Robert Saundby

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Air Marshal
Sir Robert Saundby
Royal Air Force Bomber Command, 1942-1945. CH14544.jpg
Born (1896-04-26)26 April 1896
Died 25 September 1971(1971-09-25) (aged 75)
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Years of service 1914–1946
Rank Air Marshal
Commands held Deputy Air Officer Commanding

Air Marshal Sir Robert Henry Magnus Spencer Saundby KCB, KBE, MC, DFC, AFC (26 April 1896 – 25 September 1971) was an RAF officer whose career spanned both World War I and World War II. He distinguished himself gaining five victories during World War I, and was present during the air battle when Lanoe Hawker was shot down and killed by Manfred von Richthofen, the "Red Baron". He is chiefly remembered for his role as Deputy AOC in C Bomber Command under Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris during the latter part of World War II.

World War I[edit]

Robert Henry Magnus Spencer Saundby was born on 26 April 1896.[1] He was the son of Professor Robert Saundby, and was born in Birmingham.[2] He left school in 1913 and joined the Traffic Department of the London and North Western Railway.[citation needed] He joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment,[3] Territorial Force at the outbreak of war in 1914 as a private soldier.[citation needed] Upon completing officer training in June 1915, he spent time at the front line[citation needed] until January 1916 when he joined the Royal Flying Corps. He became a qualified pilot and joined Britain's first single-seater fighter squadron, No. 24 Squadron RFC, in its original complement[3] under famous Major Lanoe Hawker VC, flying the Airco DH2 on the Western Front.[4] His initial successes began on 31 July 1916; he drove down a Fokker Eindekker out of control, and was slightly wounded in the process.

Saundby transferred from 24 Squadron to 41 Squadron on 26 January 1917. On 4 March, while flying FE.8 Serial No. 6431, he shared a victory over an Albatros.[5] Following this win, he transferred to Home Defense in Britain. By 1917 he was at Orford Ness RFC Experimental Station, England, and on 20 February 1917 he became a Flight Commander, No 11 Training Squadron RFC Scampton.[citation needed] He ended the war in this role.

On 17 June 1917 he was flying one of three aircraft, one of 37 Squadron RFC and two others from the Experimental Station that intercepted the Zeppelin L48 after she got lost trying to bomb London. As a result of their attacks, L48 crashed near Theberton. The victory was shared among the three air crews.[1] Saundby not only became an ace with this win, he was awarded the Military Cross.[6]

The Inter-War Years[edit]

Between 1919 and 1925, Robert Saundby moved slowly through the ranks of the newly formed RAF, whilst gaining experience of command. Between 1922 and 1925 he served as a Flight Commander in No. 45 Squadron, stationed in Iraq, flying the Vickers Vernon transport aircraft. He flew as co-pilot for the then Squadron Leader Arthur Harris, when the latter developed a locally improvised bombing capability for the Vernon[7]

His move towards the upper command ranks of the RAF was initiated when he joined No. 58 Squadron as a Flight Commander on 15 October 1926 flying the Vickers Virginia at RAF Worthy Down. His Squadron Commander was Wing-Commander Arthur Harris, and the Squadron concentrated on developing night bombing techniques such as target-marking in their 70 mph machines. The other squadron at Worthy Down at the time, No. 7, was commanded by Wing-Commander Portal, later to become Chief of Air Staff during World War II and the direct superior and sometimes opponent of Harris.

After one year, Saundby attended RAF Staff College, Andover, and became an RAF Staff Officer, becoming Deputy Director of Operations in 1937.

World War II[edit]

Air Marshal A T Harris studies a map of Germany with Air Vice-Marshal R Graham (left), the Air Officer Administration at BCHQ, and Air Vice-Marshal R H M S Saundby (right), Harris's Senior Air Staff Officer.

By 1940, Saundby had become Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO), HQ Bomber Command. He served under Air Marshal Richard Peirse and then became Deputy AOC in C under Harris in 1943.

He was a supporter of the strategy of area bombing against German civil population and he very much became a right-hand man for Harris throughout the remainder of the war. On behalf of Harris he selected 94 German towns which were "fitted" for carpet bombing and gave codenames to each of them known as 'Fish code'; for example Nuremberg was codenamed Grayling and Berlin was Whitebait. It is thought that he chose this coding because he was a keen fly fisherman.[8] He retired on medical grounds from the RAF on 22 March 1946.

He was awarded the Order of Leopold II with Palme and Croix de Guerre 1940 with Palme, Commander class for services in the liberation of Belgium.


He devoted much of his retirement to his role as Vice-Chairman, Council of Territorial and Auxiliary Forces Association, for which he was awarded his KCB. He had many hobbies, and wrote several books on differing subjects including his role in the RAF during the war (Air Bombardment, The Story of its Development, How the Bomber and the Missile Brought the Third Dimension to Warfare) and Steam Engines (Early British Steam 1825-1925 The First 100 Years). He lived at Burghclere in Hampshire where he died on 25 September 1971.

Honours and awards[edit]



  1. ^ a b Above the Trenches: A Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the British Empire Air Forces 1915-1920. p. 330. 
  2. ^ "Wings of Glory WW1 Airplane Packs Preview: Airco DH2". Ares Games. Retrieved 22 November 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Pusher Aces of World War 1. p. 39. 
  4. ^ Retrieved on 17 August 2010.
  5. ^ Pusher Aces of World War 1. p. 64. 
  6. ^ Pusher Aces of World War 1. pp. 83–84. 
  7. ^ Johnson Brian & Cozens H. I. Bombers The Weapon of Total War London Methuen 1984 ISBN 0-423-00630-4 p38
  8. ^ Falconer, Jonathon (1998). The Bomber Command Handbook 1939-1945. Stroud: Sutton Publishing Limited. ISBN 0-7509-1819-5. 

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