December 6th 1916 - January 5th 2004
Air Vice-Marshal Tony Dudgeon played a key role in a little-known, but crucial, air campaign that prevented the Germans gaining access to the Iraqi oil fields and a possible offensive from the east against the undefended Suez Canal.
When the rabidly anti-British and pro-Axis Rashid Ali el Ghailani seized power in Iraq in April 1941, he immediately threatened the RAF’s main staging post and training base at Habbaniya. Dudgeon had recently arrived to command B Flight of No 4 Flying Training School.
With virtually no operational aircraft available to defend the airfield, he and his colleagues set about converting their obsolete training aircraft to bombers; defying orders, Dudgeon equipped his own with a crude bomb release system, which he flight-tested.
Early in May the Iraqi army laid siege to the airfield, and demanded its surrender. The flying school went to war, but by the end of the first day a quarter of the 39 pilots, and one third of the aircraft, were out of action. With a fellow squadron leader, Dudgeon both flew and personally controlled the bombing operations for five successive days as the airfield came under fire from Iraqi guns.
By the end, the survivors could barely stand for fatigue, but the enemy ground forces had withdrawn in disarray. By the end of the month, the Germans had pulled out of Iraq, and the situation was saved. Dudgeon was mentioned in dispatches.
Later, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder said that without the school’s success the Germans might have got a foothold in Iraq, and that “our Middle East base could have been nipped out”.
Antony Greville Dudgeon was born on December 6 1916 in Cairo, where his father was Professor of Psychiatry at a hospital. Tony was educated at Eton and the RAF College Cranwell, graduating as a pilot officer in December 1935. He joined No 11 Squadron at Risalpur on the North-West Frontier of India. In his single-engine bi-plane he flew many operations over hostile and mountainous country as the RAF policed the rebellious territory.
In 1940 he joined No 45 Squadron in Egypt as a flight commander. The long-awaited Italian invasion of Egypt began on September 13, and after initial successes they were driven back deep into Libya. On October 8 Dudgeon was promoted to command another Blenheim squadron, No 55, based at the advanced landing ground at Fuka. He was constantly in action, leading his squadron in attacks against troop concentrations, ports and airfields in Libya. He flew 50 bombing operations in three months, and in February 1941 was awarded the DFC.
After a year in Iraq, Dudgeon was promoted to wing commander and sent on a rest tour to Cairo. He arrived at the headquarters of the recently formed 216 Group a week late, having taken unofficial leave in May 1941 to marry Phyl McFarlane, the daughter of his former commanding officer.
His new role was to establish the ferry and transport organisation, and he was an ideal choice. Following the closure of the Mediterranean, all aircraft reinforcements for the Middle East were shipped to Takoradi in the Gold Coast (now Ghana), where they were re-assembled and ferried 4,000 miles to Cairo. Once the Germans had retreated to Tunisia,
it was possible to shorten the ferry route by transferring the western terminal to Casablanca. Dudgeon established his headquarters at Ras-el-Ma in French Morocco.
A man of great energy and enthusiasm, Dudgeon personally undertook some of the most difficult ferry flights. After returning a stranded Lancaster to England (his first flight in the four-engine bomber), he returned the next day with a new Wellington bomber, in which he had had only 45 minutes experience.
Dudgeon took off in atrocious weather, and almost immediately the aircraft’s electrics and all the instruments failed. The trainee navigator could not cope in the thick cloud, and, with no radio to assist with navigation bearings, Dudgeon flew the aircraft through the night without the aid of instruments or an automatic pilot, eventually landing in Morocco after a nine-hour flight.
When he was due to return to England in July 1943, his wife was eight months pregnant, and the rules required that she should remain in Cairo until three months after the birth before embarking on a six-week journey home by troopship. The ever-enterprising Dudgeon used his contacts to circumvent this problem; he arranged to fly her himself to Casablanca in a Dakota, in which she sat in a wicker chair strapped to a cargo lashing point in the fuselage. From Morocco she was able to take an official flight to England, where their son was born a few days after her arrival.
Dudgeon then joined the recently formed Transport Command, with which he played a key role in the planning and execution of the D-Day and Arnhem airborne operations. The better to understand the role, he trained as a glider pilot. When it became apparent that the dropping zones around Arnhem were being captured, with crucial supplies falling to the Germans, Dudgeon was ordered to take a small team by Jeep to establish a homing beacon and radio behind enemy lines, in order more precisely to direct the transport aircraft to the dropping zones. As he neared the area, he was saluted by a German army patrol that mistook his RAF uniform for the field-grey of the Wehrmacht. He returned the salute before making a hasty retreat.
After attending the RAF Staff College in 1946, Dudgeon spent three years flying and planning transport operations during the Malayan emergency. There was then a spell in the personnel department at the Air Ministry before he was promoted to group captain to command the RAF station at Benson. There he was given two responsibilities: to mastermind the ferrying of 400 Sabre fighters from America to Britain (Operation Becher’s Brook, which was a resounding success); and secondly, to carry out a review of the terms and conditions under which airmen served.
Those who knew Dudgeon, and his unconventional approach to authority, expressed some surprise at his appointment to the second of these tasks. One sceptic was heard to ask: “Why Dudgeon? He has always thrown Queen’s Regulations out of the window.” To which the AOC replied, “Then open the window.” Dudgeon devised many new initiatives, which were subsequently implemented across the RAF and are still in place today. For his work at Benson, he was appointed CBE.
After completing the Flying College course, Dudgeon was appointed to command RAF Bruggen, where he re-equipped his four fighter squadrons with the Hunter. Over the next two years he brought the wing up to full operational readiness, but then had the distressing experience of implementing its demise overnight following the savage cuts of the 1957 Defence Review.
On promotion to air commodore in 1960, Dudgeon was appointed AOC Air Cadets. After a tour as the Director of Flight Safety, he was appointed Chief of Staff to the British Defence Staff in Washington. He retired as an air vice-marshal in April 1968, and spent the next 10 years as head of the Paris office of the management consultants McKinsey & Co.
In retirement, Dudgeon fought tenaciously to have a battle honour awarded to No 4 FTS for its contribution to the Middle East war; but his proposal was rejected on the ground that the flying school was a non-operational unit. He always considered himself fortunate, and called the first instalment of his RAF memoirs The Luck of the Devil (1985). This was followed by Wings Over North Africa (1987), The War That Never Was (1991) and Hidden Victory (2000).
Tony Dudgeon’s wife died in 1994. He is survived by their son, who served as a wing commander in the RAF, and their daughter.”
Alan Pollock’s Notes
187 Air Vice-Marshal A G “Tony” DUDGEON CBE DFC RAF had a varied career, which spanned many aircraft types – after North West Frontier service pre-war and later in BLENHEIMS in the Desert War his book, “The War That Never Was”, records the rapid improvisation and fighting initiative which turned unarmed trainers into weapons of war, raising the SIEGE of No.4 FLYING TRAINING SCHOOL, RAF HABBANIYA to help defeat the German backed Rashid Ali REBEL UPRISING in IRAQ Apr-May41, which, unless scotched so promptly, could have led to a rapid decline of British influence in the MIDDLE EAST. Later Wg Cdr Dudgeon was Wg Cdr Flying at DOWN AMPNEY for the HORSAS and DAKOTAS flying off for D-DAY and the NORMANDY INVASION. His later service in the FAR EAST extended through to the 2TAF post-war Sabre and Hunter eras.