An Alternative View of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh Mallory

Our normal view of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory has very much been skewed by his portrayal in the popular media. The most famous portrayal comes in the 1969 The Battle of Britain. arguably the best film on the subject, having been based on Wood and Dempster’s The Narrow Margin, however, it does not portray him in the best of lights and follows what I describe as the Park version of the battle.

It would be foolish to ignore Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park‘s vital role but there is an important point here that due to his untimely death in November 1944 Leigh-Mallory was never able to defend his actions through the publication of a memoir, autobiography or authorised biography, though of course Park himself never published one either, however, he was able to record interviews and correspond with other people such as Lord Dowding. Thus, we tend to get a skewed interpretation of his ability, one that is more hagiographical than accurate to the record. This has created a major methodological problem for me as I attempt to construct a view of his career and contribution to the RAF.

Nonetheless, negative views of Leigh-Mallory were not always the case as illustrated by this cartoon and I have to admit to quite liking this portrayal of him. It is very much the physical representation of of Fighter Commands role in 41/42 when the command was order to ‘reach into france.’ I found it in Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory’s papers at the RAF Museum this past Thursday. It shows Leigh-Mallory running a rapier through Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering. I think it is great euphemism for the battle between the RAF and the Luftwaffe. Also it shows Leigh-Mallory as the valiant fighter against the evil enemy, perhaps a link to the perhaps a link to the aces ideal of the ‘Knights of the Air’ in combat. It is noted dated but I suspect it is from late 1942 when Leigh-Mallory had taken over from Douglas as head of Fighter Command. Also if anyone knows who the artist is let me know. There is an artist’s mark in the corner.

By Ross Mahoney, PhD Candidate, Centre for War Studies, University of Birmingham

2 responses to “An Alternative View of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh Mallory

  1. That mark or signature is a bit odd. The ’42’ is presumably the date but the other characters almost look like stylised Greek more than English. It wouldn’t be that unusual for somebody classically educated to know Greek so maybe it is? Phi, rho, epsilon and maybe sigma, eta: Φρεςη. That apparently isn’t a Greek word but if you pop it into a Greek transliterator it comes out as an English word, ‘Fresh’ — could be the artist’s nickname? Or I could be imagining things.

    Why yes I do have a manuscript to edit, why do you ask.

  2. It wasn’t for nothing that TLM was widely disliked. I’m afraid that you are barking up the wrong tree entirely if you think that the BoB film had anything meaniningful to do with his reputation. TLM was not liked by many of those involved in the BoB for his back-room political manoeuverings. TLM was an ex-Haileybury boy, and very well connected. He used his influence to undermine both Park and Dowding, and ultimately replace them. It was widely seen as underhand – at the time, note. Added to that, it was blatently obvious that the ‘Big Wing’ nonesense was just that, nonesense. By the time they were assembled, the Germans were nearly home. The technology to make it work simply didn’t exist in 1940. Park knew that, so did Dowding, but TLM was out to make a name for himself. He did, but not quite in the way he intended…!
    Dowding & Park were seen as loyal, as professionals. Park went on to prove himself again in Malta, but the shoddy way that he and Dowding were treated left a very, very bitter taste in the mouths of many many people – again, at the time.
    Then we come to TLM’s supervision of Fighter Commands moves against Germany. Whilst the pilots of the time didn’t mind putting themselves at risk defending Britain, the post BoB offensive was widely seen as a futile waste of men and machines, which of course, factually it was. Little serious bombing was involved, so the strategic effect was pretty much zero. it may have had some political value in placating Uncle Joe, but otherwise, practically speaking, it was a complete waste of lives. In fairness to TLM, he may have been carrying out the wishes of WSC, but he got the blame anyway.
    The aircrews view of TLM seems to have been that he was far more of a politician than an airman, and given the choice, they’d far rather have had what they saw as ‘professionals’ at the helm. History has accorded TLM the respect he deserved, which of course is not very much, and when he died, he wasn’t much mourned. Fair..? The old lags thought so.

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