Wilson, Field Marshal Sir Henry Maitland, 1881-1964

Almost the whole of Wilson’s service in World War II wasspent in the Mediterranean, where he presided over a succession of crises, defeats and withdrawals, but maintained CHURCHILL’s confidence throughout. Large in frame and hearty in manner, he was known as ‘Jumbo.’ but was far from elephantine in his thought processes. At the outbreak he was commanding in Egypt and oversaw WAVELL’s early campaign in the desert and CUNNINGHAM’S in Ethiopia. He then directed both the intervention in and retreat from Greece, where he did much to minimize British losses. His next crisis was the pro-Axis coup in Iraq, which he occupied successfully with a skeleton force, and he was then called on to carry out the most sensitive operation of the Middle Eastern War, the occupation of Syria, held by Vichy French forces. From 1942 to 1943 he commanded the Persia— Iraq Theater 9th Army, and then succeeded ALEXANDER as Commander in Chief Middle East, on the latter becoming EISENHOWER’s deputy. In January 1944 he became Supreme Allied Commander Mediterranean, though by then executive control of the main fighting in Italy had passed to the national commanders, Alexander and CLARK. On the death of Sir John DILL in November he moved to Washington in charge of the British Joint Staff Mission, and in that capacity was present at the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences. Though credited with no great strategic decisions, Wilson was a rock of sound military sense in difficult situations, and a sensitive and able diplomatist in a multinational alliance.

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