Sir John Crocker
|Born||4 January 1896|
Catford, Lewisham, London, England
|Died||9 March 1963 (aged 67)|
|Years of service||1915–1919|
Machine Gun Corps
Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge's Own)
Royal Tank Corps
|Commands held||Adjutant-General to the Forces (1950–53)|
Middle East Land Forces (1947–50)
Southern Command (1945–47)
I Corps (1943–45)
IX Corps (1942–43)
XI Corps (1942)
6th Armoured Division (1940–41)
3rd Armoured Brigade (1940)
|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
Mentioned in Despatches (2)
Grand Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau (Netherlands)
|Other work||Vice-Chairman of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission|
Lord Lieutenant of Middlesex
General Sir John Tredinnick Crocker, (4 January 1896 – 9 March 1963) was a senior British Army officer who fought in both world wars. He served as both a private soldier and a junior officer in the First World War, and as a distinguished brigade, division and corps commander during the Second World War, where his most notable role was as General Officer Commanding (GOC) of I Corps during the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944, leading the corps throughout the subsequent campaign in Western Europe until Victory in Europe Day (VE-Day) just over eleven months later.
After the war was over Crocker became Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of Middle East Land Forces and Adjutant-General to the Forces, the second most senior officer on the Army Council. An outstanding soldier, Crocker was highly regarded by both his superiors, most notably Field Marshal The Viscount Alanbrooke, and his subordinates, including the future Field Marshal Lord Carver, but he remains relatively unknown.
Early life and First World War
As related in Delaney's book 'Corps Commanders';
"John Crocker was every bit the gentleman officer of his period, even if his upbringing was anything but typical. The son of Mary (Tredinnick) and Isaac Crocker, a secretary with the Champion Reef Gold Mining Company, John Crocker was born on 3 January 1896, one of five siblings who lived in a modest Exbury Road dwelling in Catford, Lewisham. Owing to a respiratory ailment, young John was too sickly to attend public school, so his mother, who had been widowed with five children since John was only four years old, somehow managed to send him instead to a retired parson for instruction. The parson was a voracious reader whose disciplined self-study and rectitude rubbed off on his pupil, as did a certain piety. Crocker remained a deeply religious man his entire life. Under the tutelage of his parson instructor, he also learned to think before speaking, to choose his words carefully, and never to lie. His tutor liked things done properly, something Crocker would always demand of his own charges. One subordinate would later comment that he possessed 'a most penetrative insight into character and behaviour. Anyone who tried to hoodwink him was on a forlorn and dangerous path.' Odd as it may have been, his unorthodox education served him well in his military career".
Over a year after the outbreak of the First World War, which began in August 1914, Crocker enlisted into the British Army as a private soldier in the Artists Rifles, a training corps for potential officers, in November 1915. He was commissioned as a temporary second lieutenant into the Machine Gun Corps (MGC) on 26 January 1917. He had a distinguished career in the war and in April and July 1918 was awarded, respectively, the Military Cross (MC) and Distinguished Service Order (DSO). After training at the Machine Gun School at Grantham, Lincolnshire, Crocker joined the 174th Machine Gun Company, part of the 59th (2nd North Midland) Division, a Territorial Force (TF) formation then serving in the trenches of the Western Front as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). He fought with his company, which in early March 1918 became part of the 59th Machine Gun Battalion, in the Battle of Passchendaele (also known as the Third Battle of Ypres) in mid-1917 and in the German Army's Spring Offensives of 1918. He was promoted to temporary rank of lieutenant on 26 July 1918.
The citation for his MC award, published in the official London Gazette reads:
T./2nd Lt. John Tredinnick Crocker, M.G. Corps.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty as section commander in a machine-gun battery. He stuck to his battery until it was blown up, and then, going forward to the barrage, he salved two guns and took them forward to support the infantry, where the situation was uncertain.
The citation for the DSO reads:
T./2nd Lt. John Tredinnick Crocker, M.C., M.G.C.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When in charge of four machine guns he broke down two strong enemy attacks, holding on from 10a.m. till dusk, when infantry and reinforcements arrived. The following day he maintained his position till outflanked, when he stood up between two of his guns and directed their fire on the enemy, who were within 30 yards, then covered the withdrawal with bombs and rifle fire, killing many himself at close range. Took up a fresh position until almost surrounded again, when he again went out with bombs. His example throughout was magnificent.
Between the wars
After the war, Crocker left the army to train as a solicitor. However, he did not enjoy his new profession and returned to soldiering as an infantry officer in the Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge's Own) in the Regular Army. His rank of lieutenant was confirmed on 16 December 1920 (with seniority backdated to 20 December 1919), the same year of his marriage to Hilda Mitchell; they had a daughter, Roberta (b. 1921) and a son, Wilfrid (b. 1923). From 13 January 1922 Crocker was seconded to the Royal Tank Corps (later the Royal Tank Regiment) to specialise in the then new field of armoured warfare. His secondment became a permanent transfer on August 1923 (backdated to June 1919).
After graduating from the Staff College, Quetta, in 1929, where he was an outstanding student, with his superiors also noting his "strong and independent character", he held a number of both field and staff posts including brigade major to Brigadier Percy Hobart's 1st Tank Brigade and General Staff Officer Grade 1 (GSO1) to Major-General Alan Brooke when the latter was commanding the Mobile Division (later the 1st Armoured Division). He also had a period of secondment to the Royal Tank School in India from September 1925 and was promoted to captain from April 1929.
Promotion in the interwar army was slow and Crocker's advancement was evidenced by a succession of brevet ranks: brevet major on 1 January 1935, brevet lieutenant colonel on 1 July 1936 and brevet colonel on 1 February 1938. However, his permanent rank caught up when he was promoted to full colonel on 6 August 1938 (with seniority backdated to 1 February 1938). By the time the Second World War began in September 1939 he was a GSO1 staff officer in Southern Command.
Second World War
France and England
Crocker was not to remain there long, however, as on 21 April 1940 he was promoted to the acting rank of brigadier and was appointed to command of the 3rd Armoured Brigade, in succession to Brigadier Vyvyan Pope, a fellow RTR officer. The brigade, alongside Brigadier Richard McCreery's 2nd Armoured Brigade and Brigadier Frederick Morgan's 1st Support Group, formed part of Major-General Roger Evans's 1st Armoured Division (formerly the Mobile Division), then serving in England but preparing to move to France. Crocker's brigade was depleted as the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was expelled from the continent during the Battle of France in May–June 1940. Landed at Cherbourg as the rest of the BEF retreated to Dunkirk in late May, the division unsuccessfully attacked the German bridgeheads over the River Somme before returning to Cherbourg where the remnants (including the brigade's last 13 tanks) were evacuated. Crocker and his brigade were evacuated in mid-June, Crocker himself returning with Lieutenant-General James Marshall-Cornwall on the last ship.
Back in Britain, where he was to remain for almost three years before seeing action again, Crocker initially remained in command of the brigade, which had suffered especially heavy tank losses in France, and was then serving in South East England awaiting a German invasion and training to repel it. However, on 18 September 1940, he was promoted to the acting rank of Major-General at the relatively young age of just forty-four, and became General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the newly created 6th Armoured Division. Nine days later Crocker was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services in France. Crocker's new division, initially composed of the 20th and 26th Armoured Brigades, along with the 6th Support Group, was formed in Southern Command and, under its perfectionist GOC, trained intensively, with Crocker ensuring that all ranks knew their jobs before moving on to large-scale exercises. The division was initially serving in Southern Command, where it trained throughout the winter of 1940, before moving to Eastern Command in late February 1941.
On 15 October 1941 Crocker, by now having commanded the 6th Armoured Division for just over a year, handed over command to Major-General Herbert Lumsden upon being selected to command the 2nd Armoured Group in Home Forces. His rank of Major-General was made temporary on 22 October 1941. He was not to remain there long, as on 16 March 1942 Crocker was promoted to the acting rank of Lieutenant-General and was given command of XI Corps, taking over from Lieutenant-General Noel Irwin, who was being posted to IV Corps in the Mediterranean and Middle East theatre of World War II. Aged just forty-six, this made Crocker one of the youngest corps commanders in the British Army. It is quite probable that Alan Brooke, who still thought highly of Crocker and was now Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), secured for him his new appointment. Crocker's new command, which had Harold Morgan's 45th, Evelyn Barker's 54th (East Anglian) and Eric Miles's 56th (London) Infantry Divisions, along with the 21st Army Tank Brigade, under command, was based in East Anglia, where it had responsibility for its defence in the event of an invasion, and was serving under Eastern Command.
Again, Crocker's appointment was not destined to last long as, in September, he relinquished command of XI Corps over to Lieutenant-General Gerard Bucknall, and took command of IX Corps from Lieutenant-General Francis Nosworthy. The corps was then stationed in Northern England under Northern Command, with responsibility for Durham, Northumberland, and the North Riding of Yorkshire. Crocker's rank of Major-General was made permanent on 4 December 1942 (with seniority backdated to 16 November 1941). On 16 March 1943 Crocker's rank of Lieutenant-General was made temporary. IX Corps HQ departed the United Kingdom in March 1943, where it saw service in the Tunisian Campaign as part of Lieutenan-General Kenneth Anderson's British First Army. The corps immediately took under command the 6th Armoured Division, now under Major-General Charles Keightley, and the 46th Infantry and 1st Armoured Divisions, commanded, respectively, by Major-Generals Harold Freeman-Attwood and Raymond Briggs, the latter being known to him as a fellow RTR officer.
In his first battle, an attempt to cut off the Italian First Army at Fondouk Pass on 8 April 1943, Crocker underestimated the strength of the defences in front of him. Elements of the 26th Armoured Brigade of the 6th Armoured Division and the U.S. 34th Infantry Division, under Major General Charles W. Ryder, at the time attached to Crocker's command, became entangled with each other and when the armour eventually broke through most of the Italians had escaped. Crocker's handling of his infantry was also thought to be poor and his subsequent criticism of the Americans caused upset at Allied Forces Headquarters (AFHQ) and infuriating General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in North Africa. IX Corps was involved in heavy fighting during the latter stages of the campaign but, on 27 April, Crocker was wounded in a training accident, during a demonstration of a PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank) anti-tank weapon, shortly before the final battle for Tunis and saw no further action in North Africa. A piece of shrapnel had entered Crocker's upper chest. Command of IX Corps passed temporarily to Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks, who transferred over from the British Eighth Army's X Corps. Crocker was, nonetheless, appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath on 5 August 1943 for his command in Tunisia.
Crocker returned to England in May after his IX Corps HQ was disbanded and he remained temporarily unemployed. On his return to service in August he was, upon the recommendation of General Sir Harold Alexander, commander of the Allied 18th Army Group in North Africa, to Brooke, given command of I Corps in early August. Crocker took over from Lieutenant-General Gerard Bucknall, who had requested demotion to Temporary Major-General to command a division overseas.
Crocker's I Corps was to form part of the British Second Army, then under his former army commander in North Africa, Lieutenant-General Sir Kenneth Anderson (but replaced in January 1944 by Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey), training for Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Northern France. Crocker was to aided throughout by his BGS, Philip Balfour. Despite Crocker's background in armoured warfare, I Corps was predominantly an infantry formation, but General Sir Bernard Montgomery, Allied Land Forces Commander for D Day and the battle of Normandy 21st Army Group, had confidence in Crocker's organisational skills and assigned I Corps the difficult task of capturing the city of Caen. For the landings I Corps had under command the 3rd Canadian Division, supported by the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, and Major-General Tom Rennie's British 3rd Division, supported by the 27th Armoured Brigade, and Major-General Richard Gale's 6th Airborne Division. On D-Day, 6 June 1944, Crocker had a larger task than any other Allied corps commander: he had to control two landing beaches (Juno and Sword) and an airborne assault. The fact that, in spite of inevitable mishaps, the landings went so well was a testimony to Crocker's planning.
However, Caen did not fall on D-Day as planned, although a battalion of the British 3rd Division made a spirited attempt before being driven back by the 21st Panzer Division. Instead, Crocker's corps took part in the bloody two-month Battle for Caen, including Operation Charnwood, which still had the 3rd Canadian and 3rd British Divisions under command (the latter now under Major-General Lashmer Whistler after Rennie was injured), along with Major-General Lewis Lyne's 59th Division. The operation began on 7 July and, after heavy fighting, had captured most of the Caen city centre, although the Germans still held the southern half. The corps, losing the 3rd Division soon after and gaining Major-General Evelyn Barker's 49th Division in exchange, came under command of Lieutenant-General Harry Crerar's First Canadian Army in August 1944, I Corps drove forward to the River Seine and then took part in the unglamorous mopping up operations along the French and Belgian coastline. The relationship between Crocker and Crerar was not always cordial, with the latter, shortly after taking Crocker's I Corps under command of the First Army, attempted to sack Crocker and replace him with either Lieutenant-Generals Neil Ritchie (GOC XII Corps) or Gerard Bucknall (GOC XXX Corps). However, Crerar was overruled by General Montgomery, the 21st Army Group commander, although the relationship improved thereafter.
When severe British manpower shortages prompted the disbandment of two infantry divisions (the 59th (Staffordshire) and 50th (Northumbrian)) in late 1944, I Corps HQ was withdrawn from the front line to take over the administration of the 21st Army Group's rear areas in Germany as it advanced across the river Rhine in March 1945. Crocker was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in October 1944 for his performance in the Normandy invasion and its aftermath. In June 1945, with the war in Europe over, Crocker returned to the United Kingdom to take over Southern Command from Lieutenant-General Sidney Kirkman, who took over I Corps from Crocker. For his services in Northwest Europe he was twice mentioned in despatches, on 9 August 1945, and again on 8 November.
Crocker's only son, Wilfrid, a cavalry officer serving with the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, then equipped with Cromwell tanks  and part of the 7th Armoured Division, was killed in action on 20 October 1944 fighting in the battle for 's-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands.
He remained for two years as GOC-in-C of Southern Command, until in 1947 he moved on to be Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) Middle East Land Forces in succession to Lieutenant-General Sir Miles Dempsey during the final stages of the Palestine Emergency. He was advanced to Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in the 1947 Birthday Honours. In 1950 Crocker's career culminated in his appointment as Adjutant-General to the Forces. Made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) on 10 June 1948, Crocker retired from the army on 29 September 1953. His permanent rank had been advanced to Lieutenant-General in October 1945, and he was promoted to the rank of full General in 6 March 1947. In addition to the British honours he had received, Crocker was also honoured by the Netherlands government in 1947 for his service in North West Europe in the form of being appointed a Grand Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau with Swords.
In 1948 Montgomery recommended Crocker to be his successor as CIGS, but the then Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, appointed the better-known and more senior General Sir William Slim, who had commanded the Fourteenth Army in the Burma Campaign during the war, much to Montgomery's annoyance. Crocker's most important postwar contribution was to write the training manuals that laid down the British Army's doctrine of armoured warfare through the years of the Cold War. Crocker held a number of honorary appointments throughout the postwar years, including Aide de Camp to the King (1948 to 1951), Colonel Commandant of the Royal Tank Regiment (1949), and Honorary Colonel of the Royal Armoured Corps (1949).
After retiring he became Vice-Chairman of the Imperial War Graves Commission and Lord Lieutenant of Middlesex, a position he held from 1961 until his death on 9 March 1963 at the relatively young age of sixty-seven. He was also a Member of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation.
Not much of a talker
Douglas E. Delaney writes that "John Crocker was not much of a talker and he was a lousy self-promoter because of it. Yet he was one of the most important British soldiers of the Second World War, commanding a corps in North Africa and subsequently being assigned 'the most ambitious, the most difficult, and the most important task' of any Allied corps commander during Operation Overlord. His influence was not limited to the period of the war either. He was intimately involved with the development of the British armoured forces during the 1920s and 1930s, and after the war he oversaw the production of the doctrine and training publications that would guide the British Army for much of the Cold War. He also served as Commander-in-Chief Middle East Land Forces, and he finished his career as Adjutant-General to the Forces. Field Marshal Montgomery would have preferred it if Crocker had retired as Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), but in 1949 Prime Minister Clement Attlee chose Sir William Slim instead. By almost any standard, Crocker had a very successful army career".
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- Smart, Nick (2005). Biographical Dictionary of British Generals of the Second World War. Barnesley: Pen & Sword. ISBN 1844150496.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to John Crocker.|
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