Arthur William Tedder (1890-1967) may have been born into the elite of English society, but his was not a pampered life. He served his country as a hero, seeing action in two world wars and accepting the full responsibility of command over Allied air forces during World War II.
Arthur Tedder was born on July 11, 1890 in the Scottish town of Glenguin. He began his military career in 1913 when he joined the British Army. In 1916, he transferred to the Royal Air Force (RAF), serving during World War I in France from 1915 until 1917 and Egypt from 1918 to 1919. He received his permanent commission in the RAF in 1919 and remained there after the war, serving as a director of training from 1934 to 1936. In 1936, Tedder was promoted to RAF commander in the Far East where he remained until 1938, when he became director general of research in the Air Ministry.
Tedder's early experience with the RAF would prove invaluable during the war years. In his role as commander in the Far East, he would amass even more knowledge of military strategy. One of his first opportunities to apply his strong planning skills came in May 1941, when Tedder participated in the British evacuation of Crete. As German strength grew in the Middle East, British troops were forced back toward Canea and an evacuation of Crete was ordered. While the Royal Air Force at Egypt, under Tedder's command, promised fighter cover for the ships evacuating British ground troops, support was limited by the fact that few aircraft at his disposal had the necessary range to fly from Egypt to Crete. The operation suffered many casualties.
In November 1941, Tedder participated in Operation "Crusader," in Africa. The plans for attack on Tobruk were scheduled for November 23, 1941. On the 19th, Tedder reported to Prime Minister Winston Churchill that the initial air battle of November 18th had gone satisfactorily, although bad weather had adversely affected plans for neutralizing the enemy. He assured Churchill that the weather had also limited German action against the Allies during the first two days of the battle.
In the spring of 1942, when Germany's General Erwin Rommel launched an attack of Gazala west of Tobruk. Tedder communicated to Churchill that he had foreseen the attack and was ready for it. Rommel's attack on Tobruk failed and his troops were pummeled by Tedder's air forces. Unfortunately, the victory was short-lived, as Rommel turned the tide of battle from defeat to victory. With the loss of the tank battle, an immediate withdrawal of the 1st South African and 50th Division was ordered. The success of that withdrawal was due, in large measure, to the protection of Allied troops by the RAF.
In the summer of 1942, Churchill commended Tedder for his successful direction of the RAF. During August Tedder accompanied Churchill to Moscow where they met with Russian leader, Josef Stalin. Churchill proposed placing British and U.S. air troops at Russia's southern flank as a means of strengthening Russian air power and showing air superiority. Tedder's proposed plan received approval from Churchill with a recommendation that a similar proposal be drafted for presentation to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In October 1942, the battle against Rommel's forces for El Alamein [in North Africa] was launched. In contrast to battles fought earlier that same year, the British had the advantage of far superior forces. On the ground, Sherman tanks arrived from the United States, outnumbering the equipment of the enemy. In the air, Tedder, now air commander-in-chief in the Middle East, had air squadrons that included U.S., South African, Rhodesian, Australian, Greek, French, and Yugoslav forces assisting the RAF. The planes at his disposal numbered over 1,500, with 1,200 of those based in Egypt and Palestine in support of a ground attack on Alamein. By comparison, German and Italian serviceable aircraft numbered only 350.
Tedder applied this superior air capability to harassing the Panzerarmee supply flow, while also protecting the supplies of the Eighth Army. Working closely with the Royal Navy, he extended the harassment of the Panzerarmee's sea-artery supply and aided in the sinking of German supply ships. By September 1942, a third of Germany's supplies had failed to cross the Mediterranean, either sunk or returned to their source. The following month more than half of Germany's supplies failed to arrive. In a memo from Churchill to Tedder, the prime minister commended the commander for his leadership.
During the Casablanca Conference at the beginning of 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill's combined chiefs of staff agreed that taking Tunis should be the next point of focus. It was at this conference that leadership of the Allied forces was conferred upon General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Naval command was placed under Admiral Cunningham and Tedder was named air marshal. Tedder assumed command of the front in February 1943, with the Battle of Tunisia at its height. Roosevelt suggested that it would be strategically advantageous for the Allies to stress these appointments and ensure that the leader's plans and duties be filtered to the enemy. Churchill agreed, but expressed concern that no favoritism be shown toward Eisenhower at the expense of commanders Alexander and Tedder, lest the general public be discouraged.
In May 1943, Tedder, Alexander, and Cunningham met and voiced agreement with Churchill and Brooke that Italy should be invaded. To convince Eisenhower, they met with Eisenhower, Marshall, and Bedell Smith to discuss the proposed taking of the island of Pantilleria as the southern assault on Sicily to begin this campaign.
By the summer Tedder's command had solidified in preparation for the invasion of Sicily. His forces included those of General Spaatz, U.S. Army Air Force; and Air Marshal Coningham. With a driving need to take ports and airfields early in the attack, Tedder argued to narrow the attack and seize the southeastern group of airfields. This was successfully employed through the use of amphibious load carriers.
As 1943 came to a close, Churchill proposed to Roosevelt a remodeling of leadership after discussion with Eisenhower, Alexander, and Tedder. For Operation "Overlord"-also known as "D-Day"-Churchill recommended Tedder as Eisenhower's deputy supreme commander because of the role planned for the air forces. Roosevelt gladly accepted this recommendation. As plans for D-Day began to solidify, Tedder's role became even more vital. Recent experiences had proven that success could best be achieved through a cooperative effort of all the military forces.
The next step was implementing the "Transportation Plan." This operation was designed to use bombers to paralyze the French railway on the eve of Overlord. Eisenhower had worked closely with Tedder in the Mediterranean and he liked and admired the man enormously. Despite some opposition to the plan, he named Tedder to personally supervise the campaign. Tedder identified over 70 railroad targets in France and Belgium, intentionally directing traffic away from lower Normandy in order to maintain secrecy about the invasion site. Although opposition remained strong, Eisenhower was convinced that the Transportation Plan was necessary to the success of Overlord. The success of these attacks, in turn, convinced Tedder that they should be continued into Germany, where the collapse of the German rail system would result in the collapse of its economy.
With only hours left before the final decision had to be made on whether to begin Operation Overlord, bad weather raged across the English Channel and Eisenhower solicited his subordinates for their opinions. Tedder recommended postponement, concerned that poor visibility would have a devastating affect on the ability of his bombers to provide the cover needed. The decision, however, was to move ahead on June 6.
Historians generally agree that under the direction of Tedder, the Allied air forces commanded the skies. Their paralyzing effect on the enemy was a decisive factor in getting the Allied troops to shore on June 6. By destroying bridges over the Seine and Loire rivers, they effectively isolated Normandy, forcing the Germans into long detours and endless delays.
In the immediate aftermath of Overlord, additional operations were planned to keep the enemy off balance. One of these, which Montgomery had characterized as a major "break-out," resulted in the Allies' failure to take advantage of heavy enemy casualties. In an attempt to break through enemy lines and open the way to Paris, Eisenhower pushed Montgomery to take action and was assured that a "big show" would occur on July 9. Montgomery asked for and got air support from Tedder. However, Montgomery's attack failed and he called it off, angering both Eisenhower and Tedder. Two days later, Montgomery again promised an offensive he named Operation "Goodwood." Tedder arranged for a sensational show of support, bringing together 1,600 British and U.S. heavy bombers and 400 medium bombers, dropping a total of 7,800 tons of bombs on German defenses; 2,500 tons sited for the German fortifications at Caen; and 650 tons for Cagny. Tedder carefully coordinated the air attack with ground attacks in order to avoid any lulls that could give the enemy an opportunity to regroup.
The saturation bombing started the offensive, but it quickly failed. After sustaining heavy losses, Montgomery called it off. Tedder was furious at this second failure and demanded that Montgomery be fired, which did not come to pass.
Throughout the last year of the war, the Allies achieved air superiority and the success of D-Day turned the tide of the war in Europe. In January 1945, Eisenhower sent Tedder to Moscow to seek assistance from the Russians, as a way of relieving pressure on Allied forces in the west. By May a total and unconditional surrender occurred with formal ratification by the German High Command in Berlin. Tedder signed on behalf of Eisenhower, Marshal Zhukov signed for Russia, and Field-Marshal Keitel signed for Germany.
In 1942, Tedder had been knighted. At the war's end, in 1946, he was elevated to the peerage and named a baron. Tedder served as Great Britain's first peacetime chief of air staff and as a senior member of the Air Council from 1946 until 1950. In 1950, he became chancellor of Cambridge University. Tedder published his memoirs, With Prejudice: The War Memoirs of Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Lord Tedder. in 1966.
Tedder was married to Rosalinde Maclary, who died in 1943. At Rosalinde's request Tedder married again, to his young service driver, "Toppy" Seton. In his last years he became severely crippled with Parkinson's disease and died at Well Farm in Banstead, Surrey, England, on June 3, 1967.
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Independent, February 24, 1994.