Richard Peirse

Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Edmund Charles Peirse, KCB, DSO, AFC (30 September 1892 – 5 August 1970) was a senior Royal Air Force commander.

This article is about the World War II air chief marshal. For his son, who reached the rank of air vice marshal, see Richard Peirse (RAF officer). For his father, a Royal Navy admiral, see Richard Peirse (Royal Navy officer)

Richard Edmund Charles Peirse

Peirse broadcasting over the radio during the Second World War
Born(1892-09-30)30 September 1892
Norwood, South London, England
Died5 August 1970(1970-08-05) (aged 77)
Allegiance United Kingdom
Years of service1912–1945
RankAir Chief Marshal
Commands held

RAF career

The son of Admiral Sir Richard Peirse and his wife Blanche Melville Wemyss-Whittaker, Richard Peirse was educated at Monkton Combe School, Bath, Somerset, HMS Conway (school ship) and at King's College London. He became a midshipman in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and was commissioned in 1912.[1] He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his contribution to the aerial attack on Dunkirk on 23 January 1915.[1] and was promoted to flight commander in May 1915.[2] He was further promoted in July 1916 to squadron commander.[3]

Later that year, on 18 August 1915, Peirse married Mary Joyce Ledgard (1894–1975), younger daughter of Mr and Mrs Armitage Ledgard, of the Manor House, Thorner, Yorkshire. They had one son and one daughter. The marriage was dissolved in 1945.

Peirse served as a pilot with the Royal Naval Air Service until 1 April 1918 when it became part of the Royal Air Force.[1] With the formation of the RAF, Peirse became Officer Commanding No. 222 Squadron.[1] Following promotion to wing commander in January 1922,[4] in 1923 he became Station Commander at RAF Gosport and in 1929 he was made Station Commander at RAF Heliopolis.[1] He was also promoted to group captain in 1929.[5] He went on to be Deputy Director of Operations and Intelligence at the Air Ministry in 1930 and, having been promoted to Air Commodore in 1933,[6] was appointed Air Officer Commanding Palestine Transjordan Command during the Arab revolt in Palestine.[1] Promoted again, this time to Air Vice-Marshal in 1936, he was appointed Deputy Chief of the Air Staff and Director of Operations and Intelligence in January 1937.[1][7]

In the Second World War, as a temporary air marshal, he became Vice-Chief of the Air Staff from April 1940[8] and having had his rank confirmed as permanent in July,[9] he became Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Bomber Command from October 1940.[1] He presided over a large expansion in the bomber force (and appeared in the propaganda film Target for Tonight). In the face of increasing losses and no evidence of significant impact on Germany, he was relieved of his duties as commander of the bomber force in January 1942. He was replaced by Arthur Harris.[10] When reports from Witold Pilecki of the treatment of Jews in Auschwitz reached London via the Polish government in exile, Peirse, then head of Bomber Command, was intrigued by their suggestion that the camp be bombed to allow the inmates to escape, even though the 1,700-mile round trip from Stradishall air base in Suffolk to Auschwitz was longer than any mission the RAF had yet attempted. Charles Portal, chief of the air staff, however, rejected the idea as an “undesirable diversion and unlikely to achieve its purpose”. During early 1942, Peirse was appointed commander of Allied air forces in South East Asia and the South West Pacific, a post known as ABDAIR and part of the short-lived American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDA). As the Dutch East Indies fell to Japanese forces, during February and March, ABDA was dissolved.

In March 1943 Peirse was appointed Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief RAF India and in November 1943 he was made Allied Air Commander in Chief, South-East Asia.[1] He oversaw the building of his command from a small demoralised and poorly organised force with a collection of obsolescent aircraft into a powerful force with a three to one numerical superiority over the enemy.[11] Although seen as somewhat aloof, he fought fiercely to bring the structure and resources needed for his command and was seen to make an able contribution to the higher direction of the war in the South East Asian theatre.[12]

After a six-month extension,[12] his term of office expired in November 1944 and was not renewed.[13] He retired in May 1945 with the rank of air chief marshal[14] but never received advancement to the Grand Cross level in the orders of knighthood which would normally have been forthcoming to an officer of his rank at the time. The reason for the abrupt termination of his career lay in his affair with Lady (Jessie) Auchinleck, the wife of his friend, Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, then Commander in Chief India.

The affair became known to Mountbatten in early 1944, and he passed the information to the Chief of the RAF, Sir Charles Portal, hoping that Peirse would be recalled. The affair was common knowledge by September 1944, and Peirse was considered to be neglecting his duties. Mountbatten sent Peirse and Lady Auchinleck back to England on 28 November 1944,[12] where they lived together at a Brighton hotel. Peirse had his marriage dissolved in 1945, and the Auchinlecks divorced in December 1945. Peirse and the former Lady Auchinleck married the following year.

Awards and decorations


  1. Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation – Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Peirse Archived 20 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  2. "No. 29162". The London Gazette. 14 May 1915. p. 4651.
  3. "No. 29687". The London Gazette. 28 July 1916. p. 7481.
  4. "No. 32563". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1921. p. 10719.
  5. "No. 33513". The London Gazette. 2 July 1929. p. 4365.
  6. "No. 33955". The London Gazette. 30 June 1933. p. 4386.
  7. "No. 34363". The London Gazette. 26 January 1937. p. 560.
  8. "No. 34840". The London Gazette. 30 April 1940. p. 2556.
  9. "No. 35525". The London Gazette. 14 April 1942. p. 1648.
  10. "The Command Chiefs". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 23 December 2017.
  11. Bond & Tachikawa 2004, pp. 124–126.
  12. Bond & Tachikawa 2004, p. 124.
  13. Woodburn Kirby 2004, p. 118.
  14. "No. 37393". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 December 1945. p. 6149.
  15. L, Klemen (1999–2000). "Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Edmund Charles Peirse". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942.
  16. "No. 31098". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 1918. p. 97.
  17. "No. 31273". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 April 1919. p. 4513.
  18. "No. 30722". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 May 1918. p. 6522.


Military offices
Preceded by
Christopher Courtney
Deputy Chief of the Air Staff
and Director of Operations and Intelligence

25 January 1937 – 22 April 1940
Succeeded by
Sholto Douglas
New title
Post created
Vice-Chief of the Air Staff
22 April 1940 – 4 October 1940
Succeeded by
Sir Wilfrid Freeman
Preceded by
Sir Charles Portal
Commander-in-Chief Bomber Command
Succeeded by
Jack Baldwin
Preceded by
Sir Patrick Playfair
Commander-in-Chief, Air Forces in India
Succeeded by
Sir Guy Garrod
New title
Command established
Commander-in-Chief Air Command South-East Asia
16 November 1943 – 27 November 1944
Succeeded by
Sir Guy Garrod
Temporary appointment
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