Keith Park

From Academic Kids

Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Rodney Park GCB, KBE, MC, DFC, DCL (June 15, 1892 - February 6, 1975) was a senior commander in the Royal Air Force in World War II.


Early Life and Army Career

Park was born near Auckland, New Zealand. He was the son of a Scottish geologist for a mining company. An undistinguished young man, but keen on guns and riding, Keith Park served in the cadets at school and joined the Army as a Territorial soldier in the New Zealand Field Artillery. In 1911, at age 19, he went to sea as a purser aboard collier and passenger steamships, earning the family nickname 'skipper'.

When World War I broke out Park left the ships and joined his artillery battery. As a non-commissioned officer he participated in the landings at Gallipoli in April 1915, going ashore at Anzac Cove. In the trench warfare that followed Park distinguished himself and in July 1915 gained a commission as Second Lieutenant. He commanded an artillery battery during the attack on Suvla Bay and endured more months of squalour in the trenches. At this time he took the unusual decision to transfer from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps to the British Army, joining the Royal Horse and Field Artillery.

Park was evacuated from Gallipoli in January 1916. The battle had left its mark on him both physically and mentally, though in later life he would remember it with nostalgia. He particularly admired the Anzac commander, Sir William Birdwood, whose leadership style and attention to detail would be a model for Park in his later career.

After the hardship at Gallipoli, Park's battery was shipped to France to take part in the Battle of the Somme. Here he learned the value of aerial reconnaissance, noting the manner in which German aircraft were able to spot Allied artillery for counterbattery fire and getting an early taste of flight by being taken aloft to check his battery's camouflage. On October 21 1916 Park was blown off his horse by a German shell. Wounded, he was evacuated to England and graded 'unfit for active service', which technically meant he was unfit to ride a horse. So after a brief spell recuperating he joined the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in December 1916.

Flying Career

In the RFC Park learned to fly. After a spell as an instructor he was posted to France and joined 48 Squadron in July 1917. Park flew the new two-seat Bristol Fighter and soon achieved successes against German fighters, earning promotion and the Military Cross. After a break from flying he returned to France as a Major to command 48 Squadron. Here he showed his ability as a tough but fair commander, showing discipline, leadership and an understanding of the technical aspects of air warfare.

By the end of the war the strain of command had all but exhausted Park, but he had achieved much as a pilot and commander. He had earned a bar to his Military Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the French Croix de Guerre. His final tally of aircraft kills has never been confirmed and has been put as high as 20, though he certainly shot down 11 aircraft and damaged at least 13 others. After the Armistice he married the beautiful London socialite Dorothy 'Dol' Parish.

Between the wars Park commanded RAF stations and was an instructor before becoming a staff officer to Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding in 1938.

The Battle of Britain

With the rank of Air Vice-Marshal Park took command of No. 11 Group RAF, responsible for the fighter defence of London and southeast England, in April 1940. He organized fighter patrols over France during the Dunkirk evacuation and in the Battle of Britain his command took the brunt of the Luftwaffe's air attacks. He gained a reputation as a shrewd tactician and a fine leader of men. However, he became embroiled in an acrimonious dispute with Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, commander of 12 Group. His prickliness of character during the subsequent Big Wing controversy contributed to his removal from command at the end of the battle. He was sent to Training Command.

Later Career

In July 1942 he returned to action, commanding the vital air defence of Malta. From there his squadrons participated in the North African and Sicilian campaigns. In 1945 he was appointed Allied Air Commander, South-East Asia, where he served until the end of the war. He retired in 1946 and returned to New Zealand where he lived until his death.


"If any one man won the Battle of Britain, he did. I do not believe it is realised how much that one man, with his leadership, his calm judgement and his skill, did to save, not only this country, but the world."

- Lord Tedder – Chief of the Royal Air Force, February 1947.

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