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Errors detract from book on intelligence

The Role of Intelligence in the Battle of Britain

Author: Norman Ridley

Publisher: Air World, 2021, hardback, RRP £9.99

ISBN: 978-1-39901-038-2

There is plenty of room for more writing on intelligence and the Battle of Britain. News of Norman Ridley’s book was therefore cheering. That feeling has not quite survived the reality of the volume in my hands.

The author who makes no mistakes has not yet been born. This author shows little evidence of having done research among the contemporary documents. There are copious endnotes but they appear to be references to other people’s publications. That is a recipe for regurgitating quite a few errors. Plenty of the volumes one might have expected Mr Ridley to refer to are absent from the list of sources, virtually all of which are books.

Multiple problems come when reference is made to a well known meeting in October 1940. Mr Ridley claims that the Chief of the Air Staff, “Air Vice-Marshal” Newall, “ambushed” Sir Hugh Dowding. He allegedly did that by allowing Squadron Leader Bader to attend and make remarks critical of Air Vice-Marshal Park of No 11 Group. Newall was not at the meeting. It was chaired by the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, Sholto Douglas and the prime mover in bringing about Bader’s presence was Trafford Leigh-Mallory of No 12 Group.

Here are some examples of other mistakes:

Sholto Douglas is sometimes referred to as “Sholto-Douglas” as though he had a double-barrelled surname. On P117 Douglas is described as “Chief of Air Staff”. Later in the same paragraph Sir Edward Ellington is “Chief of the Air Staff”, which is what he was from 1933 to 1937. Douglas was never CAS. From January 1936 to February 1938 he was Director of Staff Duties at the Air Ministry. Perhaps that is what is meant.

Dowding was Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Fighter Command, not Air Officer Commanding.

It would be interesting to see the evidence that Keith Park flew in action during the Battle of Britain. He was not “Sir Keith” until more than two years after the Battle.

Presumably “Sir Edward Mosley” should be translated as Sir Oswald Mosley.

We are told of a Royal Navy base at Scapa Flow, “in the Shetland Island”, rather than in Orkney.

The first name of “Wing Commander Sydney Cotton” was Sidney.

Stanley Baldwin was not Prime Minister when, on 10 November 1932, he spoke in the House of Commons of the concept that “the bomber will always get through”. The office he held at the time was Lord President of the Council. The Prime Minister then was Ramsay MacDonald.

There is a flawed account of “The Battle of Barking Creek” on 6 September 1939. David Lucking, the OC, RAF North Weald at the time, was a Group Captain, not a “Captain”. The suggestion that a court martial of two pilots was “convened on the spot” gives the impression of a drumhead court. In fact the court martial took place later at Bentley Priory. Both officers were exonerated.

The is no shortage of other sins of commission, not least that the index is a mess. There also seems to be a considerable omission. I could find no reference in the book to Edward Ashmore, commander of the London Air Defence Area towards the end of the First World War who surely deserves at least a nod.

Speaking in 1990 at a symposium organised by the RAF Historical Society and the RAF Staff College, Bracknell, the historian Derek Wood said of Major General Ashmore: “He is very often forgotten, but he was the first pioneer. He had gridded maps, he had common counters, he had a method of reporting, and he had sequences and timings. But he also did one other thing: he founded what is now the Royal Observer Corps, so he had two attributes so far as the defence of this country was concerned.” In other words Ashmore’s work contributed significantly to the “Dowding System” in use in 1940.

I have a recollection that an article on Edward Ashmore appeared in 1940 magazine some years ago. Perhaps the Memorial Trust could find a dog-eared copy somewhere and send it to Mr Ridley.*


*A far from dog-eared copy of the 1940 article is available by following this link. A full set of 1940 back issues will be sent to anyone who signs up to become a Friend of the Few.

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