Richard McCreery

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General Sir Richard McCreery
Gen Sir R L McCreery.jpg
McCreery in the Inter-war Years
Nickname(s) Dick
Born 1 February 1898
Market Harborough
Died 18 October 1967 (aged 69)
Templecombe, Somerset
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1915–1949
Rank General
Commands held 8th Armoured Division
VIII Corps
X Corps (Italy)
Eighth Army
British Forces of Occupation in Austria
British Army of the Rhine, Germany
Battles/wars First World War
Second World War
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order
Military Cross
Legion of Merit, Officer (USA) (1943)[1]
Distinguished Service Medal (USA) (1945)[2]

General Sir Richard Loudon McCreery, GCB, KBE, DSO, MC (1 February 1898 – 18 October 1967), was a British career soldier, who was Chief of Staff to Field Marshal Harold Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis, at the time of the Second Battle of El Alamein and who later commanded the British Eighth Army in Northern Italy during 1944–45.

Background and early life[edit]

Richard (Dick) Loudon McCreery was born on 1 February 1898, the eldest son of Walter A. McCreery of Bilton Park, Rugby, a Swiss-born American who spent most of his life in England but who represented the United States at polo at the 1900 Summer Olympics. His mother was Emilia McAdam, a direct descendant of the Scottish engineer John Loudon McAdam, known to his contemporaries as "The Colossus of Roads", for his invention of the process of Macadamizing. John McAdam’s achievements are still commemorated today in the word ‘tarmac’.

McCreery was educated at Eton College and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Like many idealistic young men of his generation, McCreery exaggerated his age in order to enter the Army on the outbreak of the First World War.

Service in the First World War[edit]

McCreery joined the 12th Royal Lancers in 1915, and served in France from 1915–17 and from August–November, 1918.[3] He was wounded on active service, and received the Military Cross in 1918.

Inter-war years[edit]

McCreery was appointed Adjutant of his regiment in December 1921. He attended Staff College, Camberley, from 1928 to 1929 and was appointed Brigade Major of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade in 1930 and Commanding Officer of his regiment in 1935.[3]

The inter-war years saw McCreery’s greatest sporting achievements (see Equestrianism below). His outstanding skill as a horseman was achieved despite the loss of several toes and a hole in the riding muscle of his right leg, as a result of his wounding in the First World War, which left him with a pronounced limp for the rest of his life.

In 1928 McCreery married Lettice St. Maur, daughter of Major Lord Percy St. Maur (younger brother of the 15th Duke of Somerset) and the Hon. Violet White.

The interwar years were not without tragedy for McCreery. In 1921 one of his younger brothers, Bob,[4] was killed in Ireland by republican forces. He was serving in the British Army, but off-duty at the time. {See Anglo-Irish War}. McCreery’s youngest brother, Jack, who was a playwright with a play running in the West End, took his own life.

Second World War[edit]

In 1939–40, McCreery was involved in the Battle for France,[3] towards the end of which he commanded the Second Armoured Brigade,[5] which found itself fighting alongside General Charles de Gaulle. McCreery was impressed by de Gaulle’s bearing during the latter’s direction of a counter-attack at Abbeville, and remained an admirer of the French General in later years. In December 1940 he was appointed General Officer Commanding 8th Armoured Division.[5]

McCreery was an expert on the use of light armoured vehicles (such vehicles being the mechanised equivalent of the cavalry of which his regiment had been part). His next posting overseas during the Second World War was as Adviser, Armoured Fighting Vehicles, Middle East[5] (March to August,1942), where he was General Sir Claude Auchinleck's chief adviser on such matters. There followed spells working for General Harold Alexander first as Chief of General Staff, Middle East Command in Cairo[3] and then Chief of General Staff, 18th Army Group in Tunisia (1942–43).[5] At Middle East Command Alexander was Eighth Army Commander Bernard Montgomery’s immediate superior at the time of the Second Battle of Alamein, and McCreery had a role in the planning of that battle, in which armoured vehicles played such a significant part.

McCreery was given command of VIII Corps in the UK in July 1943 and then, following the Axis surrender in Tunisia, he was given command of X Corps in August 1943[6] so as to take part in the Italian Campaign. The Corps played a key role at the bitterly contested Salerno landings then fought its way reaching the River Garigliano at the end of 1943 to be involved in the Battle of Monte Cassino and later the capture of Rome on 4 June 1944. In September 1943, McCreery was responsible for dealing with the Salerno Mutiny.

McCreery was knighted in the field in July 1944 by King George VI, at Palazzo del Pero, near Arezzo, Italy.

McCreery took over command of the Eighth Army from Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver Leese on 31 December 1944.[3] The spring offensive which followed, conducted jointly by Eighth Army and U.S. Fifth Army, culminated in a 23-day battle which resulted in the surrender of nearly a million German soldiers.

The achievements of the Eighth Army in this last campaign are perhaps less well remembered than those during the Western Desert Campaign under Montgomery. This is because they were overshadowed by the contemporaneous campaign in Northern France following the Normandy landings which were the main focus of public attention at the time, and has similarly attracted more attention from subsequent historians.

Doherty[7] sums up this, the final campaign of the Eighth Army as follows: ‘Sir Richard McCreery had managed one of the finest performances of a British army in the course of the war. He had done so through attention to detail, careful planning and a strategic flair that had few superiors.’

McCreery was the last commander of the British Eighth Army; in 1945 it was re-constituted as British Troops Austria. He was also the only cavalryman to command it.

Post-war years[edit]

In the immediate aftermath of the War McCreery was General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, British Forces of Occupation in Austria and British representative on the Allied Commission for Austria.[3] He was thus responsible for running that part of the country under British occupation. (Austria, including Vienna, was divided up between the four Allied powers, in the manner portrayed in the celebrated film, The Third Man.) During his time in Austria his office was next to a room in Schönbrunn Palace, just outside Vienna, which was known as the Napoleonzimmer, so commemorating a very different occupation. McCreery held this post from July 1945 to March 1946.

From 1946 to 1948, McCreery was General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, British Army of the Rhine in Germany, succeeding Field Marshal Montgomery.[3]

In 1948–49, McCreery was the British Army Representative on the Military Staff Committee at the United Nations.[3] During this time McCreery lived with his family on Long Island and commuted to an office on the 61st floor of the Empire State Building in New York. The agenda of the Committee at that time was to set up an independent fighting force for the United Nations, an aim which was never realised.

McCreery was made a full general in 1949.

Retirement[edit]

McCreery retired from the Army in December 1949.[3] He lived the rest of his life at Stowell Hill in Somerset, a house built by his mother and designed by a pupil of the architect Edwin Lutyens. Next to riding McCreery’s great passion was gardening, and he continued to develop the garden originally laid out by his mother, Emilia McAdam.

McCreery regarded Montgomery as excessively cautious, and indeed some historians have suggested that Montgomery failed to press home his advantage after the Battle of Alamein to the extent that he might have done (see, for example, Corelli Barnett, The Desert Generals).

After his retirement from the Army in 1949, General McCreery did not play an active part in public life; however, at the time of the Suez crisis in 1956 he was moved to write a personal letter of protest to his war-time acquaintance Harold Macmillan, then a member of Sir Anthony Eden’s cabinet, as he regarded the operation as dishonourable.

General Sir Richard McCreery died on 18 October 1967 aged 69. His memorial service was held in Westminster Abbey.

Equestrianism[edit]

Appropriately for a man who was associated all his adult life with a cavalry regiment, McCreery was a highly accomplished horseman. He twice won the Grand Military Gold Cup at Sandown Park Racecourse (in 1923 and 1928), and represented the Army at polo. In 1924 he and his younger brother Captain Selby McCreery constituted 50 percent of the Army polo team that played against America. In retirement during the 1950s, Dick McCreery took up polo again for a time, playing at Windsor Great Park.

He hunted all his life with the Blackmore Vale Hunt, of which he became joint Master of Foxhounds.

At the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 the State Coach was drawn by six grey horses, one of which was named McCreery, the others being named after five other Second World War generals, a distinction which must have been particularly appreciated by McCreery in view of his lifelong association with horses.

McCreery’s steeplechasing accomplishments are commemorated in an annual race at Sandown Park, The Dick McCreery Hunters' Steeple Chase, run on the day of the Grand Military Gold Cup.

Character and ability[edit]

In his character General McCreery was modest to the point of shyness. He was not comfortable in public speaking, but as Doherty[7] puts it: 'Not a self-publicist in the manner of Montgomery, McCreery managed nonetheless to gain the confidence of his soldiers who trusted him in peace and war.' An overriding sense of duty might be said to have characterised his life and career.

McCreery was clearly possessed of a high intelligence, which was not restricted in its operation by the early end of his formal academic education. Harold Macmillan, later to become Prime Minister, characterised McCreery as a ‘very clever’ man in his wartime diaries. Following a meeting at Eighth Army Headquarters in Forli, Northern Italy, in April 1945, he wrote: ‘He [McCreery] has always struck me as one of the ablest of the military officers whom I have seen out here.’[8]

Descendants[edit]

McCreery had four sons and one daughter. His eldest son, Michael, was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in the early 1960s, but left in 1963 to become leader of the Committee to Defeat Revisionism, for Communist Unity. He pre-deceased his father in 1965. His second son, Bob, inherited his passion for steeplechasing and became the champion amateur National Hunt jockey in the 1950s. His youngest son is the psychologist and author Charles McCreery.

Honours and decorations[edit]

Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath 1949 (KCB 5 August 1943, CB 18 February 1943)
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire 5 July 1945 (MBE 1926)
Distinguished Service Order 27 September 1940
Military Cross 1918
Mentioned in Dispatches 29 April 1941, 13 January 1944
Officer, Legion of Merit (United States) 10 August 1943
Grand Commander, Order of the Phoenix (Greece) 20 June 1944
Distinguished Service Medal (United States) 2 August 1945

Bibliography[edit]

  • Barnett, Corelli (1960). The Desert Generals. London: George Allen and Unwin.
  • Devereux, Roy (1936). John Loudon McAdam: Chapters in the History of Highways. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Doherty, Richard (2004). Ireland's Generals in the Second World War. Dublin: Four Courts Press.
  • Macmillan, Harold (1984). War Diaries: Politics and War in the Mediterranean, January 1943-May 1945. London: Macmillan.
  • Strawson, John (1973). General Sir Richard McCreery. A Portrait. Privately published.
  • Who’s Who, 1965. London: Adam & Charles Black.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36125. p. 3579. 6 August 1943. Retrieved 2008-08-01.
  2. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37204. p. 3962. 1945-07-31. Retrieved 2008-08-05.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives
  4. ^ Robert McCreery
  5. ^ a b c d Generals.dk
  6. ^ Army Commands
  7. ^ a b Doherty (2004), p.159
  8. ^ Macmillan (1984), p.739

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
New Post
GOC, 8th Armoured Division
December 1940–October 1941
Succeeded by
Charles Norman
Preceded by
Herbert Lumsden
GOC, VIII Corps
July 1943–August 1943
Succeeded by
John Harding
Preceded by
Bernard Freyberg
GOC, X Corps
August 1943–October 1944
Succeeded by
John Hawkesworth
Preceded by
Sir Oliver Leese
Commander-in Chief, Eighth Army
1 October 1944 – July 1945
Succeeded by
Command Terminated
Preceded by
Lord Montgomery
Commander-in-Chief of the British Army of the Rhine
1946–1948
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Keightley