Ralph Cochrane

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Sir Ralph Alexander Cochrane
Air Vice Marshal Cochrane in 1943
Born (1895-02-24)24 February 1895
Springfield, Fife, Scotland
Died 17 December 1977(1977-12-17) (aged 82)
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Navy (1908–20)
 Royal Air Force (1920–52)
Years of service 1912–1952
Rank Air Chief Marshal
Commands held Vice Chief of the Air Staff
Flying Training Command
Transport Command
No. 5 Group
No. 3 Group
No. 7 Group
RAF Abingdon
Chief of the New Zealand Air Staff
No. 8 Squadron
No. 3 Squadron
Battles/wars First World War
Second World War
Awards Knight 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 work Director of Rolls Royce

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

Early RAF career

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. Although not certain, it is likely that he attended the Royal Naval College at Osborne in 1908. On 15 September 1912, Cochrane entered the Royal Navy proper 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

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 Donald 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

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

Dates of Rank

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]


External links

Media related to Ralph A. Cochrane at Wikimedia Commons

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