|Born||21 Jun 1884|
|Died||24 May 1981|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Claude John Eyre Auchinleck, "the Auk", was born in Aldershot to a poor family. He graduated from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in 1904 after he completed studies at Wellington College. He was commissioned to the 62nd Punjab Regiment where he gained combat experience in the Middle East and Egypt. Shortly before WW2 started, he was promoted to the rank of major general, commanding the Meerut District in India in 1938.
On 7 May 1940, he was in charge of Allied forces of 25,000 British, French, and Polish troops in Norway. He was successful in capturing Narvik on 28 May, but the operations overall failed to deprive the German Kriegsmarine from using Norwegian ports and fjords as submarine bases. He was ordered to withdraw from Norway not long afterwards. He was criticized by Prime Minister Winston Churchill as too conservative, stressing too much on safety and certainty.
After a brief time as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Southern Command he was transferred to Indian as the commander-in-chief there in Jul 1940. In Jul 1941 Auchinleck became commander-in-chief of Allied forces in the Middle East (including North Africa). He saw initial success at El Agheila (Jan 1942), but Erwin Rommel's German forces picked up momentum and started to push back Auchinleck's forces. Tobruk fell to Rommel on 21 Jun 1942 after Rommel received reinforcements from Tripoli. The fall of Tobruk was a political blow to Churchill, especially at the cost of 35,000 British troops captured. However, before the fall of Tobruk, the British troops were able to wear down Rommel's forces so that he was unable to launch another offensive until he could receive more reinforcement. Auchinleck attempted to reorganize the infantry units to fight in a more coordinated fashion with the armored units, but only achieving limited success. He was demanded by Churchill to launch a major offensive against Rommel, but refused based on his feeling that his troops were not ready. On 8 Aug 1942, he was relieved of duty by Churchill in person, with two men assigned to replace him: Harold Alexander took over the theater commander role while Bernard Montgomery became the new commander of the Eight Army. Auchinleck's reputation suffered neededlessly at the hands of the Montgomery publicity machine after the personnel change, however, he was still considered by Rommel as one of the greatest generals that the German had ever faced in war.
After being relieved of his duty, he returned to India and was unassigned until 20 Jun 1943 when he once again became commander-in-chief of the Indian Army after his predecessor Archibald Wavell became the viceroy of India. He was knighted and promoted field marshal in Jun 1945.
After some political disagreements over the India/Pakistan partition, he was forced by Lord Mountbatten to resign in Aug 1947. He also suffered personal issues as his wife left him for another officer in 1946. He returned to Britain in 1948 and held administrative posts. He retired in 1968 and moved to Marrakesh, Morocco, where he was cared for by Corporal Malcolm James Millward. Auchinleck passed away in Marrakesh in 1981. He was remembered for his integrity and his popularity among the common soldiers.
Sources: Spartacus Educational, Wikipedia.
Claude Auchinleck Timeline
|21 Jun 1884||Claude Auchinleck was born.|
|26 Feb 1942||An irritable Churchill took General Auchinleck to task over lack of offensive spirit in North Africa.|
|8 Mar 1942||An annoyed Winston Churchill, not satisfied with Cairo's reasons for not attacking at Gazala, summoned the British C-in-C Middle East back to London, England, United Kingdom to "confer with him about the situation".|
|19 Aug 1943||From Britain, Claude Auchinleck cabled Winston Churchill in Canada, attempting to convince the British Prime Minister to decrease the number of brigades to be assigned to Orde Wingate to only three; Wingate had requested eight.|
|21 Aug 1943||Claude Auchinleck compromised in regards to Orde Wingate's demands, offering to provide him with five brigades (Wingate had wanted eight) for operations in Burma.|
|20 May 1945||Claude Auchinleck had lunch with Winston Churchill, during which Auchinleck noted to Churchill that William Slim was among the best generals in the British Army and recommended the appointment of Slim to succeed him as Commander-in-Chief, India.|
|24 May 1981||Claude Auchinleck passed away.|
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Winston Churchill, 1935