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Harris file photo [6042]

Arthur Harris

Given NameArthur
Born13 Apr 1892
Died5 Apr 1984
CountryUnited Kingdom


ww2dbaseThis article contains further contributions from Alan Chanter.

ww2dbaseArthur Travers Harris was born in Cheltenham, England, United Kingdom in 1892 during a visit by his parents to England, while his father was on leave from the Indian Civil Service. He was educated at Allhallows School in Dorset, England. His father had always wanted him to join the Army, but he initially resisted. After many arguments with his father, Harris, at the age of 16, departed England for the British African colony of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia), where he tried to be a farmer and later a gold miner. In 1914, as WW1 began, he finally joined the military. He enlisted in the 1st Rhodesian Regiment as a bugler, serving with them in South Africa and in the German colony of South-West Africa (now Namibia). In 1915, he returned to England and joined the Royal Flying Corps, serving with distinction on the home front and in France during 1917 as a flight commander and ultimately commanding officer of No. 45 Squadron. He claimed 5 enemy aircraft destroyed before he returned to England to command No. 44 Squadron. At the end of WW1, he was awarded the Air Force Cross and achieved the rank of major. Remaining in the military, he joined the fledgling Royal Air Force, with which branch he served in India and the Middle East. During this time, he conducted aerial bombing against those who fought against British occupation. He commented "the only thing the Arab understands is the heavy hand." In 1924, Harris was posted to England to command the first post-war heavy bomber squadron, No. 58. Between 1927 and 1929, he attended the Army Staff College at Camberley in southern England. In the early 1930s, he served at the Middle East Command in Egypt as a senior Air Staff Officer. In 1933, he returned to England to work at the Air Ministry. In 1937, he was promoted to the rank of air commodore. In 1938, he was a put in command of the bombers of the No. 4 Group and placed to Palestine and Trans-Jordan at the rank of air vice marshal. In Sep 1939, when the European War began, he returned to Britain to command No. 5 group.

ww2dbaseHarris was "a forceful man", said author Keith Lowe. "[He] possessed of almost boundless energy and a bluntness that verged upon rudeness." He was known for his attitude toward the Army, noting that the conservative generals would never adopt mobile warfare until the tanks could "eat hay and shit" like the generals' beloved cavalry. He had few friends as a result of his brashness, but the few who he held dear were extreme loyal. To friends such as Charles Portal, Robert Saundly, and Ira Eaker, he was "Butcher" or "Butch" for short, a nickname that referred to his can-do attitude, always out there to get the job done. This nickname, however, was later taken out of context after his bombing campaign against Germany during the European War.

ww2dbaseIn Feb 1942, Harris became the Commander-in-Chief of RAF Bomber Command. Harris was known for his daily morning meetings in which he listened to a review of the previous night's operations and the weather forecast for the upcoming day. Then, he would select two or three proposed attacks for the current day prepared by his lieutenants. Flipping through the folders of papers and photographs, hardly engaging in any discussion, he would make his decision on the day's target without any further input from other officers. It was the way he worked: quickly and decisively.

ww2dbaseAs the Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command, Harris worked harmoniously with American bomber commanders in the United Kingdom; though the two bomber forces acted independently and each had their agendas, Harris and Eaker tried to operate as if they were a single unit. They often attended high level meetings at each other's headquarters, exchanging dialogue on experience and lessons learned. Harris also made sure that information gathered from RAF radar systems were shared with the Americans, while he saw to that RAF Spitfire fighters were utilized to escort American bombers. Fuel trucks, air fields, and other such resources were shared between the two forces, too. "Relationships between the two forces, especially in the upper levels of command, were remarkably harmonious", noted Keith Lowe; indeed, Harris was responsible for part of the cooperation. On a personal level, Harris and Eakers were friends as well; Eaker and his family lived with Harris, and Eaker often brought Harris' daughter toys from the United States.

ww2dbaseWhen it came to war, Harris was much less friendly. Harris believed that if enough destruction could be inflicted upon German cities, the human misery suffered would be enough to cause the German people to overthrow the Nazi government. "There are a lot of people who say that bombing cannot win the war", he said in a newsreel. "My answer to that is that it has never been tried yet." He began his area bombing campaign with L├╝beck and Rostock on the German Baltic coast. Then, as he and his bomber crews gained more experience, the campaign moved on to better defended, and more densely populated cities. The massive bombing campaign on Germany reached a new height when, on 30 May 1942, he directed the first thousand-bomber raid on Cologne, Germany, dropping an average of 31 tons of bombs per square mile, destroying a third of that city. In Sep, he devastated Karlsruhe, Germany with the first of the new "block-buster" bombs. In 1943, he initiated the policy of night-bombing. In Jul-Aug 1943, over a 10-day period, he launched 3 massive night bombing raids and, together with an American day time raid, nearly reduced the city of Hamburg, Germany to ruins, destroying 250,000 buildings and killing somewhere between 40,000 to 60,000 people. Later that year he bombed Berlin with unprecedented intensity but without inflicting a corresponding amount of damage. While Germany suffered the effects of area bombing, Germany's war industries somehow remained active, thus the desired effects on the German capability to conduct war was never achieved.

ww2dbaseAlthough Harris' policies were supported by Prime Minister Winston Churchill at that time, Harris was among the very few British leaders not to receive a peerage after the war. Nevertheless, he was made Marshal of the Royal Air Force in 1945. He moved to South Africa in 1948, partially due to the heavy criticisms from the British public for how he conducted the bombing campaigns during WW2. He was the manager of South African Marine Corporation from 1946 to 1953. In 1953, he was made the 1st Baronet of Chipping Wycombe, a hereditary title but not a peerage. He passed away in Britain on 5 Apr 1984. He remained adamant that RAF Bomber Command's area bombing campaign was justified through the day he died.

ww2dbaseIn May 1992, a statue of Harris was erected outside the church of St. Clement Danes, London. Despite the presence of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother and hundreds of RAF veterans, protestors disrupted the ceremony. That night, Harris' statue was defaced with red paint. Over the years, it was defaced several more times.

ww2dbaseSources: Inferno (Keith Lowe, Penguin, 2007), The World at War (Mark Arnold-Forster, Fontana/Collins, 1973).

Last Major Revision: Apr 2008

Famous Quote(s)


Portrait of Air Chief Marshal Harris of RAF Bomber Command, taken at his HQ at High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England, United Kingdom, 24 Apr 1944Allied Expeditionary Air Force officers at a conference, Aug 1944; left to right: Heathcote Amery, R. Royce, Sholto Douglas, Arthur Harris, Trafford Leigh-Mallory, F. L. Anderson, James Doolittle, Keith Parks, and Roderick Hill

Arthur Harris Timeline

13 Apr 1892 Arthur Harris was born.
20 Apr 1938 A British purchasing mission led by Air Commodore Arthur Harris visited the United States to select suitable aircraft for use by the RAF in its expansion programme. The first aircraft selected were the Lockheed Hudson and the North American Harvard, 200 of each being ordered at a cost of US$ 5.4 million.
11 Sep 1939 Air Vice Marshal Arthur Harris assumed command of British Royal Air Force Bomber Command's Lincolnshire-based No. 5 Group with his headquarters at St. Vincent's House in Grantham. No. 5 Group was the sole operator of the Handley-Page Hampden bomber with six Hampden squadrons available at the outbreak of war - Nos. 44 and 50 Squadrons based at Waddington, 49 and 83 Squadrons based at Scampton, and 61 and 144 Squadrons at Hemswell. Harris would command the group for fourteen months before being appointed G. O. C. Bomber Command on 22 Feb 1942.
22 Feb 1942 Arthur Harris was named the new chief of RAF Bomber Command; he would take office on the following day.
23 Feb 1942 Air Marshal Arthur T. "Bomber" Harris took command of RAF Bomber Command.
14 Jun 1942 British Air Marshal Harris was knighted in honor of his success with 1,000-plane raids.
22 Feb 1943 Air Marshall Sir Arthur Harris was appointed chief of RAF Bomber Command with a new remit: attempting to hit specific military and industrial targets was, in the main, to be abandoned in favour of the most densely built-up areas of German cities. The area bombing directive essentially said that if the RAF cannot destroyed the factories it should destroy the homes and the morale of the workforce.
23 Sep 1943 Air Marshal Arthur Harris despatched a bomber raid to Berlin, Germany to test the effectiveness of the H2S navigation system over the city and to probe German defences before the first major operation was undertaken.
3 Nov 1943 British Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris wrote a treatise addressed to Winston Churchill in which he outlined British RAF Bomber Command's past achievements and its future objectives; Berlin, Germany would become the priority target with Leipzig, Chemnitz, Dresden, Bremen and other cities listed as secondary targets. He remarked disparagingly of recent American lack of co-ordination, their disastrous diversions such as the Ploiesti raid in Romania, and the siting of the recently formed US 15th Air Force in Southern Italy, far from the centres of German war production.
5 Apr 1984 Arthur Harris passed away.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Commenter identity confirmed Hobilar says:
19 Sep 2007 02:02:06 AM

For his contributions to the British air successes of World War II, he was elevated to Companion of the Bath in 1940, Knight Commander of the Bath in 1942, and Knight Grand Cross of the Bath in 1945.
2. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
26 Aug 2009 01:45:46 AM

Harris was notorious for driving his Bentley at break-neck speed around the lanes near his headquarters at High Wycombe. Stopped one day by a police officer who suggested that such reckless driving was likely to kill someone, Harris replied "Young man, I kill thousands of people every night".
3. Anonymous says:
27 Jun 2010 06:03:32 PM

The business about Harris and the young policeman has been told a thousand times...but it never happened. Makes a funny story though. The poor fellow never did get the respect he deserved. He was THE most popular man in England during the war, but when it was over....
4. james says:
1 May 2012 01:36:55 AM

he was part of history
5. Tim Fannon says:
31 May 2019 03:51:06 AM

It is only post WW" that Arthur 'Bomber' Harris has become contraversial.It took decades to get the statue to this greatest of wartime leaders.Yes the Dresden raid was contraversial,but what people don't know is that it was requested by Joseph Stalin to aid the Soviet advance in the east as it was a vital rail hub for the Germans.The bombing of Dresden by the RAF & USAAF aided the Russian advance into Germany and was a tactical neccecity at the time.
6. Bruce Lancaster says:
14 Dec 2019 09:27:59 AM

Have a autograph book for sale if anyone is interested.He was a hero

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Arthur Harris Photo Gallery
Portrait of Air Chief Marshal Harris of RAF Bomber Command, taken at his HQ at High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England, United Kingdom, 24 Apr 1944Allied Expeditionary Air Force officers at a conference, Aug 1944; left to right: Heathcote Amery, R. Royce, Sholto Douglas, Arthur Harris, Trafford Leigh-Mallory, F. L. Anderson, James Doolittle, Keith Parks, and Roderick Hill

Famous WW2 Quote
"Since peace is now beyond hope, we can but fight to the end."

Chiang Kaishek, 31 Jul 1937

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