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Trafford Leigh-Mallory


Air Vice-Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, commander of No. 12 Group during the Battle of Britain. Leigh-Mallory supported the ‘Big Wing’ air fighting tactic of grouping fighter squadrons which had been proposed by Acting Squadron Leader Douglas Bader.

One of ‘the Few’, Alan Deere, comments on the ‘Big Wing’ issue:

It was over the question of mass formations ... or wings of squadrons, as they later became known ... that a really vital issue arose. Douglas Bader was the chief instigator of the use of wings in the Battle of Britain, and had sold the idea to Air Vice-Marshal Leigh-Mallory. Although concentration of force, which the mass formations implied, is a foremost principle of war, it did not apply under the conditions which affected the defence of these shores in the Battle of Britain, at least through the medium of wing formations. The wing was not new to Park ... he had used it in the closing days of the Dunkirk fighting ... and it must be assumed therefore that he had considered, but discarded, the use of mass formations, undoubtedly for reasons of speed and flexibility. The sober truth is that, at this stage of the war, the information from the radar chain was neither sufficiently complete nor sufficiently reliable to permit the added option of the policy with success….

From personal experience, there were very few occasions in the 11 Group area when it would have been possible to scramble and assemble two squadrons as a wing ... let alone five as finally used from Duxford ... in time to make an effective interception before the enemy bombers reached their target. Almost one hundred per cent of the interceptions by the Duxford wing were over or just short of the target, and sometimes after the bombs had fallen, which supports the contention that much vital time was lost in forming up, and proceeding to the target, in mass formation. On this basis, I wonder how many of the 11 Group Sector airfields would have been in commission on the 7th September, when the Germans finally ceased bombing airfields, and how many aircraft would have been destroyed on the ground or caught in the act of getting airborne, had Park relied on wing formations to fight his battle? Finally, with the forces allotted to him by the Commander-in-Chief, Park’s password was ‘economy of effort’ and in this context it is of interest to note that in a series of ten large formation sorties from Duxford into the 11 Group area, nine were unsuccessful and the tenth destroyed one Me 109!

[Air Commodore Alan C Deere DSO OBE DFC and Bar, Nine Lives (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1959, republished Crécy Publishing Limited, Manchester, 1999), pp.169-70]

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Trafford Leigh-Mallory, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated