Neil Ritchie

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For the New Zealand Olympic cyclist, see Neil Ritchie (cyclist).
Neil Methuen Ritchie
Neil Ritchie.jpg
Ritchie, commander of XII Corps, pictured here in France, 29 July 1944.
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 Highlanders)
Commands held 51st (Highland) Infantry Division
Eighth Army
52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division
XII Corps
Scottish Command
Far East Land Forces
Battles/wars

First World War

Second World War

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]
Mentioned in despatches (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 the First and Second World Wars, where he commanded the British Eighth Army in the North African Campaign before being sacked in June 1942 and later XII Corps in the campaign in Northwest Europe from June 1944 until May 1945.

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 Archibald Wavell, Alan Brooke and Claude 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 the North African Campaign, 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, sometime in 1942. Also pictured are Willoughby Norrie and William Gott.

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 (C-in-C) of Middle East Command. 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 Michael Carver.

After being replaced as the Eighth Army commander Ritchie was, from September 1942, appointed to command the 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division, trained in mountain warfare, in the United Kingdom, relinquishing command in November 1943. He was later selected by General Bernard Montgomery, commander of the Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group, to command XII Corps, part of Lieutenant-General Miles C. Dempsey's British Second Army. He led XII Corps during the Battle of Normandy in the summer of 1944 and the subsequent campaign in Western Europe, ending in May 1945. 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 (CIGS), Alan Brooke.

Post-war[edit]

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]

Notes[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.

References[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Alan Cunningham
GOC 51st (Highland) Infantry Division
1940–1941
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
1942–1943
Succeeded by
Sir Edmund Hakewill-Smith
Preceded by
Montagu Stopford
GOC XII Corps
1943–1945
Succeeded by
Post disbanded
Preceded by
Sir Andrew Thorne
GOC-in-C Scottish Command
1945–1947
Succeeded by
Sir Philip Christison
Preceded by
New post
C-in-C Far East Land Forces
1947–1948
Succeeded by
Sir John Harding