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Auchinleck, Claude

Auchinleck, Claude (1884–1981). British general and field marshal. Originally an officer in the Indian army, Auchinleck succeeded Wavell as commander-in-chief, Middle East, in July 1941. On 17 November the 8th Army, under Alan Cunningham, attacked westward into Cyrenaica. Rommel counter-attacked on 22 November and Cunningham decided to retreat, but Auchinleck took direct command and replaced Cunningham by Neil Ritchie on 26 November. The ‘Crusader’ offensive continued, clearing Cyrenaica by 6 January. Rommel counter-attacked again on 21 January and drove the 8th Army back to the Gazala line by 4 February. Churchill felt Auchinleck to be dilatory in offensive action and Rommel struck first in May 1942. The 8th Army was defeated by concentrations of German armour, outflanking ill-coordinated resistance. By mid-June the 8th Army's retreat, with the rapid fall of Tobruk, became near rout. On 25 June Auchinleck took over direct command, organized a defence at El Alamein, and finally stopped Rommel. However, in August, Churchill flew to Cairo, and substituted Alexander and Montgomery respectively as C.-in-C. and army commander. Montgomery blackened Auchinleck's reputation by suggesting that he planned further retreat if Rommel resumed serious attacks. Auchinleck ended his career as C.-in-C. of the Indian army. He refused a peerage, distressed by the partition of India.

R. A. C. Parker

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