Rebuilding Dresden after the horrific firebombing at the end of World War Two, 1945-1970

In the final winter of World War II, the eastern German city of Dresden was reduced to rubble, killing tens of thousands and sparking a bitter debate over whether the attack was justified.

Dresden was the capital of the state of Saxony, situated on the Elbe River. It was a cultural center, containing famous landmarks as the Frauenkirche, and was dubbed the Florence of the Elbe.

Population of the city was largely anyone’s guess as refugees flooded into the city shortly prior to the bombing as Soviet troops advanced to the city’s east, however common estimates put the population at the time of bombings at greater than 650,000.

Early in 1945, Allied commanders gathered to plan Thunderclap, a new plan to strategically bomb Germany, particularly to aid the advance of Soviet troops.

They argued that carpet bombing of large cities in eastern Germany would allow Soviet troops to exploit the confusion that would ensue, hampering movement of German troops from west of the target cities.

On 27 Jan 1945, given the Allied Joint Intelligence Command's conclusion that the Germans could reinforce the Eastern Front with half a million men (up to 42 divisions), Sir Archibald Sinclair of the RAF sent Churchill the recommendation of bombing Berlin, Dresden, Chemnitz, Leipzig, or other large cities with available resources, in order to hinder efficient enemy movement should such a reinforcement be ordered by Berlin.

The bombing of Dresden started during the night of 13-14 February when 796 British Lancaster and 9 Mosquito aircraft were displaced and dropped 1478 tons of high explosive and 1182 tons of incendiary bombs on the first bombing run and 800 tons of bombs on the second run .

Incendiary bombs contained flammable chemicals such as magnesium, phosphorous, or petroleum jelly/napalm. There were claims that due to the extreme temperatures inside the buildings due to the massive fire, air currents were created where escapees would be sucked into the burning buildings.

Three hours later, 529 Lancaster bombers dropped 1,800 tons of bombs. The next day, 311 American B-17 bombers dropped 771 tons of bombs, while escort Mustang fighters threw traffic (no distinction between military and civilian) into the streets to cause further devastation.

She holds a bundle in her arms, this is her baby. She runs, she falls, and the child flies into the fire in an arc…. Crazy fear grips me and from then on I repeat to myself a simple sentence, 'I don't want to die'.

Another Dresden resident, Lothar Metzger, who was only nine at the time, recalled: We no longer recognized our street. Fire, wherever we looked, only fire. Our fourth floor no longer existed. The broken ruins of our house were burning. On the streets were burning carts and carriages with refugees, people, horses, all screaming in fear of death.

I saw injured women, children, old people looking for a way through the ruins and the flames…. All the while the hot air of the firearm threw people back into burning houses they were trying to avoid. I can't forget these awesome details. I can never forget them.

Bombing methods used by the Allies were to encourage total destruction of buildings: high explosive bombs first exposed the wooden planks of the buildings, then incendiary bombs ignited the wood, and finally various Firefighting efforts were hampered by explosives.

The results were disastrous. Of the 28,410 homes in the inner city of Dresden, 24,866 were destroyed, many of them schools, hospitals and churches. Estimates of deaths range from 25,000 to over 60,000 (the official German report puts an estimated 25,000 with 21,271 registered burials).

After World War II ended, the survivors of Dresden began the arduous task of cleaning up and rebuilding their city. Volunteers spent years clearing and clearing the debris by hand.

Many of the city's important historic buildings were rebuilt, including the Semper Opera House and the Zwinger Palace, although city leaders chose to rebuild large areas of the city in a "Socialist Modern" style, partly for economic reasons, but to break down. For also from the city's past as the imperial capital of Saxony and stronghold of the German bourgeoisie.

Some ruins of churches, royal buildings and palaces, such as the Gothic Sofienkirche, Alberttheater and Weckerberth-Palais, were torn down in the 1950s and 1960s rather than repaired by Soviet and East German authorities.

The Frauenkirche Church, arguably the centerpiece of the city, was not completely rebuilt until nearly 60 years after the war. Compared to West Germany, most of the historic buildings were saved.

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