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Arthur 'bomber' Harris, War hero or criminal

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  • 06-12-2012 9:43pm
    #1
    Registered Users Posts: 3,577 ✭✭✭


    Harris is always a controversial figure in WWII history and perhaps a reflection of the wider ranging theory that history is written by the victor. If Germany had won WWII surely he would have been held responsible for many killings in a German equivalent of the Nuremburg trials. My own view is that he did what he felt he had to do to bring about a victory for his side of the war. The counterpoint to this may be that the same could be said about many convicted or charged war criminals in recent times.

    What are peoples views on Harris or indeed on the labelling of war criminals such as Karadzic in more recent times.

    As a further aside are war crimes simply an invention of western sensibilities from the 20th century?


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  • Closed Accounts Posts: 13,549 ✭✭✭✭Judgement Day


    Harris was a war hero in my opinion and did what he had to do to break the Germans. I doubt he would have had a trial if the Germans had won - they preferred torture, meat hooks and less public spectacles than Nuremberg type trials . Then again, I wouldn't have left two bricks on top of each other in Germany after WWII so my opinion is coloured to say the least.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 3,327 ✭✭✭Merch


    Harris was a war hero in my opinion and did what he had to do to break the Germans. I doubt he would have had a trial if the Germans had won - they preferred torture, meat hooks and less public spectacles than Nuremberg type trials . Then again, I wouldn't have left two bricks on top of each other in Germany after WWII so my opinion is coloured to say the least.

    From what i read, (I dont have the source) that even members of the British forces were concverned that if ever the scale of the bombing of german citizens got out, they (I believe it was churchill) were seriously concerned it would have appalled the British public who believed they were above that.

    All the same,

    I think you are referring to the Nazi's
    The Germans had a tradition of military honour.

    How is your opinion coloured? did you serve in the war? unlikely, so your family did?
    I know people that did and while they had a dislike the Germans, I never heard them express an opinion that they wanted civilians that had no sway over what happened in Germany, bombed literally into pools in the ground.

    Something they did admit, was they never knew the extent of British severity in dealing with the locals in the countries they themselves colonised.

    I have seen on a history channel production that there were anti war demonstrations at the start of war in Berlin, the thing is, once a war gets going its difficult to stop and more difficult for those in any country to oppose without easily being labelled a traitor or coward.


  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 9,682 Mod ✭✭✭✭Manach


    I read pieces both critical and supportive of Harris, hailing him villain and hero. From accounts that I read of the RAF Bomber command during that phase of the war, they suffered heavy causulties in the course of the campaign but inflicted major damage on the ability of Germany to wage war.
    Harris' tactics in the current era of Human rights and "Smart" weapons would likely be deemed illegal now. However then, the maxim of "In war, law is silence" prevailed and he accomplished his mission, to gut the German war machine.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 3,327 ✭✭✭Merch


    Manach wrote: »
    I read pieces both critical and supportive of Harris, hailing him villain and hero. From accounts that I read of the RAF Bomber command during that phase of the war, they suffered heavy causulties in the course of the campaign but inflicted major damage on the ability of Germany to wage war.
    Harris' tactics in the current era of Human rights and "Smart" weapons would likely be deemed illegal now. However then, the maxim of "In war, law is silence" prevailed and he accomplished his mission, to gut the German war machine.

    But even then there were questions as to the necessity to bomb German cities at a late stage in the war

    It was also stated by former German officers of what was the luftwaffe, after the war, that when bombers shifted their attacks from cities to fuel plants and rail depots supplying coal to war industry that the effects were felt by the luftwaffe and this affected the ability of Germany to wage war.

    the same effect was encountered in the opposite way when the Germans had shifted their attacks from RAF bases to cities in response to British bombing of cities earlier in the war, some of this from both sides was likely attributed or started by accidental bombing due the inability of bombers to find targets (day or night) and the misidentification of targets that escalated into retaliation.


  • Registered Users Posts: 7,878 ✭✭✭saabsaab


    In the early part of the war Britain had few ways of inflicting damage on Germany directly. So the only way they believed was to bomb cities and accurate bombing was not well very well developed. The idea was to damage war production (this included workers and their families) and their will to fight. In fact the damage to the British airforces was far greater than the damage inflicted on German war production and stiffened the German will to fight on. Although even a little damage and resources diverted from the war in Russia must have helped the Soviets it has been said that far more damage to the German war effort would have resulted from using Mosquito fast bombers for pinpoint industrial attacks only and abandoning the carpet bombing approach. The American airforces concentrated more on industrial targets. Bomber Harris must have been aware of these arguments at a later stage in the war and was wrong both morally and strategically.


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  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 9,682 Mod ✭✭✭✭Manach


    For targeting civilians center as the war was coming to close, that certainly is a morally grey area.
    On the one hand, there were the needless causative and devastation - reading an account in "Germany 1945" by Bessell describe block after block of flattened ruins in German cities.
    On the other, there was on the fear by the Allies of a rabid nazi citizenry (incorrectly as it turned out)who would wage a generation long guerrilla war against the allied forces. Propaganda reels of special units call the "Werewolves"(?) were designed to encourage this. By imposing the total war of carpet bombing, the Allies might have been seeking to forestall this in their own planing.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 5,108 ✭✭✭pedroeibar1


    For a long time I thought the sobriquet 'Butcher' Harris derived from the city raids until my uncle a WWII bomber pilot told me it came from the RAF crew themselves because of his continuous ordering of raids that led to very high RAF casualties. One of the few things he told me.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 3,327 ✭✭✭Merch


    I think it was unecessary and gruesome,
    especially fire bombing of cities
    I read a book about it once,
    talk of sweeping away pools of the dead that hadn't been burned, liquified and rivers of blood.
    Sickening
    “The fire storm transformed thousands of individual blazes into a sea of flames, ripping off the roofs, tossing trees, cars and lorries into the air, and simultaneously sucking the oxygen out of the air-raid shelters.
    ”Most of those who remained below ground were to die painlessly, their bodies first brilliantly tinted bright orange and blue, and then, as the heat grew intense, either totally incinerated or melted into a thick liquid sometimes three or four feet deep.”
    –R.H.S. Crossman, “Apocalypse at Dresden,” Esquire, November 1963


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 3,327 ✭✭✭Merch


    Harris was a war hero in my opinion and did what he had to do to break the Germans. I doubt he would have had a trial if the Germans had won - they preferred torture, meat hooks and less public spectacles than Nuremberg type trials . Then again, I wouldn't have left two bricks on top of each other in Germany after WWII so my opinion is coloured to say the least.

    You should have a read of this.

    http://www.christusrex.org/www1/war/dresden1.html

    I think its likely to suggest that its fairly accurate

    More so it doesnt only suggest Harris could be labelled a war criminal, but churchill also.

    WW2 was not a good war, If the nazis were morally repugnant, then what was capable of defeating that?

    That suggests they wanted to impress Stalin,
    I think when they mean impress, they mean concern him of the damage they are capable of militarily and morally inflicting to meet their requirements.
    Most people involved in this likely weren't aware of atomic weapons, the need to prove to the Soviets what they were capable of so near to the soon to be Soviet controlled territory is as much a warning to them as it was anything to do with the Germans.


  • Registered Users Posts: 24,007 ✭✭✭✭ejmaztec


    Merch wrote: »
    You should have a read of this.

    http://www.christusrex.org/www1/war/dresden1.html

    I think its likely to suggest that its fairly accurate

    More so it doesnt only suggest Harris could be labelled a war criminal, but churchill also.

    WW2 was not a good war, If the nazis were morally repugnant, then what was capable of defeating that?

    That suggests they wanted to impress Stalin,
    I think when they mean impress, they mean concern him of the damage they are capable of militarily and morally inflicting to meet their requirements.
    Most people involved in this likely weren't aware of atomic weapons, the need to prove to the Soviets what they were capable of so near to the soon to be Soviet controlled territory is as much a warning to them as it was anything to do with the Germans.

    My understanding is that the Soviets pressured them into the bombing of Dresden, so that the Nazis would transfer resources and as a consequence allow the Soviets to get to Berlin quicker.

    http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showpost.php?p=68915647&postcount=16


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  • Closed Accounts Posts: 26,567 ✭✭✭✭Fratton Fred


    does he have to be either? he had a job to do and he did it, with maybe a bit too much enthusiasm.

    Out of curiosity, how many German Air Chiefs were tried for bombing civilians at the Nurembourg trials?


  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 9,682 Mod ✭✭✭✭Manach


    AFAIK - was not the head of the Luftwaffe Air-marshal Goring on trial on Nuremberg?


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 26,567 ✭✭✭✭Fratton Fred


    Manach wrote: »
    AFAIK - was not the head of the Luftwaffe Air-marshal Goring on trial on Nuremberg?

    Well, in fairness he was a senior ranking Nazi, who was complicit in the murder of a few million jews and other "Undesirables".

    Then there was the murder of captured airmen, political opponents etc.


  • Registered Users Posts: 24,007 ✭✭✭✭ejmaztec


    Manach wrote: »
    AFAIK - was not the head of the Luftwaffe Air-marshal Goring on trial on Nuremberg?

    I think he was there for being an intrinsic part of the inner circle, and not specifically for bombing civilians.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 20,297 ✭✭✭✭Jawgap


    Neither - the real heroes were the pilots and aircrew who flew the missions he conceived and organised.

    He was a competent organiser and a forceful commander at a time when competence and forcefulness were required.

    Area bombing was barbaric but if you were an infantry man faced with crossing the Rhine and invading Germany I'm sure you'd want the full might of your air force to fall on the enemy before you got there?


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 1,541 ✭✭✭Gee Bag


    Harris is always a controversial figure in WWII history and perhaps a reflection of the wider ranging theory that history is written by the victor. If Germany had won WWII surely he would have been held responsible for many killings in a German equivalent of the Nuremburg trials. My own view is that he did what he felt he had to do to bring about a victory for his side of the war. The counterpoint to this may be that the same could be said about many convicted or charged war criminals in recent times.

    What are peoples views on Harris or indeed on the labelling of war criminals such as Karadzic in more recent times.

    As a further aside are war crimes simply an invention of western sensibilities from the 20th century?

    We have the benefit of hindsight when discussing the bombing of German cities. These bombing raids have to be viewed in the context of their times rather than as some kind of isolated event.

    Bomber command were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and the levelling of entire cities. For me Harris has always been a grey man, he was very much a product of his times and needs to be seen as such, for that reason I would just about give him a pass. However, If I was British I certainly wouldn't be holding him up as a hero. For future generations I think his name will become synomous with butchery.

    With regard to the question whether war crimes are a western invention or not I would have to say absolutley not. Wars happen, they always have and they always will. As much as possible they should be fought between armed groups be they armies, militias, paramilitaries etc. What should not be acceptable is the deliberate targeting of civilians or recklessness towards civilian casualties.

    You don't have to be a western pinko liberal to think that ethnic cleansing in the Balkans or the Rwandan Genocide were abhorent.
    Out of curiosity, how many German Air Chiefs were tried for bombing civilians at the Nurembourg trials?

    To my knowledge there was no one specifically charged with that offence at any of the major trials.

    It's probably worth remembering that the Luftwaffe (or the Japanese) never developed any real heavy bomber capacity, therefore their air raids never came close to having the destructive power of allied raids on Germany or Japan. With that in mind, it would have been a dumb move by the allies to charge axis airforces with killing civilians in bombing raids, an offence they themselves would be clearly guilty of many times over.


  • Registered Users Posts: 3,577 ✭✭✭jonniebgood1


    Gee Bag wrote: »

    With regard to the question whether war crimes are a western invention or not I would have to say absolutley not. Wars happen, they always have and they always will. As much as possible they should be fought between armed groups be they armies, militias, paramilitaries etc. What should not be acceptable is the deliberate targeting of civilians or recklessness towards civilian casualties.

    You don't have to be a western pinko liberal to think that ethnic cleansing in the Balkans or the Rwandan Genocide were abhorent.

    The reason I ask the question is my memory of people charged with these crimes. For example were and allied forces brought before international courts after WWII. Were any American officers brought before war crime tribunals after some of the Vietnam massacres or indeed some of the more recent conflicts that saw abuses of prisoners that would not have been out of place in WWII- these actions are on a smaller scale obviously but surely are comparable in some manner with Serbian crimes that are recently highlighted.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 13,549 ✭✭✭✭Judgement Day


    Gee Bag wrote: »
    We have the benefit of hindsight when discussing the bombing of German cities. These bombing raids have to be viewed in the context of their times rather than as some kind of isolated event.

    Bomber command were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and the levelling of entire cities. For me Harris has always been a grey man, he was very much a product of his times and needs to be seen as such, for that reason I would just about give him a pass. However, If I was British I certainly wouldn't be holding him up as a hero. For future generations I think his name will become synomous with butchery.

    With regard to the question whether war crimes are a western invention or not I would have to say absolutley not. Wars happen, they always have and they always will. As much as possible they should be fought between armed groups be they armies, militias, paramilitaries etc. What should not be acceptable is the deliberate targeting of civilians or recklessness towards civilian casualties.

    You don't have to be a western pinko liberal to think that ethnic cleansing in the Balkans or the Rwandan Genocide were abhorent.



    To my knowledge there was no one specifically charged with that offence at any of the major trials.

    It's probably worth remembering that the Luftwaffe (or the Japanese) never developed any real heavy bomber capacity, therefore their air raids never came close to having the destructive power of allied raids on Germany or Japan. With that in mind, it would have been a dumb move by the allies to charge axis airforces with killing civilians in bombing raids, an offence they themselves would be clearly guilty of many times over.

    Despite what you say, the Luftwaffe were responsible for a serious loss of life during the Blitz http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/30/a6655430.shtml and reaped the whirlwind for their own people. As in all recent wars it is largely the innocent that suffer.


  • Registered Users Posts: 3,577 ✭✭✭jonniebgood1


    Despite what you say, the Luftwaffe were responsible for a serious loss of life during the Blitz http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/30/a6655430.shtml and reaped the whirlwind for their own people. As in all recent wars it is largely the innocent that suffer.

    Firstly I would agree that all innocents who suffered were unfortunate. This was true of Coventry as of Hamburg.

    However from my studies of this I think the numbers involved cannot be ignored and AFAIK these numbers show a far greater casualty list of Germans killed by the RAF than Britons killed by the Luftwaffe.

    If anyone has any table of comparison of civilian casualties I would like to see this.


  • Registered Users Posts: 24,007 ✭✭✭✭ejmaztec


    Firstly I would agree that all innocents who suffered were unfortunate. This was true of Coventry as of Hamburg.

    However from my studies of this I think the numbers involved cannot be ignored and AFAIK these numbers show a far greater casualty list of Germans killed by the RAF than Britons killed by the Luftwaffe.

    If anyone has any table of comparison of civilian casualties I would like to see this.

    What about the mainland European civilians who were indiscriminately bombed, strafed, and subjected to ground assaults by the Nazis? The Allies were after all also fighting on their behalf, and not simply to avenge the deaths of civilians in the UK.


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  • Closed Accounts Posts: 1,541 ✭✭✭Gee Bag


    The reason I ask the question is my memory of people charged with these crimes. For example were and allied forces brought before international courts after WWII. Were any American officers brought before war crime tribunals after some of the Vietnam massacres or indeed some of the more recent conflicts that saw abuses of prisoners that would not have been out of place in WWII- these actions are on a smaller scale obviously but surely are comparable in some manner with Serbian crimes that are recently highlighted.

    That's fair enough, I take your point 100%.

    I would still suggest that its worthwhile to have international agreement on what constitutes a war crime with the possibility of a trial for same. While it will only be applied to relativley weak nations the existence of some kind of accepted standard may at minuimum give nations or individuals who may be contemplating such crimes cause to consider their actions. It's better than nothing.
    Despite what you say, the Luftwaffe were responsible for a serious loss of life during the Blitz http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/30/a6655430.shtml and reaped the whirlwind for their own people. As in all recent wars it is largely the innocent that suffer.

    The point I was trying to make was that if the allies were going to make the axis powers stand trial for indiscriminate bombing from the air then they would be on shaky ground themselves after the bombing of Germany and the conventional and nuclear bombing of Japan.


  • Registered Users Posts: 592 ✭✭✭Watch Ryder


    Harris is always a controversial figure in WWII history and perhaps a reflection of the wider ranging theory that history is written by the victor. If Germany had won WWII surely he would have been held responsible for many killings in a German equivalent of the Nuremburg trials. My own view is that he did what he felt he had to do to bring about a victory for his side of the war. The counterpoint to this may be that the same could be said about many convicted or charged war criminals in recent times.

    What are peoples views on Harris or indeed on the labelling of war criminals such as Karadzic in more recent times.

    As a further aside are war crimes simply an invention of western sensibilities from the 20th century?

    History is written by the winners.
    Harris is a mass murderer by proxy.
    Dresden especially being one example of his 'work'


  • Registered Users Posts: 2,191 ✭✭✭foxcoverteddy


    How long has the war been over, getting on for seventy years, people died needlessly due to the nazi regime, condemnation of what took place is fine now, did you suffer from the bombing of London and other cities?
    I doubt it, so why try and castigate someone who was doing a job, he no doubt hated doing it, unlike some of the modern dictators who appear to revel in mass murder.
    On an end note, the allies did not have oven and mass burial plots, get real.


  • Registered Users Posts: 1,020 ✭✭✭Coles


    The bombing of Dresden was meticulously planned to create a firestorm to incinerate the city the it's civilians. War crime.


  • Registered Users Posts: 2,191 ✭✭✭foxcoverteddy


    Dear Coles, get a life, what do you think of the bombing of Swansea, Coventry, Plymouth and the use of v1 and v2 rockets, the man was brilliant, no doubt you are against the US for hiroshima and nagasaski, did your dad die on the burma railway? mine did, so take a look in the mirror you are only here because brazve men fought for your freedom.
    You are an insult to a generation gone by.


  • Registered Users Posts: 300 ✭✭Luca Brasi


    Coles wrote: »
    The bombing of Dresden was meticulously planned to create a firestorm to incinerate the city the it's civilians. War crime.

    As was the bombing of Birmingham and Omagh


  • Registered Users Posts: 1,020 ✭✭✭Coles


    Dear Coles, get a life, what do you think of the bombing of Swansea, Coventry, Plymouth and the use of v1 and v2 rockets, the man was brilliant, no doubt you are against the US for hiroshima and nagasaski, did your dad die on the burma railway? mine did, so take a look in the mirror you are only here because brazve men fought for your freedom.
    You are an insult to a generation gone by.
    Harris had nothing to do with the bombing of Swansea, Coventry, Plymouth, Hiroshima or Nagasaki so why would you blame him for that. Very odd, but it doesn't reduce his responsibility for what happened at Dresden.


  • Registered Users Posts: 1,020 ✭✭✭Coles


    Luca Brasi wrote: »
    As was the bombing of Birmingham and Omagh
    Again, if you have evidence that Harris bombed Birmingham and Omagh then you should present it. I'm fairly sure you don't have such evidence but that doesn't reduce his responsibility for what happened at Dresden.


  • Registered Users Posts: 1,020 ✭✭✭Coles


    And another thing. Have a look at the thread title and keep your pointless whataboutery out of the thread. Omagh? wtf.


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  • Registered Users Posts: 24,007 ✭✭✭✭ejmaztec


    Coles wrote: »
    Harris had nothing to do with the bombing of Swansea, Coventry, Plymouth, Hiroshima or Nagasaki so why would you blame him for that. Very odd, but it doesn't reduce his responsibility for what happened at Dresden.

    Why would even think that he was blaming Harris, when it's plainly obvious that he wasn't?


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