Prior to the Second World War, Dresden was one of Europe’s most beautiful cities and known to many as “the Florence on the Elbe.” On the night of February 13, 1945 — just twelve weeks before the end of the war in Europe — it was bombed for the first time, causing a firestorm and massive loss of life.
Between February 13 and February 15, 1945, 1300 heavy bombers dropped over 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices in four separate raids. The RAF bombed at night; the USAAF during the day. The resulting firestorm destroyed 13 square miles of the historic city center. Although the bombing had not been nearly as intense as on other German cities, the old buildings were timber-framed and the cellars were connected, feeding air to the greedy fire. The city was also completely taken by surprise by the attack, and with few anti-aircraft defenses it was left terribly unprotected. It was estimated that between 35,000 and 135,000 people were killed, a number which Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels inflated by a factor of ten.
Goebbels and other high ranking Nazi officials wished to use Dresden as an excuse to abandon the Geneva Convention on the Western Front. The Minister himself claimed that Dresden was a city with little to no war industries and as such the Allies had already broken the Convention themselves. None the less raids continued until April 17, though subsequent bombing did little more than churn the rumble. One question, however, still remains unanswered: was the raid on one of Europe’s most beautiful cities really necessary?