Lord John Gort led the British Expeditionary Force into Europe in the first year of World War One. His force were eventually driven to Dunkirk - where they were evacuated - by the German army’s use of the Blitzkrieg (or ‘lightning storm’) tactic.
Born in 1886 in County Durham to an Anglo-Irish aristocratic family, Gort was educated at Harrow and Sandhurst. After leaving the latter, Gort joined the Grenadier Guards. He was a captain when World War One broke out. Gort served with distinction during the war: he won the Military Cross, the Victoria Cross and the Distinguished Service Order with two bars.
Gort stayed with the army after the war and in 1925 was promoted to colonel. By 1937, he had been promoted to the rank of full general.
Gort was made Commander-in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) that journeyed to France in September 1939. The BEF struggled against the onslaught of the German military in the spring of 1940. The devastating impact of Blitzkrieg made Gort’s job extremely difficult and it is unlikely that other military commanders would have fared better. However opinion is divided on Gort’s leadership in 1940. He is praised by some for managing to save the BEF. Others criticise his decision not to help the French organise a significant counter-attack.
The BEF were eventually forced to withdraw from Dunkirk in May. Gort kept several units of men away from Dunkirk and on the beaches to the East of the town. They would prevent the Germans from getting closer to the evacuation beaches. But the people coordinating the withdrawal believed that this strategy meant too many men were away from the scene of the evacuation, where they were needed to assist the rapid movement of men from beach to boats. Gort was recalled to Britain during the evacuation and over 300,000 men were eventually withdrawn from Dunkirk.
After the evacuation, Golt became an ADC general to George VI. He served as Governor of Gibraltar from 1941 to 1942, and as Governor of Malta from 1941 to 1944. From 1944 to 1945 he was High Commissioner of Palestine.
Lord John Gort died in March 1946 at the age of 59.
See also: Heinz Guderian
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