Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation

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Air Vice-Marshal D L Attlee (163668)

Donald Laurence                      b: 2 Sep 1922              r: 2 Sep 1977                    d: 28 Apr 2021

CB – 31 Dec 1977, LVO - 1 Jan 1964, DL.

Plt Off: 28 Jan 1944, Fg Off (WS): 28 Jul 1944, Flt Lt: 28 Jul 1947, Sqn Ldr: 1 Oct 1954, Wg Cdr: 1 Jan 1960, Wg Cdr: 1 Jan 1960, Act Gp Capt: 24 Feb 1964?, Gp Capt: 1 Jul 1965, A/Cdre: 1 Jan 1973, AVM: 1 Jul 1975.

 xx xxx 1942:      U/T Pilot, Canada.

 1944 -45:          QFI, No 36, 18 & 19 FTS’s in Canada.

 6 Jun 1946:        Appointed to Commission in the rank of Flying Officer – extended service (retaining rank current at the time)

xx xxx 1946:     Staff, HQ Flying Training Command.

23 Feb 1950:    PA to AOC, No 23 (Training) Group.

 1 Oct 1950:     Granted a Permanent Commission in the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

15 Oct 1952:    Pilot, No 12 Sqn. (Canberra B2)

21 Jun 1954:     Staff Officer, Directorate of Operations (2).

9 Jan 1956:       Attended RAF Staff College.

22 Jun 1957:     Flight Commander, No 59 Sqn. (Canberra B(I)8)

26 Oct 1959:    Staff Officer, Directorate-General of Manning.

 6 Sep 1961:     Officer Commanding, The Queen's Flight. (Heron)

28 Jul 1963:      Attended Joint Services Staff College

24 Feb 1964:    Group Captain - Air Plans/Intelligence, HQ RAF Germany.

25 Jun 1965:     Command Intelligence Officer, HQ RAF Germany.

30 Oct 1968:    Officer Commanding, RAF Brize Norton.

2 Jan 1970:      Attended Imperial Defence College.

15 Jan 1971:    Staff (Policy), Central Defence Staff.

 1 Jan 1972 – 1 Jan 1973:        ADC to The Queen.

 3 Jan 1973:     Director of Recruiting.

 9 Aug 1974:    Air Commodore - Intelligence.

15 Sep 1975:   AOA, HQ Training Command.

In July 1961, shortly after taking over the Queen's Flight, he was carrying out a proving flight in the Flight's Heron around Africa and when landing at Gao it was apparent that his authority to land there had not been received.  When asked to produce written authority to land at this airfield by the local military commander, he was of course unable to do so and he and his crew were promptly arrested.   The man on a camel with the message in a cleft stick had failed to arrive. Eventually contact was made with the British Consul in Bamako, who was able to get the problem sorted out and he was able to continue with the proving flight the next day.

In 1966 whilst visiting Berlin  from RAF Rheindahlen, he engineered an intelligence operation that reined in Soviet advances in radar technology.  On 6 April he received a telephone call  and was told that a highly advanced Russian Yak-28 fighter, known as the Firebar, was in serious trouble, the crew having informed Soviet air-traffic control that one of the engines had failed and that the aircraft was becoming unstable and difficult to control.  The Soviet crew were ordered to make an an emergency landing at Schoenefeld airport in East Berlin, but unable to control the Yak, the pilot guided the aircraft past several blocks of flats in West Berlin and crashed into Lake Stossensee in the British sector, killing the crew.  Following a 'stand-off'

between British and Soviet troops on the banks of the Stossense, the British began, ostensibly, the task of salvaging the fighter and returning the wreckage and the bodies of the airmen to the Soviet authorities.  However, Attlee had called in Royal Navy divers from Britain to examine the Soviet aircraft, who secretly removed the engines and radar, moving them to another part of the lake, where they were recovered, despatched to RAE Farnborough for inspection and within two days had been returned to Berlin, and reunited with the aircraft, which was then successfully raised along with the bodies of the crew and returned to the Russians.

Retiring to Devon, he became a fruit farmer as well as holding a number of offices within local business organisations.  He was an elected Member of Mid Devon District Council from 1982 to 2003, becoming Vice-Chairman in 1987, Chairman in 1989 until 1991 and Leader in 2002.     He was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for Devon.

This page was last updated on 28/03/24©

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