George F. Hopkinson

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George Frederick Hopkinson
Nickname(s) 'Hoppy'
Born 1896
Died 9 September 1943 (aged 46-47)
Castellaneta, Italy
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1915 - 1943
Rank Major General
Unit North Staffordshire Regiment
Commands held 1st Airborne Division
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Officer of the Order of the British Empire
Military Cross

Major-General George Frederick Hopkinson OBE MC (1896 – 9 September 1943) was a British Army officer who commanded the 1st Airborne Division during the Second World War. After working for a period prior to the beginning of the First World War as an engineering apprentice, Hopkinson was commissioned into the North Staffordshire Regiment and then posted to France as a signal officer in the 72nd Infantry Brigade. He was awarded the Military Cross for meritous actions during the retreat of the British Army during early 1918; after the end of the conflict he gained a degree in civil engineering and travelled Europe, before rejoining the Army in the mid-1920s and working his way up to the rank of Major.

Retiring from the Army a second time to take up a civil engineering job in Turkey, Hopkinson rejoined the Army at the beginning of the Second World War in 1939. After seeing action during the Battle of France, for which he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, he was promoted to Major General and given command of 1st Airborne Division. Instituting a strict regime of training, Hopkinson ensured the division was ready to participate in Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily. When Sicily had been successfully conquered, the Allies landed in Italy; Hopkinson accompanied 1st Airborne Division as it landed at the port of Taranto, taking the surrender of the Italian forces in the area. The division then began advancing northwards against stiff Axis resistance, and Hopkinson was killed by machine gun fire as he witnessed an assault on a roadblock held by German Fallschirmjaeger.

Early life and First World War[edit]

Prior to the start of the First World War, Hopkinson worked as an apprentice at an engineering works at Retford, Nottinghamshire. Too young to join up when the conflict began, he enlisted in the British Army in early 1915, joining the Officers Training Corps and then being commissioned into the 4th battalion, North Staffordshire Regiment as a second lieutenant (on probation) on 27 March 1915.[1][2] After a short period on Guernsey with them, Hopkinson was posted to France as a signal officer in the 72nd Infantry Brigade.[3] On 16 September 1918 he was awarded the Military Cross for his actions during the retreat of the British Army in 1918; the citation read:

Lt. George Frederick Hopkinson, N. Staff. R., Spec. Res.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During a fortnight's operations of a most arduous description, his services in maintaining communication between brigade headquarters and the front line were most valuable, and his example of fine personal courage and coolness under heavy fire, worthy of the highest praise. On one occasion, having been unable to find the battalion to whom he was to convey orders for retirement, he returned a second time, but encountered an enemy patrol, who opened a heavy fire. Eluding the patrol, he came across one of our wounded, whom he helped to get on to his motor-cycle and managed to convey back to safety, though all the time being subjected to heavy fire.[4]

Hopkinson left the army shortly after the end of the conflict, and in 1919 enrolled in Caius College, Cambridge, where he studied for a civil engineering degree. When he had finished his studies, he spent some time travelling throughout Europe, visiting Poland, the Baltic States and Russia.[5]

However after this period of travelling, in 1923 he returned to the Army and the North Staffordshire regiment, and by the following year had reached the rank of captain. He began studying for entry into the Staff College, Camberley, and attained a place in the institution in January 1930.[6] When he passed out of the Staff College he was seconded from his regiment and appointed as a General Staff Officer (GSO III) to the War Office, and was promoted a short time later to GSO II at the School of Artillery at Larkhill; during the period, he also learnt to fly, gaining his pilot's license in 1933.[7] In 1936 he returned to his regiment and commanded a rifle company as a brevet major, but in 1937 he once again retired from the Army, taking a job in a civil engineering firm that had operations in Turkey.[8]

Second World War[edit]

When the Second World War began in September 1939, Hopkinson immediately rejoined the Army and was posted to the Staff of the Military Representative that served on the Supreme War Council.[9] In November 1939 he took command of a General Headquarters Reconnaissance Unit which served throughout the Battle of France; injured during a motorcycle accident, he recovered in time to evacuate himself and many of his unit's vehicles from Dunkirk. He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire on 20 August 1940 for his work during the Battle of France, in particular as liaison officer to Belgian forces.[10][11] He then qualified as a parachutist and was then assigned to Britain's fledgling airborne forces; as he trained he helped to pioneer a number of airborne tactics, including the delivery and casting off of gliders from the transport aircraft towing them.[12] By April 1943 Hopkinson had been promoted to the rank of Major General, and assumed command of 1st Airborne Division; informed that Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily would take place in several months, Hopkinson was determined that the division would participate, and thus implemented a tough training regime to ensure that the division was sufficiently prepared.[13]

Death[edit]

Operation Husky began on the night of 9 July with an airborne assault by 1st Airlanding Brigade and 1st Parachute Brigade of 1st Airborne Division, and elements of the American 82nd Airborne Division with both divisions suffering heavy losses in men and equipment as they carried out their objectives.[14] Due to a number of factors, including poor navigation and the inexperience of the pilots of the transport aircraft, many of the gliders transporting 1st Airlanding Brigade failed to reach their assigned landing zones. One such glider carried Hopkinson and members of his staff; the tow-rope of the glider was detached prematurely and it was forced to ditch in the ocean. Although uninjured, Hopkinson was forced to wait by the partially submerged glider until daylight, when he was picked up a Royal Navy destroyer.[15] After both brigades had accomplished their missions they were withdrawn to North Africa to recover, and Allied ground forces began to fight through Sicily; fighting ended on 17 August, and in early September the Allies launched their invasion of Italy itself.[16] On 8 September 2nd Parachute Brigade and 4th Parachute Brigade landed in Italy, followed several days later by the remainder of the division landing at the port of Taranto. Hopkinson landed with the rest of the division and accepted the surrender of the Italian garrison there, then ordered the division to advance northwards. Fighting was fierce against a strong German rearguard, which set up a number of ambushes and roadblocks to deter the division; one such roadblock was set up near the town of Castellaneta and defended by a unit of Fallschirmjaeger.[17] On 9 September, 10th Parachute Battalion assaulted the roadblock, with Hopkinson in close attendance; during the fighting, Hopkinson was hit by a burst of machine gun fire and killed.[18] He was replaced by Brigadier Ernest Down, commander of 2nd Parachute Brigade.[19] Hopkinson was the only British airborne general to be killed during the conflict.[20] He is buried in Bari War Cemetery.[21]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Dover, p. 67
  2. ^ The London Gazette: no. 29113. p. 2996. 26 March 1915. Retrieved 19 March 2009.
  3. ^ Dover, pp. 67-68
  4. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30901. p. 10967. 13 September 1918. Retrieved 17 March 1918.
  5. ^ Dover, pp. 68
  6. ^ Dover, pp. 69
  7. ^ Dover, p. 70
  8. ^ Dover, p. 70
  9. ^ Dover, pp. 70-71
  10. ^ "Recommendations for Honours and Awards (Army)—Image details—Hopkinson, G F" (fee usually required to view pdf of full original recommendation). DocumentsOnline. The National Archives. Retrieved 17 March 2009. 
  11. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34926. p. 5075. 16 August 1940. Retrieved 17 March 2009.
  12. ^ Dover, p. 71
  13. ^ Dover, p. 71
  14. ^ Dover, p. 76
  15. ^ Dover, p. 75
  16. ^ Dover, pp. 80-82
  17. ^ Dover, p. 82
  18. ^ Harclerode, p. 262
  19. ^ Otway, p. 133
  20. ^ Dover, p. 83
  21. ^ "Casualty details—Hopkinson, George Frederick". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 26 November 2009. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Dover, Major Victor (1981). The Sky Generals. Cassell. ISBN 0-304-30480-8. 
  • Harclerode, Peter (2005). Wings of War – Airborne Warfare 1918-1945. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-304-36730-3. 
  • Otway, Lieutenant-Colonel T.B.H (1990). The Second World War 1939-1945 Army - Airborne Forces. London: Imperial War Museum. ISBN 0-901627-57-7. 
Military offices
Preceded by
Frederick Browning
General Officer Commanding 1st Airborne Division
April 1943–September 1943
Succeeded by
Ernest Down