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Keith Park file photo [10502]

Keith Park

Given NameKeith
Born12 Jun 1892
Died6 Feb 1975
CountryNew Zealand, United Kingdom


ww2dbaseKeith Rodney Park was born in Thames, New Zealand to Scottish father and English mother; his father was a geologist working for a mining company. He attended the King's College in Auckland, New Zealand until 1906 and then attended the Otago Boys' High School in Dunedin, New Zealand where he served in the cadets. He later joined the New Zealand Army as a Territorial soldier in the Field Artillery. In 1911, he went to sea as a purser aboard collier and passenger steamships, earning the family nickname Skipper.

ww2dbaseWhen WW1 began, Park volunteered for service with the New Zealand Army and joined an artillery battalion. As a non-commissioned officer, he participated in the landings at Gallipoli in Apr 1915, going ashore at Anzac Cove. In Jul 1915, he received a field commission, given the rank of second lieutenant. In the following month, he commanded an artillery battalion during the attack on Suvla Bay. Around this time, he switched allegiances by transferring from the New Zealand Army into the British Army and was given a position in the Royal Horse and Field Artillery. In Jan 1916, he was evacuated from Gallipoli. Following Gallipoli, his battalion was sent to France for the Battle of the Somme, where he learned the importance of aerial reconnaissance. On 21 Oct 1916, he was blown off of his horse by a German shell. He was evacuated to Britain, where a doctor declared him unfit for active service. Unwilling to sit out the war, he joined the Royal Flying Corps in Dec 1916.

ww2dbaseWith the Royal Flying Corps, Park became an instructor between Mar and Jun 1917. On 7 Jul, he was assigned to No. 48 Squadron in France. On 17 Aug, he earned the Military Cross for shooting down a German aircraft and damaging three others. On 11 Sep, he was promoted to the war time rank of captain. He took a short break from combat, during which he was promoted to the rank of major, before returning to France to command the No. 48 Squadron. By the end of WW1, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the French Croix de Guerre, among other awards.

ww2dbaseAfter WW1, Park married the London socialite Dorothy Parish. He was given a position in the Royal Air Force, RAF, at the rank of captain. In 1919, as the RAF introduced new ranks, his rank was adjusted to flight lieutenant. Between 1919 and 1920, he was a flight commander in the No. 25 Squadron. Between 1920 and 1921, he was a squadron commander at the School of Technical Training. In 1922, he was selected to attend the newly formed RAF Staff College. In the late 1920s and 1930s, he held various staff positions, commanded various RAF stations, and also served as an instructor. In 1938, he became a staff officer to Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding.

ww2dbaseIn Apr 1940, Air Vice Marshal Park was appointed the commanding officer of No. 11 Group RAF, thus placing him in charge of defending the air above London and southeast England. In this role, he organized fighter patrols over the French coast to protect harbors, beaches, and ships during the evacuations as well as coordinating fighter defenses against German attacks during the Battle of Britain. He agreed with Dowding's thinking that, because the British fighter strength was inadequate, small numbers of fighters should be launched against each wave of German attacks so that Britain could put up a consistent defense through the summer and the fall of 1940 (it was perceived that the Germans would not attempt an invasion beyond the fall and into winter, as the English Channel would become stormy); this strategy also allowed him to be able to always have a reserve of fighters on the ground ready to be launched to handle unexpected attacks. Finally, again to preserve strength, he ordered the pilots to focused on German bombers and, unless necessary, ignore the escorting fighters; this was due to the fact that it was the bomber force that had the capability to achieve the German objectives for the Battle of Britain, while the German fighters, though posing danger to British fighters, were only dispatched in support. To inspire his men, he would fly his personal Hurricane fighter "OK 1" to visit fighter airfields whenever possible. Park's subordinates noted him as a good listener and his manners made junior officers feel at ease when speaking to him. After the war, in Feb 1947, Arthur Tedder noted that

If any one man won the Battle of Britain, [Park] did. I do not believe it is realised how much that one man, with his leadership, his calm judgment and his skill, did to save, not only this country, but the world.

ww2dbaseSome of Park's peers, however, found him to be overly sensitive to criticism. Moreover, some thought he was ruthless and humorless.

ww2dbaseWhen Hugh Dowding was removed from RAF Fighter Command, Park was also removed as he was considered Dowding's second-in-command. Relegated to Training Command briefly, he was transferred to Egypt as Air Officer Commanding, where he organized air defenses of the Nile Delta. In Jul 1942, he was assigned to Malta where he coordinated the island's defenses against continuous Axis aerial attacks; in this role, he also provided fighter support for operations in North Africa and Sicily. In Jun 1944, he was considered by the Australian government to command the Royal Australian Air Force, but Allied commander-in-chief of the theater Douglas MacArthur was against making such a change at the late stage of the war. In Feb 1945, he was appointed the Allied Air Commander, South-East Asia; he would remain in this role through the end of the war, participating in the offensive against Japanese units in Burma and Malaya.

ww2dbaseOn 20 Dec 1946, Park was promoted to the rank of Air Chief Marshal. After retirement from the British Royal Air Force, returned to his native country of New Zealand, and became a member of the Auckland City Council. He passed away in Auckland at the age of 82.

Stephen Bungay, The Most Dangerous Enemy
Kate Moore, Battle of Britain

Last Major Revision: Jul 2010

Keith Park Interactive Map


British Royal Air Force Air Vice Marshal Keith Park in pilotAir Vice Marshal Keith Park with British airmen, Malta, 1942-1943
See all 5 photographs of Keith Park

Keith Park Timeline

12 Jun 1892 Keith Park was born at Thames, New Zealand.
20 Apr 1940 Keith Park took command of the 11 Group of the Royal Air Force Fighter Command.
12 Sep 1940 In a report to his superiors dated this day regarding German aerial attacks on Britain, Keith Park wrote "confidence is felt in our ability to hold the enemy by day and to prevent his attaining superiority in the air over our territory, unless he greatly increases the scale or intensity of his attacks."
4 Dec 1941 Keith Park was made a companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath.
6 Feb 1975 Keith Park passed away.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. chanelle coooper says:
6 May 2012 06:15:15 PM

I am doing an History assignment about Keith Park, he is a very interesting guy :)
2. william warwick says:
25 Dec 2020 11:17:02 AM

Sir. When Keith Park was posted to Malta to take control of the Air defence of the island he also introduced the Dowding System and Royal Oberver Corps methods to the island. Are there any further details and or Photographs available please

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Event(s) Participated:
» Malta Campaign
» Battle of Britain

Keith Park Photo Gallery
British Royal Air Force Air Vice Marshal Keith Park in pilotAir Vice Marshal Keith Park with British airmen, Malta, 1942-1943
See all 5 photographs of Keith Park

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"Goddam it, you'll never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!"

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