Old German and British war wounds have been reopened by a new controversy over a statue being erected in London to the officer whose bomber force rained explosives on Germany.
The statue commemorates Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Harris, Britain’s top bomber commander during World War II, who masterminded the RAF’s night bombing campaign over Germany.
Known as “Bomber Harris” for his single-minded execution of strategic bombing--characterized by mass raids with widespread devastation of major cities such as Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin, Wuerzburg and Dresden--Harris was called “The Butcher” by the Germans.
An estimated half a million Germans were killed in night bombing by British planes and in daylight raids by American aircraft. The efficiency of strategic area bombing has long been a subject of dispute.
When word crossed the Channel recently that an oversized statue of Harris was planned for St. Clement Danes Church in the Strand, in central London, several German mayors complained.
Dresden Mayor Herbert Wagner declared that the memorial did not belong in the Europe of 1992, adding, “I do not wish to mitigate Germany’s guilt, but Harris’ carpet bombing against civilians was not militarily justifiable.”
Citing a widely used figure, Wagner said 35,000 Dresden civilians lost their lives in two days of bombing by the British and Americans.
Wuerzburg Mayor Juergen Weber appealed to Britain’s ambassador to Germany, Christopher Mallaby, to stop the placement of the memorial “in the name of countless victims of bombing attacks against civilians.”
“Wuerzburg never believed it would be a target,” said Weber. “There was practically no military presence in the city, no industry, and the railhead was at that time of no importance.”
He was joined in his protest by Mayor Joachim Becker of Pforzheim, in Baden Wuerttemberg, where bombing killed 20,000 people over a few days and left the city gutted. Becker termed the London monument a “dismaying development at a time of growing detente and international understanding.”
Domestic criticism came from Canon Paul Oestreicher, director of the International Ministry at Coventry Cathedral, a city that has become a symbol of England’s wartime losses. “Creating statues today to Second World War heroes is sending the wrong message to our people and to other nations,” he said.
But the British Bomber Command Assn. is staunchly backing the statue, the work of sculptor Faith Winter. With contributions from its 8,000 members, the association has raised $170,000 for the work.
The association’s secretary, Douglas Radcliffe, characterized the Harris statue as a memorial to all the more than 130,000 British and American airmen who lost their lives during the war.
For years, members of Bomber Command have been angered over what they saw as lack of appreciation by the postwar Labor government.
The nine-foot bronze statue is to be unveiled by the Queen Mother next year, the 50th anniversary of Harris’ assuming command, and will stand beside a similar memorial to Lord Dowding, chief of the RAF’s Fighter Command.