Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh Mallory

Mallory was the AOC of 12 Group which covered the area north of London and on the east coast up to the Midlands. Leigh Mallory was a complete contrast to Park. Compared with Park, he was thick set and a complete Englishman. Affable, and on the plump side, he came from a well known family which included a brother who had conquered Everest but died on the way down (or the way up? – we shall never know).

His background was not as a fighter pilot. He had served with the Army in France during the First World War, and in 1916 transferred to the RFC. After flying training he returned to France where he flew on reconnaissance and Army co-operation missions. In the inter-war years, Leigh Mallory had postings in Geneva and Iraq before being appointed head of 12 Group in December 1937.

Leigh Mallory was not part of the Dowding/Park axis. He didn’t like Dowding and he was jealous of Park. The latter had got the position which he would have liked at 11 Group. The fact was, he thought his group was being treated as a kind of reserve which from time to time was called upon to support Park in the south.

On the other hand, Leigh Mallory was an innovator and an enthusiast. The result was that when Douglas Bader, the legless ace, came to him with the idea of the Big Wing, meaning that instead of operating singly as squadrons, he should be allowed to form a wing of three squadrons or even perhaps five to give them an advantage of numbers when they met the enemy, Leigh Mallory fell for it. It seemed to him a great idea. It had its points. The fact was that 12 Group was ideally placed to support a large wing of squadrons which could descend on the Me109s as they turned for home. Unfortunately, Bader’s scheme was misinterpreted as being the ultimate solution in the fight against the Luftwaffe. It was a deeply unfortunate misunderstanding.

In December 1940, Leigh Mallory replaced Park as CO of 11 Group, and in November 1942 he was appointed head of Fighter Command. In 1944 Lord Louis Mountbatten offered him a post as air commander in India. Leigh Mallory was en route to India on 14 November 1944 when his aircraft hit mountains near Grenoble, France and all passengers on board were killed.