Harris, Sir Arthur Travers

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Harris, Sir Arthur Travers (1892–1984). Marshal of the Royal Air Force, famous as commander-in-chief, RAF Bomber Command, 1942–5. This force absorbed much British productive capacity and high-quality manpower. Early in the war it showed itself incapable of daylight attacks on Germany and highly inaccurate at night. Under Harris, it became effective at ‘area bombing’, seeking to destroy civilian housing, injure morale, and reduce production. Harris repeatedly claimed that wrecking large German towns would win the war. British ‘strategic bombing’ killed and maimed civilians, destroyed beautiful buildings, and sacrificed many bomber crews (an RAF rear-gunner was unlikely to survive) but did not win the war. Harris resisted ‘precision bombing’ but his favoured methods failed to reduce war production as he planned. He was not engaged in ‘genocide’, nor was he a ‘war criminal’; he did not inflict casualties for reasons other than shortening the war. Nevertheless, he did not get a peerage and there were hostile demonstrations when a statue to him was erected in London in 1992.

R. A. C. Parker

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Sir Arthur Travers Harris

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