The Allies claimed that by bombing Dresden, they were disrupting important lines of communication that would have hindered the Soviet offensive. This may be true, but there is no disputing that the British incendiary attack on the night of February 13 to February 14 was conducted also, if not primarily, for the purpose of terrorizing the German population and forcing an early surrender. It should be noted that Germany, unlike Japan later in the year, did not surrender until nearly the last possible moment, when its capital had fallen and Hitler was dead.
Because there were an unknown number of refugees in Dresden at the time of the Allied attack, it is impossible to know exactly how many civilians perished. After the war, investigators from various countries, and with varying political motives, calculated the number of civilians killed to be as little as 8,000 to more than 200,000. Estimates today range from 35,000 to 135,000. Looking at photographs of Dresden after the attack, in which the few buildings still standing are completely gutted, it seems improbable that only 35,000 of the million or so people in Dresden at the time were killed. Cellars and other shelters would have been meager protection against a firestorm that blew poisonous air heated to hundreds of degrees Fahrenheit across the city at hurricane-like speeds.
At the end of the war, Dresden was so badly damaged that the city was basically leveled. A handful of historic buildings–the Zwinger Palace, the Dresden State Opera House and several fine churches–were carefully reconstructed out of the rubble, but the rest of the city was rebuilt with plain modern buildings. American author Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007), who was a prisoner of war in Dresden during the Allied attack and tackled the controversial event in his book “Slaughterhouse-Five,” said of postwar Dresden, “It looked a lot like Dayton, Ohio, more open spaces than Dayton has. There must be tons of human bone meal in the ground.”