Bomber Command's Commanding Officers


Updated: January 2008


Copyright: Larry wright July 2001

The son of a clergyman, Ludlow-Hewitt was born June 9, 1886 and educated in Radley and Sandhurst. He received a commissioned into the Royal Irish Rifles in 1905 and later leant to fly at Upavon and was appointed to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in August 1914.

The following year he joined No.1 Squadron in France and took part in actions over the Western Front including the battle of Neuve Chapelle and Hill 60. He later commanded No. 3 Squadron and was promoted to wing commander and temporary lieutenant-colonel to command the 3 rd Corps Wing at Bertangles. Awarded the Military Cross and Croix de Chevalier, Legion of Honour in 1917, followed by the Distinguished Service Order in 1918 and was also mentioned in dispatches six times during the war.


By 1918 he was Chief Staff Officer at the Royal Air Force headquarters in France.

Between the wars his career advanced rapidly and included appointments as Commandant of the RAF Staff College (1926-30), Director of Operations and Intelligence at the Air Ministry, and Deputy Chief of Staff (1933-35), Air Officer Commanding India (1935-37) and finally was appointed as C-in-C Bomber Command in 1937.


Although responsible for directing the Bomber Command through the inter-war years and its expansion, he was realistic as the clouds of the Second World War gathered that the Command was ill prepared for combat. Crediting that this weakness stemmed from its rapid expansion and that training had failed to address the crucial issues of night flying training, navigational aids, and the vulnerability of his bombers to enemy fighter attack during day-light operations.


By 1940 and with losses mounting Ludlow-Hewitt had acknowledged that the per-war theory of “the bomber always getting through” was sadly incorrect and had become pessimistic of the entire capabilities of his command. He had by this time gained a full understanding and appreciation that the command required fully trained and operationally ready crews and had began to push heavily for the formation of more Operational Training Units (OTU’s) at the expense of some of his front line aircraft, fuel and squadrons. His foresight was to become the commands salvation in the long hard years the command was to suffer after his departure.


In April 1940 he was posted from Bomber Command to become Inspector-General of the RAF and finally retired from active service in 1945 with the rank of Air Chief Marshal. The same year he was appointed as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the College of Aeronautics and remained in this position until 1953. He died on August 15, 1973, aged eighty-seven.

Air Chief Marshall Sir Edgar LUDLOW-HEWITT


Air Marshal Sir Charles PORTAL


Air Marshall Sir Richard E.C. PEIRSE


Air Vice Marshal J.E.A. BALDWIN


Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur HARRIS

Born May 21, 1893 Charles Fredrick Algernon Portal was educated in Winchester and Christ Church, Oxford.


At the outbreak of the First World War he joined the Motor Cyclist Section of the Royal Engineers. As a corporal he was mentioned in dispatches and received a commissioned in September 1914. In 1915 he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) as an observer but by 1916 he was regarded as a pilot. By 1917 he was commanding a squadron and was promoted to lieutenant-colonel – RAF in June 1918 was also awarded the Military Cross along with the Distinguished Service Order and bar in the same year.


Between the wars his career also rapidly progressed and saw him promoted to wing commander in 1925; followed by the command of No. 7 (Bomber) Squadron in 1927. By 1934 he had been promoted to group captain has appointed commander of the British forces in the Aden. Promotion to air vice-marshal came in 1937 along with the appointment as Director of Organisation at the Air Ministry, he was to remain at this post until being appointed to the Air Council in 1939 as Air Member for Personnel.


At the outbreak of the Second World 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.

Portals’ stay as C-in-C was to be a short one, a mere six months. However, during this period he directed the command through the dangerous summer of 1940.


As a result of the disastrous daylight attack against the German fleet at Kristiansand in April, he issued orders similar to those already enforce for the Commands’ Whitleys and restricted all Hampden’s and Wellingtons to night operations only.


In October 1940 he was appointed to Chief of the Air Staff where he remained until the end of the war. In April 1942 he was promoted to Marshal of the Royal Air Force.


From 1948 to 1951 Portal was the Controller of Atomic Energy at the Ministry of Supply and in 1960 was elected Chairman of the British Aircraft Corporation. He died on April 22 1971, aged seventy-seven.

Born on September 30, 1892 Richard Peirse was an only child and came from a naval background. His father was an admiral, who during the First World War was to become C-in-C East Indies. Educated at Monkton Combe School near Bath, HMS Conway and King’s College, London. He received a commission in the Royal Navy for service in the Royal Naval Wing. He served with distinction as a pilot in the First World War, and saw action along the Belgian coast where he attached submarine bases. In 1915 he had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order.


In 1919 he was awarded the Air Force Cross and a permanent commission as a squadron leader in the newly formed Royal Air Force. Appointed as commander of British forces in Palestine and Transjordan in 1933 he continued in this position until 1936. Returning to England and promoted to air vice-marshal in 1937 Peirse became Director of Operations and Intelligence at the Air Ministry.


Moving to Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, a post which was redesignated in April 1940 to Vice-Chief of the Air Staff. In 1939 Peirse was also made an additional member of the Air Council and promoted to acting air marshal.


With the departure of Sir Charles PORTAL as C-in-C Bomber Command Peirse took over Bomber Command on October 5, 1940. He was to command during the extremely difficult period of transition from that of a poorly equipped light bomber force into the heavy force, which his successor Sir Arthur Harris would eventually command until the wars’ end.


However, his tenure as C-in-C was in jeopardy by late 1941 as Portal was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Peires’ performance and generally alarmed at the increasingly high losses the command was suffering. In January 1942 Peirse was posted to command the Allied air forces in South East Asia. He retired in 1945 as an Air Marshal. He died on August 6, 1970, aged seventy-seven.

At the time of his appointment as Acting C-in-C Bomber Command ‘Jack’ Baldwin was Air Officer Commanding No. 3 Group, Bomber Command. He was given the position as a caretaker until the successor to Peirse could take over.


It was during this short period that the infamous Channel Dash occurred, which saw the German battleship Scharnhorst and the cruiser Gneisnau escape from the French port of Brest to the safety of Kiel harbour. Both ships arrived in the northern German port almost untouched, despite the efforts of 242 aircraft of bomber command to stop them.


His caretaker duties ended with the arrival of Sir Arthur Harris later in the 1942.

AM Sir Richard E.C. Peirse KCB, DSO, AFC

AM Sir Charles Portal KG, CGB, OM, DSO, MC

ACM Sir Edgar Ludlow-Hewitt GCB, GBE, CMG, DSO, MC

AM Sir J.E.A. Baldwin KBE, CB, DSO, DL

The son of an Indian Civil Service official Arthur Travis Harris was born on April 13, 1892 in Cheltenham and was educated privately. At the age of sixteen he feel out with his parents when they insisted that he join the Army and instead he travelled to Rhodesia where he tried his hand at gold mining, driving horses and tobacco planting.


At the outbreak of the First World War he joined the Rhodesia Regiment as a bugler and saw action in the German South West Africa campaign. When the regiment was disbanded he returned to England and learnt to fly at Brooklands and by November of 1915 had received a commission in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). He was posted to the France and served on the Western Front returning to England in 1917. Where he was promoted to the rank of Major and given command of No. 44 (Home Defence) Squadron. Later while serving with No. 191 Squadron, Harris was to acquire a reputation as a pioneer in both night flying and fighting. Awarded the Air Force Cross in November 1918, and was granted a permanent commission in the newly formed Royal Air Force in 1919.


The interwar years saw him command several bomber squadrons in India and Iraq. It was with these squadrons that he began to demonstrate his belief of deploying large bomber aircraft against enemy forces.


From 1925 to 1927 he commanded No. 58 (B) Squadron at Worthy Down and was directly responsible for improving the squadron’s navigational methods and bombing techniques by night.

The period of 1930 to 1933 saw Harris posted to the Middle East on what are describe as staff duties. Returning home as a group captain he was given command of No. 210 Squadron, which equipped with flying boats were based at Pembroke Dock. While this was probably not his most favourable posting for Harris one of his flight commanders was Don Bennett who was later to become the Air Officer Commanding, Path Finder Force (PFF).


Posted to the Air Ministry in 1933 he was to spend the next four years as Deputy Director of Operations and Intelligence and later became Director Plans, an assignment which allowed him to play a major role in inter-service planning.


Promoted to Air Commodore in June 1937 he became the first Air Officer Commanding (AOC) No. 4 Group, Bomber Command. By July 1938 he has been posted overseas once more this time as AOC in Palestine and Transjordan and given the task of helping the Army keep civil order between the Arab’s and Jew’s. Suffering from a duodenal ulcer he was invalided home in July 1939; but was given command of No. 5 Group, Bomber Command in September of the same year.


Harris was to remain in command of 5 Group until November 1940 at which time he was appointed as Deputy Chief of the Air Staff. His tenure was to last only six month as he was then chosen to head the RAF delegation in Washington, DC. He remained in Washington until February 1942 at which time he was recalled and appointed as C-in-C Bomber Command replacing Sir Richard Peirse.


Once in office, Harris who was to soon to become universally known as “Bomber.” Immediately began the rapid expansion of Bomber Command with the introduction of better aircraft in greater numbers, improved bombs and bombing tactics, and the employment and effective use of radar technology.

His decision to commit his entire front line and training force to achieve two 1,000 bomber raids in May and June of 1942 helped to served notice to all of the Commands critics that Bomber Command now had a leader that meant business and the continued bleeding of his squadrons and crews to the Army and was about to stop.


Harris can only be described as “head strong” and was never one to allow outsiders to control how his force was to be employed. He in fact resisted the formation in 1942 of the Path Finder Force until ordered to do so; and fought vigorously every attempt that was made to redirect Bomber Command from area to precision bombing. His resistance to the formation of a special squadron to attack the Ruhr Dam’s using Barnes Wallis’ bouncing bomb is now part of the legend of the “Dambuster’s” and No. 617 Squadron but serves as a perfect example of his total control of the Command.


The Command was seriously depleted during the battle of Berlin in the winter of 1943/44, and with the Air Ministry becoming sceptical to Harris’s claim that the bomber alone could bring Germany to its knees. Not to mention the approach of the invasion. Harris’ Commanders finally ordered Bomber Command to discontinue the area bombing campaign and begin selective attacks on industry and transportation targets. Although Harris’ claim that his crews were incapable of such attacks and untrained, he was forced to concede. The selective destruction of these targets began and proved highly successful. In hind-sight it can also be argued that these targets, which in the majority were located in the occupied countries rather than deep inside of Germany allowed the command to recover from its losses and then continue its expansion.


By wars end the poorly equipped force which Harris had inherited and had in the first thirty months of the war had dropped a mere 90,000 tons of bombs but suffered 7,000 aircrew killed in the process. Became a highly efficient and deadly weapon, which proved capable of adapting itself to almost all of the requirements made upon it. From 1942 to 1945 the command dropped over 850,000 tons of bombs but suffered more than 40,000 casualties.


Promoted to Marshal of the Royal Air Force in 1945, Bomber Harris retired the following year. Along with his wife and daughter he returned to South Africa where he ran a shipping line until 1953. He then returned to England and enjoyed and active retirement until his death on April 4, 1984, he was ninety-one.

ACM Sir Arthur Harris GCB, OBE, AFC