Auchinleck, Field Marshal Sir Claude, 1884-1981

Auchinleck, affectionately known as ‘the Auk,’ was one of the most respected Commanders in the British Army. He had made his career as a soldier in the Indian Army and had been brought home to command the IV Corps in 1939. He spent some time as Commander in Chief in northern Norway and of Southern Command in 1940 but was then appointed Commander in Chief, India in 1941. In June 1941 he was then chosen by Churchill to be Commander in Chief, Middle East, replacing WAVELL. He arrived in Egypt at the point when British fortunes were at their lowest: ROMMEL had successfully defeated the British Battleaxe Operation. Auchinleck immediately set about planning a counterattack, which was codenamed Crusader, for November 1941. Crusader was a hard-fought battle and ended in a victory for the British and the relief of the besieged Tobruk. However Rommel did not give the British a chance to consolidate their victory and he counterattacked, forcing the British to make a strategic withdrawal to Gazala and Bir Hacheim. In June 1942 fighting was renewed and Rommel outstripped the British and took Tobruk on 21 June 1941. Auchinleck finally gave way to pressure from CHURCHILL and took personal command of the 8th Army in order to improve morale. Auchinleck suffered from being in conflict with Churchill, who demanded the impossible, the immediate defeat of Rommel. Although the first Battle of El-Alamein, in July 1942, was a decisive victory and a tremendous setback for Rommel and the Italian Army. Churchill decided it was time to replace Auchinleck by ALEXANDER. Churchill could not forgive Auchinleck for the fall of Tobruk and Auchinleck could not alleviate Churchill’s fears about the desert campaign. Churchill’s aim was to speed up the offensive. However, by removing Auchinleck at this crucial point the timetable for the second Battle of El Alamein was pushed back. Auchinleck returned to India and served as Commander in Chief of the Indian Army until 1947.

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