Wavell file photo [1056]

Archibald Wavell

Given NameArchibald
Born5 May 1883
Died24 May 1950
CountryUnited Kingdom


ww2dbaseBorn in Colchester, Essex, England, United Kingdom, Archibald Percival Wavell was the son of a British Army general officer. He attended Winchester College and Sandhurst Royal Military Academy. Upon graduation, he was commissioned into the Black Watch regiment in 1901, and later fought in the Second Boer War in South Africa and the Bazar Valley campaign in India in 1908. He attended staff college in 1909. From 1911 and for about a year, he was an observer to the Russian Army. During WW1, at the Battle of Ypres in 1915, he was wounded and lost his left eye. Upon recovery, he was assigned to the Caucasus in 1916 as a liaison officer with the Russians. In 1917, he became a liaison officer with the Egyption Expeditionary Force. Between Jan and Mar 1918, he was attached to the Supreme War Council of Versailles. Later in 1918, he was transferre to Palestine. He was promoted to the rank of full colonel in 1922, and by 1933 he was made a major general. In 1937, he became the General Officer Commanding of the British Forces in Palestine and Transjordan. In 1938, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and was made the General Officer Commanding of the United Kingdom Southern Command. In 1939, he was promoted to the rank of general and was placed in charge of the Middle East Command.

ww2dbaseIn the first phases of WW2, Wavell made a name for himself by defeating the million-strong Italian Army in North Africa with a force that numbered less than 40,000, eliminating the Axis ambition of taking Egypt and the strategically-important Suez Canal. With the arrival of the Germans in North Africa in early 1941, the tide slowly turned against his favor. Several months later, Greece, the responsibility of which also fell on Wavell's shoulders, fell under German control; at around the same time, the pro-German Rashid Ali al-Gaylani launched a coup d'état in Iraq. Losing the confidence of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, in Jul 1941 Wavell was transferred out of the Middle East and was given the new role as the commander-in-chief in India.

ww2dbaseAlthough Wavell thought, like many British leaders at the time, that the Japanese were likely to invade, and become bogged down in, Malaya and Singapore, he nevertheless wished to bolster Burma's defense. In Sep 1941, he returned to London, England and requested the Chief of the Imperial Staff John Dill to transfer Burma under India's operational command (it was under Singapore at that time); Dill rejected his request. After much lobbying and after the war with Japan had broken out, he convinced Churchill, who gave him Burma on 10 Dec 1941. He was also made the head of the American, British, Dutch, and Australian Command (ABDACOM). On 11 Feb 1942, he fell over a barb-wired sea wall in Singapore and was rushed into a hospital; his rendered him incommunicado for four days, causing some confusion at the command level. In the face of the stunningly successful Japanese expansion, ABDACOM was disbanded on 23 Feb 1942. On 1 Mar, Wavell replaced his subordinates Major General John Smyth and General Thomas Hutton; shortly after, Churchill dispatched Harold Alexander to lead the British troops in Burma. By May 1942, Wavell, Alexander, and the also recently-arrived William Slim had pulled most British, Indian, and Commonwealth troops out of Burma.

ww2dbaseIn 1943, Wavell was made viscount and was named Viceroy of India and Burma. He enjoyed strong popular support from the people for his ability to understand the needs of the people while not losing sight of the war against the Japanese in Burma.

ww2dbaseAfter WW2, Wavell worked hard to resolve the differences between Hindu and Muslim populations in India. He recommended taking a slow and cautious route in dealing with ethnic and religious tensions in the regions during the process to grant independence, but he was overruled by his superiors in London who preferred a speedy power transfer. In 1947, he was recalled to Britain and served as the lord lieutenant of the County of London. Wavell passed away in 1950.

Frank McLynn, The Burma Campaign

Last Major Revision: Dec 2005

Archibald Wavell Interactive Map


The first ABDA command meeting, 10 Jan 1942; left to right: Edwin Layton, Conrad Helfrich, Thomas Hart, Hein ter Poorten, Emile Kengen, Archibald Wavell, George Brett, and Lewis BeretonArchibald Wavell and Hein ter Poorten at Batavia, Java, Dutch East Indies (now Jakarta, Indonesia), 22 Jan 1942Portrait of Viceroy of India Archibald Wavell, 1943Winston Churchill, Archibald Wavell, and James Somerville in conference aboard the ship Queen Mary, May 1943
See all 6 photographs of Archibald Wavell

Archibald Wavell Timeline

5 May 1883 Archibald Wavell was born in Colchester, Essex, England, United Kingdom.
10 Dec 1941 Winston Churchill transferred Burma under the operational command of Archibald Wavell in India.
15 Dec 1941 Archibald Wavell received a cable from Winston Churchill, which warned him of a likely Japanese invasion of Burma.
18 Dec 1941 Archibald Wavell flew to Calcutta, India to meet with General Henry Pownall.
21 Dec 1941 General Wavell arrived in Rangoon, Burma already aware that most of the promised reinforcements had already been diverted to Malaya. Wavell still entertained hopes of receiving the two East African Brigades from Kenya and most of the 17th Indian Division (Major-General J. H. "Jackie" Smyth VC). When the American Lieutenant General George H. Brett arrived in Rangoon on his way to visit Chiang at Chongqing, Wavell decided to go too, telling his chief of staff, Thomas Hutton, to take over from the GOC Burma (Major General D. K. McLeod) whose proposed replacement had been taken sick.
25 Dec 1941 Archibald Wavell arrived in Rangoon, Burma by aircraft, landing amidst a Japanese air raid.
30 Dec 1941 General Sir Archibald Wavell assumed command of the newly created ABDA Command (American-British-Dutch-Australian) with his headquarters in Java, Dutch East Indies.
5 Jan 1942 Archibald Wavell departed India.
7 Jan 1942 Archibald Wavell inspected troops and defenses in Singapore.
8 Jan 1942 Archibald Wavell inspected troops and defenses in central British Malaya.
11 Feb 1942 Archibald Wavell fell over a barb-wired seawall at Singapore and was rushed to a hospital. His back was injured and he was incommunicado for four days.
15 Feb 1942 Archibald Wavell recovered from his fall at Singapore and was released by the hospital.
1 Mar 1942 In the face of defeats in Burma, Archibald Wavell replaced Major General John Smyth with Major General David Cowan and demoted General Thomas Hutton to be the chief of staff of Cowan.
17 Sep 1942 Archibald Wavell ordered Noel Irwin to prepare an offensive from India into the Arakan Peninsula in Burma.
19 Nov 1942 Archibald Wavell announced that British involvement in the planned upcoming offensive into Burma would be scaled back to a ground invasion of Akyab island only.
17 Dec 1942 Archibald Wavell met with Joseph Stilwell; during the meeting, despite Stilwell's insistence, Wavell refused to expand his current attack on Arakan, Burma into a larger coordinated joint-Chinese-American-British campaign.
1 Jan 1943 Archibald Wavell was promoted to the rank of field marshal.
1 Oct 1943 The Viscount Wavell, Archibald Wavell, was made the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, succeeding the Marquess of Linlithgow, Victor Hope.
24 May 1950 Archibald Wavell passed away.

Did you enjoy this article or find this article helpful? If so, please consider supporting us on Patreon. Even $1 per month will go a long way! Thank you.

Share this article with your friends:


Stay updated with WW2DB:

 RSS Feeds

Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Rory A Curtis says:
5 Dec 2010 02:34:34 PM

I think the number of 1 milion Italian and only 40,000 British troops is wrong. I will try to find better numbers for you.

All visitor submitted comments are opinions of those making the submissions and do not reflect views of WW2DB.

Posting Your Comments on this Topic

Your Name
Your Email
 Your email will not be published
Comment Type
Your Comments


1. We hope that visitor conversations at WW2DB will be constructive and thought-provoking. Please refrain from using strong language. HTML tags are not allowed. Your IP address will be tracked even if you remain anonymous. WW2DB site administrators reserve the right to moderate, censor, and/or remove any comment. All comment submissions will become the property of WW2DB.

2. For inquiries about military records for members of the World War II armed forces, please see our FAQ.

Search WW2DB
More on Archibald Wavell
Event(s) Participated:
» Balkans Campaign
» Invasion of Italian East Africa
» Operation Battleaxe

Related Books:
» The Burma Campaign: Disaster into Triumph 1942-45

Archibald Wavell Photo Gallery
The first ABDA command meeting, 10 Jan 1942; left to right: Edwin Layton, Conrad Helfrich, Thomas Hart, Hein ter Poorten, Emile Kengen, Archibald Wavell, George Brett, and Lewis Bereton
See all 6 photographs of Archibald Wavell

Famous WW2 Quote
"Goddam it, you'll never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!"

Captain Henry P. Jim Crowe, Guadalcanal, 13 Jan 1943

Support Us

Please consider supporting us on Patreon. Even $1 a month will go a long way. Thank you!

Or, please support us by purchasing some WW2DB merchandise at TeeSpring, Thank you!