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Henry Probert. Bomber Harris: His Life and Times.

Henry Probert. Bomber Harris: His life and times, Greenhill Books, London, 2006. ISBN 1-85367-691-8, paperback, 432 pp., 71 b&w photographs, maps and charts, 13 x 20 cm, UK8.99 [pounds sterling] plus p&p.

This objective, but sensitive, biography by Air Commodore Henry Probert of the controversial Arthur Travers Harris is an eminently readable account of the right man at the right time to take charge of the R.A.F's Bomber Command in February, 1942 and intensify the air offensive against Germany.

The bombing of Germany was not initiated by Harris, the policy having been decided on long before as the only way of striking back at Germany, which had used the Luftwaffe for its Blitzkrieg tactics and the terror bombing of civilian targets. From 1942 till the end, Hitler and the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht were to learn just how serious Harris and his American counterparts were in bringing death and destruction to the Third Reich as part of extirpating an evil regime that could not be brought to heel by anything but total defeat.

As the story unfolds, one comes to realise how important Harris's formative years were in providing him with problems that developed valuable skills in improvisation, determination and organization. His education in boarding schools while his parents were away in India, his stint as a farm manager in Rhodesia and his service as a volunteer with the 1st Rhodesian Regiment which saw arduous service in German South West Africa in 1915 were only part of his preparation for greater things.

In October 1915 he returned to England and quickly set about obtaining a civilian pilot's licence in a Maurice Farman Longhorn. This earned him an appointment as a Second Lieutenant in the Special Reserve of the Royal Flying Corps and service in France and Belgium. Following the Armistice he decided to follow a career in the newly formed RAF. His varied appointments in the command and training structure provided valuable organisational experience, while his operational experience in Iraq allowed his gifts of improvisation to turn transports into bombers, which helped no end to curb troublesome rebellions and incursions by Turkish forces into northern Iraq.

After more organisational duties his moment of destiny, for which he seemed fated because of his experience and attributes, arrived in early 1942, and he was appointed Air Officer Commanding in Chief of Bomber Command. His problems, solutions, operational strategies and concerns for those under his command are well presented in this study, as are his family and social life.

The story is well and truly sprinkled with the names of outstanding British and United States personalities of the era, who had connections with the Allied war effort, as a casual browsing of the comprehensive index will readily show. Chapter 21 provides information on his notable associates and friends, while the Postscript details the controversy concerning his memorial statue at St Clement Danes. The Queen Mother's speech on the unveiling of Harris's statue is a fitting tribute that should be more widely known. Two helpful appendices listing Harris's RFC and RAF promotions and appointments are a valuable insight, while the listing of his numerous medals and decorations affirm his outstanding service to his country. For non-air force types such as this reviewer, the glossary proved very helpful. The numerous illustrations admirably complement the text while the bibliography and notes point to the enormous research effort.

It is doubtful if anyone will ever top this biography of Harris, as the author was able to access private correspondence and other papers to make it so informative and so hard to put down. Five stars.
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Author:Wigzell, Syd
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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