Royal Air Force Bomber
Command 60th Anniversary
Bomber Command Commanders of World War II
The Command Chiefs
The information on this page is taken from 'The Bomber
Command Handbook 1939-1945'
by Jonathon Falconer. For more information on this book, click
Air Chief Marshal Sir Edgar Ludlow-Hewitt GCB, GBE, CMG, DSO, MC
C-in-C Bomber Command 1937-40
Although not a very approachable man, Ludlow, as he was known, was
widely respected for his immense knowledge of the RAF and lauded by
Bomber Harris as the only officer in any of the services 'who so completely
commanded and earned the faith and respect of his subordinates'. Ludlow-Hewitt
was one of the few RAF commanders who kept abreast of new techniques
and who actually bothered to maintain his skills as a pilot.
The son of a clergyman, Edgar Rainey Ludlow-Hewitt was born in Co.
Cork on 9 June 1886 and educated at Radley and Sandhurst. Commissioned
into the Royal Irish Rifles in 1905 he later learnt to fly at Upavon
and was appointed to the RFC in August 1914. The following year he joined
1 Squadron in France where he saw action over the Western Front during
the battle of Neuve Chapelle and in the fighting at Hill 60. Later he
commanded 3 Squadron and was promoted Wing Commander and temporary Lieutenant-Colonel
to command the 3rd Corps Wing at Bertangles. He was awarded the MC in
1916, the Croix de Chevalier, Legion of Honour in 1917, the DSO in 1918,
and was mentioned in dispatches six times during the war, and in 1918
he was Chief Staff Officer at the RAF headquarters in France. Between
the wars his career developed quickly with appointments as Commandant
of the RAF Staff College (1926-30), Director of Operations and Intelligence
at the Air Ministry, and Deputy Chief of Staff (1933-5), AOC India (1935-7),
followed in 1937 by appointment as C-in-C Bomber Command.
Ludlow-Hewitt steered Bomber Command through the difficult pre-war
expansion period, but still remained realistic enough to recognise the
deficiencies of the Command and its unreadiness for combat as war approached
in September 1939. He could see that the problems it faced stemmed largely
from the rapid expansion which had failed to address the crucial issues
of night flying training, navigational aids, and the vulnerability of
bombers to enemy fighter attack during daylight raids. By early in 1940
he acknowledged that the pre-war theory of the bomber always getting
through had finally been dashed, and he was openly pessimistic about
the capabilities of the RAF's bomber force.
In early 1940 Ludlow-Hewitt was posted away from Bomber Command in
what some observers believe was a fit of pique by certain personalities
within the Air Ministry, scornful of Ludlow's insistence on the formation
of more OTUs at the expense of some front-line aircraft and crews to
fuel the training programme. However, his appreciation of the value
of operational training was to be the salvation of Bomber Command in
the years that followed. Bomber Harris later commented that 'without
this policy of Ludlow's, the dog would have eaten its own tail to hurting
point within a few weeks, and would have been a dead dog beyond all
hope of recovery, within a few months. Ludlow-Hewitt saved the situation
- and the war - at his own expense.'
From 1940 to 1945 Ludlow-Hewitt became Inspector-General of the RAF
and retired from the service in the year the war ended as an Air Chief
Marshal. In the same year he was appointed Chairman of the Board of
Governors of the College of Aeronautics where he remained until 1953,
whereupon he was made Deputy Lieutenant for Wiltshire. Ludlow-Hewitt
died on 15 August 1973, aged eighty-seven.
Air Marshal Sir Charles Portal KG, GCB, OM, DSO, MC
C-in-C Bomber Command 1940
A quiet but likeable man, at forty-six years of age 'Peter' Portal
was still relatively young when he succeeded Sir Edgar Ludlow- Hewitt
on 4 April 1940 as C-in-C Bomber Command, but his prodigious intelligence
and determination as a commander singled him out for higher office.
Just six months into his command at High Wycombe he was appointed Chief
of the Air Staff in October 1940, in which role he was later to become
strongly committed to using Bomber Command in the fullest way possible
to destroy Nazi Germany.
Born Charles Frederick Algernon Portal on 21 May 1893 at Hungerford,
he was educated at Winchester and Christ Church, Oxford, before joining
the Motor Cyclist Section of the Royal Engineers on the outbreak of
war in 1914. As a Corporal he was mentioned in dispatches the following
month and was commissioned in September the same year. Transferring
to the RFC as an observer in 1915, Portal was regarded as a pilot by
1916. He became a squadron commander in 1917 and a Lieutenant-Colonel,
RAF, in June 1918, at the age of twenty-five, and with the MC and a
DSO and bar.
Between the wars his RAF career progressed quickly, being promoted
to wing commander in 1925 followed by the command of 7 (B) Squadron
in 1927. In 1934, as a Group Captain, he was appointed commander of
British forces in Aden, followed in 1937 by promotion to Air Vice-Marshal
and appointment as Director of Organisation at the Air Ministry where
he served until appointed to the Air Council in 1939 as Air Member for
Personnel. On the outbreak of war he was granted the rank of acting
air marshal and remained on the Air Council until chosen to succeed
Sir Edgar Ludlow-Hewitt as C-in-C Bomber Command in April 1940.
During his short time in command at High Wycombe, Portal steered Bomber
Command through the dangerous summer of 1940. As a result of the disastrous
daylight operation against the German fleet at Kristiansand in April,
he sensibly restricted the Command's Hampdens and Wellingtons to night
operations only, like the Whitleys.
He took office as Chief of the Air Staff in October 1940, where he
remained for the duration of the war, and in April 1942 received substantive
promotion to Air Chief Marshal with seniority of May 1940. In January
1944 he was advanced to the highest rank of Marshal of the RAF.
Portal was a member of the Chiefs of Staff Committee in which capacity
he played a full part in presenting to the Prime Minister and the War
Cabinet the advice of the Chiefs of Staff on Allied strategy and other
important matters of military policy. He was also present at all the
wartime conferences of the Allied leaders, culminating in the meetings
of 'the big three' at Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam.
The Portal-Harris axis in the Second World War proved very important
for Bomber Command and had its genesis before the war when both men
had commanded bomber squadrons at Worthy Down. The effective teamwork
and close relationship that had grown up between them in the 1920s developed
further during the war years, shaping the growth of Bomber Command in
a significant way. Portal was acutely aware of the influence that Harris
could exert on Churchill and he actively encouraged this liaison, even
going so far as to help Harris plan his approaches to the Prime Minister,
but then leaving him to proceed alone. Portal and Harris did have their
differences, and at times these were forcibly expressed, but never did
they allow such sentiments to affect their personal friendship or professional
Portal was created a Baron in the honours announced on the resignation
of the Churchill government in August 1945, and in the New Year honours
of 1946 was raised to the rank of Viscount. He was also one of the seven
war leaders who were appointed Knights of the Garter in December 1946.
From 1946 to 1951 Portal was Controller of Atomic Energy at the Ministry
of Supply and in 1960 he was elected Chairman of the British Aircraft
Corporation. As well as being an authority on falconry and a keen fisherman,
he was also president of the MCC in 1958-9. He died on 22 April 1971,
Air Marshal Sir Richard E C Peirse KCB, DSO, AFC
C-in-C Bomber Command 1940-42
Appointed by the Air Council in October 1940 to succeed Portal, Peirse
had previously been Vice-Chief of the Air Staff where he had been closely
involved in British bombing policy. During his fourteen-month tenure
at High Wycombe he presided over the expansion of the bomber force and
the introduction of the Stirling, Manchester and Halifax bombers which
promised much, but which in reality failed to live up to expectations.
Born on 30 September 1892, Richard Peirse was an only child and came
from a naval background. His father, an Admiral, later became C-in-C
East Indies, during the First World War. Richard was educated at Monkton
Combe School near Bath, HMS Conway, and at King's College, London, before
being commissioned into the Royal Naval Reserve for service in the RFC
Naval Wing. He served with distinction as a pilot during the First World
War, seeing much action along the Belgian coast, attacking submarine
bases and winning the DSO in 1915. In 1919 he was awarded the AFC and
a permanent commission as squadron leader in the RAF, eventually rising
to become commander of British forces in Palestine and Transjordan from
1933 to 1936. Returning to England, he was made an Air Vice-Marshal
in 1936 and in the following year became Director of Operations and
Intelligence at the Air Ministry, and then Deputy Chief of the Air Staff
(from April 1940 this post was redesignated Vice-Chief of the Air Staff).
In 1939, Peirse was made an additional member of the Air Council and
promoted acting Air Marshal.
Appointed C-in-C Bomber Command on 5 October 1940, Peirse was in command
during a very difficult period that witnessed the painful transition
from an inadequately equipped bomber force into the heavy force that
his successor Sir Arthur Harris would take forward to victory. Towards
the end of 1941 Portal became increasingly dissatisfied with Peirse's
performance as Commander-in-Chief and alarmed at the growing losses
being suffered by the Command. In January 1942 Peirse posted away to
command the Allied air forces in South East Asia and retired as an Air
Marshal in 1945. Sir Richard Peirse died on 6 August 1970, aged seventy-seven.
Air Marshal Sir J E A Baldwin KBE, CB, DSO, DL
Acting C-in-C 1942
AVM 'Jack' Baldwin, AOC of 3 Group, acted as caretaker at Bomber Command
headquarters until Peirse's successor could take over. It was during
his brief tenure that the Channel Dash occurred, when the Scharnhorst
and Gneisenau escaped from the French port of Brest and fled up the
English Channel to the sanctuary of Kiel harbour in northern Germany,
despite the attentions of 242 bomber aircraft of Bomber Command.
AOC 3 Group, 1939-42
A cavalry officer in the First World War, for a little over three years
in the Second, John Baldwin presided over 3 Group, witnessing the heavy
casualties of the early daylight raids, the transition to the night
offensive and his group's re-equipment with the RAF's first four-engined
monoplane heavy bomber, the Short Stirling. A popular officer, he occasionally
flew on operations with his crews, a practice frowned upon and actively
discouraged by Command headquarters.
Born on 13 April 1892, John Baldwin was educated at Rugby and Sandhurst
before being commissioned into the 8th KRI Hussars in 1911. He transferred
to the RAF in 1918 and was appointed ADC to King George V (1931-3).
A succession of high-level appointments followed culminating with AOC
3 Group from 28 August 1939 to 14 September 1942. Baldwin's final RAF
appointment was as AOC 3rd Tactical Air Force in 1943-4 and he retired
from the RAF at the end of the war. Thereafter he re-established links
with his old regiment, the 8th KRI Hussars, and became their Colonel
from 1948 to 1958. Baldwin died at Stamford, Lincolnshire, on 28 July
1975, aged eighty-three.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris GCB, OBE, AFC
C-in-C Bomber Command 1942-5
Known universally by his nickname 'Bomber', Sir Arthur Harris was the
architect of Britain's strategic air offensive in the Second World War
and for three years pursued the systematic destruction of Germany with
a single-minded determination. Of all the Allied wartime commanders,
Harris is arguably the most controversial and to this day his name is
closely linked with the questionable policy of area bombing. Although
he did not invent area bombing, he applied himself rigorously to its
execution and demonstrated to the world the importance of strategic
air power and the key role played by the RAF in the Allied war effort.
Harris was a man who could express himself clearly and who exuded a
clear sense of purpose, although he was seen by some as unrefined and
rude, lacking in sensitivity, impatient and totally inflexible. Yet
generally he was regarded with affection by his bomber crews, and with
awe by his many minions at Bomber Command headquarters.
When he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command in 1942,
the bomber war had scarcely begun. In the thirty months that preceded
his arrival at High Wycombe, Bomber Command had dropped about 90,000
tons of bombs and lost some 7,000 aircrew killed on operations; during
the period of his command from 1942 to 1945, over 850,000 tons of bombs
were dropped but aircrew casualties climbed to more than 40,000.
Although promoted Marshal of the RAF in 1945, unlike the other main
leaders of the war years Harris did not receive a peerage in the 1946
New Year honours. Politicians, including Churchill himself, were quick
to distance themselves from the bomber offensive now that the war had
been won, and Sir Arthur Harris and Bomber Command became victims of
post war political expediency. Arthur Travers Harris was born at Cheltenham
on 13 April 1892, the son of an official in the Indian Civil Service.
He was educated privately but later fell out with his parents when they
insisted on him joining the Army. Instead, the young Harris travelled
across the world to Rhodesia where, at the age of sixteen, he tried
his luck at gold mining, driving horses, and tobacco planting. When
war broke out in 1914 he joined the Rhodesia Regiment as a bugler and
fought in the campaign in German South West Africa. When the regiment
disbanded on completion of the campaign he returned to England where
he learned to fly at Brooklands and was commissioned into the RFC in
November 1915. Harris was posted to France where he served on the Western
Front until returning to England late in 1917. Promoted to Major in
1918 he was given command of a home defence squadron (No 44) and acquired
something of a reputation as a pioneer in night flying and night fighting
with 191 Squadron. He was awarded the AFC in November 1918 and granted
a permanent commission in the RAF the following year.
During the interwar years Harris commanded several bomber squadrons
in India and Iraq, demonstrating to those in authority his belief in
the efficacy of large bomber aircraft and their direct employment against
the enemy, and not as adjuncts to the other services. From 1925 to 1927
he commanded 58 (Bomber) Squadron at Worthy Down, during which time
he effected great improvements in the squadron's navigational methods
and in bombing by night. Between 1930 and 1933 he was employed on staff
duties in the Middle East before returning home once more, this time
as a Group Captain to command 210 Squadron, a flying boat unit based
at Pembroke Dock, and where one of his flight commanders was a young
and talented Australian named Don Bennett who would later become his
AOC of the Pathfinder Force. Harris spent the next four years at the
Air Ministry as Deputy Director, Operations and Intelligence, and later
Director of Plans in which role he played a major part in inter-service
planning. Promoted Air Commodore, he became the first AOC of the newly
formed 4 Group in June 1937 where he remained until July the following
year when he was posted overseas again, this time as AOC in Palestine
and Transjordan with the unenviable task of helping the Army keep civil
order between Arab and Jew. He was invalided home to England in July
1939 suffering from a duodenal ulcer, but was soon given command of
5 Group in September where he remained until his appointment as Deputy
Chief of the Air Staff in November 1940. Six months later he was chosen
to head the RAF delegation in Washington and it was from this post that
he was appointed in February 1942 to succeed Air Marshal Sir Richard
Peirse as Commander-in-Chief Bomber Command.
As Commander-in-Chief, Harris presided over the rapid expansion of
Bomber Command with the introduction of better aircraft in greater numbers,
improved bombs and bombing tactics, and the effective use of radar technology.
He succeeded in turning what had been a poorly equipped force with mediocre
results into an efficient and deadly weapon of war, a situation brought
about largely by dint of his personal commitment and strength of character.
With the first 1,000-bomber raid in May 1942 Harris sent out a strong
signal to Bomber Command's detractors, particularly in the Royal Navy,
that he meant business, and that his command was not going to be dismembered
and its resources shared out between the other two services.
Not surprisingly, Harris had very firm views about how his force should
be employed: he resisted the formation of the Pathfinder Force in 1942
and fought every attempt to transfer Bomber Command's efforts from area
to precision bombing. But after the heavy mauling of his bomber squadrons
over the winter of 1943/4 in the battle of Berlin, the Air Staff became
sceptical of his assertion that Bomber Command alone could bring Germany
to its knees and insisted instead on selective attacks against industry.
Despite the misgivings of Harris, Bomber Command was notably successful
in the bombing of selective targets and in later precision attacks.
In the closing months of the war, Bomber Command's aircraft could range
far and wide over Germany with virtual impunity and strike at will in
a manner that would have seemed inconceivable in 1941.
Promoted Marshal of the RAF in 1945, Harris retired from the RAF in
the following year and with his wife and daughter left for South Africa
where he ran a shipping line until 1953. He then returned to England
where he lived in active retirement until his death on 5 April 1984,