Firebombing in WWII:

A Brief Introduction


The Second World War brought more human lives to an end than any other conflict in the history of mankind.   In any light, the numbers are staggering:  20 million Russians killed on the Eastern Front; 11 million Chinese killed in the Pacific War; 12 million in Nazi death camps.  This carnage was brought to a bloody end by the Allied victory in Europe and the Japanese surrender in the Pacific—following the detonation of two nuclear weapons over Japanese cities. 


It might reasonably be assumed that the deadliest weapons aimed at civilians were these atomic bombs; however, this is not the case.  Massive firebombing raids in Japanese and German cities consistently killed more civilians than any contemporary nuclear weapon could have.  Incendiary munitions, such as firebombs, could—when used in massive numbers over a small area—create a raging inferno which destroyed life and property with greater rapidity than any technology under the control of man.  Firebombs were the most devastating weapons of the Second World War.


The pages that follow will examine the technical, ethical, and political aspects of World War II firebombing.  Specifically, you will find a brief introduction to the history and science of military incendiary weapons, a discussion of their use against civilian, industrial, political, and military targets in Germany and Japan, and an examination of the ethical issues surrounding the use of such weapons. 



The Science of            Moral Questions of Targeting Civilians          Effects in Dresden,

Firebombing                                                                                 Hamburg and Tokyo