Trafford Leigh-Mallory

Trafford Leigh-Mallory

Infobox Military Person
name= Trafford Leigh-Mallory
lived= 11 July 189214 November 1944 (aged 52)
placeofbirth=Mobberley, Cheshire, England
placeofdeath= French Alps

caption= Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory
allegiance=flag|United Kingdom
serviceyears= 1914 – 1944
rank= Air Chief Marshal
branch= air force|United Kingdom
commands= Fighter Command
battles= World War I
*Second Battle of Ypres
*Battle of the Somme
World War II
*Battle of Britain
*Dieppe Raid
*Battle of Normandy
awards=Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order & Bar
Mention in Despatches (3)

Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh Leigh-Mallory KCB, DSO & Bar (11 July 189214 November 1944) was a senior commander in the Royal Air Force. Leigh-Mallory [The surname Mallory appears in various other spellings, including Malory, Malorie, Maillorie and Maleore. The name comes from the Old French adjective maleüré (from Latin male auguratus) meaning "ill-omened" or "unfortunate".] was killed during the Second World War and was one of the most senior British officers to be killed in the war.

Early life

Trafford Leigh-Mallory was born in Mobberley, Cheshire, the son of Herbert Leigh Mallory, rector of Mobberly. He was the younger brother of George Leigh Mallory, the noted mountaineer. He was educated at Haileybury and at Magdalene College, Cambridge where he was a member of a literary club. Here he met Arthur Tedder, the future Marshal of the Royal Air Force. He passed his Bachelor of Law degree and had applied to the Inner Temple in London to become a barrister when, in 1914, war broke out.

First World War

Leigh-Mallory immediately volunteered to join a Territorial Army battalion of the King's (Liverpool Regiment) as a private. He was soon commissioned and transferred to the Lancashire Fusiliers though officer training kept him in England when his battalion embarked. In the spring of 1915, he went to the front with the South Lancashire Regiment and was wounded during an attack at the Second Battle of Ypres. Back in England, he married Doris Sawyer, with whom he had two children.

After recovering from his wounds, he joined the Royal Flying Corps in January 1916 and was accepted for pilot training. In July 1916, he was posted to No. 7 Squadron, where he flew bombing, reconnaissance and photographic missions during the Battle of the Somme. He was then transferred to No. 5 Squadron before returning to England for promotion to Major and assignment as a Squadron commander.

Leigh-Mallory's first combat command was No. 8 Squadron in November 1917. In the period after the Battle of Cambrai, No. 8 Squadron was involved in Army cooperation, directing tanks and artillery. Leigh-Mallory was noted for his energy and efficiency, although his men thought him somewhat remote and pompous.

At the Armistice, he was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

After the war, Leigh-Mallory thought of re-entering the legal profession, but with little prospect of a law career, he stayed in the recently created Royal Air Force (RAF), taking command of the Armistice Squadron. Subsequent promotions saw him pass through the RAF Staff College and command the School of Army Cooperation before eventually being posted to the Army Staff College, Camberley. He was now a leading authority on Army cooperation and in 1930, lectured at the Royal United Services Institute on air cooperation with mechanised forces.

A posting to the Air Ministry in 1932 saw Leigh-Mallory assigned to the British delegation at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva under the auspices of the League of Nations, where he made many contacts. After the collapse of the conference, he returned to the Air Ministry and attended the Imperial Defence College, the most senior of the staff colleges. However, lack of senior command experience meant a spell as commander of No. 2 Flying School before serving as a staff officer overseas. He was posted to the RAF in Iraq in Christmas 1935 and was present during the "coup d'état" of 1936, during which he was responsible for base security and at one point had to put down a rebellion by bluff. In December 1937, Leigh-Mallory, now a Group Captain, returned to England to be appointed commander of No. 12 Group, Fighter Command.

The Battle of Britain

In spite of his lack of fighter experience, Leigh-Mallory took command of 12 Group and proved an energetic organiser and leader. On 1 November 1938, he was promoted to Air Vice-Marshal, one of the younger AVMs then serving in the RAF. He was greatly liked by his staff, but his relations with his airfield station commanders was strained. It was said of him that he "never went for popularity but he always stuck up for his staff. He was madly ambitious but he never trimmed for the sake of ambition."

12 Group and the "Big Wing"

During the Battle of Britain, Leigh-Mallory quarrelled with Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park, the commander of 11 Group. Park, who was responsible for the defence of south east England and London, complained that 12 Group was not doing enough to protect the airfields in the south-east. Leigh-Mallory, on the other hand, had devised with Acting Squadron Leader Douglas Bader a massed fighter formation known as the Big Wing - which they used, with little success, to hunt German bomber formations. Leigh-Mallory was critical of the tactics of Park and Sir Hugh Dowding, head of Fighter Command, believing that not enough was being done to allow wing-sized formations to operate successfully. He then worked energetically in political circles to bring about the downfall of Park. [Deighton, Len. "Battle of Britain". London: Michael Joseph, 1980. ISBN 0-7181-3441-9.]

After the Battle of Britain, Air Chief Marshal Charles Portal, the new Chief of the Air Staff, who had agreed with Leigh-Mallory, removed both Park and Dowding from their posts. Leigh-Mallory took over from Park as commander of 11 Group. As a beneficiary of the change in command, Leigh-Mallory has been accused of forming a plot to overthrow Dowding.

Fighter Command and D-Day

One of the reasons for Leigh-Mallory's appointment to command 11 Group was that he was seen as an offensively-minded leader in the Trenchard mould. Once appointed he soon introduced wing-sized fighter sweeps into France, known as "rodeos." Regan 1996 ] (When accompanied by bombers to provoke enemy fighters, these were known as 'Circus' operations). However, Leigh-Mallory came in for criticism as these raids over enemy territory caused heavy RAF casualties with over 500 pilots lost in 1941 alone, losing four aircraft for each German aircraft destroyed. It was indeed a steep learning curve. And as one of his staff officers pointed out: 'In my opinion we learned a hell of a lot -- how to get these raids in, by deceiving radar and by counter-offensive techniques. [In the Middle East] they were still in the First World War business -- they'd learned none of the deception techniques such as sending in high-level fighters and sneaking the bombers in underneath.' Keeping 75 squadrons of fighters, many to conduct offensive operations from Britain during 1941, was also questionable while Malta and Singapore were only defended by older, obsolete types of aircraft.

In 1942 Leigh-Mallory was appointed as the air commander for the Dieppe Raid which took place in August, during which Fighter Command operated 50 squadrons in close cover and six in close support. Losses during the ill-fated raid were again heavy, partly because of the superiority of the new German fighter, the Fw 190, over RAF's Spitfire Mark Vs.

In November 1942, Leigh-Mallory replaced Sholto Douglas as head of Fighter Command and was promoted to Air Marshal. He was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in January 1943 and following a tour of air and army headquarters in Africa began lobbying for a unified command of the Allied air forces for the forthcoming invasion of Europe. There was considerable resistance to such a post with none of the vested air force interests - including Arthur Tedder, Arthur Harris at Bomber Command, and Carl Spaatz of the US Army Air Force - appearing interested in ceding any authority or autonomy. This was, of course, exactly why a unified commander was needed and Leigh-Mallory, with his considerable experience with Army cooperation, was the prime candidate for the job. In August 1943 Leigh-Mallory was thus appointed Commander-in-chief of the Allied Expeditionary Air Forces for the Normandy invasion where he drew up the air plan for Operation Overlord. (Although Tedder succeeded in wresting some of the authority for the air plan from Leigh-Mallory).

Another point of view in this matter is; that because of the close working relationship between Eisnhower and Tedder during their previous campaigns, Eisenhower preferd Tedder over Leigh-Mallory. And after Leigh-Mallory's assignment as Air Commander, South East Asia, Tedder was effectively in command of all the Allied air assets operating on the continent up to the end of the war in Europe.

Leigh-Mallory then had the vital job of co-ordinating the various air arms during the Battle of Normandy; work for which the subordinate commanders would mostly take the credit. His diaries reveal his primary concern was sealing off the battlefield and restricting and disrupting the movement of German military units. Because many of these 'interdiction' bombing missions took place against transport nodes, such as towns and villages, Leigh-Mallory came under political pressure to limit the effects of attacks on French civilians. He resisted, insisting that sacrifices were unfortunate but necessary if the air plan was to have any effect.

His approach also put Leigh-Mallory at odds with many airmen who were concerned at becoming subordinated to the Army and were willing only to stretch to minimum support of the ground forces. Leigh-Mallory had to express himself forcefully to get the invasion armies the maximum air support possible.

In the event, and despite bad weather, Leigh-Mallory's air plan succeeded in greatly slowing the mobilisation of the German Army and his experience at Army cooperation paid dividends. General Bernard Montgomery was pleased with the air support and told the War Office: "We must definitely keep Leigh-Mallory as Air Commander-in-Chief. He is the only airman who is out to win the land battle and has no jealous reactions."

Following the invasion Leigh-Mallory also had to deal with the V-1 flying bomb threat, deploying bomber units to attack the launch sites in the mission codenamed "Operation Crossbow", as well as organising fighter squadrons for home defence of the British Isles.

Death and Legacy

In August 1944, with the Battle of Normandy almost over, Leigh-Mallory was appointed Air Commander-in-Chief of South East Asia Command (SEAC). But before he could take up his post he was killed "en route" to Burma when the aircraft he was travelling in crashed into the French Alps. All on board, including his wife, were killed. The subsequent Court of Inquiry found that the accident was a consequence of bad weather and might have been avoided if Leigh-Mallory had not insisted that the flight proceed in such poor conditions.

Leigh-Mallory is buried, alongside his wife and 10 aircrew in Le Rivier d'Allemont, a little distance below the site of the tragic air crash. In 2004 the local commune opened a small but excellent museum about Leigh-Mallory and the crash to mark the 60th Anniversary of the accident and in memory of all who died.

By a quirk of fate, Leigh-Mallory's replacement at SEAC was his Battle of Britain rival Air Marshal Sir Keith Park.

Leigh-Mallory is not generally rated as one of the great commanders of World War II. There are a number of reasons for this. Some have theorized that his reputation may have been hurt by supporters of Dowding and Park in the post-war debate over the Big Wing controversy. During his command of Fighter Command in 1941, he was also responsible for introducing tactics that resulted in great casualties. Others later took much of the credit while he was in command of the air effort during D-Day.

Some historians have described Leigh-Mallory as an ambitious intriguer and have portrayed him as pompous and arrogant. Montgomery said that he was a "gutless bugger". Regan 1996 ] Other officers described his loyalty, generosity, energy, organisation and openness to new ideas. Sadly, Leigh-Mallory did not survive the war to defend himself or write his memoirs, though he had redoubtable champions in people, such as Douglas Bader, to speak for him.

Hobbies and interests

Leigh-Mallory was a keen sailor. After one of his children survived a serious illness he also became interested in faith healing and spiritualism. In one anecdote he suggested he'd seen the ghost of Mrs Emily Langton Massingberd, the women's rights campaigner, at Gunby Hall in Lincolnshire. When the Hall was threatened with demolition during the Second World War to make way for an airfield, Leigh-Mallory intervened to save it. It is now in the hands of the National Trust.




* [ Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation - Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory]
* Regan, Geoffrey. "The Guinness Book of Flying Blunders". London: Guinness Books, 1996. ISBN 0-85112-607-3.

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