Magdalene College Cambridge Notes: Tedder, Leigh-Mallory and D-Day

On D-Day, 6 June 1944, the Allied air forces that assaulted Normandy were under the joint command of Arthur Tedder and Trafford Leigh-Mallory. By strange coincidence, the two had been contemporaries at the same small Cambridge college.

On 17 June 1944, The Times published a letter over the signature of "A Member of Magdalene". After almost five years of war, the news was at last pointing towards victory. On 6 June, American, British and Canadian forces had stormed ashore on the Normandy beaches, and a bridgehead had now been established. On the Italian front, Rome had been liberated two days earlier, and moves were under way in process to create post-fascist institutions. The Times had reported that Prince Filippo Doria-Pamphili had been installed as the city's mayor. "No better person could have been found", observed the paper's Italian correspondent. The Prince had been a courageous opponent of Mussolini, he was a "man of independent character and great public spirit, head of one of the great aristocratic Roman families". Furthermore, "[h]is mother was English, and he completed his education at Cambridge, where your Correspondent remembers rowing behind him in their college boat." Since the journalist, Christopher Lumby, omitted to name their shared institution, a proud Magdalene Times reader took up his pen to point out that the anti-fascist hero had been a contemporary at Magdalene with the two distinguished airmen, Sir Arthur Tedder and Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory. "As the college was then one of the smallest, numbering under 100 undergraduates, the record is striking." The Times evidently agreed, printing the letter under the heading "Men from Magdalene".[1] On the eightieth anniversary of D-Day, it seems appropriate to ask how such a small institution could have provided the two commanders of the Allied air forces that took part in the Normandy invasion. Contrasts in their personalities help to explain how both became involved, thirty years after they had graduated.

Arthur Tedder and the New Magdalene Victorian Magdalene had acquired an unsavoury reputation as the unacademic haunt of very rich and very idle young aristocrats. That caricature had never fully described the institution, and the nature of Magdalene was in any case changing by the eighteen-nineties, when the College sought to become a more serious place while struggling with financial challenges. The process of creating a "new Magdalene" was taken further during the Mastership of S.A. Donaldson (1904-15). Although he never transcended the narrow personality of a public-school housemaster, Donaldson had the excellent idea of bringing in his Eton colleague, A.C. Benson, as a supernumerary Fellow (i.e. he did not have to be paid). Not only did Benson possess private means for his own support, but he also made generous gifts to his adopted College. History had become a respectable discipline in the last decades of the nineteenth century but Magdalene, with its limited resources, had made no attempt to teach it. Benson accepted the responsibility, but his dilettante approach, coupled with searing mental health problems, led to the recruitment in 1909 of a brilliant Trinity graduate, F.R. (Frank) Salter, who became Magdalene's first History Fellow the following year. Although it would be an exaggeration to describe Benson as a meritocrat, he also helped open the College to students from a wider range of social backgrounds, so long as they conformed to his ideal of decent, enthusiastic and moderately hard-working young men. Arthur William Tedder filled the bill, but the first and most basic point to make about him is that – although he would eventually become a member of the House of Lords – he very firmly belonged to middle-class Magdalene. He arrived in October 1909, and was allocated lodgings at 20 Castle Street, a short distance up the hill from the College.[2]

Tedder was born in Scotland in 1890 and spent the first decade of his life north of the Border. The son of an excise officer, whose work included the supervision of distilleries, Tedder himself never touched alcohol. In the Edwardian years, his father became a successful civil servant in London, and Tedder received his secondary schooling at Whitgift, a grammar school in Croydon.[3] The family were persuaded to send their son to Cambridge by his uncle, Henry Tedder, who was secretary and librarian to London's elite Athenaeum Club. As Tedder ruefully recalled, the decision was "dead against the advice of my Headmaster".[4] As a day boy from a suburban academy, he might have felt marginalised among young men from boarding schools, but his innate popularity overcame any such barriers. In his second year, a contentious rift opened up within the undergraduate body, with sharply different views held about Magdalene catering. In a portent for the future, Tedder became the mediator between the factions. He exuded irrepressible energy. Night-climbing was one of the jolly japes of that era, as intrepid undergraduates defied common sense to clamber around on College roofs, usually leaving some incongruous mark of their feat. Tedder was a notorious practitioner. One exploit targeted the wyverns, Magdalene's mythical heraldic beasts, one of which was garbed in a surplice, no doubt borrowed from the College Chapel. On another occasion, Donaldson, a teetotaller, aroused undergraduate resentment by insisting that only lemonade be served at a College concert.  Tedder was responsible for fixing two giant kettles to Magdalene's tiny clock turret, along with a defiantly mocking banner. In his third year, he rowed in the Magdalene Boat, appearing first in the Lent Races, which were "disastrous". They were bumped in three out of four days, but were spared humiliation on the fourth when the sole crew behind them on the Cam collapsed after two minutes. They did manage to make a bump on the first night of the May races, but the next three nights saw them slip steadily further down the river.[5] In so small a college, sportsmen tended to be conscripted for several teams. "As usual, we are suffering from lack of understudies", the rugby team reported in 1912. Pride required them to field a decent XV against Magdalen College, Oxford, and Tedder, who had played rugby at Whitgift, was one of the forwards. He could obviously move fast, for he also turned out for a Cambridge intercollege athletics match against Corpus Christi, and "ran very well".[6] Nor was he simply an outdoor hearty. Benson ran an intellectual discussion group, the Kingsley Club. Tedder was elected a member in his third year, and gave a talk on Beethoven "with examples of his work on the piano".[7]

Tedder seemed determined to use his final undergraduate year to experience Cambridge life to the full, but his academic work suffered, and Benson became worried about missed deadlines and general lack of engagement. His lively contributions to student life were certainly not matched by his performance in the examination halls. Tedder managed only a lower second (Class II, Division 2) in both parts of the Historical Tripos, graduating in 1912.[8] However, far from concluding that his headmaster had been right, Benson and Salter encouraged Tedder to spend the summer in Berlin learning German, and then return to Cambridge for a fourth year in which he would prepare himself for an attempt to gain a place in the diplomatic service. In Berlin, he fell in love with a young Australian woman, Rosalinde Maclardy: they would marry in 1915. He did indeed return to Cambridge, where he submitted an essay for the University's Prince Consort Prize – Magdalene's first-ever piece of formal postgraduate research in History. The work must have been undertaken under very high pressure over four terms from the autumn of 1912 to the end of 1913, for the text was around 60,000 words – three-quarters of the length of a doctoral dissertation – and the extensive bibliography was much admired.[9] The Magdalene College Magazine noted with pride that "our own Pepysian Library furnished a good deal of important and hitherto insufficiently known material", and the originality of the research evidently impressed the examiners. When the result was announced in January 1914, Tedder was the joint winner, equal with a Peterhouse man who had a First Class Honours degree.[10] Although in later years, there would be some gentle mirth at the fact that this future airman wrote about "The Navy of the Restoration", the topic was in fact highly appropriate to his eventual career.  His core thesis was that the decade from 1658 to 1667 was "of vital interest and importance regarding the development of the Navy as a self-containing, independent service" – exactly the challenge faced by the Royal Air Force in the years after 1918.[11] In accordance with the terms of the Prince Consort Prize, the essay was published by Cambridge University Press in 1916, with Frank Salter correcting the proofs while the author was overseas. In 1950, when Tedder was nominated to become Chancellor of the University, the book was taken as evidence of his academic credentials for the post.

In that era, there was probably never much chance that a boy from Whitgift School would win a place in the diplomatic service, for the Foreign Office still operated largely through patronage and only the right sort of people could be allowed to speak for Britain abroad. However, by now engaged to Rosalinde Maclardy, Tedder's own priorities had changed. The much less prestigious colonial service would give him the opportunity to work in Fiji, a Pacific dependency that was seen as an extension of the Australian and New Zealand world and would hence provide a suitable location for the couple to set up home. The Magdalene College Magazine offered roguish congratulations: the scenery, it understood, was "most attractive" and the climate – outside the capital, Suva – was "all that could be desired. Cannibalism, it is to be feared, survives, if it survives at all, only as a piece of interesting antiquarianism."[12] Yet Tedder quickly decided that Fiji was a mistake, and the outbreak of war gave him the opportunity to return to Britain. His membership of the Officers' Training Corps at Cambridge secured him a commission as a lieutenant in the Dorset Regiment, but he soon transferred to the Royal Flying Corps which, in 1918, became part of the newly formed Royal Air Force. As a journalistic profile later observed, "but for the Great War [Tedder] might never have been a professional fighting man".[13] When peace came, he decided to remain with the new service. In 1919, he was briefly seconded to Cambridge on RAF work, and the Magdalene College Magazine captured his sense of pride in this new calling: Tedder looked "more like a General than anything we have seen for some weeks".[14] Nonetheless, for the next twenty years he could hardly be called a fighting man. He spent much of his time flying a desk, where he gained a reputation as "a brilliant and skilful administrator, a caustic but witty critic, an iconoclast of the first water".[15] His ability to think, strategically and creatively, would mark him out for a key role in the invasion of Normandy.

Brother of the more famous...  Where Arthur Tedder was a popular team-player who inspired popular, Trafford Leigh-Mallory (he was T.L. Mallory when he was at Magdalene, from 1911 to 1914) was a distrusted intriguer. The key to his unattractive personality was almost certainly the fact that he was inescapably overshadowed by his elder brother, George Mallory, who died attempting to climb Everest in 1924 for the famously pointlessly reason, "because it's there". George was handsome, elegant and charming; Trafford was short, stocky and scowling – "a proper little Charlie Chaplin", in the words of one observer of his self-important strutting as an officer in the First World War.[16] The two boys were the sons of a Cheshire clergyman. There was money in the family and they lived comfortably, although private education was a strain on parental resources. George won a scholarship to Winchester, one of the oldest and grandest of England's public schools. Trafford was packed off to Haileybury, a second-rank Victorian foundation noted for its cut-price fees. Their father had unsuccessfully claimed a dormant family peerage. In 1914, in compensation, he hyphenated his surname. George, a Fabian socialist in his undergraduate days, generally ignored the affectation, but Trafford needed the assurance of status that went with a double-barrelled name.

When T.L. Mallory arrived in 1911, two years behind Tedder, he would have inevitably encountered the golden memories of his glamorous brother, who had spent five years at Magdalene. Boosted by the enthusiasm of the University's homoerotic community, George had taken Cambridge by storm, hitting the intellectual, aesthetic and athletic high notes: he campaigned for women's suffrage, acted in the Marlowe Society and also rowed for Magdalene. Somehow there was an effortless predictability about the fact that his time as Captain of the Boat Club was "phenomenally successful ... 1908 throws all other years into the shade". The small College that sometimes struggled to put a crew on the river suddenly swept all before it. It was characteristic, too, that George Mallory somehow integrated his varied experiences under the magic of his personality, for instance praising the eight for rowing in an "elegant, divine way, the way we rowed at Henley".[17] It was a hard act to follow and it is probably not surprising that Leigh-Mallory left so little trace in Magdalene. He was a member of the small and precarious College debating society, a sensible investment of time for someone who hoped –briefly – to become a barrister. In June 1914, he acted as a steward at the May Ball, as guests danced to the gentle airs of a German band.[18] He did become a member of the Kingsley Club, but apparently never delivered a paper, and perhaps his selection was a gesture by Benson to the memory of his glamorous sibling. He was elected at the same meeting as Tedder, the only traceable crossover between the two in their College days. In his memoirs, Tedder would make no allusion to their shared educational background and generally indicated a lack of regard for his junior contemporary.[19] Leigh-Mallory's academic record was poor (although in this, he did emulate his older brother). Although he had won an Entrance Exhibition to read History, he managed only a Third in Part I. He then switched to Law, where he achieved the same result in Part II.[20] Nonetheless, he planned to read for the Bar, where his chief asset lay in being the godson of a successful barrister. The contrast with Tedder, the University prize-winner exiled to Fiji, is painful. In fact, he would never don a wig, for six weeks after the publication of the results, Germany invaded Belgium.

By 1918, Trafford Leigh-Mallory was commanding a squadron on the Western Front, an achievement that perhaps would start to enable him to move out from under his brother's shadow.  By chance, they met in France on 11 November, the day the war ended. With George facing return to the irksome role of schoolmastering, there was a temporary inversion of roles. Affecting magnificence, in his brother's arch comment, Trafford showed off his staff car: "he so evidently enjoys every detail of successful action and has such a wonderful singleness of forward-looking conviction". When they met again early in 1924, shortly before the Everest expedition, Trafford talked up his RAF work, and George noted that his brother was "quite sure he is at the heart of Imperial Defence".[21] Had the would-be conqueror of the Himalayas simply departed this life, Leigh-Mallory might have been left with the grief and the unfinished business of bereavement, needing time but eventually coming to terms with his brother's death. "I find difficult fully to realise the loss of someone whom I have seen so little of during the last ten or twelve years", he wrote. But George Mallory had sacrificed his life, nobly, pointlessly, infuriatingly – and beyond all argument. Trafford returned to Magdalene for the memorial service.[22] A.C. Benson, now Master of Magdalene, was too ill to attend, but a colleague read a tribute arguing that the essence of George Mallory's "wonderful charm" lay in the fact "that he was so unconscious of his great personal beauty, his gifts, and his achievements, while his sympathy with those with whom he came in contact, their tastes, their preferences, their opinions, was deep and genuine".[23] His brother had become not just a national hero but a secular saint, from whom he could never escape. It is unlikely that Trafford Leigh-Mallory would ever have become a likeable person. But being forever labelled "younger brother of" made him relentlessly and unscrupulously ambitious.

Tedder in command Throughout its first two decades, the newly formed Royal Air Force struggled both for resources and for status in the face of the demands and the pretensions of the Army and the Navy. It was hardly surprising that some of its commanders, notably Sir Arthur Harris of Bomber Command, believed that air power could win the Second World War, if not on its own, at the very least by taking the lead in the fight against Nazi Germany. Tedder, who quickly rose to high command in the Middle East, took a different approach.[24] While he insisted on centralised control in order to establish superiority in the air – and also insisted on his own role in determining its use – he was committed to the principles of working together, both on an inter-service and inter-national basis. As Axis forces were rolled back across North Africa, from El Alamein to Tunisia, in 1942-3, he ensured that his bombers operated in seamless unity with ground forces, using the intensive attacks of the "Tedder carpet" to punch holes in enemy defences that were then prised open by ground forces. Of course, there were frictions, jealousies and differences of opinion: Tedder came to loathe Montgomery – hardly a minority viewpoint – and particularly criticised him for not moving fast enough in the desert. Sir Alan Brooke, chief of the General Staff, was annoyed by such carping: "airmen, entirely disconnected with [sic] the administrative problems of supply, which were [sic] mainly done for them, and with the very vaguest of conceptions as to requirements of land tactics, were only too free in offering criticisms".[25] This discontent came in the weeks immediately after the victory at El Alamein, when Montgomery was engaged in careful preparation to move forward. Tedder soon became more diplomatic: his biographer has described him as a master of listening, cooperating and trusting. He also learned how to work with allies, accompanying Churchill to meet Roosevelt at Casablanca, and to negotiate with Stalin, both in Moscow and at Tehran.[26] From February to November 1943, he headed the Mediterranean Air Command – a British officer issuing orders to American units – working closely with Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in North Africa, as they planned the invasions of Sicily and mainland Italy. When Eisenhower was put in charge of organising D-Day, an almost natural progression made Sir Arthur Tedder – as he now was – Deputy Supreme Commander at SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force).  A legend was growing around him as a man who had made his way in the world. Charles Wilson (Churchill's personal doctor, later Lord Moran) noted that "Tedder's father, a rough diamond, fought his way from the bottom to become head of the Excise. In the son the facets have been polished, but the hard stone is left. ...  He seems quite unlike anyone in the service I have ever met – a quick mind and a sharp tongue."[27] In London's Clubland, the historian and biographer Philip Guedella held forth about him with a degree of confidence that was only matched by the looseness of its factual accuracy. "He has a great admiration for Tedder, who was on the point of becoming a don at Magdalene, Cambridge, but, feeling the urge to adventure, went into the RAF."[28]

Of course, it can be argued that there was an element of box-ticking in his appointment as Eisenhower's deputy. With an American in overall charge, a British Number Two symbolised the nature of the transatlantic partnership. A soldier needed to be balanced by an airman – or perhaps an admiral. But this is to ignore the importance of his personal qualities. 'Tommy' Lascelles, George VI's private secretary, "took a great liking" to Tedder when he appeared at Buckingham Palace to receive his knighthood. "He is obviously a man of outstanding personality, and every airman will tell you that he is one of the brightest stars in that firmament."[29] The historian Sebastian Cox regarded Tedder as "in many ways the perfect coalition commander. He was not only acutely aware of the need for sensitivity in all matters when conducting coalition warfare, whether relations with the press or relations with other Allied commanders, but he was also adept at achieving his military objectives within such a framework." Tedder was usually sufficiently personable and persuasive to carry his ideas without making enemies of those who had opposed his projects.[30]

Leigh-Mallory at war In all of this, Tedder was the polar opposite to Leigh-Mallory. During the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940, the key figures in Fighter Command were its head, Sir Hugh Dowding, and the New Zealander Keith Park, who commanded 11 Group, which defended London. Leigh-Mallory was in charge of 12 Group, with airfields from Cambridge to York that were intended to protect the east coast. He resented being placed, as he saw it, in the rear, and began to intrigue to oust Dowding and Park. His weapon was "Big Wing", an idea proposed by Douglas Bader, the remarkable limbless squadron leader who was one of his officers. Big Wing involved creating a group of at least three squadrons, which would then sweep intruders from the skies. Dowding and Park had used Big Wing tactics to provide air cover for the evacuation from Dunkirk (although their efforts were not always appreciated by the men on the beaches), but Dunkirk was a fixed location that was under attack by large numbers of German aircraft. Around London, Spitfires and Hurricanes usually had only a few minutes' warning in which to take off and climb to combat altitude. Co-ordinating whole squadrons took additional time and wasted scarce fuel. In thick cloud, pilots had difficulty in maintaining their assigned positions, and there was no guarantee that so large a pack would even encounter raiders. Indeed, massing so many aircraft left their own airfields open to attack. On the one occasion when there was a set-piece battle over the Thames estuary, Leigh-Mallory brandished an exaggerated account, although it was common enough for airmen to overestimate their "kills". In November 1940, Dowding and Park were moved sideways. Leigh-Mallory took over 11 Group and – in November 1942 – became head of Fighter Command. In the heated wartime atmosphere, it was easy to attribute the downfall of his foes to Leigh-Mallory's intrigues, but it is implausible to claim that a disgruntled commander could mobilise sufficient political influence to carry such a coup. Dowding was overdue for retirement, and a political response was required to the London Blitz, since Fighter Command seemed to have no answer to night raids. Nonetheless, Leigh-Mallory's reputation suffered from the episode.[31]

Nonetheless, in August 1943, Leigh-Mallory was appointed commander-in-chief of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force that was to be assembled for the invasion of France. This was a notable promotion, all the more so as it was made four months before Eisenhower was chosen as the supreme commander. A knighthood and promotion to the rank of air chief marshal came at about the same time. In an unworthy sneer, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography invoked his brother's Everest explanation to explain his selection: "Leigh-Mallory was appointed because he was there". This is superficial and unsatisfactory. Wartime responsibilities were too important to be allocated on the hallowed principle of Buggins' Turn, and Leigh-Mallory lacked even seniority among airmen. The ODNB omits to mention that he had provided the air cover for the August 1942 Dieppe raid, and thus had experience of an integrated operation against the French coast. The raid itself now seems a pointless disaster. Ostensibly it was intended to discover whether infantry could make a successful attack on fortified coastal defences, a question to which the answer was so obvious that it hardly required the deaths of almost one thousand Canadians, who bore the brunt of the assault. In broader and vaguer terms, it seems to have been intended somehow to reassure the new allies that the British were serious about attacking occupied Europe, despite their objections to American plans for a hey-presto cross-Channel invasion in 1942. There were equally loose hopes for a grand air battle that would somehow slow the German invasion of Russia. In a more minor key, the highly trained Canadians had not seen action although they had arrived two years earlier. Dieppe was too big for a raid and too small for an invasion. Had the troops managed to get ashore, they would have been withdrawn within a few days. If lessons were learned from Dieppe – one of the arguments advanced by Mountbatten, the operation's overall commander, a thick-skinned self-promoter – they probably provided as much guidance for the defenders as for the attackers. Dieppe certainly gave the Germans a shock, but this was a matter where the Allies would have been better served by Nazi complacency.  

The disaster at Dieppe tends to obscure the point that it was the first major opportunity to experiment with an integrated seaborne landing in hostile territory by ground troops with air support.[32] The key point here is that, from the start of planning, Leigh-Mallory ruled out a major air attack on the town: as the Canadian military historian, C.P. Stacey, wrote, "one returns again and again to the decision, originally taken at the meeting of 5 June ... to eliminate the attack by heavy bombers". It is perhaps tempting to suspect that Leigh-Mallory did not wish to share the limelight with RAF rivals, but the decision was not his alone. The Army feared that the destruction of the narrow streets of the historic town would hamper the movement of armoured vehicles. Montgomery himself chaired the meeting, and could easily have imposed an alternative view. Leigh-Mallory objected from a different angle: the bombs would mostly miss, falling uselessly in open country and into the sea. However, the soldiers wanted buildings along the waterfront cleared out of their way, but Leigh-Mallory "stressed the fact that accurate bombing of the houses on the sea front could not possibly be guaranteed". In any case, he was worried that heavy air raids would alert the Germans to the timing and location of the attack. "If bombing is to be carried out at all, it should be timed to take place as late as possible, i.e. as close as possible to the time of landing" – an approach that would also be built into D-Day. It was even "suggested that it might be better to dispense with the bombing", and rely upon a naval bombardment. Leigh-Mallory's pilots would come in close to support the ground troops, directing cannon fire against defensive positions – machine-gun bullets against concrete. But he did have a role for the bombers, who were to undertake heavy raids upon airfields around Boulogne, seventy miles to the north-east. These would confuse the Germans about the target of the operation. They would also force the Luftwaffe on the back foot in defending Dieppe, allowing the British fighters to overcome the disadvantage of operating close to the limit of their range from distant bases in England. For Leigh-Mallory, the centrepiece was to be a mighty air battle, Big Wing on steroids, with over fifty squadrons mauling the Germans so badly that the blow would be felt as far away as the Eastern Front. The outcome was less impressive. Churchill was told that 96 German aircraft had been destroyed. A further 179 of their planes were classed as either probably shot down or damaged. True, the RAF had lost 98 planes, but about one third of the pilots had been fished out of the Channel. "The large scale air battle alone justified the raid," Churchill assured the War Cabinet. It did not. The British losses were later revised to 107, while it subsequently emerged that only 48 enemy planes had been destroyed, and a further 24 damaged. The air force had provided protection for the destroyers in their exposed attack positions close to the French coast, but even this success was clouded when one of them was sunk by a single bomb on the return voyage. "Insofar as one of its main objects was to impose wastage on the German Air Force and provide relief to Russia, the Dieppe raid was a resounding failure".[33] 

Preparing for D-Day Clearly, the problem of the role of heavy bombers in an invasion had not been resolved at Dieppe, but it was not altogether surprising that Leigh-Mallory – who continued to believe that he had given the Germans a "bloody nose"[34] – should have been appointed to plan the air attack on Normandy. Yet it was equally predictable that his claims would be resisted by other air commanders. Tedder had doubts about his handling of Dieppe – the two had a "friendly argument" on the subject shortly after D-Day[35] –  while the American air force general Carl Spaatz and the RAF's 'Bomber' Harris insisted upon using their big machines to destroy the German economy. Spaatz and Harris objected to taking orders from someone whose principal experience was as a fighter commander, but of course the real problem lay in the "pompous and narrowly focused" personality of Leigh-Mallory himself.[36] A delicate formula was evolved through Tedder's role as Deputy Supreme Commander. He would become the overall air supremo – but it was understood that he acted as the mouthpiece of Eisenhower.[37] Such an arrangement was only likely to last for a short time, and its practical functioning depended upon leaving boundaries tactfully undefined. Sir Alan Brooke was mystified to learn in March 1944 that frictions were to be eliminated by giving Tedder "more direct command, as far as I can see it this can only be done by chucking out Leigh-Mallory".[38] As the ODNB unkindly put it, he was becoming a fifth wheel.

Once again, Dr Cox identified the key to the success of fragile arrangements: Tedder "almost certainly was the only Allied airman capable of bringing both the senior strategic commanders into line, and doing so in such a way as to retain their respect".[39] Fortunately, he was also able to work closely with Leigh-Mallory in the months before D-Day. Obviously, Tedder had not been hoisted to the top by the old school tie, and it was equally clear that he was not bonded to his associate-cum-deputy by the old college scarf. Perhaps the two occasionally reminisced about Magdalene: Tedder's approach to relationships was to build upon the positive, and the two had not much else in common. But there was hardly time for nostalgia, and the two airmen were able to co-operate through shared aims. There were two priorities. Tedder insisted on absolute control of the skies over Normandy, which meant the eradication of German planes, pilots and bases across a wide area of France. Eisenhower agreed, and added an imperative of his own: the French railway system must be so badly damaged that the enemy could not bring up reinforcements in the vital days and weeks after the invasion.

One useful side-effect of the first aim was that it provided a compromise for Spaatz and Harris in their continued determination to hammer German industry, and pin down the Luftwaffe in a defensive role. The bomber offensive could continue, but focused now more specifically upon aircraft factories. (There was, for instance, little short-term advantage in attacking synthetic oil plants, as the Germans were known to have large fuel stocks in France.) The destruction of the Luftwaffe seemed a daunting task. In the winter of 1943-4, Germany had developed a night-fighter capability that inflicted heavy, indeed unsustainable, losses upon the attackers. But this was very much a last hurrah, for German air power had been drained by combat on the Eastern Front, while British Intelligence had cautiously over-estimated the number of aircraft available to the Third Reich in occupied France. On D-Day, Tedder and Leigh-Mallory commanded 12,800 aircraft. Against them, the enemy could muster only 300: many of those were of doubtful operational quality and all were shot out of the air within hours. Even more remarkable was the collapse of German reconnaissance. In the weeks before D-Day, as southern Britain was turned into an armed camp, there was virtually no coverage of England at all. On 5-6 June, British Intelligence detected just five routine enemy surveillance flights in the Channel: almost incredibly, none of them failed to spot the huge armada sailing towards the French coast. Once the invasion forces had achieved a bridgehead, it became possible to establish bases on French soil, thereby hugely increasing the range of Allied aircraft. With the local economy of a warzone in collapse, it was safe to assume that all ground traffic was military, and anything that moved was attacked at close range, making it very difficult for the Germans to move troops and supplies. Six weeks after D-Day, two fighter pilots dived on a staff car, and severely injured Erwin Rommel, probably the one German commander who might have held up the Allied machine.[40]

There was a twofold challenge in the interdiction of the French railway system. The first was the need to disguise the target of the invasion. An elaborate deception system, which famously included rubber tanks, had largely persuaded the Germans that the main invasion would use the shortest sea route and come across the Straits of Dover. (The rubber tanks, of course, were somewhat superfluous, since there were few if any German reconnaissance flights to spot them.) Tedder and Leigh-Mallory came up with an ingenious solution. German reinforcements to Normandy would have to pass through Belgium and northern France. Hence attacking the railway network in the hinterland of Calais cut communications with Normandy while encouraging the illusion that the invasion was planned for further north. However, the targets were small, and so arose the problem that had seemed to rule out the use of bombers at Dieppe. Fortunately, technology had created navigation aids, such as 'Oboe', which used interlocking radar waves to tell airmen precisely when and where to drop their loads. Raids not only became more accurate, but they could also be more frequent, since radar beams were not obstructed by cloud cover. Leigh-Mallory put together a force of light bombers that dropped around 4,000 tons of explosives – a drop in the bucket compared with the pounding of the Ruhr – and with a high degree of effectiveness. Even so, the French rail network was damaged rather than neutralised. The key to isolating Normandy was the destruction of the bridges over the Seine, a process that began four weeks before D-Day, and led some sections of German Intelligence to predict the actual invasion target. Fortunately, Hitler had persuaded himself that an Allied incursion somewhere in western France would merely be a diversionary precursor to the main attack on the Pas de Calais, and the significance of severing the Seine links was not appreciated.

The complication in this ingenious strategy was that the targets were in urban areas and hence civilian casualties were unavoidable, and probably at high levels. The Free French offered to do the work through sabotage, but this could hardly be sufficient. Saboteurs could cut short lengths of track, but these were easy to repair. The Tedder / Leigh-Mallory strategy required the pulverising of workshops and marshalling yards, while Resistance partisans would have found it difficult to attack railway junctions guarded by ground troops. With the regretful reflection that the lives of Allied personnel were his first priority, Roosevelt accepted that the French rail network could only be destroyed from the air. But a persistent rearguard of opposition came from an unexpected quarter, Churchill. His motives are hard to fathom. No doubt he believed that stability in post-war Europe would require a high degree of co-operation between Britain and France, but he had shown no hesitation in ordering the sinking of the French fleet at Oran in 1940 to prevent it from falling under Nazi control. It is almost tempting to believe that he sought to protect his historical reputation by inserting moralistic protests into the archival record. A week before D-Day, he warned Tedder, "you are piling up an awful load of hatred". The campaign continued.[41]

Heavy bombers were also used, both in attempts to prevent the Germans from reinforcing their coastal defences and as aerial artillery on and after D-Day. For instance, there was intensive bombing on an east-west axis along the landing grounds as the armada approached the coast, followed by a naval bombardment and follow-up attacks at close quarters by fighters and light bombers. These assaults did relatively little damage to fortifications, but they did stun the defenders and help to account for the relatively weak resistance that the invaders encountered in several sectors. Much the same happened six weeks later, when relentless bombing began Operation Goodwood, a tank battle planned to lead to a break-out from Normandy: defenders were dazed, but artillery emplacements remained intact. The success of Goodwood lay not in the British and Canadian assault, which foundered in thick mud, but in the diversion of German forces to the eastern end of the front lines, making it easier for the Americans to punch their way out in the west. But if heavy bombers made only a limited impact upon concrete gun emplacements, they were, if anything, too efficient against urban targets. Early in July, when Caen was razed to the ground, Canadian and British troops encountered the problem that had alarmed the soldiers at Dieppe: the streets were cratered and blocked with rubble.

Upward and onward  With the success of D-Day, Leigh-Mallory found himself in much the same position as Dowding after the Battle of Britain.  He had done the nation considerable service in a short but crucial period, but he was now effectively redundant. An opportunity soon arose to move him to a new appointment, as deputy to Mountbatten, the Supreme Allied Commander in South-East Asia. The two had, of course, worked together on the Dieppe raid, a collaboration that some might have thought should not be renewed. However, the current head of the RAF in India, Air Marshal Peirse, was conducting an open affair with the wife of Sir Claude Auchinleck, the Empire's top soldier in india. The Auk had suffered enough public humiliation in being sacked from the command of the Eighth Army to make way for Montgomery. Moreover, faced with a rampantly contemptuous Nationalist movement, the British Raj was already short of moral capital, and could not afford a sahib scandal. It was alleged, too, that Peirse was neglecting his duties. Nonetheless, Mountbatten evidently had reservations about his replacement. He wrote to Leigh-Mallory, making clear that it was a condition of his appointment that "you entirely accept the fact that I am the Supreme Allied Commander in fact as well as in name, and not in any sense a co-ordinating chairman of a committee". While he "normally" expected to accept his deputy's advice on air operations, "I have the over-riding right to reject your views".[42] On the morning of 14 November 1944 – as soon as the formalities were completed – Leigh-Mallory took off on small passenger plane from RAF Northolt, accompanied by his wife and key members of his staff. It was no doubt to his credit that he was keen to take up his new duties – Peirse had been sent home in disgrace so the post was actually vacant, and Mountbatten's forces were slogging their way into Burma. But the weather was poor and Leigh-Mallory would have been well aware of the swathe of VIPs who had perished in wartime air disasters. He needed to get to India, but it was important to arrive in one piece. As the plane approached the Alps, conditions deteriorated. Around midday, the aircraft crashed into a rocky ridge, killing everyone on board. A court of enquiry was unsympathetic to the principal victim, blaming his "forceful personality" for the decision to fly in poor weather. He was criticised, too, for failing to take the elementary safety precaution of sending his staff on a separate flight. He had wanted to emphasise his self-importance by arriving in India accompanied by his retinue. Leigh-Mallory's death was an odd pastiche of the Everest tragedy twenty years earlier. Like his brother, vainglorious misjudgement had led to his death on a mountain.[43]

Tedder's wartime career also passed through a final period of turbulence. In January 1945, he was sent to Moscow to co-ordinate operations with the Russians. Churchill, now increasingly a critic, mocked the choice of an airman to discuss military matters as "like asking a man who has learned to ride a bicycle to paint a picture". From late January until early March, Churchill made intermittent attempts to have Tedder replaced with Alexander, by far his favourite general. Regarding his deputy as a "splendid man", Eisenhower resisted and played for time: if Alexander were forced upon him, his role would be purely nominal and he would certainly have no standing to discuss strategy in the air. Churchill admitted defeat, but in April exploded once again with a memorandum bristling with "violent" criticism of Tedder, which one admiral described as "childish". Once again, Churchill came to realise that he had gone too far. In December 1945, he contacted all those to whom the diatribe had been circulated, requesting that they destroy the document. Hence no copy is known to survive. It is possible that Churchill was making Tedder a scapegoat for a wider frustration. Britain had always been the junior partner in the alliance with the United States. Exhausted by five and a half years of war, its role in the alliance was becoming steadily fainter and weaker. As the most prominent British officer at Eisenhower's headquarters, Tedder may have been held responsible for the country's failing influence in world affairs.[44] On 7 May 1945, Eisenhower broadcast a message announcing victory in western Europe. At the microphone beside him, quietly unobtrusive in the role of junior partner, sat Tedder. Stalin was furious and insisted on a separate surrender ceremony to dramatise the role of the Soviet Union in crushing Nazi Germany. The following day Tedder represented SHAEF at a hastily arranged ceremony in Berlin, awkwardly playing the role of a walk-on extra in a dramatisation of Russian victory. The remainder of his RAF career – he was unable finally to retire until 1951 – was dominated by the emerging Cold War with the former ally.

Great honours came to Tedder in the aftermath of the War. He became Marshal of the Royal Air Force and a peer of the realm. In 1943, Magdalene had elected him to an Honorary Fellowship and, in due course, persuaded him to sit to have his portrait painted. "I did my best not to look like perforated ham", he reported, but it has to be recognised that the result was not a great success. He came to Cambridge to unveil it on Remembrance Sunday, 1949, and also took part in the dedication of a memorial in the Chapel to 129 members of the College killed during the Second World War. Trafford Leigh-Mallory is one of the names inscribed but, for Tedder, far more poignant would have been that of his son Dick. Flying Officer A.R.B. Tedder had followed him to Magdalene and into the RAF, losing his life in 1940.  Speaking at the ceremony, Tedder recalled that it was forty years since he had entered the College as a freshman.[45]

The following year, the office of Chancellor of Cambridge University fell vacant on the death of Smuts, who had been elected two years earlier as a symbol of Commonwealth unity. There was some attempt to run another distinguished Cantab, Jawaharlal Nehru, as his successor, but India's prime minister declined the honour, and there were strong arguments for having a ceremonial head closer at hand. Tedder was supported as a non-political figure, whose academic credentials included his Honorary Fellowship at Magdalene and his Prince Consort Prize. Unfortunately, Nehru's refusal became known after nominations had closed, and it was necessary to conduct a token election on a wet November day. After half an hour of voting, the Senior Proctor baldly announced that Tedder of Magdalene was elected, the first (and thus far, the only) time the position has gone to a member of the College. A.S. Ramsey, the veteran President of Magdalene, sent proud congratulations, adding: "The College flag is flying".[46] Among his many responsibilities, Tedder became, ex officio, a founder of Churchill College, an irony that no doubt pleased him. He died in 1967.[47]

Of course, there was a considerable element of accident that accounts for the fact that two members of the same small College should have commanded the Allied air forces on D-Day. Their very different characters certainly indicate that there was no magic institutional influence that shaped leadership in military aviation. Indeed, the two-Magdalene solution to the question of command in the air was a response to the awkward personality traits of the first of them to be appointed to the Overlord project. Nonetheless, eighty years on, acknowledgement of their joint role may be taken as a symbolic recognition of the determination, discipline and terrified courage of the thousands of Allied personnel who helped free western Europe from the Nazi tyranny eighty years ago.


I appreciate the friendly interest in the Magdalene material on shown by many members of the College, but (as always) I stress that my various narratives and speculations are the result of a personal interest in Cambridge history and are neither commissioned nor endorsed by the institution. Around thirty Internet essays and notes relating to the history of Magdalene College are listed on:


[1] The Times, 15, 17 June 1944. C.D.R. Lumby, the son of a former Fellow, won an Entrance Exhibition in Classics and came to Magdalene in 1907. He graduated in 1910 in Class II, Division 2. Perhaps his commitment to the May Boat that year explains his disappointing performance: he rowed at 5, Prince Doria Pamphili at 7. In April 1945, Lumby set off ahead of Allied lines for Milan, relying on his fluency in German and Italian to avoid capture. He found the city in the hands of partisans who gleefully informed him that they had just shot Mussolini and his mistress. Lumby identified the bodies before they were displayed in the famously grisly scene in the Piazzale Loreto.  He made his way back to Army headquarters with the news that Milan was no longer an obstacle. Lumby died in 1946. I. McDonald, The History of The Times, v… (London, 1984), 79, 89-90; The Times, 3 March 1907, 20 June 1910, 30 April 1945, 4 November 1946; The Magdalene Boat Club 1828-1928 (Cambridge, 1930), 78.

[2] Cambridge Independent Press, 15 October 1909.

[3] V. Orange, "Tedder, Arthur William, first Baron Tedder (1890–1967)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, a useful summary of the same author's Tedder: Quietly in Command (London, 2012).  Tedder was said to have arrived at Whitgift with a Scottish accent and (a less believable legend) wearing a kilt. He seems to have retained a quiet allegiance to Scotland, for instance, incorporating his birthplace into the full title of his peerage. His first wife was an Australian of Scottish descent.

[4] Orange, Tedder: Quietly in Command, 3.

[5] Magdalene College Magazine [cited as MCM], March 1912, 61; December 1912, 121; December 1913, 212; The Magdalene Boat Club 1828-1928, 44.  Tedder weighed ten stone, eight pounds. He also rowed in the Pairs, a double sculling race. MCM, June 1913, 176.

[6] MCM, December 1912, 121-3. The report in the Australasian (Melbourne), 15 January 1944 that he was briefly "a professional rugby player" after graduation seems highly unlikely: there were no rugby union professionals in that era.

[7] MCM, December 1912, 124; March 1913, `59. The talk on Beethoven was delivered on 17 February 1913.

[8] Orange, Tedder: Quietly in Command, 11; The Times, 19 June 1911, 12 June 1912; MCM, December 1911, 14; December 1912, 116.

[9] Uncle Henry and the Athenaeum Library helped with the bibliography. There was no Cambridge PhD degree until 1919.

[10] The Times, 26 January 1914, 5 June 1967; MCM, March 1914, 245-6.

[11] A.W. Tedder, The Navy of the Restoration, from the Death of Cromwell to the Treaty of Breda... (Cambridge, 1916), v.

[12] MCM, March 1914, 245.

[13] Australasian (Melbourne), 15 January 1944.

[14] MCM, June 1919, 171.

[15] Australasian (Melbourne), 15 January 1944.

[16] V. Orange, "Mallory, Sir Trafford Leigh Leigh- (1892–1944)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. There was, of course, nothing wrong with being short. Tedder was also of medium build: small fighter planes did not welcome tall pilots.  

[17] The Magdalene Boat Club 1828-1928, 41-3. P.H. Hansen, "Mallory, George Herbert Leigh (1886–1924)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. D. Robertson, George Mallory (London, 1999), 34-49 deals with the Cambridge years. Often quoted is A.C. Benson's account of noticing a "fine-looking boy" in King's Chapel at the start of the Michaelmas Term of 1905 and his delight in discovering that he was "Mallory, from Winchester, one of our new exhibitioners… He is to be under me, and I rejoice at the thought."  P. Lubbock, ed, The Diary of Arthur Christopher Benson (London, 1926), 126-7.

[18] B. Newton Dunn, Big Wing: the Biography of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory (Shrewsbury, 1992), 17;

[19] MCM, December 1912, 124; Orange, Tedder: Quietly in Command, 15.

[20] The Times, 16 June 1913, 22 June 1914.

[21] Robertson, George Mallory, 122, 223.

[22] Newton Dunn, Big Wing, 52. He was not listed among the distinguished guests in The Times report.

[23] Robertson, George Mallory, 250.

[24] Tedder's biographer, Dr Vincent Orange, made these points in a lively conference paper in 2005: K. Brent, ed., Masters of Air Power (2nd ed., Canberra, 2010), 55-78:

[25] A. Danchev and D. Todman, eds,  War Diaries  ... Alanbrooke (London, 2001), 348-9 (15 December 1942).

[26] An incident in Moscow in August 1942 may have sowed the seeds of future trouble for Tedder with Churchill. At dinner in the dacha assigned to the British delegation, Churchill held forth in grandiose terms, describing Stalin "as a peasant who he could handle". Tedder, who was sure the building was bugged, scribbled a horrified warning in French on a menu card, "Méfiez-vous", and passed it to the Prime Minister. Tedder meant "Be careful", but the phrase could also be translated as "Behave yourself". Churchill interpreted the warning as a reprimand and – Tedder recalled – "gave me a glare which I shall never forget". Three years later, Churchill attempted to sack Tedder from SHAEF. D. Dilks, ed., The Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan ... (New York ed., 1972, cf. 1st ed. London, 1971), 471; Orange, Tedder: Quietly in Command, 183.

[27] Lord Moran, Winston Churchill: the Struggle for Survival (London, 1966), 51 (5 August 1942). Wilson met Tedder in Cairo. He was known to operate on an impressive scale. On the eve of the Tunisian campaign, Brendan Bracken, Churchill's Minister of Information, briefed an MP that "our concentration of aircraft under Tedder is such as the world has never seen". H. Nicolson (ed. N. Nicolson), Diaries and Letters 1939-1945 (London, 1970 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1967), 291 (22 April 1943).

[28] D. Hart-Davis, ed., King's Counsellor ... the Diaries of Sir Alan Lascelles (London, 2007 ed., cf 1st ed. 2006), 162 (14 September 1943).

[29] Hart-Davis, ed., King's Counsellor, 94-5 (3 February 1943). Lascelles was a good judge of character, but his generous interpretation of Tedder was influenced by sympathy: Rosalinde Tedder ("poor thing") had been killed in an air crash a few weeks earlier.

[30] Dr Cox was Head of the Air Historical Branch of the Royal Air Force. His assessment is in his preface to Orange, Tedder: Quietly in Command, xv. The relationship between Tedder and Eisenhower was the subject of an interesting lecture by Dr Harry Laver at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, University of Kansas, 2 May 2019:

[32] Few aircraft had taken part in the failed attempt to capture the west African port of Dakar in 1940.

[33] Like Big Wing, Dieppe is of course the subject of a vast literature. Sources used here include: D. Richards and H. Saunders, Royal Air Force 1939-1945, ii:… (London, 1954), 143-5; C P Stacey, Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, i… (Ottawa 1955), esp. 344, 398; P. Ziegler, Mountbatten… (London, 2001 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1985), 186-96; M. Gilbert, Road to Victory: Winston S. Churchill 1941-1945 (London, 1986), 210-12; F.H. Hinsley, British Intelligence in the Second World War (abridged ed., revised, London, 1994), 140-1, 178-9.

[34] A conflation of Leigh-Mallory's June 1944 comment in Newton Dunn, Big Wing, 127.

[35] Newton Dunn, Big Wing, 164.

[36] Dr Cox, in Orange, Tedder: Quietly in Command, xiv.

[37] "The Americans were reluctant to follow Leigh-Mallory's direction, but they accepted Tedder in the role of co-ordinator because he spoke for Eisenhower." C. Wilmot, The Struggle for Europe (London, 1959 ed., cf. 1st ed.,  1952), 234.

[38] Dilks, ed., The Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan, 528 (3 March 1944).

[39] Orange, Tedder: Quietly in Command, xiv.

[40] Again, I indicate basic sources out of the very many available: R. Overy, Why the Allies Won (New York, 1996 ed., cf. 1st ed., London, 1995), 134-79; Hinsley, British Intelligence in the Second World War, 435-504. Also useful is Overy's The Air War 1939-1945 and I retain an affection for an early postwar saga, Chester Wilmot's The Struggle for Europe.

[41] Gilbert, Road to Victory: Winston S. Churchill 1941-1945, 784.

[42] Ziegler, Mountbatten, 237, 286.

[43] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[44] J. Colville, The Fringes of Power…, ii… (London, 1987 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1985), 186 (5 January 1945); Orange, Tedder: Quietly in Command, 295-7; M. Gilbert, 'Never Despair': Winston S. Churchill 1945-1965 (London, 1988), 133.

[45] The Times, 4 February 1943, 7 November 1949; Orange, Tedder: Quietly in Command, 341.

[46]  Orange, Tedder: Quietly in Command, 356; The Times, 11 November 1950.

[47] His son by a second marriage, Richard Tedder, came to Magdalene as an Entrance Scholar in Natural Sciences in 1964 and has achieved a distinguished career as a virologist.