Claude Auchinleck

Claude Auchinleck

Claude Auchinleck was a British Field Marshall who served in Norway, Iraq, North Africa and India during the World War Two. In 1941 he was made Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East theatre, but he was dismissed from this role in 1942 after the first El Alamein battle, where he found himself up against the Erwin Rommel, the ‘Desert Fox’. He died at the age of 96 in Morocco.

Schooled at Wellington College and Sandhurst, Auchinleck signed up with the Indian Army in 1904 at the age of 20. During World War One he served in Egypt and Mesopotamia, after which he was promoted to brevet lieutenant-colonel for his service in Kurdistan.

Between the wars he married an American, Jessie Stewart, and served in India.

In June 1940, he took control of English and French ground troops in Norway. This operation was not successful and the British were forced to retreat.

Auchinleck was then sent back to India. In July 1941, he took over from Archibald Wavell as commander-in-chief of the Middle Eastern Allied forces. He also commanded the Eighth Army. At first he enjoyed moderate successes in this role and managed to occupy the whole of Cyrenaica by the end of 1941.

Though ‘the Auk’ had a formidable opponent: Erwin Rommel, nicknamed the ‘Desert Fox’, who had by June 1942 re-won all of Auchinleck’s captured land. The Allies formed an impressively large defensive barrier around the small town of El Alamein and won the first battle of El Alamein. Despite this win, Winston Churchill was not persuaded by Auchinleck’s ability to lead his troops to a final victory in North Africa so he was dismissed. Auchinleck was replaced by Harold Alexander as commander-in-chief of the Allied forces in the Middle East and William Gott as commander of the Eighth Army. Gott’s plane was shot down as he travelled to Cairo to take up his command and Bernard Montgomery instead took over this role.

In 1943, Auchinleck was made the Indian army’s commander-in-chief. A year later he suffered a personal blow when his wife left him for his friend air chief marshal Sir Richard Peirse. Auchinleck and Jessie Stewart formally divorced in 1946.

In 1946 he was promoted to Field Marshal. He continued as commander-in-chief of the Indian army just before Partition. After Partition in August 1947, Auchinleck became supreme commander of the remaining British forces in India and Pakistan. He left India in 1948, subsequently living in Italy and England before settling in Morocco, until his death in 1981.

See also: Feder von Bock

MLA Citation/Reference

"Claude Auchinleck". 2023. Web.

Key facts

Name: Sir Claude Auchinleck (the ‘Auk’)
Birth Date: 21 June 1884, Aldershot
Death: 23 March 1981 (aged 96), Marrakech
  • Joined the Indian army in 1904.
  • Served in World War One in North Africa and Mesopotamia.
  • Served in World War Two in Norway, India, Iraq, North Africa.
  • Removed from his post in North Africa in 1942 by Churchill when he came up against Erwin Rommel.
  • Served the rest of the war in India as commander-in-chief of the Indian army.
  • Promoted to the rank of Field Marshal in 1946.
  • Continued as commander-in-chief of the Indian army until Partition, when he was put in charge of British forces remaining in Pakistan and India.
Awards, decorations
  • June 1917: Distinguished Service Order
  • December 1940: King Grand Commander of the Indian Empire
  • January 1945: King Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
  • March 1948: Knight Grand Cross of Order of St Olav (Norway)