Posts Tagged 'Trafford Leigh-Mallory'

Operation JUBILEE and the Transformation of Air Support for Combined Operations: The Case of Command and Control and Aerial Bombardment

[Cross posted from Birmingham “On War”]

Operation JUBILEE, the raid on Dieppe on 19 August 1942, has remained an area of intensive and divisive debate amongst historians. Debate remains over questions relating to the reasons for the operation, authorisation for the raid, and the argument over lessons learnt. One area of the operation that has received scant attention from historians is the question about the performance of the RAF during the operation. What attention has been paid to the role of air power has concentrated on the issue of the lack of air bombardment in support of the raid. Brain Loring Villa has remarked that ‘There was a degree of callousness in Portal’s allowing a largely Canadian force to go in without the bomber support they needed.’ However, this concentration on the issue of bombardment ignores the state of Combined Operations doctrine in the early years of the Second World War, which stressed the importance of ‘Control of the Air’.

In addition, Operation JUBILEE has been criticised for Earl Mountbatten of Burma‘s claim over the ‘Lessons Learnt’ from the raid and the impact this had on Operation OVERLORD. However, a careful examination of sources illustrates that the raid did have an impact on future operation, albeit not in the direct way that Mountbatten suggested. Therefore, this chapter examines the ‘Lessons Learnt’ thesis with reference to the transformation of air support for Combined Operations. It contends that JUBILEE formed an important catalyst to changing thoughts over the use of air power in Combined Operations. It will do this by examining the development of Command and Control systems and the use of aerial bombardment. It will illustrate that Dieppe formed an important element of the experience gained in 1942/43. This chapter argues that while there may not be a direct link to Operation OVERLORD in 1944 operations at Dieppe had an impact during 1943 and needs to be considered as one line of development in parallel with those from other theatres of war.

By Ross Mahoney, PhD Candidate, Centre for War Studies, University of Birmingham

(This is an abstract from our forthcoming book on transformation and innovation in the British Military)

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.

Air Power Seminars at the University of Birmingham

This year the following air power seminars will take place at the War Studies Seminar at the University of Birmingham.

11 October 2011

James Pugh (University of Birmingham)

‘Early British Air Power Doctrine and the Influence of the Staff College, 1908-14’

17 January 2012

Ross Mahoney (University of Birmingham)

‘Leadership Effectiveness: Understanding a Key Metric of Operational Military History – Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh Mallory, a Case Study’

They will take place at 5:30pm in the Arts Lecture Room 3, First Floor, Arts Building, University of Birmingham

A Short Critique of Vincent Orange

[Cross posted from Thoughts on Military History]

One of the key authors I have to engage with in my PhD is Dr Vincent Orange. What follows is a short critic of his work as it appears in the introduction to my thesis. It may seem that I am being harsh but I feel that are some important structural and historiographical issues with his works. They tend to lean towards the hagiographical and need to be read with care and with an understanding of the context of both the period and of the RAF.

Orange has written several key biographies of RAF airmen. In general, these works have been well received and undeniably, Orange has added valuable accounts to the historiography of the RAF. As Air Commodore (ret’d) Henry Probert, the former head of the RAF’s Air Historical Branch, noted in his review of Orange’s work on Air Marshal Sir Arthur ‘Mary’ Coningham in 1990 there had been few biographies of RAF commanders.[1] Thus, this work was a welcome addition to the field. This is a situation that to a large degree still exists to this day, though Orange himself has added several important works since writing his Coningham biography; however, it should be noted that works dealing with combat pilots rather than high commanders of the RAF remain an ever-popular genre with the publishing houses.

However, while Orange’s works have been lauded an important issue must be considered when utilising these works. This is the issue of bias that is inherent in all of his works, but notably his biographies of Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park and Air Chief Marshal Baron Dowding. The issue can be described as the ‘Park View of History, in effect his works are biased to the view of Park when viewing contentious events; it should be noted that Orange’s first biography was his work on Park and his affinity to this important airmen is noticeable in his writings. This especially notable in sections of his works that deal with the Battle of Britain but this bias is also inferred in sections of dealing with the issues surrounding the use of air power in the Normandy Campaign. Even in his work on Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Slessor, a book that is generally positive about this airmen’s contribution to air power history, we can see this bias emerge where the subject turns to events that include Park or officers involved in the contentious events of 1940. For example, in discussing, the decision to replace Slessor with Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Douglas of Kirtleside at Coastal Command at the start of 1944 Orange describes the RAF’s posting system as random and that it was the wrong decision for the forthcoming role that the command would play in preparations for OVERLORD.[2] However, Orange’s criticism is wrong, as it was not unusual to post officers to new commands in order for them to gain further operational experience. In addition, the change in command for Slessor, and indeed Douglas, did not significantly affect the conduct of the war. In reality, the decision to send Slessor to the Mediterranean aided in the conduct of complex political issues that affected operations in theatre; Slessor undoubtedly had the skills need for dealing with the political of coalition operations.[3] In addition, Douglas fitted in with the command team then being gathered together for OVERLORD through his experience of working with these officers in the Mediterranean in 1942 and 1943. In addition, to argue that he had a lack of experience is to ignore his time as Deputy Chief of the Air Staff where he would have been fully cognizant with the problems facing Coastal Command.[4]

Perhaps Orange’s bias, in particular towards those officers involved in the debates of 1940, can be best summed up by comments made in his review of John Ray’s work The Battle of Britain, New Perspectives: Behind the Scenes of the Great Air War in the Journal of Military History.[5] In this review, Orange concludes by noting that ‘Dowding and Park were right, Douglas and Leigh-Mallory were wrong.’[6] This simplistic analysis of the debates of fighter tactics in 1940 and 1941 highlights the partisan nature of Orange’s work. He sees himself as the defender of Park’s, and latterly Dowding’s reputation. In doing so, he has sought to denigrate the role and impact of their contemporaries. In doing this, he ignores the difficulties of fighter operations as a whole but rather concentrates on daylight defensive operations.


[1] Henry Probert, ‘Coningham by Vincent Orange (Book Review)’ Journal of the Royal United Services Institute, Vol. 135, No. 2 (Summer: 1990) p. 81

[2] Orange, Slessor, p. 123

[3] For a more positive view of Slessor’s impact both at Coastal Command and the Meditteranean Allied Air Forces see; Corvin Connelly, ‘Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Cottesworth Slessor and the Anglo-American Air Power Alliance, 1940-1945’ PhD Thesis (Texas A&M University, 2001) pp. 193-271

[4] Lord Douglas of Kirtleside with Robert Wright, Years of Command: The Second Volume of the Autobiography of Sholto Douglas, Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside, GCB, MC, DFC (London; Collins, 1966) p. 246

[5] Vincent Orange, ‘The Battle of Britain, New Perspectives: Behind the Scenes of the Great Air War by John Ray (Book Review)’ Journal of Military History, Vol. 59, No. 2 (1995:Apr.) pp.348-349

[6] Orange, ‘The Battle of Britain (Review)’ p. 349

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

Patronage and Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory

[Cross posted at Thoughts on Military History]

In trying to understand leadership competence and why people end up in the positions that they do there is one factor that cannot be underplayed, and that is the role of patronage. Patronage as a concept usually conjures up images of people with powerful patrons pushing them into positions of power and influence, and on occasion into positions that these people are not capable of fulfilling. Patronage works well in the military sphere as powerful senior officers take a keen interest in the careers of up and coming officers who they feel they need to nurture in order to further their careers and in some cases ensure the services priorities. Nowhere is this truer than in the early RAF. Lord Trenchard took a keen interest in the careers of several officers who he felt would eventual form the core of the services high command in later years. Names such a Sir John Slessor and Viscount Portal of Hungerford are men whose careers prospered because of his support. However, this does not automatically mean that they would not have reached high command without his support but perhaps it made it easier. However, Trenchard must have seen competence in their abilities in order to offer that support. Indeed with Slessor it was certainly the case that his keen intellect appears to have been the reason for that early support, though he did not always agree with Trenchard.

But what of Leigh-Mallory? Does patronage answer the central question of why he reached such a high rank? Unfortunately I do not think this is the case. Yes he was friends with future key players in the RAF but they were in no position in the 1920s to sponsor his move up the command chain. What of Trenchard? Leigh-Mallory was certainly known by him. For example, Slessor in The Central Blue remarks about how Trenchard would mix up their names when they worked in the Air Ministry in 1922.[1] However, one way of marking those who Trenchard marked out for future promotion can be seen by those who attended the first course of the newly established RAF Staff College at Andover. On this course were men such as Slessor, Portal, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside and Sir Keith Park. The key issue here is that unlike later courses the students of the first course were handpicked by Trenchard to attend. Trenchard considered the Staff College as a ‘School of Thought’ for the nascent RAF; therefore, we can assume that these men were viewed by Trenchard as the core of RAF’s future. However, Leigh-Mallory would eventually attend Staff College in 1925 and in 1934 he attended the Imperial Defence College, which clearly marked him out for high command in the future. Another important name missing from first course is Lord Tedder, who in 1923 as sent by Trenchard to attend the Royal Naval Staff College at Greenwich.[2]

What of the Second World War? Did he receive positions because of his earlier friendships? For example, he was friends with Portal.[3] Did this mean that he received the commands he did because of this friendship? Again I am not convinced that there is enough evidence for this. Yes Portal was involved in the decision to appoint Leigh-Mallory as AOC-in-C of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force in 1943 but this had more to do with his view of the air offensive and how he initially perceived the nature of air support for the invasion. Similarly there is little archival evidence, certainly in the personal papers, that Douglas pushed for Leigh-Mallory. Indeed it can be argued that Douglas’ decision to replace Park had more to do with an unfortunate incident at an air tournament at Hendon in 1920 than anything else. Neither Park nor Douglas was to see eye to eye after this event.[4] Unfortunately the whole debate over Douglas’ assumption of command at Fighter Command has become far too polarised for it to be difficult to separate the issues at play but it must not forgotten that there were valid reasons to remove Dowding.

The one person who may have patronised Leigh-Mallory during the war was Earl Mountbatten of Burma.[5] Both had worked closely together during the planning for RUTTER/JUBILEE and it is obvious in the correspondence after the operation that their offensively minded outlooks found in each other a like-minded individual. Mountbatten was seeking to continue his plan for ever larger Combined Operations and Leigh-Mallory wanted to continue his fighter offensive against the Luftwaffe. This relationship would come into play when Leigh-Mallory left the AEAF in 1944 and was due to go out to SEAC to command the air forces in theatre. Mountbatten noted in his diary:

15 August 1944…Lunched with Leigh-Mallory…, and had an important discussion with him.[6]

On the same day Leigh-Mallory on returning from this meeting recorded in his diary that:

…he now regarded the campaign in France and Western Europe…as won and his eyes were turning in the direction of the Far East whither he was shortly to proceed.[7]

Mountbatten would later record on hearing of Leigh-Mallory’s plane crash that:

15 November 1944…This is an absolute body blow, for, having at last succeeded in collecting a team of really young and dashing Commanders-in-Chief whom I know and like and can work well with, it is disheartening to lose one of the team before he has even taken over.[8]

There certainly existed a positive relationship between these two senior commander and their offensive views worked together. Is there an element of patronage, yes, but how important is it is an important question that needs to be examined further. I do not doubt that at various time during his career Leigh-Mallory had important friends and acquaintances but did they further his career? Perhaps Mountbatten may have in 1944 as there was probably little chance of him going back to Fighter Command after AEAF but had this happened would he have found a position in the Air Ministry? These are question that need to be further examined.

However, the key question that exists is if patronage not a valid reason for his promotion to high command then what is the answer? Is it that he is capable and competent commander? Perhaps an answer the popular cultural memory of events such as the Battle of Britain and D-Day cannot accept?


[1] John Slessor, The Central Blue: Recollections and Reflections (London: Cassell, 1956) p. 46

[2] Vincent Orange, Tedder: Quietly in Command (London: Frank Cass, 2004) p. 70

[3] It is interesting to note that Denis Richards in his biography of Portal does not mention Leigh-Mallory. Denis Richards, Portal of Hungerford: The Life of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Viscount Portal of Hungerford KG, GCB, OM, DSO, MC (London: Heinemann, 1977)

[4] Vincent Orange, Park: The Biography of Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park GCB, KBE, MC, DFC, DCL (London: Grub Street, 2001) pp. 43-44; Lord Douglas or Kirtleside with Robert Wright, Years of Command: The Second Volume of the Autobiography of Sholto Douglas (London: Collins, 1966) pp. 14-15

[5] The best and most recent biography of Mountbatten is, Adrian Smith, Mountbatten: Apprentice War Lord (London: I B Tauris, 2010)

[6] Philip Ziegler (Ed.) Personal Diary of Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten: Supreme Allied Commander South-East Asia, 1943-1946 (London: Collins, 1988) p. 124

[7] The National Archives (TNA), AIR 37/784, Daily Reflections on the Course of the Battle by Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, KCB, DSO, p. 105

[8] Ziegler (Ed.) Personal Diary, p. 154

The ‘Tragic’ Life of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory

[Cross posted at Thoughts on Military History]

On 14 November 1944 an Avro York, MW126, took off from RAF Northolt carrying the new Air Commander for the South East Asia Command (SEAC). This was Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory KCB, DSO and Bar, formerly the Air Officer Commander in Chief (AOC-in-C) of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force (AEAF). Since 1943 Leigh-Mallory had been involved in the preparation and execution of the air plan in support of the invasion of occupied Europe. Having successfully overseen this Leigh-Mallory was now seeking new challenges in South-East Asia. He recorded in the final entry of his operational diary, dictated to Hilary St Gorge Saunders, that:

…he now regarded the campaign in France and Western Europe…as won and his eyes were turning in the direction of the Far East whither he was shortly to proceed.[1]

However, despite looking forward to the challenges of his new command Leigh-Mallory was not to make it to his new command in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Having pushed back his departure date he eventually flew out on 14 November and on the first leg of his journey the aircraft veered off course by some two hundred and fifty miles and crashed in the mountains around Grenoble, France killing himself, his wife, Doris, his personal assistant, Flight Lieutenant Peter Chinn, and the crew.[2] Initially listed as missing the crash site, and the bodies, was eventually discovered on 4 June 1945.

General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), paid tribute to Leigh-Mallory, and Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, in his report of operations in North-West Europe as ‘…gallant officers who started the campaign…[and]…who lost their lives before its conclusion.’[3] He described their war service and devotion to duty as irreplaceable. He also linked their loss to the sacrifice of the thousands of other men and women who were lost in the course of the campaign.[4] Perhaps the most telling note of grief regarding Leigh-Mallory’s loss came from Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Charles Portal who wrote to Leigh-Mallory’s son Thomas to offer his condolences at a time when he was still officially declared missing by the service; Portal wrote:

Your father was one of my oldest friends and one of our greatest officers, and I would like you to know how deeply I and all…his friends in the service feel smitten by this great misfortune.[5]

Born 11 July 1892 in Mobberley, Cheshire, Leigh-Mallory was the youngest of four children, the most famous of which was his oldest brother George who would die climbing Mount Everest in 1924.[6] His father was a Rector at the local Anglican Church, where the family had been parsons for generations. From an early age Leigh-Mallory had links to important persons of the age, for example, his Godfather was Sir Lees Knowles, 1st Baronet, the noted philanthropist, politician and military historian.[7] Leigh-Mallory attended the noted public school Haileybury College being placed in the Classical Side as opposed to the Modern or Army Side; given his later career path this illustrates an early leaning away from the military, indeed Leigh-Mallory excelled as a gymnast while at the College. However, Haileybury had close links to military producing several notable officers including several contemporaries of Leigh-Mallory, such as Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham and Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Slessor.[8] Leigh-Mallory’s biographer notes of his time at Haileybury that he developed self-confidence, the ability to be a good team player, initiative and even a glimpse of leadership; given later criticism of Leigh-Mallory it would appear difficult to reconcile this person with the historical character that has graced the pages of the literature, however, that is what this thesis seeks to do.[9]

After Haileybury, which he left in April 1911, Leigh-Mallory moved onto Magdalene College, University of Cambridge where he had earned an Exhibition Scholarship. In attending Magdalene College Leigh-Mallory was following in the footsteps of his brother George, however, it would appear that he did not slavishly follow him. Marshal of the Royal Air Force Arthur Tedder, 1st Baron of Glengiun, was a contemporary of Leigh-Mallory both in the RAF and at Magdalene College, where he was one year his senior. Both were elected to the Kingsley Club on the same day.[10] Despite this shared experience Tedder makes no reference to it in him memoirs.[11] Originally Leigh-Mallory studied for a degree in History, however in 1912 he began to explore taking up a legal career when, through the patronage of his godfather, he was admitted to the membership of the Inner Temple at the Inns of Court. This change was due to his poor performance in his Tripos examination.

However, Leigh-Mallory was never to take up this career path due to the outbreak of the First World War. Like many men with a public school background he was caught up in the jingoistic fervour of August 1914 and on 6 August he enlisted in the 10th (Territorial) Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment as a Private. The need for officers would see him promoted to Second Lieutenant and posted to the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers. After training with the battalion Leigh-Mallory was posted to the 2nd Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment, who were part of 7 Brigade, 3 Division, on the Western Front. On 16/17 June during the attack on Bellewaarde Ridge he was injured in the leg and sent back to his home battalion. While there Leigh-Mallory contemplated his future and decided to join the fledgling Royal Flying Corps (RFC). Accepted for service he saw service with No. 5 Squadron over the Somme. Promoted to Major in April 1917 he was posted commanded a training unit, No. 15 (Reserve) Squadron, and in November 1917 was posted to take over No. 8 Squadron. It was with this unit that that he was to have his biggest impact being involved in the development of tank/air co-operation with the Tank Corps. At the end of the war Leigh-Mallory was recognised as an officer and despite considering a return to a law career he chose to stay in the newly formed RAF and was given a permanent commission of Squadron Leader on 1 August 1919.[12] Thus, despite his injury Leigh-Mallory had had a good war.

The inter-war years were to see his stock rise further within the RAF. Initially posted to the Inspectorate of Recruiting he would eventually find his niche at the School of Army Co-Operation. He served there twice, first, as a Squadron Leader and then as its commandant. This led to Leigh-Mallory becoming the RAF’s leading light on this subject in the 1920’s. This would lead to his appointment, as a Wing Commander, to the Directing Staff at the Army Staff College in 1930. Before this he attended the newly formed RAF Staff College at Andover. Undoubtedly during this period he showed a keen intellect in his given area of interest for he was twice runner-up in the Gordon Shepherd Prize, 1930 and 1934, and had several articles published.[13] In addition to his work in the field of Army Co-Operation he also did several tours as a Staff Officers, in particular within the Directorate of Staff Duties. Indeed he served two tours as Deputy Director of Staff Duties, first, in late 1931 and then from October 1932 to January 1934.[14] In 1934 Leigh-Mallory attended the Imperial Defence College (IDC) clearly illustrating that he was marked out for higher command within the RAF. However, before holding a senior operational command it was felt he needed more staff experience, therefore, from December 1935 to December 1937 he served as Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO) to the commander of British Force Iraq.

On return to the UK Leigh-Mallory took over at the newly formed No. 12 Group of Fighter Command and as will be explored later this was an intriguing choice given his lack of fighter experience. However, in the period leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War Leigh-Mallory organised and prepared his group for the impending conflict with Germany. Indeed in many respects No. 12 Group was a vital part of the defence system given its position relative to bombers coming from Germany and it role in defending the industrial Midlands. Undeniably this was case until the shock defeat of the French Army and the forced withdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from France in late May 1940. During the ensuing Battle of Britain Leigh-Mallory became involved in a tactical debate with his counterpart at No. 11 Group, Air Vice-Marshal Sir Keith Park, which surrounded the use of large formation of fighter in order to intercept the incoming German bombers. This episode, now often referred to as the ‘Big Wing’ Controversy, led to the souring of relations between these two officers and had repercussions for the conduct of the battle. In this debate Leigh-Mallory became ostensibly associated with the actions of Squadron Leader Douglas Bader, Officer Commanding (OC) No. 242 Squadron. Bader would champion the ‘Big Wing’ idea and with Leigh-Mallory’s support he would test its veracity through the mechanism of the Duxford ‘Wing’; a degree of controversy remains over the success of this tactic. This episode highlights the problems of command style between Leigh-Mallory, Park and their superior at Fighter Command Headquarters, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding. Eventually issues over the conduct the night defence of the UK would lead to the removal of Dowding from Fighter Command and his replacement by Air Chief Marshal Sir William Sholto Douglas, formerly Deputy Chief of the Air Staff (DCAS). With Douglas’ assumption of command he removed Park from the command of No. 11 Group and replaced him with Leigh-Mallory on 18 December 1940.

Moving into 1941 Fighter Command faced a twofold mission, first defend British cities from the night time ‘Blitz’ and, second, take the offensive against the Luftwaffe in the west. Indeed this was characterised as ‘leaning forward into France’ and Leigh-Mallory’s No. 11 Group was at the forefront of this new mission.[15] This new mission allowed the offensively minded Leigh-Mallory to utilise large formations in offensive action over the continent. The success of these new missions varied and indeed much of the success or failures was outside the operation control of Leigh-Mallory and the Air Historical Branch (AHB) narrative notes that the impact sought did not materialise.[16] This offensive policy continued into 1942 despite some opposition. Perhaps the biggest expression of the policy came in August 1942 when Leigh-Mallory became involved in the planning for Operation RUTTER/JUBILEE, which saw the largest aerial battle since the Battle of Britain.[17] In November 1942 Douglas moved on to take over RAF Middle East and Leigh-Mallory became the obvious choice to fulfil the now vacant post at Fighter Command.

Nineteen forty-three saw a continuation of the offensive policy but higher command brought Leigh-Mallory into greater contact with the strategic level of command and the challenges with it. Also 1943 saw serious planning being undertaken with regards to the planned re-entry to North-West Europe. As AOC-in-C of Fighter Command Leigh-Mallory became increasingly involved with the planning. Indeed it was Leigh-Mallory visit to North Africa in April 1943 that convinced him of the utility of the system then being employed out there. The composite group system was then subsequently tested during Exercise SPARTAN and became the basis for the groups that would form the backbone of the new Tactical Air Force then being formed.

By late 1943 the command set up for Operation OVERLORD was being formulated and with the support of the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Portal, Leigh-Mallory was appointed AOC-in-C of the AEAF. Despite support from Portal this was not a popular decision, with many expecting Tedder to receive the appointment. Leigh-Mallory became responsible for the subjugation of the Luftwaffe and the pre-invasion strategy designed to cut Normandy off from reinforcement. Issues surrounding the Transportation Plan and the control of the strategic bomber forces led to Tedder being placed in control of strategic forces and overseeing Leigh-Mallory’s roles, thus, making him in effect as spare wheel in the command set up. Despite this Leigh-Mallory was to play a key role in the planning and conduct of air operations both before and during operations in Normandy. However, by the end of the campaign it was decided that an overall air commander was no longer needed and Leigh-Mallory was informed that he was to become the AOC-in-C of the air forces in SEAC. As noted at the beginning of this chapter this was not a decision that he was bitter about. By November his preparation were made and he made the fateful flight that would lead to his death.

Even this was to prove controversial with a Court of Inquiry being convened to examine the circumstances surrounding the flight and crash. As noted he was initially listed as missing until the bodies were discovered on 4 June 1945; almost a year to the day of his involvement in the Allies greatest feat of arms, Operation OVERLORD. Leigh-Mallory, his wife Doris and the crew of the transport are buried at the Allemont Communal Cemetery in the department of Isere, not far from Grenoble. The chief mourner at the funeral was Leigh-Mallory’s son-in-law, Flight Lieutenant Doherty. The senior RAF officer present was Air Marshal C R Carr, Deputy Chief of Staff (AIR) at SHAEF, numerous dignitaries from the Allied nation attended with a guard of honour provided by the RAF with troops of the US Army and French Air Force also present. Thus, the most senior RAF officer to lose his life during the Second World War lies in a grave in a small plot in a civilian graveyard in the south of France, maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

By Ross Mahoney


[1] The National Archives (TNA), AIR 37/784, Daily Reflections on the Course of the Battle by Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, KCB, DSO, p. 105. Herewith referred to as the Leigh-Mallory Diary.

[2] A useful description of the last flight and subsequent disappearance of Leigh-Mallory can be found in: Denis Bateman ‘The Death of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory’ After the Battle, No. 39 (February 1983) pp. 1-27

[3] Anon, Report by the Supreme Commander to the Combined Chiefs of Staff on the Operation in Europe of the Allied Expeditionary Force, 6 June 1944 to 8 May 1945 (London: HMSO, 1946) p. 148. Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, Commander in Chief of the Allied Naval Forces for Operation OVERLORD, died on 2 January 1945 when his plane crashed on taking off at Tousses-le-Noble. Brian P. Farrell, ‘Ramsay, Sir Bertram Home (1883–1945)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/35661, accessed 24 May 2010]

[4] Anon, Report by the Supreme Commander, p. 148

[5] Royal Air Force Museum (RAFM), Papers of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, AC 71/24/7/2, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Charles Portal to Thomas Leigh-Mallory, 20/11/1944. Herewith referred to as the Leigh-Mallory Papers.

[6] Background biographical information stems from several sources. Bill Newton Dunn Big Wing: The Biography of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory (Shrewsbury: Airlife, 1992) passim, Vincent Orange ‘Mallory, Sir Trafford Leigh- (1892-1944)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 – [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/34483, accessed 18 May 2007] passim, Bateman ‘The Death of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory’ pp. 2-7

[7] Sir Lees Knowles biggest impact on military history has been the endowment left for the Sir Lees Knowles lectures delivered at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, see; http://www.trin.cam.ac.uk/index.php?pageid=399. Marshal of the Royal Air Force Arthur Tedder, 1st Baron of Glengiun, a contemporary of Leigh-Mallory, delivered the lectures in 1947, see;  Arthur Tedder, Air Power in War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948)

[8] John Slessor, The Central Blue: Recollections and Reflections (London: Cassell, 1956) pp. 3-4

[9] Dunn, Big Wing, p. 14

[10] Dunn, Big Wing, p. 15, Vincent Orange, Tedder: Quietly in Command (London: Frank Cass, 2004) p. 15

[11] Orange, Tedder, p. 15

[12] Air Force List…

[13] Trafford Leigh-Mallory, ‘Air Co-Operation with Mechanized Forces’ Journal of the Royal United Services Institution, Vol. 75 (1930: Feb/Nov) pp. 565-577; ‘The Maintenance of Air Superiority in a Land Campaign’ Royal Air Force Air Power Review, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Spring 2003) pp. 152-159 (Reprinted from the Royal Air Force Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 2 (April 1931) pp. 245–52).

[14] Air Force List…

[15] Richards, The Fight at Odds, p. 383

[16] TNA, AIR 41/49, The Struggle for Air Superiority, 1942-1943, p. 88

[17] For more analysis of the RAF during Operation Jubilee see; Ross Mahoney, ‘The Royal Air Force, Combined Operations Doctrine and the Raid on Dieppe, 19 August 1942’ MPhil Thesis (University of Birmingham, 2009)


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