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Air Chief Marshal Hugh Caswell Tremenheere Dowding, 1st Baron Dowding GCB, GCVO, CMG (24 April 1882 – 15 February 1970) was a British officer in the Royal Air Force. He was the commander of RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain.
Hugh Dowding was born in the Scottish town of Moffat in 1882 and received his early education at St. Ninian's Boys Preparatory School in Moffat which his father, Arthur Dowding, had been instrumental in founding.
In 1897 the Dowding family moved to England and at the age of 15 Hugh Dowding entered Winchester College where he continued his education.
In September 1899 Dowding started at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich and he later served abroad in the Royal Artillery.
Initially he joined the Royal Artillery Garrison, and served in Gibraltar, Ceylon, Hong Kong, and India. After returning to Britain and obtaining his pilot's licence in December 1913, he joined the Royal Flying Corps.
He was sent to France and in 1915 was promoted to commander of 16 Squadron. After the Battle of the Somme, Dowding clashed with General Hugh Trenchard, the commander of the RFC, over the need to rest pilots exhausted by non-stop duty. As a result Dowding was sent back to Britain and, although promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, saw no more active service during the First World War.
Dowding then joined the recently created Royal Air Force and gained experience in departments of training, supply, development and research.
In 1929 he was promoted to Air Vice Marshal and the following year joined the Air Council. Tragedy struck in the inter-war period when his wife of two years died. Left alone to bring up his son, Derek, Hugh Dowding withdrew from socialising and threw himself into his work.
In 1933 Dowding was promoted to Air Marshal and was knighted the following year.
In the years prior to the Second World War he was the commanding officer of RAF Fighter Command. He conceived and oversaw the development of the "Dowding System". This comprised an integrated air defence system which included (i) radar (whose potential Dowding was among the first to appreciate), (ii) human observers (including the Royal Observer Corps) who filled crucial gaps in what radar was capable of detecting at the time (the early radar systems, for example, did not provide good information on the altitude of incoming German aircraft), (iii) raid plotting, and (iv) radio control of aircraft. The whole network was tied together, in many cases, by dedicated phone links buried sufficiently deep to provide protection against bombing. The network had its apex (and Dowding his own headquarters) at RAF Bentley Priory, a converted country house on the outskirts of London.
Dowding also introduced modern aircraft into service during the per-war period, including the eight-gun Supermarine Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane.
He was promoted to Air Chief Marshal in 1937.
Due to retire in June 1939, he was asked to stay on until March 1940 due to the tense international situation. He was again grudgingly permitted to continue, first until July and finally until October 1940. Thus, he fought the Battle of Britain under the shadow of retirement.
In 1940, Dowding, nicknamed "Stuffy" by his men, 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 organizing cover for the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk.
Through the summer 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 planes and air crew) and to maintain a significant fighter reserve, while leaving his subordinate commanders' hands largely free to run the battle in detail. At no point did Dowding commit more than half his force to the battle zone in southern England.
Fighter Command pilots came to recognise "Stuffy" Dowding as a distant figure, but 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: a pilot in 74 Squadron. In spite of his reserve, many junior officers regarded "Stuffy" as a fatherly figure with a steady hand on the tiller.
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's subsequent downfall has been attributed to his prickly temperament and lack of diplomacy and political savoir faire in dealing with intra-RAF challenges and intrigues, most obviously the Big Wing controversy (in which a number of senior and active service officers argued at the time in favour of large set-piece air battles with the Luftwaffe as an alternative to Dowding's successful Fabian strategy), as well as – perhaps more substantively – the inability of Fighter Command under his leadership to counter German nighttime bombing raids on British cities. The new Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Charles Portal removed Dowding from his post in November 1940, and replaced him with his ambitious rival, Sholto Douglas.
Dowding was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. Publication of his book, Twelve Legions of Angels, was suppressed in 1942. The British Government considered that it contained information which might be of use to the Germans. The book was finally published in 1946, soon after the war ended.
After leaving Fighter Command Dowding was sent on special duty in the United States for the Ministry of Aircraft Production, where he made himself unpopular with his outspoken behaviour.
On his return he headed a study into economies of RAF manpower before retiring from the Royal Air Force in July, 1942. The following year he was honoured with a peerage, as Baron Dowding of Bentley Priory.
In his retirement Dowding became actively interested in spiritualism, both as a writer and speaker. His first book on the subject, Many Mansions, was written in 1943, followed by Lychgate (1945), The Dark Star and God's Magic. Rejecting conventional Christianity he joined the Theosophical Society which advocated belief in reincarnation. He insisted to his friend Lord Beaverbrook that he had been the leader of a Mongol tribe in a previous life. He also espoused the cause of animal welfare. An evangelist with a belief in life after death he wrote in Lychgate of meeting dead "RAF boys" in his sleep – spirits who flew fighters from mountain-top runways made of light. One of his former pilots was to comment years later: "at that stage we thought Stuffy had gone a bit ga ga".
Late in life due to Dowding's belief that he was unjustly treated by the RAF, he became increasingly bitter. He approved Robert Wright's book 'Dowding and the Battle of Britain' which argued that a conspiracy of Big Wing proponents, including Trafford Leigh-Mallory and Douglas Bader, had engineered his sacking from Fighter Command. In the wake of the debate that followed, which raised questions over some of Wright's accusations and showed some of Dowding's recollections to be at fault, the RAF debated whether or not to make the octogenarian a Marshal of the Royal Air Force, but recommended against it. Dowding saw this as yet another undeserved slight from the service.
In his youth Dowding was an accomplished skier, winner of the first ever National Slalom Championship, and president of the Ski Club of Great Britain from 1924 to 1925. Dowding and his wife Lady Muriel Dowding were both anti-vivisectionists and in 1973 Britain's National Anti-Vivisection Society founded The Lord Dowding Fund for Humane Research in his honour.
He was a member of the Fairy Investigation Society.
The biography Dowding of Fighter Command: Victor of the Battle of Britain (Vincent Orange, Grub Street publishing, 2008) describes how Dowding, in his later years was crippled by arthritis and often used a wheelchair.
Lord Dowding died at his home in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, on 15 February 1970 aged 87. He was cremated. At a memorial service at Westminster Abbey, his ashes were laid to rest below the Battle of Britain Memorial Window in the Abbey's Royal Air Force chapel. Dowding's son Derek (1919–1992) inherited the title of Baron Dowding.
A statue of Dowding stands outside St. Clement Danes church on The Strand, London. The inscription reads:
'Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding was commander-in-chief of Fighter Command, Royal Air Force, from its formation in 1936 until November 1940. He was thus responsible for the preparation for and the conduct of the Battle of Britain. With remarkable foresight, he ensured the equipment of his command with monoplane fighters, the Hurricane and the Spitfire. He was among the first to appreciate the vital importance of R.D.F. (radar) and an effective command and control system for his squadrons. They were ready when war came. In the preliminary stages of that war, he thoroughly trained his minimal forces and conserved them against strong political pressure to disperse and misuse them. His wise and prudent judgement and leadership helped to ensure victory against overwhelming odds and thus prevented the loss of the Battle of Britain and probably the whole war. To him, the people of Britain and of the Free World owe largely the way of life and the liberties they enjoy today.'
Other monuments to Dowding can be found in the recreational park in Moffat, Scotland, the town of his birth; in Royal Tunbridge Wells where he died, and there is a bust of him in the War Memorial Cloisters at Winchester College.
The Dowding Centre at the School of Fighter Control at RAF Boulmer is named for Dowding.