General Sir Frank Walter Messervy KCSI, KBE, CB, DSO & Bar (9 December 1893 – 2 February 1974) was a British Indian Army officer in both the First and Second World Wars. Following its independence, he was the first Commander of the Pakistan Army (15 August 1947 – 10 February 1948) Previously, he had become a Lieutenant-General in 1945; a General in 1947; General Officer Commanding in Chief or (GOC-in-C) Northern Command, India in 1946 and 1947.
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. 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.
He 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
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. 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.
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.
Western Desert – North Africa
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.
In January 1942 Messervy was appointed to replace Herbert Lumsden, the wounded commander of 1st Armoured Division which had recently arrived in the desert. 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.
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.
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.
India and Burma
Messervy was made Director of Armoured Fighting Vehicles, General Headquarters, India Command in 1943 where ironically (in the light of his failure as an armoured commander in the field), 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.
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.
In March 1944 he 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.
In December 1944 he 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.
Post Second World War
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 and was granted the honorary rank of general.
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. Nevertheless, Messervy came in for criticism by the Indian leadership for not informing the Indian officers regarding the invasion.
Messervy died in the United Kingdom in 1974.
- Commissioned into the British Indian Army (1913)
- Commissioned into the 9th Hodson's Horse (1914)
- Brigade Major – (1928–1932)
- Instructor (GSO2) at Command and Staff College, Quetta (1932–1936)
- Commanding Officer, 13th Duke of Connaught's Own Lancers (1938–1939)
- General Staff Officer 1, Indian 5th Infantry Division, East Africa (1939–1941)
- Commanding Officer Gazelle Force, Sudan and Eritrea (1940–1941)
- Commanding Officer, 9th Indian Brigade, Ethiopia (1941)
- General Officer Commanding, Indian 4th Infantry Division, North Africa (1941–1942)
- General Officer Commanding, 1st Armoured Division, North Africa (1942)
- General Officer Commanding, 7th Armoured Division, North Africa (1942)
- Deputy Chief of the General Staff, HQ Middle East Command (1942)
- General Officer Commanding, Indian 43rd Armoured Division (1942–1943)
- Director Armoured Fighting Vehicles, India (1943)
- General Officer Commanding, Indian 7th Infantry Division, India (1943–1944)
- General Officer Commanding, IV Corps, Burma (1944–1945)
- General Officer Commander-In-Chief, Malaya Command (1945–1946)
- General Officer Commander-In-Chief, Northern Command, India (1946–1947)
- Commander-in-Chief, Pakistan Army (1947–1948)
- Retired (1948)
- Second Lieutenant-22 January 1913
- Lieutenant – 22 April 1915
- Captain – 22 January 1917
- Major – 22 January 1931
- Lieutenant-Colonel – 10 April 1938
- Colonel – 19 April 1940
- Major-General – 17 April 1943
- Acting Lieutenant-General – 8 December 1944
- Lieutenant-General – 1 June 1945
- Acting General – 15 August 1947
- Honorary General – 1948
- Brett-James, Antony (1951). Ball of fire – The Fifth Indian Division in the Second World War. Gale & Polden. p. 481 pages.
- Holland, James (2016). Burma '44. Bantam Press.
- Mackenzie, Compton (1951). Eastern Epic. Chatto & Windus, London. p. 623 pages.
- Maule, Henry (1961). Spearhead General: The Epic Story of General Sir Frank Messervy and his Men in Eritrea, North Africa and Burma.
- Mead, Richard (2007). Churchill's Lions: a biographical guide to the key British generals of World War II. Stroud (UK): Spellmount. ISBN 978-1-86227-431-0.
- Smart, Nick (2005). Biographical Dictionary of British Generals of the Second World War. Barnesley: Pen & Sword. ISBN 1844150496.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Frank Walter Messervy.|
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|GOC 4th Indian Infantry Division
|GOC 1st Armoured Division
|GOC 7th Armoured Division
|GOC 43rd Indian Armoured Division
|GOC 7th Indian Infantry Division
Sir Geoffrey Scoones
|GOC IV Corps
Sir Francis Tuker
Sir Miles Dempsey
|GOC Malaya Command
Sir Alexander Galloway
Sir Richard O'Connor
|GOC-in-C Northern Command, India
|C-in-C, Pakistan Army