Montagu Stopford

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Not to be confused with his grandfather, the 19th century admiral Montagu Stopford (Royal Navy officer).
Sir Montagu Stopford
SE 001800A Lt Gen Sir Montagu Stopford.jpg
Nickname(s) "Monty"
Born 16 November 1892
Hanover Square, London, England
Died 10 March 1971 (aged 78)
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, England
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1911–1949
Rank General
Unit Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own)
Commands held 53rd Battalion, Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own)
17th Infantry Brigade
56th (London) Infantry Division
Staff College, Camberley
XII Corps
XXXIII Indian Corps
Twelfth Army
South East Asia Command
Northern Command
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order
Military Cross
Mentioned in dispatches (3)
Relations Sir Lionel Stopford (father)

General Sir Montagu George North Stopford GCB, KBE, DSO, MC (16 November 1892 – 10 March 1971) was a senior British Army officer who fought during both World War I and World War II. The latter he served in with distinction, commanding XXXIII Indian Corps in the Far East, where he served under Sir William Slim, played a hugely significant role in the Burma Campaign, specifically during the Battle of Kohima in mid-1944, later becoming Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of South East Asia Command from 1946 to 1947.

Early life and military career[edit]

Born on 16 November 1892 in Hanover Square, London, Montagu Stopford was the son of Colonel Sir Lionel Stopford, and the great-grandson of James Stopford, 3rd Earl of Courtown. His mother was Mabel Georgina Emily, daughter of George Alexander Mackenzie. He was educated at Wellington College, Berkshire and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.[1] He was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own) on 20 September 1911,[2][3] a day after Kenneth Anderson and two days before Harold Alexander, both of whom were, like Stopford, destined the highest ranks.[1] He was posted to the 2nd Battalion of the regiment, then serving in Rawalpindi, India,[4] until shortly after the outbreak of World War I in August 1914.[5][1]

In late October Stopford, by now a lieutenant, arrived with his battalion in Liverpool, having left India the month before. The battalion, now serving as part of the 25th Brigade of the 8th Division, arrived on the Western Front in early November.[6] After serving with his battalion throughout some of the most intense battles of 1915, including the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, Stopford became General Staff Officer Grade 3 (GSO3) of the 56th (1st London) Division, a Territorial Force (TF) formation that he would have further association with some 25 years later, on 10 June 1916, as a captain. On 6 December 1916 he became the brigade major of the 56th Division's 167th (1st London) Brigade, a post which he held throughout 1917 until 25 March 1918. He ended the war with the substantive rank of major, and had been twice mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Military Cross.[1]

Between the wars[edit]

Remaining in the army during the difficult interwar period, spent mainly on regimental duties, serving in the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR), as Commanding Officer (CO) of the 53rd Battalion, Rifle Brigade. Stopford attended the Staff College, Camberley, from 1923 to 1924. His fellow students there included Gordon Macready, Dudley Johnson, Douglas Pratt, John Smyth, Roderic Petre, Arthur Percival, Frederick Pile, Henry Verschoyle-Campbell, Robert Stone, John Halsted, Balfour Hutchison, Colville Wemyss, Rowley Hill, Kenneth Loch, Michael Gambier-Parry, Alastair MacDougall, Arthur Wakely, Edmond Schreiber and Robert Pargiter, all of whom were, like Stopford himself, destined to become general officers.

In May 1932 he was made a GSO2 to the Inspector General of the King's African Rifles.[7] Promoted to permanent major in January 1933,[8] he was a brevet lieutenant colonel two years later.[9] In January 1938, towards the end of the interwar period, Stopford returned to the Staff College, Camberley, this time with the role of Senior Instructor, and was promoted to colonel that August.[10] In this position he came into contact with numerous other members of the Directing Staff who were to achieve high rank in the war, such as Brian Horrocks, Charles Allfrey, Charles Keightley, Charles Loewen and Cameron Nicholson, along with the Commandant, Major General Sir Ronald Adam.[11][12]

World War II[edit]

France and Belgium[edit]

Stopford was still there by the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. However, just over a month later he was selected to command the 17th Infantry Brigade, then being formed in Aldershot, Hampshire for service overseas, and was promoted to the temporary rank of brigadier.[11] Comprising three Regular Army battalions formerly scattered around the United Kingdom, the brigade was serving under Aldershot Command until being sent to France, arriving there on 19 October, as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).[5][12] There the brigade served briefly under General Headquarters (GHQ) BEF before passing to the control of II Corps, whose General Officer Commanding (GOC), Lieutenant General Sir Alan Brooke, had been one of Stopford's instructors at the Staff College, Camberley in the 1920s and thought highly of his capabilities. In December the brigade was transferred again, to the 4th Division under Major General Dudley Johnson (who had been one of Stopford's fellow students at the Staff College), before, towards the end of the month, coming under the command of Major General Harold Franklyn's 5th Division. In addition to Stopford's 17th Brigade, the division had the 13th Brigade under Brigadier Miles Dempsey and the 15th Brigade under Brigadier Horatio Berney-Ficklin, and supporting divisional troops.[12]

The next few months were spent in relative quiet, the brigade either training or helping in the construction of defensive positions in expectation of a repeat of the trench warfare that had characterised so much of World War I. By 9 May 1940, the day before the German Army attacked in the West, Stopford's brigade, along with the rest of the 5th Division, was held in GHQ Reserve, the War Office's view being that it should return to the United Kingdom as a reserve. However, by 16 May the division (excluding the 15th Brigade, which had been removed for participation in operations in Norway) was on the River Senne, where it first encountered the Germans, but was soon ordered to disengage and withdraw to the River Escaut. On 19 May the division was ordered to Arras, where a gap was emerging.[12] Major General Franklyn, GOC of the 5th Division, was ordered to take command of Major General Giffard Martel's 50th Division and the 1st Army Tank Brigade, in addition to his own division, which was to be known as "Frankforce". On 21 May "Frankforce" was ordered by General Lord Gort, Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the BEF, to attack across the Gernan line of advance. Stopford's 17th Brigade was held in reserve on Vimy Ridge for the operation, and, on 23 May, after Stopford himself noticed German infantry and tanks advancing on 17th Brigades' position. Although French support was promised it never materialised and the brigade, after heavy fighting, was ordered to retreat, withdrawing from their positions on the night of 23 May and the early hours of 24 May.[12]

The 5th Division was then moved to the Ypres−Comines Canal, where another gap had been created on the BEF's left flank, due to the wholesale surrender of the Belgian Army.[13] Stopford's brigade came under a succession of very heavy attacks from 26 to 28 May, suffering very heavy losses as a result, but managing to retain its position. By the time the 17th Brigade fell back towards Dunkirk, from where it was evacuated to England on the night of 31 May/1 June, the brigade was reduced from a strength of over 2,500 officers and men, at the beginning of the campaign, to less than that of a single battalion, and Brigadier Dempsey's 13th Brigade was in a similarly depleted state.[13]

Britain and the home front[edit]

A few weeks later Stopford, along with Dempsey, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his services in France and Belgium.[14] He was GOC of the 56th (London) Infantry Division from January 1941, receiving a promotion to acting major general.[15][2]

He then became Commandant of the Staff College, Camberley in October 1941, and was promoted to temporary major general in January 1942.[16] Ironically Stopford's predecessor, Major General Robert Collins, had been one of his instructors there when attending as a student in the 1920s.[1]

Handed over his post to Major General Sir Alan Cunningham, Stopford was promoted to acting lieutenant general in November 1942,[17] and was GOC British XII Corps from 1942 to 1943[13]

Burma and India[edit]

Made a temporary lieutenant general[18] the following year, he handed over XII Corps to Lieutenant General Neil Ritchie and was sent to India to become GOC of XXXIII Indian Corps, in succession to Lieutenant General Philip Christison, who was posted to XV Corps as its GOC.[5] Formed the previous year, the corps had so far not seen action against the Japanese, being initially held in reserve. Stopford's arrival, however, coincided with a new role conceived for his corps, which then consisted of only Major General John Grover's British 2nd Infantry Division.[13] At the Cairo Conference, which was held shortly after Stopford's arrival in India, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt promised Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the Republic of China that the Allies would launch an amphibious operation across the Bay of Bengal. Roosevelt's intention was to convince the Chinese to keep as many of their forces in northern Burma as possible. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill preferred an amphibious assault on Sumatra (codenamed Operation Culverin), at the northern tip of the island, but there were too few resources available for such an operation.[13] As a result Churchill considered Admiral Louis Mountbatten, the newly appointed Supreme Allied Commander of South East Asia Command (SEAC), could instead plan to capture the Andaman Islands (codenamed Operation Buccaneer). In December the Allied leaders returned to Cairo, both Mountbatten and Stopford meeting them there, the former presenting his views personally to both Roosevelt and Churchill. Despite his best efforts it was decided to cancel the latter operation, due to a lack of resources, both in manpower and landing craft.[13]

A half-length, seated portrait of Lieutenant-General Sir Montagu Stopford in uniform.

Mountbatten was not beaten and, upon returning to India, ordered Stopford to continue to train XXXIII Corps in amphibious operations, which it did so for the next months. In March 1944, however, the Japanese 15th Army, under Lieutenant General Renya Mutaguchi, launched an offensive at the centre of the Allied front at Imphal. Lieutenant General William Slim, GOC of the Fourteenth Army (which Stopford's XXXIII Corps was serving under), and Lieutenant General Geoffrey Scoones, GOC British IV Corps, had both predicted a move like this by the Japanese, and Scoones, whose IV Corps was holding the sector, withdrew his corps into a more defensible sector.[19] The Fourteenth Army's GOC had failed to estimate the arrival of the Japanese 31st Division under Lieutenant General Kōtoku Satō, which headed for Kohima, 80 miles north of Imphal. If Satõ's 31st Division were able to take the small town of Kohima, they would be almost unopposed and be able to march into Assam, thereby cutting land communications to Ledo, at the Indian end of the Ledo Road, then in the process of being built to China.[19]

The British first received reports that the Japanese were aiming for Kohima from the local Naga people, and from V Force patrols, in the third week of March. The 1st Battalion, Assam Regiment moved west to Jessami to intercept them. On 28 March fighting began and continued for another two days, gaining valuable time. The battalion, only very recently raised, fighting against a numerically superior force, was forced to withdraw to Kohima. At the same time Colonel Hugh Richards had arrived to take command of the garrison at Kohima, which was severely outnumbered.[19] Lieutenant General Slim, GOC Fourteenth Army, made a decision for the 161st Indian Brigade, detached from Major General Harold Briggs's 5th Indian Division, to be flown into Dimapur, and to move into Kohima, arriving there on 29 March, after receiving reports on the Japanese strength. Slim also placed Major General R. P. L. Ranking, GOC 202nd Lines of Communication Area (202 LoC), in temporary command of the area.[19]

Realising that Lieutenant General Scoones, GOC British IV Corps, would be unable to control the Kohima battle, Slim asked his superior, General Sir George Giffard, commanding the 11th Army Group, for Stopford and his HQ XXXIII Corps to be flown out from India. Stopford, establishing his HQ on 3 April at Jorhat, took over from Major General Ranking, and began to assess the situation. He outlined the priorities as being, in the following order, Dimapur, the Ledo Road and Kohima, and ordered the 161st Indian Brigade to defend the Nichugard Pass, thereby safeguarding Dimapur but leaving Kohima uncovered.[19] However, the priorities were changed, following a consultation with the Fourteenth Army GOC, and Kohima was now made the first priority, and the 161st Indian Brigade was ordered to return. Only a battalion, the 4th Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment (4th Royal West Kents), and a single company of the 4th Battalion, 7th Rajput Regiment managed to reinforce the Kohima garrison, which consisted of a significant number of non-combat troops, before the town was surrounded. The remainder of the 161st Indian Brigade was cut off at Jotsoma, a few miles back from the road to Dimapur.[19]

Lieutenant General Montagu Stopford, GOC XXXIII Indian Corps (right), confers with Major General John Grover, GOC 2nd Division (left) and Brigadier Joseph Salomons, commanding the 9th Indian Brigade (centre), after the opening of the Imphal-Kohima road, June 1944.

The initial defence of Kohima, therefore, was conducted by a far smaller force than was necessary. However, fighting in very grim conditions reminiscent of World War I, the force managed to hold on during a siege that lasted over two weeks, the British and Indian troops being boxed in on Garrison Hill. The distance between them and the Japanese was the length of the local District Commissioner's tennis court. Three Indian mountain batteries at Jotsoma were initially the only outside support.[19] However, Major General Grover's British 2nd Division broke the road block between Jotsoma and Dimapur, thus enabling the 161st Indian Brigade to relieve the defenders of Kohima on 18 April.

Stopford's objective was now to drive the Japanese away from Kohima, the British 2nd Division being the main initial tool for the job, although significant reinforcements were on the way. These consisted of the 23rd Brigade, which had been intended to join the Chindits, and the 21st Indian Division, temporarily created under the command of Major General Cameron Nicholson, who Stopford knew as a fellow instructor at the Staff College before the war, to take command of other units who had been brought up from India.[19] The 6th Brigade of the British 2nd Division relieved the 161st Indian Brigade and continued to hold Garrison Hill against a succession of Japanese assaults. The division's 4th Brigade undertook a right hook flanking movement to come in from the south, against the Aradura Spur, while the 5th Brigade began a left hook from the north. Both brigade assaults did not meet with the expected success. The 33rd Indian Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Frederick Loftus-Tottenham, part of Major General Frank Messervy's 7th Indian Division, arrived from the Arakan and, assisted by the 6th Brigade, cleared the enemy from Kohima Ridge.[20] However, the fighting was relentless as the Japanese remained in two strong defensive preparations, on the Aradura Ridge and around Naga Village. The British 2nd Division, which by now had suffered very heavy casualties, pushed them off Aradura Ridge in early June, the 7th Indian Division pushing them out of Naga Village around the same time. The Japanese retreated to the Chindwin River and, on 22 June, Stopford's XXXIII Corps finally made contact with Lieutenant General Scoones's British IV Corps.[20]

Confirmed in his rank of lieutenant general in April 1945,[21][11] he finally commanded the British Twelfth Army, formed in Burma in 1945, which defeated the Japanese breakout attempt in the Pegu Yomas in July and August of that year, the last action of the war.[5][11]

Lieutenant General Sir Montagu Stopford, GOC-in-C of the British 12th Army, inspects a guard of honour mounted by men of the 1st Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment, during the formal ceremony in Rangoon where General Heitarō Kimura and his staff handed over their swords to staff officers of the 12th Army.

After the war Stopford served as commander of Burma Command (renamed from Twelfth Army) from 1945 to 1946, as C-in-C Allied Land Forces in the Dutch East Indies in 1946 and as C-in-C SEAC from 1946 to 1947 before becoming General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) of Northern Command in England from 1947 to 1949.[5] He retired from the British Army in 1949,[5] with the rank of full general. He was also appointed Colonel-in-Chief of the Rifle Brigade.[20]

In the Throne Room, Government House, Rangoon, which was used for the surrender negotiations, Lieutenant General Takazo Numata with Lieutenant Colonel Morio Tomura (left) and Rear Admiral Kaigye Chudo (right) faces the Allied commanders (front row, l to r): Brigadier E. G. Gibbons, Captain F. S. Habecker, Major General Feng Yee, Mr M. E. Dening, Rear Admiral W. R. Patterson, Lieutenant General F. A. M. Browning, Air Marshal Sounders, Major General R. F. Denning, Brigadier M. S. K. Maunsell, Air Vice Marshal A. T. Cole and Captain J. P. H. Perks. In the rear row, seated to Lieutenant General Browning's left is Lieutenant General Sir Montagu Stopford.

Stopford was awarded the DSO in 1940 and made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1942. In December 1944 he and his fellow corps commanders, Christison and Scoones, were knighted and invested as Knights Commander of the Order of the British Empire by the viceroy Lord Wavell at a ceremony at Imphal in front of the Scottish, Gurkha and Punjab regiments. Lieutenant General Slim, GOC Fourteenth Army, was knighted and invested as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath at the same occasion.

Later life[edit]

After the war Stopford was further made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1947 and a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 1948. In 1962 he held the honorary post of Deputy Lieutenant of Oxfordshire[22] and lived at Rock Hill House in Chipping Norton.[23] He married Dorothy Deare, daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Foulkes Deare, in 1921.[24] They had no children. His wife died in 1982.


  1. ^ a b c d e Smart, p. 298
  2. ^ a b "British Army officer histories". Unit Histories. Retrieved 2017-09-16. 
  3. ^ "No. 28532". The London Gazette. 11 September 1911. p. 6883. 
  4. ^ "2nd Battalion, The Rifle Brigade". Retrieved 15 September 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives
  6. ^ "The Rifle Brigade". The Long, Long Trail. Retrieved 15 September 2017. 
  7. ^ "No. 33828". The London Gazette. 24 May 1932. p. 3348. 
  8. ^ "No. 33904". The London Gazette. 20 January 1933. p. 443. 
  9. ^ "No. 34120". The London Gazette. 1 January 1935. p. 61. 
  10. ^ "No. 34541". The London Gazette. 12 August 1938. p. 5186. 
  11. ^ a b c d
  12. ^ a b c d e Mead, p. 441
  13. ^ a b c d e f Mead, p. 442
  14. ^ "No. 34893". The London Gazette (Supplement). 9 July 1940. p. 4261. 
  15. ^ "No. 35071". The London Gazette (Supplement). 7 February 1941. p. 813. 
  16. ^ "No. 35433". The London Gazette (Supplement). 23 January 1942. p. 437. 
  17. ^ "No. 35790". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 November 1942. p. 5023. 
  18. ^ "No. 36244". The London Gazette (Supplement). 9 November 1943. p. 4961. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h Mead, p. 443
  20. ^ a b c Mead, p. 444
  21. ^ "No. 37033". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 April 1945. p. 2011. 
  22. ^ "No. 42677". The London Gazette. 18 May 1962. p. 4017. 
  23. ^ Blue plaque to Stopford at Chipping Norton
  24. ^ The


  • 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. 

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Claude Liardet
GOC 56th (London) Infantry Division
January–October 1941
Succeeded by
Eric Miles
Preceded by
Robert Collins
Commandment of the Staff College, Camberley
Succeeded by
Sir Alan Cunningham
Preceded by
James Gammell
Succeeded by
Neil Ritchie
Preceded by
Philip Christison
GOC XXXIII Indian Corps
Succeeded by
Post redesignated Twelfth Army
Preceded by
New post
GOC Twelfth Army
May–November 1945
Succeeded by
Post redesignated Burma Command
Preceded by
Earl Mountbatten
GOC-in-C South East Asia Command
April–September 1946
Succeeded by
Post disbanded
Preceded by
Sir Philip Christison
GOC-in-C Northern Command
Succeeded by
Sir Philip Balfour