Neil Ritchie

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For the New Zealand Olympic cyclist, see Neil Ritchie (cyclist).
Neil Methuen Ritchie
Neil Ritchie.jpg
General Ritchie as commander of XII Corps in France
Born (1897-07-29)29 July 1897
British Guiana (modern Guyana)
Died 11 December 1983(1983-12-11) (aged 86)
Toronto, Canada
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1914–1951
Rank General
Unit Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment)
Commands held 51st (Highland) Infantry Division
British Eighth Army
52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division
XII Corps
Scottish Command
Far East Land Forces

World War I

World War II

Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire[1]
Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath[2]
Distinguished Service Order[3]
Military Cross[4]
Legion of Merit[5]
Knight Grand Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau with Swords[6]
Virtuti Militari, Fifth Class (Poland)[7]
Other work Chairman of an insurance company.
Colonel of the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) (1950 – )[8]

General Sir Neil Methuen Ritchie GBE KCB DSO MC KStJ (29 July 1897 – 11 December 1983) was a senior British Army officer who saw service during both World War I and World War II.

Military career[edit]

First World War[edit]

Following Lancing and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, Ritchie's military career started in 1914 when he was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment). During the First World War he served with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in Belgium and France, where he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1917, and later in the Mesopotamian campaign, in which he won the Military Cross in 1918, for "a fine example of coolness, courage and utter disregard of danger".[4]

Second World War[edit]

By the start of the Second World War Ritchie had risen to the rank of brigadier, and was involved in the evacuation of Dunkirk. He held posts on the staffs of Wavell, Alan Brooke and Auchinleck and was highly regarded by them all. It was Auchinleck who was to give him his highest field command, the British Eighth Army, in November 1941, following the dismissal of Alan Cunningham from that position.

Ritchie had the bad luck to hold his highest command during the earliest phases of the war, when British fortunes were at their lowest ebb. The Eighth Army, fighting in North Africa, was the only British land force engaging the German Army anywhere in the world. After some early successes against the Italians the British were pushed back following the arrival of the Afrika Korps under Erwin Rommel. Ritchie was originally intended as a temporary appointment until a suitable commander could be found, but in fact ended up commanding the Eighth Army for over six months. He was in command of the Eighth Army at the Battle of Gazala in May–June 1942 where Ritchie failed to exercise strong command over the army and the British were heavily defeated, losing the port of Tobruk. He was sacked by Auchinleck on 25 June 1942 prior to the First Battle of El Alamein.

Ritchie (centre) addressing other officers in North Africa.

Auchinleck is often seen as having appointed Ritchie, a relatively junior commander, in order to allow him to closely direct the battle himself as Commander-in-Chief Middle East. Ritchie was criticised heavily both during and after the war for his failure to stop Rommel. Since then several commentators have come to his defence, most notably Field Marshal Lord Carver.

After being replaced as Eighth Army commander Ritchie was appointed to command the 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division in Britain and later XII Corps during the Battle of Normandy in the summer of 1944 and the subsequent campaign in Europe. The fact that Ritchie regained an active command following his dismissal, unlike his Eighth Army predecessor, Cunningham, reflects the high esteem in which he was held by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Alan Brooke.


After the war Ritchie remained in the British Army, becoming General Officer Commanding Scottish Command and Governor of Edinburgh Castle in 1945 and General Officer Commanding Far East Land Forces, in 1947.[9]

From December 1948 until retirement from the army he held the ceremonial appointment of Aide-de-Camp General to the King[10] and from September 1950 he was colonel of the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment),[8] his old regiment. Following his retirement he emigrated to Canada where he became a director of the Canadian subsidiary of Tanqueray Gordon & Co. and in 1954 became chairman of the Mercantile & General Reinsurance Co. of Canada. He died at the age of 86 in Toronto.

Honours and decorations[edit]


  1. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39243. p. 3066. 7 June 1951. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
  2. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37977. p. 2573. 6 June 1947. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
  3. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30252. p. 8854. 24 August 1917. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
  4. ^ a b The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31480. p. 9768. 30 July 1919. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
  5. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 38178. p. 401. 13 January 1948. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
  6. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37761. p. 5143. 15 October 1946. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
  7. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35559. p. 2113. 12 May 1942. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
  8. ^ a b The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39017. p. 4633. 15 September 1950. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
  9. ^ Counterinsurgency lessons from Malaya and Vietnam: learning to eat soup with a knife, By John A. Nagl Page 69 Chicago University Press, 2005, ISBN 978-0-226-56770-9
  10. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 38473. p. 6361. 3 December 1948. Retrieved 2008-06-21.


Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Alan Cunningham
GOC 51st (Highland) Infantry Division
Succeeded by
Douglas Wimberley
Preceded by
Sir Alan Cunningham
Commander-in Chief, Eighth Army
26 November 1941 – 25 June 1942
Succeeded by
Sir Claude Auchinleck
Preceded by
Sir John Laurie
GOC 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division
Succeeded by
Sir Edmund Hakewill-Smith
Preceded by
Montagu Stopford
Succeeded by
Post Disbanded
Preceded by
Sir Andrew Thorne
GOC-in-C Scottish Command
Succeeded by
Sir Philip Christison
Preceded by
New Post
C-in-C Far East Land Forces
Succeeded by
Sir John Harding