|Neil Methuen Ritchie|
General Ritchie as commander of XII Corps in France
29 July 1897|
British Guiana (modern Guyana)
|Died||11 December 1983
|Years of service||1914–1951|
|Commands held||51st (Highland) Division
52nd (Lowland) Division
Far East Land Forces
|Awards||Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire
Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order
Legion of Merit
Knight Grand Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau with Swords
Virtuti Militari, Fifth Class (Poland)
|Other work||Chairman of an insurance company.
Colonel of the Black Watch (1950 – )
First World War
Following Lancing and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, Ritchie's military career started in 1914 when he was commissioned as an officer into the Black Watch. During the First World War he served with the British Expeditionary Force in France, where he won 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".
Second World War
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, Alanbrooke and Auchinleck and was highly regarded by them all. It was Auchinleck who was to give him his highest field command, the Eighth Army, in November 1941, following the dismissal of Lt-Gen. 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, in North Africa, was the only British land force engaging the Germans anywhere in the world. After some early successes against the Italians the British were pushed back following the arrival of the Afrika Korps under 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.
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 Division in Britain and later XII Corps during the D-Day landings and the campaign in Europe. The fact that Ritchie regained an active command following his dismissal, unlike his Eighth Army predecessor, Lt-Gen. Cunningham, reflects the high esteem in which he was held by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Alanbrooke.
After the war Ritchie remained in the Army, becoming General Officer Commanding Scottish Command and Governor of Edinburgh Castle in 1945 and General Officer Commanding Far East Land Forces, in 1947.
From December 1948 until retirement from the army he held the ceremonial appointment of Aide-de-Camp General to the King and from September 1950 he was colonel of the Black Watch, 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
- Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire 7 June 1951 (KBE 5 July 1945, CBE 11 July 1940)
- Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath 12 June 1947 (CB 1 January 1944)
- Distinguished Service Order 25 August 1917
- Military Cross 15 February 1918 "During the action against the Turkish Tabsor position on September 19th, 1918, and during the subsequent advance, he was invariably to the fore and set a fine example of coolness, courage and utter disregard of danger. When the regiment occupied the El Medjel position on the evening of September 19th, 1918, Capt. Ritchie carried a Lewis gun up part of the way as its carrier was exhausted, and thereby materially assisted in driving off an enemy picquet which was holding up the attack on top of the hill. His services throughout the two attacks, and the subsequent trying marches, were of inestimable value to the regiment.
- Mentioned in Despatches 26 July 1940, 30 June 1942, 22 March 1945, 9 August 1945
- Virtuti Militari, 5th class (Poland) 15 May 1942
- Commander Legion of Honour (France)
- Croix de Guerre (France) 1945
- Knight Commander of the Order of Orange Nassau (Netherlands) 1945
- Commander, Legion of Merit (United States) 1945
- Knight of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem 2 July 1963 (Commander 2 August 1960)
- The London Gazette: . 7 June 1951. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
- The London Gazette: . 6 June 1947. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
- The London Gazette: . 24 August 1917. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
- The London Gazette: . 30 July 1919. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
- The London Gazette: . 13 January 1948. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
- The London Gazette: . 15 October 1946. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
- The London Gazette: . 12 May 1942. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
- The London Gazette: . 15 September 1950. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
- 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
- The London Gazette: . 3 December 1948. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
- Churchill's Generals, Edited by John Keegan. ISBN 0-349-11317-3
- Biographical Dictionary of British Generals of the Second World War, Nick Smart. ISBN 1-84415-049-6.
- Ammentorp, Steen. "Ritchie, Sir Neil Methuen, General". The Generals of WWII. Retrieved 2008-06-15.
Sir Alan Cunningham
|General Officer Commanding, 51st (Highland) Division
Sir Alan Cunningham
|Commander-in Chief, Eighth Army
26 November 1941 – 25 June 1942
Sir Claude Auchinleck
Sir John Laurie
|GOC, 52nd Division
Sir Edmund Hakewill-Smith
|GOC, XII Corps
Sir Andrew Thorne
|GOC-in-C Scottish Command
Sir Philip Christison
|C-in-C Far East Land Forces
Sir John Harding
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Neil Ritchie.|