Sholto Douglas

Sholto Douglas

Sholto Douglas was a significant air commander in World War Two. When Hugh Dowding lost the position in 1941, Sholto Douglas became head of Fighter Command. On the back of his successes in World War Two, Douglas had a promotion to Marshal of the RAF in 1946.

Born in 1893 in Headington, Sholto Douglas studied at Tonbridge School in Kent and then at Lincoln College, Oxford.

At the outbreak of World War One Douglas signed up to the Royal Field Artillery. He transferred over to the Royal Flying Corps which had recently been formed and trained as a fighter pilot. By When the war came to an end Douglas was already a squadron leader. He won the Military Cross and Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in World War One.

After working for a short period as a test pilot for Handley Page, Douglas became a member of the Royal Air Force in 1920. He went to work at the Imperial Defence College as an RAF instructor. Douglas was promoted in 1936 to the role of Director of Staff Studies in the Air Ministry, then further promoted in 1938 to Air Vice Marshal. In this position he was responsible for training and the purchase of new equipment.

During the Battle of Britain from July to September 1940, Douglas and other high ranking RAF officers (for example Keith Park and Hugh Dowding, the head of Fighter Command) disagreed about how best to meet the Germans in the air. Douglas favoured meeting with the Luftwaffe in combat before its planes arrived at the British coastline. In particular, Trafford Leigh-Mallory showed his support for this idea. Both Dowding and Park argued that Fighter Command would stand a better chance if it fought over British soil - even if that meant the Luftwaffe were able to fly directly over the British mainland. However, Air Chief Marshal Charles Portal disagreed with Fighter Command Chief Dowding. Dowding and Park were sacked from their positions and Douglas replaced Dowding as head of Fighter Command.

Douglas swiftly changed Fighter Command’s tactics. He implemented the 'Big Wing' strategy: Fighter Command planes flew over the Channel and along the French and Belgium northern coastlines to approach the Luftwaffe before any of its planes came near Britain. Many German planes ended up being shot down with this tactic. However, some Big Wing critics claimed that the strategy of sending a vast amount of planes away from Britain left the island a sitting target if German planes managed to evade the ‘Big Wing’.

Douglas went to Egypt in 1942. Leigh-Mallory became the new head of Fighter Command and Douglas was made Commander-in-Chief of the RAF in the Middle East in 1943. The next year, he became Commander-in-Chief of Coastal Command in the run-up to D-Day. Douglas’ number one priority was to make sure the English Channel was completely clear of German boats and planes when the crossing occurred and its immediate aftermath, meaning the Mulberry Harbour was able to be pulled across with no problems. He was capable of carrying out this task successfully.

When Nazi Germany was defeated, Douglas became the military governor of the British Occupation Zone in Germany. He was knighted in 1946, retired in 1948 from active service and died on 29 October 1969.

See also: Dwight Eisenhower

MLA Citation/Reference

"Sholto Douglas". 2023. Web.

Key facts

Name: Air Chief Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas
Birth Date: 23 December 1893, Headington, England
Death: 29 October 1969 (aged 75), Northampton, England
Military History:
  • Douglas served as fighter pilot in World War One.
  • During World War Two he was made head of Fighter Command. He implemented the ‘big wing’ strategy.
  • In 1942 he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the RAF in the Middle East.
  • He acted as Commander-in-Chief of Coastal Command during the D-Day landings.
Awards/ decorations:
  • 1916: Military Cross
  • 1919: Distinguished Flying Cross
  • 1924: Croix de guerre (French)
  • 1942: Order of Polonia Restituta 2nd Class
  • 1943: Order of the White Lion (Czechoslovakia)
  • 1945: Grand Cross of the Order of St Olav (Norway)
  • 1947: Grand Officer of the Order of the Crown (Belgium)