- Tedder: Quality in Command
Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Tedder was one of the major military figures of World War II. As Williamson Murray notes in his Foreword to Vincent Orange's long awaited biography, "One of the most surprising aspects of the massive literature on the Second World War is the fact that until now there has been no scholarly, readable and intelligent biography of one of the most important British military figures of the war" (p. xi).
One of the reasons for this omission lies in the fact that Tedder, although he had a spectacular career that took him to five-star rank, was utterly self-effacing and never sought publicity. In fact, he shunned the limelight almost at times to the point of invisibility. The Times of London said of him in his obituary that he was "the most unstuffy of great commanders, who could be found sitting cross-legged, jacketless, pipe smoldering, answering questions on a desert airstrip" (p. 377). That statement defined Tedder's life.
During the critical years of World War II Tedder employed his organizational talent and exceptional understanding of both air and ground operations at Eisenhower's side, first in the Mediterranean in 1943, and in 1944–45 as his deputy supreme commander.
The lack of a coordinated bombing policy and the employment of the strategic air forces were among the most critical problems Eisenhower faced as Supreme Commander in the months prior to the invasion of Europe in 1944. To help resolve the self-interest of the bomber barons, Harris and Spaatz, both of whom resisted involvement in Operation Overlord, Eisenhower turned to the only man whom he believed capable of resolving these complex problems. That man was Tedder who, through forceful but even-handed leadership, developed a successful plan for the employment of both the tactical and strategic air forces. Nor was Tedder afraid to tackle Churchill, [End Page 865] who resisted his plans for the preinvasion strategic bombing of France. As Orange notes, "No other British officer in the Second World War incurred Churchill's wrath so often as Tedder did and survived in high command, yet few other tributes paid to the great man after his death in January 1965 were as thoughtful and accurate as Tedder's" (caption opposite p. 237).
Tedder is far more than a military biography; it is the story of a remarkable life. Tedder's war memoir, With Prejudice, revealed a good deal about the war from his airman's perspective but very little about himself. For the first time we have an insightful portrait of Tedder the man and his heretofore very private life. Vincent Orange, whose previous biographies of Arthur Coningham and Keith Park established him as a major authority on the Royal Air Force in World War II, has produced a masterly biography of a complex individual who rose to the highest command in the RAF, Chief of the Air Staff, a post he held from 1946 to 1949.
Vincent Orange's biography deserves to be widely read both as a fresh account of Tedder's career in the Royal Air Force, and as a superbly written portrait of one the war's most remarkable and underappreciated men.