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Sir Arthur Harris-Chief of Bomber Command-War Criminal?

Discussion in 'Sacred Cows and Dead Horses' started by pauledward, Feb 22, 2010.

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  1. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

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    9th July, 1941. Air Vice-Marshal N H Bottomley ( Deputy Chief of the Air Staff ) to Air Marshal Sir Richard Peirse.
    Air Ministry Bombing Directive.

    ' I am directed to inform you.....

    ...that the weakest points in the enemy's armour lies in the morale of the civilian population and his inland transportation system.....

    2. Subject, therefore, to Para. 7 below ( diversionary attacks ) I am to request that you will direct the main effort of the bomber force, until further instructions, towards dislocating the German transportation system and to destroying the morale of the civilian population as a whole and of the industrial workers in particular....'

    The full text of this Directive can be found in the official history, 'The Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany 1939-1945' Vol. 4 ( HMSO 1961),pp 135-137.

    The policy of area bombing was determined by the Air Council with the support of the other Chiefs of Staff ( including the Army ) and the ultimate sanction of the War Cabinet. One year earlier Churchill had minuted :

    'When I look round to see how we can win the war I see that there is only one sure path.....there is only one thing that will bring him ( Hitler ) back and bring him down and that is an absolutely devastating, exterminating attack by very heavy bombers from this country upon the Nazi homeland'.


    IMPO this thread contains far too much personal opinion, 21st Century moralizing and airing of ideas. I'm sorry if documented facts spoil the fun and I'm not for one moment saying that Harris was a jolly nice chap. He wasn't.

    But suggesting that the British Government was somehow innocent of the policy of attacking civilians is as incorrect as David Irving's thesis that Hitler was somehow unaware of the Holocaust.
     
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  2. Karjala

    Karjala Don Quijote

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    Since he was not prosecuted everything is only about opinions. I have stated mine.

    True. That's what the British tried to do at first. When this was causing too much casualties they changed their strategy to night time carpet (terror) bombings. It was totally clear from this point onwards that the main victims (and targets) were the civilians.

    Taking war to Germany was defending his country. Knowingly aiming the civilians was not. By aggression I meant aggression towards the civilians.

    By misguided I meant not logical (in order to win the war). I didn't mean he didnt't know what he was doing. Of course the civilian death rates would have been lower if they hadn't been bombed!

    Well, IMHO it did not work very well. The same bomber resources would have produced better results with a different strategy - by concentrating on military/industrial targets - as the Americans mainly did.

    Easy - crime against humanity.
     
  3. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Even Hitler was looking for answers in Vengeance weapons throughout the war. All the efforts etc used in V1,V2,V3,and also bombers being built to make mini-bombing missions, I seem to recall he requested city bombg missions in early 1945 still. And he needed fighters to protect Germany.
     
  4. Karjala

    Karjala Don Quijote

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    If a city has an industrial area it hardly justifies the bombing of the HOLE city.

    Law: crimes against humanity. More speficly: (mass) murdering civilians.

    As above.

    The law broken is above. I agree that the scale of the losses is irrelevant. It was just for a reminder.
     
  5. Karjala

    Karjala Don Quijote

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    Harris personally was very much supporting this strategy and fighting for it, if I'm not mistaken.
     
  6. Karjala

    Karjala Don Quijote

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    I thought the Brits were supposed to be the good guys? I'm sure Hitler would have done exactly that. So does that justify the killings of ten times more German civilians...?
     
  7. Karjala

    Karjala Don Quijote

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    There were no internationally agreed universal laws of war. Some were agreed, many were not. Still e.g. many Germans were (rightly) convicted by laws, which were not German laws at the time.

    Was Harris breaking a law at the time by his terror bombings - probably not. Do I think he was a war criminal by standards stated after the war at Nuremberg - yes.
     
  8. Karjala

    Karjala Don Quijote

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    True. I agree totally.

    As in general I agree. In this matter it is not that clear. For me it seems that attacking civilian targets were allowed and were accepted practices when bombing the German cities.

    Nobody - at least not me - have accused individual RAF pilots for being members of Einsatzgruppen.
     
  9. Karjala

    Karjala Don Quijote

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    Well - this only adds the British Government to the list of potential war criminals, doesn't it? I personally have never denied the involment of the British Government. Harris himself was very much for this strategy and pressed for it, so this doesn't change his status.

    Of course it is of opinions, because he was not prosecuted.

    And of course this is of 21st century moralizing.
     
  10. Karjala

    Karjala Don Quijote

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    Just to make it clear to all veterans following this conversation:

    I personally have nothing but the deepest sympathy and respect to all veterans who fought the war, not least because of both my veteran grandfathers and war widowed grandaunt. This respect includes the bomber pilots, who only did what they were told.

    My critics only target the decision makers.
     
  11. efestos

    efestos Member

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    In fact it worked, the question is if karpet bombing was worthwhile or not. It wasn´t. The state of the science in 1942-43 (we could say before B 29 even before the mass introduction of the Lancaster) made it a very expensive way to waste resources. But it was the only way the Brittons could really challenge the Nazi Germany these years. Some one said it was "a luxury we can not afford" ... (found in Max Hasting's "Finest years: Churchill as warlord. 1940-1945") ...
     
  12. SKYLINEDRIVE

    SKYLINEDRIVE Member

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    I am the first one who welcomes valid critics, but your way of reasoning only helps those that are trying to relativize the real war crimes the negotianists and neo-nazis.

    As far as I know there were no deliberate bombing attacks on civilians, the attacks aimed either the transportation networks or industrial complexes. It is a known fact that those attacks were also meant to demoralize the ennemy and the allied knowingly accepted a high number of civilian casualties! But the civilians were not the first target. If the allied governements were war criminals then I'm afraid Mannerheim was much worse, he fought with Hitler, thus he helped facilitate the Holocaust! Same simplicistic reasoning!
     
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  13. Karjala

    Karjala Don Quijote

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    I understand your point and agree with it - to a certain degree. The fact that somebody else makes more and worse attrocities doesn't make own attrocities acceptable - when there's a possibility not to do them.

    In general the western allies were the good - or at least the better - guys. This doesn't meant they didn't do acts, which could/should(?) be regarded as war crimes. The aim to "demoralize" the enemy by bombing the civilians is IMHO a war crime - even if it was only one of the objectives.

    Mannerheim fought with Hitler, because Stalin tried to crush Finland. That was pure survival. In Finland there was no "Jewish question", as Himmler was bluntly told. Jewish soldiers were fighting in Finnish army, which had e.g. a field synagoge.

    On the other hand Western allies allied with Stalin, who had more people killed than Hitler. Stalin was also the main architect behind the WW2 in Europe - not Hitler. Western help and political support resulted the hole Eastern Europe to fall into the hands of communist dictatorship(s) for 45 years!

    This Western help and political support also meant, that democratic Finland permanently (so far...) lost 12,5 % of her area to a communist dictatorship and 12 % of the Finnish population lost their homes.
     
  14. SKYLINEDRIVE

    SKYLINEDRIVE Member

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    Stalin was playing in the same league as Adolf, no question! But when it comes to who was responsible for starting the war i prefer to agree with you that we disagree!;-)
     
  15. Karjala

    Karjala Don Quijote

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    Maybe we discuss about that some other time...
     
  16. SKYLINEDRIVE

    SKYLINEDRIVE Member

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    OK!
     
  17. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    And stating that someone who not only has not been convicted of a crime hasn't even been charged with it and is not availble to defend himself is rather poor form in my book. Especially as the case against conviction is quite strong.
    Given the accuracies of the time whether they were attacking industrial targets or cities it would be hard to tell. Certainly once they started getting a handle on just how poor accuracy was it was clear that there would be a lot of collateral casualties. That said the target was still German industry.
    Was he knowingly aiming at civilians or knowingly aiming at an area where they would likely be? The leaflets dropped in the latter part of the war suggest that causing civilian casualties was not the aim of the bombing campaigns. Certainly it was going to happen but given that German industry used primarily civilian workers I don't see that it could have been avoided.
    That's not at all clear. Without the bombing the war is likely to last longer and the Red army gain control of more German territory (and likely be in an even worse mood). Between them, famine, and disease the toll could have been even higher.
    Well I'm not sure that the strategy and effects were all that different between the US and British bombing campaigns. Certainly the RAF proved that a daylight bombing campaign wasn't practicle or effective in 41 and 42.
    What specfic statute? Even by the post war standards I don't think you'll find an offical one that fits.
     
  18. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Given the accuracy of the bombers of the time there was not other option.
    The loss of civilians during military operations was recognized as inevitable. As long of the bombing wasn't actually killing the civilians it was within the rules of warfare. Thus it was not murder. In any case would not fit the defintion of "crimes against humanity".
    Your statement doesn't qualify as a legal source. PLS give us a reference with the exact wording of the law you think was broken.
     
  19. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Well it depends on what you consider "many". I'm pretty sure that the conventions of warfare were indeed part of German military law. Thus many even most of those convicted were indeed convicted of violations of German law. The "crimes against humanity" convictions were the ones that were after the effect laws and those were primarily concerned with the Holocaust.
    Then you are in error.
     
  20. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    One of the clear lessons from Nuremburg is that that doesn't work. Following orders is not an acceptable excuse for violating the conventions.
     
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