Ralph Cochrane

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Sir Ralph Alexander Cochrane
AVM Sir Ralph Cochrane.jpg
Air Vice Marshal Cochrane in 1943
Born(1895-02-24)24 February 1895
Springfield, Fife, Scotland
Died17 December 1977(1977-12-17) (aged 82)
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchRoyal Navy (1908–20)
Royal Air Force (1920–52)
Years of service1912–52
RankAir Chief Marshal
Commands heldVice Chief of the Air Staff (1950–52)
Flying Training Command (1947–50)
Transport Command (1945–47)
No. 5 Group (1943–45)
No. 3 Group (1942–43)
No. 7 Group (1940)
RAF Abingdon (1939–40)
Chief of the New Zealand Air Staff (1937–39)
No. 8 Squadron (1929)
No. 3 Squadron (1924–25)
Battles/warsWorld War I
World War II
AwardsKnight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire
Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Air Force Cross
Mentioned in Despatches (4)
Other workDirector of Rolls-Royce Limited

Air Chief Marshal Sir Ralph Alexander Cochrane, GBE, KCB, AFC (24 February 1895 – 17 December 1977) was a British aviator and Royal Air Force officer, perhaps best known for his role in Operation Chastise, the famous "Dambusters" raid.

Early RAF career[edit]

Ralph Cochrane was born on 24 February 1895, the youngest son of Thomas Cochrane, 1st Baron Cochrane of Cults, in the Scottish village of Springfield, Fife. To qualify as a naval officer, he must have joined the Royal Naval College, Osborne, in 1908, and the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, two years later. On 15 September 1912, he was commissioned into the Royal Navy as a midshipman.[1]

During the First World War, Cochrane served in the Royal Naval Air Service piloting airships.[1] He also completed a tour as a staff officer in the Admiralty's Airship Department.[1]

In January 1920, he was removed from the Navy List and granted a commission in the Royal Air Force.[1] Between the wars, Cochrane served in various staff positions and commanded No. 3 Squadron from 1924 before attending the RAF Staff College and commanding No. 8 Squadron from 1929.[1] He attended the Imperial Defence College in 1935.[1]

At the request of Group Captain T. M. Wilkes, New Zealand Director of Air Services,[2] in 1936 Cochrane was sent to New Zealand to assist with the establishment of the Royal New Zealand Air Force as an independent service from the army.[1] On 1 April 1937, Cochrane was appointed Chief of the Air Staff of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.[1]

Air Vice-Marshal Ralph Cochrane, Wing Commander Guy Gibson, King George VI and Group Captain John Whitworth discussing the Dambusters Raid in May 1943

Second World War and the post-war years[edit]

During the Second World War, Cochrane commanded No. 7 Group from July 1940, No. 3 Group from September 1942 and No. 5 Group from February 1943; all these Groups were in RAF Bomber Command.[1] 5 Group became the most efficient and elite Main Force bomber group undertaking spectacular raids.[3] Cochrane commanded the Dam-Busters raid.[4] There was intense, sometimes openly hostile, rivalry between Cochrane and Air Vice Marshal Don Bennett, who saw Cochrane's experimentation with low-level target marking through 617 Squadron in 1944 as a direct threat to his own specialist squadrons' reputation.[3]

In February 1945, Cochrane became Air Officer Commanding at RAF Transport Command, a position he held until 1947 when he became Air Officer Commanding at RAF Flying Training Command.[1] During this time he managed the Berlin Airlift. In 1950 Cochrane was appointed Vice-Chief of the Air Staff.[1] Ralph Cochrane retired from the service in 1952.[1] Following his retirement, Cochrane entered the business world notably as director of Rolls-Royce.[1] He was also chairman of RJM exports which manufactured scientific models and is now known as Cochranes of Oxford.[1]

Honours and awards[edit]

In the New Year Honours 1939 Cochrane was invested a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (Military Division).[5] In the New Year Honours 1943 Cochrane was invested as a Companion of the Order of the Bath (Military Division).[6] In the 1945 New Years Honour list he was invested as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In the 1948 King's Birthday Honours he was invested as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. In the 1950 King's Birthday Honours, he was invested as a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire.[7]

Dates of Rank[edit]

Rank Date Role
Wing Commander 1933[8]
Acting Group Captain 1937[9] On secondment to RNZAF
Group Captain 1938[10]
Air Commodore (temporary) 1940[11]
Air Marshal (Acting) 1945[12]
Air Marshal 1946[13]
Air Chief Marshal 1949[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation – Air Chief Marshal The Hon Sir Ralph Cochrane
  2. ^ http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2AirF-c3.html
  3. ^ a b Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  4. ^ Sir Ralph Alexander Cochrane Gazetteer for Scotland
  5. ^ "No. 34585". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1938. p. 10.
  6. ^ "No. 35841". The London Gazette. 29 December 1942. p. 4.
  7. ^ http://www.rafweb.org/Biographies/Cochrane.htm
  8. ^ "No. 33955". The London Gazette. 30 June 1933. p. 4386.
  9. ^ "No. 34419". The London Gazette. 20 July 1937. p. 4670.
  10. ^ "No. 34527". The London Gazette. 1 July 1938. p. 4248.
  11. ^ "No. 34949". The London Gazette. 20 September 1940. p. 5580.
  12. ^ "No. 36945". The London Gazette. 16 February 1945. p. 983.
  13. ^ "No. 37423". The London Gazette. 4 January 1946. p. 347.
  14. ^ "No. 38583". The London Gazette. 12 April 1949. p. 1821.
Military offices
New title
Service became independent
Chief of the Air Staff (RNZAF)
Succeeded by
Hugh Saunders
Title last held by
Duncan Pitcher
Air Officer Commanding No. 7 Group
Succeeded by
Leonard Cockey
Preceded by
Alec Coryton
Air Officer Commanding No. 5 Group
Succeeded by
Hugh Constantine
Preceded by
Sir Frederick Bowhill
Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Transport Command
Succeeded by
Sir Brian Baker
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Coningham
Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Flying Training Command
Succeeded by
Sir Hugh Walmsley
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Sanders
Vice Chief of the Air Staff
Succeeded by
Sir John Baker