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World War II Remembered: The Generals and the Admirals: British

Sir Arthur Travers Harris 4/13/1892 - 4/5/1984

Born at Cheltenham in Gloucestershire, the son of an engineer-architect in the Indian civil service, Arthur Harris was educated at Gore Court, Sittingbourne, and Allhallows, Honiton. In 1914 Harris joined the first Rhodesian Regiment as a bugler and took part in the campaign against German South-West Africa. In 1915 he returned to Britain and was commissioned into the Royal Flying Corps. He participated in defensive night fighter operations against zeppelin raids and also served on the western front, where he earned enough victories to qualify as an air ace. After the war, he took a permanent commission in the RAF and was involved in air operations in northwest India, Iraq, and Palestine. In 1939 Harris was given command of No. 5 (Bomber) Group, which did valuable work against German shipping concentrations and airfields during the invasion threat in 1940. Later that year he became deputy chief of the Air Staff and in 1941 was appointed head of the RAF delegation to Washington, where he sought to speed up the delivery of aircraft and air supplies. In 1942 he was summoned back to Britain to become commander in chief of Bomber Command.

Under Harris, Bomber Command developed into a formidable weapon of war. His favored method of attack was the area bombing of German cities at night. He did not invent the policy—it was already in operation from 1941—but he pursued it with relentless zeal. He firmly believed that the destruction of German cities and the homes of the workers would bring the enemy to its knees and prevent a repetition of the bloody battles of attrition on the western front that he had witnessed during the previous war. While the United States Air Force concentrated on precision attacks during the day as part of a combined bomber offensive, Bomber Command unleashed a series of large-scale raids on such cities as Essen, Hamburg, and Berlin. The zenith of the area bombing campaign came at Dresden in February 1945, when the RAF started a massive firestorm that devastated the old city and killed between twenty-five and thirty-five thousand people.

Since the war the military and ethical justifications for Harris's area bombing policy have been called into question. The critics argue that the results of the bombing were not worth the heavy cost in RAF aircrew lives, that the extensive resources poured into Bomber Command could have been put to better use, and that the deliberate targeting of German civilians was an unacceptable means of waging war. Harris's defenders, however, contend that the bombing played a significant role in the Allied victory in Europe. Although the bombing did not prevent a sustained increase in German military production or fatally undermine civilian morale, the effects of the Anglo-American bombing offensive—and it is difficult to consider one in isolation from the other—were considerable. For example, a ceiling was placed on the growth of military output, and factories were diverted to producing items for home defense such as antiaircraft guns and ammunition, which deprived the German army of vital battlefield equipment. Many German troops were tied up in antiaircraft duties when they could have been more usefully employed on other fighting fronts, and German offensive airpower was restricted as the Luftwaffe was forced to defend the Reich against air attack. While the bombing of cities was undoubtedly a dreadful way to wage war, this was regarded at the time as little different from the policy of targeting civilians through blockade or siege in previous wars. The Allies were engaged in a war of survival against a brutal totalitarian regime, and civilian workers were at the heart of the enemy's war potential. Certainly Harris, who had watched London burn during the Blitz, had little sympathy for the Germans: they had sown the wind and would reap the whirlwind.

At the end of the war Harris was embittered by the seeming reluctance of the British government to acknowledge the role of Bomber Command in the defeat of Germany. He retired from the RAF and went to live in South Africa. In the 1950s he returned to Britain and spent his latter years quietly in rural Oxfordshire, with occasional forays onto the public stage. He died in 1984. In 1992 a statue of Harris was unveiled by the Queen Mother in London. The mayors of Dresden and other cities that had been heavily bombed expressed their disapproval. The Bomber Command veterans regarded it as a long overdue tribute to a much maligned commander.

"Sir Arthur Travers Harris." Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction. Ed. John Merriman and Jay Winter. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2007. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 3 Apr. 2012.

Lord Louis Earl Mountbatten 6/25/1900 - 8/27/1979

Louis Mountbatten (1900-1979) was one of the last of Britain's great war heroes. After his assassination by the IRA in 1979, the world joined Britain and India in mourning the loss of one of the most celebrated military men of the twentieth century.

A great-grandson of Queen Victoria was born June 25, 1900, on the grounds at Windsor Castle, and one month later was christened Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas. He was Prince Louis of Battenberg, born to Prince Louis and Princess Victoria (granddaughter of Queen Victoria), and his family had a rich and proud history of military service. Louis of Battenberg not only lived up to his family expectations, he surpassed them.

Two popular anecdotes from his early years followed Battenberg the rest of his life. The first was how as an infant he knocked the spectacles off his great-grandmother, Queen Victoria just moments before his christening. The second was how he received his nickname, "Dickie." From early on his family referred to him as "Nicky," but a visit from Czar Nicholas of Russia prompted a change to Dickie, and the name stayed with him for life.

Early in His Career

Prince Louis of Battenberg was mostly home-schooled during the early years and attended Lockers Park preparatory boarding school before entering Osborne Naval Training College (the Royal Navy) at age 13; he entered Dartmouth Naval College a year later. In 1916 he served in Admiral Sir David Beatty's flagship H.M.S. Lion as a Midshipman.

At this time, Battenberg was making friends with Winston Churchill, his cousin "David," (the future King Edward VIII) and most of the women he met. Soon he had the reputation of a playboy. Early on, it wasn't evident that Battenberg would be a success. His academic performance was only marginal, and he hadn't made a name for himself anywhere else. A shake-up in his family in regards to their heritage (and name) sobered his outlook.

During World War I, everything German and German-related was vilified in England. King George V, the grandson of the half-German Queen Victoria and the German Prince Albert, feared the wave of anti-German hysteria could reach the British Royal Family. Because of his German lineage, the senior Prince Louis of Battenberg was stripped of his title and position in the navy, and as a result, the title of "prince" was lost for the younger Louis as well. His father became the first Marquess of Milford Haven, and the family anglicized their name to Mountbatten. With newfound determination, Mountbatten gradually climbed the ranks through the navy.

In the summer of 1922 Mountbatten married Edwina Cynthia Annette Ashley. She was the heir to a sizable fortune, providing the couple with a comfortable lifestyle for the rest of their lives. Two years later, they had a daughter, Patricia. Another daughter, Pamela, was born seven years later. Anne Edwards, a biographer of Queen Elizabeth II, noted in her book The Royal Sisters that Mountbatten was "fond of children...a devoted father...and a concerned uncle to his sister's...son, Philip." (Philip, who later married the future Queen Elizabeth II, and his family were members of the exiled royal family of Greece.)

His Contributions to the Royal Navy

Mountbatten was successful in his professional life as well as his personal life. He created a device that bore his name and became standard equipment for all ships in the Royal Navy. The device enabled ships to keep an assured, clear distance from one another while steaming in line. He also pushed for arming British ships with machine guns. These guns provided excellent defense aerial attacks during World War II.

In 1939 he was promoted to Captain. Two years later Prime Minister Winston Churchill appointed Mountbatten Chief of Combined Operations with rank of Acting Vice-Admiral. He was in charge of planning the European Invasion. He also directed the invasion of Madagascar and commando raids on Norway and France. These raids became known as "butcher and bolt" raids and often left more casualties than success.

In 1943 Churchill and Roosevelt named Mountbatten the Supreme Allied Commander for Southeast Asia. He served in that capacity until 1946 and was responsible for the recapture of Burma from Japan. In 1945 he accepted the Japanese surrender at Singapore.

Throughout the war Mountbatten's wife worked near her husband, working for the welfare of the wounded, and after the war, she aided many prisoners of war. Together the press referred to Mountbatten and his wife as "The Fabulous Mountbattens," and their popularity with servicemen and crew.

After the war, Mountbatten served as the last viceroy (governor of a country who rules as the representative of his king) of India from March through August of 1947. He oversaw the creation of India and Pakistan through negotiations with the Hindus and the Moslems. Although Britain was weakened from the war and could no longer hold onto India, many of the upperclass in England viewed Mountbatten as a traitor to his class and country for being instrumental in the dissolution of the British Empire.

During this time the title Lord Mountbatten of Burma was created; he also served as Governor-General of India for a year, from 1947-1948. He also, according to Edwards, attended "the wedding that had been his lifelong dream--his nephew Philip [married] the future Queen of England" in November, 1947. Edwards noted that it really wasn't a secret that "from early in his youth, Philip had been a pawn in his uncle's ambitions...and was being groomed for the future role of Prince Consort."

The next year Mountbatten was promoted to Vice-Admiral. The rank of Fourth Sea Lord followed in 1950. He also served as Chief of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in the Mediterranean. Promotions continued--to Admiral the following year--and he attained the height of his professional career on April 18, 1955, when he was named First Sea Lord. This was the exact title stripped from his father all those years ago. The following year he was promoted Admiral of the Fleet. In these capacities Mountbatten oversaw numerous changes in Britain's defense system, such as guided missile ships and nuclear submarines.

It was also around this time that he became the confidant of his great-nephew, Prince Charles, the future king of England. According to the A & E Biography profile Prince Charles: Born to be King, Charles turned to Mountbatten for "support and guidance," and viewed him as a "honorary grandfather."

Throughout his career, Mountbatten was known to be ruthless. He used his status to get his way, and often publically and privately criticized his peers. He also enjoyed both recognition for his successes and ceremonies where he could dress in his military uniform, adorned in medals and honors. In his obituary, The New York Times attributed the following quote to Mountbatten, "I am the most conceited man I have ever known." This attitude often alienated Mountbatten from his peers and simultaneously made him popular with commoners.

The End of His Life

His wife died in 1960, and Mountbatten retired five years later, though he remained a confidant to Queen Elizabeth II and his nephew, Prince Philip. He also continued to advise Prince Charles, according to the A & E profile, encouraging Charles to join the Royal Navy and "to play the field and have lots of affairs before he settled down." Although he was often considered irritating and annoying, Mountbatten was respected by both royalty and ordinary people, and was almost universally loved.

In 1979, a bomb demolished his fishing boat in waters off the northwest coast of Ireland near his family summer home, on August 27. Mountbatten, his 14-year-old grandson, and a friend of his grandson were all killed instantly. He became the IRA's most famous victim. A member of the Provisional wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was later convicted of his murder.

Mountbatten's funeral at Westminster Abbey was considered the most-outstanding tribute to any military personnel since the Duke of Wellington was buried in 1852. His great-nephew, Prince Charles, was one of many who paid tribute to him at the funeral. He was buried in an abbey at Romsey near his Hampshire home. After 50 years of service to the Royal Navy, he was buried facing the sea.

"Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 18. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 3 Apr. 2012.

Sir Bernard Law Montgomery 11/17/1887 - 3/24/1976

The English field marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (1887-1976), was an outstanding commander and hero of the British people during World War II.

Bernard Montgomery was born on Nov. 17, 1887. He went to St. Paul's School in London and entered the army in 1908. He fought in France during World War I and was mentioned in dispatches for gallantry in action.

After the usual staff and command assignments, Montgomery was a major general in command of the 3d Division in 1939. The division moved to France with the British Expeditionary Force in that year for the so-called Phony War. Montgomery participated in the withdrawal to Dunkirk in the spring of 1940. In England he became head of the 5th Corps in 1940, of the 12th Corps in 1941, and of the South East Command in 1942. In July 1942 he was appointed commander of the British 8th Army in Egypt, a position that marked the beginning of his rise to fame.

Northern Africa and Italy

Now a lieutenant general, Montgomery reorganized the 8th Army, gave the officers and men confidence in themselves and in eventual victory, and set about to defeat his opponent, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. When Rommel attacked at Alam Halfa on August 31, Montgomery won a defensive battle. On October 23 at the Battle of El Alamein, Montgomery gained an offensive victory. His defeat of the Italo-German army prompted an Axis retreat out of Egypt to the Mareth Line positions in southern Tunisia, 1,500 miles away. Although Montgomery pursued Rommel, he was unable to trap him.

Montgomery was a full general before the end of 1942 and was knighted on November 10 of that year. In February 1943 his 8th Army came under Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's Supreme Allied Command and directly under Gen. Sir Harold Alexander, the Allied ground force commander. In March, Montgomery took part in the final Anglo-American offensive in Tunisia, which swept the Axis forces entirely out of North Africa by May.

It was largely Montgomery's plan, one of concentrated rather than dispersed landings, that dictated the invasion of Sicily on July 10, 1943. While Gen. George Patton's U.S. 7th Army landed on the southern coast of Sicily, Montgomery put his 8th Army ashore on the eastern face. Montgomery then tried to drive up the eastern coast to Messina, but his army was blocked at Catania, and American forces reached Messina first.

Montgomery led his army across the Strait of Messina on Sept. 3, 1943, to the Italian mainland. He moved to the Taranto and Bari areas of the eastern coast, where his forces captured the Foggia airfields by October 1.

The 8th Army moved across the Biferno River and captured Termoli after a complicated and brilliant operation that utilized an amphibious landing together with a direct pressure force. But bad weather and difficult terrain, plus obstinate German resistance, prevented rapid progress, and by the end of 1943 Montgomery's army was immobile at the Sangro River.

Invasion of Normandy

At that time Montgomery was assigned to the United Kingdom, where he took command of the British and Canadian forces scheduled to participate in the cross-Channel attack. In addition to being 21st Army Group commander, he was named the Allied ground forces commander for the invasion of Normandy. On June 6, 1944, D-day, he directed the British 2d Army and the U.S. 1st Army, which crossed the Channel.

Montgomery's generalship came under criticism during the first 2 months of the European campaign because of his alleged caution and slowness. He was to have captured Caen on D-day, but he took it only on the forty-second day of the campaign. His Goodwood attack also became the subject of much controversy. Yet Montgomery virtually destroyed two German field armies in the Argentan-Falaise pocket, closed on August 19, and he propelled the four Allied armies across the Seine River in a pursuit that came to an end only at the Siegfried Line.

Montgomery relinquished his command of the Allied ground forces to Eisenhower on Sept. 1, 1944, a change contemplated long before the invasion. He was promoted to field marshal on the same day. He started the discussion now known as the broad-front versus narrow-front strategy. Finally, Eisenhower gave Montgomery permission to launch Operation Market-Garden, a combined air-ground attack planned to get British forces across the lower Rhine River in Holland. The airborne drop was successful, but the ground attack failed, and the hope of driving directly to Berlin and bringing the war to a quick end vanished.

The winter fighting was bitter. It came to a climax on Dec. 16, 1944, when the Germans launched their Ardennes counteroffensive and created the Battle of the Bulge. Eisenhower put Montgomery in command of all the troops on the northern shoulder of the Bulge.

Montgomery crossed the Rhine River late in March 1945, helped encircle and reduce the industrial Ruhr, and swept across the northern German plain to the Elbe River. He commanded the British occupation forces and the Army of the Rhine (1945-1946), then was chief of the imperial general staff (1946-1948). He was chairman of the Western Europe Commanders in Chief Committee (1948-1951) and deputy supreme Allied commander, Europe (1951-1958). He retired in 1958 and wrote his memoirs. He died on March 24, 1976, in Alton, Hampshire.

"Bernard Law Montgomery." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 3 Apr. 2012.

Arthur Ernest Percival 12/26/1887 - 1/31/1966

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival, (26 December 1887 – 31 January 1966) was a British Army officer and World War I veteran. He built a successful military career during the interwar period but is most noted for his involvement in World War II, when he commanded the forces of the British Commonwealth during the Battle of Malaya and the subsequent Battle of Singapore.

Percival's surrender to the invading Imperial Japanese Army force is the largest capitulation in British military history, and it permanently undermined Britain's prestige as an imperial power in the Far East.However, current knowledge about the years of under-funding of Malaya's defences and the inexperienced, under-equipped nature of the Commonwealth army has enabled certain commentators to hold a more sympathetic view of his command.

Arthur Ernest Percival was born on 26 December 1887 in Aspenden Lodge, Aspenden near Buntingford in Hertfordshire, England, the second son of Alfred Reginald and Edith Percival (née Miller). His father was the Land Agent of the Hamel's Park estate and his mother came from a Lancashire cotton family.

Percival was initially schooled locally in Bengeo. Then in 1901, he was sent to Rugby with his more academically successful brother, where he was a boarder in School House. A moderate pupil, he studied Greek and Latin but was described by a teacher as "not a good classic". Percival's only qualification on leaving in 1906 was a higher school certificate. He was a more successful sportsman, playing cricket and tennis and running cross country. He also rose to colour sergeant in the school's Volunteer Rifle Corps. However, his military career began at a comparatively late age: although a member of Youngsbury Rifle Club, he was still working as a clerk for the iron-ore merchants Naylor, Benzon & Company Limited in London, which he had joined in 1907, when the Great War broke out. But for this conflict, it seems certain that he would have remained a civilian.

Percival enlisted on the first day of the war as a private in the Officer Training Corps of the Inns of Court, at the age of 26, and was promoted after five weeks' basic training to temporary second lieutenant. Nearly one third of his fellow recruits would be dead by the end of the war. By November Percival had been promoted to captain. The following year he was dispatched to France with the newly formed 7th (Service) Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment, which became part of the 54th Brigade, 18th (Eastern) Division in February 1915. The first day of the Battle of the Somme (1 July 1916) left Percival unscathed, but in September he was badly wounded in four places by shrapnel, as he led his company in an assault on the Schwaben Redoubt, beyond the ruins of Thiepval village, and was awarded the Military Cross.

Percival took a regular commission as a captain with the Essex Regiment in October 1916, whilst recovering from his injuries in hospital. He was appointed a temporary major in his original regiment. In 1917, he became battalion commander with the temporary rank of lieutenant-colonel. During Germany's Spring Offensive, Percival led a counter-attack that saved a unit of French artillery from capture, winning a Croix de Guerre. For a short period in May 1918, he acted as commander of the 54th Brigade. He was given brevet promotion to major, and awarded the Distinguished Service Order, with his citation noting his "power of command and knowledge of tactics". He ended the war as a respected soldier, described as "very efficient" and was recommended for the Staff College.

In 1920 Percival served in Ireland against the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Anglo-Irish War, first as a company commander and later the intelligence officer of the 1st Battalion of the Essex Regiment, in Kinsale, County Cork.

Percival was made a full colonel in March 1936, and until 1938 he was General Staff Officer Grade 1 in Malaya, the Chief of Staff to General Dobbie, the General Officer Commanding in Malaya. During this time, he recognised that Singapore was no longer an isolated fortress. He considered the possibility of the Japanese landing in Thailand to "burgle Malaya by the backdoor and conducted an appraisal of the possibility of an attack being launched on Singapore from the North, which was supplied to the War Office, and which Percival subsequently felt was similar to the plan followed by the Japanese in 1941. He also supported Dobbie's unexecuted plan for the construction of fixed defences in Southern Johore. In March 1938, he returned to Britain and was (temporarily) promoted to brigadier on the General Staff, Aldershot Command.
In 1936, Major-General William Dobbie, then General Officer Commanding (Malaya), made an inquiry into whether more forces were required on mainland Malaya to prevent the Japanese from establishing forward bases to attack Singapore. Percival, then his Chief Staff Officer, was tasked to draw up a tactical assessment of how the Japanese were most likely to attack. In late 1937, his analysis duly confirmed that north Malaya might become the critical battleground.

In April 1941 Percival was given promotion to acting lieutenant-general, and was appointed General Officer Commanding (GOC) Malaya. This was a significant promotion for him as he had never commanded an army Corps. He left Britain in a Sunderland flying boat and embarked on an arduous two week, multi-stage flight via Gibraltar, Malta, Alexandria (where he was delayed by the Anglo-Iraqi War), Basra, Karachi and Rangoon, where he was met by an RAF transport.

Percival had mixed feelings about his appointment, noting that "In going to Malaya I realised that there was the double danger either of being left in an inactive command for some years if war did not break out in the East or, if it did, of finding myself involved in a pretty sticky business with the inadequate forces which are usually to be found in the distant parts of our Empire in the early stages of a war.

On 8 December 1941 the Japanese 25th Army under the command of Lieutenant-General Tomoyuki Yamashita launched an amphibious assault on the Malay Peninsula (one hour before the attack on Pearl Harbor; the difference in date was because the two places lie on opposite sides of the international date line). That night the first Japanese invasion force arrived at Kota Bahru on Malaya's east coast. This was just a diversionary force, and the main landings took place the next day at Singora and Pattani on the south-eastern coast of Thailand, with troops rapidly deploying over the border into northern Malaya.


The Japanese advanced rapidly, and on 27 January 1942 Percival ordered a general retreat across the Johore Strait to the island of Singapore and organised a defence along the length of the island's 70-mile (110 km) coast line. But the Japanese did not dawdle, and on 8 February Japanese troops landed on the northwest corner of Singapore island. After a week of fighting on the island, Percival held his final command conference at 9 a.m. on 15 February in the Battle Box of Fort Canning.

The Japanese insisted that Percival himself march under a white flag to the Old Ford Motor Factory in Bukit Timah to negotiate the surrender. A Japanese officer present noted that he looked "pale, thin and tired". After a brief disagreement, when Percival insisted that the British keep 1,000 men under arms in Singapore to preserve order, which Yamashita finally conceded, it was agreed at 6.10 p.m. that the British Empire troops would lay down their arms and cease resistance at 8.30 p.m. This was in spite of instructions from Prime Minister Winston Churchill for prolonged resistance. The Pacific War was just ten weeks old.

Churchill viewed the fall of Singapore to be "the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history." However, Britain's defence, the Middle East and the Soviet Union had all received higher priorities in the allocation of men and material, so the desired air force strength of 300 to 500 aircraft was never reached, and whereas the Japanese invaded with over two hundred tanks, the British Army in Malaya did not have a single one.

Percival himself was briefly held prisoner in Changi Prison, where "the defeated GOC could be seen sitting head in hands, outside the married quarters he now shared with seven brigadiers, a colonel, his ADC and cook-sergeant. He discussed feelings with few, spent hours walking around the extensive compound, ruminating on the reverse and what might have been".

As the war drew to an end, an OSS team removed the prisoners from Hsian. Percival was then taken, along with Wainwright, to stand immediately behind General Douglas MacArthur as he confirmed the terms of the Japanese surrender aboard USS Missouri (BB-63) in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945.

While General Wainwright had become a public hero on his return to the United States, Percival found himself disparaged for his leadership in Malaya, even by Lieutenant-General Heath, his erstwhile subordinate. Percival's 1949 memoir, The War in Malaya, did little to quell this criticism, being a restrained rather than self-serving account of the campaign. Unusually for a British lieutenant-general, Percival was not awarded a knighthood.

Percival died at the age of 78 on 31 January 1966, in King Edward VII's Hospital for Officers, Beaumont Street in Westminster, and was buried in Hertfordshire.

Courtesy of Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Percival