Allied critics have claimed that the attack constituted a war crime which had no strategic aim since Germany was already close to defeat and the targets were civilian rather than military.
Now, five years of research by a team of historians from the Dresden Historians’ Commission has confirmed that 25,000 died in the celebrated Baroque city.
The team reviewed records from city archives, cemeteries, official registries and courts and compared them to published reports and witness accounts.
Their study also shows fewer refugees fleeing the Eastern Front were killed in the bombing than previously thought, and dismissed claims that many of the victims’ bodies were never recovered.
The historians said their findings would have far-reaching implications for how people saw the final chapter of the war and the role of the Germans.
But some were quick to condemn the findings. Within an hour of their publication, 150 protesters had marched on Dresden town hall and Ralf Lunau, the city’s cultural commissioner, announced that: “This has not ended the debate at all.”