Soaring temperatures turned the asphalt streets into a deadly, molten quagmire.Thousands suffocated or burned to death in the cellars of their homes.
To the RAF aircrews, the sight of the eastern German city ablaze looked like a terrifying vision of hell.
As the vast stream of 796 four-engined Lancaster heavy bombers swept over Dresden on that night of February 14, 1945, almost 2,000 tons of explosives and incendiaries were dropped onto the inferno.
The raid on Dresden is one of the most notorious episodes of Britain's war effort, a symbol of the ruthlessness of the RAF's strategic bombing offensive.
It has been estimated that around 25,000 people were killed that night - compare that to the 568 deaths in the assault on Coventry by the Luftwaffe in November 1940, by far the worst individual raid that any British city endured during the Blitz.
The merging of the fires sucked oxygen from the air and created a ferocious, howling tornado.
Trees were pulled from their roots, buildings destroyed and people flung through the air like ragdolls.
In one post-war lecture, Sir Charles Portal, the Chief of the Air Staff throughout the campaign, said it was 'a fallacy that our bombing of the German cities was intended to kill Germans, and that we camouflaged this intention by the pretence that we would destroy industry. During my research on the Lancaster - the heavyweight plane that enabled the RAF to mount the bomber offensive - I uncovered a wealth of archival material which exposes the truth about the Government's policy.
Typical was one paper from the Air Ministry, written in August 1941, which urged that the focus of attacks must be 'the people in their homes and factories'.
'What we want to do is to bring masonry crashing down on top of the Boche, to kill the Boche and to terrify the Boche,' he said.
So relentless was his determination to hit the German cities that he regarded any other operations as a distraction.
Some have accused the British Government of war crimes.