Tactics by Tedder
He shuns insignia, wears few medals, hates red tape, prefers anonymity . . . yet traditionsmashing Tedder is Britain’s shrewdest invasion architect
L. S. B. SHAPIRO Maclean’s War Correspondent
LONDON (By Cable)—Last Dec. 28 a combined statement issued by the White House and 10 Downing Street announced the appointment of Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur William Tedder as deputy supreme commander of Second Front operations.
In a villa at Algiers, Tedder, in his shirt sleeves, his legs dangling over the arm of a chair, looked up at his press liaison officer.
“I think, sir,” the officer said, “I should leave for London and do some preliminary work preparatory to your arrival.”
Tedder removed his pipe from his mouth. A sly grin broke over his puckish face. “You mean,” he said, “you want to give me a buildup.”
“Well—yes,” stuttered the officer.
“Well—no,” said Tedder. “As far as the world at large is concerned I don’t want a buildup. And with people who know me I hope I don’t need a buildup. Forget it.”
Tedder likes it that way—not because he’s inordinately modest but because just such a ludicrous situation, in which his subordinates are wildly applauded while he goes practically unnoticed, appeals to his sense of humor. His position affords him
the opportunity of making his own jokes on the highest level of sarcastic humor. At the Cairo conference he drove his own jeep in a cavalcade of shiny limousines carrying his colleagues, and he’s laughed about it ever since.
Here in London he’s rarely recognized on the street. That is because he wears a forage cap which carries no badges of rank and an RAF raincoat which has no insignia. Thus attired he’ll drop in at an Air Force hostel and fall into conversation with aircraftmen who have no idea with whom they are talking. The most famous story along this line developed when he was commander-in-chief of air operations in the Middle East. Wearing a bush shirt he stepped from a jeep one day to talk to some maintenance men. It was a hot day and the men, not recognizing him, chaffed him about his regulation black tie.
He parried with, “Oh, I’m a headquarters bloke. And you know how stuffy the commander-in-chief of air operations is in the Middle East.”
If the world does not know Tedder, neither does it appreciate his position as Eisenhower’s deputy. He isn’t, as most people suppose, the supreme commander’s air adviser. That job belongs to Air Chief Marshal Leigh - Mallory, who is in charge of all invasion air activity. Nor was Tedder’s appointment dictated by recognition of the importance of air power in the invasion.
Tedder’s function in the Second Front hierarchy is that of Eisenhower’s chief colleague in the develop-
ment of grand strategy on land, sea, and in the air. He’s senior British officer and he bears responsibility for the activity of Montgomery on land, Sir Bertram Ramsay at sea, and Leigh-Mallory in the air. Just as Mountbatten, who still wears naval uniform, is supreme commander of all forces in southeast Asia, Tedder is top British commander of all invasion forces in the West, though he still wears Air Force blue. He’s not especially concerned with air beyond its general significance in the over-all problems of attack. Indeed he has been removed officially from the RAF lists for special duty with the supreme command.
On the surface there appears to be something mysterious attached to Tedder’s elevation to the most important command in the Empire. He didn’t attend
Sandhurst; his education followed the routine civilian pattern of grammar school and Cambridge. He’s never been the hero of a spectacular victory. He’s never made the front page headlines. He wears fewer decorations than any of his colleagues. He’s never commanded enough publicity to hurry the hand of his superiors in giving him promotion. And he hasn’t got personality with a capital “P.”
At this momentous time, when the Allies are embarked on the greatest military venture in the history of western warfare, the top Britisher of the invasion forces is the least famous of those upon whom victory depends. While the name of Montgomery, who takes orders from Tedder, is a household word, Sir Arthur’s name will evoke no more than a hazy response in any quiz contest.
Yet it surprised no one on the inside of the war office or air ministry when his nomination as deputy supreme commander was promptly and unanimously approved by Churchill, Roosevelt and the chiefs of staff. It is said there was less discussion about Tedder’s appointment than any other. The reason is plain. His record of more than 30 years of service in His Majesty’s forces fails to show a single failure and since 1938 his achievements have been prodigious. Sitting at his desk, sucking his inevitable pipe, he’s won more victories for the Allies than any of the storied commanders in the field. It is no wonder that Roosevelt, Churchill and the chiefs of staff, men who know and appreciate the unseen details behind headlino victories, agreed that Tedder’s is the brain needed for the toughest and most intricate of all military operations.
Tedder’s job as a ground commander completes the cycle which began on the ground in 1913 when, as a student fresh out of Cambridge, he obtained a second lieutenancy with the Dorset Regiment. Then 23
years old, he didn’t seriously consider a military career. Rather, he inclined toward writing, his literary appetite whetted by the successful publication of his Cambridge thesis on “The Navy of the Restoration.” His father, then chief of British customs and excise bureaus, advised young Arthur to join the Government service.
The outbreak of World War 1 found Tedder in the Fiji Islands as colonial administrator. He returned to England immediately and proceeded to France as a first lieutenant with the Dorsets. He fought on the western front for a year, winning a captaincy in the field in 1916. But a leg injury and general weariness with trench warfare prompted him to ask for a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps and before the end of the year he was flying a bomber over the western front.
He was an indifferent combat pilot for six months, during which time he won no medals. How’ever, his penchant for administration came so forcibly to the attention of his superiors that he was given a series of training commands in the Middle Elast and England. When the war ended he decided to make a career with the newly organized RAF and on Jan. 8, 1919, he w’as appointed a permanent squadron leader. During the next 20 years his career took him all over the Iimpire in increasingly important training and command posts. By 1924 he was a wing commander; a group captain by 1931; an air commodore by 1934 and in 1937 he was made an air vice-marshal, ‘commanding the Singapore station.
On Aug. 1, 1938, his career began in earnest. As Hitler was stoking the fires of the Sudetenland and boiling up the Munich Fact, Tedder was brought back to London to become director general of research and development at the Air Ministry. Hitler had never heard of Tedder then. This was unfortunate for Hitler, because Tedder’s brain was then working
toward Germany’s defeat. When, in 1940, the immortal few fought the Battle of Britain, Tedder was said to be the back room boy behind the historic victory.
IN 1938 the German Air Ecorce was paramount in Europe and Tedder was called upon to make a decision on policy which, as it turned out, was to shape the history of the world. He rejected a suggestion that Britain should mimic Germany and build an Air E’orce designed for close support of an Army. Instead he approved development of planes like the Spitfire and Hurricane which, though lacking in dive-bombing quality, could meet and defeat the Luftwaffe in the sky. Thus when the Battle of Britain developed RAE’ fighters were on hand to do the job Tedder had foreseen at Munich. If Tedder had made any other decision Britain would have found itself with a fleet of close-support planes and no Army to support. The Battle of Britain would have been lost and with it the war.
On Aug. 1, 1940, Tedder was shifted to the Ministry of Aircraft Production to work with Beaverbrook on the urgent problem of getting enough Spitfires and Hurricanes into the air to beat off the impending invasion. The success of this job is a matter of newspaper record, though nobody mentioned Tedder. Ele might have remained at his desk in Whitehall the rest of his days had it not been for the misfortune which befell Air Marshal Owen T. Boyd. The latter was flying to assume the deputy air command of the Middle East when he was forced down in Sicily and taken prisoner. Tedder was sent to Cairo as a replacement. On June 1, 1941, he became commanderin-chief of air operations in the Middle East.
Here was an air tactician’s paradise—months of good weather, superb visibility and a spacious desert battlefield. If any man had theories to prove, this was the place to prove them. Tedder had three theories. He proved them all so conclusively that the entire concept of air warfare was revolutionized and, in the process, the desert campaign was won. These theories were:
One: Army and Air E’orce must work together as a single team, not as*two parallel teams. This rather obvious wisdom had never been invoked before, largely because rivalries have a way of cropping up at most embarrassing times and because the brass hats are notoriously sticky about personal authority. Tedder didn’t believe in this foolishness. He called together his staff' and said simply: “We’ve got to eat and sleep with the Army. The airman has got to live in sin with the soldier. That’s the only way to victory.” By way of.illustrating his point he moved in bag and baggage with Montgomery and together they made a daily plan of battle. This Tedder accomplishment has become standard practice in every subsequent Allied campaign.
Two: Air power must begin its campaign months
in advance of the first land battle by concentrating on the weakening of the enemy’s supply system. Tedder organized “milk runs” to Tobruk and Bengasi long before the Alamein battle was joined. By patient pounding he reduced Rommel’s supplies to the danger point. Never before had air power been used so effectively in advance of battle.
Three: A sudden concentration of high explosive
bombs on a narrow sector can cut a path through the strongest enemy defense line. Tedder set out to prove this theory on Oct. 23, 1942, on the eve of the Alamein battle. In collaboration with Montgomery, he drew a corridor through Rommel’s main defenses, 1,000 yards wide and three miles long. Then he sent squadron after squadron, nose to tail, to drop bombs on every square yard of this area. Montgomery’s troops followed through, found the Germans completely disorganized, and pushed on to the Alamein victory.
Thus was born the tactic known as “The Tedder Carpet.” The “carpet” was used subsequently with magnificent results at El Hamma near the Mareth line, at the Kasserine in southern Tunisia, at Massicot on the eve of the push to Tunis and at Battipaglia which saved the Salerno Army.
TH EISE three theories, all considered supreme common sense by the man in the street, were never tested properly until Tedder put them into operation. Only a man whose concentration on victory is greater than his respect for the niceties of military tradition could have done it. Tedder is such a man. He demonstrated the full scope and power of air superiority, and did it with such skilful collaboration with
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the Army that Churchill and Roosevelt began to regard him as a military tactician of the highest order as well as an air expert. The man who combined such flexibility of common sense and administrative genius under his brass hat was obviously an ideal architect of the Second Front. No wonder Tedder’s appointment was prompt and unanimous.
In December, 1942, with Alamein bright and recent history, Tedder was recalled to London to become vice-chief of the air staff. In this capacity he wrote a report recommending a single air command in the Mediterranean to co-ordinate the work of the Eighth Army’s tactical and the First Army’s strategic Air Forces, then closely approaching each other’s areas of operation. Churchill, Roosevelt and Eisenhower agreed with Tedder’s recommendation and decided there was only one man for the job of supreme air commander. On Feb. 17, 1943, Tedder was back in the Mediterranean, this time “living in sin” with Eisenhower. Together they planned the Sicilian and south Italy campaigns.
Today Tedder and Eisenhower occupy adjoining offices at invasion headquarters. But Tedder is no longer an airman. “Ike,” as Tedder calls him, decided long ago that “Chief,” as he calls Tedder, is as fine a soldier as ever planned a campaign, even though he wears Air Force blue under an old raincoat.
The extraordinary thing about Tedder personally is that although he is considered to have brain power amounting to genius, he has none of the airs and temperament of greatness. He’s never been known to utter a harsh word to subordinates. He has no eccentricities, except possibly a pungent sense of humor. When he moved into a villa at Algiers he found on a wall a modernistic painting of amateurish quality. He turned the picture upside down and invited guests to admire it. He tested “yes men” by the extent of their admiration for this artistic atrocity.
While he’s in London Tedder lives in a modest suburban home with the new Lady Tedder and his grown-up daughter—an officer in the WAAFS. The first Lady Tedder was killed in a flying accident near Cairo in 1942, shortly after Tedder was knighted for his work in the Alamein victory. He married the present Lady Tedder in North Africa in the autumn of 1943. She
was a civilian worker at an RAF club in Algiers. The elder of Tedder’s two sons was killed on bombing operations in 1941. His younger son is at school.
Tedder’s main hobbies are sketching and reading poetry. He rarely goes anywhere without carrying crayons and a sketching pad. “He has a wonderful gift for catching a likeness,” says Lady Tedder, “although few of his victims are ever aware of it.” Among his prize sketches are some of Churchill piloting a bomber en route to Moscow in 1942.
But Tedder has no time for sketching now. He works 16 hours a day on invasion details, most of these across the desk from Eisenhower.
Breaker of Precedent
He’ll go down in British military history as the man who broke more precedents than any other senior officer and who won more victories in the process. Like all airmen he has a violent disregard for tradition. His motto is —“To hell with history! What is the problem?”
His influence on air warfare is of historic importance. Yet he’s a man of no known ambition beyond victory. He’s the storied Englishman who having served his country well prefers to retire to the country, smoke his pipe before a fire, and chuckle over the eccentricities of celebrities. He considers himself part of the great general public and in so far as he applies common sense to the problems of war, he is in reality the great general public’s delegate on the high command. He wields authority without waving a brass hat.
The other day as Tedder passed along a street near his headquarters my companion said, “But that can’t be Tedder. He just doesn’t look like an air chief marshal.” Tedder’s later reaction to that observation was direct. It is his idea that when he begins to look like an air chief marshal it will be long past the proper time for him to retire.
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