Hugh Dowding v. William Sholto Douglas?

Hugh Dowding v. William Sholto Douglas?

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Would Hugh Dowding have been a better tactician against the London Blitz (night bombing) as compared to William Sholto Douglas?

The question is actually answerable, but the answer is driven by technology and strategy, not tactics.

The failure of the Blitz seems to have been largely due to errors in German strategy. The Luftwaffe failed to identify the proper targets and concentrate on them, and lacked the bomb-carrying capacity to have a serious effect on the large assortment of targets they attacked. The Blitz ended mainly because the Luftwaffe was needed for the invasion of the USSR, and only secondarily because of losses to the defences.

Until the availability of Airborne Interception Mk. IV radar in late 1940, the British could not do a great deal about German night bombing. They could have given AI Mk. IV higher priority in 1938-40, but it was competing for development money and people with Air to Surface Vessel radar and it's hard to argue with that priority. ASV radar was needed to hunt U-boats, and U-boats were a well-understood threat to the UK.

The RAF commander of night defences didn't really have an opportunity to make a major difference to the Blitz with tactics, so it's not meaningful to ask if someone else could have done it better. So, no, Dowding would not have been a better tactician for the battle than Sholto Douglas.

Profile of Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding

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    Born April 24, 1882, at Moffat, Scotland, Hugh Dowding was the son of a schoolmaster. Attending St. Ninian's Preparatory School as a boy, he continued his education at Winchester College at age 15. After two years of further schooling, Dowding elected to pursue a military career and began classes at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich in September 1899. Graduating the following year, he was commissioned as a subaltern and posted to the Royal Garrison Artillery. Sent to Gibraltar, he subsequently saw service in Ceylon and Hong Kong. In 1904, Dowding was assigned to the No. 7 Mountain Artillery Battery in India.

    Hugh Dowding v. William Sholto Douglas? - History

    Years of Combat

    William Sholto Douglas

    Collins, London, 1963

    I read this book as part of my research into the life and times of Gordon Shephard, who was the most senior RFC or RAF officer killed in WWI (and indeed the book does have information on him).

    William Sholto Douglas was in the RFC from the early days of WWI. Subsequently, he served in various senior command posts in the RAF in WWII starting off as deputy chief of the air staff, and was commander of the British zone in occupied Germany after WWII. He became the first Baron Douglas of Kirtleside in 1948 after his retirement from the RAF.

    For all his Scottish ancestry, Sholto Douglas was the product of very upper class English education. This rather posh background does come across in writing style of the book, and needs to be put up with in order to get to the very interesting personal account of the early days of the RFC, and eventually the RAF. Incidentally, in WWII his upper class disdain for Americans stopped him from being given a senior appointment in a theatre where the supreme commander was American.

    In WWI, he started off as a 2 nd lieutenant in the RFA and transferred to the RFC in January 1915, after a disagreement with his commanding officer. He became operational on the Western Front in August 1915, starting off as an air observer. Throughout the war, the bulk of the RFC’s work was air reconnaissance and artillery spotting, even though it is the fighter pilots who became famous. Later on in the war, air attacks on ground targets were more feasible but the weapons loads of the planes were a few pounds.

    The main hazard to life and limb in the early days of WWI was the planes themselves. They were very fragile and had to be handled with extreme care. A key issue until late in the war was the low power of the engines available. So, the Farman plane took an hour and a half to reach 4000 feet, but on other days would not even reach that altitude. (It was a “pusher” with the propeller at the rear.) Later on, the radial engines of planes such as the Sopwith 1 ½ strutter and the V12 of the Bristol Fighter were major improvements, along with the ability to fire forwards through the propeller.

    The planes themselves were made of wood with fabric covering which was “doped”, that is treated with a lacquer solution to stiffen the cloth. (In fact, it was nitrocellulose which would not have helped in the event of a fire). If that had not been properly applied, the cloth could flap and tear, probably causing an accident. There were no flaps at the edge of the wings – instead the whole wing was twisted, known as wing warping. The wooden frame could break in aerial manoeuvres, again almost certainly causing a crash. Sholto Douglas recalls seeing Mick Mannock managing to land a Nieuport after the lower wing had broken away – a tribute to Mannock’s considerable talent. The crash which killed Gordon Shephard in 1918 seems to have been another instance of the plane breaking up in the air, but this time with fatal results.

    Sholto Douglas recalls his encounters with Immelman, Boelcke, von Richthofen and Goering. Indeed, much later he read Boelcke’s account of an encounter that Sholto Douglas had with him and Immelmann in December 1915. Boelcke believed that they had killed Sholto Douglas’ observer, Child, but in fact he had been thrown about so much in the encounter that he was thrown over in the aircraft and was violently sick, vomiting over Sholto Douglas in the rear seat! The RFC aircraft did not have any forward firing guns until 1916, apart from inefficient “pusher” configuration planes. With Douglas’ planes of this era, the observer sat in the front seat and the pilot in the rear. The observer had to fire his Lewis gun backwards, over the pilot’s head, which was useful if they were being pursued but not otherwise. There were also no parachutes, as supposedly a reliable parachute had not yet been invented. This was a lie from the high command, as Sholto Douglas recalls with righteous indignation, as parachutes were available well before WWI. The “idea” was to stop crews recklessly abandoning their aircraft.

    As well as being vomited over by one’s colleagues, the crew would get a face full of flies, especially at low altitude, and be dosed with oil vapour from the engine. The engine oil of the era was castor oil, so there could be unfortunate effects on the digestive system of the crew.

    In the book, the author recalls the somewhat bizarre early careers of those who became leaders of the RAF. Trenchard was serving as a Lt Col in the Royal Scots Fusiliers and learnt to fly in his late 30s. Arthur Harris was a bugler in the 1st Rhodesian Regiment and served the first few months of the war in German West Africa. Arthur Tedder was in the colonial civil service in Fiji. Peter Portal started the war as a motorcycle despatch rider. Keith Park was a Kiwi who served in Gallipoli as an NCO. Hugh Dowding was a Scot and had been a captain in the RGA who had learned to fly in 1913 at the age of 31. He transferred to the RFC on the outbreak of WWI.

    After the end of WWI, Sholto Douglas left the RAF and worked for Handley Page as a test pilot. He was offered a financial job through family contacts by the famous banker JP Morgan but a chance encounter with “Boom” Trenchard saw him return to the RAF in 1920.

    An interesting side issue is that Sholto Douglas’ father was Director of the National Gallery in Dublin during WWI, where Sholto Douglas visited him. In the summer of 1917, he was asked to reconnoitre appropriate sites for airfields in Ireland, and claims the credit for the creation of Aldergrove outside Belfast and Baldonnell near Dublin, both still in use today. He recalls landing his plane in Phoenix Park in Dublin outside what is now the president’s residence, as of course there was no airfield yet in use. He recounts that, if he turned up to recce a site by car in his military uniform, the “corner boys” would jeer and throw stones, but if he arrived by plane and landed in a field, everybody was ecstatically happy to see him! Clearly, it pays to arrive in style.

    After retiring from the RAF, Sholto Douglas became chairman of British Airways, as we know it today, in 1949. He died in 1969.

    This book is out of print, so if you want to read it you will have to track it down in a secondhand bookshop, online or otherwise. It is certainly an interesting account of the WWI era in the air.

    Disgusting wartime treatment of Sir Hugh Dowding

    Whilst the Battle of Britain raged in the skies during the hot summer of 1940, a different bitter dogfight was being fought on the ground.

    Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, Sholto Douglas and Trafford Leigh-Mallory, who both believed in the "Big Wing" tactic of huge swarms of RAF fighters forming to attack at once (which took too long), plotted against their rival and superior, the Commander of RAF Fighter Command, Sir Hugh Dowding and his 'ally' against them, head of no.11 group, Keith Park, both of whom were conducting the war with smaller fighter squadrons attacking the Germans, whilst keeping some fighters in reserve if possible.

    Throughout the summer, both camps locked horns bitterly about their opposing tactical theories (after WWII Dowding himself blamed Leigh-Mallory and even ace pilot Douglas Bader) as casualties rose and the battle hung on a knife-edge.

    Sholto Douglas/Leigh-Mallory lobbied Charles Portal (newly-made Chief of the Air Staff in Oct 1940) and even Churchill, who finally gave them their rival's positions replaced Dowding and Park, who were unceremoniously dumped.
    Literally, Dowding was sent a brief note of paper informing him of his dismissal and told he could 'make himself useful' inspecting service waste.

    Luckily by then, and with great courage and tenacity on the part of the exhausted RAF Fighter pilots especially, Dowding's leadership won through and the Luftwaffe had been defeated.

    Sadly, as the land's church bells tolled the great RAF victory in November, Dowding wasn't even in Britain, but had been ordered by Churchill to go to the US on special duty for the Ministry of Aircraft Production, where he remained outspoken and a thorn in the side of officialdom, as he had in the Royal Flying Corps during WWI.



    Whilst the Battle of Britain raged in the skies during the hot summer of 1940, a different bitter dogfight was being fought on the ground.

    Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, Sholto Douglas and Trafford Leigh-Mallory, who both believed in the "Big Wing" tactic of huge swarms of RAF fighters forming to attack at once (which took too long), plotted against their rival and superior, the Commander of RAF Fighter Command, Sir Hugh Dowding and his 'ally' against them, head of no.11 group, Keith Park, both of whom were conducting the war with smaller fighter squadrons attacking the Germans, whilst keeping some fighters in reserve if possible.

    Throughout the summer, both camps locked horns bitterly about their opposing tactical theories (after WWII Dowding himself blamed Leigh-Mallory and even ace pilot Douglas Bader) as casualties rose and the battle hung on a knife-edge.

    Sholto Douglas/Leigh-Mallory lobbied Charles Portal (newly-made Chief of the Air Staff in Oct 1940) and even Churchill, who finally gave them their rival's positions replaced Dowding and Park, who were unceremoniously dumped.
    Literally, Dowding was sent a brief note of paper informing him of his dismissal and told he could 'make himself useful' inspecting service waste.

    Luckily by then, and with great courage and tenacity on the part of the exhausted RAF Fighter pilots especially, Dowding's leadership won through and the Luftwaffe had been defeated.

    Sadly, as the land's church bells tolled the great RAF victory in November, Dowding wasn't even in Britain, but had been ordered by Churchill to go to the US on special duty for the Ministry of Aircraft Production, where he remained outspoken and a thorn in the side of officialdom, as he had in the Royal Flying Corps during WWI.

    Hurricanes of 312 Squadron escorting Short Stirling bombers

    Hurricanes of 312 Squadron escorting Short Stirling bombers on a 'circus' operation to Lille, 5 July 1941. The use of heavy bombers instead of the more usual Bristol Blenheims was a further attempt to encourage Luftwaffe fighters into the air.

    The Luftwaffe now also enjoyed a qualitative advantage over the RAF. The Messerschmitt Bf109F was a match for the latest Spitfire – the Mk Vb – and the new Focke-Wulf Fw 190 was significantly superior in performance. The Hurricanes found themselves totally outclassed and relegated to the ground attack role. These 'Hurribombers' had some success on 'Ramrods' – short-range bombing operations against specific targets such as harbours and airfields. But overall, the RAF's offensive operations – especially the Circuses and large-scale fighter sweeps – had become prohibitively expensive, and in November 1941 Fighter Command was ordered to suspend all but the most essential. Routine attacks were limited to coastal areas, well away from the Luftwaffe.

    The Germans continued to mount occasional night attacks against Britain, but Luftwaffe bombers were now relatively easy meat for Britain’s increasingly capable air defences. In the spring of 1942 the new de Havilland Mosquito joined the Beaufighter in equipping Fighter Command's night-fighter squadrons. The 'Mossie' arrived at an opportune time. RAF Bomber Command raids on Lübeck and Rostock in February and March prompted an enraged Hitler to order retaliatory bombing attacks. The so-called Baedeker raids (named after a nineteenth century German guidebook to Britain) were directed against some of Britain's most historic, and less well defended, towns and cities, including York, Norwich, Bath and Canterbury. However, damage was minimal and 40 enemy bombers were shot down.


    Born the son of Professor Robert Langton Douglas and his wife Margaret Jane Douglas (née Cannon), Douglas was educated at Emanuel School, Tonbridge School and Lincoln College, Oxford. [11]

    Douglas was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery on 15 August 1914. [12] In January 1915, following a disagreement with his commanding officer, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps joining No. 2 Squadron as an observer. [13] He soon trained as a pilot and earned Royal Aero Club certificate No 1301. [14] Promoted to lieutenant on 9 June 1915, he became a pilot with No. 14 Squadron at Shoreham in July 1915 and then transferred to No. 8 Squadron, flying B.E.2c aircraft on the Western Front, in August 1915. [15] Appointed a flight commander with the rank of temporary captain in December 1915, he joined No. 18 Squadron at Montrose in January 1916. [16] He was awarded the Military Cross on 14 January 1916. [17]

    Douglas went on to be officer commanding No. 43 Squadron, flying Sopwith 1½ Strutters on the Western Front, in April 1916 and, having been promoted to temporary major on 1 July 1916, he became then officer commanding No. 84 Squadron, flying S.E.5s on the Western Front, in August 1917. [18] He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 8 February 1919. [19]

    After the war Douglas worked briefly for Handley Page and as a commercial pilot before rejoining the Royal Air Force in 1920 after a chance meeting with Hugh Trenchard. [11] After being granted a permanent commission as a squadron leader on 25 March 1920, [20] Douglas attended the RAF Staff College and then served as a flight instructor four years. [15] Promoted to wing commander on 1 January 1925, [21] he continued his work as an instructor before attending the Imperial Defence College in 1927. [15] He became station commander at RAF North Weald in January 1928 and then joined the Air Staff at Headquarters Middle East Command in Khartoum in August 1929. [15] Promoted to group captain on 1 January 1932, [22] he became an instructor at the Imperial Defence College in June 1932 and then, having been promoted to air commodore on 1 January 1935, [23] he became Director of Staff Duties at the Air Ministry on 1 January 1936. [24] Promoted to air vice marshal on 1 January 1938, [25] he went on to be Assistant Chief of the Air Staff on 17 February 1938. [26]

    On 22 April 1940, with the Second World War well under way, he was made Deputy Chief of the Air Staff. [27] He was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath on 11 July 1940. [28] During 1940, Douglas and Trafford Leigh-Mallory clashed with the head of No. 11 Group, Keith Park, and the head of Fighter Command, Hugh Dowding, over strategy in the Battle of Britain. Douglas argued for a more aggressive engagement with a 'Big Wing' strategy i.e. using massed fighters to defend the United Kingdom against enemy bombers. [11] When Charles Portal was made Chief of the Air Staff in October 1940 he supported Douglas, moving Park and Dowding and appointing Douglas to replace Dowding as Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Fighter Command, with the temporary rank of air marshal on 25 November 1940. [29] He was advanced to Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath on 1 July 1941 [30] and promoted to the substantive rank of air marshal on 14 April 1942. [31]

    At around this time Prime Minister Winston Churchill recommended Douglas to command the China Burma India Theater but General George Marshall refused to accept the appointment due to Douglas's well known dislike of Americans. [32]

    As commander-in-chief of Fighter Command, Douglas was responsible for rebuilding the command's strength after the attrition of the Battle of Britain, but also for bringing it on the offensive to wrest the initiative in the air from the German Luftwaffe. He was therefore one of the main orchestrators of the only partially successful Circus offensive whereby large wings of fighters accompanied by bombers would take advantage of good weather to sweep over Northern France. [33]

    Douglas was promoted to temporary air chief marshal on 1 July 1942. [15] On 28 November 1942 Douglas was replaced at Fighter Command by Trafford Leigh-Mallory and was transferred to Egypt, becoming Air Officer Commanding in Chief of RAF Middle East Command in January 1943. [34] In that capacity Douglas was an advocate of Operation Accolade, a planned British amphibious assault on Rhodes and the Dodecanese Islands in the Aegean Sea, and was disappointed when it was abandoned. [11]

    Douglas returned to England in January 1944 to head Coastal Command during the invasion of Normandy and then, having been confirmed in the rank of air chief marshal on 6 June 1945, [35] he became Commander in Chief, British Air Forces of Occupation in July 1945. [36] He was advanced to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath on 1 January 1946. [37]

    Promoted to Marshal of the Royal Air Force on 1 January 1946, [38] Douglas became the second commander of the British Zone of Occupation in Germany in May 1946. [15] He was raised to the peerage as Baron Douglas of Kirtleside, of Dornock in the County of Dumfries on 17 February 1948, sitting as a member of the Labour Party. [39] [40] Douglas retired in 1947 and became chairman of BEA in 1949, a post he retained until 1964. He published two volumes of autobiography, Years of Combat, covering the First World War, and Years of Command covering the Second World War. [11]

    Douglas died in hospital in Northampton on 29 October 1969 and was buried at St Clement Danes in The Strand in London. [11] He was an atheist. [41] [42]

    Lord Douglas of Kirtleside was married three times. First he married May Howard in October 1919 they were childless and divorced in 1932. Secondly he married Joan Leslie (née Denny) in 1933 this marriage was also childless and ended in divorce in 1952. Thirdly he married Hazel Walker in 1955 they had one daughter. [11]

    Churchill in North America, 1929

    Winston Churchill took a three-month vacation to North America in the summer and fall of 1929, a little known event in his long career. In the company of his son Randolph, his brother Jack and his nephew Johnny, he toured Canada and the United States. Notable are Churchill’s meetings with political, business, newspaper and entertainment figures (President Hoover, Prime Minister Mackenzie King, Bernard Baruch, William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies and Charlie Chaplin) as well as his visits to such landmarks as the Grand Canyon, Lake Louise, Niagara Falls and Yosemite.

    For more information on my book describing Churchill’s 1929 visit, click on the book cover above.

    Hugh Douglas

    The origins of William are uncertain, the first of the name of Douglas to appear on historic record. He appears as witness to a charter of Jocelin, Bishop of Glasgow in 1174 in favour of the monks of Kelso Abbey, at which time he was in possession of the Lands of Douglas.[1] Sholto/William

    David Hume of Godscroft in his history refers to the progenitor of the House of Douglas, Sholto. Gleaned from the works of Buchanan and Boece, Godscroft's narrative explains that during the reign of a King Solvathius, Sholto Douglas was instrumental in putting down an uprising by a usurper Donald Bain in 767AD, and as reward was granted the lands that would after be called Douglas.[2]

    Both Balfour Paul and Maxwell agree that this origin tale is mythic, but do contest that William of Douglas was active at the time of the real rebellion of the Meic Uilleim, under their chief Domnall mac Uilleim. The earlier historians may have confused the mythic Donald Bain with Domnall Bán mac Domnaill, the penultimate Meic Uilleim chief.

    This may be corroborated by the facts that the lands of Douglas marched with those of the leader of King William I of Scotland's retaliatory forces, Lochlann, Lord of Galloway. William may well have been a vassal of the Lord of Galloway. Furthermore, all of William's sons with the exception of the eldest were to hold privileged ecclesiastic positions within the former Meic Uilleim territories in Moray. Issue

    William of Douglas may have married Margaret, a sister of Freskin of Kerdal, a Flemish laird from Moray.[3] He had issue:


    School and First World War

    In his hometown of Moffat, Hugh Dowding attended St. Ninian's Preparatory School , which was founded in 1879 by his father Arthur Dowding and his fellow student, Reverend Churchill. At the age of 15 he was admitted to the renowned Winchester College in southern England on the recommendation of his father . Since his lack of interest in Greek and Latin prevented his success at school there, he left the institute two years later. He successfully applied to the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich . However, due to his aversion to mathematics, he was not admitted to engineering.

    Following his family's advice, he first went to the Royal Garrison Artillery . As an artilleryman, Dowding expected to be dispatched to South Africa , since England had been at war with the Boers since 1899 . However, he was not stationed there, but successively in Ceylon , Gibraltar , Hong Kong and India , where he served in the mountain artillery.

    In 1912 he returned to England and attended the Staff College of the British Army in Camberley. During his time there he privately acquired the flight license (Royal Aero Club pilot's certificate No. 711) , which he received on December 20, 1913, his last day at Staff College. He then joined the newly founded Royal Flying Corps as a reserve officer against his father's wishes .

    During the First World War , Dowding first fought in the 6th and 9th Squadron. His early interest in wireless telegraphy led him to temporarily return to England and found the Wireless Experimental Establishment in Brookland . Back on the front lines in France , he was appointed commander of the 16th Squadron . His nickname Stuffy is said to go back to an incident during this time . Allegedly Dowding complained to a supervisor that young, insufficiently trained pilots of his squadron were used against the experienced Germans and often died in the process. The legendary answer was: “Don't be stuffy, Dowding!” (German: “Don't be awkward, Dowding!” )

    During the Battle of the Somme in 1916, he led several squadrons as a large association (headquarters wing) . However, disagreements with authorities such as Commander-in-Chief Hugh Trenchard led to his recall from the front until the end of the war. Dowding ended the First World War with the rank of Brigadier-General.

    Interwar period

    In February 1918, Dowding married Clarice Maude Vancourt. She was the cousin of a fellow 6th Squadron squadron who introduced them to each other. Clarice Maude brought her daughter Marjorie Brenda from her first marriage into the family and Dowding adopted her as a stepdaughter.

    Their son Derek Dowding was born on January 9, 1919. When Clarice Maud Dowding died unexpectedly in 1920 after only two years of marriage, Hugh moved to his father's house at Wimbledon. His sister Hilda presumably took over the care of his son and representative duties for Dowding as his career with the RAF progressed. Derek attended Winchester College and later the RAF Elite College in Cranwell , where the popular fighter pilot Douglas Bader was trained. Dowding was an excellent skier, slalom champion and president of the English ski club from 1924 to 1925.

    Dowding joined the new Royal Air Force (RAF), in which he held the rank of Air Vice-Marshal from 1929 (for ranking see: Luftmarschall ). This was followed in 1933 by promotion to Air Marshal and in 1934 to be knighted .

    In the 1930s he was a member of the research and development department within the RAF and campaigned for the conversion from biplanes to monoplanes in all-metal construction. In doing so, he pushed the modernization of the aircraft fleet to include the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire models . In this capacity, Dowding also witnessed an attempt to locate aircraft by the Scottish technician Robert Watson-Watt on February 26, 1935. The results of these tests convinced Stuffy Dowding, who was also known for his stiffness and lack of humor, so that he had tax money available for the further development of this technology. He promoted the development of radio location, which was later an essential part of the dowding system .

    Contrary to what he had expected, it was not he but Cyril Newall who was appointed to the staff of the Royal Air Force in 1936. Instead, he was only appointed commander in chief of the newly established fighter units, the Fighter Command .

    His son Derek also became a fighter pilot and served with the 74th Squadron during the Battle of Britain. The fatherly relationship with his fighter boys, as he sometimes called the pilots, had a family background.

    Second World War


    In view of the unmistakable German armament efforts and the military successes of the Wehrmacht, Dowding's attention was directed to the rapid development of a powerful hunting weapon. To gain time for this, he encouraged British Prime Minister Arthur Neville Chamberlain in his policy of appeasement .

    Dowding was scheduled for age-related retirement as early as 1939. However, Christopher Courtney , who was appointed as his successor , had an accident with other high- ranking officers of the RAF and was seriously injured. Dowding agreed to extend his tenure until March 1940, and then through October 1940.

    During the battle for France , more and more squadrons were transferred to the mainland and wiped out in the fighting against a rapidly advancing German armed forces. The energetic Winston Churchill , who was Prime Minister after Chamberlain's resignation, wanted to give in to the demands of the French for more RAF fighter squadrons so that the French could continue the war against Germany.

    Dowding's request, however, was to spare the reserves of the RAF and prepare them for home defense. Then Dowding was given the opportunity to explain his point of view to the War Cabinet and Winston Churchill at a meeting on May 15, 1940. He vividly described that if the loss rate remained constant, not a single hurricane would soon be available for defense. Churchill stressed that he had personally promised the French government support and that they were urgently demanding fighter squadrons. Dowding was demonstratively indifferent and pointed out that his task was to prepare the Fighter Command for the defense of England.

    The next day, Dowding wrote to Churchill to immediately request a statement from the Department of Aviation , which had previously set the minimum strength of the Fighter Command for national defense at 52 squadrons. A fully equipped squadron of the Fighter Command had an average of 20 aircraft each with crew and maintenance, which corresponded to about a squadron of the German Air Force. There are currently 36 squadrons still operational, explained Dowding. Politicians should give him a minimum strength that would never be undercut. He carefully avoided naming the 52 squadrons mentioned as his personal minimum requirement and cleverly passed the ball on to politics. Afterwards, under pressure from the troubled French leadership, the war cabinet approved four (instead of the required ten) squadrons for the British expeditionary corps in France one last time.

    As a result, no one wanted to take responsibility for a weakening of home defense. All further desperate requests from the French were rejected. Winston Churchill later stated that Dowding had given him a trustworthy assurance that he only needed 25 squadrons for home defense, which Dowding always denied and presented his letter of May 16 as evidence.

    When Dowding heard of the signing of the armistice between France and Germany, he remarked succinctly: "Finally alone" (German: "Finally [we are] alone" ).

    In May the Fighter Command was reduced to 32 squadrons. Immediately after the end of the fighting in France, the Battle of Britain began, first over the English Channel and then increasingly over the island . On the eve of August 18, the day when both sides suffered the heaviest losses, 62 squadrons of the Fighter Command were ready to defend. 53 of them were equipped with Hurricanes and Spitfires , all operational machines totaled 1065 pieces. In addition, the RAF had 373 modern and technically ready machines in maintenance operations and training units, which could be brought to the squadrons with a short advance warning. By October 31, 58 squadrons of the Fighter Command had actively participated in the air battle.

    A key aspect of Dowding's strategy was the economical use of the available reserves. This was also supported by intercepted German radio messages, from which it emerged that the air force command wanted to decimate the RAF in a major air battle. Dowding gave his group commanders largely a free hand in the performance of their duties. But it was also criticized that it offered a rivalry between two group commanders, namely Park and Leigh-Mallory, space for a dispute over the use of large units. This so-called Big Wing controversy was discussed long after the war. From today's point of view, Park's approach of avoiding the formation of large and therefore cumbersome associations in the critical phase is seen as the right one.


    When the British Expeditionary Force (British Expeditionary Force) withdrew from the beach at Dunkirk across the English Channel in late May and early June 1940 and was heavily attacked by the Air Force , soldiers criticized the alleged lack of the RAF. It was believed that Dowding did not want to sacrifice the hunters to cover the withdrawal of the troops.

    This assessment was wrong. Fierce aerial battles took place in the Dunkirk area, but mostly out of sight of the beleaguered English and French troops. The RAF lamented the loss of at least 90 pilots more than 170 Fighter Command fighters were shot down or irreparably damaged. For propaganda reasons, these high numbers of casualties were not published.

    For the first time in World War II, the RAF achieved air superiority over the Luftwaffe, limited in time and space . 134 German aircraft were shot down in the largest air battle to date. Although the initial situation for the evacuation was unfavorable, 338,226 Allied soldiers were brought to England.

    Battle of Britain

    The Battle of Britain is from the Battle of Britain Historical Society limited in time (Society for the History of the Battle of Britain) in agreement with the RAF between 10 July 1940 and 31 October 1940th There was little time to make up for the losses from the Battle of France and Dunkirk. In order to meet the urgent need for personnel, Dowding had foreign units with a moderate knowledge of English from the RAF lead into the fight. The success was resounding, for example the kill rates of the Polish pilots were above average, although there were complaints about a lack of radio discipline. In the heat of the battle, the Polish pilots communicated in their native language and not in English via the on-board radios.

    The fiercest fighting occurred between the eagle day on August 13 and September 17, when Hitler suspended " Operation Sea Lion " for an indefinite period. Sea lion was the name of the planned invasion of England, the condition of which would have been the defeat of the RAF. In this phase of the air battle, the 11th Group, led by Keith Park, had to bear the brunt of the fighting. Park had previously served as an adjutant on the staff of Fighter Command, direct subordinate to Dowdings. Park enjoyed Dowding's absolute trust and was even privy to the ultra intercepts (intercepted and decrypted German radio messages, the existence of which was strictly confidential). Dowding himself was only put on the list of persons to be informed by the secret service on October 16, 1940 and on that day officially learned of the existence of the Ultra project. The course of the battle suggests that the secret service occasionally passed on information to Dowding without naming the sources.

    As a result of an increased aircraft production rate, the air defense that was decisively developed by Dowding and the brave efforts of the pilots and their commanders, the immediate threat was considered averted from October 31, 1940. Dowding's triumph was overshadowed by personal controversy between Dowding, his successor William Sholto Douglas, and two of his rival commanders. He was recalled as Commander in Chief of Fighter Command.

    Further use

    As soon as the imminent danger of defeat was averted, Dowding began a diplomatic mission to the USA in November 1940, at Churchill's request, during which he was supposed to convince President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the importance of a modern hunting weapon and to provide support in developing such a weapon.

    He then worked within the Royal Air Force in administrative tasks such as the survey of required manpower before he retired in June 1942 as Air Chief Marshal (Colonel General). William Sholto Douglas and later Trafford Leigh-Mallory followed him as commanders of Fighter Command . On July 5, 1943 he was by King George VI. appointed Baron Dowding of Bentley Priory, Middlesex . The title belonged to the Peerage of the United Kingdom .

    Post war period

    On September 25, 1951, Dowding married the widow Muriel Whiting at Caxton Hall Westminster. They lived together in the same house in Wimbledon that Dowding had lived in before the war. Lady Muriel Dowding founded the animal welfare organization Beauty Without Cruelty (BWC) in 1959 . Both were vegetarians and anti- vivisectionalists and dedicated themselves to spiritualism and animal welfare , among other things . Dowding was a widely quoted speaker on the parapsychological scene in England because of his popularity and high nobility . In an interview published several times, he confirmed the plausibility of the existence of UFOs of extraterrestrial origin. Dowding argued that the Allied victory over Hitler was made possible by direct divine intervention. In various publications Dowding went into the thesis of reincarnation .

    In this context, he reported that pilots who had fallen during the Battle of Britain had appeared to him and he had spoken to them.

    In addition to articles for journals, he also wrote books, namely:

    • Many mansions. Rider & Co, London 1943
    • Lychgate. Rider & Co, London 1945
    • Twelve legions of angels: essays on was affected by air power and on the prevention of war. Jarrolds, London 1946
    • God's magic: an aspect of spiritualism. Museum Press, London 1946
    • The Dark Star. Museum Press, London 1951

    None of these titles are currently being published.

    Dowding died on February 15, 1970 in his home in Tunbridge Wells in the county of Kent . His ashes were buried in front of the Battle of Britain Memorial window at Westminster Abbey . His son and only child Derek Hugh Tremenheere Dowding followed him as 2nd Baron Dowding.

    World War II Database

    ww2dbase William Sholto Douglas was born in Headington, Oxfordshire, England, United Kingdom to father Professor Robert Langton Douglas and Margaret Jane Douglas (née Cannon). He attended Tonbridge School and Lincoln College, Oxford, England. In WW1, he was initially assigned to the Royal Field Artillery, but he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps after having a disagreement with his commanding officer. With the No. 2 Squadron RFC, he was initially an observer, but soon learned to fly, earning Royal Aero Club certificate No 1301. By Sep 1917, he was at the rank of major and was commanding No. 84 Squadron of fighters. He was awarded the Military Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his WW1 service. During the inter-war years he worked briefly with the aircraft manufacturing firm Handley Page and as a commercial pilot. In 1920, he joined the Royal Air Force. He became an RAF instructor before he was appointed to the Air Ministry in 1936. In 1938, he was promoted to the rank of air vice marshal.

    ww2dbase During the Battle of Britain in WW2, Deputy Chief of Air Staff Douglas (as of Apr 1940) was on the side of Trafford Leigh-Mallory in terms of strategy, advocating large formations of fighters it was his belief that if the British could deal enough damage against large German formations, the Luftwaffe would soon be disheartened and give up the aerial offensive. On 17 Dec 1940, after the Battle of Britain, he wrote:

    ww2dbase This came in conflict with that of Hugh Dowding and Keith Park, who advocated small but continuous fighter attacks to counter German bombers. In Oct 1940, when Charles Portal was made Chief of the Air Staff, Portal disagreed with Dowding and Park, and Douglas replaced Dowding as Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of RAF Fighter Command. Although now Leigh-Mallory and Douglas could deploy their "Big Wing" strategy, the Battle of Britain was largely over. In 1942, he was transferred to Egypt, and Leigh-Mallory succeeded him at the helm of Fighter Command. In 1943, he became the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of RAF Middle East Command. He returned to Britain in 1944 and became the chief of Coastal Command during the Allied invasion of Normandy, France.

    ww2dbase After the war, Douglas was named the commander of the British Zone of Occupation in Germany. In 1946, he was promoted to the rank of Marshal of the Royal Air Force, making him one of only two RAF officers to hold that rank without serving as Chief of the Air Staff. In 1948, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Douglas of Kirtleside, of Dornock in the County of Dumfries. He retired from military service in 1948. Between 1949 and 1964, he was the chairman of British European Airways. He published two volumes of autobiography Years of Combat dealt with his experiences in WW1, while Years of Command focused on WW2. He passed away at Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent in southern England.

    ww2dbase Sources:
    Stephen Bungay, The Most Dangerous Enemy

    Last Major Revision: Oct 2010

    Sholto Douglas Timeline

    23 Dec 1893 Sholto Douglas was born in Headington, Oxfordshire, England, United Kingdom.
    20 Jan 1944 Air Chief Marshal Sir William Sholto Douglas was appointed Commander-in-Chief of RAF Coastal Command.
    29 Oct 1969 Sholto Douglas passed away at Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England, United Kingdom.

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