Life and death of Hugh Dowding, the facts
Air Chief Marshal Hugh Caswall Tremenheere Dowding, 1st Baron Dowding, was an officer in the Royal Air Force. He was Air Officer Commanding RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain and is generally credited with playing a crucial role in Britain's defence, and hence, the defeat of Adolf Hitler's plan to invade Britain.
Born in Moffat, Scotland, Dowding was an officer in the British Army in the 1900's and early 1910's. He joined the Royal Flying Corps at the start of the First World War and went on to serve as a fighter pilot and then as commanding officer of No. 16 Squadron. During the inter-war years he became Air Officer Commanding Fighting Area, Air Defence of Great Britain and then joined the Air Council as Air Member for Supply and Research. In July 1936, Dowding was appointed chief of the newly created RAF Fighter Command.
Battle of Britain
During the Battle of Britain, Dowding's Fighter Command successfully defended the UK against the attacks of the Luftwaffe, thanks to his prudent management of RAF resources and detailed preparation of Britain's air defences (the Dowding system). He subsequently came into conflict with proponents of the Big Wing tactic, most notably Trafford Leigh-Mallory and Douglas Bader, which along with the inadaquecies of RAF's nighttime defence during the Blitz led to his eventual downfall. In November 1940, Dowding was replaced in command against his wishes by Sholto Douglas, another Big Wing advocate.
At the time of his retirement in June 1939, Dowding was asked to stay on until March 1940 because of the tense international situation. He was again permitted to continue serving through the Battle of Britain, first until July and finally until November 1940. In 1940, Dowding, nicknamed "Stuffy" by his men for his alleged lack of humour, proved unwilling to sacrifice aircraft and pilots in the attempt to aid Allied troops during the Battle of France. He, along with his immediate superior Sir Cyril Newall, then Chief of the Air Staff, resisted repeated requests from Winston Churchill to weaken the home defence by sending precious squadrons to France. When the Allied resistance in France collapsed, he worked closely with Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park, the commander of 11 Fighter Group, in organising cover for the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk.
Through the summer and autumn of 1940 in the Battle of Britain, Dowding's Fighter Command resisted the attacks of the Luftwaffe. Beyond the critical importance of the overall system of integrated air defence which he had developed for Fighter Command, his major contribution was to marshal resources behind the scenes (including replacement aircraft and air crew) and to maintain a significant fighter reserve, while leaving his subordinate commanders' hands largely free to run the battle in detail.
Dowding was known for his humility and great sincerity. Fighter Command pilots came to characterise Dowding as one who cared for his men and had their best interests at heart. Dowding often referred to his "dear fighter boys" as his "chicks": indeed his son Derek was one of them.
Because of his brilliant detailed preparation of Britain's air defences for the German assault, and his prudent management of his resources during the battle, Dowding is today generally given the credit for Britain's victory in the Battle of Britain.
Dowding retired from the Royal Air Force in July 1942 and was made a peer in June 1943.
Dowding died at his home in Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, on 15 February 1970. His body was cremated and his ashes were placed below the Battle of Britain Memorial Window in the Royal Air Force chapel in Westminster Abbey. Dowding's son Derek (1919 - 1992) inherited the title of Baron Dowding.
Born: 24 April 1882
Died: 15 February 1970
Royal Tunbridge Wells, England