Miles Dempsey

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Miles Dempsey
Lieutenant General M C Dempsey, Cb, Dso, Mc, Commander in Chief, British Second Army, April 1944 TR1654.jpg
General Sir Miles Dempsey
Birth name Miles Christopher Dempsey
Nickname(s) "Lucky" or "Bimbo"
Born (1896-12-15)15 December 1896
New Brighton, Wallasey, Cheshire
Died 5 June 1969(1969-06-05) (aged 72)
Yattendon, Berkshire
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1915–1947
Rank General
Commands held
Other work

General Sir Miles Christopher Dempsey, GBE, KCB, DSO, MC (15 December 1896 – 5 June 1969) was a senior officer of the British Army, who commanded of the British Second Army during the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944 in the Second World War and throughout the rest of the campaign in North-western Europe. He was a career soldier who made his reputation in active service.

Early life[edit]

Dempsey was born in England in December 1896[6] and educated at Shrewsbury School where he also captained the first eleven Cricket team in 1914. On leaving Shrewsbury he attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.[citation needed]

First World War and inter-war years[edit]

After graduating from the Royal Military College in 1915, Dempsey joined the Royal Berkshire Regiment. He served on the Western Front in France during the First World War, where he was awarded the Military Cross for bravery. In 1919, Dempsey played two first-class cricket matches for Sussex against Oxford University and Northamptonshire.[7] Between 1926 and 1932, he also played Minor Counties Championship cricket for Berkshire.[8]

Second World War[edit]

By the start of the Second World War, Dempsey had reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and commanded the 13th Infantry Brigade which was attached to the 5th Infantry Division, itself part of the British Expeditionary Force in France. In common with other Allied units, his brigade was forced back to Dunkirk, where it provided part of the rear-guard for the evacuation. For his part in the evacuation, Dempsey was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

In December 1942 he was promoted to Lieutenant-General and commanded XIII Corps of the British Eighth Army during the North African Campaign. He subsequently helped to plan the invasion of Sicily and led the assault on Sicily in 1943. Dempsey later led the invasion of Italy across the Strait of Messina, in which his troops advanced more than 300 miles (480 km) to the north before linking up with American troops at Salerno.

Half length portrait taken at his desk, April 1944.
Dempsey (right) with 21st Army Group Commander Bernard Montgomery (centre), and US First Army commander Omar Bradley (left), 10 June 1944.

In North Africa, Sicily and Italy, Dempsey had gained a reputation for his expertise in Combined Operations. This prompted Bernard Montgomery, his commanding officer in North Africa and Sicily, to select him to command the British Second Army in January 1944. The Second Army was the main British force (although it also included Canadian forces) involved in the D-Day landings, making successful assaults at Gold, Juno and Sword beaches on 6 June 1944.

The successful assaults were followed by a battle of attrition during which the Anglo-Canadian forces were frustrated by determined German resistance. This fighting forced the transfer of vital German units away from the eventual American break-out. Second Army made a rapid advance across northern France into Belgium, liberating Brussels and Antwerp in September 1944. On 15 October 1944, during a visit to the Second Army, King George VI knighted Dempsey on the battlefield. Because of the fast and successful advance over more the 200 miles in a week Dempsey got the nickname "Two Hundred Miles” Dempsey.

Dempsey crossing the Rhine in a small boat, March 1945.

The Second Army crossed the Rhine on 23 March 1945, and Dempsey was the first British Army commander to do so. On 7 April 1945, The Illustrated London News carried a full front page of a specially commissioned portrait painting of Dempsey by artist Arthur Pan.[9] In May, Dempsey's men captured Bremen, Hamburg and Kiel. At 11.00 am on 3 May, a delegation of senior German officers led by General Admiral von Friedeberg arrived at Dempsey's Tac HQ and after questioning it appeared that Friedeberg was a representative of General Keitel and Admiral Donitz who wished to surrender. In typical fashion Dempsey sent them on their way to report to Montgomery which led to the formal surrender the next day at Lüneberg Heath.

Miles Dempsey was considered to be a highly competent officer. He asserted a very effective control over Second Army without taking the limelight. This was despite the stalemate in Normandy and the failure to advance beyond Antwerp and thus ensure that German forces remained isolated.

After the end of the war in Europe, Miles Dempsey was appointed to the command of the British Fourteenth Army and GOC in C Malaya Command[10] and then Land Force Commander, South East Asia. The Japanese surrendered shortly afterwards. Within his command were 123,000 British and Dutch prisoners and nearly 750,000 captured Japanese.


In 1946 he was appointed British Commander in Chief of Middle East Land Forces. He was made a General in 1946.

Dempsey retired from the British Army in August 1947.[11] In 1950, he was given a 'shadow' appointment as Commander In Chief, British Home forces. He was Colonel Commandant of the Royal Military police, the Special Air Service (1951–1960) and the Royal Berkshire Regiment.

In 1948, Dempsey married Viola O'Reilly, the youngest daughter of Captain Percy O'Reilly of Coolamber, County Westmeath, Ireland. The Ó Raghallaigh sept come from an area of Ireland located just to the north of the O'Dempsey lands. The couple lived at "The Old Vicarage", Greenham Newbury, Berkshire, and later rented "Coombe House", Yattendon, Berkshire. When the former house was requisitioned as part of the US Airforce base, President Eisenhower personally arranged compensation to be paid to his friend and wartime colleague.

He was Chairman of the Race Course Betting Board, H&G Simonds, Greene King and Sons (the first non-family chairman) and Deputy Chairman of Courage.

Dempsey declined to write any memoirs about his military experiences. He also ordered that his diaries be burned.[12]

Miles Dempsey died in Yattendon, Berkshire, in 1969 at the age of 72, almost exactly twenty five years to the day after the initial landings in Normandy on D Day.


  • Second Lieutenant (17 February 1915)
  • Lieutenant (8 August 1915)
    • Acting Captain (28 July-22 August 1916; 30 November 1916 – 8 February 1917; 20 July 1917 – 15 July 1918; 24 July 1918 – 19 May 1921)
  • Captain (20 May 1921)
  • Major (22 September 1932)
  • Lieutenant-Colonel (11 February 1938)
    • Actg. Colonel; Actg. Brigadier (20 November 1939 – 19 May 1940)
    • Temp. Colonel (20 May 1940 – 10 August 1941)
    • Temp. Brigadier (20 May 1940 – 14 June 1942)
    • Actg. Major-General (15 June 1941 – 14 June 1942)
  • Colonel (11 August 1941, seniority 11 February)
    • Temp. Major-General (15 June 1942 – 11 December 1943)
    • Actg. Lieutenant-General (12 December 1942 – 11 December 1943)
  • War Substantive Major-General (12 December 1943)
    • Temp. Lieutenant-General (12 December 1943 – 1 January 1945)
  • Major-General (27 April 1944)
  • Lieutenant-General (2 January 1945)
    • Actg. General (28 June-13 October 1946)
  • General (14 October 1946)

Retired 22 August 1947 [13]


  • In September 1944, Miles Dempsey was made an honorary citizen of the city of Caen in Normandy, France.
  • Around 1990, a street in Caen (avenue Général Dempsey) was named after him,[14] in a district close to the Mémorial pour la Paix museum, where many of the streets commemorate personalities linked with the Second World War. The street links the avenue Maréchal Montgomery to the avenue Amiral Mountbatten.
  • In the Dutch town of Langenboom a street was named after him (Dempseystraat).
  • In the small belgian town Hamont-Achel, General Sir Miles Dempsey and his 2nd British Army held headquarters from sep '44 till april '45. In honour, the street was named after him 'Generaal Dempseylaan'.

See also[edit]

Media related to Miles Dempsey at Wikimedia Commons


  1. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37027. p. 1947. 10 April 1945.
  2. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37853. p. 324. 16 January 1947. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  3. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37909. p. 1315. 18 March 1947. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  4. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39270. p. 3538. 26 June 1951. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  5. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39176. p. 1498. 16 March 1951. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  6. ^ "Miles Dempsey biography at Spartacus Educational". 
  7. ^ "First-Class Matches played by Miles Dempsey". CricketArchive. Retrieved 22 June 2012. 
  8. ^ "Minor Counties Championship Matches played by Miles Dempsey". CricketArchive. Retrieved 22 June 2012. 
  9. ^ "The Illustrated London News 1945", Retrieved 19 September 2009.
  10. ^ Army Commands
  11. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 38051. p. 3933. 19 August 1947. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  12. ^ Hamilton, Nigel (1983). Master of the Battlefield Monty's War Years 1942-1944. McGraw-Hill Book Company. p. 697. 
  13. ^ Unithistories
  14. ^ Caen map, La Poste, 1993.
Military offices
Preceded by
Brian Horrocks
December 1942 – December 1943
Succeeded by
Sidney Kirkman
Preceded by
Kenneth Anderson
GOC-in-C Second Army
January 1944 – August 1945
Succeeded by
Post disbanded
Preceded by
Under Japanese control
GOC Malaya Command
November 1945 – December 1945
Succeeded by
Sir Frank Messervy
Preceded by
New post
C-in-C Middle East Land Forces
Succeeded by
Sir John Crocker