Louis Strange DSO, OBE, MC, DFC and bar
The Flying Rebel.
I recently acquired a book by Peter Hearn (published by the RAF Museum at Hendon) about the extraordinary and eventful career of Louis Strange and much enjoyed it. A fascinating man, superb and courageous pilot and pioneer airman of the old school.
He was one of the first pilots of the RFC sent to France in 1914. He was noted for his ability to tackle any job and do it his way, throwing away the rule book and cutting through red tape in the process regardless of the wrath of those in authority.
Strange has a connection with 103 Sq as he OC 80 Wing IX Brigade of which 103 Sqn were a part in 1918.
Strange and 80 Wing pioneered low level tactical bombing on German railway communications and airfields achieving much success in the process.
After WW1 he commanded the Flying Wing of RAF Cadet College Cranwell but left the Air Force due to exhaustion and other health issues in 1922.
Strange returned to farming but maintained his interest in flying taking part in many air races and being closely involved in the Spartan aircraft project. He rejoining the RAF in 39 and had not mellowed with age.
His career in WW2 was notable for the establishment of the Parachute Training School for the fledgling Airborne Forces in 1940, being the CFI of the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit for the training of "Hurricat" pilots and personnel in 1941 and to 46 Gp as Wing Commander Operations in 44/45 which took him to mainland Europe after D Day.
Whilst OC RAF Hawkinge in 1942 Wing Commander Strange continued to do things in his own inimitable style. His dislike of bumf, capacity for hard work, accessibility, enthusiasm and reputation endeared him to all at Hawkinge and he thoroughly enjoyed his short time there.
After three months however he was informed that he was to be posted to HQ 12 Group with the rank of supernumerary Squadron Leader. Not only posted but demoted !
Not that rank was ever of great concern to him, neither his own or anyone else's. During his considerable fluctuations in rank he was once asked
"What rank are you exactly ?"
"Why - does it matter ?" was his curt response.
Strange demanded an explanation for his posting from Hawkinge and eventually was granted a formal interview with Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, Air Marshal Trafford Leigh Mallory.
He was told that his biggest mistake was to continually exceed his authority riding rough shod over acceptable procedures.
Although Strange did not openly discuss the details of the meeting a close friend subsequently stated that Strange sharply corrected Leigh Mallory. He told him that his biggest mistake was, in fact, made in 1916 when he was a Colonel and he had not sent a very junior Leigh Mallory back to his Regiment when he had been on the carpet before him for a very serious lapse of duty ! The interview was concluded.
The brilliant and somewhat eccentric Robert Smith-Barry, a close friend of Louis Strange, also fell foul of Leigh Mallory and refers to this in a letter to their mutual friend W A Ramsey.
You're probably in command of something by now. If not, would you care to be Station Commander at Stapleford Tawney. I don't mind making it over to you. Leigh Mallory sacked me so quick - he never said why - that I never handed over and am therefore still Commander. But you may have it if you like dear fellow. It must be a nice little place in the summer.
If you see Louis Strange give him my love and tell him I like his ugly son whom I meet out here occasionally.
Yes it was a pity Louis also got bounced by Leigh Mallory. You know of course that LS is worth 450 Leigh Mallorys, however much you may have liked his woman.
Louis Strange - the bravest man in the world ..."
In spite of his undoubted ability to ruffle feathers in high places Louis Strange accumulated an impressive and varied array of decorations for his service in the two World Wars. Namely the DSO, OBE, MC, DFC and bar and an American Bronze Star. He was one of the few airmen to be awarded DFC in both conflicts. Lt Gen Lewis Brereton OC 1st Allied Airborne Army personally wrote Strange's Bronze Star citation.
Louise died in 1966.
Written by David Fell