of Dresden as a basis for disseminating anti-Western and anti-American propaganda. From time to time there appears in letters of inquiry to the United States Air Force evidence that American nationals are themselves being taken in by the Communist propaganda line concerning the February 1945 bombings of Dresden.
2. The purpose of this historical analysis, based in its entirety on existing official documents and on standard reference sources, is to provide a more detailed and definitive account of the reasons for and the nature and consequences of the February 1945 Dresden bombings than has heretofore been available. The narrative portion of this historical analysis sets forth a framework for arriving at definitive answers to such recurring questions concerning the February 1945 bombings of Dresden as the following:
a. Was Dresden a legitimate military target?
b. What strategic objectives, of mutual importance to the Allies and to the Russians, underlay the bombings of Dresden?
c. Did the Russians request that Dresden be bombed by allied air forces?
d. On whose recommendation, whether by an individual or by a committee, and by what authority were Allied air forces ordered to bomb Dresden?
e. Were the Russians officially informed by the Allies concerning the intended date of and the forces to be committed to the bombing of Dresden?
f. With what forces and with what means did the Allied forces bomb Dresden?
g. What were the specific target objectives in the Dresden bombings?
h. What were the immediate and actual consequences of the Dresden bombings on the physical structure and the populace of the city?
i. Were the Dresden bombings in any way a deviation from established bombing policies set forth in official bombing directives?
j. Were the specific forces and means employed in the Dresden bombings similar to or different from the forces and means employed by the Allies in other aerial attacks on comparable targets in Germany?
k. In what specific ways and to what degree did the bombings of Dresden achieve or support the strategic objectives that underlay the attack and were of mutual importance to the Allies and the Russians?
3. Each statement of fact in the narrative portion of this analysis is, as indicated in the reference notes, a citation from a standard reference work or is authenticated or amplified in the supporting documents that are attached herewith. These latter comprise an official and definitive case history of the bombings of Dresden.
4. In as much as it is exclusively the 14-15 February 1945 bombings of Dresden that have repeatedly been the subject of inquiry and controversy and the basis of Communist propaganda, the subsequent historical analysis and the attached supporting documents are primarily concerned with and relevant to the February bombings only. Nevertheless, as a matter of record, the following is an authoritative tabulation of all Allied bombings of Dresden: 1
Date Target Area Force Acft High Explosive bombs on target (tons) Incediary bombs on target (tons) Total
7/10/44 Marshalling Yards 8th AF 30 72.5 72.5
16/1/45 Marshalling Yards 8th AF 133 279.8 41.6 321.4
14/2/45 City Area RAF BC 772 1477.7 1181.6 2659.3
14/2/45 Marshalling Yards 8th AF 316 487.7 294.3 782.0
15/2/45 Marshalling Yards 8th AF 211 465.6 465.6
2/3/45 Marshalling Yards 8th AF 406 940.3 140.5 1080.8
17/4/45 Marshalling Yards 8th AF 572 1526.4 164.5 1690.9
17/4/45 Industrial Area 8th AF 8 28.0 28.0
II. ANALYSIS: Dresden as a Military Target
5. At the outbreak of World War II, Dresden was the seventh largest city in Germany proper.2 With a population of 642,143 in 1939, Dresden was exceeded in size only by Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Leipzig, and Essen, in that order.3 The serial bombardments sustained during World War II by the seven largest cities of Germany are shown in Chart A.
6. Situated 71 miles E.S.E. from Leipzig and 111 miles S. of Berlin, by rail, Dresden was one of the greatest commercial and transportation centers of Germany and the historic capital of the important and populous state of Saxony.4 It was, however, because of its geographical location and topography and as a primary communications center that Dresden assumed major significance as a military target in February 1945, as the Allied ground forces moved eastward and the Russian armies moved westward in the great combined operations designed to entrap and crush the Germans into final defeat.
7. Geographically and topographically, Dresden commanded two great and historic traffic routes of primary military significance: north-south between Germany and Czechoslovakia through the valley and gorge of the Elbe river, and east-west along the foot of the central European uplands.5 The geographical and topographical importance of Dresden as the lower bastion in the vast Allied-Russian war of movement against the Germans in the closing months of the war in Europe.
8. As a primary communications center, Dresden was the junction of three great trunk routes in the German railway system: (1) Berlin-Prague-Vienna, (2) Munich-Breslau, and (3) Hamburg-Leipzig. As a key center in the dense Berlin-Leipzig railway complex, Dresden was connected to both cities by two main lines.6 The density, volume, and importance of the Dresden-Saxony railway system within the German geography and e economy is seen in the facts that in 1939 Saxony was seventh in area among the major German states, ranked seventh in its railway mileage, but ranked third in the total tonnage carried by rail.7
9. In addition to its geographical position and topography and its primary importance as a communications center, Dresden was, in February 1945, known to contain at least 110 factories and industrial enterprises that were legitimate military targets, and were reported to have employed 50,000 workers in arms plants alone.8 Among these were dispersed aircraft components factories; a poison gas factory (Chemische Fabric Goye and Company); an anti-aircraft and field gun factory (Lehman); the great Zeiss Ikon A.G., Germany’s most important optical goods manufactory; and, among others, factories engaged in the production of electrical and X-ray apparatus (Koch and Sterzel A.G.), gears and differentials (Saxoniswerke), and electric gauges (Gebruder Bassler).9
10. Specific military installations in Dresden in February 1945 included barracks and hutted camps and at least one munitions storage depot.10
11. Dresden was protected by antiaircraft defenses , antiaircraft guns and searchlights, in anticipation of Allied air raids against the city.11 The Dresden air defenses were under the Combined Dresden (Corps Area IV) and Berlin (Corps Area III) Luftwaffe Administration Commands.12
Strategic Objectives, of Mutual Importance to the Allies and the Russians:
12. As early as 1943, the Allies and Russians had begun high-level consultations for the conduct of the war against Germany; in essence, for combined operations designed to defeat Germany by Allied bombardment from the air, by Allied ground operations against Germany from the west, and by Russian operations against the Germans from the west, and by Russian operations against the Germans from the East. At the Tehran Conference (28 November-11 December 1943) between Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, the grand strategy for these combined operations was outlined and agreed upon by the three powers.13 Details for executing the grand strategy were not considered at the conference, but were to be worked out by the individual forces in keeping with the fortunes and progress of the war.14
13. In the closing months of 1944, Allied land advances in the west and Russian advances from the east, coupled with the ever-growing devastation from aerial attacks by the Allied heavy bomber forces, made it apparent that early in 1945 Germany proper could be invaded from both fronts and that the Allied strategic air forces would be more and more called upon to give direct support to these vast land operations. In September and October 1944 the Allies and the Russians began the exchange of information on their specific plans for operations designed to bring the war to a close in 1945.15 Simultaneously, the Allies and the Russians laid the general groundwork for closer cooperation and assistance in their forthcoming operations.16
14. On 14 December 1944, the American Ambassador to Russia, Mr. Averill Harriman, personally stated to Marshal Stalin that General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), “was very anxious to operate in concert with the Russians and to help the Russian armies whenever such support might be needed.”17 Ambassador Harriman specifically discussed with Stalin the use of Allied air forces in the Mediterranean in support of Russian land operations in the Balkans.18 While there was no direct mention, in the 14 December conversations between Stalin and Harriman, of the employment of the massive Allied strategic air forces operating from the west, it was to be assumed that these forces would be used to support Russians operations on the Eastern front.
15. On 23 December 1944, President Roosevelt informed Stalin that--given the Marshal’s permission General Eisenhower would be instructed to send a representative to Moscow to “discuss with you the situation in the west and its relation to the Russian front in order that information essential to our efforts may be available to all of us.”19 On 26 December Stalin stated his acceptance of President Roosevelt’s proposal.20 The officer designated to confer with Stalin was Marshal of the RAF, Sir Arthur Tedder, Deputy Supreme Commander, SHAEF, and immediately responsible to the Supreme Commander for all Allied air operations. Among the topics discussed by Stalin and Tedder at their meeting on 15 January 1945 was the employment of the Allied strategic air forces in the forthcoming combined operations. Tedder outlined to Stalin the “application of the Allied air effort with particular reference to strategic bombing of communications as represented by oil targets, railroads and waterways.”21 There was also specific discussion of the problem that would face the Russians if the Germans attempted to shift forces from the west to the east and of the necessity of preventing this possibility.22
16. Therefore, on 25 January 1945, the Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee of the British War Cabinet, which was responsible for preparing such analyses for the Allied air forces, presented to Marshal Tedder, through appropriate channels, a working paper entitled “Strategic Bombing in Relation to the Present Russian Offensive.23 The findings of this authoritative body were as follows:
The degree of success achieved by the present Russian offensive is likely to have a decisive effect on the length of the war. We consider, therefore, that the assistance which might be given to the Russians during the next few weeks by the British and American strategic bomber forces justifies an urgent review of their employment to this end.24
It is probable that the Germans will be compelled to withdraw forces, particularly panzer divisions, from the Western Front to reinforce the East . . . . To what extent air bombardment can delay the move eastwards of these or other divisions destined for the Eastern Front is . . . an operational matter. It is understood that far-reaching results have already been achieved in the West by disruptive effect of Allied air attacks on marshalling yards and communications generally. These have hitherto been aimed at assistance to the Western Front and should now be considered in relation to delaying the transfer of forces eastwards.25
For the next several days these recommendations were carefully studied and evaluated by the appropriate authorities in the Supreme Commander’s staff, particularly among those immediately responsible to him for planning and authorizing air operations. On 31 January, the decision was made by the Deputy Supreme Commander Tedder and his air staff that the second priority for the Allied strategic air forces should be the “attack of BERLIN, LEIPZIG, DRESDEN and associated cities where heavy attack will . . . hamper movement of reinforcements from other fronts.”26 As of 31 January 1945, the Allied decision to establish Dresden as a second priority target, because it was a primary communications center and in support of the Russian armies, was by no means unilateral.
The decision was founded on basic and explicit exchanges of information between the Allies and Russia and was clearly a strategic decision of mutual importance to the Allies and the Russians.27
The Russian Request for Allied Bombing of Communications in the Dresden Area:
17. The Allied-Russian interchanges that had begun in the closing months of 1944 and had become, with the passing of time, more frequent and more specific, culminated in the ARGONAUT Conferences of January-February 1945. On 4 February, President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and Marshal Stalin, together with their foreign secretaries and military advisors, assembled at Yalta to present definitive and specific plans, and requests, for bringing the war against Germany to a victorious conclusion, by the summer of 1945, if possible (Other considerations involved in the ARGONAUT deliberations are not pertinent or relevant here). At this meeting, Marshal Stalin asked Army General Antonov, Deputy Chief of the Russian General Staff, to outline to the Conference the situation existing on the Eastern Front and to describe Russia’s plans for subsequent operations. At the conclusion of his extended presentation, General Antonov made three specific requests for Allied assistance to the Russians: 27
Our wishes are:
a. To speed up the advance of the Allied troops on the Western Front, for which the present situation is very favorable: (1) To defeat the Germans on the Eastern Front. (2) To defeat the German groupings which have advanced into the Ardennes. (3) The weakening of the German forces in the West in connection with the shifting of their reserves to the East (It is desirable to begin the advance during the first half of February).
b. By air action on communications hinder the enemy from carrying out the shifting of his troops to the East from the Western Front, from Norway, and from Italy (In particular, to paralyze the junctions of Berlin and Leipzig).
c. Not permit the enemy to remove his forces from Italy.
18. It was the specific Russian request for bombing communications, coupled with the emphasis on forcing troops to shift from west to east through communications centers, that led to the Allied bombings of Dresden. The structure of the Berlin-Leipzig-Dresden railway complex, as outlined in paragraph 8 above, required that Dresden, as well as Berlin and Leipzig, be bombed. Therefore Allied air authorities concluded that the bombing of Dresden would have to be undertaken (1) in order to implement strategic objectives, of mutual importance to the Allies and the Russians, and now agreed upon at the highest levels of governmental authority, and (2) to respond to the specific Russian request presented to the Allies by General Antonov to “paralyze the junctions of Berlin and Leipzig.”
The Recommendation and Authority for the Allied Air Forces’ Bombing of Dresden:
19. On 8 February 1945 SHAEF (Air) informed the RAF Bomber Command and the United States Strategic Air Forces that Dresden was among a number of targets that had been selected for bombing because of their importance in relation to the movements of military forces to the Eastern Front.28 This action, based upon the authoritative recommendation of the Combined Strategic Targets Committee, SHAEF (Air), and in turn based upon the recommendations of the Joint Intelligence Committee (see paragraph 16 above), was in keeping with the procedural structure and authority set up in SHAEF for the conduct of aerial operations by Allied forces.29
20. Allied aerial operations were ultimately the responsibility of the Supreme Commander, General Eisenhower, though normally he delegated the immediate authority for employment of Allied air forces to his Deputy Supreme Commander, Marshal Tedder. The latter, in turn, relied upon the commanders of the RAF Bomber Command and the United States Strategic Air Forces (General Carl Spaatz, Commanding) for the actual conduct of specific strategic aerial operations. The top commanders of the Allied strategic bomber forces were required to conduct all of their operations within the framework of bombing directives laid down to them by the Combined Chiefs of Staff (the British Chiefs of Staff and the American Joint Chiefs of Staff). In February 1945, when SHAEF (Air) directed the bombing of Dresden in immediate support of the Russians and in keeping with strategic objectives of mutual interest to the Allies and the Russians, the strategic objectives of mutual interest o the Allies and the Russians, the strategic bomber forces were operating under the authority of the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) “Directive No. 3 for the Strategic Air Forces in Europe,” dated 12 January 1945.30 The second priority, after bombing of the German petroleum industry for the Allied strategic air forces was, in that directive, listed as the bombing of “German lines of communications.”31 The authority for and the ordering of the bombing of Dresden by Allied strategic air forces and the steps taken to carry out these orders were therefore within the framework of the existing basic CCS Directive No. 3 governing the operations of the Allied strategic air forces in Europe.
Information Officially Given to the Russians by the Allies Concerning the Intended Date of and the Forces to be Committed to the Bombing of Dresden:
21. Although the exact procedures for maintaining day to day liaison between the Russians and the Allies on Allied bombing operations was for a long time the subject of negotiation between the Allies and the Russians, certain procedures for such liaison were nevertheless in effect prior to the Allied bombings of Dresden.32 Therefore, the following actions were taken by Allied authorities to notify the Russians that in accordance with their expressed wishes as to actions and timing, stated at the ARGONAUT Conference on 4 February 1945, Allied strategic air forces would bomb Dresden during the first half of February.33
22. On 7 February 1945, General Spaatz, Commanding General, United States Strategic Air Forces, informed Major General J. R. Deane, Chief of the United States Military Mission, Moscow, that the communications targets for strategic bombing by the Eighth Air Force were, in the order of their priority, Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden, Cheanitz (and others of lesser importance).34 On the same date, General Spaatz also notified General Deane that a 24-hour advance notice of the intention to conduct actual bombing operations against Dresden (and the other targets of mutual concern to the Russians and the Allies) would be forwarded in order that General Deane might so notify the Russians.35 Moscow notified the proper Russian authority that Dresden was among the targets selected for strategic bombing by the American Eighth Air Force.36 On February, General Spaatz informed the United States Military Mission that, weather permitting, the Eighth Air Force intended to attack the Dresden Marshalling Yards with a force of 1200 to 1400 bomber planes on 13 February.37 On 12 February, therefore, the Russians were informed of the Americans’ intention to bomb Dresden.38 Weather conditions did not permit the Eighth Air Force to carry out its attack against Dresden on 13 February.39 Accordingly, on 13 February by similar procedures the Americans informed the Russians, that the Eighth Air Force would attack the Dresden Marshalling Yards on the 14th.40 Subsequently, the Russians were informed by the Americans that Dresden, together with the other high priority communications centers targets, would be subject to attack whenever weather conditions permitted.41
The Forces and Means Employed by the Allies in the Bombing of Dresden:
23. In the Dresden bombing attacks of 14-15 February 1945 the American Eighth Air Force and the RAF Bomber Command together employed a total of 1299 bomber aircraft (527 from the Eighth Air Force, 722 from the RAF Bomber Command) for a total weight, on targets, of 3906.9 tons. Of this tonnage, 1247.6 tons were expanded by the Eighth Air Force, 2659.3 tons by the RAF Bomber Command. The Americans employed 953.3 tons of high explosive bombs and 294.3 tons of incendiary bombs--all aimed at the Dresden Marshalling Yards. The British employed 1477.7 tons of high explosive bombs and 1181.6 tons of incendiary bombs--all aimed against the Dresden city area.42 The American aircraft used H2X (radar) bombing method, with visual assists, and the British used the marker and visual method.43
Specific Target Objectives in the Dresden Area:
24. As related in paragraphs 5-11 above, Dresden became a military target as (1), and of overriding importance, a primary communications center in the Berlin-Leipzig-Dresden railway complex; (2) as an important industrial and manufacturing center directly associated with the production of aircraft components and other military items, including poison gas, anti-aircraft and field guns, and small guns; and (3) as an area containing specific military installations. The night raid by the RAF Bomber Command was intended to devastate the city area itself and thereby choke communications within the city and disrupt the normal civilian life upon which the larger communications activities and the manufacturing enterprises of the city depended. Further, the widespread area raid conducted by the British entailed bombing strikes against the many industrial plants throughout the city which were thus to be construed as specific targets within the larger pattern of the area raid.44
The Eighth Air Force raids, which were by daylight and followed, on the 14th and 15th February, the night raid of the British (13/14 February), were directed against rail activities in the city.45
The Immediate Consequences of the Dresden Bombings on the Physical Structure and Populace of the City:
25. The RAF Bomber Command’s are raid on Dresden, conducted on the night of 13/14 February 1945, resulted in fires that did great damage to the city proper, particularly in the older and more densely built up areas.46 Early official Allied post-strike reports estimated that 85 per cent of the fully built-up city area was destroyed, that the old part of the city, which comprised the greater portion of the built-up areas was largely wiped out, that the majority of buildings in the inner suburbs was gutted, and that in the outer suburbs, few buildings were effected by the area bombing attack. Virtually all major public buildings appeared heavily gutted or severely damaged. Public utilities, and facilities such as slaughter houses, warehouses, and distribution centers, were severely affected.47 A very large number of the city’s industrial facilities were destroyed or severely damaged,48 with perhaps a four-fifth’s reduction in the productive capacity of the arms plants.49 Later British assessments, which were more conservative, concluded that 23 per cent of the city’s industrial buildings were seriously damaged and that 56 per cent of the non-industrial buildings (exclusive of dwellings) had been heavily damaged. Of the total number of dwelling units in the city proper, 78,000 were regarded as demolished, 27,70 temporarily uninhabitable but ultimately repairable, and 64,500 readily repairable from minor damage. This later assessment indicated that 80 per cent of the city’s housing units had undergone some degree of damage and that 50 per cent of the dwellings had been demolished or seriously damaged.50
26. The Eighth Air Force raids against the city’s railway facilities on 14 and 15 February resulted in severe and extensive damage that entirely paralyzed communications. The city’s passenger terminals and major freight stations, warehouses, and storage sheds were, when not totally destroyed, so severely damaged that they were unusable. Roundhouses, railway repair and work shops, coal stations, and other operating facilities, were destroyed, gutted, or severely damaged. The railway bridges over the Elbe river--vital to incoming and outgoing traffic--were rendered unusable and remained closed to traffic for many weeks after the raids.51
27. Casualties among the Dresden populace were inevitably very heavy in consequence of the fires that swept over the city following the RAF area raid on the night of 13/14 February. In addition to its normal population, the city had experienced a heavy influx of refugees from the east and of evacuees from bombings in other areas, particularly from Berlin.52 The exact number of casualties from the Dresden bombings can never be firmly established.53 Contemporary British estimates were that from 8,200 to 16,400 persons were killed and that similar numbers of persons may have been seriously injured.54 Most of the latest German post-war estimates are that about 25,000 persons were killed and about 30,000 were wounded, virtually all of these being casualties from the RAF incendiary attack of 13/14 February.55 Although the latest available post-war accounts play up the “terroristic” aspects of the Dresden bombings, it is significant that they accept much lower casualty figures than those circulated by the Germans immediately after the raids and, from time to time, in the years immediately following the war.56 The most distorted account of the Dresden bombings--one that may have become the basis of Communist propaganda against the Allies, particularly against the Americans, in recent years--was prepared by two former German general officers for the Historical Division, European Command (U.S.A.) in 1948.57 In this account, the number of dead from the Dresden bombings was declared to be 250,000. That this figure may be the probable number of dead, multiplied by ten for the sake of exaggeration, becomes apparent by comparing the weight of the Dresden bombings of 14-15 February 1945 with the total tonnages expanded by the Allies against the six other largest German cities (see Chart A) and by comparing the various estimates of the Dresden casualties with the best estimate of the total casualties suffered by the Germans from all Allied bombings during World War II.
28. Shown in the following chart are the total tonnages of bombs that were expanded by the Allies against the six cities in Germany that were larger in population than Dresden:
City Population in 1939 Total Bomb Tonnages
Berlin 4,339,000 67,607.6
Hamberg 1,129,000 38,687.6
Munich 841,000 27,110.9
Cologne 772,000 44,923.2
Leipzig 707,000 11,616.4
Essen 667,000 37,938.0
Dresden 642,000 7,100.5
The United States Strategic Bombing Survey estimated that 305,000 persons were killed and 780,000 were wounded as the consequence of all Allied bombings against Germany in World War II,58 from a total Allied bomb expenditure of 3,697,473.59 It may therefore be presumed that the estimates of 25,000 dead and 30,000 wounded, as presented in most of the latest available German estimates of the Dresden bombings, are reasonable and acceptable.
29. Despite the lack of accurate statistics on the number of killed and wounded in the Dresden raid, as well as in other Allied bombings of German cities, it would appear from such estimates as are available that the casualties suffered in the Dresden bombings were not disproportionate to those suffered in area attacks on other German cities.
The reports of the United States Bombing Survey give specific estimates of the dead for only four of the German cities which were subject to fire raids during area attacks.60 Assuming that there may probably have been about 1,000,000 people in Dresden on the night the 13/14 February RAF attack,61 these are the comparative death rates in Dresden and the four cities for which the United States Strategic Bombing Survey has given estimates of moralities from incendiary area attacks:62
City Population Killed Percentage rate
Darmstadt 109,000 8,100 .075
Kassel 220,000 8,659 .039
Dresden 1,000,000 25,000 .025
Hamberg 1,738,000 41,800 .024
Wuppertal 400,000 5,219 .013
The Dresden Bombings Within the Framework of Established Policies Set Forth in Official Bombing Directives:
30. The original Combined Chiefs of Staff Directive governing employment of the British and American strategic air forces established the authoritative principle that the primary effort of the RAF Bomber Command should be the mass destruction of important German industrial areas and population centers by night area bombing and that the primary effort of the American Eighth Air Force should be daylight precision bombing of key installations within the larger industrial and population centers attacked by the RAF Bomber Command.63 (Area raids are defined and described in Section J, below). This joint and complementary effort of the British and American strategic air forces was authorized by the Combined Chiefs of Staff in order to accomplish “the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened.”64 Approved in principle by the Combined Chiefs of Staff on 21 January 1943,65 and specifically inaugurated on 10 June 1943,66 the combined British and American strategic bomber offensive against Germany continued with ever-mounting power until 16 April 1945, when all strategic/air operations against Germany ceased.67 As the war progressed, there were certain alterations in the operational control of the Allied strategic air forces and in the order of priorities assigned to target systems and objectives. (See paragraphs 19-20 above.) By and large, however, there was no alteration in the fundamental principle that American strategic air forces in Europe would engage only in daylight precision raids against specific installations and that night area raids would be conducted by the British. Aside from technological differences in aircraft and equipment that justified the differences in American and British bombing methods, American authorities were, throughout the war in Europe, opposed to the use of American forces in area or “morals” bombings.68
31. Falling within the established pattern of combined British and American strategic air operations against Germany, the 14-15 February bombings of Dresden , particularly the RAF night area raid, were a shattering and devastating blow to the physical structure, the economy, and the life of the city. The achievement of such a blow was necessarily the purpose of the Allied bombings, in consequence of the fact that Dresden, like other great German cities, was a legitimate military target, and vulnerable to Allied air power. It is, however, understandable that the surviving Dresden populace should have regarded the bombings as even more devastating and death-dealing than they actually were,69 and that the bombings were seized upon by the German authorities as a means of conducting psychological warfare against the Allies in the closing months of the war. The distorted and highly exaggerated accounts of the admittedly grim casualties suffered in Dresden issued by German propaganda agencies immediately following the bombings,70 coupled with an inadvertent and misinformed Allied news release concerning the Dresden and other simultaneous bombings, let to an investigation by Headquarters, Army Air Forces, of the purpose and character of the current American strategic bombing operations in Europe.
32. At a meeting with Allied press correspondents on 16 February 1945 a member of the SHAEF public relations staff released inaccurate and misleading statements concerning the current Allied bombing operations against German cities, primarily against communications centers, among which Dresden was obviously included.71 American press accounts of the remarks made to newsmen at SHAEF implied that the American and British bombing forces had begun a deliberate campaign of indiscriminate terror bombing” against German cities, thereby deviating from long-established policies concerning the employment of Allied strategic air power.72 Confirmed with the sensational American news stories and the German propaganda “plants” in the foreign press, Headquarters, Army Air Forces, in Washington, at once demanded from American air authorities in Europe a full explanation of the basis of the lurid press accounts and insisted that American bombing forces must not deviate from official bombing policy, either as to objectives and priorities or as to bombing methods.73
33. Headquarters, United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe, strongly emphasized the following six points in the replies that were immediately dispatched to Washington: (1) it had always been the policy of the American forces that civilian targets were not suitable military objectives; (2) there had been no change in the American policy of precision bombing of military objectives; (3) attacks against German communications were listed as the second priority objective in the Combined Chiefs of Staff “Directive No. 3 for the Strategic Air Forces in Europe (see paragraph 20 above): (4) the power of the Russian advance was regarded ads the greatest strategic factor in the war at that time and should be, as the situation dictated, supported; (5) Dresden, and other key communications centers, had been attacked as targets important to the Eastern Front; (6) the attacks on Dresden and other communications centers were appreciated by the Russians.74 This information satisfied Headquarters, AAF that all open questions concerning the current operations of the American strategic air forces in Europe had been satisfactorily resolved and that the American forces in Europe had been satisfactorily resolved and that the American forces were operating in strict conformity with established bombing policies.75
34. A few weeks later, the issue of the Dresden bombings was reviewed by the Secretary of War. On 6 March 1945, the Secretary was informed by General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff, that Dresden had been bombed on 14-15 February because it was a communications center of great importance, through which reinforcements passed to reach the Russian front, and because the city was closely related to German potentialities for launching a counterattack against the southern wing of the Russian offensive, and that standard bombing methods had been used in the Allied air attacks against Dresden.76 With General Marshall’s statement to the Secretary of War, the issue of the Dresden bombings within the framework of established bombing policies was considered closed.77
The Specific Forces and Means Employed in the Dresden Bombings in Relation to the Forces and Means Employed by the Allies in Other Aerial Attacks on Comparable Targets in Germany:
35. The Allied bombings of Dresden on 14-15 February 1945 were an example of the standard pattern of RAF night area bombing, followed by Eighth Air Force daylight precision attacks against specific installations in the general area--in this instance, attacks against the Dresden Marshalling Yards. A comparative analysis of the forces and means employed by the respective strategic air forces requires, first, a definition and description of area bombing operations.
36. As defined by the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, area attacks were raids “intentionally directed against a city area by more than 100 bombers with a bomb weight in excess of 100 tons, which destroyed more than 2 per cent of the residential buildings in the city attacked.”78 Area raids had four principal characteristics: they were generally made at night; they were made against large cities; they were designed to spread destruction over a wide area rather than to knock out any specific factory or installations; and they were intended primarily to destroy morals, particularly the morals of industrial workers.79 During World War II, Allied air forces--primarily the RAF--dropped more than half a million tons of bombs in area raids on 61 German cities with populations of more than 100,000.80 The Strategic Bombing Survey estimated that the area raids against these 62 German cities totally destroyed or severely damaged 3,600,000 residential units (some 20 per cent of all the dwelling units in Germany) and that the raids killed about 300,000 people, injured some 760,000 and rendered 7,500,000 persons homeless.81 Against at least 40 of the largest cities in Germany, the RAF conducted fire raids as a specific means of area bombing, and it conducted raids on at least eight other cities that were not among the 62 with populations of more than 100,000.82 Moreover, against certain of the largest cities in Germany the RAF conducted more than one fire raid; for example, at least six against Berlin, at least five each against Hamburg, Munich, and Essen, and at least two against Cologne.83
37. The forces and means employed by the RAF in the area bombing of Dresden were significantly, but not unduly large: 722 heavy bombers dropped 1477.7 tons of high explosives and 1181.6 tons of incendiaries, a total weight of 2659.3 tons.84 In its sustained area raids on Hamburg in 1943, the RAF had used comparable numbers of aircraft in single raids; for example, 740 heavy bombers on 24/25 July, 739 on 28/29 July, and 726 on 29/30 July.85 In other area raids, the British had dispatched such tonnages as 11,773 tons of high explosive and 4,106 tons of incendiaries against Cologne on 9 October 1944, 4,368 tons of high explosives and 3,846 tons of incendiaries against Hamburg on 7 August 1943, and 3,476 tons of high explosives and 3,814 tons of incendiaries against Frankfurt-am-Main on 24 March 1944.86
38. In its 14 February daylight precision attacks on the Dresden Marshalling Yards, the Eighth Air Force employed 316 heavy bombers on the 14th for a tonnage of 487.7 tons of high explosives and 294.3 tons of incendiaries, a combined tonnage of 782 tons, and in its attacks on 15 February it employed 211 heavy bombers and 465.6 tons of high explosives (no incendiaries)--a total of 527 bombers and 1247.6 tons in the two days operations.87 In an attack on railway stations in Berlin on 26 February 1945 the Eighth Air Force employed 1089 heavy bombers for a total tonnage of 2778 tons, and in an attack on the Nurnberg Marshalling Yards on 21 February 1945 the Eighth employed 1198 heavy bombers for a total tonnage of 2868.8 tons.88 Analysis of the Eighth Air Force’s operational missions indicates, in fact, that the goals of the attacks on the Dresden Marshalling Yards was relatively small as compared with many sources of precision attacks in which it employed larger forces and means.89
The Specific Ways and the Degrees to Which the Dresden Bombings Achieved or Supported the Strategic Objectives that Underlay the Attack and wars of Mutual Importance to the Allies and the Russians:
39. The Allied bombings of Dresden on 14-15 February 1945 were one of many major air actions undertaken to bring about the defeat of Germany by a combination of Allied air operations, of Allied ground operations against Germany from the west, and Russian operations against Germany from the east. No single action, whether by land, sea, or air, could of itself bring about the defeat of Germany. Each specific action, through whatever medium or by whatever force, was--if successful--an action that contributed to ultimate victory. The Allied bombings of Dresden were by no means either the largest or the most important air actions that were specific contributions to the defeat of Germany. Nevertheless, the bombing of Dresden was by its design and the degree of success achieved a highly significant air action.
40. The major significance of the Dresden bombings lay in the fact that they were among several immediate and highly successful air actions made in response to the specific Russian request, given by General Antonov at the ARGONAUT Conference, less than two weeks earlier, for Allied air support of the Russian offensive on the Eastern Front. Had the German communications centers leading to that front--among which Dresden was uniquely important--act been successfully attacked by Allied strategic air forces, there can be little doubt that the course of the European war might have been considerably prolonged.90 At the time of the Dresden bombings, Marshal Koniev’s armies were less than seventy miles east of Dresden and by virtue of their extended positions highly vulnerable to German counterattack, provided the Germans could pass reinforcements through Dresden.91 With communications through Dresden made impossible as a consequence of the Allied bombings, the Russian salient in that area was rendered safe throughout the ensuing months of the war.92
41. Of secondary significance, but by no means negligible, was the destruction or disruption of Dresden’s manufacturing activities, particularly of military goods, and the further reduction of Germany’s critically short railway rolling stock and operating facilities. Again, the death and destruction inflicted on the largest German city that had not before undergone large--scale bombing was almost certainly a major contribution to the final weakening of the will of the German people to resist. While the Americans, happily, cannot and would not claim credit for this aspect of the Dresden bombings, the fact remains that the RAF area raid on the city was the last of the instances during World War II in Europe when the shock effects of area bombing resulted in nearly total demoralization of a great enemy city.93
42. The ultimate significance of the Dresden bombings in terms of the strategic objectives that underlay the attack and were of mutual importance to the Allies and the Russians is evident in statements bearing on the last phase of operations that were designed to bring about the final defeat of Germany. On 28 March 1945, in a personal message to Marshal Stalin, General Eisenhower, outlined his plans for total defeat of the German ground forces in the west and stated that his final task would be to divide the enemy’s forces “by joining hands with your forces.”94 The best axis on which to effect the junction of forces, General Eisenhower stated, would be a line through Erfurt-Leipzig-Dresden.95 On 1 April Marshal Stalin replied to General Eisenhower: “Your plan of dividing the German forces by means of the union of Soviet armies with your armies completely falls in with the plan of the Soviet High Command. I also agree that the place of the junction of your and the Soviet Armies should be in the area of Erfurt-Leipzig-Dresden.”96 Less than four weeks later, on 27 April, American and Russian forces joined at Torgau, on the Elbe river near Leipzig, and Hitler’s Germany had been cut in two.97 Eleven days later, on V-E Day (8 May 1945), in the final military action in the war against Germany, Marshal Koniev’s armies entered and captured Dresden. The war in Europe was over.98
The foregoing historical analysis establishes the following definitive answers to the recurring questions concerning the February 1945 bombings of Dresden by Allied strategic air forces:
a. Dresden was a legitimate military target.
b. Strategic objectives, of mutual importance to the Allies and the Russians, underlay the bombings of Dresden.
c. The Russians requested that the Dresden area be bombed by Allied air forces.
d. The Supreme Allied Commander, his Deputy Supreme Commander, and the key British and American operational air authorities recommended and ordered the bombing of Dresden.
e. The Russians were officially informed by the Allies concerning the intended date of and the forces to be committed to the bombing of Dresden.
f. The RAF Bomber Command employed 772 heavy bombers, 1477.7 tons of high explosive and 1181.6 tons of incendiary bombs, and American Eighth Air Force employed a total of 527 heavy bombers, 953.3 tons of high explosive and 294.3 tons of incendiary bombs, in the 14-15 February bombings of Dresden.
g. The specific target objectives in the Dresden bombings were, for the RAF Bomber Command, the Dresden city area, including industrial plants, communications, military installations, and for the American Eighth Air Force, the Dresden Marshalling Yards and railway facilities.
h. The immediate and actual consequences of the Dresden bombings were destruction or severe damage to at least 23 per cent of the city’s industrial buildings; severe damage to at least 56 per cent of the city’s non-industrial buildings (exclusive of dwellings); destruction or severe damage to at least 50 percent of the residential units in the city’s non-industrial buildings (exclusive of dwellings); destruction or severe damage to at least 50 percent of the residential units in the city, and at least some damage to 80 per cent of the city’s dwellings; the total disruption of the city as a major communications center, in consequence of destruction and damage inflicted on its railway facilities; and death to probably 25,000 persons and serious injury to probably 30,000 others, virtually all of these casualties being the result of the RAF area raid.
i. The Dresden bombings were in no way a deviation from established bombing policies set forth in official bombing directives.
j. The specific forces and means employed in the Dresden bombings were in keeping with the forces and means employed by the Allies in other aerial attacks on comparable targets in Germany.
k. The Dresden bombings achieved the strategic objectives that underlay the attack and were of mutual importance to the Allies and the Russians.
Allied Aerial Bombardments of the Seven Largest German Cities99
City Population in 1939 American Tonnage British Tonnage Total Tonnage
Berlin 4,339,000 22,090.3 45,517 67,607.3
Hamburg 1,129,000 17,104.6 22,583 39,687.6
Munich 841,000 11,471.4 7,858 27,110.9
Cologne 772,000 10,211.2 34,712 44,923.2
Leipzig 707,000 5,410.4 6,206 11,616.4
Essen 667,000 1,518.0 36,420 37,938.0
Dresden 642,000 4,441.2 2,659.3 7,100.5
1. Statistics on 8th Air Force bombing from Eighth Air Force Target Summary, Period 17 August 1942 thru 8 May 1945, p. 20. Supporting Document No. 1, Statistics on RAF Bomber Command bombing from Allied Air Attacks Against Targets in Dresden, Headquarters, United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe, Office of the Commanding General, p 1. Supporting Document No. 2.
2. Census of 17 May 1939 as reported in The Statesman’s Year Book, London, 1945, p. 960. Within Greater Germany, which after 1938 included Austria, Dresden ranked eight in size.
3. Statistisches Handbuch von Deutschland: 1928-1944 (Statistical Handbook of Germany, 1928-1944), Munich, 1949, p. 19
4. Encyclopedia Brittanica, Chicago, 1948, Vol. IV, p. 646
5. Chambers Encyclopedia, New York, 1950, Vol. IV, p. 636.
6. Chambers Encyclopedia, New York, 1950, Vol. IV, p. 636.
7. Statistisches Handbuch von Deutschland: 1928-1944, Munich, 1949, p. 8 (for land area), p. 343 (for railway mileage, and p. 353 (for railway tonnage).
8. Dresden, Germany, City Area, Economic Reports, Vol. No. 2, Headquarters U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, 10 July 1945; and OSS London, No. B-1799/4, 3 March 1945, in same item.
9. Interpretation Report No. K. 4171, Dresden, 22 March 19145, Supporting Document No. 3.
10. Interpretation Report No. K. 4171, Dresden, 22 March 1945, Supporting Document No. 3.
11. OSS London, T-3472, Germany: Air/Political, Conditions in Dresden, 6 April 1945, in same source as footnote 8.
12. MS NO. P-050, Historical Division, European Command
13. United States Army in World War II: The European Theatre of Operations: Cross-Channel Attack, Washington, D. C., 1951, pp. 121-126. (This volume is by G. A. Harrison.)
15. OCTAGON Summary, Office No. 691, United States Military Mission Moscow, 16 September 1944; Memorandum of Conversation, Marshal I. Y. Stalin, Prime Minister Churchill, Ambassador Harriman, Moscow, 14 October 1944.
17. Memorandum, Conversation between the American Ambassador, Mr. Harriman, and Marshal I. V. Stalin, 14 December 1944. Supporting Document No. 4
19. Message, SHAEF 1659 WARX-82070, 25 December 1944. Supporting Document No. 5.
20. Message, WARX-82144 SHAEF, 26 December 1944. Supporting Document No. 6.
21. Memorandum of Conference with Marshal Stalin, 15 January 1945. Supporting Document No. 7.
22. Same item and Message 22378, U.S. Military Mission Moscow, 16 January 1945. Supporting Document No. 8.
23. J.I.C. (45) 31 (O) (Revised Final), 25 January 1945. Supporting Document No. 9.
26. Message, SHAEF SCM OUT 4025 1274A, 31 January 1945 . Supporting Document No. 11.
27. ARGONAUT Conference Minutes of the Plenary Meeting between the U.S.A., Great Britain, and the U.S.S.R., held in Livadia Palace, Yalta, on Sunday, 4 February 1945, at 1700. Supporting Document No. 12.
28. Message, Air Ministry NSW 207, Serial No. 7/9, 8 February 1945. Supporting Document No. 13.
29. Message, SHAEF SCM IM 5157, 14 January 1945. Supporting Document No. 14.
30. Supporting Document No. 15.
32. Message, ARGONAUT-OUT-43, 061739Z, 6 February 1945, Supporting Document No. 16; Message HQ USTAAF UA-53861, 7 February 1945, Supporting Document No. 17; letter, Maj. Gen. S. P. Spalding, Acting Chief, U.S. Military Mission (Moscow), to Maj. Gen. N. V. Slavin, Assistant Chief of Staff of Red Army, 8 February 1945, Supporting Document No. 18; Message, ARGONAUT 122, 10 February 1945, Supporting Document No. 19; letter, Spalding to Slavin, 10 February 1945 , Supporting Document No. 20; Message, HQ HAAF MI-45899, 11 February 1945, Supporting Document No. 21.
33. Supporting Document No. 12
34. Message, USTAAF UA-53861, 7 February 1945. Supporting Document No. 22. It must be presumed that the Commander-in-Chief, RAF Bomber Command, forwarded a similar message to the British Military Mission, Moscow, although the documentary sources that would verify this fact are not available at the present time to the USAF.
36. Letter, Maj. Gen. S. P. Spalding, Acting Chief, U.S. Military Mission, Moscow, to Maj. Gen. N. V. Slavin, Assistant Chief of Staff of Red Army, 8 February 1945. Supporting Document No. 23.
37. Message, HQ USTAFF US-642102, 12 February 1945. Supporting Document No. 24.
38. Letter, Maj. Gen. E. W. Hill, Chief, Air Division, U.S. Military Mission, Moscow, to Maj. Gen. N. V. Slavin, Assistant Chief of Staff of Red Army, 12 February 1945. Supporting Document No. 25. Again, it must be presumed that similar information was conveyed to the Russians by the British, through the British Military Mission, indicating that the RAF Bomber Command was preparing to strike Dresden.
39. Message, Eighth Air Force D-63497, 13 February 1945. Supporting Document No. 26.
40. Message, Eighth Air Force D-0010, 13 February 1945, Supporting Document No. 27; Letter, Lt. Col. D. V. Anderson, Executive Officer, Air Division, U.S. Military Mission, Moscow, to Maj. Gen. N. V. Slavin, Assistant Chief of Staff of Red Army, 13 February 1945, Supporting Document No. 28.
41. Message, HQ USTAFF UAX-64452, 18 February 1945. Supporting Document No. 29.
42. All figures in this paragraph taken from Eighth Air Force Target Summary, Period 17 August 1942 thru 8 May 1945, p. 20, and Allied Air Attacks Against Targets in Dresden. Headquarters, United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe, p.1. Supporting Documents Nos. 1 and 2.
44. See Supporting Document No. 3 and footnote 8.
45. See Supporting Documents Nos. 1 and 3.
46. RAF incendiary raids on 32 German cities (exclusive of Dresden) with populations over 100,000 are described and analyzed in Fire Raids on German Cities. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Physical Damage Division, 1947. Especially pertinent sections of this document are reproduced in Supporting Documents Nos. 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35.
47. Supporting Document No. 3.
49. OSS London, T-3472, Germany: Air/Political, Conditions in Dresden, 6 April 1945. Endnotes 8 and 11.
50. Air Ministry, RE. 8. Area Attack Assessment: Dresden, undated (filed 30 October 1945). Supporting Document No. 35.
51. Supporting Document No. 3.
52. Contemporary estimates of one number of refugees and evacuees in Dresden in February 1945 ranged from several hundred thousand into several millions. See Supporting Document No. 2 (second enclosure thereto) and extract from Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, 1943-1946, p. 7054, in Supporting Document No. 36.
53. Supporting Document No. 34.
54. Air Ministry RE. 8, Area Attack: Dresden. Supporting Document No. 35.
55. Supporting documents Nos. 37 and 38.
56. Supporting Document No. 2 (second enclosure thereto) for examples of the propaganda releases issued by the Germans immediately following the bombings.
57. MS No. P-050, Historical Division, European Command
58. Overall Report (European War), United States Strategic Bombing Survey, 30 September 1945, p. 95
60. Fire Raids on German Cities, United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Physical Damage Division, January 1945. Supporting Document No. 34.
61. Contemporary estimates of one number of refugees and evacuees in Dresden in February 1945 ranged from several hundred thousand into several millions. Supporting Document No. 2 and extract from Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, 1943-1946, p. 7054, in Supporting Document No. 36.
62. The Report of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, used as the basis for this comparison does not list the number of injured in the fire raids cited.
63. CCS 166/1/D, 21 January 1943.
66. Report of Lieutenant General Ira C. Eaker on USAAF Activities in the UK Covering Period from February 20, 1942 to 31 December 1943.
67. USTAFF Message 161551B, 16 April 1945.
68. A basic statement of the American objectives to participating in area and morale bombing in Europe is contained in the remarks of General H. H. Arnold and Admiral William D. Leahy in the minutes of Joint Chiefs of Staff, 176th Meeting, 14 September 1944.
69. On 14 February, following the RAF area bombing of the city, Heinrich Himmler, Chief of the German SS, sent this message to the head of the SS in Dresden: “The attacks were obviously severe, yet every first air raid gives the impression that the town has been completely destroyed.” Supporting Document No. 2
70. Same item, and Supporting Document No. 27
71. War Department Message CM-IN-18753, 19 February 1945.
72. War Department Message CM-IN-39730, 18 February 1945. Support Document No. 39.
73. War Department Message CM-OUT-39222, 17 February 1945. Support Document No. 40.
74. War Department Message CM-IN-18652 and 18745 , 18 and 19 February 1945. Supporting Documents Nos. 41 and 42.
75. War Department Message CM-OUT-39954, 19 February 1945. See Supporting Document No. 43.
76. Memorandum for the Secretary of War, by G. C. Marshall, Chief of Staff, 6 March 1945. Supporting Document No. 44.
77. Official files for 1945 do not contain further significant reference to the Dresden bombings of 14-15 February 1945.
78. Over-all Report (European War), United States Strategic Bombing Survey, p. 72.
79. Over-all Report (European War), United States Strategic Bombing Survey, p. 71.
80. Over-all Report (European War), United States Strategic Bombing Survey, p. 72.
82. Fire Raids on German Cities, United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Table No. 2.
83. Fire Raids on German Cities, United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Tables Nos. 4 and 5.
84. See paragraph 23, above.
85. A Detailed Study of the Effects of Area Bombing on Hamburg, United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Area Studies Division, January 1947.
86. Fire Raids on German Cities, United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Table No. 5.
87. See paragraph 23, above.
88. Eighth Air Force Target Summary, Period 17 August 1942 thru 8 May 1945.
90. Memorandum for the Secretary of War, by G. C. Marshall, 6 March 1945, Supporting Document No. 44
91. See Map No. II.
92. See Maps III-V.
93. Over-All (European), United States Strategic Bombing Survey, p. 74.
94. SHAEF Message 18264, 28 March 1945. Supporting Document No. 45.
96. Telegram from Marshal I. Stalin to General Eisenhower, 1 April 1945. Supporting Document No. 46.
97. David Marley, The Daily Telegraph Story of the War: January 1st-September 9th, 1945, London, 1946, p. 142.
98. Facts on File Yearbook 1945, New York, 1945, p. 142.
99. For American bomb tonnages, Eight Air Force Target Summary, Period 17 August 1942 thru 8 May 1945, and Fifteenth Air Force Daily Bombing Operations by Target; for Britian tonnages, War Room Manual of Bomber Command Operations 1939-1945.