'I would have destroyed Dresden again': Bomber Harris was unrepentant over German city raids 30 years after the end of World War Two

  1. Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris was the RAF chief of The Bomber Command

  2. Dresden bombings sparked controversy after 25,000 civilians died in attack

  3. But newly-discovered video shows RAF chief saying he would do it again

By Suzannah Hills

PUBLISHED: 14:29, 11 February 2013 | UPDATED: 16:39, 11 February 2013

The RAF commander who ordered the controversial fire-bombing of Dresden which killed an estimated 25,000 civilians during World War II said he would do it again in a long lost interview filmed 30 years after the end of the conflict.

Former marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris, gave the green light for the 1945 bombing which reduced the city in Saxony, Germany, to rubble.

The attack was widely criticised because of 'blanket bombing' which hit civilian areas as well as military targets - killing thousands of innocents. 

But the newly-discovered interview with Sir Arthur, which was filmed in 1977 and will be aired for the first time on the BBC tonight, shows the RAF chief defending his decision.

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Commander: Air Marshal Arthur 'Bomber' Harris, who planned the majority of the RAF's night raids during World War II, is seen at work in his office

Casualties: Around 25,000 people were killed by Allied bombers over the course of two night raids on the city of Dresden in Saxony, Germany, in February 1945

Fresh evidence: Footage of Air Arthur Harris being interviewed by Air Vice Marshal Tony Mason has emerged 36 years after it was filmed

And the chief commander of the Bomber Command tells his interviewer, Air Vice Marshal Tony Mason, that he would do it again if he had to.

He said: 'If I had to have the same time again I would do the same again, but I hope I wouldn’t have to.'


Sir Arthur then adds: 'I hope it’s been of some use, for future generations in keeping them out of these riots. It never does anybody any good.'

During the interview, Mason discusses how many felt the Dresden attack was 'a city too far'.

However Harris stood his ground saying: 'The bombers kept over a million fit Germans out of the German army… Manning the anti-aircraft defences; making the ammunition, and doing urgent repairs, especially tradesmen.'

Interview: Sir Arthur said he would still make the same decision to bomb Dresden if given his time again

Reduced to rubble: The 'blanket bombing' of Dresden was widely criticised as civilian areas were hit as well as military targets

Destruction: The capital of Saxony was left in ruins after the Allied air bombings with the Town Hall, pictured in the background, reduced to a shell of a building

Harris also countered the myth that area bombing was his idea - claiming it was already Government policy.

He said: 'I lived in a shower of directives from the day I took over to the last day of war.

'The directive when I took over was that I wasn't to specifically aim at anything unless ordered to do so and to blast the German cities as a whole.'

Air Marshall Arthur Harris, Head of the RAF Bomber Command, said it was Government policy not to bomb specific targets

Mason asked Harris why he was ordered to bomb whole cities rather than specific Nazi targets. In response, Harris said: 'They came to the conclusion that they weren’t hitting very much and they didn’t have very much to hit things with…'

Sir Arthur, who died in 1984 aged 91, refused a peerage because his men were denied a campaign medal.

The Bomber Command, which suffered the highest casualty rate of any British unit, losing 55,573 of its 125,000 men, eventually got a memorial last year.

It was erected despite numerous objections from German politicians.

Bomber Command veteran Doug Radcliffe, 89, who is now secretary of the Bomber Command Association, backed his former commander.

He told the Daily Express: 'Our raids meant there were 10,000 88mm anti-aircraft guns pointing up to the sky instead of at our troops and the Russians.

'Dresden was a major centre for the manufacture of opticals, such as gun sights and binoculars.'

He added: 'After Dresden we lost another 700 bombers, and London was being hit by V2s which nobody could fight against.'

It was initially claimed that up to 250,000 civilians lost their lives in the Dresden bombings but an official report released after the war showed the casualty figure was in fact closer to 25,000.

Over two days and nights in February 1945 British and American bombers turned the city into a sea of flames and rubble.

Air raids: Dresden can be seen in flames following allied bombings in February 1945

Restoration: Residents can be seen working on the removal of debris from Dresden's Muenzgasse street in 1952

The victims - mostly women and children - died in savage firestorms whipped up by the intense heat of 2,400 tons of high explosive and 1,500 tons of incendiary bombs.

The newly-found footage will shed more light on Dresden and the actions of the RAF during World War Two.

Professor Richard Aldrich, University of Warwick, said: 'It’s interesting because it’s not done immediately after the second world war, it’s done at a time when there have already been several waves of interpretation about Bomber Command, about Harris himself and so one not only gets his memories which are still clearly quite fresh, but also is commentary on those different interpretations.

'It’s a multi-layered interview and all the more interesting for it.'


Sir Arthur Harris was appointed commander-in-chief of The Bomber Command - the unit responsible for defending Britain from aerial attacks and bombing enemy targets - in 1942.

In the early part of the war, the Bomber Command’s raids had little effect.

The bombers only flew at night to reduce the danger of being shot down, but with primitive navigation equipment, this made it difficult to identify and hit a small target.

In 1941, it was decided that The Bomber Command would target entire industrial cities - known as area or blanket bombing.

This policy was endorsed by Churchill and formally adopted in early 1942 as Sir Arthur took the helm of The Bomber Command.

Harris said at the start of the bombing campaign that he was unleashing a whirlwind on Germany.

Working class housing areas were targeted because they had a higher density and firestorms were more likely. This disrupted the German workforce and the Germans capability of producing more weapons.

The plan was highly controversial even before it started, but the Cabinet thought bombing was the only option available to attack Germany directly as a major invasion of the continent was years away. The Soviets were also demanding that the Western Allies do something to relieve the pressure on the Eastern Front.

Brave: The Bomber Command, pictured, lost more soldiers than other unit during WWII

Dresden was one of the cities targeted with 'area bombings'. Around 25,000 civilians were killed by allied bombs dropped over the course of two days in February 1945.

The tactic has been strongly criticised leading to accusations of war crimes.

The Bomber Command suffered the highest casualty rate of any British unit - losing 55,573 of its 125,000 men.

After opposition from German politicians, a memorial to The Bomber Command was finally unveiled in Green Park, London, last year.

Tribute: The memorial to The Bomber that was unveiled in Green Park, London, last year

  1. The Arthur Harris interview will be aired on Inside Out on BBC1 West and West Midlands at 7.30pm tonight and on BBC iPlayer.

VIDEO: Excerpt from Bomber Harris interview that has surfaced from the MOD


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