On the outbreak of World War II, Harris commanded Number 5 Bomber Group. He then was deputy chief of the Air Staff and headed a mission to Washington. Dissatisfaction with the course of British strategic bombing led to his appointment in February 1942 as head of Bomber Command and his promotion to air chief marshal.
Harris committed himself to maintaining Bomber Command as an independent strategic arm. In May 1942, he launched the first of the 1,000-plane raids against Köln (Cologne), which did much to raise morale at home. Harris, who was nicknamed "Bomber," maintained that massive bombing would break German civilian morale and bring about an end to the war. Harris ordered Bomber Command to conduct massive night raids against German cities. Among other missions, Harris directed the May 1943 raid on the Ruhr dams by 617th Squadron, the July 1943 raid against Hamburg, attacks against German rocket factories at Peenemünde in August 1943, the November 1943 attacks against Berlin, and the destruction of Dresden in February 1945.
Harris remains controversial, especially because of his seeming lack of concern over collateral bomb damage. He was at odds with his superior, chief of the Air Staff Air Marshal Charles Portal, and others who sought to target specific industries considered essential to the Nazi war effort. What appeared to be indiscriminate bombing of cities also brought harsh criticism on Harris at the end of the war. His aircrews, however, remained fiercely loyal to him.
Harris retired from the RAF in September 1945 and headed a South African shipping company. His memoir, Bomber Offensive, was published in 1947. Made a baronet in 1953, Harris died on 5 April 1984 at Goring-on-Thames, England. Thomas D. Veve
Harris, Arthur T. Bomber Offensive. London: Collins, 1947.; Neillands, Robin. The Bomber War: The Allied Air Offensive against Nazi Germany. New York: Overlook Press, 2001.; Probert, Henry. Bomber Harris: His Life and Times. London: Greenhill Books, 2001.; Saward, Dudley. Bomber Harris: The Story of Sir Arthur Harris. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985.
Thomas D. Veve