Firebombing of Dresden during World War II

As a Catholic how do you feel about this? Necessary or war crime?

Not a Catholic yet, but its a war crime. The city had no real strategic value, and was targeted for maximum civilian casualties anyway. The Allies spared it bombing (as they did Hiroshima and Nagasaki-like Dresden the citizens thought their beautiful cities were being spared to serve as a base for the occupying Allied forces) to lull civilians into thinking it was safe so more would refugees would flock there.

its worth noting the brains behind this, Air Marshall Harris, head of the RAF bomber command had a list of 50 or so more cities he wanted to incinerate.

I am not up on all the history (nor did I read the link) but:


2314 "Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation."110 A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons - to commit such crimes.

World War II was unique … it was truly a WORLD war and it was a fight to the death.

If Hitler’s army had been able to close the gap between El Alamein, virtually a suburb of Alexandria and Cairo in Egypt and seize the Suez Canal, likely the Nazi’s would have won World War II.

[They would have linked up with the Arab League that “controlled” as far as India. India was in revolt so they could have been persuaded to join the Axis. And Japan was already attacking eastern India [what is now Bangladesh].

That distance is only a hundred miles or so.

The Germans would have had easy access to the Balkan oil fields.

Game over.

The Germans would have won World War II.

And we would not be having this discussion.

So the Allies had no choice but to fight back on every front, including the air war over Europe, which caused Hitler to pull a million men, and thousands of artillery pieces and many airplanes away from other fronts to fight the British and American air assault.

We fought with what we had. We had no other options.

At that time, bombers had poor engines [low power, poor reliability] , very poor navigation [maps were horrible and the weather was atrocious … you were lucky to get one bomb within five miles of a pinpoint target], German anti-aircraft was excellent. We tried bomber streams and we tried using master bombers/ pathfinders. With generally poor results. So we ended up with trying area bombing. Most air attacks had poor results and it was only by sheer persistence and high loss rates were we finally able to achieve anything.

The net effect was to cause the Germans to put HUGE resources into air defense and that pulled desperately needed resources away from Africa and the war against Russia.

The person who designed the air war over Germany, Arthur Harris, was criticized … although no one had any better ideas. So, the Brits held their noses and let him do his work. After the war, he left England and had to live elsewhere.

World War II was a very close thing.

Necessary. Yes.

Nice. No.

But it wasn’t a “nice” war.

As I understand it, the bombing was in support of the Russians because SS-General Sepp Dietrich’s 6th SS Panzer Army was passing through on the way to the Eastern Front. It was probably not necessary, but the British probably thought it was there last chance for revenge for the Blitz.

I’m not completely convinced that the allies knew the extent of the destruction at Dresden in WWII; sort of like Hiroshima. So many non-combatants died and the destruction was total…I’m not sure that’s what they had in mind.

Great show of force, yes. Death of so many innocents? I’m not totally sure.

As far as a war crime, in retrospect, history is written by the victors. :shrug:

hmm, that is interesting. I just watched a NOVA program about photo interpreters during the war in Britain. After the battle of Britain, they refitted some of the Spitfires to carry cameras (and to fly higher to avoid anti-aircraft). Anyways, what these people found was rocket launch sites for the V-1 flying bomb and they would make maps and models of the area so these could be bombed. These bombs where pointed right at London (actually built for terror bombing). Supposedly, the allies bombed a bunch of launch sites pointed at British ports, in order to enable the V-day invasion.
They used the same approach to breach 3 dams (hydroelectric power), and found out that the Germans had developed rocket technology. The, which successfully landed on London and killed many people (not to mention the 12,000 slaves how died making it). These were mobile, as the Germans would lay down a cement slab, put up the rocket, fuel it, set it off and leave, making them impossible to stop. (Though they did bomb one development bunker, killing some of the main scientists.

So war crime? Maybe, but I find the proof, to be slim, they might of had intelligence of factories or a weapon, or maybe they were just trying to make the citizens turn on Hitler. :shrug:

So war crime? Maybe, but I find the proof, to be slim, they might of had intelligence of factories or a weapon, or maybe they were just trying to make the citizens turn on Hitler. :shrug:

Perhaps the Allies thought bombing the cities would wreck the German economy and shorten the war. It certainly had some effect. Near the end, Germany had essentially no air force. American planes could fly around at will, only watching out for anti-aircraft guns.

How effective was the bombing towards defeating the Nazis? That has been debated for over 65 years. Nobody know the answer.
Therefore, it’s rather pretentious of us to criticize people who had to make difficult decisions before we were born.

As a Catholic and as a human being, I feel terrible about it…Along with the bombing of Hamburg, Berlin, London Coventry, Pearl Harbor, Manila, Rotterdam, Tokyo, Singapore, Kobe, Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Nanking, Peking, Rome, Monte Cassino, Moscow, Leningrad, Stalingrad, Minsk, Regensburg and Schweinfurt, Ploesti, Batavia, etc…
Not one belligerent in the war has clean hands, and it began even before the “official” beginning of WW II with poison gas bombs in Ethiopia, and targeting civilians in the Spanish civil war. And of course it all Culminated with the Atom bombs…

Thankfully such bombings are, for the most part, consigned to history. We can feel bad that they occurred. We can seek to learn from the madness that brought on such horrendous and bestial bloodletting by all sides.

beyond that, there is little that can be done.

That’s what I think about it as a Catholic.


If World War II is of interest, there are some excellent authors who are doing superb historical writing.

Max Hastings is one. And you can dial him up on as well.

The other is Martin Gilbert.

There are many others as well.

I would be remiss if I omitted this: written by Winston Churchill … SIX volumes!

You might visit the threads on Hiroshima. The poster who uses the name “Chesterton” is an outstanding historian in his own right. And he shares his ideas and his sources freely.

The world is filled with “what if’s”. The magazine “Military History” even has a special edition with nothing but “what if’s”.

That’s why I insist that World War II was such a close run thing.

AND, if that isn’t enough, you can read an interesting “alternative history” here:

[If they Germans had simply changed their codes more often, they would have won the submarine battle in the Atlantic.]

Ideally Air forces on both sides wanted to attack by day for the obvious reason that it is easier to find and hit your target. Such targets were intended to be either tactical (airfields, naval bases and such) or strategic (Ports, factories etc).
In the case of the Germans and the British it was determined that these were too costly and so they each switched to night bombing. At night one could not “pin-point” targets and cities, even blacked out were easier to locate. Thus, so called "area Bombing was adopted.
The justifications for this were simple (items below not in any particular order).

  1. Negatively effect morale. This was almost never achieved to any great extent.
  2. Industry is located near population centers. Bombing in and around cities is bound to negatively effect production. again, not terribly effective.
  3. Dislocate Population. This was fairly successful and became more so as the war went on. The destruction of German cities and infrastructure, caused greater hardships and required more and more resources to be used to repair and replace, provide housing etc for German civilians.

The American Air Force was dead set on daylight precision bombing. It was costly in lives, but promised a greater return on investment by quickly and directly effecting German industry. In the daylight skies over Europe this was easier said than done. Between weather, Luftwaffe fighters and Flak, it was tough to consistently put bombs on target.
What it DID do was to add even more stress to the German resources. “Bombing around the clock” caused more damage thus requiring even more resources to be used up.

The biggest thing that the daylight bombing campaign did was to destroy the Luftwaffe. Not by destroying the factories, but by shooting down planes and killing experienced pilots. Once effective long range fighters were available, the Bombers actually became “bait” to draw the German fighters up to be attacked and shot down by allied fighters.
By June 1944 there were no fighters left in France to oppose the D-day invasion.

As you say above, how much the bombing campaign contributed to victory over Germany is debatable. To one extent or another, both sides of the “Bombing argument” had to eat crow. The bombers did not do as well as their proponents had hoped, but then again they did a lot more than their detractors thought they could.
One this is clear…The Bombing campaign DID contribute.


Wiki has its own shortcomings; however, this is an interesting article with links to others. It’s a mesmerizing read:

Although the RAF Bomber Command and the US Eighth Air Force did huge damage to Germany, they also suffered some of the highest number of losses of the entire war [apart from the Russians who lost 27 million people!

And this interview was also very interesting:


2314 "Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation."110 A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons - to commit such crimes.

Errr…how so? The nation that couldn’t cross the English channel was supposed to conquer the world? I always have to laugh when an American said, “We could all be speaking German”. The idea of them crossing the Atlantic is mind-bogglingly silly.

The Germans, with no real air force and a joke of a navy, were not really that much of a threat beyond central Europe’s plains. Not to mention Hitler was sickly and the country would have collapsed when his toads fought over his throne anyway.

As far as I’m concerned the real tragedy is that the Soviets won and actually did make about half the world suffer, starve, and die for some 60 years.

To stay kind of topic Dresden had no real strategic, military, or economic value. Berlin (like London) was a valid military target for either side for obvious reasons.


Morally reprehensible?

War Crime?

The Brits knew what was supposed to happen, i.e. the firstorms. They’d tried it out on Hamburg nearly two years earlier under the code name ‘Gamorrah’.

Even Bomber Harris was ashamed of this episode.

Luckily for him, he was on the winning side.

You are kind in your comment. But it’s entirely too early for me to start in on this general topic again. Maybe 6 months from now.


Necessary because it caused maximum disruption to German infrastructure, population, military transportation and communications at a time when the Russian army was advancing in the east.

Necessary because the Allies were fighting a maniacal fascist dictator who was responsible for the deaths of millions of people, and who desired lebensraum for his volk, and slave populations, and subject states to arm and supply his Storm Troopers.

Necessary, because it was a war of attrition, and was always going to end up being fought door to door on the streets of either London or Berlin.

Necessary, because the time for talking was long over - “less Jaw, Jaw, and more War, War.”

Necessary, because the Germans were racing the clock to design their own weapons of mass destruction.

Necessary to raise Russian moral and destroy German moral.

That being said the suffering was appalling, horrendous, terrible, beyond belief, and as bad as Nagasaki and Hiroshima, if a little less in scale.

But necessary.

Just like Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This is a little bit off topic.

This whole notion of “war”.

And “rules” for war.

And the sparing of civilian populations.

I’ve been taking a study course of the Bible and we’re up to Solomon. The course is excellent because it follows a time line. It’s produced by people like Matt Pinto and Jeff Cavins. Really excellent.

Anyway, I always thought that we got the whole Bible when we went to daily Mass. Well, not so sure. Because so far, we are about a thousand years into it and it’s all war. Mass slaughter. Not just the Israelites / Chosen People. [the names change] But everybody wages total war at all times. It’s pretty brutal. We have a large class … ~ 50 people … and even the military people in the group are getting PTSD just reading the battles. No joke.

There is another thread about the time period around 33 - 40 AD and the military campaigns in the region are endless.

Just read the end of the thread.

My point is that Dresden was the norm for war.

And the avoidance of civilian casualties was a somewhat unusual attempt to “civilize” war.

We had what we now call World War I and World War II.

And now it looks like the Europeans are trying to start a war with Iran and the Europeans do not have the resources to either conduct a war or to absorb the economic consequences of a war.

Seems to me there is a parable or story about kings [they really only controlled small cities] needing to add up the cost BEFORE they start a war.

In the case of Europe, they have been starting wars that they cannot win and then they use their “agents” in the United States to get us involved on one side or the other. Because the United States has more natural resources and is willing to spend more money on military spending than the Europeans are willing to spend.

Happened in World War I and in World War II.

End of rant.

Much truth in what you say above. Hitler himself said he was a coward on the water. The Wehrmacht had no real amphibious doctrine, and while they managed to do OK against an unprepared country like Norway, it would have been another matter entirely for them to try to invade across the channel or across the Atlantic.

In a completely alternate scenario where everything goes Hitler’s way where England is driven from the war and the USSR collapses, we have a world not too different from the historical one except instead of the USSR being the “Evil Empire”, it would be the Nazi Empire. I discount Japan because, even with a Nazi victory in Europe, if Japan goes to war against the US…It’s lights out for Japan.

I’m quite sure the Nazi’s would seek to use the same tactics to export fascism that the Russians did communism. They would seek to subvert various governments where-ever in the world they could. The US would oppose this in every way possible…

Eventually - and perhaps even quicker than Soviet communism - Nazism would collapse.


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