"Bomber" Harris: His Life and Times Hardcover – 20 Sep 2001
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This is the definitive biography of one of the most controversial figures of World War II. Sir Arthur Harris remains the target of criticism and vilification by many, while others believe the contribution he and his men made to victory is grossly undervalued. Henry Probert's critical but sympathetic new account draws on recent research and, for this first time, all of Harris's own extensive papers, to give outstanding insight into a man who combined leadership, professionalism and decisiveness with kindness, humour and generosity. Probert examines Harris's life from youth in Rhodesia to fighting in World War I, the interwar years, his two families and his post-war years in South Africa and England. He reveals and analyses how Harris did his job in RAF Bomber Command during World War II, his leadership of his men in the face of appalling casualties, his disagreements with higher authority, his dealings with Churchill, his close links with the Americans, his role in directing the bombing raids against Germany, most notably at Dresden, and the way he was treated afterwards.Bomber Harris provides the most complete and rounded picture of one of the great high commanders of modern times and an outstanding military personality of World War II.
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Top Customer Reviews
Probert achieves his aims. This is a first class read, scholarly but not dry, it is at times vaguely (and welcomingly) conversational in tone. He has clearly researched his subject well. No doubt his status as a respected recently retired senior RAF officer provided him wih numerous opportunities to access personal papers and receive the confidences of many who worked with and knew Harris.
As one might expect, the author has a deep respect for Harris - and his men - however, it does acknowledge his flaws. At times, Harris comes across as impatient, wrong-headed and easily manipulated by politicians in government - and in the RAF. But what leadership, energy, application and resolve Harris had; he was clearly a professional, driven and creative manager with much concern for his men.
This book is in no way an apology for the Allies' WWII bombing policy, Probert feels there is no need. However, this point of view is not forced on the reader; the events and their context, are described openly permitting the formation an independent judgement.
Sir Arthur Harris is painted as a man who conceived, built, commanded and inspired a very efficient fighting machine. This is the essence of the book.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Not only does the author, Henry Probert, do a great job of presenting Harris's point of view but he presents opposing points of view as well. This book probably does the best job of presenting the most objective view of Harris to date. In some respects it does favour Harris since it is from his private papers. This is an extremely valuable book about Harris and is a must for any student of Bomber Command.
The author does a great job of presenting Harris the man from birth until death and deals with such topics as his leadership style, the public's image of him, his contemporaries views etc. The many misperceptions of Harris and how people once meeting him in person said Harris was not anything like the image that has been painted of him. A very excellent book! We need more like this one.
On the negative side, the debate over the bombing of German cities pops up throughout the book and I would have preferred to have a chapter devoted to the debate rather than coming across it time and again. I think it is a ridiculous debate. Nothing compares to the viciousness and brutality of the Nazis towards civilians of other countries: besides their own bombing of cities, what about Lidice, Poland, Oradour sur Glan and the starvation of civilians in Leningrad, to name a few of the known atrocities perpetrated on civilians of other countries. Why should the German people be exempt to the untold miseries they brought upon mankind through the criminal regime they left in power? While many Germans may have been innocent, lots of innocent people were suffering and dying too. Case closed.
I was disappointed that towards the end of his life, Harris exchanged courteous letters with Speer - that genteel, silver-tongued, desk murderer. Flattering Harris's ego, he told Harris that the Allied bombing campaign was the big factor in Germany's defeat. Speer "managed" the slave labor of countless foreigners, forcing them to work in factories and rebuilding Germany under terrible conditions. God only knows how many people were deliberately worked to death when they didn't die from disease or malnutrition. While his memoirs may be valuable as far as an insider's account of the Third Reich for historical reasons, he deserved no commerce with civilized humanity, imho.
Lastly, there are difficult to read portions due to the small type, long sentences, and long paragraphs in some sections. I had to keep my finger on the page to keep my place in parts.
All in all, a satisfying read which filled in some grey areas about a Commander I knew about only vaguely before from the famous clip: They've sowed the wind and now they will reap the whirlwind. Right on!
It is true that Bomber Command suffered high casualties (a crewman had only a 30% chance of surviving a 30-operations tour of duty) but their sacrifices helped keep Stalin and the USSR in the war in 1942 and 1943 at the time when they were suffering immense losses and the prospect of a Second Front looked far away (Churchill was always afraid that Stalin might secretly make a deal with Hitler and pull out of the War). Harris worked diligently day and night to get the resources and aircraft Bomber Command needed and to keep the morale of his personnel high. Although he refrained from visiting the air fields, probably due to a reluctance to face men who could possibly be flying to their deaths in a few hours, as well as the knowledge that the station commanders could be putting on a "show" for him that masked real problems, he did maintain continuous contact with low-ranking people from the air and ground crews in order to find out help them do their jobs more effectively and comfortably.
Probert, although very sympathetic with Harris, does not hesitate to point out flaws in his subject's personality. For example, Harris broke up his first marriage by having an affair while he was away from home and after his divorce he had a problematic relationship with his children. After the War, Harris developed a strange admiration for Hermann Goering who was not the "noble knight of the air" that some may have thought but was one of the most powerful and cruel of the Nazi hierarchy and was one of the key figures in the Nazi terror even before Hitler's rise to power and who played in role in the Holocaust. Similarly, Harris opposed the Nuremberg Trials. He also said he only felt "hatred" for the Germans once, during the bombing of London whereas others like Battle of Britain hero Group Captain Douglas Bader was not ashamed to say years after the War that he hated the Germans for the evil they brought to the world. In any event, perhaps these quirks gave him the personality traits that were needed to cooly, night after night, send thousands of young man on very dangerous missions to bring death and destruction to the German enemy. Maybe someone more sentimental and emotional, both to his family and to the enemy, would not be able to stand up to the strain. We could perhaps compare him to other great commanders like Generals Patton, Montgomery and MacArthur who also had personalities that rubbed many people the wrong way:
Probert also demolishes myths that have sprung up after the War such as:
(1) Harris ordered the supposedly unnecessary bombing of Dresden when Germany was already supposedly defeated out of some sense of blood-lust and vengeance. In reality, he opposed the mission since it was located in eastern Germany and would expose his aircrews to extra danger due to the longer trip, but the allied leaders insisted on having the raid carried out since it was not at all clear at that time that Germany was at the point of collapse and they wanted the Soviet Armies to advance into Germany as fast as possible
(2) Harris had a contempt for "colonials" and sent them on the more dangerous missions as cannon fodder in order to spare "real" Britishers. In reality, Harris moved to Rhodesia as a young man and considered himself a Rhodesian. After the War he went to live in South Africa, so he indeed considered himself a "colonial"
(3) Harris was not given a peerage after the War as were many other senior British military commanders because the Labour goverment felt "embarassed" by the strategic bombing campaign and wanted to forget about it. In reality, there is some truth in the fact that people wanted to forget about the bombing campaign, and it is also a fact that no "campaign decoration" was given to the air and ground crews in Bomber Command, but Harris was indeed offered a peerage, but turned it down, partly as a protest against the refusal to grant a campaign medal, but also for personal reasons in that outside Britain (where he intended to live) a peerage was not necessarily viewed as something desirable.
All in all, this book is must reading for someone interested in World War 2, military history, and the characterists of a great military commander.
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