Leigh-Mallory’s First World War Service

Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory is best known for his role in the Battle of Britain and as Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force. He has been criticised as incompetent by some but in researching my thesis I need to consider whether or not there was more to him than just what we are told in many of the standard histories. As a starting point, I am looking into his First World War career as this provides the context for his development as an air power leader. In order to examine his early career I have tried to establish where he served and when so that I can begin an examination of the operational records. I have used several sources to compile this brief timeline. There are still a few gaps and if anyone knows the exact dates please let me know. One thing that is striking is the amount of mobility in postings during the war. In fifty-two months of war L-M is posted fifteen times, an average of a posting every three and a half months. I wonder is this common?

  • 4 August 1914 – Britain declares war
  • August 1914 – L-M joins the army as a Private, Service No. 3121
    • Enlists in the 10th (Territorial) Kings Liverpool Regiment (The Liverpool Scottish)
  • 3 October – Promoted to 2nd Lieutenant
  • October – Transferred to the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers
  • 12 February 1915 – Battalion deploys to France as part of 7 Brigade, 3 Division
    • L-M stays in Britain for further officer training
  • 3 April – Transferred to 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment and deploys to France
    • Attached to?
  • 16 June – Wounded at Bellewaarde Ridge during the Second Battle of Ypres
    • Returned to the UK
  • 21 June – Promoted to Lieutenant in the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers
  • November – Applied to RFC, accepted
  • 4 January 1916 – Posted to No. 1 School of Aeronautics, Reading
  • 22 February – Graduated from No. 1 School of Aeronautics. Posted to No. 12 (Reserve) Squadron
  • 31 March – Posted to No. 20 (Reserve) Squadron
  • 8 June – Graduated from the Central Flying School
  • 7 July – Posted to No. 5 Squadron and sent to France
  • Between 7 – 19 July – Posted to No. 7 Squadron
  • 19 July – First operational flight
  • 13 August – Posted back to No. 5 Squadron
  • 2 November – Promoted to Temporary Captain and appointed Flight Commander, No. 5 Squadron
    • During the Battle of the Somme both of these squadrons were part of 2nd (Corps) Wing, II Brigade and equipped with BE2s
  • 22 April 1917 – Posted back to the Home Establishment
  • 10 May – Promoted to Temporary Major and appointed Squadron Commander No. 15 (Reserve) Squadron
  • 27 November – Posted to France and appointed Squadron Commander No. 8 Squadron
    • During the Battle of Cambrai the squadron was part of 12th (Corps) Wing, III Brigade and equipped with BE2s
    • During 1918 No. 8 Squadron was part of 15th (Corps) Wing, V Brigade and equipped with FK8s
  • 20 November to 6 December 1918 – Attached to No 12 Wing
    • Staff Duties?
  • November/December – Appointed commander of the Armistice Squadron

In addition, does anyone know of any memoirs/autobiography/biographies of officer who served with L-M?

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6 responses to “Leigh-Mallory’s First World War Service

  1. Is this all from his service record or did you look at his medal card/roll as well? There’s possibly some confusion between the South Lancashire Regiment and the Lancashire Fusiliers in the list. It was 1/4th South Lancs (a Territorial battalion) which arrived in France 12/13 Feb 1915 to join 7th Brigade 3rd Division. 4th (Extra Reserve) Lancs Fusiliers was a training unit which stayed in Britain for the duration. 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of both South Lancs and Lancs Fusiliers were also training units which never went overseas.

    Being wounded at Bellewarde on 16 June could be consistent with 1/4th South Lancs as 3rd Division was in action there around that time. You should be able to confirm this by looking at the battalion war diary in WO 95/1414. A wounded officer should almost certainly be mentioned by name.

    For more unit info see:

    http://www.1914-1918.net/3div.htm
    http://www.1914-1918.net/lancsfus.htm
    http://www.1914-1918.net/southlancs.htm

  2. The mix up was mine. I typed the wrong regiment name. Now updated. This is all taken from his biography and various other sources such as his ODNB entry. Thought this shows that there are gaos in the biography. I have not had the chance to look at his MIC though I am about to download it. Ta for the reference to the war diary.

  3. Now have his MIC. Seems he deployed to France of 31 March 1915. I think he must have gone with the 1/4. It is the only one that seems to fit. I have just ordered he service record too.

  4. Any thoughts about whether his experience of being wounded in combat while serving in the infantry might have affected his leadership or reputation (either positively or negatively)? Did it prove that he was a man of action? Was it considered irrelevant to commanding air forces? Was it seen as unremarkable because so many WWII army and air force commanders had previously fought on the ground in WWI, or was it an important shared experience?

  5. Gavin in what I have read nothing is made of his injury in terms of his later career. His biographer only mention he was injured in the leg so I am not sure as to how serious his would was. The key impact was that while invalided in England he decides to enlist in the RFC. There is an idea of shared experience here as some injuries declared you unfit for service in the combat arms but you could serve in the RFC. For example, both Park and Tedder recieved injuries and applied to the RFC and were accepted. Park was wounded at Gallipoli and deemed unable to ride a horse, he was in the artillery. Tedder injured his knee in training and eventually managed to transfer. It raises an interesting point about the hierachy of the RAF in the Second World War. How many of them end up as pilots because they were deemed unfit for combat duties on the ground.

  6. Pingback: Leigh-Mallory Fined! « Thoughts on Military History·

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