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Bomber Harris


Arthur Harris was the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief (which you and I would probably just call 'the man in charge'!) of RAF Bomber Command in the Second World War. It was his job to coordinate the British bombing campaign against Nazi Germany, to try and force Adolf Hitler to admit defeat. The press nicknamed him 'Bomber Harris', but the RAF (Royal Air Force) went a step further and referred to him as 'Butcher Harris', which tells you something about what they thought of him.

Through 1940 and 1941, Britain was relentlessly attacked by the German air force, the Luftwaffe, which bombed London and many other major British cities (including Liverpool, where Lucy lived), night after night, for several months, trying to make Britain surrender to Germany. This bombing of Britain is known as the 'Blitz', which is a German word for 'lightning', from 'Blitzkrieg', meaning 'lightning war'.

Britain did not surrender, and after America entered the war in December 1941, the tide very slowly began to turn in favour of the Allies, the group of countries fighting against Germany, including Britain, America, and the Soviet Union.

In 1942, Arthur Harris was put in charge of Bomber Command, (given a knighthood, to become Sir Arthur Harris), and asked to carry out Winston Churchill's plans to bomb industrial and military targets in Germany and occupied France. However, Harris also persuaded the British government to agree to 'area bombing', sometimes called 'carpet bombing', where a huge number of bombs would be dropped on the homes of ordinary people. Although this was much the same thing as the Blitz, many people think that it was the wrong thing to do: it killed a lot of civilians and destroyed some beautiful cities, and it is difficult to work out whether it had very much military effect.

View of Dresden from the top of the city hall in 1945, after the British and American air forces bombed it, © Deutsche Fotothek

Harris was shockingly confident that he was right, however. In 1943, he said, "The aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive ... should be the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilised life throughout Germany ... the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale, and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing, are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories."

​If you look at the picture of Dresden, you might not feel so sure that it was justifiable: the British and Americans carried out four air raids on Dresden in February 1945, using over 2000 aircraft in total. As well as the explosive damage, the bombing caused a firestorm. 25,000 ordinary people were killed and the city was left in ruins.

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