Bomber Harris and Precision Bombing – No Oxymoron Here

Randall Wakelam


Criticisms as to the efficacy or lack thereof of the RAF’s strategic bombing campaign against Germany have been fuelled in Canada in recent years first by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s docudrama miniseries, The Valour and the Horror, in the mid 1990s and more recently by a debate over the wording of the Bomber Command panel in the new Canadian War Museum. The essence of these debates centres on the morality of Sir Arthur Harris’s apparently bloody-minded city busting tactics compared to the US Army Air Forces’ ethical and restrained precision bombing of military and strategic target systems. This article aims to demonstrate that Harris and his advisors were in no sense the intellectually inflexible and anti-technologically minded donkeys that many have and continue to claim them to be. It will highlight the role of operational research in identifying both the technical and tactical problems which plagued the Command and how the commanders and senior staff at High Wycombe accepted and used the scientists’ advice in attempting to employ the limited resources of the bombing force to best advantage.

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JMSS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.