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Marshal of the RAF Sir Denis Spotswood  (37733)

Denis Frank                  b:  26 Sep 1916                     r:  31 Mar 1974                     d:  11 Nov 2001

GCB – 1 Jan 1971 (KCB – 10 Jun 1966, CB – 1 Jan 1961), CBE - 1 Jan 1946, DSO – 28 Sep 1943, DFC – 10 Nov 1942, MiD: - 24 Sep 1941, MiD - 2 Jun 1943, LoM (O) – 9 Mar 1948, FRAeS - 1975.

For a list of foreign decoration abbreviations, click here

Act Plt Off (P):  3 Feb 1936, Plt Off:  3 Feb 1937, Fg Off:  3 Sep 1938, Act Flt Lt:  2 Mar 1939, Flt Lt:  3 Sep 1940, Act Sqn Ldr: 21 Jul 1941, Act Wg Cdr:  18 Apr 1942, Act Gp Capt:  11 Feb 1944, (T) Wg Cdr: 1 Jul 1944, Wg Cdr (WS):  11 Aug 1944, Sqn Ldr: 26 Mar 1946 [1 Jun 1944], (T) Wg Cdr:  12 Feb 1946, Wg Cdr:  1 Jul 1947, Act Gp Capt:  21 Jun 1952, Gp Capt:  1 Jan 1954, Act A/Cdre: 26 Aug 1958, A/Cdre:  1 Jan 1960, Act AVM:  5 Jun 1961, AVM:  1 Jul 1961, Act AM:  6 Dec 1965, AM:  1 Jul 1966, ACM:  1 Nov 1968, MRAF: 31 Mar 1974.

 3 Feb 1936:            Elementary Pilot Training, No 8 E & RFTS, Reading.

18 Apr 1936:           U/T Pilot, No 6 FTS.

10 Jan 1937:            Pilot, No 220 Sqn.

 8 Feb 1937:            Navigation Courses, No 206 Sqn/School of Navigation/RAF Calshot.

 8 Oct 1937:            Pilot, No 201 Sqn.

26 Feb 1938:           Pilot, No 209 Sqn.

xx xxx 1938:            Granted an extension (to six years) to his Short Service Commission.

16 Jul 1939:            Attended No 14 Astronomical Extension Course

16 - 21 Sep 1939:           Attached to No 201 Sqn, Sullom Voe

11-23 Apr 1940:           Detached on Special Duty

21 Jul 1941:             CFI, No 6 OTU.

 3 Feb 1942:            Transferred to RAFO and called up for service.

18 Apr 1942:           Officer Commanding, No 500 (County of Kent) Sqn.

22 Apr 1943:           Air Staff - Air Tactics 3, Directorate of Operations.

30 Aug 1943:           Attended RAF Staff College, Bulstrode.

11 Feb 1944:           Director of Plans, HQ Supreme Allied Commander - South East Asia.

12 Feb 1946:           Directing Staff, RAF Staff College.

26 Mar 1946:          Appointed to a Permanent Commission in the rank of Squadron Leader (retaining rank current at the time) [wef 1 Sep 1945 antedated to 1 Jun 1944 on 25 Feb 1947]

19 Dec 1947:           Officer Commanding, RAF Horsham St. Faith.

30 Jan 1948:            Officer Commanding, RAF Coltishall.

xx xxx xxxx:             Attended Air Defence Course, School of Land/Air Warfare

xx xxx xxxx:             Attended Jet Conversion Course.

13 Mar 1950:          Directing Staff, Imperial Defence College.

21 Jun 1952:            Exchange posting, Tactical Operations Plans Branch, HQ USAF.

13 Aug 1954:          Officer Commanding, RAF Linton-on-Ouse.

15 Oct 1956:           Deputy Director of Plans.

18 Jun 195 - 5 Jun 1961:           ADC to The Queen

26 Aug 1958:           Commandant, RAF College - Cranwell

 5 Jun 1961:             Assistant Chief of Staff (Air Defence), SHAPE

28 Nov 1963:          Chairman, Pathfinder Study.

26 May 1964:          Refresher Flying Course.

 5 Aug 1964:            AOC, No 3 Group

 6 Dec 1965:            C in C, RAF Germany

 1 Jul 1966:             Commander, 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force

26 Aug 1968:           AOC in C, Strike Command

 7 Jul 1970 - 31 Mar 1974:    Air ADC to The Queen.

 1 Apr 1971:            Chief of the Air Staff

29 Apr 1974            Placed on half pay.

After leaving Kingston Grammar School, he worked as journalist on the London Evening Standard for three years learning to fly at Reading in his spare time.  As a result of this experience he decided to join the RAF in 1936 on a short service commission.  He became a General Reconnaissance pilot with No 201 Sqn, at that time flying Saro London I's from Calshot. However in September 1938, at the height of the Munich Crisis, the squadron moved to it's war station at Invergordon, returning a month later. His time with 201 was coming to an end and in 1939 he moved to No 209 Squadron, flying Stranraers which shortly afterwards, in December 1939, was re-equipped with Lerwicks, although Stranraers remained until April 1940.  The Lerwick proved to severely underpowered and on 7 January 1941, whilst taking off in L7262 (WQ-Q) he dropped a wing  following which the aircraft bounced and then sank, trapping the crew inside.  All but two of the crew managed to escape.  The Lerwicks were eventually relegated to training duties, but 209 and Denis Spotswood soldiered on with them until May 1941. 

Sent to Canada to ferry over a Catalina, with which his squadron was to be re-equipped, he was instead given a Lockheed Hudson to bring over and as a result found himself an instructor on this type and a land based pilot from that moment.  As Squadron Commander of No 500 Sqn operating in the Mediterranean he attacked the U595 just north of Oran and had to break off the battle when his aircraft was damaged by flak from the U-boat.  However further attacks by aircraft of his squadron resulted in the U595 running aground. 

Returning to the UK in early 1943, he was able to utilise his experience of anti-U-boat tactics in the Directorate of Air Tactics at the Air Ministry.  After attending the RAF Staff College, he was sent out to the Far East  arriving in India in early 1944, where he the Supreme Commander’s planning staff, remaining in post into 1946.  As well as gaining both the DFC and DSO, he holds the US Legion of Merit and was 'Mentioned in Despatches' twice.

Post-war, he joined the directing staff at the RAF Staff College, commanded fighter stations, attended various course, undertook an exchange posting with the USAF and was a member of the directing staff of the Imperial Defence College.  After serving as Deputy Director of Plans, he was appointed Commandant of the RAF College, Cranwell and then became ACAS (Air Defence) at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.

In late 1963, he was tasked with looking into the long term requirements of the RAF, this resulted in the decision to reduce the number of operational commands which led to the creation of RAF Strike Command in 1968, with Denis Spotswood as it's AOC in C, but before that he commanded No 3 Group and RAF Germany.

It was Sir Denis who as CAS on 20 Aug 1971 had the privilege of presenting his 'Wings' to HRH Prince Charles having completed his flying training at Cranwell.  During his time as CAS, he witnessed the introduction of many new types, including the Harrier, Buccaneer, Nimrod, Phantom and Hercules.  In retirement, he spent much of his time in industry, serving as chairman of Turbo Union (1975-80), as well as being a director of Rolls-Royce, RR/Turbomeca, Dowty Group and Smiths Industries. He was also a governor of the Royal Star and Garter Home (chairman 1981-85), and chairman of the trustees of the RAF Museum, 1974-80.

Citation for the award of the Distinguished Service Order

"SPOTSWOOD, Denis Frank, Wg Cdr, DFC (37733, Royal Air Force) - No.500 Squadron

While in command of No.500 Squadron, despite heavy administrative responsibilities, Wing Commander Spotswood personally participated in several successful attacks on U-boats.  By his personal example, both in the air and on the ground, he built up an excellent squadron."

(Source - Air Ministry Bulletin 11564)

This page was last updated on 03/09/23©

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