We have detected that you are using an older version of Internet Explorer and to have access to all the features on this site, you will need to update your browser to Internet Explorer 8. Alternatively, download Mozilla Firefox or Chrome.

Arthur Harris

TAMI BIDDLE: It’s one of those great counterfactuals in the world: what if the weather had just remained a little bit better [in 1944] or what if Arthur Harris had been a little less inclined to go to cities and a little more inclined to go to the oil targets? Although he argued very fervently that he went to oil every conceivable time he could, this was a big debate between him and Portal in the winter of 1944-45 because Portal began to doubt whether he was following the directive. We suspect Arthur Harris because he’d always been an advocate of attacking cities, and that was absolutely true. Arthur Harris believed that everything that is important to a modern industrial state is concentrated in its cities, and what he needed to do was systematically go down the list of every German city and devastate it, and by the time he got 80 percent of the way down the list the Germans would give up. He was absolutely convinced of this and he was completely frustrated over and over and over again by the fact that he was being told to do all kinds of other things: attack submarine pens, do the pre-Normandy prep, do all of these things which he called diversions. These were all aspects of the war that were quite vital but in his mind if he could have lived in the perfect world doing only what he wanted to do he would have systematically attacked all the German cities and he was convinced that by the time he got to a certain point on the list the country would just collapse because it couldn’t function. There wouldn’t be factories, there wouldn’t be communications, there wouldn’t be politics any more.

LAURENCE REES: And he was wrong.

TAMI BIDDLE: Well, yes, I think he was wrong in the sense that somehow this country, because at some level it is in an existential fight and it gets to a point where it feels like it can’t give up so it’s having to redistribute resources. And Speer is something of a genius in this regard and he does move things around and keeps this economy going in ways that are pretty phenomenal at times. But I think Harris is convinced that somehow life and organised life and war fighting cannot continue on in the way that it did in fact continue on, to the surprise of certainly everyone who would have been looking at it from an inter-war perspective. If you could have projected this kind of devastation on a country would it continue to function? Would it continue to hold out against unconditional surrender? Probably most people would have said no. Harris was convinced that he was going to get them to the point where you wouldn’t have to do this great amphibious assault. For Harris and for so many people of this generation, the World War One generation, the great fear is that you get an army on the ground and you get back into 1916 and 1917. And that’s the great fear and that’s what he’s trying to fight against.