Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck
After initial successes in North Africa in Second World War, he transferred to India as Commander-in-Chief. His unstinting logistical support was vital to the conquest of Burma.
Auchinleck (1884-1981) was born into a military family and after graduating from Wellington College entered Sandhurst. Gaining his commission in the 62nd Punjab Regiment in 1904, he became popular for his aptitude for learning local languages and his easy rapport with ordinary Indian soldiers. Auchinleck developed an intimate knowledge and love of India; its people and culture.
During the First World War he saw action in the Middle East and in the hard fought campaign in Mesopotamia, receiving a DSO for his services. Auchinleck learnt much from his experiences there, realising that the health and fitness of soldiers was critical to an army's effectiveness. He became convinced that adequate rest, hygiene, food and medical supplies were essential. He also witnessed the difficulties of launching poorly prepared attacks against dug-in, well-armed defenders and this fuelled his later reluctance to undertake the sort of precipitate actions advocated by Churchill and others.
During the inter-war period he was an instructor at the Quetta Staff College and saw service on India’s troublesome North Western Frontier, being awarded a CB for his leadership of a brigade in the Mohmand area (1935). A major-general on the outbreak of war in 1939, he commanded the troops involved in the ill-fated Narvik expedition (1940) and then served in England, first as a corps commander and then as GOC Southern Command. Promoted to general in November 1940, Auchinleck was appointed Commander-in-Chief India, and his swift dispatch of soldiers to deal with the uprising in Iraq (1941) won him Churchill’s approval.
Auchinleck was Commander-in-Chief Middle-East Forces between July 1941 and August 1942 where he experienced mixed fortunes. His initial success with Operation CRUSADER in November 1941 was overshadowed by the subsequent retreat following the Gazala battles and the loss of Tobruk. His relationship with General Ritchie, CO of 8th Army was strained, and he eventually relieved him of command in June 1942. Taking personal control of 8th Army he checked the German advance at the First Battle of Alamein, but was unable to co-ordinate a successful counter-attack. This, along with his poor relationship with many senior British and Dominion officers in 8th Army, led to him being relieved of command.
Auchinleck once more accepted the post of Commander-in-Chief in India in June 1943. During his second tenure he did much to mobilise India’s resources, particularly the supplying and re-inforcement of General Slim’s 14th Army. Indeed, Slim later wrote: ‘It was a good day for us when he took command of India, our main base, recruiting area and training ground. The Fourteenth Army, from its birth to its final victory, owed much to his unselfish support and never-failing understanding. Without him and what he and the Army of India did for us we could not have existed, let alone conquered’. Despite his dislike of the post war partition of India, Auchinleck helped prepare the Indian Army for its division into the armies of Pakistan and India before returning to Britain in 1948. He passed his retirement in Marrakesh, dying there at the age of 96.
General Sir Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief in India, during a visit to Nepal, October 1945.
"Your achievement in stopping the rot in a beaten army, in restoring morale so speedily, in wresting the initiative from a triumphant enemy, and inflicting on him crippling losses, will one day be recognised."
General Thomas Corbett on Auchinleck’s departure from 8th Army, 1942.
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