"German cities... will be subjected to an ordeal the like of which has never been experienced by a country in duration, severity and magnitude."
†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †† ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Churchill, 3 June 1942.
"In order to achieve the extirpation of nazi tiranny there are no lengths of violence to which we will not go."†††††††††
†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† † †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Churchill, 21 September 1943.
Dresden is the capital of Saxony. In the course of ages, the city became known as the Florence on the Elbe, Elbflorenz, an internationally renowned city of culture.In peacetime, the city had 630,000 inhabitants and ranked as the seventh city of Germany. The city, up until 1945, was spared the tragic fates of cities like Cologne, Essen, Hamburg and Berlin.There was not much industry and the industry that was present was not considered to be vital to the German war effort. Only the railroad marshalling yards had been attacked up until February, 1945.
Although residential areas had been bombed in other German cities and a firestorm had been created, by coincidence, in Hamburg in July, 1943, officially the targets remained weapon factories, U- boat yards, ammunition factories, synthetic oil plants, blast furnaces and oil refineries. Dresden had none of these. There were present, however, hundreds of thousands of refugees. The railroad marshalling yard was the third largest in Germany. The tracks from Berlin, Prague, Breslau,Warsaw,Leipzig and Nuremberg crossed each other here. Because of the rapidly shrinking nazi territory the marshalling yards even gained in importance.The USAAF, the American air force, already had attacked the marshalling yards several times.
Although strategically important objects were officially the target of the allies, the reality turned out to be much simpler. The following applied to Bomber Command:
"It must be emphatically stated that,with the exception of Essen, we never chose special industrial firms. The destruction of industrial installations always seemed to us to be a kind of bonus. Our target was always the city centre."
†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† † † †† † † † † † † † † † † † † †† † † Harris in Bomber Command, 1948
Dresden was flooded with refugees from Pomerania, Silesia and Eastern Prussia. These Germans were on the run for the Red Army. The population had risen to 1,3 million and thus had more than doubled.The Germans had relocated the anti air artillery,the Flak, already in December, 1944 and January, 1945 to other places in Germany. In this way, Dresden had become a practically undefended city. It was widely believed that the allies would spare the city because of the art treasures and the 26,000 prisoners of war that lived in the neighbourhood and in the city itself. On the nearby Fliegerhorst 38/III Klotzsche remained some fighters and 18 Me 110 night fighters but these lacked fuel. Besides, the training of German pilots in this stage of the war was not thorough.
In February, 1945, Nazi Germany was reeling from all the blows it had received. The Ardennes offensive had turned out to be a costly and lost gamble.On 8 February, 1945, the allied campaign against the Reichswald began with operation Veritable and later Blockbuster and Grenade while on the eastern front, the Soviets had just concluded one of their most successful offensives, the Vistula-Oder offensive that had brought the Russians to 70 kms from Berlin.Next to the heavy losses that the Wehrmacht had suffered, the loss of the industrial area of Silesia was a hard blow for the German war effort. Further to the south, the front ran roughly a 100 kms from Dresden. By this fact the city had become hinterland for that front. Transports to the front had to cross the Elbe or go through Dresden.
The Red Army prepared for its final push to Berlin. According to a secret report of the Joint Intelligence Committee that was presented to Churchill on 21 January,1945, the war could be ended in April if the Soviet offensive succeeded. If not, the war could last into November.
Churchill thought that the heavy bombers could help the Russian offensive significantly. He deliberated the deployment with Secretary of State for Air Sir Archibald Sinclair. In this way the British could show that they had been faithful allies and in the same time they could show the Soviets what power Bomber Command had. On the conference from Jalta from 4 until 11 February, 1945 Stalin agreed with the British plans. Already before the conference Air Marshall Arthur Harris had received the order to prepare the mission.