Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding (1882-1970) oversaw the defence of Britain in the summer and autumn of 1940. He was a career airman, having first joined the Royal Flying Corps (later the Royal Air Force) at the start of the First World War.
Photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum website
In 1936 he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of RAF Fighter Command and spearheaded the development of the air defence network that gave the RAF a critical advantage during the Battle of Britain. Dowding was 58 years old at the start of the battle, the oldest of the RAF’s senior commanders, and nearing the end of his career. But in July 1940 he delayed his retirement at the request of the Chief of Air Staff Sir Cyril Newall. Dowding had a central role in directing British defences throughout the battle. Although viewed by many as stubborn and difficult to work with, no one had a better grasp of how to run Britain's defence system or manage Fighter Command's precious and relatively limited resources of men and materiel.
Although viewed by many as stubborn and difficult to work with, no one had a better grasp of how to run Britain's defence system...
But as the summer and autumn of 1940 wore on, Dowding found himself increasingly at odds with some of his subordinates, as well as senior officials at the Air Ministry, and was replaced. After a short period at the Ministry of Aircraft Production, he retired in July 1942. Dowding had a genuine affection for those under his command. On leaving his post as Fighter Command's Commander-in-Chief, he sent this final message to his men: 'My dear Fighter Boys, In sending you this my last message, I wish I could say all that is in my heart. I cannot hope to surpass the simple eloquence of the Prime Minister's words, "Never before has so much been owed by so many to so few". The debt remains and will increase…'.