Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Commander in Chief of Headquarters Fighter Command

The One: Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding

The Museum explores the important leadership of Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Commander-in-Chief of RAF Fighter Command, during the Battle of Britain.

“Mine was the purely defensive role of trying to stop the possibility of an invasion, and thus giving the country a breathing spell … it was Germany’s objective to win the war by invasion, and it was my job to prevent such an invasion from taking place.” Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding

During the 1930s, in his capacity as the Air Member for Supply and Research at the Air Ministry, Dowding oversaw two vital developments in the preparation for war. The first was the development of fast fighter aircraft, the Supermarine Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane. The second was to provide funding for the first experimental RADAR (then known as RDF) stations on the coast. Both of these developments were vital to victory in the Battle of Britain.

As Commander-in-Chief of RAF Fighter Command, Dowding oversaw the world’s first integrated system of air defence, which became known as the ‘Dowding System’ .

Information from coastal RADAR stations was processed in the Filter Room and passed on to the Operations Room, both at Bentley Priory, as well as the Operations Rooms at four regional Group Headquarters and their respective Sector Headquarters. All elements of the Dowding System were served by a complex web of telephone communications operated by the General Post Office.

Dowding was a determined and strong leader, features which sometimes brought him into conflict with his peers and superiors. He argued strongly that Fighter Command’s role was to protect the UK and went against the then accepted wisdom of using the RAF’s valuable resources to protect France, famously writing to the Air Ministry:

“I believe that, if an adequate fighter force is kept in this country, if the fleet remains in being, and if Home Forces are suitably organized to resist invasion, we should be able to carry on the war single-handed for some time, if not indefinitely. But, if the Home Defence Force is drained away in desperate attempts to remedy the situation in France, defeat in France will involve the final, complete and irremediable defeat of this country.” Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, 16 May 1940

Dowding’s office at Bentley Priory

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Dowding’s office has been brought to life at the Museum, through an Award winning 10 minute audio visual film: ‘The One Behind The Few’. The film focuses on the impact of Dowding’s leadership and the use of modern technology during the Battle of Britain.

 

Fighter Command pilots came to recognise Dowding, nicknamed “Stuffy”, as a rather distant figure, but one who cared for his men and had their best interests at heart. Dowding often referred to his “dear fighter boys” as his “chicks”. Indeed his son Derek was one of them: a pilot in 74 Squadron. In spite of his reserve many junior officers regarded “Stuffy” as a fatherly figure with a steady hand on the tiller.

Because of his leadership, determination, preparation and prudence, Dowding was credited with winning the Battle of Britain and was made the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath.

Dowding died at his home in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, on February 15 1970. At a memorial service at Westminster Abbey, his ashes were laid to rest below the Battle of Britain Memorial Window in the Royal Air Force Chapel.