Who was the best British Commander?

Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by Garreth Hughes, Apr 4, 2004.


The best Western Desert Force/Eighth Army Commander

  1. O'Connor

  2. Ritchie

  3. Cunningham

  4. Auchinleck

    0 vote(s)
  5. Montgom

  1. morse1001

    morse1001 Very Senior Member

    The real question is whether he was suited to the command of the Eighth Army. Alan Brooke thought he was fatigued and required rest before he did anything more.

    Churchill believed him to be the best possible commander for the Eighth Army, that is why he appointed Gott in the first place.

    the pilot Sgt James survived and ended up as a sqn ldr, yet I can't find any mention of memoirs!

    Stands back and waits for the conspiracy theorists, to link his silence with a grand Masonic/aliens conspiracy
    :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

    :ph34r: :ph34r:
  2. BeppoSapone

    BeppoSapone Senior Member

    Originally posted by Edward_N_Kelly@Jul 13 2004, 02:57 AM

    Gott – hate to say it but it was almost a fortuitous accident that he was killed (going back into a shot down aircraft to retrieve something left behind while it was being strafed). He was tired and worn out by constant fighting without adequate rest. No knowing how he might have reacted. Was a proponent of the “Jock” columns which would have ensured the destruction of the Eighth Army whereas the “Auk” ensured that they were discredited and concentration of force was to be the norm from First Alamein onwards.

    Out of interest, someone is selling the photograph albums of a member of 8th Army on ebay. That someone is not me!

    The albums include photos of 'Strafer' Gott's burial service.

    "There are two pages (7 photographs) entitled 'The burial service of Gen. 'Straffer' Gott, whose plane was shot down by Messerschmitts in our location'. The burnt-out plane is clearly seen by the make-shift cemetery."

    The item number is 2263068740, but with any luck this link will take you right to it:

  3. angie999

    angie999 Very Senior Member

    I think that although Gott had his strengths as one of the best subordinate commanders in the 8th army, he also had some of the faults which had characterised it up to them, for instance the tendency to challenge and debate orders instead of just doing them.

    The 8th army was very high quality, but I think they needed a Monty to shake them up and put them through tough training before el Alamein. Monty also had his faults (one or two!), but there was no better trainer, or commanded of a setpiece battle in the British army - and it was bound to be setpiece with no open flank to the South, due to the Qatarra depression.

    A key feature of the desert war up to then had been that the attacking force always had an open flank they could go for to the south.
  4. BeppoSapone

    BeppoSapone Senior Member

    Is that really the case? I read that Gott went back to help others out of the plane. Of course, as my source is the KRRC Chronicle, it could just be wartime "spin" - "Straffer" Gott was a Rifleman. [/quote]

    It may well have been to help others out (I did that one from memory) but I think I also read at the saem time that it was considered suicidial to have done it with the German aircraft still around.

    Edward [/quote]

    Actually, you could well be right. It could be that Gott was killed going back into a the downed aircraft to retrieve something left behind. I read that he was rescuing people, but this could just be wartime "spin". I thought you could have read a post-war account?

    The reason I do not quite trust the wartime issues of the "KRRC Chronicle" that I have is because they got the exact details of his death "wrong" at first. This is from his obit. in the 1942 chronicle.

    ......"He was about to get Command of the 8th Army when his death occurred. He was flying to Cairo for a few days' leave, the first since January, after meeting the Prime Minister, Mr Winston Churchill, in the desert. He was in his usual great spirits. The 'plane was a large bomber. There had been an air battle over the Delta and two ME 109s had pulled out of the dog-fight and were making fast for home when they saw "Strafer's" 'plane. It was raked from end to end. The pilot was badly wounded and managed to land the machine. Five others escaped, the remainder, including "Strafer" being killed. How cruel fate can be. So passed away at the age of 44 a very great Englishman".......

    No mention of strafing on the ground and rather more than a suggestion that all the dead were killed in the air. The rescuing someone piece came from a correction printed later in the war.

    [post=26907]Quoted post[/post]

    There is a prog. about the fighting in Egypt etc actually on the "History Channel" now.

    One of the people interviewed was the German pilot who shot down Gott's plane. This man, Emil Clade claimed that Gott was actually killed because, in panic, he jumped out of the still moving plane when it was on the ground.

    So, Gott was killed in the attack whilst still in the air, was killed jumping out of the still moving plane, and killed as he ran back into the downed plane to rescue people/documents!

    Truth is the first casualty of war!
  5. Kiwiwriter

    Kiwiwriter Very Senior Member

    I hate decisions like this, but I went with O'Connor, but only by a whisker over Montgomery.

    Monty built up Eighth Army's morale and belief in itself to a fighting pitch, which nobody had done since O'Connor. But his arrogance and inability to get along with allies has made him hated and disliked. I think most of the hostility to Monty is over his memoirs and press conferences rather than his battles.
  6. Faugh A Ballagh!

    Faugh A Ballagh! Junior Member

    Beresford-Peirse (note the spelling) did not command the original Western Desert Force. O'Connor handed over command of what had become XIII Corps on 1 Jan '41 to Sir Philip Neame VC who was later captured with O'Connor. XIII Corps also seems to have become Cyrenaica Command for a time before reverting to the title XIII Corps. In April 1941 a new Western Desert Force was formed and on 17 Apr 6th Division was assigned to this, as was a mobile force under Brig Strafer Gott. This is the WDF that was commanded by Noel Beresford-Peirse but it was hammered in BREVITY and then in BATTLEAXE and Beresford-Peirse was relieved of his command and sent to Sudan as GOC, East Africa Command.

    Beresford-Peirse had been a competent divisional commander but did not shine at corps level. Unlike his fellow Irishman O'Connor he did not have a flair for the all-arms battle.

    A very good assessment of many of the desert generals is available in 'Ireland's Generals in the Second World War' by Richard Doherty (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2004). He does not include Beresford-Peirse but there are excellent chapters on O'Connor, Montgomery, Alexander, Auchinleck, Dill and Brooke, among others. In all nineteen generals are studied.

    Faugh A Ballagh!
  7. sapper_k9

    sapper_k9 Junior Member

    Have I missed something? Aukinleck?
  8. spidge


    My vote goes to O'Connor.
  9. BulgarianSoldier

    BulgarianSoldier Senior Member

    I vote for O Connor
  10. redcoat

    redcoat Senior Member

    Has to be Monty.
    While O'Conner is the romantic choice, in truth he defeated a Italian army which was totally unsuited for desert warfare, being a basically infantry force with little or no mobility.
    Later after he had escaped from Italian captivity, he served in the European campaign of 44-5 as commander of VIII Corps, and helped plan Operation Goodwood with Dempsey, and during this period showed little of the flair he had during Operation Compass
  11. Desert Dog

    Desert Dog Member

    Great thread. Pity I saw it so late! What happened to Monty's name on the poll?

    I also voted for O'Connor as I think he definitely set the example for the entire campaign, which was the Britain would not be counted out.

    I also think that he was very lucky that it was only the 'Colonial' Italian troops he was up against as operation Compass could have gone horibly wrong if he was up against Rommel or even the crack Italian units that showed up afterwards.

    As has already been said here, both Wavell and Auchinleck did briliantly with what they had. Reduced manpower (2-3 Divisions at most the front), a three front war (Western Desert, Middle East and East Africa, and even Greece at the Begining) and Churchill's micromanagement. Battleaxe and Brevity where at Churchills goading.

    The allies could have been in better shape, just manning the front line until the Middle East and East Africa were secured and all the troops would have returned to the front. With Rommels long supply lines, the allies were in a much better position.

    This is
  12. jonwilly

    jonwilly Junior Member

    The Auk had the entire Mid East on his plate.
    He was not the Commander of the 8th Army but ended up going forward and doing the job when the very inexperienced Ritchie needed 'Supervising'.
    Auk would not give Winston what he wanted, a Major UK victory, before the US took over as he main player.

  13. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    I can only utter thanks that this forum has come a long way from the statements and opinion of the latter day posters of 2004 - to 2006 in regards to who was best in the Desert - fact is that most of the foregoing commanders had little to play with until the US entered the war and supplies and arms became more plentiful to set about winning the war in the desert - Monty finally was the inheritor of all that had gone before but this time - with an adequacy of supplies and his own professionalism brought that 8th Army back on it's feet.

    Much has been made of Auchinleks halting Rommel at El Alamein in July - BUT - that was at the end of yet another pell mell retreat from Gazala incurring the loss of Tobruk - and his planning of the defensive battle of Wadi el Halpha - but again - it was Monty's instruction that no one chased after Rommell so that he could claim the "the swine didn't come out..... "
    That was the end of Rommell !
    Steve Mac likes this.
  14. Cobber

    Cobber Senior Member

    A little quiz for you !

    Who actually commanded Western Desrt Force between the capture of O'Connor and the decision to appoint Bereford-Pierse ? Hint - it was not a British Officer.

    Why was he replaced ?

    On or around the 8th of April 1941 Command of Allied forces in Cyrenaica
    was passed to Lieutenant General Lavarack of the Australian Army. He was given this command as it appears that the majority of troops in Cyrenaica at the time were Australian and as well probably being the highest ranking General in the theatre. The 9th and 7th Divisions constituted most of the infantry troops available at that time. Apparently a agreement was undertaken that when Australians constituted the majority of front line men then a Aussie would be given command of that Corps etc.
    He moved on from this command when British and other Commonwealth forces constituted the bulk of the troops as well as due to being CO of 7th AIF Div which was moved to the Holy Lands. He did a good job as 7th Div CO and then the 1 Corps CO during the Lebanon/Syrian campaign.
  15. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Auchinleck. The first one to beat Rommel with quite inadequate means. The only real weakness I can see in him is an inability to see that Richie was not up to the job. Cunningham came highly recommended from the East Africa campaign, and when Auchinleck saw that he was struggling he was quite ruthless in removing him. If he had done the same with Richie in January 42 things may well have turned out differently.

    But apart from that, I can't see much that was wrong with him. He clearly had the edge over Rommel in terms of appreciation of the battle.

    All the best

  16. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Churchill believed him to be the best possible commander for the Eighth Army, that is why he appointed Gott in the first place.

    That's actually a good argument against him. :D

    I must say I am deeply unimpressed with Gott, and I really don't see what, apart from a great name (Gott = German word for God), and long years in the desert he had going for him, since he made a hash of anything, as far as I can see. His performance in CRUSADER was abysmal, and while I have not studied the Gazala battles in as much depth, I don't think he did well in those either. So why was he allowed to continue?

    All the best

  17. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Andreas -
    perhaps before condemning anyone - you really should study the Crusader battle in more depth as I believe that you will see that Churchill had little choice between Lumsden - Gott - Gatehouse - Norrie - Godwen Austen had already resigned - he chose Gott as being the best of the lot who had some experience in the desert- the other names were colonials .....

    Gazala was a pell mell retreat in which we lost some 33,000 men at Tobruk and was deeply embarrassing for Churchill to learn of that fact - by the colonial Kloppers of South Africa - in the office of the American President !

    which turned into a good thing as FDR stripped Patton of his new 300 Sherman Tanks - and Monty was the beneficiary of that event that MIGHT have really gotten up Patton's nose about Monty to begin the long animosity !
  18. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Andreas -
    perhaps before condemning anyone - you really should study the Crusader battle in more depth as I believe that you will see that Churchill had little choice between Lumsden - Gott - Gatehouse - Norrie - Godwen Austen had already resigned - he chose Gott as being the best of the lot who had some experience in the desert- the other names were colonials .....


    I stand by what I said, I don't see what Gott achieved, from CRUSADER onwards that would make him deserving of promotion. But I'll be happy to be corrected. I can say with reasonable certainty that he did not do much if anything during CRUSADER.

    I would also argue that by summer 42 experience of the desert should probably have counted against any of the commanders, not in favour. Bringing a fresh pair of hands, unencumbered by what had gone on before, and not caught up in the culture of decision-making so desastrous under Richie was a good idea, as shown by the appointment of Montgomery.

    All the best

  19. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    I don't suppose that I can change your mind about anything - all I was saying that you are condemning a man whose boots you never walked in - here was an infantryman thrown in to command tanks after long years in the desert and a long list of failed - killed - captured Generals - he was the best out there -at the time when Churchill made his decision - we were running out of Generals and Monty had already fallen foul of Churchill years before so was by no means first choice - and only when Brookes prevailed that he would "put up with" Monty - and it was a good decision - by Brookes ....
  20. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Hi Tom

    On the contrary, I am sure you can change my mind about lots of things. But in this particular case I simply haven't seen any reason to change it. And I'm not alone in this opinion, as the relevant quote from Agar-Hamilton shows.

    The point is not why he did not do well in CRUSADER, but rather why he was promoted afterwards, despite not having done well.

    All the best


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