Dowding

Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh C T Dowding, copyright IWM

When the RAF was reorganised into specialist commands back in mid-1936, and Fighter Command came into existence, the then Air Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding was chosen as its first commander, Air Officer Commanding in Chief. Thus, Dowding presided over the command during the vital 4 years when it was modernised for war. This was when ground breaking innovation of a radar based control system had been installed. It was also when many hundreds of new young pilots were brought onto the Squadrons and were provided with the new monoplane fighters, the Hurricanes and Spitfires. The Battle of Britain was, therefore, the battle which Dowding had been preparing for. Moreover, his influence had been crucial, well before his command had been set up. In the early Thirties, he had been the Air Member for Research. He had always been at the forefront of technical developments and showed interest in scientific innovation.

Born in 1882, Dowding had an early career in the Army in the Far East and the Mediterranean where he proved to be an effective commander. While at the Staff College at Camberley in 1913, he took flying lessons at Brooklands and gained his pilot’s licence and consequently joined the RFC on the outbreak of the First World War. During this period he had fallen out with Trenchard over Dowding’s desire to rest operational pilots at reasonable intervals in between battles. After service in France, he came back to Britain and worked in training and logistic roles.

What kind of a man was he? He was the perfect staff officer. He was totally devoted to his command and particularly to the young pilots in it. He wasn’t an affable man. His nickname “Stuffy” fitted him pretty well. During the Battle, he was at his post at Bentley Priory where command and control were located. Here, he would follow the Battle every day and every hour.