Monday, May 10, 2010

Rating General Claude Auchinleck

General (later Field Marshall) Sir Claude Auchinleck (see the link for a comprehensive career outline) is one of the most interesting generals of the Second World War. Many of his devotees would claim he is one of the most under-rated. But he is an excellent example of why it is difficult to assume that just because a general is good at one level, he can also be good at another. In fact he is the classic example of a general who excelled at two widely separate levels of command, while failing miserably at the intermediate levels.

Auchinleck followed the classic route to high command of British generals. Military family; graduated into Indian Army just before the Great War; fought through the war in difficult and challenging roles; came out highly respected, held staff appointments and studied and later taught at Staff Colleges; received his first important independent command in the late thirties, etc. The main difference being that his Great War experience was in the wildly fluctuating campaigns in modern Iraq, with their vastly different highs and lows to anything experienced in trench warfare. He started and finished the war involved in mobile warfare, even if he fought trench campaigns in the middle.

In World War Two he had the unique distinction of being the only Indian Army officer called to England to command an entirely British corps. He led it in the brief campaign in Norway without having a chance to demonstrate much that was either good or bad in the way of his own abilities. He then commanded a corps, and later an entire ‘Command’ in Southern England during the Nazi invasion scare, before returning to India to become CIC.

His energetic reaction to the Iraqi crisis brought him to the attention of Churchill just as Wavell was demonstrating increased exhaustion in the Middle East command, and the decision to swap the two commanders is another example of Churchill’s flying by the seat of his pants approach. (And another example of the poor influence that General Dill had on developments during his tenure as CIGS – the abandonment of the victorious campaign in North Africa, the disaster of the Greek campaign, the foolish appointment of Percival to the vital Malayan command, and this decision - all being standouts. But Dill will be another post.)

Auchinleck did some brilliant work in the North African campaign. Foremost amongst his efforts was that he twice fought Rommel’s army to a standstill, despite each time taking over what looked like a defeated army at the last minute to achieve such stunning results. Indeed his Tactical ability during Crusader and First Alamein is the foundation for the claims that he was an extraordinary battlefield general. In that sense at least, his supporters are right to think that he stood well above the vast majority of more famous Allied commanders from later in the war. Certainly men like Marshall and Dill, Eisenhower and Wavell, Bradley and Alexander, Clarke and Cunningham, etc: didn’t have more than a fraction of his battlefield sense. He was certainly one of the pre-eminent army commanders of the war. Rommel himself despaired of outmanoeuvring or outfighting someone of his ability, even after having stripped his predecessors in those battles of their numerical superiority. Auchinleck was the embodiment of Robustness, Character, Humanity and Spirit. His Topography, Movement, Tactics and Combined Operations were apparently superior even to Rommel’s. He was unarguably a first class battlefield general.

Unfortunately it was not his job to be a battlefield general. He was in the Middle East to be the commander in chief, not to fight in the field. More importantly, the only reason he had to take over the army in the field twice, was because the men he had appointed to command it had failed… twice. General Cunningham, despite having demonstrated ability in the East African campaign against the Italians in Ethiopia, proved himself exhausted during Operation Crusader, and had to be replaced when he effectively had a mental collapse. Possibly Auchinleck could not have expected such a collapse, but it does reveal a poor choice … regardless of the reason.

The successor Auchinlek appointed to command the Western Desert army - after winning the battle himself - was a relatively junior staff officer with no battlefield command experience of large formations. He was actually inferior in rank to his corps commanders. Ritchie was not a bad general, just a bad appointment at this particular time. Certainly Auchinleck did not help him with the lack of Clarity of his instructions. (In fact the CIGS, Alanbrooke, was furious at how Auchinleck ‘damaged’ Ritchie’s progression, and brought him home after his sacking to learn the corps command position properly. He was later to serve in the invasion of France and Germany as a very good corps commander.) Ritchie’s inexperience and lack of control of his sub-commanders made him fairly easy pickings for Rommel’s next attack. Again Auchinlek stepped in – almost too late – to save the day. But again a bad choice had been revealed.

Some argue that Auchinleck, as an Indian army officer, simply knew too little about his British army contemporaries. This is dubious. The truth is that he was attracted to positive sounding ideas men regardless of the sense of their ideas. His staff officers include Dorman-Smith and Corbett, both of whom fizzed with ideas, and both of whom were considered completely unsound (if not actually insane) by most of their contemporaries. Poor Delegation. The problem was he stayed loyal to people even after they had proved they needed replacing, and apparently relied on his own abilities to save the situation if required. Poor Command technique. Perhaps that might have been better if he was a more involved Mentor of those he was working with, but repeated failures suggest that this was not one of his strengths either.

In addition his attraction to new experimental ideas meant that he was constantly undermining the advances made by his troops in training and technique by splitting them into ‘Jock columns’ to stir the enemy up. Undoubtedly the jock columns worked, but perhaps in the same way that Wingate’s Chindits worked later, with too much effort, and far too much cost to regular units, while achieving marginal results against the enemy. Poor Common-Sense?

Sacking Auchinlek as CIC Middle East was one of Churchill’s better decisions. (As was finally dividing the vast Middle Eastern theatre into a North African and a Persia/Iraq command to face different German threat axis.) But appointing him to return as CIC India a year later was an even better decision.

The key element to Auchinleck was that he was respected, even loved, by most who knew him. The Indian army as a whole trusted him completely, and would work for him better than for probably anyone else. Even Indian politicians respected him immensely, which is why it is possibly unfortunate that Wavell was left as Viceroy struggling with the independence issues, when Auchinleck might have done so much better in controlling the disparate personalities in Indian politics.

The fascinating thing is that Auchinleck was successful as a battlefield general, but only because he was unsuccessful as a theatre commander. By contrast he was also fabulously successful as CIC of the Indian army, and probably would have been at least as successful at a higher level.

So was he a successful general?

The answer of course is both Yes and No. He was a brilliant general, who failed his duties at the crucial moment. His Command weaknesses caused him to make decisions which lengthened the war in the Middle East, and the fact that his Operational strengths allowed him to recover at least part of the situation does not reverse this decision. He failed in his appointed task at his appointed level.

Perhaps Auchinleck is an example of what Alanbrooke meant when he said that it was unfortunate that too many generals had been pushed too far too fast, and had suffered the consequences? Perhaps Auchinleck would have benefitted from a slower maturity under someone like Brooke, and could have developed his undoubted brilliance into an actual ability at higher command in the field. Perhaps he could have taken control of Burma and fought with his usual brilliance – and charmed the Chinese and Americans with his usual brilliance (Stilwell liked him… Stillwell?) Perhaps he would have been even better than Slim. His admirers think he would have been even better commanding D-Day than Montgomery or Eisenhower. Perhaps… We will never know.

All that we can say is that Auchinleck could have been one of the greatest Allied generals of the war, if he had been given other roles. Unfortunately his personality was not suited to making the best of the roles he was given. So we must judge him by what he actually did. Which means that the most important assessment we can make of him is to rank him as a failure as a theatre commander.

Such a decision seems unjust. ‘The Auk’ was truly a very great man. Declaring him a failure seems unforgiveable. As Churchill said when he had to sack him, “like shooting a magnificent stag”.


  1. "His Topography, Movement, Tactics and Combined Operations were apparently superior even to Rommel’s"

    This is a very bold statement considering the amount of evidence there is for evaluating the success and battlefield career of Rommel compared to Auchinleck. Its also difficult to imagine that Auchinleck would have been able to pull off Rommel's rapid advancement into France in 1940 as well as his skillful operations in North Africa, such as Operation Venezia or even his strategy for his massive withdrawal after Al Alamein which depended largely on his meticulous and expert knowledge of the terrain. In regards to tank warfare, there is no better commander to Rommel other than perhaps Patton or Guderian who understood the importance of coordinating with infantry, planes, and artillery. In addition Auchinleck was commanding a force far superior in equipment, supplies, numbers, and positioning in North Africa and still managed to lose Tobruk and get pushed back practically to Alexandria.

    1. Dear Sam,

      my point is I woud have preferred him as a field commander than trying to run a theatre.

      He fought only one battle as an army commander - against Rommel at Aleimein 1 - and trashed him (and did not really have superior resources at that point).

      The only other time he intervened directly in a battle was after sacking Cunningham, he quickly reversed a disastrous situation. Had he been handling the operation himself rather than leaving it to juniors, it is hard not to believe he would have won rather than just saving a loss.

      Rommel was a great corps commander in the field, but the twice that Auchinlek met him there Auchinlek won.

      On that limited evidence I say 'apparently superior'...

    2. I think it is very difficult to evaluate the Auch, in his fight against Rommel without considering that during nearly all of that fight, the American Bonner Fellows (I think) was providing Rommel with five times a day summary of the disposition of British forces and thinking under the Auch. And Nazi intelligence unit 621 was filling in the gaps, and all of this info provided Rommel with a great advantage.

      So how do you evaluate the commander, when all of his plans are known in advance to the enemy? What general could win in that situation.

      It was only after the information flow from the British high command was stopped, and unit 621 destroyed, did the British turn the momentum of the fight, and Rommel was over whelmed.

      It was NOT the Auch's failures which allowed the Nazi's to read the American code, in which all of Bonner Fellers reports were sent. And, even after Blechly discovered the leak and the source, (American Fellers) the American high command refused to change the compromised american book code for several months, none of this was the Auch's mistake, as he did not know of any of this. Yet his failures to prevail during this period of massive leaks of his plans, are all hung around his neck as his failures.

      So the American's "help" to the BRitish under the Auch, was a two edged sword. American help included a massive material advantage to the British (and the Auch), while it undermined all of his efforts, by providing essentially all of the most critical info about British dispositions and plans to Rommel, in time he could take advantage of the info.

      What general could have prevailed in that situation ????

    3. A lot of Rommel's "ability" was due to intelligence derived from an American source. The defeats at Gazala and Tobruk in 1942 were directly related to Colonel Bonner Fellers sending Washington daily and copious reports that gave all the Commonwealth positions, strengths and orders, in the "Black Code" cypher that the Italians had stolen from the US Embassy in Rome in September 1941. Within eight hours of Fellers sending his reports they were being read by the Axis. As soon as the Fellers leak was plugged by MI-6 in late June 1942, Rommel turned into a very ordinary general, and was soundly thrashed by Montie at the Second Battle of Alamein. Fellers was also the source that gave away the convoys to Malta, making the Royal Navy's efforts to supply the islands even more costly.
      Yet, despite the constant supply of vital information from Fellers, Rommel was unable to beat Auchinleck in the field. That makes him not just better than Rommel but far better, in my estimations.

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  2. Ah, such euphemisms. Churchill's bestial analogies are just his typical dehumanizing condescension towards anyone of greater ability but deemed by Winston and his ilk as "not one of them".

    Churchill got Auchinleck sacked because Churchill wanted an assurance of a pointless, high-profile "British Empire Victory" against the Afrika Korps, which was then itself all but ignored by Berlin. The Auk was not about to waste lives on an unnecessary offensive when the US-led Gymnast/Torch landings were set to ensure Rommel's hasty withdrawal anyway. Corelli Barnett first hinted at that simple fact in the early '60s, and no-one's put anything substantial to counter it since.

    So Empire Prestige, and the British elite's horror at the US' looming messianic world role compelled an operationally pointless British offensive, botched repeatedly in minefields, and followed by a chaotic excuse for pursuit that hardly met any definition of "exploitation phase".

    Decisive publicity for yet more pompous, vacuous epigrams blubbed out of Downing Street.

    Around 1,200 Australian soldiers killed in that Second Alamein, if my memory's correct. All volunteer veterans of a selection standard second to none. Lest we forget

    1. Dear Matt

      Ah Corelli Barnett... Much of your worldview is now explained.

      Barnett is typical of the self righteous and pompous socialist Englishmen who are constantly telling everyone how the world should work (and getting it completely wrong). You might actually be right to despise this sort of Englishman. (Of course every Western nation has these twats running University departments, so no particular distinction between Britain or Australia or the US or France or indeed anyone else there.)

      Try reading someone else (anyone else actually) on the Desert War generals. There are good books by real military leaders, not socialist academics. Sir John Smythe (Leadership in War), or Maj Gen Sixsmith (British Generalship in the 20th century), or even De Guingand (Operation Victory) have better perspectives. Field Marshall Carver's description of Barnett as 'niave' is the one I would go with.

    2. Moving on to your substantive point.

      The reason generals are supposed to do what politicians tell them, is that in theory, the politicians have the wider view. If a general is ordered to do something for political reasons, they have the right to object, or even resign, but not to say that their limited perspective overwhelms the world view.

      You are on pretty shaky ground with the Western Desert campaign being 'unnecessary'. You are assuming that the Torch landings would succeed even if the Axis were not broken and running elsewhere? Considering what the Germans achieved anyway, this seems unlikely.

      Try mining the decision to go into Greece as a better starting point for your objections about political interference. Militarily it was absolutely stupid. Brooke and O'Connor and many in between thought it was criminal not to finish Libya first before taking on another task. In hindsight they were right.

      But the political motive of going to the aid of small nations threatened by the Germans was a powerful argument. Indeed it was almost a moral imperative.

      I think Wavell made a mistake in bowing to Eden's enthusiasm even when Churchill was giving him a 'don't do it if it is doubtful' escape card. Perhaps Auchinlek's caution would have been an advantage here? World history certainly would have changed if Libya was defeated (and perhaps a minor German General called Rommel who at the time had only a recconaissance battalion available captured) in early 1941.

      The two long years of North African and Middle Eastern fighting would not have happened. French colonies would have come over earlier and easier. Italy might have surrendered faster. Russia could have been supplied much more easily. (As could Singapore - men, tanks, aircraft, an entire spare fleet - just as big and considerably more prepared than the peacetime one at Pearl harbour..) Perhaps Japan might not then have risked a three front war the way she later (foolishly) attempted.

      But wars are fought for political reasons. Greece was a toss up. Militarily stupid, but politically necessary... I think they went the wrong way, but then Britain was only in the war because of foolish guarantees to little countries, so if not the principle of Greece, why continue fighting?

      I will give you another example to play with.

      In World War One British generals were forced (often against their will) into fairly hopeless offensives in France, because their government (rightly) argued that the French might collapse if this was not done. Vast sacrifices were made to:
      A) the moral imperative to support an ally OR
      B) the self interest of keeping France in the war to share the fighting an dying (rather than letting them drop out as in WW2... not that the second choice appears to have been a better option when tried 30 years later...)

      You choose.

      Going back to Auchinlek, he would have been better either as the field commander, actually winning the battle on the ground; or as the CIC India, arguing against it from geo-political perspectives; than as a too unfocused theatre commander who kept getting distracted by things happening both above and below his pay grade and responsibility.

    3. Hmmm, perhaps describing Barnett as a socialist professor is unfair. Some of his works lean more to fascism than communism. His ideals of driving the nations power by radical control of its education etc... His versions of the goals ofthe state would have been comprehensible with Plato's Republic or Moore's Utopia (which are both more communist or fascist than liberal ideals).

      HIs Wikipedia post has one person who calls him 'Bismarkian", which is probably a better fit. His mind certainly seems stuck in 19th century Great Game politics.

  3. I think the only intention of removing Auchinleck from African Campaign at the time it was all over was that Churchill did not want an Indian Army Officer to be credited with victory at Al-amin but he wanted an English Army Officer to be credited with victory.Auckinleck left Britain and died in Morocco where he spent his last years in despair and promised never to return to Britain.This was an evident racial policy by Churchill.

    1. Dear anonymous,

      I would be interestd to hear your sources for 'despair'. Everything I have seen on him is a bit more even tempered than that. 'Depressed' yes, particularly over the sacking, the partition of India and his divorce, but despair?

      As to your racism bit, I don't know if you understand the system as it operated? Are you aware that British officers - whether listed on the roles in the UK, India, New Zealand, or wherever, were (like British admirals, whether on the roles of the RN, RAN, RNZN, etc), still all British officers, and all accrued seniority at the same rate. Certainly their experiences would make some more or less suitable for certain roles, but not their race, or the race of the people they had worked with.

      Australian, New Zealand and Canadian officers got commands of British divisions, corps or even armies, or had British units in the corps or armies of their own commands, without any confusion. (In fact the best case of a 'colonial' being overlooked I can think of is when Montgomery apologised for not giving Morshead a corps, stating he hadn't believed a non professioinal soldier could be so good, and promising him the next opening.)

    2. I think you've entirely misunderstood the race issue - clearly all soldiers from Aus, NZ & Can are white (or would be 99% white barring any exteremly unusual outliers). Therefore citing the opportunities given to officers from those countries misses the point and doesn't address race at all. I think what anonymous was referring to as Churchill's 'racial policy' was his well publicised and deep rooted hatred of Indians (along with many other non-white ethnicities). He famously labelled Indians as 'a beastly people with a beastly religion' and had a personal hand in the engineering the Bengal famine that killed millions (Churchill refused to allow ships of grain to relieve the famine stricken Indians, despite the pleas of his senior staff). Auchinleck was not a man who shared this racist worldview and was undoubtedly depressed that such essentialism pervaded the ranks of people that were meant to be regarded as 'civilised'. It was probably all the more galling for Auchinleck to endure given that he had witnessed scores of Indians bravely giving their lives for Britain. To then have to listen to them being spoken about in the way Churchill likely did, would be difficult for any man (who isn't a racist) to take.

  4. I have just read your essay on Sir Claude Auchinleck; you provide at least as much to think about as does Barnett -- no 'socialist' he, by-the-by! -- and one can only think that to further look at his role in North Africa in terms of the (German) three-fold conception of tactics-operations-strategy would sharpen the point, so to speak.

    Moving right along, have you worked up anything on Lord Dowding in 1940? Thus far, Ray's book is the best, most differentiated & nuanced, or so I think at this point

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  6. Dear Bodwyn,

    thanks for comments. Have not yet considered air marshals (too many generals and admirals to go), but I admire Dowding as one who overcame the obstacles stupid politicians had put in his path, and got little or no respect of support from them for doing so.

    The classic definition of 'socialism' is state control of the economy, but that is a bit simplistic, because it covers Communists and Nazi's as well as many social welfare policies from conservatives and liberals.

    Wikipedia says:

    "As a political movement, socialism includes a diverse array of political philosophies, ranging from reformism to revolutionary socialism. Proponents of state socialism advocate the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange as a strategy for implementing socialism. In contrast, libertarian socialism opposes the use of state power to achieve such an arrangement, opposing both parliamentary politics and state ownership.[8] Democratic socialism seeks to establish socialism through democratic processes and propagate its ideals within the context of a democratic political system."

    I consider Barnett to be a proponent of using state power to 'guide' and control the population, particularly through the education system. This is the preferred place for revolutionary socialists to take control of the gullible, and the fact that Barnett wasn't left wing in his economic ideas does not seem to exclude him from some idealistic population control agenda's that could be considered 'ist' or 'ism' in some form.

    Do you have a suggestion of a word that describes his political goals, from his innate conservatism in some areas, to his idealistic campaigning in others, better?

  7. I would be very interested to see what you make of Brooke ... and see the responses from your readers. The Poms made an awful lot of mistakes in the conduct of their war, especially WRT land operations and I note that in many instances Brooke charitably overlooks those mistakes - and their authors but is trenchantly critical of many non-Brit personnel. How well qualified was he to criticise others? What were his battlefield credentials? Curbing Churcill's irrationality was, perhaps, his major achievement.

    1. Dear Andy,

      I am looking forward to rating Brooks, but am working very long hours at the moment, so not blogging much. Apologies.

      Here's the short answer...

      First, have a look at the unabridged versions of Brooke's diaries - published recently. They are scathing about Churchill and other British political and military leaders,and the same for American, French, Russian, Chinese, etc. Of course they are also an emotional release outlet, so they also have to be carefully read because for all the angst against Churchill he always admits he was irreplaceable. So for any comment about someone being an idiot over this, you can usually find another somewhere else about their good points over that, and too many people get very distracted by selective choices.

      Brooke is disgusted by many failures, and rails against them. But this is mostly noticeable against British officers when he is still a junior, and changes once he is in charge. Then he simply sacks them and sighs about not being able to replace many of the inadequate remainder with better, because there are no better. However he still gets to rail against his allies who DON'T sack their own idiots… It remains intemperate largely because he is NOT in a position to sack them the way he is the British idiots.

      As to his battlefield experience, he was one of the main designers of the successful advancing barrages that won WW1,; he commanded, despite being only a gunner, the experimental armoured division interwar; he ran the officer training schools and the technical advancement research leading into the war; he led a Corps through the Battle of France (and was universally acknowledged as the standout performer there); he was assigned as the best general available to lead the every short lived 2nd expeditionary force; he commanded the armies defending Britain through the German invasion threat; and he upgraded their training and equipment immeasurably; and he was offered, but declined, command in the Middle East at the vital point of 1942 because he was the very best possible choice. (He agreed to some extent, but knew he was truly irreplaceable as CIGS right then.)

      Many people have pointed out that he would have been a far far better leader for the D-Day invasion than the rank amateur Eisenhower, who had never commanded so much as a platoon in combat. (The only time Eisenhower fired a gun in anger was when he found a rat in the toilet of his chateau in Italy… he missed.)

      Brooke, like every other general, had many faults. But he was fairly clearly one of the best Allied military leaders of the war. And had infinitely more combat experience and practical command experience than Marshall, MacArthur, Eisenhower, Bradley, Hodges, Patton, or even the most experienced front line Americans like Eichelberger and Truscott.

      His main problem was he was stuck in a largely political office he came to hate for most of the war (which is where much of the angst in his diaries comes from) when he would undoubtedly have preferred to be in the field with 8th or 14th Army or 15th or 18th or 21st Army group or as SAC instead.

  8. ...about Sir Claude few lines readen here , I think that Correlli Barnett as well as John Connell they were widely able to deliver to the story the right picture on how simply great , superior and unique was this man .

  9. A great man, yes.

    A great theatre commander, no.

  10. Mr Davies, I think you are wrong particularly with your last comment'

    "great man, yes.

    A great theatre commander, no."

    I could do worse than refer you to this by way of reply;

    pp 10-16

    Incidentally, I have also made one other discovery re Claude Auchinleck, the only recording of him speaking that I have been able to find.

    I think Claude Auchinleck was a very great General, he beat Rommel twice, once during Crusader, and again at 1st Alamein.

    Montgomery never had his theatre responsibilities in the Middle East, or the material shortcomings Auchinleck laboured under.

    Not to mention the constant back seat driving from Churchill!

    So I think you are being somewhat unfair in not taking that into account.

    As for the criticism that Auchinleck was guilty of 'Poor Common sense'!

    The British army for much of the period 1940-41 trying to adapt to German 'Blitzkreig' tactics.

    For most of the time unsuccessfully as Corelli Barnett points out!

    In the face of an enemy who had just beaten the two pre-war superpowers Britain & France in 6 weeks in 1940, having a commander who was receptive to new idea's was essential.

    As the old ways of doing things were totally inadequate!

    Dorman - Smith provided idea's which Auchinleck using his common sense and experience was able to implement, and incidentally Dorman -Smith became the first Chief of Staff in a British army!

    Together they were a good team.

    Dorman- Smith was shabbily treated.

    Good enough to stop Rommel dead in his tracks, at the 8th armies lowest ebb.

    Montgomery by comparison was pedestrian, no innovator he!

    He even let Rommel get away after 2nd Alamein, something I cannot imagine Auchinleck and Dorman- Smith doing.

    I refer you to the last couple of paragraphs in this article re Auchinleck and Churchill;

    "At a function in London in the 1950's, Churchill approached Auchinleck and acknowledged that he had wronged him. The 'Auk' Simply said: 'I know Prime Minister'.

    You should also avail yourself of this book;

    Written by his former ADC Alexander Greenwood, sometimes the author is listed as Enoch Powell!

    However it provides many details of Auchinleck's life that only his ADC would know about.



    1. Actually I think he was a very good tactical general. Just wish he had been fighting the army at the front, not messing it all up by trying to do that through manipulating a completely inappropriate pick as 'army commander', when he was supposed to be running a theatre.

      His failures were: picking wrong subordinates, not delegating enough, and trying to please too many of the wrong people.

      A good basic general. (What Monty would call a 'plain cook'.)

      A bad theatre commander.

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  12. "His failures were: picking wrong subordinates, not delegating enough, and trying to please too many of the wrong people"

    Er Nonsense, he did also pick Freddie de Guingand, who was to save Montys bacon on more than one occasion.

    As for being a 'Bad picker' of men, again this is nonsense.

    What you conveniently overlook is that the Indian army and the British army were virtually separate entities, Auchinleck did not have close contact with many 'British' officers until he was appointed to the Middle East Command.-

    Trying to pick capable men from what was a crowd of strangers, would be difficult at the best of times.

    Cunningham's mental collapse was not foreseen by anyone.

    Ritchies appointment was a mistake, as ironically pointed out by Eric Dorman-Smith at the time.

    But Ritchie had performed capably as Deputy Chief of General Staff at Middle East Command, he was liked and trusted by his peers.

    When he was appointed it was seen as a stop gap measure.

    Unfortunately after the success of Operation Crusader, it would have been difficult to remove what was perceived to be a successful commander from his post, and so Ritchie stayed.

    As for not delegating, again nonsense, Ritchie was left in command despite losing at Gazala, Tobruk and Mersa Matruh until it became imperative to relieve him.

    As for Auchinleck 'trying to please to many of the wrong people', who were these 'wrong people'?

    If you mean Eric Dorman-Smith I disagree, Dorman-Smith if anything was too creative and visionary for the dull plodders who made up most of the Britsh armies officer corps.

    The same men who had lost time and time again to Rommel.

    "A good basic general. (What Monty would call a 'plain cook'.)"

    Words better applied to Montgomery himself, who was never an outstanding commander, he had the luck to take over command when the tide was turning, and never had to face Rommel in the Desert without overwhelming material resources to hand.

    Had Montgomery been in the desert in 1940-42 would he too have lost to Rommel and been relegated to being a footnote in history?

    Very likely given Montgomery's plodding style of warfare, even after Rommel had been beaten at Alemein, and despite Ultra transcripts of his combat strength to hand.

    Montgomerys 'Pursuit' of Rommel proceeded at a snails pace, and was woefully inadequate and overly cautious, dashing it was not.

    Given that, Montgomery would have been made short work of in a mobile battle by Rommel and the Afrika Korps at the height of their powers.

    Fortunately Montgomery never faced that possibility, Auchinleck with greater responsibilities did, and beat Rommel twice.

    Ergo by comparison Montgomery is a 'good plain cook' and Auchinleck by comparison a Michelin rated chef...

    1. You are welcome to disagree, but I don't think you can say I ignore points I covered in detail.
      Montgomery was very cautious. Rommel told his son 'he never makes a mistake'. What that means is, Monty never allowed enemy generals the opportunity to put him in a dangerous situation.
      You can contrast that with Monty not taking enough risks (many people say Arnhem was too risky to try), but you can't try and argue both ways at once!
      I will repeat again. The Auk was probably a better tactical general than Rommel and Montgomery.
      He was still a failure as a theatre commander.

    2. "The Auk was probably a better tactical general than Rommel and Montgomery."

      Interesting view.

      You say in the article that Auchinleck twice fought Rommel to a standstill, which is a fair summary of Crusader and First Alamein. He had the confidence to continue the dogfight to a conclusion, and avoided making major mistakes.

      However Crusader was a total mess of a battle (it is almost impossible to map it), and arguably he continued attacking at First Alamein far too long running up casualties almost to the level of Second Alamein without any significant gain.

      His plan for Alam Halfa "a modern mobile defensive battle" IIRC was playing into Rommel's hands and not universally liked - see eg NZ Official History. Montgomery's approach was perhaps more likely to succeed but would have been catastrophic if lost; is that a risk averse approach?

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  14. Mr Davies,

    I'll answer your reply with this, it says more or less what I would have done;

    "I will repeat again. The Auk was probably a better tactical general than Rommel and Montgomery.

    He was still a failure as a theatre commander"

    That is still utter rubbish with due respect, considering Auchinlecks record both earlier in Norway, and later in the Far East.

    He still is the only British General to have beaten Rommel, with both inferior resources, and subordinates, than Montgomery had.

    Something you seem reluctant to recognise.

  15. I have long considered the dearth of adequate British generals in WW2.
    It takes many years to bring on officers to that level and most of the volunteer talent was killed 25 years before. I suspect that most of the successful late-WW1 officers (who wouldn't have joined the Army in the first place) went back to being civilians.
    It is reasonable to consider that the Auk was not a good judge of his senior staff - but his pool of talent was arguably dire. Perhaps he recognised that some might need to learn on the job - with real casualties.

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