John Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort

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Field Marshal The Right Honourable
John Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort
Lord Gort and Lieutenant General Pownall cropped.jpg
Lord Gort studying a map at GHQ in the Chateau at Habarcq, 26 November 1939
High Commissioner of Palestine
In office
1 November 1944 – 5 November 1945
Monarch George VI
Preceded by Sir Harold MacMichael
Succeeded by Sir Alan Cunningham
Governor of Malta
In office
1942 – 26 September 1944
Monarch George VI
Preceded by William Dobbie
Succeeded by Edmond Schreiber
Governor of Gibraltar
In office
14 May 1941 – 31 May 1942
Monarch George VI
Preceded by Clive Gerard Liddell
Succeeded by Noel Mason-Macfarlane
Personal details
Born John Standish Surtees Prendergast Vereker
(1886-07-10)10 July 1886
Westminster, Middlesex,
United Kingdom
Died 31 March 1946(1946-03-31) (aged 59)
Southwark, London,
United Kingdom
Relations William Philip Sidney, 1st Viscount De L'Isle VC (son-in-law)
Military service
Nickname(s) Tiger
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1905–1945
Rank Field Marshal
Commands Guards Brigade
Chief of the Imperial General Staff
British Expeditionary Force
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Victoria Cross
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order & Two Bars
Member of the Royal Victorian Order
Military Cross
Mentioned in Despatches (8)

Field Marshal John Standish Surtees Prendergast Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort VC, GCB, CBE, DSO & Two Bars, MVO, MC (10 July 1886 – 31 March 1946) was a British and Anglo-Irish soldier. As a young officer in World War I he was decorated with the Victoria Cross for his actions during the Battle of the Canal du Nord. During the 1930s he served as Chief of the Imperial General Staff (professional head of the Army). He is most famous for commanding the British Expeditionary Force sent to France in the first year of World War II, which was evacuated from Dunkirk. Gort later served as Governors of Gibraltar and Malta, and High Commissioner for Palestine.

Early days[edit]

Gort was born in London into the Prendergast Vereker noble dynasty, an old Anglo-Irish aristocratic family, and grew up in County Durham and the Isle of Wight. The family peerage, Viscount Gort, was named after Gort, a town in County Galway in the West of Ireland. He was educated at Malvern Link Preparatory School and Harrow School and, having succeeded his father to the family title in 1902, he entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich in January 1904 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards on 16 August 1905.[1] Promoted to lieutenant on 1 April 1907, Gort commanded the Grenadier NCOs detailed to bear the coffin and attend the catafalque at the funeral of King Edward VII in May 1910.[1] He was made a Member of the Royal Victorian Order for his services. Later that year he went moose hunting in Canada and accidentally shot his Indian guide, prompting an immediate return.[1]

On 22 February 1911, Gort married Corinna Vereker, a second cousin; they had two sons and a daughter.[1] They divorced in 1925.[2]

First World War[edit]

On 5 August 1914, Gort was promoted to captain.[3] He went to France with the British Expeditionary Force and fought on the Western Front taking part in the retreat from Mons in August 1914.[4] He became a staff officer with the First Army in December 1914 and then became Brigade Major of the 4th Guards Brigade in April 1915.[4] He was awarded the Military Cross in June 1915.[5] Promoted to the brevet rank of major in June 1916, he became a staff officer at the Headquarters of the British Expeditionary Force and fought at the Battle of the Somme throughout the Autumn of 1916.[4] He was given the acting rank of lieutenant-colonel in April 1917[6] on appointment as Commanding Officer of 4th Battalion Grenadier Guards and, having been awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in June 1917,[7] he led his battalion at the Battle of Passchendaele,[4] earning a bar to his DSO in September 1917.[8][9]

On 27 November 1918, Gort was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces, for his actions on 27 September 1918 at the Battle of the Canal du Nord, near Flesquieres, France.[10]

Victoria Cross citation

Captain (Brevet Major, Acting Lieutenant-Colonel), 1st Battalion The Grenadier Guards

Citation: For most conspicuous bravery, skilful leading and devotion to duty during the attack of the Guards Division on 27th September 1918, across the Canal du Nord, near Flesquieres, when in command of the 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards, the leading battalion of the 3rd Guards Brigade. Under heavy artillery and machine-gun fire he led his battalion with great skill and determination to the "forming-up" ground, where very severe fire from artillery and machine guns was again encountered. Although wounded, he quickly grasped the situation, directed a platoon to proceed down a sunken road to make a flanking attack, and, under terrific fire, went across open ground to obtain the assistance of a Tank, which he personally led and directed to the best possible advantage. While thus fearlessly exposing himself, he was again severely wounded by a shell. Notwithstanding considerable loss of blood, after lying on a stretcher for awhile [sic], he insisted on getting up and personally directing the further attack. By his magnificent example of devotion to duty and utter disregard of personal safety all ranks were inspired to exert themselves to the utmost, and the attack resulted in the capture of over 200 prisoners, two batteries of field guns and numerous machine guns. Lt.-Col. Viscount Gort then proceeded to organise the defence of the captured position until he collapsed; even then he refused to leave the field until he had seen the "success signal" go up on the final objective.

The successful advance of the battalion was mainly due to the valour, devotion and leadership of this very gallant officer.[10]

Subsequent to this he became known as "Tiger" Gort.[11] He won a second bar to his DSO in January 1919.[12] He was also mentioned in despatches eight times during the War.[4]

Inter-war years[edit]

Gort was promoted to the substantive rank of major on 21 October 1919.[13] After attending a short course at the Staff College, Camberley in 1919 he joined Headquarters London District and, having been promoted to brevet lieutenant-colonel on 1 January 1921,[14] he returned to the College as an instructor.[4] He left the Staff College in May 1923.[15]

Gort was promoted to colonel in April 1926 (with seniority back dated to 1 January 1925).[16] In 1926 he became a staff officer at London District before becoming a chief instructor at the Senior Officers' School at Sheerness.[2] In January 1927, he went to Shanghai, returning in August to give a first hand account of the Chinese situation to the King and the Prince of Wales. He returned home to be a staff officer at Headquarters 4th Infantry Division at Colchester in July 1927.[2]

In June 1928, Gort was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.[17] He went on to command the Guards Brigade for two years from 1930 before overseeing training in India with the temporary rank of brigadier.[18] In 1932, he took up flying, buying the de Haviland Moth aircraft Henrietta and being elected chairman of the Household Brigade Flying Club. On 25 November 1935, he was promoted to major-general.[19] He returned to the Staff College, Camberley in 1936 as Commandant.[2]

In May 1937, Gort was appointed a Companion of the Bath.[20] In September 1937, he became Military Secretary to the War Minister, Leslie Hore-Belisha, with the temporary rank of lieutenant-general.[21] On 6 December 1937, as part of a purge by Hore-Belisha of senior officers,[22] Gort was appointed to the Army Council,[23] made a general and replaced Field Marshal Sir Cyril Deverell as Chief of the Imperial General Staff.[24] On 1 January 1938, he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.[25]

As Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Gort advocated the primacy of building a land army and defending France and the Low Countries over Imperial defence after France had said she would not be able on her own to defend herself against a German attack.[26]

On 2 December 1938 Gort submitted a report on the readiness of the British Army. He observed that Germany, as a result of the acquisition of Czechoslovakia, was in a stronger position than the previous year and that as a result of the government's decision in 1937 to create a "general purpose" army, Britain lacked the necessary forces for the defence of France.[27]

On 21 December Gort recommended to the Chiefs of Staff that Britain would need to help France defend Holland and Belgium and that for that purpose the British Army needed complete equipment for four Regular army infantry divisions and two mobile armoured divisions, with the Territorial army armed with training equipment and then war equipment for four divisions.[28] The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Roger Blackhouse, replied that Britain's continental commitment might not be a limited liability. Gort replied: "Lord Kitchener had clearly pointed out that no great country can wage a “little” war". He also attacked as a fallacy the theory of strategic mobility by the use of seapower because in modern war land transport was faster and cheaper than by the sea. The experience of David Lloyd George's 1917 Alexandretta project "proved that [maritime side-shows] invariably led to vast commitments out of all proportion to the value of the object attained".[29] If a purely defensive position was taken the Maginot Line would be broken and that the British Army (with anti-aircraft defence) was only getting £277 million out of a total £2,000 million spent on defence.[30]

Second World War[edit]

At the outbreak of war Gort was given command of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France, arriving on 19 September 1939.[31] During this time he played a part in a political scandal, the Pillbox affair, that led to the dismissal of British War Minister Leslie Hore-Belisha. Following the Phony War, the 1940 German breakthrough in the Ardennes split the Allied forces and communications between the British Expeditionary Force and the French broke down, and on 25 May 1940 Gort took the unilateral decision to abandon his orders for a southward attack by his forces.[32] Gort's command position was difficult, serving under French high theatre, and army group command while also being responsible to London. Withdrawing northwards, the BEF together with many French soldiers were evacuated during the Battle of Dunkirk.[33]

Gort is credited by some as reacting efficiently to the crisis and saving the British Expeditionary Force.[32] Others hold a more critical view of Gort’s leadership in 1940, seeing his decision not to join the French in organising a large scale counter-attack as defeatist.[34]

Gort served in various positions for the duration of the war. On the day of his return, 1 June 1940, he was made an ADC General to King George VI. On 25 June 1940 he went by flying boat, with Duff Cooper, to Rabat, Morocco, to rally anti-Nazi French cabinet ministers, but was instead held on his flying boat. He quickly returned to Britain.[35]

Gort was given the post of Inspector of Training and the Home Guard,[31] and with nothing constructive to do visited Iceland, Orkney and Shetland. He went on to serve as Governor of Gibraltar (1941–42).[36] In 1943 he succeeded Lord Galway as Colonel Commandant of the Honourable Artillery Company, a position he held until his death.[37]

As Governor of Malta (1942–44) Gort's courage and leadership during the siege was recognised by the Maltese giving him the Sword of Honour. He pushed ahead with extending the airfield into land reclaimed from the sea, against the advice of the British government, but was later thanked by the War Cabinet for his foresight when the airfield proved vital to the British Mediterranean campaign. The King gave Gort his field marshal's baton on 20 June 1943 at Malta. On 29 September, Gort, together with Generals Eisenhower and Alexander, witnessed Marshal Badoglio signing the Italian surrender in Valletta harbour.[38]

Gort ended the war as High Commissioner for Palestine and Transjordan.[36] He served at this office only one year. In 1945 he nominated William James Fitzgerald, Chief Justice of Palestine, to enquire into the Jewish-Arab conflict in Jerusalem. Chief Justice Fitzgerald issued his report in which he proposed to divide the city into separate Jewish and Arab Quarters.[39]

Postwar and death[edit]

Gort was present when his son-in-law, Major William Sidney, received the VC from General Alexander on 3 March 1944 in Italy.[36] In 1945 Gort's health deteriorated and he was flown to London where the diagnosis was inoperable cancer.[36]

In February 1946, he was created a Viscount in the Peerage of the United Kingdom under the same title as his existing Viscountcy in the Peerage of Ireland: upon his death on 31 March 1946 without a son, the Irish Viscountcy of Gort passed to his brother, and the British creation became extinct.[36]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Heathcote 1999, p. 279.
  2. ^ a b c d Heathcote 1999, p. 281.
  3. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 28884. p. 6880. 29 August 1914. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Heathcote 1999, p. 280.
  5. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29202. p. 6118. 23 June 1915. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  6. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30106. p. 5403. 1 June 1917. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  7. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30111. pp. 5468–5470. 4 June 1917. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  8. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30308. p. 9967. 26 September 1917. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  9. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30466. pp. 557–558. 9 January 1918. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  10. ^ a b The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31034. p. 14039. 27 November 1918. Retrieved 14 February 2009.
  11. ^ "Tiger for Old Dob Dob". TIME. 18 May 1942. Retrieved 14 February 2009. 
  12. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31119. pp. 577–578. 11 January 1919. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  13. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31643. p. 13876. 14 November 1919. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  14. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 32334. p. 4170. 25 May 1921. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  15. ^ The London Gazette: no. 32819. pp. 3147–3148. 1 May 1923. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  16. ^ The London Gazette: no. 33155. p. 2861. 27 April 1926. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  17. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 33390. p. 3851. 4 June 1928. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  18. ^ The London Gazette: no. 33904. p. 442. 20 January 1933. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  19. ^ The London Gazette: no. 34226. p. 7671. 3 December 1935. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  20. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34396. pp. 3078–3079. 11 May 1937. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  21. ^ The London Gazette: no. 34438. p. 5957. 24 September 1937. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  22. ^ "Belisha Purge". Time. 13 December 1937. Retrieved 14 February 2009. 
  23. ^ The London Gazette: no. 34464. p. 7915. 17 December 1937. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  24. ^ The London Gazette: no. 34464. p. 7917. 17 December 1937. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  25. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34469. p. 3. 1 January 1938. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  26. ^ Falls 2009
  27. ^ Barnett, p. 552.
  28. ^ Barnett, p. 553.
  29. ^ Barnett, pp. 553–554.
  30. ^ Barnett, p. 554.
  31. ^ a b Heathcote 1999, p. 282.
  32. ^ a b Ellis 1954, p.149.
  33. ^ Gardner 2000, p. 56.
  34. ^ Moure & Alexander 2001, p. 24.
  35. ^ "The Second World War in the French Overseas Empire". World at War. Retrieved 7 October 2012. 
  36. ^ a b c d e Heathcote 1999, p. 283.
  37. ^ Johnson, p. 353-354
  38. ^ Garland, p. 549
  39. ^ "Sir W. FitzGerald report and a map illustrating the Jewish proposals for Jerusalem in 1945". Gilai Collectibles. Retrieved 7 October 2012. 

Sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Clement Armitage
Commandant of the Staff College, Camberley
1936–1937
Succeeded by
Ronald Adam
Preceded by
Sir Charles Deedes
Military Secretary
September 1937 – December 1937
Succeeded by
Sir Douglas Brownrigg
Preceded by
Sir Cyril Deverell
Chief of the Imperial General Staff
1937–1939
Succeeded by
Sir Edmund Ironside
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Clive Liddell
Governor of Gibraltar
1941–1942
Succeeded by
Sir Noel Mason-Macfarlane
Preceded by
Sir William Dobbie
Governor of Malta
1942–1944
Succeeded by
Sir Edmond Schreiber
Preceded by
Sir Harold MacMichael
High Commissioner of Palestine
1944–1945
Succeeded by
Sir Alan G. Cunningham
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Gort
2nd creation
1945–1946
Extinct
Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by
John Vereker
Viscount Gort
1st creation
1902–1946
Succeeded by
Standish Vereker