During the second world war, the city of Dresden, Germany, did not manufacture weapons or armaments, train soldiers or offer land to the front. It was a refugee city, filled with tens of thousands of civilians trying to protect themselves from the violence that was shredding Europe. On Feb. 13, 1945, Dresden and those who found safety there suddenly became victims of an intense air raid, led by the Allied forces.

Photo taken from the library of congress

Photo taken from the library of congress

Over the course of the war, the Nazi regime would often employ a tactic called “area bombing” or “saturation bombing.” This method involved dropping explosives not just on factories that manufactured wartime supplies, but on everything in the area, according to History.com. Normally, Allied forces did not use this practice and focused on damaging war-related infrastructure, but they made an acception for Operation Thunderclap.

Operation Thunderclap, where heavy bombers dropped 2,400 tons of high explosives and 1,500 tons of incendiary bombs, led to the deaths of thousands of ordinary citizens, according to the Atlantic.

One member of the British Army, Victor Gregg, who was being held as a Prisoner of War in Dresden, witnessed the destruction first-hand and has written many accounts and reflections on what happened that night. He explained, in a piece published by the Guardian, that although the air raid sirens had started going off no one took notice because they thought they were safe in a non-militaristic city. However, Gregg was able to see the demise of the people in Dresden and describes it as a war crime. “As the incendiaries fell, the phosphorus clung to the bodies of those below, turning them into human torches. The screaming of those who were being burned alive was added to the cries of those not yet hit. There was no need for flares to lead the second wave of bombers to their target, as the whole city had become a gigantic torch. It must have been visible to the pilots from a hundred miles away. Dresden had no defences, no anti-aircraft guns, no searchlights, nothing.” Gregg has been quoted numerous times expressing horror at the actions of the Allied powers. “I insisted that the affair was a war crime at the highest level, a stain upon the name Englishman that only an apology made in full public view would suffice to obliterate.”

Abbygail Vasas can be contacted at avasas@kscequinox.com