: John T. LaSaine, Jr.
University Press of New England
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Hugh Dowding may be described as the prime architect of British victory in the battle of Britain, and thus as one of a handful of officers and men most responsible for ensuring that Hitler's planned invasion of England never occurred. Dowding was born in 1882 at the apex of British imperial power and had an early career as a gunner on the fabled North-West Frontier of the British Indian Empire. During the first year of World War I, he served with distinction as a combat pilot in France, but his real test would come in 1936, when he was assigned the critical task of reorganizing the Air Defense of Great Britain as the first air officer commanding-in-chief of the new RAF Fighter Command. In that capacity he stood up to senior staff--and Winston Churchill--by preventing the dismantling of British air defenses during the Battle of France in the spring of 1940, defying pressure from the British Army, Britain's French allies, and His Majesty's Government to send the bulk of the RAF's front-line fighters to the Continent in what Dowding predicted would be a futile effort to stem the German onslaught. While holding back as many of his best fighter aircraft as he could, in June Dowding deployed 11 Group under his hand-picked lieutenant, Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park, to repulse the Luftwaffe over Dunkirk, covering the evacuation of some 338,000 British and French troops from the Continent. During the three months of fighting known as the Battle of Britain, the integrated air defense system organized and trained by Dowding fought the vaunted Luftwaffe to a standstill in daylight air-to-air combat. In October, the Germans abandoned their attempt to win a decisive battle for air superiority over England, turning instead to the protracted campaign of attrition by nighttime area bombing known as the Blitz. In building, defending, and overseeing the operations of Fighter Command, Dowding was thus not only one of the master builders of air power, but also the only airman to have been the winning commander in one of history's decisive battles.