8th February 2008
In my posting on 20th January, I said the approach I intend to follow for my research on "'Winning the Peace': The British in occupied Germany, 1945-1951" was to "Follow the People," and I provided a list of people who I think are interesting for one reason or another.
One of the people on the list was Sir Sholto Douglas, or, to give him his full title, after he was enobled in 1948, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Douglas of Kirtleside G.C.B. M.C. D.F.S.
Sholto Douglas succeeded Field Marshal Montgomery as Commander-in-Chief of the British forces of occupation in Germany, and Military Governor of the British Zone in May 1946 and was in this post for 18 months, until October 1947, when he was succeeded by Sir Brian Robertson.
I've recently read his autobiography, (Sholto Douglas with Robert Wright, Years of Command: London: Collins, 1966).
His time as Military Governor was not a success. In his own words:
"It is still impossible for me to think of the time that I spent as Military Governor and Commander-in-Chief in Germany as anything but the unhappiest period of my entire official life."
On his own admission, he would seem to have been out of his depth. Several times in the book he made comments similar to the following:
"By the end of the summer of 1947, I found all too often that the questions that came to my mind about what we were doing appeared to be insoluble ... I found myself wondering quite often why I, an Air Force officer, should be trying to solve problems which should have been in the hands of the politicians ... I also know that I was much too simple in my tastes for the trappings of such an office; and since I was essentially an R.A.F. officer there was so much about it that, having nothing to do with the Service, I found far from congenial."
I fail to understand why he was offered the job in the first place.
He had been a young pilot on the Western Front, during the First World War. After a brief spell working for a civil aviation company, he re-joined the RAF in 1920, and worked for Group Captain Dowding at HQ at Kenley.
A year later he became Chief Flying Instructor at Manston, where he worked with Keith Park and "Mary" Coningham. Park and Coningham were New Zealanders, which is, apparently, why "Mary" had his name, as a corruption of "Maori".
In 1922 he joined the newly formed RAF staff college, where one of his fellow students was Charles Portal, later to become Chief of the Air Staff during the war.
It's interesting to observe that all these men were later to become some of the most senior officers in the RAF during the Second World War.
In 1936 he was appointed to the rank of Air Vice Marshall and became Assistant Chief of the Air Staff at the Air Ministry, with responsibility for all aspects of operational training. In 1940 he was promoted to Deputy Chief of the Air Staff and in October of that year, shortly after the Battle of Britain, replaced Dowding as Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command. Two years later he was appointed Air Officer, Commanding in Chief, for the Middle East, where he fought with Montgomery at the battle of El Alamein. At the start of 1944 he returned to Britain as Commander-in-Chief of Coastal Command.
After the end of the war he was appointed Commander of the British air forces of occupation in Germany, with additional responsibility for disarming and dismantling what was left of the German Luftwaffe.
This was undoubtedly a distinguished military career, but nothing in it would appear to qualify him for the position of Military Governor, with responsibility for all aspects of government and administration of the British Zone in Germany, with a population of over 20 million people - a position requiring the skills of a politician and administrator, rather than those of a military commander.
In his autobiography he claims he never wanted the job:
"After all that had happened in the two world wars in which I had participated, I felt less like going to Germany than to anywhere else. But there was also in my mind a feeling of regret that was perhaps only natural, since I was a professional airman, about the fate of the German air force."
He says he expressed a wish to return to civilian life in January 1946 and was given to understand that this would be granted. He then saw Montgomery who told him he had been recommended to succeed him as Commander-in-Chief and Military Governor. Shortly after, Arthur Tedder, Chief of the Air Staff, approached him with the same question, and he reluctantly accepted.
Back in London, he was asked to meet the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, who said to him:
"I am told, Sholto, that you do not want to go back to Germany ... but the Cabinet discussed the matter this morning, and you were unanimously elected to the job. I think you ought to go."
I can think of three possible reasons why he was offered the job, despite his apparent reluctance, and obvious unsuitability for it:
The politicians in London, including the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, and the rest of the Cabinet, didn't have a clue as to what was required, and what the situation was really like in Germany at the time.
It was something of a poisoned chalice, and no-one else wanted it.
For some reason it was decided the job should go to an RAF officer, rather than another army officer like Montgomery, and Sholto Douglas was the most senior person available.
This is pure speculation on my part. If anyone reading this posting can shed any light on this, please add a comment, or send me an email.