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This review is from: Bomber Harris BBC [DVD]  (DVD)
Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris was the commander of RAF Bomber Command from 1942 to the end of the War. He was in charge of the British strategic bombing campaign which brought the war into the heart of Germany at a time when the German Wehrmacht controlled almost all of Europe. After the fall of France in 1940 there was no way the British, isolated on their island, could confront Germany except by bombing from the air. Thus, due to the fact that losses were unacceptably high and bombing accuracy unacceptabley low in the original program of daylight bombing of "precision targets" like munitions and aircraft factories, it was decided to carry out "area bombing" tactics which meant bombing of the German cities in order to disrupt the life of the cities and the economic and military production that went on there. It must be emphasized that although Harris is criticized for this policy HE DID NOT INITIATE IT. It was a government decision made before he took charge of Bomber Command. One major problem was that this decision was hidden from the public which was lead to believe that "precision targets" were being hit, although anyone who thought about it would realize that would be very difficult at night.
This film shows Harris as he took command and his persistence in keeping the Command going against criticisms that its "area bombing" policy was ineffective, too costly or immoral. The actor portraying Harris does a good job in showing his dogged determination and brusque manner in dealing with those around him. It also shows his concern for those working for him and how they should be properly treated regarding supplies and working conditions. It must be remembered that all the Bomber Command aircrews were volunteers and even during the worst periods when losses were at the highest, such as during the so-called Battle of Berlin in 1943-4, there was no lack of new volunteers . Harris had a "can-do" attitude that inspired his men to keep going no matter what.
The film deals largely with Harris' "political" problems in dealing with the Air Ministry and the government, including Churchill. Unfortunately, the film does not show how the airmen under him reacted to him and he to them and the immense pressures they were under. The fact that they did not call him "Bomber Harris", but rather "Butcher Harris" does show some sort of ambivalence, but they stuck with him in the end.
At the end of the war and after, the British government changed its view of Harris and the bombing campaign and a negative view of Harris became popular. This film, to its credit, shows that Harris was carrying out goverment policy, and in particular, the controversial Dresden firestorm raid in February 1945 is shown clearly to have been carried out under direct orders from Churchill and Eisenhower at the behest of Joseph Stalin who wanted German military and civilian activity in eastern Germany facing the advancing Red Army disrupted. To this day people ask "Germany was on the verge of defeat at this point and did surrender several weeks later, so this raid was unnecessary". A statement like that is make with 20/20 hindsight. As the Allies closed in on Germany, Germany resistance, particularly against the Russians was stiffening. Allied casualties were continually increasing. No one knew how much longer Germany would hold out and every day the war was continued meant thousands of casualties on both sides. The Dresden attack, in addition to disrupting the German eastern front, showed the Germans that continued resistance was futile and they would pay a high price for it. In the end, 100,000 Soviet soldiers died in the final battle for Berlin.
Harris did make many mistakes and they are shown. He fervently believed that massive area bombing would cause Germany to collapse WITHOUT the need for an Operation Overlord-like ground invasion. Although there was some reason to believe that this might happen, due to the fact that the German's collapsed with their armies still outside their borders in 1918 at the end of the First World War, but the Nazi regime was different and used mass coercion and terror to keep the population fighting.
Harris was badly wrong about his offensive called "the Battle of Berlin" in late 1943-early 1944. Casualties were very high and the amount of damage done to Berlin did not justify the efforts and losses, especially considering there were other targets that were easier to hit at a lower cost. Still, Harris carried on when others were not willing to.
Historians in the last 20 years have re-evaluated the rold of Bomber Command and the US 8th Air Force which carried out daylight raids. They have reviewed the data and found that the bombing was far more effective in disrupting German arms production and it did have a major effect on the morale of the German population. It is true that the German people did not turn on the Nazi regime, but the massive bombing made it clear to them that they were going to lose the war and that their leaders lead them into a catastrophe. Germany lost World War I decisively, but the war never touched the German homeland, so 20 years later, they were ready for another round. After the Second World War, the Germans felt on their own persons the horrors of war and this finally convinced them to turn away from the Prussian militarists who had dominated them for so long and they embraced democracy and peace, which has held in Western Europe since 1945. This is the true legacy of Bomber Harris and his valiant aircrews who sacrificed so much to bring the victory.