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. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Andrea -
    Missed that quote from Agar Hamilton - but I assume he was there at the time ?

    You should recall that we had lost Godwen -Austin -Norrie was already past it - then the newly appointed Commander of 7th Armoured - Jock Campbell V.C. was killed in a car mishap - we were indeed running out of Generals - so someone had to be promoted ! See the list of our Generals in POW camps....De Wiart - Neame V.C. - O'Conner - Combe ..
    - This was the reason that Monty couldn't fire Lumsden or Gatehouse when he took over -and had to wait until Medenine to do so ... there was very little left and you will note that he brought Leese - Kirkman and Horrocks out to the desert to take over XXX corps and Xth corp as well as shaking up the Artillery - Kirkman designed the El Alamein barrage before taking over a corps - Dempsey also came out.....

    Steve Mac likes this.
  2. Jaeger

    Jaeger Senior Member

    Richard Simpkin among others voice an interesting point about generals in peacetime are no good for a war, or rather the brilliant commanders never rise to higher office in peacetime.

    During peace the most important quality of an officer is conformity. A damned useless trait during campaigning where you need to take important decisions on your feet.

    To follow Simpkins thoughts he suggested that commanders should have a go at buisiness management sprinkled with army service. In this way they would be forced to take important decisions, and think outside the box. A cracking good read.
  3. Some Chicken

    Some Chicken Member

    A strange thread this, which seems to have been around forever and occasionally springs into life again. In my opinion Montgomery stands head and shoulders above the rest (as a general if not physically!) and it is a shame to see his achievements downplayed so often.

    Under Auchinleck, 8th Army stopped Rommel on the Alamein line but then failed badly in the counterattacks which followed later in July, despite enjoying a significant advantage in numbers and materiel. As Tom pointed out earlier, First Alamein had been preceded by defeat at Gazala, the capture of Tobruk and Ash Wednesday, with the loss of Egypt regarded as a real possibility. One account of this period talks of 8th Army perpetually "looking over its shoulder", and anticipating the next retreat to another defensive position.

    Those who criticise Montgomery for being vain, publicity minded etc seem to me to overlook a couple of important points. Firstly wars are seldom won by shrinking violets who are afraid to ruffle feathers if necessary to get the job done. Secondly soldiers want to be led by a commander they can believe in. For all their ability, Wavell and Auchinleck were somewhat aloof characters and didn't communicate well with, or inspire the rank and file in the way Montgomery did. In contrast, Rommel benefited from a 'cult of personality' built around his exploits, so that ordinary Italian soldiers as well as Germans seemingly had confidence in his leadership.

    In taking over a demoralised army which had become accustomed to defeat and retreat, it was vital that Montgomery drew a definite line under what had gone before. Doubters in staff positions and commanders he did not believe to be up to the job had to go, along with contingency plans for further withdrawal. Montgomery set about creating his own personality cult and did it very well, in record time. Those who criticise him now do not explain how else he could have convinced the rank and file that it really would be different this time round. Whether this policy reflected personal vanity or expediency (or a mixture of both) is unimportant – the key was that 8th Army believed it was now led by someone who had the measure of Rommel. Ordinary soldiers are seldom fooled for long by their commanders and none of the personal accounts I have read (and I have read a lot of them) suggest that the fighting troops had anything less than total confidence in Montgomery.

    Detractors also like to point out that Montgomery enjoyed significant superiority in men and equipment at Alamein and give the impression that 8th Army had to do little more than push on the door to throw the Axis out of Egypt. This view fails to acknowledge either the transformation in 8th Army brought about by Montgomery or the strength of the Axis defences. Would 8th Army have won at Second Alamein under Auchinleck? The failure of the July counterattacks suggests otherwise and personally I don’t think so.

    A longer post than I intended but I couldn't find a button to vote Montgomery!

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  4. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Hear - Hear - well said that man !
    Steve Mac likes this.
  5. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    This is an old thread and not being versed in generalship, let alone the North African campaigns I was struck by the Post 34 in 2010 regarding the Australian General John Laverack, who I had not heard of. Wiki indicates his almost continual passing over, invariably by General Thomas Blaney, led in 1946 to his resignation: John Lavarack - Wikipedia

    Not that Blaney had an unblemished record, if one relies on: Thomas Blamey - Wikipedia
    Chris C likes this.
  6. MarkN

    MarkN Banned

    Officers in high command circulate in cliques. Blamey and Lavarack circled in different cliques and no doubt there were instances where they clashed.

    However, the wiki warrior seems to be reaching somewhat with some if his or her commentary.

    Lavarack took a drop in rank because he wanted a field appointment and the one on offer was a Major General's appointment. The only 3* slot was one already taken - by Blamey. Perhaps Blamey refused to give it up. ;)

    Lavarack was appointed temporarily to command CYRACOM as he was the most senior officer 'available' to do so. Wavell didn't really have any other option. It was always only going to be a very short term thing because (1) he was needed to command his own division on its way to Greece and (2) the War Office were never going to allow it to stick anyway. Hardly Blamey's fault there either.
  7. MarkN

    MarkN Banned


    Trick question as there is no answer.

    But certainly not Lavarack which you assume.

    Western Desert Force was renamed XIII Corps whilst O'Connor was still in charge.

    The Western Desert Force did not exist when O'Connor was captured And, at the time of capture, he 'commanded' nothing as he was technically assisting/advising GOC Cyrenaica Command Neame.

    Later, another Western Desert Force was created to which Beresford-Peirse was appointed GOC.

    So the technical answer to your quiz is nobody.

    Moreover, even the non-technical answer also comes up with other names.

    After Beda Fomm, responsibility for Cyrenaica was handed to (a) Cyrenaica Command under Wilson as the military authority governing the area and (b) the 1 Aus Corps under Blamey as the field force to do the military stuff. Whilst O'Connor and some of his closest collegues returned to Egypt, most of HQ XII staff remained behind to become the staff of Wilson's Cyrenaica Command.

    So, who took over from O'Connor in February 1941? The answer is either Wilson or Blamey depending on how you see the command structure evolve.

    Then, both Wilson and Blamey (with 1 Aus Corps) were ordered to Greece. Neame was appointed as GOC Cyrenaica Command with the dual role of both military governship and force commander. O'Connor, now back in Cairo, was GOC British Troops Egypt.

    Next, Rommel attacks and Cyrenaica Command finds itself outfought and outthought. Wavell flys up to see what's going on and decides to replace Neame with O'Connor as GOC Cyrenaica Command. O'Connor doesn't like the idea of replacing Neame but offers to stay and assist/advise. Neame and O'Connor are captured and in their absence BGS Harding becomes the effective commander of Cyrenaica Command for a few days until Wavell asks Lavarack to step in.

    Lavarack becomes commander of Cyrenaica Command / Cyrenaica Force (the paperwork starts to use the latter in some cases) for a few days. Remember Western Desert Force does not exist at this point in time. Cyrenaica Command / Cyrenaica Force officially ceases to exist late on 14 April at the same time as Lavarack is relieved of responsibility to return to GOC 7 Aus Div.

    For a couple of days, the name Cyrenaica Desforce or DESFORCE run the show, Harding and his team from old WDF/XIII Corps/CYRCOM fame manning the pumps with Evetts (GOC 6 Div) in command pending Beresford-Peirse's arrival. [MarkNote: I've simplified this bit to ease understanding]

    On Beresford-Peirse's arrival, the force reverts to the name Western Desert Force.

    So, the O'Connor to Beresford-Peirse chain runs like this:

    O'Connor - Wilson/Blamey - Neame - Harding - Lavarack - Evetts - Beresford-Peirse.

    But only the first and last were actually commanding the Western Desert Force.

    And breathe...

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