Keith Park, as a senior officer in the Royal Air Force, played a key role in the Battle of Britain. Park commanded No. 11 Fighter Group – the group responsible for the southeast and the approaches to London within this region. No. 11 had an extremely important job and their regional responsibility meant that they were at the heart of the battle – as was their commander Keith Park.
Park was born in Thames, New Zealand, on June 15th 1892. When World War One was declared he volunteered to join the New Zealand Army. Park was commissioned and fought at the ANZAC disaster at Gallipoli. He survived the slaughter at Gallipoli but he was wounded in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. As a result of his wounds, he was sent back to England. He was based at barracks in Woolwich, London, where he trained to be an artillery instructor.
In 1917, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. He showed such bravery in the air that he was awarded the Military Cross in the same year. Park quickly gained a reputation and he was given the command of the 48th Squadron. In 1918, he joined the newly established Royal Air Force.
In 1939, Hugh Dowding appointed Park as commander of No.11 Fighter Group. The group’s first real task was to give air cover to the evacuations from the beaches of Dunkirk. It was during this evacuation that No.11 gained a reputation of being at least equal to the Luftwaffe – though many saw the pilots in it as superior, primarily because they had far fewer fighter planes to call on – just 200 were air combat ready.
The area that No. 11 was given to cover during the Battle of Britain meant that their role was a great significance. Park had a conservative attitude to aerial combat – he knew that any fighter plane lost – or more important a lost pilot – could prove extremely costly. Therefore, No. 11 gained a reputation for conservative tactics. This led to some levelling criticism at Park, such as Air Vice Marshall Trafford Leigh-Mallory who believed that Fighter Command should fly out to meet the Luftwaffe as it approached the coast of southern England. Park believed that this increased the risk to pilots and argued for his tactic of fighting the Luftwaffe over the southeast corner.
After the Battle of Britain ended, Park was removed from the command of No. 11 Fighter Group. He was replaced by Air Vice Marshall Trafford Leigh-Mallory.
Park was moved to a training group and then, in 1941, to Egypt where he took charge of the air force that was based there. In 1942, Park was moved to Malta where he co-ordinated the aerial defence of the island against German attack.
In January 1944, Park became the Supreme Commander of Air in the Middle East. In 1945, he was moved to Burma where he provided air cover to Slim.
After the war ended, Air Vice Marshall Park retired to New Zealand. He died in 1975.