Frank Messervy

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Frank Walter Messervy
British Generals 1939-1945 IND3143.jpg
Nickname(s)"Bearded Man"
Born(1893-12-09)9 December 1893
Died2 February 1974(1974-02-02) (aged 80)
Heyshott, West Sussex, England
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Indian Army
Years of service1913–1948
Unit9th Hodson's Horse
Commands heldCommander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army (1947–48)
Northern Command, India (1946–47)
Malaya Command (1945–46)
IV Corps (1944–45)
7th Indian Infantry Division (1943–44)
43rd Indian Armoured Division (1942–43)
7th Armoured Division (1942)
1st Armoured Division (1942)
4th Indian Infantry Division (1941–42)
9th Indian Infantry Brigade (1941)
Gazelle Force (1941)
13th Duke of Connaught's Own Lancers (1938–39)
Battles/warsFirst World War
Second World War
AwardsKnight Commander of the Order of the Star of India[1]
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Companion of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order[2] & Bar[3]
Mentioned in Despatches (3)[4][5][6]
Order of the Nile (Egypt)[7]
Legion of Merit (United States)
Other workHonorary Colonel, 16th Light Cavalry (1945–48)[8][9]
Honorary Colonel, The Jat Regiment (1947–55)[10]
Deputy Chief Scout (1949–50)
Berkshire County Councillor (1953–56)

General Sir Frank Walter Messervy, KCSI, KBE, CB, DSO & Bar (9 December 1893 – 2 February 1974) was a British Indian Army officer in the First and Second World Wars. Following its independence, he was the first Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army (15 August 1947 – 10 February 1948).[11] Previously, he had served as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Northern Command, India in 1946 and 1947.


Messervy was born in 1893 in Trinidad to Walter John Messervy (born in Jersey), a bank manager in the colony (and later England) and Mayra Naida de Boissiere of Trinidad.[12]

Early career[edit]

Messervy was educated at Eton College and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst and was commissioned into the Indian Army in 1913 and in 1914 joined 9th Hodson's Horse.[13] which later became part of 4th Duke of Cambridge's Own Hodson's Horse. He would see action in the First World War in France, Palestine and Syria from 1914 to 1918. He later served in Kurdistan in 1919.

Messervy was appointed as an instructor at the Command and Staff College, Quetta from 1932 to 1936. He was made Commanding Officer 13th Duke of Connaught's's Own Lancers, British India, during 1938 and 1939.

Second World War[edit]

East Africa[edit]

In September 1939, Messervy was promoted to colonel and became a General Staff Officer Grade 1 of the Indian 5th Infantry Division, which was about to be formed at Secunderabad. In mid-1940, the division was sent to the Sudan to counter the threat from the Italian forces based in Italian East Africa. Messervy was appointed commander of Gazelle Force.[14] Created on 16 October 1940, it was a mobile reconnaissance and strike formation of expanded battalion size created from elements of 5th Indian Division. During the ensuing East African Campaign, Messervy commanded Gazelle Force with notable success, latterly attached to the Indian 4th Infantry Division. By 13 February 1941, the campaign had become static and Messervy's formation was disbanded.[15]

In early March 1941, Messervy was promoted acting brigadier to command the Indian 5th Infantry Division's 9th Infantry Brigade and played a significant role in the third Battle of Keren during the second half of March 1941. His promotion was in part related to his actions during the advance from Kassala through Agordat to the early fighting at Keren during February.[15]

When the commander of the Indian 4th Infantry Division was promoted to command XIII Corps in North Africa Messervy, a brigadier for only six weeks, was appointed to take his place.[15]

Western Desert – North Africa[edit]

Messervy, unshaved, giving orders south-west of Gazala.

Messervy took 4th Indian Division to North Africa in April 1941, taking part in Operation Battleaxe in June. During Operation Crusader in November that year, 4th Indian Division, dug in on the Egypt – Libya border, played a key role in repelling Rommel's tanks after they had defeated the British armour at Sidi Rezegh. The division's battle groups took part in the Eighth Army's pursuit when Rommel withdrew from his defensive positions at Gazala in December, ending the year at Benghazi.[16]

In January 1942, Messervy was appointed to replace Herbert Lumsden, the wounded commander of 1st Armoured Division which had recently arrived in the desert.[17] During Rommel's attack from El Agheila in late January 1942, the division was outmatched by the Axis armour and heavily defeated. On Lumsden's return in March 1942, Messervy was moved to command 7th Armoured Division which had lost its commander, Jock Campbell, killed in a motor accident. Messervy was the only British Indian Army officer to command a British division during the Second World War.[17]

Messervy was known as the "Bearded Man" because he tended not to shave in battle. When Division HQ was overrun by the Germans at the start of the Battle of Gazala, he was captured (27 May 1942); but, removing all insignia, managed to bluff the Germans into believing he was a batman and escaped with other members of his staff to rejoin Division HQ the following day.[17]

Messervy knew little about tanks and was not considered a great success commanding armoured divisions by his superiors. He was dismissed from command of 7th Armoured Division by Eighth Army commander Neil Ritchie in late June 1942 following the severe defeat the division had sustained at the Battle of Gazala. He transferred to Cairo as Deputy Chief of General Staff, GHQ Middle East Command 1942 and was sent to India a few months later to raise 43rd Indian Armoured Division as its commander. Originally intended for service in Persia, the division was disbanded in April 1943 when the threat to Persia was removed by the Soviet victory at Stalingrad.[18]

India and Burma[edit]

Messervy was made Director of Armoured Fighting Vehicles, General Headquarters, India Command in 1943 where he argued successfully against the then prevailing view that large tanks could not be used in Burma. This was to have a significant impact in 1944 and 1945 when heavy armour was used to telling effect against the Japanese.[18]

In July 1943, Messervy was appointed GOC Indian 7th Infantry Division which was sent to the Arakan in Burma to join XV Corps in September. In the Japanese offensive in February 1944, despite having his headquarters overrun and scattered and his supply lines compromised, Messervy's brigades conducted a successful defence whilst being supplied by air (Battle of the Admin Box). After going on the attack in late February, 7 Indian Division was relieved in mid-March.[19]

In March 1944, Messervy lost two brigades sent to reinforce the hard-pressed defences at Imphal and Kohima in India. By May, the whole division was back in the front line in the Kohima sector, fighting a key five-day battle at the Naga Village. It then advanced towards the Chindwin river, combining with Indian 20th Infantry Division to inflict a heavy defeat on the Japanese at Ukhrul.[19]

In December 1944, Messervy was appointed to command IV Corps, which he led in the 1945 offensive during which, he captured the key communications centre at Meiktila in Burma and advanced to Rangoon between February and April. When Messervy returned from home leave hostilities had ceased. He was made Commander-in-Chief Malaya Command in 1945 after the Japanese surrender.[20]


Close to the Partition of India, Messervy was made General Officer Commander-in-Chief Northern Command India from 1946 to 1947. Finally when Pakistan came into being, he served as Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army from 1947 to 1948. He retired in 1948[20] and was granted the honorary rank of general.[21]

In October 1947, Messervy had become aware of the mobilisation of Pashtun tribesmen in the North-West Frontier Province for the invasion of Kashmir. The governor George Cunningham informed him of the efforts by the Chief Minister Abdul Qayyum Khan in the mobilisation. Messervy advised the Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan against such a course. Eventually the tribal invasion was launched on 20 October 1947 when Messervy was away in London.[22] Nevertheless, Messervy came in for criticism by the Indian leadership for not informing the Indian officers regarding the invasion.[23]

Messervy died in the United Kingdom in 1974.



  • Second Lieutenant-22 January 1913[33]
  • Lieutenant – 22 April 1915[34]
  • Captain – 22 January 1917[35]
    • Acting Major – 23 November to 27 December 1918[36]
    • Brevet Major – 1 July 1929[37]
  • Major – 22 January 1931[38]
    • Local Lieutenant-Colonel – 1 September 1932[39]
    • Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel – 1 July 1933[40]
  • Lieutenant-Colonel – 10 April 1938[41]
  • Colonel – 19 April 1940[42]
    • Acting Major-General[43] (Temporary Brigadier) – 14 April 1941
    • Temporary Major-General – 14 April 1942[44]
  • Major-General – 17 April 1943[45]
    • Acting Lieutenant-General – 8 December 1944[46]
  • Lieutenant-General – 1 June 1945[47]
    • Acting General – 15 August 1947[31]
  • Honorary General – 1948[21]


  1. ^ "No. 37977". The London Gazette (Supplement). 6 June 1947. p. 2574.
  2. ^ "No. 35396". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 December 1941. p. 7333.
  3. ^ "No. 36477". The London Gazette (Supplement). 18 April 1944. p. 1815.
  4. ^ "No. 35396". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 December 1941. pp. 7339–7353.
  5. ^ "No. 37015". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 April 1945. p. 1819.
  6. ^ "No. 37184". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 July 1945. pp. 3746–3753.
  7. ^ "No. 31736". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 January 1920. pp. 698–700.
  8. ^ "No. 37238". The London Gazette. 24 August 1945. p. 4299.
  9. ^ "No. 38431". The London Gazette. 15 October 1948. p. 5447.
  10. ^ "No. 40738". The London Gazette. 23 March 1956. p. 1736.
  11. ^ A letter catalogued by MJF[who?], dated 23 March 1948, refers to Sir Douglas David Gracey as Commander-in-Chief, Pakistan Army at that date; but the International Who's Who states that Messervy was Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army until August the same year.
  12. ^ "Messervy, Sir Frank Walter (1893–1974), army officer : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – oi", The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/31440, retrieved 16 July 2018
  13. ^ MESSERVY, Gen Sir Frank Walter (1893–1974), Liddell Hart Military Archives, King's College, London
  14. ^ Richard Mead, p.295
  15. ^ a b c Richard Mead, p.296
  16. ^ Richard Mead, p.297
  17. ^ a b c Richard Mead, p.298
  18. ^ a b Richard Mead, p.299
  19. ^ a b Richard Mead, p.300
  20. ^ a b Richard Mead, p.301
  21. ^ a b "No. 38411". The London Gazette (Supplement). 21 September 1948. p. 5135.
  22. ^ Hodson, H. V. (1969), The Great Divide: Britain, India, Pakistan, London: Hutchinson, p. 447
  23. ^ Prasad, S.N.; Dharm Pal (1987). History of Operations in Jammu and Kashmir 1947–1948. New Delhi: History Department, Ministry of Defence, Government of India. (printed at Thomson Press (India) Limited). p. 18..
  24. ^ "No. 28683". The London Gazette. 21 January 1913. p. 499.
  25. ^ "No. 28849". The London Gazette. 14 July 1914. p. 5455.
  26. ^ "No. 33829". The London Gazette. 27 May 1932. p. 3419.
  27. ^ "No. 33829". The London Gazette. 27 May 1932. p. 3418.
  28. ^ "No. 33884". The London Gazette. 18 November 1932. p. 7344.
  29. ^ "No. 34264". The London Gazette. 13 March 1936. p. 1660.
  30. ^ "No. 37801". The London Gazette. 29 November 1946. p. 5852.
  31. ^ a b "No. 38041". The London Gazette. 8 August 1947. p. 3739.
  32. ^ "No. 38400". The London Gazette. 10 September 1948. p. 4907.
  33. ^ "No. 28683". The London Gazette. 21 January 1913. p. 499.
  34. ^ "No. 29186". The London Gazette. 8 June 1915. p. 5526.
  35. ^ "No. 30236". The London Gazette. 17 August 1917. p. 8458.
  36. ^ "No. 33409". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 July 1928. p. 5217.
  37. ^ "No. 33513". The London Gazette. 2 July 1929. p. 4362.
  38. ^ "No. 33693". The London Gazette. 27 February 1931. p. 1357.
  39. ^ "No. 33882". The London Gazette. 11 November 1932. p. 7180.
  40. ^ "No. 33955". The London Gazette. 30 June 1933. p. 4383.
  41. ^ "No. 34516". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 June 1938. p. 3567.
  42. ^ "No. 34832". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 April 1940. p. 2301.
  43. ^ "No. 35163". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 May 1941. p. 2783.
  44. ^ "No. 35533". The London Gazette (Supplement). 21 April 1942. p. 1799.
  45. ^ "No. 36003". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 May 1943. p. 2043.
  46. ^ "No. 37466". The London Gazette (Supplement). 25 January 1946. p. 701.
  47. ^ "No. 37294". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 October 1945. p. 4890.


External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Noel Beresford-Peirse
GOC 4th Indian Infantry Division
Succeeded by
Francis Tuker
Preceded by
Herbert Lumsden
GOC 1st Armoured Division
January–February 1942
Succeeded by
Herbert Lumsden
Preceded by
John Campbell
GOC 7th Armoured Division
March–June 1942
Succeeded by
James Renton
Preceded by
Thomas Corbett
GOC 7th Indian Infantry Division
Succeeded by
Geoffrey Evans
Preceded by
Sir Geoffry Scoones
GOC IV Corps
Succeeded by
Sir Francis Tuker
Preceded by
Sir Miles Dempsey
GOC Malaya Command
Succeeded by
Sir Alexander Galloway
Preceded by
Sir Richard O'Connor
GOC-in-C Northern Command, India
Post disbanded
New title C-in-C of the Pakistan Army
Succeeded by
Douglas Gracey