Yesterday I found out that the corrections to my PhD had been accepted by my examiners. This, of course, is great news. The changes suggested by my examiners, Dr Peter Lee and Dr Armin Grünbacher, have led to a much improved thesis and hopefully it will make a contribution to our understanding of the early RAF. This is the final abstract for the thesis:
This thesis examines how an officer with so many perceived detractors reached senior leadership positions in the Royal Air Force of the Second World War; that officer is Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory. Utilising prosopography as a methodology, and grounded in an understanding of leadership theory, though recognising the limitations of applying modern language to historical analysis, this thesis surveys the development processes used by the RAF to nurture officers for senior positions. Furthermore, this thesis argues that the RAF, bounded by the Service’s culture and ethos, took an interest in the leadership development of its officer class as it had a stake in producing able leaders capable of defending its independence. This was done through modern conceptions, such as socialisation, job assignments, action learning and nurturing. These concepts formed the basis of nurtured officers shared experiences, and this thesis illustrates how Leigh-Mallory was representative of the type of officer the RAF wanted to lead the Service. The experiences outlined in this thesis focus on training, education and job assignments, which included aspects, such as the importance of Staff College attendance, command experience and staff duties. Participation in these key shared experiences made officers such as Leigh-Mallory ‘visible’ to those able to further nurture officers careers while giving them the knowledge required to lead at the senior level. By understanding the culture and context of the development of the senior leadership of the RAF of the Second World War, this thesis now allows for a more considered understanding of the effectiveness of officers such as Leigh-Mallory during that conflict.
Once it is available on the Birmingham etheses site, then I will provide a link as I will not be embargoing the thesis. This because I am now in the process of thinking of the next step, which of course means publishing. At some point I will be having discussions with my now former supervisor, Dr Peter Gray – it feels strange to say that – and Peter Lee about the best way forward. I suspect I will re-work the thesis into an examination of leadership development in the inter-war RAF and then do something separate on Leigh-Mallory. This is why I won’t embargo the thesis because the final book will be different to the thesis, which is no bad thing. Of course, I will need to go back and do some more research on aspects such as the importance of Cranwell, but that should be interesting to do. I should say that I have written about the importance of a good supervisor before, and this really applies to Peter Gray. I could not have had a better supervisor.
All of this is, of course, just the end of the beginning. I am now in the process of looking at my next major research project and I will be moving into the Cold War era. Cold War military history is underdeveloped field unless you write about counter-insurgency or Vietnam. Therefore, I am going to start looking at RAF Germany through a macro lens by looking at the experience of a squadron. Hopefully this will allow me to looking at a number of different themes related tot he place of RAF Germany in the UK’s defence landscape from the 1950s through to the 1990s, such as shifting policy and doctrine through to social of life in Germany during the Cold War. The squadron I have chosen to look at is No. 31 Squadron. I have chosen No. 31 Squadron for two reasons. First, it has a link to Hendon as it was the metropolitan communication squadron based at RAF Hendon in the late 40/early 50s. Second, the squadron deployed to RAF Laarbruch in 1955 as a reconnaissance unit equipped with the English Electric Canberra and then became a strike asset from 1971 onwards with the Phantom, Jaguar and then the Tornado. Significantly, it was the last RAF flying unit to leave Germany in 2001. As such, it spanned the history of RAF Germany as a functional command as the latter existed from 1959 to 1993, which is useful framework to consider some important issues. Also, No. 31 Squadron also have an active association, which will be very useful for future research.