Herbert Lumsden

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Herbert Lumsden
Gen H Lumsden circa 1943 IWM.jpg
Born8 April 1897
Santiago, Chile
Died6 January 1945 (aged 47)
Lingayen Gulf, Philippines
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service1916–1945
Service number11523
UnitRoyal Horse Artillery
12th Royal Lancers
Commands held12th Royal Lancers
3rd Motor Machine Gun Brigade
28th Armoured Brigade
6th Armoured Division
1st Armoured Division
X Corps
VIII Corps
II Corps
Battles/warsWorld War I
World War II
AwardsCompanion of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order & Bar
Military Cross

Lieutenant-General Herbert William Lumsden, CB, DSO & Bar, MC (8 April 1897 – 6 January 1945) was a senior British Army officer who fought in both World War I and World War II. He was the most senior British Army combat casualty of the Second World War.

Early life and military career[edit]

Herbert Lumsden was born in Santiago, Chile on 8 April 1897, the son of John & Anna Lumsden, née Dimalow. Educated at The Leys School, at the outbreak of the First World War he was only 17 years old. He served in the ranks with the Territorial Force for ten months before passing into the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He was commissioned into the Royal Horse Artillery on 13 August 1916.[1] On 26 July 1918 Lumsden was awarded the Military Cross. The citation read:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during 13 days of continuous fighting in charge of a forward section. He invariably showed the greatest coolness and courage in the face of danger, keeping his section in action, and always volunteering for any officer's patrol work. As FOO he was consistently shelled whenever he moved his OP, and, although finally wounded, he continued to work and observe for his battery.

Between the wars[edit]

On 19 April 1923 Lumsden married Alice Mary Roddick in Northaw. They would have two sons, Michael & Peter. Lumsden continued to serve in the Royal Artillery until 24 June 1925, when he transferred to the 12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales), a cavalry regiment.[1] In August he was promoted from lieutenant to captain after eight years in the former rank. He was an ardent horseman, despite his 6 ft height, and participated in a number of Grand Nationals. In 1926 he won the Grand Military Gold Cup at Sandown riding Foxtrot.

In 1929 Lumsden attended and passed the Staff College, Camberley course. Promoted to major in 1931, he held staff appointments in the cavalry for the next four years, being GSO3 of Aldershot Command and then Brigade Major of the 1st Cavalry Brigade. After a period of not being employed he became GSO2 at the Staff College, Camberley before being given command, in 1938, of his old regiment, the 12th Royal Lancers in succession to Colonel Richard McCreery.[1] He was still in command of the regiment, now converted to armoured cars, at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Second World War[edit]

Montgomery with his Corps Commanders: Lumsden, Leese and Horrocks.

Lumsden was widely praised for his command of his regiment during the retreat to Dunkirk in 1940 as part of the British Expeditionary Force. Amongst other actions he held off German attacks on Bernard Montgomery's 3rd Division's exposed left flank for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) but Montgomery felt upstaged by the lower ranked Lumsden who had acted without orders and the relationship between the two men deteriorated.[2] Lumsden was promoted and commanded a tank brigade before being appointed General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 6th Armoured Division in the Home Command in October 1941.

On 5 November 1941 Lumsden was given command of the 1st Armoured Division. It was in this role that he first saw service in the North African Campaign. A forceful personality, he was wounded twice in 1942 (having to hand over his command from January to March), received a Bar to his DSO and on his return to service, survived Bernard Montgomery's cull of Eighth Army commanders. Montgomery had been keen to sack Lumsden whom he still resented following the incident at Dunkirk[2] but he was overruled by his Commander-in-Chief General Harold Alexander.

Lumsden was appointed commander of X Corps[1] for the Second Battle of El Alamein upon the recommendation of Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks, who turned the command down in his favour.

The Miteiriya Ridge controversy[edit]

During the night of 24/25 October 1942, the British assault of infantry and engineers over the Miteiriya Ridge during the Second Battle of El Alamein failed. Despite having agreed to Montgomery's battle plan, Lumsden believed it was impossible for his X Corps armour to fight its way into the open without incurring appalling casualties from uncleared minefields and anti-tank fire. He wanted to pull his tanks back and send them into battle once the assault of infantry and engineers had taken place as originally planned.

In the early hours of 25 October Lumsden & Montgomery argued fiercely. The relationship between the two men was worse than ever and Lumsden demanded that his armour should be pulled back whilst Montgomery insisted the attack continue. Lumsden asked one of his tank commanders Major General Alexander Gatehouse commanding 10th Armoured Division, to back him up. In a heated telephone conversation with Montgomery, Gatehouse said that he concurred with Lumsden and that to advance through uncharted and uncleared minefields, covered by strong batteries of anti-tank guns, with the noise of tank tracks making surprise impossible, would be disastrous. Montgomery modified the scope of the attack from six armoured regiments to one: the Staffordshire Yeomanry. It lost all but fifteen of its tanks and the operation ended where it had begun, on the wrong side of the Miteiriya Ridge having failed to break through with the armour.[3]

The Allies were victorious at El Alamein but for Lumsden, his confrontation with Montgomery in the heat of battle proved ruinous. Lumsden was replaced by Horrocks, who had previously recommended Lumsden to Montgomery, while Gatehouse was also removed from command.[4] On his return to London, on entering his club Lumsden was heard to comment, "I've just been sacked because there isn't room in the desert for two cads like Monty and me".[5] After Lumsden's death in 1945 Montgomery, notoriously sensitive to criticism of his generalship, blamed the near failure of his attack on 24/25 October 1942 on Lumsden.[6][7]

Lumsden was liked and respected by Winston Churchill. After his dismissal by Montgomery he was given command of VIII Corps in Britain in January 1943 and command of II Corps in July, before being sent to the Pacific as Winston Churchill's special military representative to United States Army General Douglas MacArthur.[1][8][9]

Death in Action[edit]

On 4 January 1945 Japanese kamikaze began a week-long assault on American naval forces transporting MacArthur's 6th Army to Lingayen Gulf, site of the upcoming landing on Luzon, the Philippines' most populous island. The escort carrier USS Ommaney Bay was badly damaged, suffering 100 casualties and had to be scuttled. A destroyer and tanker were hit but survived. Two Japanese destroyers tried to attack a convoy near Manila Bay but were fought off. One, the destroyer Momi, was sunk. On 5 January kamikaze attacked Allied naval forces moving toward Lingayen Gulf. Escort carriers USS Manila Bay and USS Savo Island, cruisers USS Louisville and HMAS Australia, two destroyers and four other ships were damaged. On 6 January the Allies suffered their heaviest loss in the Pacific since Guadalcanal when kamikaze mauled the U.S. 7th Fleet as it began bombarding the invasion beaches at Luzon and minesweeping the Lingayen Gulf. Twenty-nine kamikaze hit 15 ships and Lumsden was killed by one while on the bridge of the battleship USS New Mexico, becoming the most senior British Army combat casualty of the Second World War.[10]


Time Magazine, 22 January 1945[11]

Leading the armored pack when Montgomery chased Rommel, the Desert Fox, out of Africa was hard-riding Herbert Lumsden, commander of the X Corps. A Lieutenant-General at the age of 45, he was accounted one of Britain's most brilliant young commanders.

But lean, gimlet-eyed Lumsden, who had risen from the ranks, became involved in a ruinous personal disagreement with his superior officers. Winston Churchill assigned Lumsden as his liaison officer with General MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific. There Lumsden faithfully did his routine duty with a heavy heart and longed for another combat command.

On the first day of the Luzon bombardment General Lumsden was killed on the bridge of a U.S. warship in Lingayen Gulf. In London, the War Office announced his death "with deep regret." MacArthur did better by him: "It is superfluous for me to speak of the complete courage which this officer so frequently displayed.... His general service and usefulness to the Allied cause was beyond praise." The Chief of the Imperial General Staff described his death as "a great loss".[12]

Standing only the width of the ship's bridge away from Lumsden, with whom he had been discussing the action, was Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, commander in chief of the British Pacific Fleet. He got nothing worse than "a bit of a bang in the ears." Sir Bruce will soon lead his own powerful fleet into battle under U.S. overall command.

The Times, 12 January 1945[13]

Lieutenant-General Herbert Lumsden, CB., DSO*.,MC., who was killed on 6 January on the bridge of a United States warship in the Pacific, had been Mr. Churchill's special representative with General MacArthur since 1943. In a message to the Prime Minister General MacArthur says:-

"It is superfluous for me to speak of the complete courage which this officer so frequently displayed in my immediate presence during the operations in this theatre during the last year. His general service and usefulness to the Allied cause was beyond praise, and his loss has caused the deepest sorrow to all ranks"

Lumsden was one of those men who take naturally to warfare. He had the temperament, the nerve, and the flair for it as well as considerable experience of staff work and command. He was a practical rather than an intellectual soldier, but possessed a fund of shrewdness which stood him in good stead. Born on 8 April 1897, he was, therefore, at the outbreak of the 1914-18 war only 17 years of age. He served in the ranks for 10 months, passed through Woolwich, and was gazetted second lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in 1916. He served for the remainder of the war in France and Belgium, being awarded the M.C. In 1925 he transferred to the 12th Royal Lancers and was soon afterwards promoted captain. He served as G.S.O.3 Aldershot Command for eight months in 1932, and afterwards for three years as brigade major, 1st Cavalry Brigade. He received the brevet of lieutenant-colonel in 1936. During the next two years he was G.S.O.2 at the Staff College. He was promoted substantive lieutenant-colonel in 1938, and from 1938 to 1940 he commanded his regiment in succession to Lieutenant-Colonel R.L. McCreery.

A born cavalryman, Lumsden could not have been better placed with the B.E.F. than in command of the 12 Lancers, an armoured car regiment. In reconnaissance, in falling suddenly upon small advanced hostile elements, in rearguard actions, he was indefatigable in his work in advance of the British line on the Dender and the Escaut. In late May he performed brilliant service in an ugly situation on the northern flank of the 3rd Division, when the Belgian Army had laid down its arms and the Germans were pressing forward to cross the Yser river and canal and get behind the B.E.F. The combination of mobility and tenacity displayed by the 12th Lancers on that occasion did much to hold up the enemy for two days in the critical Nieuport-Dixmude area.

For his work in the low countries, Lumsden received the D.S.O and he was also promoted colonel. Immediately afterwards he took over command of an armoured brigade, and with it went out to the Middle East. There he added to his already high reputation. In 1941 he took over command of the 1st Armoured Division. He received a bar to the D.S.O for courage and devotion to duty at Knightsbridge in the third Libyan campaign. After the retreat at El Alamein and the reorganization of the command he was appointed to the command of the XXX Corps in succession to the late Lieutenant-General W.H.E Gott, afterwards exchanging it for another. He was slightly wounded during the Eighth Army's stand at El Alamein. Lumsden now appeared to have everything before him. He was 45, acting lieutenant-general, and a corps commander in the only British army then engaged against the Germans, and both public and private report had been loud in his praise. He seemed to be in the running for even higher appointments, but they were not to come his way. After taking part in the Battle of El Alamein he left his command, in no sense under a cloud, but undoubtedly after some difference of opinion. The fresh appointment to which he did go, that of Mr. Churchill's special representative with General MacArthur, was of high importance and responsibility, but perhaps not one which he would himself have chosen, as it might have been adequately held by an older man. He made a great success of it. In the New Year Honours List he was made a C.B.

Lumsden was an ardent devotee of the Turf. Though nearly 6ft. tall, he was slim and spare, and a very good man in a steeplechase. He rode in the Grand National on several occasions and in 1926 won the Grand Military Gold Cup at Sandown on Foxtrot. He was probably one of the best of the soldier riders under National Hunt rules in the generation between the two wars. In 1923 he married Alice Mary, younger daughter of George Roddick, and they had two sons.


  1. ^ a b c d e Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives
  2. ^ a b Latimer, John. "El Alamein". Harvard University Press, 2002.
  3. ^ Barnett, Correlli. "The Desert Generals". Hachette UK, 2011.
  4. ^ Bungay, Stephen. Alamein. Aurum Press Ltd, 2002, p. 265.
  5. ^ Bingham, Colin. "Wit and Wisdom: A Public Affairs Miscellany" Melbourne University Press, 1982, p. 197.
  6. ^ Did Monty's strategic flair win El Alamein or was it a sick Rommel and five times more tanks? Times Higher Education, Oct 2002
  7. ^ Jonathan Dimbleby: Destiny in the Desert: The road to El Alamein – the Battle that Turned the Tide of World War II. Pegasus, Chapters 23 & 24
  8. ^ Jackson, p. 3
  9. ^ Army Commands Archived 5 July 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "World War 2 Army Casualty Lists 1939–1945 - WW2 Records".
  11. ^ Time Magazine, 22 January 1945 | Vol. XLV No. 4
  12. ^ War Diaries 1939–1945, Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001, page 644
  13. ^ The Times, 12 January 1945 | Fallen Officers, "The Times" list of Casualties


  • Lt-Col Jackson, G.S.; Staff, 8 Corps (2006) [1945]. 8 Corps: Normandy to the Baltic. MLRS Books. ISBN 978-1-905696-25-3.
  • Biographical Dictionary of British Generals of the Second World War, Nick Smart. ISBN 1-84415-049-6

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
John Crocker
GOC 6th Armoured Division
October 1941
Succeeded by
Charles Gairdner
Preceded by
Willoughby Norrie
GOC 1st Armoured Division
Succeeded by
Frank Messervy
Preceded by
Frank Messervy
GOC 1st Armoured Division
March–August 1942
Succeeded by
Raymond Briggs
Preceded by
William Holmes
GOC X Corps
August–December 1942
Succeeded by
Brian Horrocks
Preceded by
Edward Grasett
January–July 1943
Succeeded by
Sir Richard McCreery
Preceded by
Gerald Templer
GOC II Corps
July–October 1943
Succeeded by
Sir Desmond Anderson