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Air Marshal Sir John Lapsley (33320)

Sir John Hugh LapsleyJohn Hugh                    b: 24 Sep 1916                     r: 6 Oct 1973                     d: 21 Nov 1995

KBE – 14 Jun 1969 (OBE – 8 Jun 1944), CB – 11 Jun 1966, DFC – 3 Dec 1940, AFC – 8 Jun 1950, MiD - 2 Jun 1943, MiD – 1 Jan 1946.

Plt Off: 18 Dec 1937, Fg Off: 18 Jun 1939, Flt Lt: 3 Sep 1940, Act Sqn Ldr: xx Feb 1941, (T) Sqn Ldr: 1 Dec 1941, Act Wg Cdr: 26 Jun 1943, Sqn Ldr (WS): 3 Feb 1943, Sqn Ldr: 23 Jan 1945 [1 Dec 1941], Wg Cdr: 1 Jan 1949, Gp Capt: 1 Jul 1956, Act A/Cdre: xx xxx xxxx, A/Cdre: 1 Jan 1961, Act AVM: 1 Apr 1964, AVM: 1 Jan 1965, Act AM: 2 Sep 1968, AM: 1 Jul 1969.

Sir John Hugh Lapsley

by Walter Bird
bromide print, 22 May 1964
NPG x168838

© National Portrait Gallery, London

xx xxx 1932:            Aircraft Apprentice, No 1 School of Technical Training, RAF Halton.

 9 Jan 1936:            Flight Cadet, 'B' Sqn, RAF College.

18 Dec 1937:          Appointed to a Permanent Commission

18 Dec 1937:          Pilot, No 32 Sqn.

29 Mar 1938:           Pilot, No 80 Sqn.

15-31 May 1940:     Attended Link Trainer Course, RAF Helwan

19 Aug 1940:           Pilot, No 274 Sqn.

10 - 19 Sep 1940:           Attached, No 112 Sqn

26 -27 Nov 1940:        Officer Commanding (Temporary), No 274 Sqn

14 Dec 1940:           Flight Commander, No 274  Sqn.

xx Feb 1941:            Officer Commanding, No 274 Sqn.

xx Apr 1941:            Sick Leave

xx xxx xxxx:              Staff, HQ No 81 Group.

 1 May 1942:           Chief Flying Instructor, Advanced Training Squadron, No 58 OTU.

xx Nov 1942:           Officer Commanding, Training Wing, No 52 OTU.

xx xxx 1943:            Officer Commanding, No ? Sqn.

26 Jun 1943:            Officer Commanding, No 125 Airfield.

24 Jul - xx xxx 1943:            Attended Senior Officers' Anti-Gas Course, Rollestone Camp

21 - 29 Nov 1943:          Attended Army Co-operation Course, RAF Old Sarum

23 - 31 Jan 1944:          Attended Combined Operations Course, Largs

12 May 1944:          Officer Commanding, No 125 Wing.

14 Jul 1944:             Returned to Home Establishment

xx Jul 1944:             Senior Fighter Controller, HQ 2nd TAF.

xx xxx 1946:            Attended RAF Staff College.

xx xxx 1946:            Air Staff, Directorate of Policy.

xx Apr 1947:           Officer Commanding, No 74 Sqn.

xx Aug 1948:           Officer Commanding, Eastern Sector Flying Wing, RAF Horsham St. Faith

xx xxx 1949:            Officer Commanding, Air Fighting Development Squadron

xx xxx 1951:            Officer Commanding - Flying, CFE

xx xxx 1953:            Air Staff, HQ Fighter Command

xx xxx 1954:            Officer Commanding, RAF Wahn

xx xxx xxxx:             Air Staff, HQ 2nd TAF.

15 Sep 1958:            Deputy Director of Joint Plans.

10 Feb 1961:           Deputy Chief of Staff, HQ 2nd Tactical Air Force.

xx xxx 1963:            Attended Imperial Defence College.

 1 Apr 1964:            Secretary of Chief of Staff's Committee/Director, Defence Operations Staff.

 9 Feb 1967:            AOC, No 19 (Reconnaissance) Group.

 2 Sep 1968:            AOC in C, Coastal Command/Commander Maritime Air, Eastern Atlantic Area & Channel Command.

28 May 1970:          Defence Attaché, Washington/ Head of British Defence Staff - Washington.

Born in India, his father died when he was two and when his mother remarried, he was taken to the Falkland Islands by his stepftaher and from there John Lapsley became one of those 'Trenchard Brats', successfully completing an apprenticeship at Halton before being awarded a cadetship to the RAF College at Cranwell which he entered in 1935.  He represented the College at Cricket and Swimming and attained the rank of Flight Cadet Sergeant.  He was also awarded the 'John Anthony Chance' Memorial Prize.  On graduation two years later he was posted to No 32 Squadron, but was soon transferred to No 80, which shortly afterwards was posted to Egypt.  Prior to Italy's entry into the war, he was involved in anti-terrorist patrols in Palestine.  During the early actions against the Italians, he was shot down behind enemy lines, but by bribing an Arab with his gold watch he was able to hitch a ride back to the British lines. 

In August 1940, together with his CO, Sqn. Ldr.  P H Dunn and  Peter Wykeham-Barnes, he was posted to form No 274 Sqn which although initially equipped with Gladiators, was soon to become the first squadron in the Middle East equipped with Huirricanes.  Whilst this change over was taking place the flying of the Hurricanes was limited to a few experienced pilots, John Lapsley being one of these.  When Sqn Ldr Dunn left the squadron in February 1941, John Lapsley was promoted to replace him.  However, his time in command was to cut short for on 19 April 1941, he was shot down near Tobruk but having managed to safely abandon his aircraft he was then shot at and wounded by the Bf109 pilot.  He was saved by the actions of an Australian soldier who having reached him under fire then looked after him until night fall when a medical team was able to reach him.  During his period in the Desert, he was credited with 11 enemy aircraft destroyed.

Repatriated to England it was to be 1942 before he was passed fit for flying duties but only on instructional duties.  He eventually returned to operations on Spitfires before being appointed OC of No 125 Airfield (later Wing) equipped with the Typhoon.  Attendance at the RAF Staff College brought with it on completion of the course, a posting to the Air Ministry.  However, it was not long before he returned to flying, this time in command of No 74 Squadron, then equipped with the Meteor F3.  Based at RAF Horsham St Faith in Norfolk, the squadron re-equipped with the newer F4 variant shortly before he left to join the Air Fighting Development Unit, also based at Horsham.

Various staff and command posts came his way until in 1964, he was selected by Earl Mountbatten to be the Secretary to the Chief of Defence Staffs. Following this appointment and having previously been involved in fighter operations, he found himself  moving into the maritime field as firstly AOC, No 19 Group and then AOC in C, Coastal Command.  During his tenure as AOC in C, he oversaw the introduction of Nimrod into service, a far cry from the Gladiators on which he began his flying career.  His final appointment in the RAF was as Defence Attaché to Washington and Head of the British Defence Mission, a period during which he was involved in the Polaris programme.

Retiring from the RAF in 1973 he joined the Save The Children Fund, in 1974, as it's Director-General, a post he held for a year before becoming a member of the Council of the Officer's Pension Society and from 1978 until 1983, was the Director of the Falkland Island's Research & Development Association Ltd.  In 1979, he entered local politics when he was elected onto Suffolk Coastal District Council becoming Chairman from 1983 eventually retiring in 1987.

Recommendation for the award of the Air Force Cross

LAPSLEY, John Hugh, W/C, OBE, DFC (33320) - Eastern Sector Flying Wing, Station Horsham St. Faith

Recommended when he had flown 1,612 hours, 197 on current duties, 75 in previous six months.  Found by Pavel Vancata in Public Record Office .

"Wing Commander Lapsley assumed command of the Eastern Sector Meteor Flying Wing at Horsham St. Faith in August 1948, immediately after the Wing had been re-equipped with Meteor IV aircraft.  Since that date, he has completed 197 hours on this type of aircraft (comprising 268 sorties).  His own flying has reached a very high standard, and it has been through his example, combined with excellent leadership,  that he has raised the flying standard in the Wing to its present high level. In addition, he has conducted many experiments, both in the flying and tactical use of Meteor IV aircraft, the approved results of which have led to the steady improvement in the fighting potential of the Wing - the most important aspect of his task during the development stage of the Jet aircraft.  The Wing has also been selected to give demonstrations all over the United Kingdom and Europe.  Wing Commander Lapsley has invariably been responsible for the flying programme given by his Units at these displays and, as an example of their success, three pilots in the Wing have already been awarded the Air Force Cross during his period of command. On October 1949, he led a detachment of six Meteor IV’s on a reinforcement flight to Egypt - the first time such a flight had been attempted in Jet aircraft.  His leadership of this flight was masterly.  Despite many minor delays on the way out, caused by the inexperience of Control and Airfield Staffs in the handling of Jet aircraft, the flight arrived on time for its exercise in the Canal Zone.  On the return flight, much unforecasted bad weather was encountered, particularly on the routes Malta-Rome and Bordeaux-Tangmere.  On all occasions, Wing Commander Lapsley’s resolute leadership kept the flight together during long periods of instrument flying.  In the latter flight, he attempted to climb above the weather at 40,000 feet but without success.  He, therefore, descended to the more comfortable altitude of 30,000 feet and completed the whole flight from Bordeaux to Tangmere in cloud.  On reaching Tangmere, he descended to 1,000 feet and being still in cloud, insisted on being diverted to another airfield.  He was given Manston and, still in cloud, set course with his flight, landing safely some 15 minutes later.  At all times, Wing Commander Lapsley has commanded his Wing with exemplary efficiency and example and has made a great contribution to the fighting potential of Fighter Command."

(Source - AIR 2/10073)

This page was last updated on 30/01/23

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