INGLORIOUS ALLIES DURING WW2: Terror Bombing German Cities

After the war Robert Saunby, Deputy Air Marshal at Bomber Command, commented on the bombing of Dresden. 

The bombing of Dresden was a great tragedy none can deny. It is not so much this or the other means of making war that is immoral or inhumane. What is immoral is war itself. Once full-scale war has broken out it can never be humanized or civilized, and if one side attempted to do so it would be most likely to be defeated. That to me is the lesson of Dresden. 

American B-17  bomb German cities
American B-17 roar in the skies on the way to bomb German cities
In some 50 cities that were primary targets of the air attack, the proportion of destroyed or heavily damaged dwelling units is about 40 percent. The result of all these attacks was to render homeless some 7.500.000 German civilians.

-US Strategic Bombing Survey 1940-1945 

In Europe, the American Eighth Air Force conducted its raids in daylight. USAAF leaders firmly held to the claim of "precision" bombing of military targets for much of the war, and dismissed claims they were simply bombing cities. However the Eighth received the first H2X radar sets in December 1943. Within two weeks of the arrival of these first six sets, the Eighth command gave permission for them to area bomb a city using H2X and would continue to authorize, on average, about one such attack a week until the end of the war in Europe.

In reality, the day bombing was "precision bombing" only in the sense that most bombs fell somewhere near a specific designated target such as a railway yard. Conventionally, the air forces designated as "the target area" a circle having a radius of 1000 feet around the aiming point of attack. Survey studies show, In the fall of 1944, only seven per cent of all bombs dropped by the Eighth Air Force hit within 1,000 feet of their aim point.

Allied bombing German cities WW2 Statistics

'There was always at the briefing some military reason given for our attack. It was either a steel-producing town or there was a lot of small industry making precision instruments. But the policy was the destruction of towns. You destroy a town, you hinder the war effort in many ways, and that in itself was the justification. The big mistake was to think that by breaking German morale it would end the war. The morale of the German population was utterly and completely broken, but this had no effect on the hierarchy, the people who were actually directing the war. In the Third Reich the popular voice could not have any influence.
Peter Hinchliffe OBE
Bomber Command

-Richard G Davis American Bombardment Policy against Germany, 1942-1945, Air Power Review, Volume 6 Number 3, pp. 49–62. (see p. 54 (PDF 63).
-United States Strategic Bombing Survey

During the Second World War, the Allied aerial forces performed air raids civilian populations in Europe and over Japan. These actions were not only defined crimes in retrospect, but were also viewed as such by the leaders of the Axis Powers during the war itself, despite the fact they themselves did likewise. On June 6, 1944, at a conference of top Nazi leaders in Klessheim, the German Minister of Foreign Affairs Joachim von Ribbentrop tried to introduce a resolution to define air raids on civilians as acts of terror, but his motion was rejected.

Source; Trial of German Major War Criminals, vol. 10, pp. 382-383.

Nearing the end of the War, shelter accommodation was available for only about eight million German people. The remainder sheltered in basements, and casualties in these places of refuge were heavy. 


The Bombing of Dresden was a military bombing by the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) & the British Royal Air Force (RAF) as part of the allied forces, between 13 February and 15 February 1945 in the Second World War. In four raids, 1,300 heavy bombers dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city, the Baroque capital of the German state of Saxony. The resulting firestorm destroyed 15 square miles (39 square kilometres) of the city centre.

Dresden after  American British bombimg
Dresden after the American and British bombers had done their job

As the flames subsided, the residents of Dresden discovered that 24,866 out of the 28,410 houses in the inner city were destroyed - an area of total destruction extending over eleven square miles. As for the death toll, German authorities gave up trying to work out the precise total after some 35,000 bodies had been recognized, labeled, and buried while hundreds of cellars and air raid shelters remained unopened. 

There was far too great a risk for the spread of disease to allow the proper identification of the dead. So, a massive funeral pyre was constructed in the Altmarkt where thousands more were burned.

Mass cremation German civilians killed
Mass cremation of German civilians killed
'Bomber Command was the only weapon we possessed. Bomber Command was available and had to be used every day and every night, weather permitting. Had that force been available and Churchill had got up and said, in the House of Commons, "Well, we have this large bomber force available, but I'm afraid we mustn't use it because as it operates at night we can't be sure of hitting specific targets, and women and children may get killed", the British people would have been outraged and they would have said, "Not attack them because civilians might get killed? Have you gone mad? Hitler's been killing civilians all over Europe, including England." If Churchill had said that he wouldn't have survived as Prime Minister. Morality is a thing you can indulge in an environment of peace and security, but you can't make moral judgements in war, when it's a question of national survival.'

Charles Patterson,
Bomber Command pilot

Charred remains Dresden people killed fire bombing
This is what remained of the people of Dresden
With such a large amount of undocumented refugees in the city, coupled with the number of people who were outright incinerated or ripped apart by the violent winds, it is impossible to come up with an exact casualty figure. Some scholars have claimed that approximately 30,000 perished, but this estimate is far too low. Even the German authorities who, a few days after the attack, put the total somewhere between 120,000 and 150,000 could have underestimated the final amount. By way of clarification, on the night of the raid, there were approximately 1,250,000 people in the city. After the fire storm subsided, there were just under 370,000. Certainly, the majority of the 800,000 refugees were successful in fleeing Dresden? However, it is entirely justifiable to assume that approximately one quarter of these individuals actually perished in the flames. Therefore, an amount which was closer to reality, which according to American historians was mere propaganda, was provided by Dr. Goebbels -- 260,000. 

Stars & Stripes
London Edition, Saturday, May 5, 1945, Vol. 5, No. 156 

Air Raid on Dresden Killed More Than 300,000 
by Dan Regan
Stars and Stripes Staff Writer 

With the 1st Army, May 3 (Delayed) -- The Allied air raid on Dresden on Feb. 13-14 killed 300,000 persons, according to a report by Dresden police to a group of 600 -- British and French -- prisoners who were given passes by the Germans to enter the American lines. 

Nine British PWs were working in Dresden during the raid and said the horror and devastation caused by the Anglo-American 14-hour raid was beyond human comprehension unless one could see for himself. 

One British sergeant said,

"Reports from Dresden police that 300,000 died as a result of the bombing didn't include deaths among 1,000,000 evacuees from the Breslau area trying to escape from the Russians. There were no records on them. 

"After seeing the results of the bombing, I believe these figures are correct."

"They had to pitchfork shriveled bodies onto trucks and wagons and cart them to shallow graves on the outskirts of the city. But after two weeks if work the job became too much to cope with and they found other means to gather up the dead." 

"They burned bodies in a great heap in the center of the city, but the most effective way, for sanitary reasons, was to take flamethrowers and burn the dead as they lay in the ruins. They would just turn the flamethrowers into the houses, burn the dead and then close off the entire area. The whole city is flattened. They were unable to clean up the dead lying beside roads for several weeks," the sergeant added.


The attack during the last week of July, 1943, Operation Gomorrah, created one of the greatest firestorms raised by the RAF and United States Army Air Force in WWII, killing 42,600 civilians and wounding 37,000 in Hamburg and practically destroying the entire city. The unusually warm weather and good conditions meant that the bombing was unusually concentrated around the intended targets and also created a vortex and whirling updraft of super-heated air which created a 1,500-foot-high tornado of fire, a totally unexpected effect. Various other previously used techniques and devices were instrumental as well, such as area bombing, Pathfinders, and H2S radar, which came together to work particularly effectively. 'Window' was successfully used for the first time - clouds of shredded tinfoil dropped by Pathfinders as well as the initial bomber stream - in order to completely cloud German radar. The raids inflicted severe damage to German armaments production in Hamburg.

Hamburg ruins after Allied bombings
This is what remained of Hamburg after the bombing
Bombing of Pforzheim in World War II

During the latter stages of World War II, Pforzheim, a town in southwestern Germany, was bombed a number of times. The largest raid, and one of the most devastating area bombardments of the war was carried out by the Royal Air Force (RAF) on the evening of February 23, 1945. 31,4% of the town's population, up to 17,600 people, were killed in the air raid. About 83% of the town's buildings were destroyed, two-thirds of the complete area of Pforzheim and between 80 and 100% of the inner city.

The Bombing of Kassel.

In 2003 A ceremony was been held in the central German town of Kassel, marking the 60th anniversary of an allied bombing raid that claimed more than 10,000 lives in a single night. The event, at which eye-witnesses relived the horror of that night, with a book been published with shocking photographs of German air raid victims which have never been seen before. Mr Friedrich collected the photos from town archives across Germany while touring the country last year presenting a book about the Allied bombing. 

War is horrible; war is immoral. But you fight it the way you can. Look what happens to innocent civilians when armies roll across great territories and take cities. How many civilians died at Stalingrad? Outside Moscow? Or Leningrad? We were fighting one of the most immoral entities on the planet, and we had to fight it the best way we could. I just cannot and will never accept that bombing Germany was immoral.'
Air Marshal Sir John Curtiss KCB KBE
Bomber Command navigator

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