Hugh Elles

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Hugh Jamieson Elles
Hugh Elles portrait by William Orpen.jpg
1917 portrait by William Orpen
Born 27 May 1880
Died 11 July 1945(1945-07-11) (aged 65)
London
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1899-1938
Rank Lieutenant General
Commands held Tank Corps
9th Infantry Brigade
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George
Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order
Distinguished Service Order

Lieutenant General Sir Hugh Jamieson Elles KCB KCMG KCVO DSO (1880–1945) was a British General and the first commander of the newly formed Tank Corps in the First World War.

Early life[edit]

Born in British India on 27 May 1880, Hugh Elles was the younger son of Lt Gen Sir Edmond Elles. He was educated at Clifton College, and the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, after which he was commissioned into the Royal Engineers in June 1899. He served in South Africa during the latter part of the Second Boer War and then undertook regimental duty in Aldershot. In 1913 he attended the Army Staff College at Camberley.

First World War[edit]

On the outbreak of the First World War, posted to the staff of 4th Infantry Division. He served at Le Cateau, then took part in the Retreat to the Seine and the battle of the Aisne, where the German Army was halted. He then moved north with the British Expeditionary Force to Flanders, taking part in the Battle of Armienteres in October 1914. In February 1915, he was promoted to brevet major and served as the Brigade Major with 10th Infantry Brigade. He was wounded during their counter-attack, on 25 April 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres.

In August 1915, he was one of three officers specially selected by Sir William Robertson to liaise with troops at the front and pass the information directly to the British General Headquarters. In January 1916, as a General Staff officer, he was sent by General Haig to investigate the first tanks or "caterpillars" being built in England. He attended the first trials of "Mother" and reported back to Haig on its success. During the summer of 1916, he was tasked to report back from the Somme, where the tanks were first used. He was appointed to head the Heavy Branch (the first tank units) of the Machine Gun Corps in France on 29 September 1916 in the temporary rank of Colonel. His responsibilities included its advanced training and tactical employment. He also commanded the large central depot and workshops established near Bermicourt.

Having seen the tanks fail at the Battle of Ypres (also known as the Battle of Passchendaele), due to the dreadful ground and weather conditions of the Autumn 1917, he pressed Haig to use massed tanks on the open ground at Cambrai. On 20 November 1917 he personally led 350 tanks into battle at Cambrai in a Mark IV tank called Hilda. He designed the Corps flag of brown, red and green silk, which he flew from his tank. He is also credited with inventing the fascine which allowed tanks to cross deep ditches.[1]

Elles continued to command the Tank Corps as it played its full part in the defeat of the German Army in the Summer and Autumn of 1918.

Later career[edit]

After the war, he commanded the Tank Corps Training Centre at Bovington from 1919–1923 and was Inspector of Tank Corps at the War Office. He then commanded the 9th Infantry Brigade being posted to HQ Eastern Command as Chief of Staff in August 1926. In 1930 he was appointed Director of Military Training at the War Office and then, in 1933, commanded 42nd (Territorial) Division for a few months. In April 1934, he was appointed Master-General of the Ordnance in the rank of Lieutenant General; he was also the head of the Mechanisation Branch for which his previous service made him particularly suitable. He retired in 1938 and in the early years of the Second World War, was chief of Civil Defence operational staff (June 1940). Later he was appointed South West Regional Commissioner based in Bristol and would have taken regional command of the resistance in the event of a German invasion and occupation of Britain.

Elles was married three times, his first two wives dying before him. He died in London on 11 July 1945

Honours[edit]

Elles accumulated 21 medals during his distinguished military career:[2]

  • Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath - Military Division
  • Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael & St. George
  • Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order
  • Distinguished Service Order
  • 1914 Star with bar (Mons Star)
  • British War Medal 1914-18 (silver)
  • Victory Medal
  • Queen's South Africa Medal (Silver)
  • Medal Ribbon Group
  • Medal Ribbon Group
  • Miniature Medal Group
  • King George V Coronation 1911 (Silver)
  • King George V Jubilee 1935
  • King George VI Coronation 1937
  • Croix de Guerre (Belgium)
  • Croix de Guerre with Palms
  • Legion d'Honneur
  • Legion of Honour, Third Republic, Third Class; France
  • Order of the Crown, Fourth Class; Belgium
  • Order of the Crown, Third Class; Belgium
  • Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star (Japan).

References[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Ronald Charles
Master-General of the Ordnance
1934–1938
Succeeded by
Vacant