The Most Dangerous Enemy 10: The Defenders
Faster than a speeding bullet! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Is it a bird? Is it an aeroplane? NO! It’s Keith Park!
‘The Defenders’ is dedicated to the major personnel fighting the battle on the British end: Hugh Dowding and his immediate subordinates Keith Park, Trafford Leigh-Mallory, Richard Saul and Quintin Brand.
Dowding gets comparatively little attention. Bungay does dwell on the shabby treatment he received, especially regarding the constantly moving date of his retirement. The manner of his actual retirement is treated without the usual drama other writers engage in, that of calling it a palace coup by Air Vice Marshal Sholto Douglas in concert with Leigh-Mallory. This, as we shall see, is merely a minor sop to the opposition.
Park gets built up to almost saint-like proportions as the ideal leader, beloved by his men, a visionary who understood what Dowding wanted and executed it almost perfectly. This is outright hagiography; reinforced by a completely unneccesary emphasis on Park’s Christian faith.
The words used for Leigh-Mallory’s description are of a different class altogether. ‘Character assassination’ comes to mind. Unfortunately, instead of dwelling on the actual facts in the ‘big wing’ dispute and Dowding’s eventual retirement, Bungay engages in an ad hominem attack, calling Leigh-Mallory’s fitness for commanding a Fighter Command Group into question because he never flew fighters himself (unlike of course Keith Park, who was simply a dashing fighter pilot, darling), and using hearsay evidence furnished by none other than Keith Park as to Leigh-Mallory’s intentions of getting Dowding sacked. Yes, a real trustworthy source there.
Never mind that as someone who flew a BE.2 in the run-up to Bloody April 1917 might have a very good idea of what attrition would mean in an air battle. No, Leigh-Mallory was definitely less capable a commander because of that, unlike Richard Saul of 13 Group who flew…wait, Richard Saul also flew observation missions in that selfsame BE.2, and also never commanded a fighter squadron. And yet this does not stop Bungay to praise him as a capable commander. This is, to say the least, illogical.
This chapter is one of the most infuriating pieces of crap writing I have ever had the displeasure to read.