Sholto Douglas became head of Fighter Command after Hugh Dowding was removed from the post in 1941. Douglas played an active part in Fighter Command and the reputation he acquired during World War Two saw him promoted to Marshal of the RAF in 1946.
Sholto Douglas was born in Headington, Oxfordshire on December 23rd, 1893. He was educated at Tonbridge School in Kent and went to Lincoln College, Oxford.
When World War One broke out he joined the Royal Field Artillery. In 1915, he transferred to the newly formed Royal Flying Corps and qualified as a fighter pilot. By the time the war ended, Douglas was a squadron leader and had won the Military Cross and Distinguished Flying Cross. Destined for a life in the air, Douglas briefly became a test pilot for Handley Page after the war but in 1920 joined the Royal Air Force. He became a RAF instructor at the Imperial Defence College.
In 1936, Douglas became the Director of Staff Studies in the Air Ministry. In 1938, he was promoted to Air Vice Marshal and his particular responsibility was purchasing new equipment and training.
The Battle of Britain brought Douglas into conflict with other senior RAF officers such as Keith Park and the head of Fighter Command, Hugh Dowding. Douglas was in favour of meeting the Luftwaffe in combat before its planes reached the British coastline. Trafford Leigh-Mallory supported him. Dowding and Park believed that Fighter Command would be better served if it fought over British soil even if that allowed the Luftwaffe to actually fly over the British mainland. Air Chief Marshal Charles Portal agreed with Douglas and Leigh-Mallory and in November 1941 both Park and Dowding were removed from their posts. Douglas was appointed head of Fighter Command.
In this position he changed the tactics of Fighter Command. Using the ‘Big Wing’ strategy, Fighter Command flew over the Channel and the northern coastline of France and Belgium to meet the Luftwaffe before any of its planes got near to Britain. This tactic allowed a great number of Spitfires and Hurricanes to attack a large number of German planes with the result that a large number of German planes were shot down. However, with so many planes in use away from the British mainland, critics of the Big Wing claimed that as a tactic it left British cities and other targets open to attack by German planes that did manage to get across the British coastline having avoided the Big Wing.
In 1942, Douglas was sent to work in Egypt (Leigh-Mallory replaced him as head of Fighter Command) and in 1943, he was appointed the Commander-in-Chief of the RAF in the Middle East. In 1944, Douglas was Commander-in-Chief of Coastal Command in preparation for D-Day. His primary role was to ensure that the English Channel was cleared of German boats and planes during the crossing and in the immediate aftermath so that the Mulberry Harbour could be towed across without trouble. In this he was very successful.
At the end of World War Two, Douglas became the military governor of the British Occupation Zone in Germany. In recognition of the work he had done during the war, Douglas was knighted in January 1946 and promoted to Marshal of the RAF. He retired from active service in 1948 and became the 1st Baron Douglas of Kirtleside.
Sholto Douglas died on October 29th, 1969.