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Bomber Harris

Title: Bomber Harris
Authors: Martin Mace & John Grehan
Publisher: Pen & Sword Books
Released: 2014
ISBN: 9781783032983
Pages: 414

Sir Artur Harris is one of World War Two’s most controversial senior commanders. As commander of RAF Bomber Command in the latter half of the war, he assisted Marshal of the Royal Air Force Charles Portal in carrying out the tactics of ‘area-bombing’. These tactics caused the destruction of several German cities, as well as an enormous number of civilian getting killed. This made Harris a widely debated person and the bombing campaign one of the most controversial military operations of the Second World War. But how did Harris perceive ‘area-bombing’ and the devastation of German cities himself? It can be read in his despatches, which were not published by the government like the despatches of every other branch of the armed services, but are now reproduced by John Grehan and Martin Mace.

The British writers Mace and Grehan are military historians who have written several books together. Most of their books cover subjects of World War Two. However, they have also published books about the First World War, the Napoleonic Wars and the Crimean War. Martin Mace is also well known as the establisher of Historic Military Press and as editor of Britain at War Magazine.

The despatches on war operations were written by the commanders concerned during the war and published (69 in total) in The London Gazette. However, Harris’ despatches on Bomber Command operations weren’t published by the government. Hundred copies were pressed for the Air Ministry first and it became clear Harris’ views weren’t universally shared. Mace and Grehan now have reproduced Harris’ despatches along with the Air Staff Memorandum on the Despatch and comments by Group Captain Sidney Bufton, who was the Director of Bomber Operations. It gives an good insight in the division in opinion about Harris’ despatches at the Air Ministry. Besides the preface and these supporting documents, the despatches have not been modified, edited or interpreted. Harris’ despatch is therefore his original view on the bombing campaign.

The despatches cover nearly 400 pages in the book. However, only 63 of these pages contain Harris’ views on the course of the campaign. He has divided the campaign in three phases: a preliminary phase, the main offensive and the final year. Here he discusses strength and composition of the force, roles and targets amongst other things. This is followed by more than 40 pages of statistics and graphs on all facets of the bomber campaign. The last part (over 250 pages) contains eleven appendices in which Harris discusses subjects like navigation, armament, training, meteorology and tactics in detail.

This book should not be confused with ‘Bomber Harris’ (2006) written by Henry Probert. Probert wrote the definitive biography of Harris which gives an insight in Harris’ life. This book, although it has the same title, has a completely different angle of incidence. People who are interested in Harris’ personal views on the bombing campaign would find this book very informative and interesting. However, they must be aware of the high level of detail in the graphs and appendices.

Rating: Good


Article by:
Pieter Schlebaum
Published on:
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