John Dill

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Sir John Greer Dill
The British Army in North Africa, 1941 E2384E.jpg
Sir John Greer Dill at the headquarters of General Sir Archibald Wavell, Commander-in-Chief of Middle East Forces, Egypt, 18 February 1941
Born (1881-12-25)25 December 1881
Lurgan, County Armagh, Ireland
Died 4 November 1944(1944-11-04) (aged 62)
Walter Reed General Hospital, Washington, D.C., US
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, US
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1901–1944
Rank Field Marshal
Unit Leinster Regiment
Commands held Staff College, Camberley (8 January 1931 – 21 January 1934)
Director of Military Operations and Intelligence, War Office (22 January 1934 – 31 August 1936)
British Forces in Palestine and Trans-Jordan (8 September 1936 – 19 September 1937)
General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Aldershot Command (12 October 1937 – 2 September 1939)
I Corps (3 September 1939 – 22 April 1940)
Chief of the Imperial General Staff (27 May 1940 – 25 December 1941)
Battles/wars First World War
Second World War
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George
Distinguished Service Order
Mentioned in Despatches (8 times in the First World War)
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Légion d'honneur (France)
Commander of the Order of the Crown (Belgium)
Officer of the Order of the Crown of Romania
Grand Cross, Order of St Olav
Order of Polonia Restituta, 1st class

Field Marshal Sir John Greer Dill GCB, CMG, DSO (25 December 1881 – 4 November 1944) was a senior British Army officer with service in both the First World War and the Second World War. From May 1940 to December 1941 he was the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, the professional head of the British Army, and subsequently in Washington, as Chief of the British Joint Staff Mission and then Senior British Representative on the Combined Chiefs of Staff, played a significant role during the Second World War in the formation of the "special relationship" between the United Kingdom and the United States.

Early life[edit]

Born in Lurgan, County Armagh, Ireland in 1881, his father was the local bank manager and his mother was a Greer from Woodville, Lurgan.[1] Always intended for a career in the services, Dill attended the Methodist College Belfast,[2] Cheltenham College and the Royal Military College at Sandhurst.[1] On 8 May 1901 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the 1st battalion the Leinster Regiment[3] and was posted to South Africa to see out the Second Boer War.[4]

Military career[edit]

Dill was appointed regimental adjutant on 15 August 1906,[5] having previously been assistant adjutant from 1902.[6] Promoted captain on 12 July 1911,[7] he was seconded to study at the Staff College, Camberley from 1 February 1913,[8] and was still there on the outbreak of the First World War.[9] He became brigade-major of the 25th brigade (8th division) in France where he was present at Neuve Chapelle. By the end of the war he was a brigadier and had been Mentioned in Despatches eight times.[9] From the spring of 1918 he was Head of Intelligence at GHQ.[10] He was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 1918 New Year Honours.[11] He also received a number of foreign decorations for his service, including the Légion d'honneur, in the degree of Officer,[12] the French Croix de guerre,[13] Commander of the Order of the Crown (Belgium),[14] Officer of the Order of the Crown of Romania.[15]

After the war he gained a reputation as a gifted army instructor. In the 1928 New Year Honours he was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB).[16] In 1929 he was posted to India and in 1930 was promoted to major general before returning to appointments at the Staff College (for in fact the third time but this time as Commandant) and then to the War Office as Director of Military Operations and Intelligence, holding that post until 1 September 1936.[9][17] Alongside his other positions, he was appointed to the largely honorary role of Colonel of the East Lancashire Regiment on 24 December 1932.[18]

Field Marshal Dill at the Atlantic Conference aboard Prince of Wales in 1941 (third person from the right in second row/directly above Churchill)

Dill was appointed Director of Military Operations and Intelligence in 1934 and then General Officer Commanding British forces in Palestine on 8 September 1936,[19] holding the post until 1937. He was knighted in the 1937 Coronation Honours with his promotion to Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB),[20] and he was then appointed General Officer Commanding, Aldershot Command but at the outbreak of the Second World War he initially had to watch younger, junior officers be promoted over him. Seen as something of a dinosaur and poorly regarded by both Winston Churchill and Leslie Hore-Belisha, Minister for War, Dill was eventually posted as commander of I Corps in France on 3 September 1939.[21][22] He was promoted to full general on 1 October 1939 (with seniority backdated to 5 December 1937).[23] On returning to the UK in April 1940,[24] Dill was appointed Vice Chief of the Imperial General Staff (and a member of the Army Council[25]), under CIGS William Ironside, by the then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. On 27 May 1940, after Chamberlain had been replaced by Churchill, Dill replaced Ironside as CIGS.[22][26]

Dill was promoted field marshal on 18 November 1941[27] but by this time it was clear how poorly he and Churchill got on. Dill gained a reputation as unimaginative and obstructionist.[22] Keen to get him out of the way, Churchill at the end of 1941 had Dill advanced to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB)[28] and posted him to Washington as his personal representative where he became Chief of the British Joint Staff Mission,[29][30] then Senior British Representative on the Combined Chiefs of Staff.[31] He showed a great flair as a diplomatic military presence. In 1943 alone he attended the Quebec Conference, the Casablanca Conference, the Tehran Conference and meetings in India, China and Brazil. He also served briefly on the combined policy committee set up by the British and United States governments under the Quebec Agreement to oversee the construction of the atomic bomb.[30]

In the United States he was immensely important in making the Chiefs of Staff committee – which included members from both countries – function, often promoting unity of action.[32] He was particularly friendly with General George Marshall[33] and the two exercised a great deal of influence on President Roosevelt who described Dill as "the most important figure in the remarkable accord which has been developed in the combined operations of our two countries".[34]


Dill served in Washington until his death from aplastic anaemia in November 1944. His funeral arrangements reflected the great professional and personal respect and affection that he had earned. A memorial service was held in Washington National Cathedral and the route of the cortege was lined by some thousands of troops, following which he was interred in Arlington National Cemetery, where a simple service was conducted at the graveside. A witness recorded that "I have never seen so many men so visibly shaken by sadness. Marshall's face was truly stricken ...". He was sorely missed by the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, who sent a fulsome message of condolence to their British colleagues:[35]

We feel we share equally with you the loss to our combined war effort resulting from the death of Field Marshal Sir John Dill. His character and wisdom, his selfless devotion to the allied cause, made his contribution to the combined British-American war effort of outstanding importance. It is not too much to say that probably no other individual was more responsible for the achievement of complete cooperation in the work of the Combined Chiefs of Staff.

... we have looked to him with complete confidence as a leader in our combined deliberations. He has been a personal friend of all of us ...

We mourn with you the passing of a great and wise soldier, and a great gentleman. His task in this war has been well done.
Equestrian statue of Sir John Dill over his grave in Arlington National Cemetery.

He was posthumously awarded an American Distinguished Service Medal in 1944[34][36] as well as receiving an unprecedented joint resolution of the United States Congress appreciating his services.[37] The equestrian statue on Dill's grave is one of only two at Arlington National Cemetery, the other is Major General Philip Kearny's.[38]

Honours and awards[edit]

Position on the use of poison gas during the Second World War[edit]

In a 14 October 2013 article CounterPunch journalist Patrick Cockburn cites Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman in their analysis of the criminal use of toxic chemicals in wartime: A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical and Biological Warfare. He writes:

"it was Britain that came closest to using poison gas on a mass scale during the Second World War. Had Germany launched an invasion in 1940, the British plan was to spray German troops with mustard gas from aircraft while they were still crowded together on the beaches. The idea was proposed first on 15 June 1940, just two days after Dunkirk, by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff Sir John Dill...[who] wrote with gusto that German troop concentrations 'would present a splendid target. Gas spray by aircraft under such conditions would be likely to have a more widespread and wholesale effect than high explosives.' The plan was lethally dangerous, not least because Germany had 20 times as much mustard gas as Britain. The British would be breaching a secret agreement made with Hitler in the first hours of the war in 1939 that Britain and France would not use poison gas or germ warfare so long as Germany also refrained. The appalled Director of Home Defence rejected the plan to spray enemy troops: 'We should be throwing away the incalculable moral advantage of keeping our pledges and for a minor tactical surprise; and the ultimate effects of retaliation by the enemy would be very serious in this overcrowded little island.' General Dill withdrew his memorandum in the face of fierce criticism, but it was then supported by Churchill who gave his full backing for the use of gas. A fleet of bombers fitted with spray tanks holding between 250lb and 1,000lb of mustard gas each was scraped together but Britain had only 450 tons of mustard gas. Stocks would have been exhausted after one or two days of RAF attacks."[39]


  1. ^ a b "Sir John Dill". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 21 August 2012. 
  2. ^ "Sir John Dill". Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives. Retrieved 21 August 2012. 
  3. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 27311. pp. 3128–3130. 7 May 1901.
  4. ^ Heathcote, Anthony, p. 102
  5. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27944. p. 5869. 28 August 1906.
  6. ^ Danchev, Alex (September 2004). "‘Dill, Sir John Greer (1881–1944)’". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/32826. (subscription required (help)). 
  7. ^ The London Gazette: no. 28529. p. 6628. 8 September 1911.
  8. ^ The London Gazette: no. 28687. p. 844. 4 February 1913.
  9. ^ a b c Heathcote, Anthony pg 103
  10. ^ Harris 2008, p464
  11. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30450. pp. 3–5. 28 December 1917.
  12. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31454. p. 8957. 11 July 1919.
  13. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31812. p. 2868. 5 March 1920.
  14. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31514. p. 10604. 19 August 1919.
  15. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31560. p. 11749. 19 September 1919.
  16. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 33343. p. 3. 30 December 1927.
  17. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34319. p. 5659. 1 September 1936.
  18. ^ The London Gazette: no. 34319. p. 129. 6 January 1933.
  19. ^ The London Gazette: no. 34327. p. 6212. 29 September 1936.
  20. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34396. p. 3078. 11 May 1937.
  21. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34753. p. 8305. 12 December 1939.
  22. ^ a b c Heathcote, Anthony pg 104
  23. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34709. p. 6933. 13 October 1939.
  24. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34855. p. 3091. 21 May 1940.
  25. ^ The London Gazette: no. 34873. p. 3608. 14 June 1940.
    The London Gazette: no. 34878. p. 3779. 21 June 1940.
    The London Gazette: no. 34920. p. 4932. 13 August 1940.
    The London Gazette: no. 35068. p. 750. 7 February 1941.
    The London Gazette: no. 35187. p. 3320. 10 June 1941.
    The London Gazette: no. 35208. p. 3820. 4 July 1941.
    The London Gazette: no. 35247. p. 4719. 15 August 1941.
    The London Gazette: no. 35414. p. 193. 9 January 1942.
  26. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34858. p. 3175. 24 May 1940.
  27. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35352. p. 6693. 18 November 1941.
  28. ^ a b The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35399. p. 2. 30 December 1941. Retrieved 18 June 2009.
  29. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35397. p. 7369. 26 December 1941.
  30. ^ a b Heathcote, Anthony pg 105
  31. ^ Arlington National Cemetery
  32. ^ Letter Roosevelt to Churchill on the announcement of the posthumous honours to Dill
  33. ^ Marshal Foundation
  34. ^ a b Citation for Dill's Army Distinguished Service Medal
  35. ^ Danchev (1991), pp. 67–68.
  36. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36801. p. 5321. 17 November 1944.
  37. ^ Resolution of the United States Congress
  38. ^ McLeroy, Carrie (2014-06-02). "There’s a lot you don’t know about Arlington National Cemetery". United States Army. Retrieved 2014-06-23. There are only two equestrian monuments at Arlington National Cemetery. The first is for Maj. Gen. Philip Kearney, located in Section 2. The second is Field Marshall Sir John Dill in Section 32.  External link in |website= (help)
  39. ^ Cockburn, Patrick (14 October 2013). "Churchill’s Poison Gas Stockpile". CounterPunch. Retrieved 18 October 2013. 


  • Danchev, Alex. Very Special Relationship: Field Marshal Sir John Dill and the Anglo-American Alliance, 1941-44 (Brassey's Defence Publishers, 1986)
  • Danchev, Alex (1991). John Keegan, ed. Churchill's Generals. London: Cassell Military. ISBN 0-304-36712-5. 
  • Harris, J.P. Douglas Haig and the First World War. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-521-89802-7
  • Heathcote, Tony (1999). The British Field Marshals 1736–1997. Barnsley (UK): Pen & Sword. ISBN 0-85052-696-5. 
  • Stoler, Mark A. Allies and Adversaries: The Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Grand Alliance, and US Strategy in World War II (U. of North Carolina Press, 2003)

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Charles Gwynn
Commandant of the Staff College, Camberley
Succeeded by
Clement Armitage
Preceded by
William Bartholomew
Director of Military Operations and Intelligence
Succeeded by
Robert Haining
Preceded by
New Post
GOC British forces in Palestine
8 September 1936 – 11 May 1937
Succeeded by
Archibald Wavell
Preceded by
Sir John Gathorne-Hardy
GOC-in-C Aldershot Command
11 May 1937 – 3 September 1939
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Broad
Preceded by
New Post
GOC I Corps
3 September 1939 – April 1940
Succeeded by
Michael Barker
Preceded by
Vice Chief of the Imperial General Staff
April 1940–27 May 1940
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Haining
Preceded by
Sir Edmund Ironside
Chief of the Imperial General Staff
Succeeded by
Sir Alan Brooke
Preceded by
New creation
Chief of the British Joint Staff Mission to Washington
Succeeded by
Sir Henry Wilson