Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris was one of the most controversial British military leaders of the Second World War, commanding Bomber Command for most of the war, and in particular during the strategic bombing campaign against German industrial cities. Since the war his role, and that of his command, has come in for repeated criticism, which started even as the campaign was being carried out. Perhaps as a result Harris produced his account of the campaign almost immediately, and it was published in 1947, by which time the men under his campaign had already been denied a campaign medal.
This book is of interest for two reasons - its insights into the campaign itself, and Harris’s views on some of the more controversial issues. We thus look at the various bombing aids produced during the war, how they worked, their limits, how they influenced the sort of raids that could be carried out, and how they were used in practice. We also look at the development of the command’s aircraft, its slow increase in size, and the changing priorities it was given. He is also willing to acknowledge the many limits suffered by Bomber Command early in the war, when their aircraft weren’t powerful enough and their bombing not accurate or heavy enough to have much impact.
Harris has interesting things to say on the idea of an attack on German morale, even at this early date acknowledging that it was almost impossible to undermine civilian morale in the Nazi police state, where state repression was always more frightening and more immediate than the bombers.
Harris tends to overplay the role of the bomber and its potential to win the war by itself. As a result he underplays the impact of repeated land and naval defeats on Japanese morale, and gives all of the credit to the Japanese surrender to the American strategic bombing campaign.
There is an interesting explanation of the purpose of the strategic bombing campaign, which he considers to have only lasted for a single year, from the point in 1943 where the command became large enough and effective enough for it to begin to the point in 1944 when it was placed under the command of General Eisenhower. He also points out that some of his missions were requested by the Allied armies, such as the bombing of Dresden.
Harris makes a strong, but not entirely convincing case for the bomber campaign, perhaps because he rather over-argue his position in places, and over values the heavy bomber as being the decisive weapon of the 1940s, making armies and navies obsolete.
1 - Facing the War
2 - The First Bombing
3 - In the Air Ministry and USA
4 - Bomber Command
5 - The Preliminary Phase
6 - Getting the Weapons
7 - The Offensive Under Way
8 - Long Range Attacks
9 - The Invasion of Europe
10 - The Offensive Against Oil
11 - The Final Phase
12 - Summing Up and the War of the Future
Author: Sir Arthur Harris
Year: 2015 edition of 1947 original