I had been gathering data on some bombings during WW2. I mainly used wikipedia articles, since they are very well sourced.

I consider only city bombings, and civilian losses. The losses are surprising:

For Axis:

  • Japanese bombing of Singapour 1941: 1 000 dead / 17 airplanes (looks tiny to me, but wikipedia says that)
  • German bombing of Rotterdam: 1 000 dead, 80 000 lost their houses / it seems 100 bombers Heinkel 111
  • German bombing of Belgrade: 17 000 dead / 1 Luftflotte

For Allies:

  • Bombing of Koln: 500 dead, 45 000 lost their houses / 1 043 bombers
  • Bombing of Dresde (over several days): 250 000 to 300 000 dead / 2 448 bombers
  • Bombing of Singapour 1944-1945: Hundreds of dead / 76, then 27 B-29 bombers

So despite that Allied bombed later than Axis, it looks like Luftwaffe was deadlier, and Japanese air force as well. Is there a specific explanation for that?

  • 3
    Surprise in the early stages of the war, robust early warning and bomb shelters later in Germany.
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 7, 2020 at 19:04
  • 5
    I'm noticing the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are conspicuously absent from this list.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 7, 2020 at 19:33
  • 6
    @T.E.D. Also conspicuously absent is the US bombing of Tokyo on the night of 9–10 March, 1945. Jan 8, 2020 at 2:20
  • 2
    I have to wonder if there is not a factor of targeting intent here, with the Allies generally aiming more at industrial targets?
    – jamesqf
    Jan 8, 2020 at 4:40
  • 2
    The numbers of victims for Dresden is off, wikipedia lists max. 25.000 killed (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Dresden_in_World_War_II). The far higher number of 300.000 dead found in this post was first circulated by holocaust denier David Irving. IIRC.
    – mart
    Jan 20, 2020 at 15:25

1 Answer 1


The difference almost certainly lies in Civil Defence, aka "Air Raid Precautions". Germany and the UK were well-prepared for air raids, with warning systems, large numbers of air-raid shelters, organised fire and rescue services, and so on.

For your example raids:

  • Singapore (1941) had 61 dead, and more than 700 wounded according to the English-language Wikipedia.
  • Rotterdam had relatively few deaths because there was enough warning for civilians to flee, but the fires burned out a square mile of the city centre, destroying almost 25,000 homes.
  • Belgrade has contested casualty figures between 1,500 and 17,000 deaths, with three to four thousand considered most likely. This is probably due to a lack of civil defense organisation.
  • Cologne was bombed many times, but the low number of deaths in the first thousand-bomber raid is due to an effective civil defence organisation. By the end of May 1942, the German defences were running efficiently.
  • Dresden suffered a firestorm in February 1945. This overwhelmed civil defence and made air raid shelters useless, because the firestorm consumed all the oxygen from the air, suffocating people in shelters. However, there weren't 250,000 dead, that's a figure from German propaganda. The city authorities estimated 25,000 at the time, and subsequent research has substantiated that estimate.
  • Singapore (1944-45) had a total of 11 raids, all of them directed at the naval base, ships, or minelaying. Civilian casualties were avoided as far as possible, and since the defences were poor and most of the raids in daylight, this was mostly successful.

Overall, there doesn't seem to be a case for Axis bombings being more deadly than Allied ones. The number of people killed depends in complicated ways on the amount and type of bombs, the intentions and execution of the bombing, the defences, and the weather conditions, which affect the probability of starting large fires.

The most destructive air raid of WWII was the US Army Air Force's Operation Meetinghouse, where 279 bombers attacked Tokyo with incendiary bombs, starting a firestorm that killed 90-100,000 people and made about a million homeless. This was due to weather conditions that made it easy to start a firestorm, plus the wooden construction of most of Tokyo at the time. Note that this did far more damage than the atomic bombings of Japan.

  • 3
    You also left out the firebombing of Tokyo in March of 1945 with an estimated loss of 100,000 lives, more than the atomic bombs. This was mostly due to the large percentage of wooden structures in the city.
    – Barry
    Jan 7, 2020 at 22:59
  • @Barry and the nature of the bombing campaign, coming in several waves so catching even those who found shelter from the first wave out in the open when the second wave appeared to finish the job.
    – jwenting
    Jan 8, 2020 at 5:52
  • @Barry: Added with reference. Jan 8, 2020 at 11:19

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