Posts Tagged 'Second World War'

Air Power Seminar at the University of Birmingham

The next War Studies Seminar at the Centre for War Studies at the University of Birmingham is an Air Power Seminar and is being given by:

Ross Mahoney

(University of Birmingham)

‘Leadership Effectivness: Understanding a Key Metric of Operational Military History – The Case of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory

The event will be on 17 January 2012. The Seminar meets on TUESDAYS at 5.30 p.m. in Lecture Room 1, 1st Floor, Arts Building.

Montgomery, Air Power, and the Battle of the Mareth Line

[Cross-posted from Thoughts on Military History]

Is it not always the case that once you have written something and it has gone to the publishers that you find something that would have added tot he depth of the piece in question. Well that is what happened this past Thursday when I was doing some research at the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives. In my ever expanding quest to uncover information about the career of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory I was looking through the papers of Field Marshal Viscount Alanbrooke. In particular I was looking at the correspondence from Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery, which is particularly illuminating. Montgomery kept up a constant demi-official correspondence with Brooke who was very much his patron throughout the Second World War. In this correspondence he is very forthright in his views on certain issues, and the correspondence from the Normandy Campaign has some interesting insights into the air problem. However, I also found some interesting comments relating to the Battle of the Mareth Line and issues relating to the command set-up for Operation HUSKY, the invasion of Sicily.

Letter from Montgomery to Brooke, 15 April 1943

The more one considers the Mareth battle, and the Gabes gap battle on the Akarit the more one realizes what amazing victories they were. You have to see the ground to understand this. They were terribly strong positions. How the N.Z. Div. and 1 Armd. Div. got through S.W. of El Hamma on 26 March is amazing; you would think it was impossible; it was the closest integration between the air and land battles. We lost 4000 casualties all told in the Mareth battle.

His comment on the geography of the battle is very interesting as the Gabes Gap acted as a funnel through which the New Zealand Division and 1st Armoured passed. This was facilitated by direct air support provided by the Western Desert Air Force, which launched and ‘Air Blitz’ because the geography created too many problems for the artillery. This was a unique part of the battle as air power had not been used in this manner up until this point in the campaign.

The second interesting piece comes from a letter five days later when Montgomery writes:

12. Another point is the air problem. Eighth Army and Western Desert Air Force is a magnificent fighting machine. Even our enemies admit this; see the official Italian Report on the Mareth Battle. But it has now been decided that Park of Malta will be my AOC for the initial party. They propose in fact to split up this fighting machine which I have spent months creating, and introduce new personalities and untried methods. Our present methods have been proved in battle; complete confidence exists between the staff and the two HQ. We are an amazing people.

I would like to see this Italian Report. There must be a copy in the National Archives. So I shall have to go digging. The other issue is one of the command set-up for HUSKY. The changes in the higher command of air power that occurred in early 1943 was an important development and had important implications for future operations. Indeed the framework created in North Africa would be transported to OVERLORD in the guise of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force, commanded by Leigh-Mallory. The problem here is that Montgomery does not agree with the imposition of an air commander who he does not know. He would have preferred Harry Broadhurst whom he had built up and effective working relationship over the previous months. Indeed on 28 December 1943 he wrote to Brooke asking to ensure he was brought back to North-West Europe for Overlord:

Do you think you could ask Portal to bring Broadhurst home for the party; his great knowledge of fighters and fighter-bombers would be invaluable.

During Normandy Montgomery would avoid coordinating with Arthur Coningham whom he had long since lost respect for, though this was reciprocal, and he would rely on Broadhurst, who was technically Miles Dempsey‘s opposite number. For example, he wrote to Brooke on 27 June 1944 that:

5. My main anxiety these days is the possibility that we should not get the full value from our great air power because of jealousness and friction among the air “barons”. The real “nigger in the woodpile” is Mary Conningham; I know him well and he is a bad man, not genuine, and terribly jealous. There is constant friction between him and L-M. L-M does not know much about it; but he is a very genuine chap and will do anything he can to help win the war; he has not got a good staff and he fiddles about himself with a lot of detail he ought to leave alone; but he does play the game.

Of course here we see some of the internal issues that plagued Leigh-Mallory’s command of AEAF and his relationship with some of his key subordinates. While it can not always be claimed that Montgomery was always straightforward in what he wrote after the war his writing’s to Brooke on the ‘Air Problem’ make for interesting reading.

By Ross Mahoney

The Forgotten Career of Major Trafford Leigh-Mallory, 1914-1918: A Leadership Perspective

[Cross-posted at Thoughts on Military History]

This past Friday I delivered a paper at a conference on ‘New Research in Military History’. The conference was organised by the British Commission for Military History, the History of Warfare Group at King’s College London and the University of Sussex. It was a great events and interesting to see lots of interesting papers covering a wide range of topics. I think it is fair to say that Military History in the UK is healthy at the moment.

My paper was based on some of my early research for my PhD into Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory’s leadership effectiveness. It actually examined his career from the First World War which is important in understanding the context of his development as a leader. Here is the abstract that I submitted for the conference.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory remains one of the greatest enigmas of the historiography of the Second World War: how did a leader with so many detractors reach the highest ranks and gain the most prestigious posts? This conundrum is further complicated when one examines his conduct in the First World War where he commanded a squadron and was involved in important developments in air-land co-operation especially with the Tank Corps in 1918. Indeed his success in the First World War has been largely forgotten and ignored as views of his competence have been distorted by his later career.

This paper seeks redress this by examining Leigh-Mallory’s development and experience as an officer in the First World War and as such provide some insights into his career development during the inter-war years and his subsequent elevation to high command. It will do this by utilising contemporary leadership theory in order to examine aspects such as his shared experience with other high commanders of the Royal Air Force and the role that he played in developing tactics to support tank operations while in command of No. 8 Squadron in 1918. In understanding Leigh-Mallory’s career we can start to answer some of the more pressing question surrounding his subsequent rise to high command such as why did an Army Co-Operation specialist end up in key positions and how effective was he as a commander at the tactical level of operations. Thus, this paper has several key aims; first, it will examine Leigh-Mallory’s leadership effectiveness and his impact on air power operations in 1918. Second, it will compare his experience with his fellow air power leaders of the Second World War. Finally, it shall show that expertise in air-land warfare was not a barrier to promotion in the inter-war Royal Air Force.

One of the more interesting aspects of the presentation for me was trying to explain and explore the pace of operations for No. 8 Squadron and that this provides and interesting context to Leigh-Mallory’s ability to manage his command. The graph that I used is presented below.

Roughly in the period from February 1918 to 11 November 1918 the squadron flew approximately 5000 sorties. As you can see they flew a variety of mission and it appear obvious but the peaks appears at period of intense action such of the German offensives in March/April 1918 and the Hundred Days campaign later in the year. Also of interest is the fact that a significant portion of flights were test flights. It is often forgotten that in the First World War air power is still highly experimental and that the aircraft required a high degree of maintenance and management in order to ensure that they were ready for operations. This would have required Leigh-Mallory to effectively manage his squadron in order to keep enough airframes available for high-tempo operation as occurred during the Hundred Days Campaign. This requires more thought…

By Ross Mahoney

War Studies Seminar at the University of Birmingham

Next weeks War Studies Seminar at the University of Birmingham is as follows:

Tim Jenkins

(University of Birmingham)

‘The Airborne Forces Experimental Establishment’

The event will be on 8 June. The Seminar meets on TUESDAYS at 5.30 p.m. in Lecture Room 3, 1st Floor, Arts Building.

The Efficiency of the Dinghy…

[Cross-posted at Thoughts on Military History]

While crawling through the files at Kew the other day I was examining the communications between Air Chief Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas, AOC-in-C Fighter Command, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, CAS, during 1941 and 1942.[1] In amongst all the policy issues, such as the re-equipment of night fighter squadrons with the Bristol Beaufighter, there is this interesting exchange relating to a report on the saving of Squadron Leader J C Carver, Officer Commanding No. 118 Squadron. The report is not in the correspondence but may well be in the files of the CAS.

In his letter to Portal, Douglas added the following postscript:

You might like to see the attached report about Squadron Leader Carver…who was shot down near the Channel Islands on 13th March and was picked up last night by a destroyer having paddled his dinghy more than half way back to England.[2]

Portal’s reply was that:

He put up a magnificent performance, which also speaks well for the efficiency of the dinghy.[3]

In March 1942 No. 118 Squadron, having reformed as a fighter squadron in early 1941, was operating from RAF Ibsley conducting sweeps over the Channel and France. On 13 March the squadron were flying a ROADSTEAD operation against coastal shipping.[4] It was during this operation that Carver was shot down. For his bravery and survival he was awarded the DFC. Unfortunately, on Carver was to lose his life while flying a RAMROD mission when he was engaged by two FW190’s over Cap de Levy.[5]

Efficiency of the dinghy indeed.

By Ross Mahoney


[1] TNA, AIR 16/622, General Correspondence with the Chief of the Air Staff

[2] TNA, AIR 16/622, Douglas to Portal, 16 March 1942

[3] TNA, AIR 16/622, Portal to Douglas, 17 March 1942

[4] Norman Franks, Royal Air Force Fighter Command Losses of the Second World War, Volume 2: Operational Losses, Aircraft and Crews, 1942-1943 (Midland Publishing, 1998) p. 16

[5] Franks, Fighter Command Losses, p. 39


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