[Cross-posted at The Aerodrome]

This past Friday I delivered a paper at a conference on ‘New Research in Military History’. The conference was organised by the British Commission for Military History, the History of Warfare Group at King’s College London and the University of Sussex. It was a great events and interesting to see lots of interesting papers covering a wide range of topics. I think it is fair to say that Military History in the UK is healthy at the moment; there is another post there I think.

My paper was based on some of my early research for my PhD into Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory’s leadership effectiveness. It actually examined his career from the First World War which is important in understanding the context of his development as a leader. Here is the abstract that I submitted for the conference.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory remains one of the greatest enigmas of the historiography of the Second World War: how did a leader with so many detractors reach the highest ranks and gain the most prestigious posts? This conundrum is further complicated when one examines his conduct in the First World War where he commanded a squadron and was involved in important developments in air-land co-operation especially with the Tank Corps in 1918. Indeed his success in the First World War has been largely forgotten and ignored as views of his competence have been distorted by his later career.

This paper seeks redress this by examining Leigh-Mallory’s development and experience as an officer in the First World War and as such provide some insights into his career development during the inter-war years and his subsequent elevation to high command. It will do this by utilising contemporary leadership theory in order to examine aspects such as his shared experience with other high commanders of the Royal Air Force and the role that he played in developing tactics to support tank operations while in command of No. 8 Squadron in 1918. In understanding Leigh-Mallory’s career we can start to answer some of the more pressing question surrounding his subsequent rise to high command such as why did an Army Co-Operation specialist end up in key positions and how effective was he as a commander at the tactical level of operations. Thus, this paper has several key aims; first, it will examine Leigh-Mallory’s leadership effectiveness and his impact on air power operations in 1918. Second, it will compare his experience with his fellow air power leaders of the Second World War. Finally, it shall show that expertise in air-land warfare was not a barrier to promotion in the inter-war Royal Air Force.

One of the more interesting aspects of the presentation for me was trying to explain and explore the pace of operations for No. 8 Squadron and that this provides and interesting context to Leigh-Mallory’s ability to manage his command. The graph that I used is presented below.

Roughly in the period from February 1918 to 11 November 1918 the squadron flew approximately 5000 sorties. As you can see they flew a variety of mission and it appear obvious but the peaks appears at period of intense action such of the German offensives in March/April 1918 and the Hundred Days campaign later in the year. Also of interest is the fact that a significant portion of flights were test flights. It is often forgotten that in the First World War air power is still highly experimental and that the aircraft required a high degree of maintenance and management in order to ensure that they were ready for operations. This would have required Leigh-Mallory to effectively manage his squadron in order to keep enough airframes available for high-tempo operation as occurred during the Hundred Days Campaign. This requires more thought…


3 thoughts on “The Forgotten Career of Major Trafford Leigh-Mallory, 1914-1918: A Leadership Perspective

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