Leigh-Mallory and the Army Staff College

The origins of the decision to post officers such as Leigh-Mallory to Camberley can be dated to 1922. In 1922, Major General Edmund Ironside, Commandant at Camberley wrote to Trenchard suggesting that a senior RAF officer deliver lectures to the Junior Division on aspects of ‘air instruction’.[1] Trenchard suggested that Air Vice Marshal Sir Geoffrey Salmond and Brooke-Popham give some early lectures with particular reference to work being undertaken in the empire.[2] At the same time, on the agenda for the first in a series of annual conferences that were to be held between CAS and CIGS on the subject of Army Co-Operation, the question of posting an RAF officer to Camberley, and an Army officer to Andover, to ‘improve combined training and tactics’ was raised.[3] While it is clear that no permanent posting was initially forthcoming, a precedent was set when it was suggested by the DTSD that Wing Commander Gossage, then attending the staff course at Camberley, should provide some lectures to the Junior Division, and then on completion of his studies be the first RAF officer to be posted to the Directing Staff at Camberley.[4] While Trenchard was concerned whether there was enough work for such an officer Gossage’s posting began a process whereby the outgoing Commandant of the School of Army Co-Operation, which Gossage had been until attending Camberley, and temporarily replaced, by Leigh-Mallory, would, upon leaving the school go on to be the RAF’s representative at Camberley.[5] Thus, in many respects the decision to post Leigh-Mallory to Camberley was not an unusual decision, and it appears to be part of the natural career progression for RAF officers working in the Army Co-Operation field, and not one that would damage their career prospects as Gossage’s, and Leigh-Mallory, subsequent career highlights.

However, this has not lessened the distortion in the historiography regarding Leigh-Mallory’s posting to Camberley. This interpretation of Leigh-Mallory has been distorted by the persona of John Slessor, whom it is normally assumed was the RAF’s leading proponent of thinking on tactical air power, and has warped the view of the RAF’s, and Leigh-Mallory’s, involvement with both the Army, and the development of tactical air power. For example, concerning Slessor’s posting to the Directing Staff at Camberley, Philip Meilinger has written that:

When told by the Army chief…that the RAF officer detailed to teach at the Army Staff College was unable to discuss…the broader aspects of air power, Trenchard assured him that the next officer…would be a fine tactician, a strategic thinker and someone well-connected to the Air Staff who would be conversant with current policy. That person would be Jack Slessor.[6]

Indeed, this author accepted this claim in his earlier work.[7] However, this is wrong. Given that Slessor succeeds Leigh-Mallory the implication is that it is he that was unable to discuss the broader implications of air power. However, Meilinger does not grasp the prevailing posting process of RAF officers to Camberley. In addition, the letter that Meilinger refers to is part of a series of correspondence between Trenchard and CIGS, initially with the Earl of Cavan, and then Milne, about broader issues of army co-operation, and in this particular case about officers being posted to Camberley. The letter was written on 10 December 1928, and the only officer that Trenchard mentions in the letter is Leigh-Mallory, who at the time was Commandant of the School of Army Co-Operation, and in which he writes that he would like to send someone such as ‘Leigh-Mallory, who showed us around Old Sarum.’[8] To claim that this is linked to Slessor is preposterous given that he would not begin to teach at Camberley for another three years; perhaps an overstatement for the efficacy of strategic planning given Trenchard’s retirement in 1929.

The issue raised was that Milne believed that the current RAF DS, Wing Commander Boyd, Gossage’s formal successor at the School of Army Co-Operation, was not up to the job of dealing with wider issues of air strategy and policy. Indeed, it appears that Trenchard had not been happy with Boyd’s appointment.[9] In addition, many of the lectures delivered to the both the Junior and Senior Divisions at Camberley in 1929 had guest lecturers, Ludlow-Hewitt and Harris, delivering them, which suggests that temporary measures were brought in before a replacement could be posted to take over from Boyd.[10] Indeed Trenchard’s concerns had its antecedent in the discussions of 1922 and 1923 when one of his key concerns was the misrepresentation of air strategy to the Army, which brought consternation to Ironside who wrote to Major General Romer, Director of Staff Duties at the War Office, to complain that this held up the appointment of an RAF officer to Camberley.[11]

However, it is clear from this letter, and earlier references, that Trenchard both knew and respected Leigh-Mallory. The reference to him in the letter to Milne highlights the belief that he had in his ability to deal with both issues related to army co-operation and broader air strategy. This was clearly a positive mark on his record from a CAS would could, and would, break the career of officers who disagreed with him as is evidenced by the career of Leigh-Mallory’s Brigade commander in 1918, Air Commodore Lionel Charlton who had opposed the bombing of Iraqi villages in the air policing campaign of the 1920s.


[1] RAF Museum, Private Papers of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Viscount Trenchard, MFC 76/1/220, Ironside to Trenchard, 6 May 1922

[2] RAF Museum, Private Papers of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Viscount Trenchard, MFC 76/1/220, Trenchard to Ironside, 10 May 1922

[3] TNA, AIR 5/280, Agenda for Conference of CIGS and CAS on the subject of Combined Training of the Two Services, p. 1

[4] TNA, AIR 5/280, Notes by the Director of Training and Staff Duties on the Agenda for Conference on the subject of Combined Training of the Two Services, 18 January 1923

[5] TNA, AIR 5/280, Minutes and Conclusions of a Conference between War Office and Air Ministry, 13 February 1923, p. 3

[6] Philip Meilinger, ‘John C. Slessor and the Genesis of Air Interdiction’ in Airwar: Theory and Practice (London: Frank Cass, 2003) p. 66

[7] Mahoney, ‘Combined Operations’, p. 42

[8] TNA, AIR 5/280, CAS to CIGS, 10 December 1928

[9] TNA, AIR 5/280, CAS to CIGS, 10 December 1928

[10] JSCSC Archives, Camberley Reds, Staff College 1929 Junior Division Vol. 1 and Staff College 1929 Senior Division Vol. 1

[11] TNA, AIR 5/280, Ironside to Major General Romer, Director of Staff Duties, 28 February 1923

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