Obituary: Air Chief Marshal Sir Edmund Hudleston
Edmund Hudleston had a remarkably successful career in the Royal Air Force. One of its more unusual aspects was that he proved to be an outstanding operational commander both during the Second World War and the attack on Egypt in 1956 without having, as was usual, much direct experience of the operations concerned. This lack of personal operational experience could be attributed to two factors.
The first was his age at the outbreak of war, having joined the Royal Air Force through a Cranwell cadetship in 1927. It may come as a surprise that, born and educated in Australia, he did not in the first place choose the Royal Australian Air Force, butthis was a normal pattern at the time. The fact was that, for gifted and ambitious young men, the Air Forces of the Dominions could then offer only limited career prospects. Consequently, the best of them were often attracted to the Royal Air Force which was rightly seen as a force able to offer wider scope and greater opportunity. This, of course, was naturally of great advantage to the RAF itself, providing a pool of forceful and able young men of whom there were many examples to be found among the leaders in the critical years to come. It is interesting to note that today the process is being reversed.
Eddy Hudleston was 31 years old when the Second World War came, marginally too old to embark on operational flying. Also, his pre-war career did not involve much squadron service. He was a highly effective flying instructor at Cranwell from 1930 to 1933.Thereafter, he spent nearly four years as a Group Armament Officer in support of operations on the North-West Frontier, during which he did see some action and was mentioned in dispatches. But, on his return home in 1938, he first attended the RAF StaffCollege at Andover and then, to his disappointment, was seconded to the emerging Turkish Air Force in a general instructional capacity. He was later to describe this appointment as Frustrating, Entertaining and Dangerous - FED up.
The second factor was that during the Second World War he was selected as one of the few senior serving officers who were permitted to read the top-secret signals (Ultra) emanating from the breaking of the German Enigma cipher system. Officers so qualified were discouraged from operational flying, particularly over enemy territory where the risk of capture and interrogation was unacceptable.
In 1941, Hudleston finally left Turkey for Egypt, but still found himself largely confined to staff appointments, albeit many of great importance. For his work in them he was three times mentioned in despatches and regularly promoted, becoming an Air Vice-Marshal in 1944 at the early age of 36. Now at last he was given an operational command, number 84 Group in the Second Allied Tactical Air Force, operating into Europe. He proved a natural leader and also a master of inter-service relations, no easy matter in those particularly stressful times. He had natural charm and friendliness, but could also speak sharply and critically when he felt that the situation demanded it.
When the war finished, Hudleston attended the Imperial Defence College (IDC) in London and played a leading part in planning post-war strategy, both national, and international, and in designing the appropriate forces to implement it.
For 10 years after the war he alternated between appointments in Europe and commands within Bomber Command, the latter at a particularly critical stage in its history when the implementation of nuclear deterrents was solely the responsibility of that command.
In 1956, during a period as an instructor at the IDC, he was suddenly ordered to Cyprus to head all the air operations in the ill-fated attack on Egypt. His performance and that of the air forces won general acclaim, but he later admitted that he never felt that the political situation gave much prospect of success, and that consequently he was apprehensive about sustaining heavy casualties in it. His performance justified his next appointment of Vice-Chief of the Air Staff in 1957.
Whereafter his service career terminated with the command of Transport Command and finally of Allied Forces Central Europe. It had been 40 years of distinguished, if not always glamorous, service which generated much respect for a man who was satisfied only with the best from himself and his subordinates.
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