Though born in Australia, Arthur Coningham, the son of Arthur and Alice Stanford (Dowling) Coningham, was raised and educated in New Zealand. He enlisted in the 5th Wellington Regiment on 10 August 1914 and served in Samoa and Egypt at the beginning of the war. After contracting typhoid fever, he was deemed unfit for service and discharged from the army on 1 April 1916. Later that month, at his own expense, he sailed for England and was accepted as a cadet in the Royal Flying Corps. He received a commission as a Second Lieutenant (on probation) on 8 August 1916 and learned to fly at Netheravon and Upavon, graduating from the Central Flying School in November 1916. He was then assigned to 32 Squadron, arriving at Lealvillers, northwest of Albert, on 19 December 1916. Flying the D.H.2, Coningham scored his first victory on 23 January 1917. In July 1917, he scored nine more victories flying the D.H.5 but was wounded in action and spent several months in hospital. On 26 March 1918, he assumed command of 92 Squadron at Tangmere in Sussex. With this unit he scored four more victories flying the S.E.5a. Coningham remained in the Royal Air Force and was granted a permanent commission to Flight Lieutenant on 1 August 1919.
During World War II, Coningham distinguished himself as Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery's air boss in the Desert War campaign, advocating an airpower doctrine that was later adopted by General Dwight D. Eisenhower and became the tactical air doctrine of the United States Air Force. The basic principles of this doctrine were:
The strength of airpower lies in its flexibility and capacity for rapid concentration.
It follows that control must be concentrated under command of an airman.
Air forces must be concentrated in use and not dispersed in penny packets.
Assuming command of the British Second Tactical Air Force in January 1944, Coningham played a key role in the Normandy invasion. By the end of the war, he attained the rank of Air Marshal and was later knighted by the King of England. In 1948, Coningham was a passenger aboard a British South American Airways flight that disappeared en route to Bermuda. The passengers and crew of the ill-fated Star Tiger, an Avro Tudor IV, were never found.
Distinguished Service Order (DSO)
2nd Lt. (T./Capt.) Arthur Coningham,
M.C., R.F.C., Spec. Res.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. With three other pilots he attacked an enemy machine which was protected by ten others, shot it down, and destroyed another one the same evening. Shortly afterwards he and two others attacked five of the enemy, and although wounded and rendered unconscious for the moment, he succeeded in driving down two of the enemy. In spite of being much exhausted by loss of blood he continued his patrol until he was sure that no more enemy machines were in the vicinity} setting a splendid example of pluck and determination.
2nd Lt. (T./Capt.) Arthur Coningham, R.F.C., Spec. Res.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in attacking enemy aircraft. On numerous occasions he has displayed great dash and a fine offensive spirit in engaging the enemy at close range, and driving them down completely out of control.