Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation

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Air Marshal Sir John Whitley (24002)

John Rene                       b: 7 Sep 1905                     r: 29 May 1962                    d: 26 Dec 1997

KBE - 31 May 1956 (CBE - 14 Jun 1945), CB - 1 Jan 1946, DSO - 9 Jul 1943, AFC - 1 Feb 1937, Bar - 31 May 1956, MiD - 24 Sep 1941, MiD - 2 Jun 1943, MiD - 8 Jun 1944.  

Plt Off (P): 17 Jul 1926, Plt Off: 17 Jul 1927, Fg Off: 17 Jan 1928, Flt Lt: 1 Feb 1932, Sqn Ldr: 1 Apr 1937, (T) Wg Cdr: 1 Mar 1940, Act Gp Capt: xx xxx 1941, (T) Gp Capt: 1 Jun 1942, Wg Cdr: 20 Nov 1942 [1 Jul 1942], Act A/Cdre: 7 Apr 1944?, Gp Capt (WS): 7 Oct 1944, Act AVM: 12 Feb 1945 - 1 Nov 1945, (T) A/Cdre: 1 Jan 1946, Gp Capt: 1 Jan 1946, A/Cdre: 1 Jul 1947, Act AVM: 26 Jan 1951, AVM: 1 Jul 1951, Act AM (unpd): 1 Nov 1956, AM: 1 Jan 1957.

17 Jul 1926:           U/T Pilot, No 2 FTS.

21 Jun 1927:          Pilot, No 7 Sqn.

27 May 1931:        Granted a Permanent Commission in the RAF in the rank of Flying Officer 

 2 Nov 1931:         Pilot/ OC 'A' Flight, No 101 Sqn.

10 Dec 1932:         Staff, Aircraft Park,  India.

1935:                     Officer Commanding, Bomber-Transport Flight - Lahore.

 9 Aug 1937:          Flight Commander, No 38 Sqn.

10-25 Aug 1939:   Officer Commanding RAF Hendon

 4 Sep 1939:           Flight Commander, No 24 Sqn.

16 Oct 1939:         'C' Flight Commander, No 24 Sqn.

 8 Apr 1940:          Posted to No 148 Sqn (but appears to have continued flying with No 24 Sqn)

23 Apr 1940:         (Officially) Attached to No 24 Sqn.

10 May 1940:        Officer Commanding, No 149 Sqn.

19 Nov 1940:        Air Staff – Operations, HQ Bomber Command.

23 May 1941:        Officer Commanding, RAF Linton-on-Ouse.

10 Apr 1943:         Evading capture

15 Sep 1943:         Officer Commanding, RAF Lissett.

xx Apr 1944:          AOC, No 43 Base.

12 Feb 1945:          AOC, No 4 Group.

21 May 1945:         AOC, No 8 (PFF) Group.

 1 May 1946:          Assistant AOA, HQ Air Command South East Asia.

 1 Nov 1945:          Air Staff, HQ RAF India

xx xxx xxxx:            Officer Commanding, RAF Karachi.

11 Nov 1946:          Administrative Staff Officer, HQ RAF India

18 Dec 1947:          Director of Organisation (Establishments).

xx xxx 1950:           Attended Imperial Defence College.

24 Jan 1951:           AOA, HQ BAFO/2 TAF.

27 Apr 1953:          AOC, No 1 Group.  

 1 Nov 1956:          Air Member for Personnel (designate)?

 1 Jan 1957:            Air Member for Personnel.

 3 Jun 1959:            Inspector-General of the RAF.

John Whitley was brought up in Chile where his father was an engineer supervising the construction of the world’s highest railway.  Moving to France to live with his grand-parents after his mother’s death, he became another of the large band of Old Haileyburians who attained Air Rank, entering the RAF on a Short Service Commission 1926.  Whilst flying as a passenger in a Virginia at Worthy Down, he had a premonition of disaster and chose to sit in the rear gunners position.  When the pilot misjudged his landing everybody but Whitley was killed when the tail of the aircraft struck a station building.  He was appointed to a Permanent Commission in 1931.  Posted to India he eventually commanded the Bomber transport Flight and was heavily involved in the relief missions following the Quetta earthquake in 1935, for which he received his AFC. 

With No 24 Squadron he carried out a number of special flights carrying VIP’s into and out of France, including, Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill and Noel Coward.  Promoted to Wing Commander, he took command of No 149 squadron flying Wellingtons from Mildenhall.  Six months at Bomber Command HQ in the Operations Room was followed by his appointment as CO of RAF Linton on Ouse.

On 10 April 1943, against official instructions, he took part in a raid against Frankfurt.  However, over France his Halifax ( JB871, MP-V of No 76 Squadron) was attacked by an Bf110 and was shot down.  Fortunately, he always made a point of carrying civilian clothes and an escape kit of his own devising with him on operations.  He parachuted out and even though his chute was not attached correctly, he landed safely and with the help of the COMET escape line was able to evade capture.  He managed to make his way through France and Spain by walking and bicycling and returned to his station for which he received the DSO.

Following command of the  Bomber station at Lissett, he was promoted Air Commodore and appointed Base Commander of No 43 Base comprising Driffield, Leconfield and Lissett.  Just before the end of hostilities in Europe he was promoted to command No 4 Group which shortly afterwards was transferred from Bomber to Transport Command.  However, his spell in Transport Command was short-lived as he was placed in command of No 8 Group tasked with its rundown and disbandment after which found himself posted to the Far East.

Returning to Britain in 1947, he found himself in the Air Ministry for two years followed by attendance at the Imperial Defence College.  A tour in Germany  preceded his final command post, that of AOC, No 1 Group.  In this post he set about becoming as equally a competent jet pilot has he had been a piston engined pilot.  He established a record  for London to Nicosia flying a Canberra from Scampton to Nicosia, 2000 miles in 4 hours 13 minutes, this flight being carried out as part of one of the tours he led demonstrating the Canberra at bases in the Mediterranean, Middle East, Caribbean, Canada and West Africa.  Appointment onto the Air Council came in 1957 when he became Air Member for Personnel.  His final appointment which took him through to his retirement was that of Inspector-General of the RAF.  Retiring in 1962 he became Controller of the RAF Benevolent Fund retaining the post until 1968.   He became the last surviving WW2 bomber Group Commander, eventually dying at the age of 92.

Recommendation for the award of the Air Force Cross

"WHITLEY, John Rene, F/L.

During the time that this officer has been in command of the Bomber Transport Flight, he has set a very high example to the officers under his command.  He has displayed great devotion to duty and in a matter of three years has carried out 1,000 hours flying.  He performed conspicuously good work in the flying operations connected with the earthquake disaster in Baluchistan and also in the various inter-command long distance flights."

On 10 September 1936, Air Marshal Ludlow Hewitt added his remarks: -

"Throughout his three and three-quarter years service in India, Flight Lieutenant Whitley, who is an exceptionally capable and zealous pilot, has performed most valuable flying services, completing no less than 1,000 hours flying.  In particular I wish to bring to notice that during the period 1st to 30th June, 1935, when he waqs engaged upon conveying personnel and stores between Lahore, Quetta and Karachi in connection with the Baluchistan earthquake disaster, Flight Lieutenant Whitley completed 102 hours 15 minutes flying under the most arduous conditions, displaying great devotion to duty."

(Source - Air 2/2348 drafted by Wing Commander John d’Albiac, 26 August 1936 when he was with the Aircraft Park, RAF India)

Citation for the award of Commander of the Order of the British Empire

"WHITLEY, John Rene, AVM, DSO, AFC (24002, Royal Air Force) - No.4 Group Headquarters.

This officer joined Bomber Command in August 1939.  He operated with No.148 Squadron and later commander No.149 Squadron.  He was later appointed for Air Staff duties at Command Headquarters and subsequently commanded RAF Station Linton-on-Ouse.  He was appointed a Base Commander in No.4 Group in June 1943, and has recently assumed the post of Air Officer Commanding, No.4 Group.  He has an excellent operational record and has shown outstanding qualities in his present appointment."

(Source - Air 9055)

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