Bomber Command

The Group Commanders

Air Vice-Marshal Edward B Addison CB, CBE, OBE, MA, CENG, FIEE

Air Vice-Marshal Edward B Addison

AOC 100 (Bomber Support) Group, 1943-5

As a specialist in electrical engineering, Addison was the ideal candidate to head Bomber Command's newly formed 100 (BS) Group in November 1943 tasked primarily with the airborne jamming of enemy radar and communications systems.

Edward Baker Addison was born on 4 October 1898 and served with the RFC and the RAF during the First World War after which he went up to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (1918-21), and then re-commissioned into the RAF in 1921. His studies continued, gaining his Master's degree from Cambridge in 1926 and the Ingénieur DiplĂ´me de l'école Supérieure d'électricité from Paris in 1927. Appointed AOC 100 (BS) Group in November 1943, he remained the group's only commander during its short (two-year) wartime existence. Addison retired from the RAF in 1955 but maintained a close involvement with the electronics field and on his retirement in 1975 was Director of Intercontinental Technical Services. He died at Weybridge, Surrey, on 4 July 1987, aged eighty-eight.

Air Vice-Marshal Donald Bennett CB, CBE, DSO

Air Vice-Marshal Donald Bennett

AOC 8 (PFF) Group, 1943-5

'His technical knowledge and his personal operational ability was altogetherexceptional. His courage, both moral and physical [was] outstanding and as a technician he [was] unrivalled. He could not suffer fools gladly, and by his own high standards there were many fools.' Renowned for his bluntness and not disposed towards unnecessary flattery, this was praise indeed for Bennett from his commander Bomber Harris. In 1944, at the age of thirty-three, Don Bennett became the youngest Air Vice-Marshal in the history of the RAF.

Born in Toowoomba, Queensland, on 14 September 1910, the youngest son of an Australian sheep farmer, Donald Clifford Tyndall Bennett joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1930 and travelled to England in the following year on attachment to the RAF. Initially posted to 29 (F) Squadron he later became an instructor on flying boats at RAF Calshot and when he left the RAF in 1935, transferring to the Reserve, he was a highly qualified pilot and air navigator. Joining Imperial Airways, Bennett flew the world's air routes in flying boats and landplanes, achieving several much publicised flying exploits including the Mercury-Maia composite flying boat flight across the North Atlantic in July 1938, and various in-flight refuelling experiments in 1939.

In 1940 Bennett was selected to help set up the Atlantic Ferry organisation for the collection of American and Canadian-built aircraft for delivery to England, and led the first formation flight of Hudsons across the Atlantic. Recommissioned into the RAFVR in 1941, Bennett was promoted to Wing Commander in December and appointed to command 77 Squadron at Leeming. He later moved on to command 10 Squadron in April 1942 and was shot down on a raid to sink the Tirpitz. He evaded and made his way home to England via Sweden.

The high point of Bennett's RAF career came in July 1942 when Harris asked him to form the Pathfinder Force, and which officially came into being the following month. Bennett was promoted Air Commodore in January 1943 and later Air Vice-Marshal. That same year he was awarded the DSO.

The success of the Pathfinder Force was due in large measure to Bennett's relentless drive and vision: night after night for the remaining three years of the war, almost every main force raid was spearheaded by the Pathfinders who contributed in a major way to the successful prosecution of the RAF's strategic air offensive.

When the war ended, Bennett remained the only bomber group commander not to receive a knighthood. Nevertheless, his post war achievements and activities were varied: he was one-time Liberal MP for Middlesbrough West, Director of British South American Airways, and a designer and builder of light aircraft and cars. He died on 15 September 1986, aged seventy-six.

Air Vice-Marshal 'Bobby' Blucke CB, CBE, DSO, AFC

AOC 1 Group, 1945

As a pilot with the RAE's Experimental Section at Farnborough in the mid-1930s, 'Bobby' Blucke flew many sorties to conduct experiments in the new science of electronics. On 26 February 1935, as a Flight Lieutenant, Bobby Blucke flew a Handley Page Heyford bomber through the beam of the BBC Daventry transmitter to demonstrate that radio waves bounced off his aircraft in flight. This demonstration had important repercussions and led successively to the development of Radio Direction Finding and, ultimately, radar.

Born on 22 June 1897, Robert Stewart Blucke was commissioned into the RAF in April 1918 and his first operational posting was as a Flying Officer pilot with 29 (F) Squadron, seven years later in 1925. He later spent time with the RAF in India between 1929 and 1932, at Karachi, before returning to England in 1933 to join the AA Cooperation Flight at Horsley. The following year he was posted to the RAE Farnborough where he became involved in the experiments with electronics. On the outbreak of war in 1939 Blucke was in charge of Blind Approach Training and later helped in the Allied scientific counter-offensive against the German Knickebein transmitters.

On 12 February 1945 Bobby Blucke was one of several less experienced officers to be given operational group command experience by Harris before the war ended. Appointed AOC of 1 Group, he remained there until January 1947 and on his retirement in 1952 he was C-in-C Transport Command. Bobby Blucke died on 2 October 1988, aged ninety-one.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Norman Bottomley KCB, CB, CIE, DSO, AFC

Air Chief Marshal Sir Norman Bottomley

AOC 5 Group, 1940-1

From Senior Air Staff Officer at Bomber Command headquarters between 1938 and 1940, Norman Bottomley was appointed AOC 5 Group in November 1940 and was later promoted to Deputy Chief of the Air Staff in 1943. At the war's end he succeeded Bomber Harris as C-in-C Bomber Command.

Born in Yorkshire on 18 September 1891, Norman Bottomley was educated at Halifax School and the University of Rennes in Brittany before being commissioned into the Yorkshire Regiment with which he served until transferring to the RFC in 1915. Between the wars his appointments included service in the Middle East and the command of 4 (AC) Squadron and 1 (Indian) Group. Bottomley's appointment as SASO at Bomber Command in 1938 marked the beginning of a rapid rise towards C-in-C by 1945. He became Inspector-General of the RAF in 1947 and retired the following year. Sir Norman Bottomley died on 13 August 1970, aged seventy-eight.

Air Vice-Marshal Owen Boyd CR, OBE, MC, AFC

AOC 93 (OTU) Group, 1944

Of all Bomber Command's wartime group commanders, Owen Boyd spent the shortest time in command of his appointed group. His life was cut tragically short at the age of fifty-four in August 1944, six months into his appointment as AOC of 93 (OTU) Group.

Owen Tudor Boyd was born on 30 August 1889 and educated at RMA Sandhurst before entering the Indian Army in 1909. He saw service in the First World War with the RFC and RAF, and commanded 66 Squadron. In 1938 he became C-in-C Balloon Command and two years later in 1940 was promoted to Air Marshal and appointed Deputy to the AOC-in-C Middle East. On his way out to Egypt the aircraft in which he was a passenger was forced down over Sicily by enemy fighters and he became a POW in Italy. When Italy capitulated in September 1943, Boyd and two British Army generals {Neame and O'Connor, who had been captured in North Africa in 1941) made a bid for freedom and finally reached Allied lines. Life was not easy for Boyd on his return to England. In July 1944 his wife divorced him and little more than a week later on 5 August he was dead from a heart attack.

Air Marshal John Breen CB, OBE

AOC 1 Group, 1940

Born John Joseph Breen on 8 March 1896, forty-four years later as an Air Commodore he was appointed AOC 1 Group in June 1940. His period of tenure was short, being succeeded five months later by Air Vice-Marshal R.D. Oxland.

Transferring to the RAF in 1918 as a staff captain, Breen was later on the staff at the Air Ministry's Directorate of Organisation and Staff Duties (1923) before promotion to squadron leader in 1925. There followed training as a pilot with 24 Squadron at Northolt in 1927, and an overseas posting to Iraq in April the next year saw Breen in command of an Armoured Car Wing. His newly acquired flying skills were put to better use six months later when he was moved on to command 84 Squadron, flying Wapitis from Shaibah.

Breen returned home in October 1929 to assume command of 33 Squadron at Eastchurch. A period of study followed at the Imperial Defence College in 1931, after successful completion of which he was promoted acting wing commander to join the Air Staff of the Western Area/Wessex Bombing Area, ADGB, at Andover in 1932. Another overseas posting followed in 1935 with an attachment to the HQ Staff of the Sudan Defence Force in Khartoum.

Breen was promoted to Group Captain in July 1937 and returned home to become SASO at 4 Group under Air Commodore A. T. Harris in November the same year. There he remained until his appointment as AOC 1 Group on 27 June 1940. Six months later, as an Air Commodore, he was moved to the Air Ministry where he spent the next four years as Director General of Personnel (1940-4) and then as Head of the Post War Planning Executive (1944-5) .He retired from the RAF as an Air Marshal on 2 May 1946 and died on 9 May 1964 at a nursing home in Dublin, aged sixty-eight.

Air Vice-Marshal George Brookes CB, OBE

Air Vice-Marshal George Brookes

AOC 6 (RCAF) Group, 1942-4

George Brookes had the formidable task of forming from scratch a complete bomber group on foreign soil and then organising it into a force ready for action. That he did so in such a short time and so effectively, is a testament to his professionalism. For organising and commanding 6 (RCAF) Group the British government recognised his services with the Order of the Bath. But 'Bomber' Harris had been 'alarmed' at the prospect of the new Canadian bomber group under his command. Brookes was looked upon in the RCAF more as a fatherly than a dynamic figure, and so the demanding Harris may not have considered his strength of personality exacting enough for the job.

Born in Yorkshire on 22 October 1894, George Eric Brookes emigrated to Canada with his parents in 1910 at the age of sixteen and settled in Owen Sound, Ontario. He enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps in 1914 and served in France before accepting a commission in the RFC in 1916. Brookes was posted to 13 Squadron, flying the BE2, but he was wounded in combat the following year and as a result was taken off front-line duties. He joined the RAF in 1918 as an instructor and transferred to the Canadian Air Force in 1921.

In 1939 he was a Group Captain at HQ Eastern Air Command in Halifax, Nova Scotia, planning Canada's coastal defence and convoy patrols. In May 1940, as an Air Commodore, he became AOC 1 Training Command in Toronto before being posted overseas to England and appointed AOC 6 (RCAF) Group on 24 October 1942 as an Air Vice-Marshal. He was succeeded in February 1944 by 'Black Mike' McEwen and retired from the RCAF in November the same year.

After the war he was very active in the Royal Canadian Air Cadets and was the National President of the RCAF Association. He died in Toronto on 8 September 1982, aged eighty-seven.

Air Vice-Marshal William Callaway CBE, AFC, DL

Air Vice-Marshal William Callaway

AOC 5 Group, 1937-9

As an Air Commodore, Callaway became the first AOC of the newly created 5 Group on 17 August 1937 and relinquished the appointment two years later to AVM Arthur Harris, who was later to become AOC-in-C Bomber Command.

The son of Royal Navy engineer captain, William Bertram Callaway was born on 15 October 1889 and educated privately before following his father into the Royal Navy in 1907. He spent nine years in the RN before transferring to the RNAS in 1916, when he won the AFC, and was commissioned into the RAF in 1918. As an Air Commodore, Callaway became the first AOC of the newly created 5 (Bomber) Group on 17 August 1937 and relinquished the appointment two years later to AVM Arthur Harris, who was later to become AOC-in-C Bomber Command. Promoted AVM in 1942, Callaway retired from the RAF in 1947 to become Divisional Controller, SW Division, Ministry of Civil Aviation, where he remained until his retirement in 1953. He lived at Lingfield in Surrey until his death on 28 August 1974, aged eighty-four.

Air Marshall Sir Roddy Carr CB, DFC, AFC

Air Marshal Sir Roddy Carr

AOC 4 Group, 1941-5

At nearly four years in post, Roddy Carr was unique among Harris's wartime group commanders in claiming the longest continuous period in command of the same group.

Born at Feilding, New Zealand, on 31 August 1891, Roderick Carr was educated at Wellington College, New Zealand, before travelling to Europe to fight in the First World War with the New Zealand Army. Later in the war he served with the RNAS and was transferred to the RAF in 1918 before journeying to north Russia in 1919 with the RAF contingent of the British Relief Force to help anti-Bolshevik forces in their attempts to crush Lenin's forces. A distinguished interwar career saw him take part in Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition in 1921-2 and in 1927 he flew on the RAF's first long-distance flight from England to the Persian Gulf in a modified Hawker Horsley. Service in Egypt (1929-33) and on secondment to the Royal Navy (HMS Eagle, 1936-9) followed, and at the outbreak of war Carr was with the RAF's AASF in France. He became AOC RAP Northern Ireland in 1940 before his appointment as AOC 4 (Bomber) Group on 26 July 1941, where he remained until replaced by AVM J.R. Whitley in 1945.

On retirement in 1947 Carr was AOC-in-C India. He died at Bampton, Oxfordshire, on 15 December 1971, aged eighty-one.

Air Chief Marshal the Hon Sir Ralph A Cochrane GBE, KCB, AFC, FRAES

Air Chief Marshal the Hon Sir Ralph A Cochrane

AOC 3 and 5 Groups, 1942-5

In the opinion of AVM Donald Bennett, Cochrane was a disaster as Bennett considered Cochrane to be lacking in both experience and understanding of operational matters. Bomber Harris, who had known Cochrane before the war, regarded him as 'a most brilliant, enthusiastic and hard working leader of men'. How much of the arguement was a clash between stong personalities and how much was truth remains a matter of conjecture.

Born on 24 February 1895, Cochrane was educated at the Royal Naval Colleges at Osborne and Dartmouth before entering the Royal Navy in 1912, but he transferred to the RAF in 1918. A number of overseas postings culminated in 1936 with his appointment as the first Chief of the Air Staff to the Royal New Zealand Air Force. In 1942 Cochrane became AOC 3 Group and with the sacking by Harris of AVM Coryton in February 1943 he assumed the command of 5 Group. Cochrane had been a flight commander of a squadron commanded by Bomber Harris in Mesopotamia during the 1920s and as such remained a strong supporter of the C-in-C, a loyalty that evidently was reciprocated. Nevertheless, Cochrane was a difficult man to get along with and was viewed by many as austere and humourless. After the war Cochrane became AOC Transport and Flying Training Commands, followed in 1950 by appointments as ADC to the King and Queen and then Vice-Chief of the Air Staff before retirement in 1952. He died on 17 December 1977, aged eighty-two.

Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham KCB, KBE, CB, DSO, MC, DFC, AFC

AOC 4 Group, 1939-41

Arthur 'Mary' Coningham gained his nickname (a corruption of the word Maori) in recognition of his New Zealand upbringing. On 3 July 1939 he became the third AOC of 4 Group and presided over changes in November 1940 that saw one of its squadrons, No. 35, become the second ever front-line RAF unit to operate monoplane four-engined heavy bombers.

Born in Brisbane, Australia, in 1895, and educated in New Zealand, Coningham saw service early in the First World War with the New Zealand forces in the Pacific and Middle East before transferring to the RFC in 1916 and winning a string of gallantry decorations in rapid succession (MC, DSO, DFC). In 1926 he led a record-breaking 5,268-mile flight from Helwan in Egypt to Kaduna in Nigeria for which he was rewarded with the AFC. In July 1939 Coningham became AOC 4 Group and was succeeded two years later by Roddy Carr, but the pinnacle of his RAF career came with his appointment as AOC 2nd Tactical Air Force in 1944, followed with the command of Flying Training Command in 1945. He retired from the RAF in 1947 and died on 30 January 1948, aged fifty-two.

Air Chief Marshal Sir H A Constantine KBE, CB, DSO

Air Chief Marshal Sir H A Constantine

AOC 5 Group, 1945

As a Group Captain station commander of RAF Elsham Wolds, 'Connie' Constantine insisted on joining the first 1,000-bomber raid over Cologne in May 1942, an unusual occurrence for an officer of his rank. He was awarded the DSO the same year while commanding Elsham Wolds, and was mentioned in dispatches four times.

Born on 23 May 1908, Hugh (Alex) Constantine was educated at Christ's Hospital and the RAF College Cranwell where he excelled at boxing and rugby. He began his RAF career as a fighter pilot but soon moved to Bomber Command where he became a protégé of Bomber Harris. As SASO with 1 Group between 1943 and 1944, Constantine was handpicked by Harris to become Deputy SASO at Bomber Command headquarters, before being appointed to succeed Sir Ralph Cochrane as AOC 5 Group in January 1945. During his time with 5 Group, Constantine worked closely with the scientist Barnes Wallis of bouncing bomb fame, also winning praise from General Montgomery for the accurate bombing carried out by his squadrons in support of the Allied crossing of the Rhine in March 1945. After the war he became Deputy Chief of Staff at SHAPE in Paris and later C-in-C Flying Training command before retirement in 1964. For the next thirteen years, he continued to work part-time at the Ministry of Defence as coordinator of Anglo-American community relations. He died on 16 April 1992, aged eighty-three.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Alec Coryton KCB, KBE, MVO, DFC

Air Chief Marshal Sir Alec Coryton

AOC 5 Group, 1942-3

Alec Coryton was considered by many a first-rate group commander, knowledgeable and capable. Yet, in February 1943, he was sacked by Harris for refusing to send a small force of Lancasters from his group on a sneak raid to Berlin in bad weather.

(William) Alec Coryton was born at Pentillie Castle, Cornwall, on 16 February 1895. He was commissioned into the Rifle Brigade in the First World War and transferred to the RAF in 1918. Coryton served in India in 1920 and rose to become Director of Operations (Overseas) at the Air Ministry (1938-41). Appointed to command 5 Group on 25 April 1942, he presided over the introduction of the first Avro Lancasters into Bomber Command service and bitterly resented the release of his best squadron, No. 83, to the newly formed Pathfinder Force in August. After he was sacked by Harris in February 1943 he moved to the Air Ministry where he became Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Operations) before appointment one year later as Air Commander, 3rd Tactical Air Force with SEAC (1944-5).

He retired from the RAF in 1951 and died at Langton Matravers, Dorset, on 20 October 1981, aged eighty-six.

Air Marshal Sir John D'Albiac KCVO, KBE, CB, DSO

AOC 2 Group, 1942-3

Born on 28 January 1894, John Henry D'Albiac was educated at Seabrook Lodge School, Kent, Framlingham College and the RMC Sandhurst where he was commissioned into the Army in 1914. Seconded to the RNAS in 1915 he served in France and was awarded the DSO in 1917. Transferring to the RAF in the following year he went on to fill a number of overseas staff appointments during the interwar years. At the outbreak of the Second World War he was AOC RAF Palestine but was later appointed to command 2 Group on 29 December 1942, a position he held until June 1943 when he became AOC 2nd Tactical Air Force. On retirement from the RAF in 1946, D'Albiac was Director-General Personnel at the Air Ministry.

Post war, he became commandant of the newly opened London Heathrow Airport in 1947 where he remained for ten years before his appointment as Deputy Chairman of the Air Transport Advisory Council (1957-61). He died at Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, on 20 August 1963, aged sixty-nine.

Air Vice-Marshal W F MacN Foster CB, CBE, DSO, DFC, MA Oxon(Hon)

AOC 6 (Training) Group, 1939-42

Born William Foster MacNeece in Co Donegal on 21 August 1889, the son of an Army officer, he assumed the surname of Foster by royal licence in 1927. Educated at Cheltenham College and RMC Sandhurst, he was commissioned into the RFC on the outbreak of the First World War and was awarded the DSO in 1917 and the DFC in 1918. During the interwar years his appointments included British Air Representative to the Council of the League of Nations (1926-9) and command of 1 Air Defence Group HQ (1929-34). He retired from the RAF in 1937 but was recalled to command 6 Group at the outbreak of war where he remained until April 1942. A number of important committee appointments followed at home, in the USA and in China, which included membership of the Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee (1942-3). Foster reverted to the retired list in 1946 and became actively involved in the local politics of Oxford, culminating in his election to the office of Lord Mayor in 1966. He enjoyed writing and submitted occasional verses to The Times and Spectator: His 'An Airman's Te Deum' was printed in 1936 to music by Sir Walford Davies and in 1937 to music by Dr Martin Shaw. Foster died in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, on 28 March 1978, aged eighty-eight.

Air Vice-Marshal J A Gray CB, CBE, DFC, GM

AOC 91 (OTU) Group, 1944-5

During the inter-war years, John Gray spent much of his time on the developmental side of military aviation, with three years each at AAE Martlesham Heath (1922-5) and RAE Farnborough in the Experimental Section (1925-9), followed by two years at Felixstowe with the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment (1930-2). His spell at the MAEE coincided with the RAF's third and final attempt on the Schneider Trophy in 1931 where Gray found himself serving alongside Flight Lieutenant John Boothman (who won the trophy outright for Britain on 13 September 1931) and a young flying officer named Frank Whittle.

John Astley Gray was born on 23 July 1899 and saw service as an officer with the Royal Engineers in the closing years of the First World War before transferring to the RAF in April 1918. His career at the RAF's main experimental establishments was interspersed with an eighteen-month posting to 55 (B) Squadron at Hinaidi in 1929, followed after 1931 by a series of home-based staff appointments at HQ ADGB, RAF College Cranwell, and 23 (Training) Group, by which point the Second World War had broken out. Gray was promoted Group Captain in 1940, Air Commodore in 1943 and acting Air Vice-Marshal in February 1944 when he was appointed AOC of 91 (OTU) Group, and there he remained for the duration of the war.

John Gray became SASO Transport Command in 1949, followed in 1951 by an overseas posting to Egypt on his appointment as AOC Administrative Staff, MEAF HQ, at Ismailia. He retired from the RAF in May 1954.

Air Commodore Harold Haines CBE, DFC, MA

AOC 92 (OTU) Group, 1942-3

Born on 22 November 1899 at Salcombe Regis in Devon, Harold Haines was educated at Peterhouse College, Cambridge before joining the RNAS in 1917. Transferring to the RAF in 1918, he was later appointed to command 92 (OTU) Group at its head-quarters in Winslow, Buckinghamshire, on 14 May 1942. His final appointment before retirement in 1948 was as Commandant of the RAF Regiment Depot. Haines died on 26 June 1955, aged fifty-five.

Air Vice-Marshal Richard Harrison, CB, CBE, DFC, AFC

AOC 3 Group, 1943-6

Born at Pocklington, Yorkshire, on 29 June 1893, Richard Harrison was educated at High Gate School, Scarborough College and Sheffield University before seeing service in the First World War. During the interwar years he served with the RAF in Palestine, Iraq (where he was twice mentioned in dispatches), and Egypt. During the Second World War he was three times mentioned in dispatches and was appointed AOC of 3 Group on 27 February 1943. Harrison retired from the RAF in 1946 and died on 18 May 1974, aged eighty.

Air Vice-Marshal George Hodson CB, CBE, AFC

AOC 93 (OTU) Group, 1944-5

George Stacey Hodson was born in London on 2 May 1899 and was educated at Dulwich School. He succeeded AVM Owen Boyd as AOC 93 (OTU) Group on 9 August 1944, and later became Air Officer Training at Bomber Command headquarters in 1945. Subsequent post war appointments included AOA Coastal Command (1946), AOC 205 Group RAF Mediterranean and Middle East (1947), and was SASO Home Command on his retirement in 1951. Hodson died at Bognor Regis on 1 October 1976, aged seventy-seven.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Alan Lees KCB, CBE, DSO, AFC

AOC 2 Group, 1941-2

Born on 23 May 1895 at Ashton-under-Lyne, Alan Lees was educated at Wellington College, Berkshire and the RMC Sandhurst before joining the RFC, in which he served throughout the First World War. Lees spent several periods overseas during the interwar years: in Iraq (1923-6), and on the north-west Frontier of India (1933-7). With the outbreak of the Second World War he succeeded AVM Stevenson as AOC 2 Group on 17 December 1941, where he remained until replaced by AVM J D'Albiac on 29 December 1942. At the end of the war Lees became AOC-in-C Reserve Command (1946-9) whereupon he retired from the RAF. He died on 14 August 1973, aged seventy-eight.

Air Vice-Marshal Percy Maitland CB, CBE, MVO, AFC

AOC 93 (OTU) Group, 1942-3

The son of a naval surgeon-captain, Percy Eric Maitland was born on 26 October 1895. His career in the British forces, ultimately to span nearly fifty years, began in 1908 at the tender age of thirteen when he attended the Royal Naval Colleges at Osborne and Dartmouth. Maitland's naval service continued though the First World War with secondment in 1915 to the newly formed RNAS airship branch. In April 1918 he transferred to the RAF as a captain specialising in navigation. His career during the interwar years was interesting and varied with service in Egypt and Iraq, followed by a record-breaking long-distance flight to Australia in which he was the navigator. Maitland was Staff Officer for the Royal Review in 1935 and served in the Far East up until the outbreak of war in 1939, by which time he was a Group Captain. He spent 1939-40 with Flying Training Command before joining Bomber Command, which led to his appointment as AOC 93 (OTU) Group on 15 June 1942. In February 1943 he moved to a staff job at the Air Ministry where he became Director of Operational Training. A succession of commands followed at the end of the war and he finally retired from the RAF in 1950. Percy Maitland died at Wallingford on 22 August 1985, aged eighty-nine.

Air Vice-Marshal Cuthbert MacLean CB, DSO, MC

AOC 2 Group, 1938-40

Born in Wanganui, New Zealand on 18 October 1886, the son of a clergyman, Cuthbert Trelawder MacLean was educated at Wanganui Collegiate School and at Auckland University, New Zealand. He came to England before the First World War whereupon he was seconded to the RFC in 1915, transferring to the RAF in 1918. MacLean was promoted Air Vice-Marshal in 1935 and his postings included AOC-in-C Middle East (1934-8) and concluded with his appointment as AOC 2 Group on 16 May 1938. He retired from the RAF in April 1940 and died at Cirencester, Gloucestershire, on 25 February 1969, aged eighty-two.

Air Vice-Marshal Clifford ('Black Mike') McEwen CB, MC, DFC & Bar

Air Vice-Marshal Clifford McEwen

AOC 6 (RCAF) Group, 1944-5

The forceful, dynamic leadership of 'Black Mike' McEwen as AOC of 6 (RCAF) Group earned him high praise from 'Bomber' Harris. He assumed command at a critical point in the strategic air offensive when the tide of war was finally turning in the Allies, favour, but also when the Luftwaffe fighter force was once more in the ascendancy. One of McEwen's first initiatives on taking command in February 1944 was to institute a full-scale programme of flying training for all aircrew, regardless of whether they were freshmen or on second tours. While crews grumbled about the training programme, it later paid dividends in a low casualty rate.

Born at Griswold, Manitoba, on 2 July 1896, Clifford Mackay McEwen was educated at the University of Saskatchewan before enlisting in the 196th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, in 1916. He was commissioned in England the following year and was seconded to the RFC with whom he learned to fly. McEwen served as a pilot with 28 Squadron RFC in Italy, shooting down twenty-two enemy aircraft and winning the MC, DFC & Bar, and the Italian Bronze Medal for Valour. He was promoted captain before the First World War ended and joined the fledgling Canadian Air Force.

During the interwar years 'Black Mike' (a nickname acquired while training at Camp Borden thanks to his tendency to sun-tan quickly) was a flying instructor and attended the RAF Staff College in 1930. On the outbreak of war in 1939 he was a Group Captain at the big training base at Trenton, Ontario, but in 1941 was promoted Air Commodore and given command of the RCAF's 1 Group in Coastal Command at St John's, Newfoundland, waging a vital war against German U-boats in the North Atlantic.

McEwen had been overseas in England for more than a year as a station commander before he was promoted to Air Vice-Marshal and appointed to command 6 (RCAF) Group on 28 February 1944. A stickler for discipline and a leader by example, he flew on operations over Germany on a number of occasions. When the war ended, he was designated commander of the bomber group planned to be sent to the Pacific theatre to fight the Japanese, but with the collapse of Japan in August the plan was scrapped. McEwen retired from the RCAF in 1946 and became a private consultant to aircraft manufacturers. For two years he was a director of Trans-Canada Air Lines. He died on 6 August 1967, aged seventy-one.

Air Vice-Marshal Robert Oxland CB, CBE, OBE

Air Vice-Marshal Robert Oxland

AOC 1 Group 1940-3

Born on 4 April 1889 and educated at Bedford Modern School, Robert Dickinson Oxland joined the RFC in 1915 and transferred to the RAF in 1918. As a qualified meteorological observer his first postings were in Iraq as a specialist staff officer. Returning home in 1925 as a Squadron Leader he joined 502 Squadron at Aldergrove, then moved on to 2 FTS at Digby in 1927.

Oxland was promoted Wing Commander in 1930 and from then until 1938 he took a series of staff appointments at home and overseas before promotion to Air Commodore and the post of Director of Personal Services at the Air Ministry in 1938. In November 1940 he was promoted to command 1 Group where he remained until succeeded by Air Vice-Marshal Edward Rice in February 1943. Oxland retired from the RAF in 1946 and died on 27 October 1959, aged sixty.


Air Vice-Marshal Sir Edward Rice KBE, CB, CBE, MC

Air Vice-Marshal Sir Edward Rice

AOC 1 Group 1942-5

A chance meeting between Edward Rice and the head of the engineering firm Rose Brothers led to the design of the successful Rose-Rice twin 0.50in Browning tail turret for Lancasters of 1 Group. Despite a lack of any official interest, Rice went ahead and helped Alfred Rose with the winning design and the Air Ministry placed an initial production order for the turret in June 1943.

The son of a Berkshire doctor, Edward Rice was born on 19 December 1893 and educated privately before transferring to the RFC from the Army in 1915. After a succession of overseas postings during the 1920s and '30s, he was promoted to Air Commodore in 1940 and appointed AOC RAF West Africa from 1941 to 1942. Returning to England in 1942, Rice was promoted to Air Vice-Marshal to command 1 Group until February 1945 when he was appointed AOC 7 (Training} Group, where he remained until his retirement from the service in 1946. He died soon afterwards on 14 April 1948, aged fifty-four.

Air Vice-Marshal Alan Ritchie CBE, AFC

AOC 93 (OTU) Group 1943-4

Born on 7 April 1899, Alan Ritchie saw service during the First World War and transferred to the RAF in 1918, training as a pilot at CFS Upavon in 1921. His first posting was to 100 Squadron at Spittlegate in 1922, equipped with the DH9a, followed by a period at Staff College (1924-5), then a three-year spell as CO of the RAF's Home Communication Flight at Northolt (1925-9). Ritchie spent the next three years from early in 1929 on Air Staff Intelligence Duties at Khartoum in the Sudan and on his return home went to the Air Ministry Directorate of Operations and Intelligence (1932-5).

It was in the Ministry that he served under and alongside many of the future command and group commanders of Bomber Command, including Ludlow-Hewitt, Peirse, Portal, Cochrane and Coryton. He was posted out to the Middle East once again in 1935 where he spent the next two years as CO of 47 (B) Squadron in Khartoum, flying the Fairey Gordon and Vickers Vincent. A return to staff duties followed in June 1937 when Ritchie joined the Combined General Headquarters, Palestine and Transjordan, as a Wing Commander. He remained in the Middle East until after the outbreak of war and returned home to England in 1940 as a Group Captain. As an acting Air Vice-Marshal, Ritchie was appointed AOC 93 (OTU) Group on 25 February 1943 and was succeeded one year later by AVM Owen Boyd. He retired from the RAF in December 1945 and became Deputy Lieutenant of Suffolk in 1950. Alan Ritchie died on 17 August 1961, aged sixty-two.


Air Chief Marshal Sir James Robb GCB, KBE, DSO, DFC, AFC

AOC 2 Group 1940-1

One of the most valuable gifts James Robb gave to the RAF in the Second World War came about through his involvement in establishing the Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada during the late thirties, which later provided Bomber Command with a steady stream of trained aircrew when it needed them most. Later appointed AOC 2 Group on 17 April 1940, he soon witnessed the severe mauling his squadrons received in the desperate battle of France.

Born on 26 January 1895 at Hexham, Northumberland, the son of a JP, James Robb was educated at George Watson's School and Durham University. During the First World War he served with the Northumberland Fusiliers and the RFC and was twice wounded. He soon acquired a reputation as an ace pilot, shooting down seven enemy aircraft, and was awarded the DFC. After the war he was given an RAF permanent commission and in 1936 became Commandant of the CFS at Upavon.

During 1938-9 Robb was closely involved in setting up the Commonwealth Air Training Scheme in Canada which soon began to pay dividends for the RAF once the casualties of war began to mount. Robb's RAF career developed rapidly thereafter with a series of key appointments, starting in 1944 as the Chief of Staff (Air) to Eisenhower, followed in 1945 by AOC-in-C RAF Fighter Command, Vice-Chief of the Air Staff in 1948 and finally as Inspector General of the RAF on his retirement in 1951. Robb died at Bognor Regis on 18 December 1968, aged seventy-three.


Marshal of the RAF Sir John Slessor GCB, DSO, MC, DL

Marshal of the RAF Sir John Slessor

AOC 5 Group 1941-2

John Slessor was the only one of the RAF's wartime bomber group commanders ultimately to become the professional head of the RAF, as Marshal of the RAF.

Born on 3 June 1897 at Rhanikhet, India, the son of a British Army officer, John Cotesworth Slessor served with the RFC in the First World War in the London Air Defence, and in France, Egypt and the Sudan. The interwar years saw him appointed to several staff positions and the commands of 4 Squadron (1925-8) and 3 (Indian) Wing (1935). This was followed in 1937-41 by Director of Plans at the Air Ministry during which time he was also appointed ADC to the King. On 12 May 1941 he became AOC 5 Group but was succeeded less than a year later on 25 April 1941 by AVM Alec Coryton.

Promotion followed swiftly to Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Policy) (1942-3), AOC-in-C Coastal Command (1943), C-in-C RAF Mediterranean and Middle East (1944-5), Air Member for Personnel (1945-7), Marshal of the RAF (1950), and Chief of the Air Staff (1950-2). Following his retirement from the RAF he maintained a busy personal schedule as JP, county councillor and High Sheriff for Somerset. He also found time to write several books on strategy which included The Central Blue (1956) and The Great Deterrent (1959). He died on 12 July 1979, aged eighty-two.

Air Vice-Marshal Donald Stevenson CB, CBE, OBE, DSO, MC & Bar

AOC 2 Group 1941-2

In 1941, the light bombers of 2 Group were ordered to attack and sink all enemy coastal shipping that put to sea between the Brittany peninsula and Germany. As the group commander, Donald Stevenson followed his orders to the letter but the resulting cost in aircraft and crews was painfully high and earned for him the nickname 'Red Steve'.

The son of an Army officer, Donald Stevenson was born on 7 April 1895 and served with the British forces in the First World War before transferring to the RFC in 1916, winning the MC and bar, and a DSO. He became Air ADC to King George VI in 1939-40 before taking up an Air Ministry appointment which preceded his move to command 2 Group in February 1941. Here he stayed for little more than ten months before accepting a command posting to the Far East. His final RAF command was as AOC 9 (Fighter) Group in 1943. Stevenson was High Commissioner to Romania from 1944 to 1947 after which he retired from the RAF. He died on 10 July 1964, aged sixty-nine.

Air Vice-Marshal Henry Thorold CB, CBE, DSC, DFC, AFC

AOC 92 (OTU) Group 1943-5

Born on 11 May 1896 and educated at Marlborough College, Henry Thorold served throughout the First World War with the RNAS. Transferring to the RAF in 1918, his career between the wars took him to Iraq twice and later saw him command 10 (Bomber) and 70 (BT) Squadrons between 1933 and 1936. Promoted group captain in 1937, he commanded RAF station Mildenhall. From 1938, a number of staff appointments at home and overseas preceded his command of 92 (OTU) Group in March 1943, where he remained until succeeded by AVM Hodson in February 1945. Later that same year he became head of the Air Section to the British Military Mission in Moscow, followed in 1946 as SASO Flying Training Command. Thorold retired in the following year and died on 10 April 1966, one month short of his seventieth birthday.

Air Marshal Sir Hugh Walmsley

Air Marshal Sir Hugh Walmsley

AOC 91 (OTU) Group 1942-4, AOC 4 Group 1945

Awarded the MC in 1918, the DFC in 1922, and mentioned in dispatches five times during the Second World War, Hugh Walmsley was born in 1898 and educated at Dover College. During the First World War he saw service with the Royal North Lancashire Regiment before secondment to the Royal Flying Corps in 1916. Walmsley received a permanent commission in the RAF in 1922 and as a group captain became AOC 91 (OTU) Group in 1942. He took over as AOC 4 Group from AVM John Whitley on 7 May 1945 before moving on to become Air Officer, Transport Command, SE Asia (1945-6) and then AOC Air HQ, India (1946-7). A succession of senior command appointments followed with Deputy Chief of the Air Staff in 1948, and then in 1950 AOC Flying Training Command. Walmsley retired from the RAF in 1952 and became managing director of Air Service Training Ltd and later principal of the College of Air Training until he retired again in 1960. He died at Lymington in August 1985, aged eighty-seven.

Air Marshal Sir John Whitley KBE, CB, DSO, AFC & Bar

AOC 4 Group 1945

As part of Harris's plan to give group command experience to less experienced officers before the war ended, AVM John Whitley assumed command of 4 Group in February 1945 from the long-serving and much respected AVM Roddy Carr. He was also an airman who took escape and evasion seriously. Thanks to his preparedness for such an eventuality Whitley made good his escape from France to England via Spain after he was shot down in 1943.

John Rene Whitley was born on 7 September 1905, the son of a civil engineer, and spent his early childhood in Chile where his father was in charge of building what was then the highest railway in the world. After his mother's death he was brought up in France by his grandparents. Educated at Haileybury, Whitley joined the RAF on a short service commission in 1926 and a year later his first posting was to 7 Squadron at Worthy Down. In 1931 he moved to 101 Squadron before being offered a permanent commission and a posting to India where he was given command of the Bomber Transport Flight at Lahore. In India he piloted the Viceroy and made many long-range flights into South East Asia, but his involvement in humanitarian relief operations following the Quetta earthquake in 1935 saw him awarded the AFC.

Returning home to England in 1937 he was promoted to squadron leader and posted in August to 38 (B) Squadron at Marham as a flight commander. In the following August he was posted to 24 Squadron at Hendon, the Metropolitan Communications Squadron, where he commanded the VIP flight and his log book recorded flying such men as Churchill, Chamberlain, Bomber Harris, Noel Coward and David Niven to a host of destinations. In May 1940 Whitley was promoted Wing Commander and given command of 149 Squadron at Mildenhall flying Wellingtons, but in November he was posted to Bomber Command headquarters as an operations officer.

Whitley served with distinction in 4 Group from 1941 and as a Group Captain he was appointed to command RAF Linton-on-Ouse on 23 May 1941. Almost two years later on 10 April 1943, Whitley was flying as second pilot to Flight Lieutenant Hull of 76 Squadron on a raid to Frankfurt when their Halifax was intercepted over Belgium by a German nightfighter and shot down. Whitley and three others survived the crash, but he soon made contact with the French Resistance and eventually made good his escape to England via Spain in an attempt widely regarded as a classic of its kind.

After a period of rest following his escape, Whitley was appointed to command RAF Lissett in September 1943, but promotion to Air Commodore followed swiftly and with it command of Driffield Base in April 1944. Whitley was duly appointed as AOC 4 Group on 12 February 1945, where he remained for just three months before he turned down a posting to the Far East as Deputy AOC to Hugh Pugh Lloyd, and instead became AOC of 8 (PFF) Group until November when he joined HQ Air Command South East Asia as Air Commodore Air Staff.

Returning home in 1948 he was promoted successively and his appointments included AOC 1 Group, 1953-6, Air Member for Personnel, 1957-9 (promoted to Air Marshal), and Inspector-General of the RAF, 1959-62, whereupon he retired from the service. Whitley became Controller of the RAF Benevolent Fund between 1962 and 1968 and at the time of his death on Boxing Day 1997, aged ninety-two, he was the last surviving wartime RAF bomber group commander.

Air Vice-Marshal Arthur Wright AFC

AOC 1 Group 1939-40

During his short tenure as AOC 1 Group, Arthur Wright witnessed the virtual annihilation of his aircrew and aircraft as the AASF in France during the desperate spring of 1940. On returning home to England in June, he relinquished command in favour of Air Commodore John Breen.

Born on 19 September 1888, Arthur Claude Wright transferred to the RAF in 1918 as a Major in the Aeroplane and Seaplane Branch. His first appointment was on the staff at RAF HQ Middle East in Cairo in 1921, returning home in 1924 to a two-year posting at the Supermarine Southampton flying boat base at Calshot, Hampshire. He was promoted to Wing Commander in 1925 and the following year took over as CO of 502 Squadron at Aldergrove, equipped with the Vickers Vimy and later the Handley Page Hyderabad, where he remained for the next three years. Two years' further training at staff college saw Wright posted overseas in January 1931 to command 205 Squadron at Seletar in Singapore, flying Southamptons. Returning home in 1933, he took the first of four staff posts that led to his promotion to Air Commodore and his eventual appointment as SASO 1 Group in March 1938. On the outbreak of war Wright succeeded AVM P Playfair as group AOC and remained in command until 27 June 1940. He retired from the RAF in March 1942 and died on 23 April 1977, aged eighty-eight.

The information on this page is taken from 'The Bomber Command Handbook 1939-1945'
by Jonathan Falconer. For more information on this book,
click here

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