Like catastrophes throughout European history, the Nazi revolution and the war experience transformed every aspect of life in certain places, while leaving others essentially untouched. Although patterns are difficult to establish, urban centers were generally more heavily politicized by the regime and more badly damaged during the war. At first, British and American bombing strategy focused primarily on vital economic targets, but the notion of bombing to disrupt urban activity and break civilian morale – area bombing – gained support over time. In a number of cases, Hamburg and Dresden being the best known examples, Allied bombers started firestorms that inflicted horrendous casualties and reduced major portions of cities to rubble. The Hamburg firestorm on the night of July 27-28, 1943, killed somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 people. The Allied attack on Dresden on February 13-14, 1945, resulted in catastrophe on a similar scale. Inflated estimates of casualties in Dresden have led some to compare it with Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Reliable estimates put the number of deaths at approximately 40,000.
Towards the end of the war, the Allies were not the only ones trying to reduce Germany’s infrastructure to rubble. As Allied troops moved into German territory, Hitler wanted to destroy everything that the enemy could use: supplies, roads, bridges, factories, and communications. With complete indifference to the needs, welfare, and safety of the German people, he ordered the implementation of his “Scorched Earth Decree.” The responsibility of transmitting Hitler’s orders befell Minister of Armaments and War Production Albert Speer, who, recognizing that the war was lost, refused to comply.