ACM Sir Arthur Longmore
Considered by some as one of the Fathers of the RAF, and one of the “Big Six” of Britain’s Airforce during WW2, Sir Arthur Murray Longmore started his service career in the Royal Navy in 1901. He worked his way up from midshipman to acting Lt Commander and in 1911 he volunteered for pilot training and was one of only four successful applicants, out of 200, to gain his Air Certificate. Longmore joined the newly formed Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) in 1914. During that time, he saw action in the Battle of Jutland and spent time as an instructor at the Navy’s Central Flying School where he taught Major Hugh Trenchard, ‘Father of the RAF’ to fly as a military pilot. He took Winston Churchill on a fact-finding flight searching for submarines and was a pioneer of both flight and aviation warfare, launching the first torpedo from a British aeroplane in July 1914. He was decorated many times over in WW1, by the UK, Belgian, French and Italian Governments.
After taking up commission in the RAF (the world’s first independent air force) in 1920, he served in Iraq and Bulgaria. In the 1930’s, Sir Arthur was AOC at RAF College Cranwell, Coastal Command, Training Command and Commandant of Imperial Defence College. He was also appointed Deputy Lieutenant for Lincolnshire in 1938/39. He was one of a group invited to watch German service manoeuvres in 1937.
At the outbreak of WW2, Sir Arthur was an ACM in charge of RAF Training Command. On 2 April 1940, he was appointed Air Officer Commanding in the Middle East, enhancing his reputation for leadership and, as he always, insisted on piloting his own aircraft, he was extremely popular with his men.
In the 2nd week of June 1940, the Italians joined the war and very shortly afterwards Sir Arthur launched an attack on their airfields, taking them completely by surprise.
In the House of Commons Dec 1940, Churchill said: We have seen the spectacle of a whole Italian Division laying down its arms in front of a far inferior force, and the work of our Air Force, against three, four or five to one has been attended with continued success … I must not forget the work that has been done in this battle by Air Chief Marshal Longmore, who at the most critical moment in his preparations had to have part of his force taken away from him for Greece. Nevertheless, he persevered, running additional risks, and his handling of the situation and his co-operation with the Army has been of the highest value”.
The Army, too, acknowledged a great part of their success in North Africa was due to Sir Arthur’s well-calculated and consistent plans for bombing enemy aerodromes.
In March 1941, King George Vl bestowed the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath.
With the loss of Greece, however, he lost the full confidence of Winston Churchill who disapproved of Sir Arthur’s constant demands for reinforcements. Churchill hated pessimists and senior commanders who complained about their lack of resources and he accused Longmore of failing to make proper use of the manpower and aircraft he had. Sir Arthur was relieved of his command in May 1941.
Sir Arthur was a big supporter of the Air Training Corps. He helped establish the Grantham ATC with Lady Longmore – he was the chair and she was secretary.
He was in favour of a flexible air force where personnel were not tied to one role, but available for employment where most needed at the time.
During the war Sir Arthur experienced the loss of his son Wg Co Richard Longmore who was KIA while serving in Coastal Command.
He subsequently became the Inspector General of the RAF before his formal retirement in 1942. In retirement he was Vice Commissioner of the Imperial (Commonwealth) War Graves Commission.
Sir Arthur stood as the Conservative candidate at the Grantham by-election in 1942. It was a two-horse race between the Conservative Longmore and the Independent, Kendall, with Longmore receiving a joint letter of endorsement from all the leaders of the parties in the coalition. Support for Kendall by the Grantham Labour party was withdrawn but Kendall campaigned and won as the first Independent to defeat a government candidate since the beginning of the war.
Later in the war, Sir Arthur served as a Major in the Home Guard and skippered a Naval support vessel which acted as a tender to the invasion fleet during the ‘D’ Day landings. His crew had an average age of 60.
Longmore’s memoirs, ‘From Sea to Sky 1910 -1945’, were published in 1946.
Tony Worth, who was the force behind the IBCC, was Longmore’s Grandson. He was, understandably proud of the place Arthur held in history. Read more about Tony’s journey here
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Image courtesy of the AWM