Tom Webb-Bowen

Air Vice Marshal Sir Tom Ince Webb-Bowen, KCB, CMG, DL (17 January 1879 – 29 October 1956) was a senior commander in the Royal Air Force during the first half of the 20th century.

Sir Tom Ince Webb-Bowen
Born(1879-01-17)17 January 1879
Died29 October 1956(1956-10-29) (aged 77)
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army (1899–1918)
Royal Air Force (1918–41)
Years of service1899–1933
RankAir Vice Marshal
Commands heldWessex Bombing Area (1931–33)
Air Member for Personnel (1930–31)
RAF Middle East (1926–29)
Inland Area (1924–26)
No. 3 Group (1923–24)
RAF India (1920–22)
South Eastern Area (1919)
II Brigade RFC (1916–17, 1918–19)
VII Brigade RFC (1917–18)
No. 3 Wing RFC (1915–16)
No. 2 Squadron (1915)
Battles/warsFirst World War
Second World War
AwardsKnight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George
Mentioned in Despatches (3)
Order of Saint Anna, 3rd Class with Swords (Russia)
Officer of the Order of Leopold (Belgium)
Officer of the Legion of Honour (France)
Croix de guerre (France)
Officer of the Military Order of Savoy (Italy)

RAF career

Webb-Bowen was initially commissioned into a militia battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, later got a regular army commission into the Bedfordshire Regiment and was appointed the Adjutant of the Madras Volunteer Corps while serving in India.[1] Finding himself unsuited to regimental life, Webb-Bowen learnt to fly in 1912.[1] After several weeks as a Royal Flying Corps flight commander, he was posted to the Central Flying School as an instructor where he later served as the Assistant Commandant.[1]

In March 1915 Major Webb-Bowen took over command of No. 2 Squadron[1] while the squadron was located at Merville, France. During his short tenure there were two significant events. Firstly, because of the difficulty suffered by ground troops in communicating their advance to higher command, a technique was developed whereby troops on the ground could convey their position by laying strips of white cloth on the ground. (These strips are referred to as "Popham strips" in a novel,[2] and Webb-Bowen's predecessor was Robert Brooke-Popham.) Aircraft from No. 2 Squadron would then relay by WT the co-ordinates noted. The second and more historically significant event was the award of the first Victoria Cross awarded for bravery in the air, to Lieutenant William Rhodes-Moorhouse. Major Webb-Bowen handed over command to Major Becke in June 1915 following his posting to Home Establishment. He continued his war service commanding No. 3 Wing RFC from May 1915, and then as Brigadier-General Commanding first II Brigade RFC, then VII Brigade RFC and then II Brigade RFC again.[1] He commanded these brigades in France and Italy.[3]

After the war he was appointed Air Officer Commanding South Eastern Area and then Air Officer Commanding RAF India.[1] He was appointed Air Officer Commanding No. 3 Group in 1923, Air Officer Commanding Inland Area in 1924[4] and Air Officer Commanding Middle East Command in 1925.[1] He then went on to be Air Member for Personnel in 1930 and Air Officer Commanding Wessex Bombing Area in 1931 before retiring on 26 September 1933.[1]

He was recalled during the Second World War to be Duty Air Commodore in the Operations Room at Headquarters Fighter Command.[1]


Military offices
Preceded by
Hugh Trenchard
Assistant Commandant of the Central Flying School
7 August 1914 – 8 March 1915
Succeeded by
Duncan Pitcher
Preceded by
George Dawes
Officer Commanding No. 2 Squadron
8 March – 27 May 1915
Succeeded by
John Becke
Preceded by
Robert Brooke-Popham
Officer Commanding No. 3 Wing
27 May – 2 June 1915
Succeeded by
John Higgins
Preceded by
John Salmond
Brigadier-General Commanding II Brigade RFC
Succeeded by
John Becke
New title
Brigade established
Brigadier-General Commanding VII Brigade RFC
Brigade disbanded
Title next held by Charles Lambe in 1918
Preceded by
John Becke
Brigadier-General Commanding II Brigade RFC
Brigade disbanded
New title
Formed from Indian Group
Air Officer Commanding RAF India
Succeeded by
Philip Game
Title last held by
Arthur Longmore
Air Officer Commanding No. 3 Group
Succeeded by
Lionel Charlton
Preceded by
Oliver Swann
Air Officer Commanding RAF Middle East
Succeeded by
Francis Scarlett
Preceded by
Sir John Salmond
Air Member for Personnel
Succeeded by
Sir Edward Ellington
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