Sholto Douglas file photo [11107]

Sholto Douglas

Given NameSholto
Born23 Dec 1893
Died29 Oct 1969
CountryUnited Kingdom


ww2dbaseWilliam Sholto Douglas was born in Headington, Oxfordshire, England, United Kingdom to father Professor Robert Langton Douglas and Margaret Jane Douglas (née Cannon). He attended Tonbridge School and Lincoln College, Oxford, England. In WW1, he was initially assigned to the Royal Field Artillery, but he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps after having a disagreement with his commanding officer. With the No. 2 Squadron RFC, he was initially an observer, but soon learned to fly, earning Royal Aero Club certificate No 1301. By Sep 1917, he was at the rank of major and was commanding No. 84 Squadron of fighters. He was awarded the Military Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his WW1 service. During the inter-war years he worked briefly with the aircraft manufacturing firm Handley Page and as a commercial pilot. In 1920, he joined the Royal Air Force. He became an RAF instructor before he was appointed to the Air Ministry in 1936. In 1938, he was promoted to the rank of air vice marshal.

ww2dbaseDuring the Battle of Britain in WW2, Deputy Chief of Air Staff Douglas (as of Apr 1940) was on the side of Trafford Leigh-Mallory in terms of strategy, advocating large formations of fighters; it was his belief that if the British could deal enough damage against large German formations, the Luftwaffe would soon be disheartened and give up the aerial offensive. On 17 Dec 1940, after the Battle of Britain, he wrote:

The best, if not the only way of achieving air superiority is to shoot down a large proportion of enemy bombers every time they come over. It would be better to do this before they reach their objective if possible, but I would rather shoot down fifty of the enemy bombers after they have reached their objective than shoot down only ten before they do so.

ww2dbaseThis came in conflict with that of Hugh Dowding and Keith Park, who advocated small but continuous fighter attacks to counter German bombers. In Oct 1940, when Charles Portal was made Chief of the Air Staff, Portal disagreed with Dowding and Park, and Douglas replaced Dowding as Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of RAF Fighter Command. Although now Leigh-Mallory and Douglas could deploy their "Big Wing" strategy, the Battle of Britain was largely over. In 1942, he was transferred to Egypt, and Leigh-Mallory succeeded him at the helm of Fighter Command. In 1943, he became the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of RAF Middle East Command. He returned to Britain in 1944 and became the chief of Coastal Command during the Allied invasion of Normandy, France.

ww2dbaseAfter the war, Douglas was named the commander of the British Zone of Occupation in Germany. In 1946, he was promoted to the rank of Marshal of the Royal Air Force, making him one of only two RAF officers to hold that rank without serving as Chief of the Air Staff. In 1948, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Douglas of Kirtleside, of Dornock in the County of Dumfries. He retired from military service in 1948. Between 1949 and 1964, he was the chairman of British European Airways. He published two volumes of autobiography; Years of Combat dealt with his experiences in WW1, while Years of Command focused on WW2. He passed away at Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent in southern England.

Stephen Bungay, The Most Dangerous Enemy

Last Major Revision: Oct 2010


Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Sholto Douglas of RAF Middle East, Jan 1943-Jan 1944Allied Expeditionary Air Force officers at a conference, Aug 1944; L to R: Amery, Royce, Douglas, Harris, Leigh-Mallory, Anderson, Doolittle, Parks, and Hill


Knights of the Air - The RAF

Sholto Douglas Timeline

23 Dec 1893 Sholto Douglas was born in Headington, Oxfordshire, England, United Kingdom.
20 Jan 1944 Air Chief Marshal Sir William Sholto Douglas was appointed Commander-in-Chief of RAF Coastal Command.
29 Oct 1969 Sholto Douglas passed away at Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England, United Kingdom.

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Event(s) Participated:
» Battle of Britain
» Cairo Conference

Sholto Douglas Photo Gallery
Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Sholto Douglas of RAF Middle East, Jan 1943-Jan 1944
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