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Ian Dougald McLachlan (1911–1991)

by Alan Stephens

This article was published:

Douglad McLachlan, by John Harrison, 1945

Douglad McLachlan, by John Harrison, 1945

Australian War Memorial, OG3467

Ian Dougald McLachlan (1911–1991), air force officer and aeronautical consultant, was born on 23 July 1911 at South Yarra, Melbourne, fourth child of Victorian-born parents Dougald McLachlan, teacher, and his wife Berta Florence, née Gilliam. Educated at Williamstown High and Melbourne High schools, Dougald gained the Leaving certificate before working as a junior clerk with the Victorian Railways. In 1928 he entered the Royal Military College (RMC), Duntroon, Australian Federal Territory, under an arrangement for his subsequent transfer to the Royal Australia Air Force (RAAF). Strongly built with sandy brown hair and a fair complexion, he was a keen rugby union player.

Having performed well at the RMC, McLachlan was commissioned in the RAAF on 1 January 1932. He progressed through a series of flying and training posts, culminating in his appointment as commanding officer of No. 3 (Army Co-operation) Squadron in December 1939, three months after the outbreak of World War II. In July 1940, now a squadron leader, he led his unit in action in the Middle East. Forthright and astute, he became an aggressive, respected combat pilot and commander.

Operating obsolescent Gloster Gladiator biplane fighters and Westland Lysander observation aircraft, No. 3 Squadron supported the Australian Imperial Force’s 6th Division. His squadron fought (December 1940–January 1941) in the battles of Sidi Barrani (Egypt) and Bardia (Libya), and during the capture of Tobruk (Libya). McLachlan shot down an Italian fighter. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in February for displaying ‘determined leadership’ and accomplishing ‘many fine military feats’ (London Gazette 1941, 831). Promoted to wing commander the previous month, he served briefly on the staff of Air Marshal Arthur (Baron) Tedder, the air officer commanding-in-chief, Middle East.

Recalled to Australia in August 1941, McLachlan commanded RAAF stations at Canberra and Laverton, Victoria, before establishing No. 71 Wing at Milne Bay, New Guinea. He was promoted to acting group captain in March 1943 (substantive 1950). Equipped with Hudson and Beaufort general purpose bombers and Kittyhawk fighters, the wing took part in the battle of the Bismarck Sea. In June McLachlan became senior air staff officer of No. 9 Operational Group, the RAAF’s premier fighting formation in the South-West-Pacific Area. Subsequent wartime appointments included command of the RAAF’s Southern Area, Melbourne, in March 1944, and of No. 81 (Fighter) Wing (Netherlands East Indies, now Indonesia) in April 1945. He had been mentioned in despatches in March for his outstanding work as an operational commander.

On 5 January 1946 at St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, McLachlan married Margaret Helen Chrystal. She had been an officer in the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force during the war. They were to divorce in 1968. Between 1946 and 1948 he served with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan and, from October 1951, commanded the RAAF’s North Eastern Area headquarters, Townsville. Promoted to air commodore in July 1952, in the following year he attended the Imperial Defence College in London. He became director of flying training with the Royal Air Force in January 1955 and, on his return to Australia in 1957, was appointed air officer commanding Training Command (April 1957–September 1959).

 Promoted to acting air vice marshal in May 1959 (substantive September), he became an influential figure in the air force’s modernisation; two reviews were held under his authority. The first resulted in the RAAF College (which trained the air force’s future leaders) introducing tertiary education and subsequently becoming the RAAF Academy. The second rationalised the service’s command structure, reorganising Home Command as Operational Command, and amalgamating Maintenance and Training commands as Support Command.

In 1959 McLachlan was appointed deputy chief of the Air Staff, Canberra, and in 1961 head of the Australian Joint Services Staff in Washington. He became air member for supply and equipment in 1964, where he again implemented far-sighted policies. Under his guidance, the branch’s professionalism was enhanced by increasing the proportion of tertiary-educated logistics officers. Simultaneously, the branch led the services in the introduction of electronic data processing: by 1968 comprehensive computer-based logistics, personnel, and pay systems had been established.

McLachlan retired in July 1968, having been appointed CBE in 1954 and raised to CB in 1966. He became a consultant (1968–87) to the Northrop Corporation and sat on a number of boards, including Pokolbin Winemakers (1970–75) and Information Electronics Ltd (1983–87). Retaining an interest in defence, in 1975 he joined several other prominent retired senior officers to advocate for the acquisition by Australia of nuclear weapons. For recreation, he played tennis, squash, and golf; enjoyed horse racing; and was a member of the Melbourne Cricket, Royal Sydney Golf, Royal Canberra Golf, Naval and Military, Australian Jockey, and Victoria Racing clubs. Survived by his daughter, he died on 14 July 1991 at Darlinghurst, Sydney, and was cremated. His son had predeceased him.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Herington, John. Air War Against Germany & Italy 1939-1943. Vol. III of Series Three (Air) of Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1962
  • London Gazette, no. 35073, 11 February 1941, 831
  • National Archives of Australia. A12372, R/325/H, McLachlan, Ian Dougald
  • National Archives of Australia. A12372, R/325/P, McLachlan, Ian Dougald
  • Odgers, George. Air War Against Japan 1943–1945. Vol. II of Series Three (Air) of Australia in the War of 1939-1945. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1957
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Stephens, Alan. Going Solo: The Royal Australian Air Force 1946–1971. Canberra: AGPS, 1995
  • Stephens, Alan. Power Plus Attitude: Ideas, Strategy and Doctrine in the Royal Australian Air Force, 1921–1991. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1992

Additional Resources

Citation details

Alan Stephens, 'McLachlan, Ian Dougald (1911–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2019, accessed online 25 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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