Harold Rawdon Briggs

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Harold Rawdon Briggs
KCIE KBE CB DSO**
Nickname(s) Briggo
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch British Indian Army
Years of service 1915–1948
Rank Lieutenant-General
Commands held 2nd Battalion 10th Baluch Regiment (1937–40)
Indian 7th Infantry Brigade (1940–42)
Indian 5th Infantry Division (1942–44)
Burma Command (1946–48)
Battles/wars East African Campaign
Western Desert Campaign
Burma Campaign
Malayan Emergency
Awards KCIE (Jan 1948)
KBE()
CB ()
CBE (May 1945)
DSO (Dec 1941)
DSO (April 1942)
DSO (May 1944)
MID (24 Jun 1943)
MID (5 Aug 1943)
MID (5 Apr 1945)

Lieutenant-General Sir Rawdon Briggs KCIE KBE CB DSO** (1894–1952) was an officer in the British Indian Army during the First and Second World Wars and the post-war era.

Field Marshal Viscount William Slim said of him[1]

I know of few commanders who made as many immediate and critical decisions on every step of the ladder of promotion, and I know of none who made so few mistakes

Early life[edit]

Educated at Bedford School, Briggs was a U.S. citizen until receiving British naturalisation papers in 1914. He then became a cadet at the Royal Military College Sandhurst.[2] In 1915, after an initial appointment to the Indian Army was cancelled,[3] he was commissioned into the King's Regiment (Liverpool) and fought with the regiment in France. In 1916 he transferred to the British Indian Army joining the 31st Punjabis (which in 1922 became the 2nd battalion 16th Punjab Regiment), fighting in Mesopotamia and later in Palestine.[4] In September 1917 he was appointed to command one of the 31st Punjabi's companies in the rank of acting captain,[5] and was attached to the 152nd Punjabis in May 1918 in the same role.[6]

In 1924 he transferred to the 1st battalion 10th Baluch Regiment with whom he saw two periods of action in the North West Frontier of India in the 1930s. He was promoted to major in August 1932[7] (having been made a brevet-major in January[8]) and then lieutenant colonel in September 1937[9] when given command of the 2nd Battalion 10th Baluch Regiment (now 7th Battalion The Baloch Regiment).[4]

Second World War[edit]

At the start of the Second World War Briggs was in India commanding 2nd battalion 10th Baluch Regiment. In September 1940 he was appointed brigadier and given command of 7th Indian Infantry Brigade.

Western Desert[edit]

The brigade was shipped to join Indian 4th Infantry Division which was forming in Egypt to face the Italian threat from Libya. The brigade was not involved in the fighting during Operation Compass but in December 1940 was detached from the division and sent to Port Sudan near the border with northern Eritrea while the rest of the division (plus one battalion of 7th Brigade) was sent to join Indian 5th Infantry Division on Eritrea's western border with Sudan.

East Africa[edit]

During the East African Campaign, Briggs commanded Briggsforce - a brigade group composed of two battalions from the 7th Indian Infantry Brigade, one Senegalese battalion officered by Free French officers and a French Foreign Legion battalion from Chad together with a battery of field artillery and a company of engineers. Operating independently from the main force, Briggsforce advanced from Sudan and, under the direct orders of Lieutenant-General William Platt, entered Eritrea from the north through the border town of Karora. The force then continued southwards and fought its way to the defences of Keren.

During the Battle of Keren in March 1941, Briggsforce drew off a significant part of the Italian garrison of Keren even though it lacked the artillery for a major offensive action itself. The attacks by Briggsforce aided Platt's main offensive from the west. Briggs also posed a threat to Massawa, Eritrea's main port, on the coast to the east. This obliged the Italians to maintain reserves on the coast which could have been better employed at Keren.

Following Keren's capture Briggsforce cut across country to play a significant role in the capture of Massawa on 9 April.

For his action in East Africa Briggs was awarded his first DSO on 30 December 1941.[10]

Return to the Western Desert[edit]

By the end of 7 April Indian Brigade had rejoined 4th Indian Division and returned to Egypt. Owing to lack of transport the brigade took no part in Operation Battleaxe in June but in August was detached once again as the Oasis Group to hold the Siwa and Jarabub Oases, some 150 miles (240 km) south of the Mediterranean coast on each side of the Egypt - Libya border.

Handing over the Oases responsibilities to Indian 29th Infantry Brigade, 7th brigade took part next in Operation Crusader in November 1941 when Briggs was given the task of taking the Omars, three fortress strongholds some 20 miles (32 km) from the coast and forming part of the Axis defenses on the Libyan border. Omar Nuovo was taken on 21 November, the first day of fighting, but it took a week to clear Libyan Omar completely. The third fortress held firm. When Rommel's Afrika Korps heavily defeated the British armour at Sidi Rezegh he made his "dash for the wire" to destroy Eighth Army's rear echelons. On 25 November the Axis armour reached 7th Infantry Brigade dug into its newly captured positions and was severely mauled by the divisional artillery and forced to withdraw to the main Axis positions around Tobruk.

Briggs's brigade took part in Eighth Army's advance to and through the Axis defensive line at Gazala, ending the year at Benghazi. When Rommel counterattacked in late January from his position at El Agheila Briggs found his brigade, still at Benghazi, threatened with being cut off. Dispersing into battalion groups the brigade made its way south across the Axis rear lines into the desert and then turned eastwards to reach Mechili, still in British hands, with almost no losses. For his leadership during this period Briggs was awarded a second DSO.[11]

As the front line stabilised at the Gazala line 7th Indian Brigade was sent to Cyprus as one of the units relieving Indian 5th Infantry Division which had organised its defenses. However, in May 1942 Briggs was promoted to command Indian 5th Infantry Division which had been placed in reserve behind the Eighth Army's Gazala position. At this time Briggs still only had the substantive rank of lieutenant-colonel, although he was promoted to full colonel in September 1942 with seniority backdated to September 1940.[12]

During the Battle of Gazala in June Briggs narrowly avoided capture when his tactical HQ was overrun. His division took heavy casualties in the unsuccessful Operation Anchor and was forced to withdraw from Knightsbridge and El Adem to Sollum on the Egypt - Libyan border to reform. The division was at Mersa Matruh involved in the delaying action as Eighth Army withdrew to El Alamein and again was severely mauled. The division's 29th Infantry Brigade was overrun and destroyed at Fuka, east of Mersa Matruh, but the two remaining depleted brigades were able to make it back to Alamein.

At Alamein the division was reinforced with 161 Indian Infantry Brigade and took part in various engagements in July around the Ruweisat Ridge, part of the First Battle of El Alamein.

During the Battle of Alam el Halfa in late August and early September the division was engaged on the Ruweisat Ridge but saw only relatively light action as the main Axis attack developed to the south. Briggs was mentioned in despatches for activities in the Middle East during the period May to October 1942.[13]

Persia[edit]

In the autumn of 1942 5th Indian Division was sent to Persia to form part of XXI Corps within the Tenth Army. The Tenth Army was in place to defend against the threat of a German breakthrough in the Caucasus but after the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad this possibility became remote and 5th Indian Division was sent in June 1943 to India to join Indian XV Corps then commanded by William Slim, who was shortly to be promoted to command Fourteenth Army. Briggs was mentioned in despatches in August 1943 for his service in Persia-Iraq.[14]

Burma Campaign[edit]

In early 1944 Briggs was with Indian 5th Infantry Division in the Arakan in Burma. XV Corps' offensive in January was held by the Japanese who went on the offensive in February, attempting to cut off 5th and 7th Indian Infantry Divisions. Brigg's 9 Indian Brigade, cut off but supplied by air, held off the Japanese during the Battle of the Admin Box and the two divisions were able to turn the tables on the Japanese and with the help of Indian 26th Infantry Division and British 36th Infantry Division to the north, inflict a heavy defeat.

In March 1944 the bulk of Briggs' division was airlifted north to Imphal while 161st Indian Brigade was sent to Kohima to become heavily involved in the Battle of Kohima. At Imphal the division was heavily involved in fighting from the end of March until late June when it made contact with British 2nd Infantry Division advancing from Kohima. Following this Briggs was rested and posted to administrative jobs in India having been awarded a second bar to his DSO in May 1944.[15] He was mentioned in despatches in April 1945[16] and appointed as a Commander of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in May 1945 for services in Burma.[17]

Having commanded a division since May 1942 as an acting major-general, Briggs was only promoted substantive major-general in July 1945, after he had relinquished command. Unusually, he never held the substantive rank of brigadier, being promoted from colonel directly to major-general.[18]

Post War and retirement[edit]

He was appointed lieutenant-general in 1946 when he became Commander in Chief, Burma Command and retired in January 1948 to live in Cyprus having been made Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire in August 1948.[19] Although only a substantive major-general on retirement, he was given the honorary rank of lieutenant-general in July 1948.[20]

Malaya[edit]

In 1950 Briggs was recalled to active duty by Slim, who was by that time Chief of the Imperial General Staff, to become Director of Operations in Malaya where the Malayan Emergency was in progress. The implementation of the Briggs Plan is considered an important factor in the authorities' victory over the Malayan Communist Party rebels. Said of Briggs: "He believed there were 'two key goals' to accomplish in order to end the insurgency -- first, to protect the population, and second to isolate them from the guerrillas."

In 1951 Briggs once again retired to Cyprus but, his health destroyed by his period in Malaya, he died in 1952. The role of Director of Operations in Malaya was assumed by Sir Gerald Templer who oversaw the successful implementation of Briggs' plan.

Army career[edit]

  • Commissioned into Kings (Liverpool) Regiment, France - 1915
  • Transferred to 31st Punjabis, Mesopotamia - 1916
  • Transferred to 1st Battalion 10th Baluch Regiment - 1923
  • Commanding Officer 2nd Battalion 10th Baluch Regiment - 1937 to 1940
  • Commander 7th (Poona) Brigade, 4th Indian Division, North Africa, East Africa - 1940 to 1942
  • General Officer Commanding 5th Indian Division, North Africa, Iraq, Burma - 1942 to 1944
  • General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Burma Command - 1946 to 1948
  • Director of Operations, Malaya - 1950 to 1951

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]