Alexander Montgomerie

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Alexander, Harold Rupert Leofric George, 1st Earl Alexander (1891–1969). From an Anglo-Irish aristocratic family, Alexander fought throughout the First World War, imperturbably and courageously, commanding a brigade at the age of 27. In 1919 he led a Baltic-German unit against the Red Army. In 1939–40 he served in France, and, until 1942, in Britain. Then he took charge of the British retreat from Burma. In August 1942, he became commander-in-chief, Middle East, but left Montgomery a free hand with the 8th Army.

Polite, elegant, and tactful, Alexander's ‘easy smiling grace won all hearts’ (Churchill). In ground command of Anglo-American forces in Tunisia he ‘won the adulation of his American subordinates’ (Bradley) while successfully directing the capture of Tunis and 250,000 enemy troops. Soon, however, the Anglo-American campaign in Sicily exposed Alexander's inability to impose his orders on self-willed subordinates when Montgomery seized priority for his army over Patton's. In May 1944, when the break-out from the Anzio beachhead followed the allied breakthrough further south, the American general Mark Clark, out of vanity, went north to seize Rome rather than carrying out his orders to block the retreat of part of the German 10th Army. Perhaps Alexander's diffidence in enforcing his thoughts was because they came from his staff; ‘Alex’ himself had only ‘the average brain of an average English gentleman’ (Mountbatten). His style and amenability entranced civilian politicians, notably Churchill and Macmillan. On 12 December 1944 he became allied C.-in-C., Mediterranean, and field marshal, backdated to 4 June to restore his seniority over Montgomery. In 1946–52 he was the last non-Canadian governor-general of Canada, was given an earldom as Alexander of Tunis, and became minister of defence in Churchill's government until 1954.

R. A. C. Parker

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