Fatboy Coxy wrote:
I still vote for Messervy, as much for his wide experience of level of command, enemy he faced, and whether his side was in the acendancy or not.
I can't agree, Messervy destroyed the 7th Armoured Division through his incompetency. He threw away overwhelming superiority by feeding tanks into battle in penny packets.
For a Divisional Commander, I want to propose Leslie Morshead, Commander of the 9th Australian Division. At Tobruk he took green (raw) troops and fashioned them into elite troops. What is also often overlooked is that at Tobruk, he and his men were in an unfamiliar place with very little time to organise a defence.
He was dubbed by the German propaganda broadcaster, Lord Haw Haw, 'Ali Baba Morshead and his 40,000 thieves'. Lord Haw Haw also gave those at Tobruk their most famous nickname, the 'Rats of Tobruk', by broadcasting that they were caught like 'rats in a trap'.
He was the first Allied General to defeat Blitzkrieg and for the bulk of 1941, until Crusader, the only successful general in the Western Desert against the Afrika Korp.
In 1942 at the Second Battle of El Alamein, the 9th Australian Division was given the hardest role in the Battle, attacking along the coast road. He proved himself more than equal to the task, proving himself a master of attack and defence against the Afrika Korp. His Division's "crumbling attack" drawing in the bulk of the Afrika Korp was crucial to the success of the Battle.
At one point he was Acting Commander of XXX Corp but the British Army did not promote colonial officers especially "part time soldiers" and the inexperienced British General Leese was brought out from Britian to command XXX Corp. Leese was "junior" to Morshead and had never commanded a Division in battle. The "Trade Union of British Generals" always protected their own. One legitimate complaint about the British is they were slow to sack incompetent Generals and always looked after their own interests.
NB It was General Thomas Blamey, commanding Australians in the Desert who commented on "the Bloody Trade Union of British Generals" after yet another fiasco that was being swept under the carpet.
Later Morshead commanded the Australian 2nd Corps in New Guinea, quickly defeating a major Japanese attack at Finschhafen. Later he took command of the the 2nd Army. He stepped down from that role as it was a non combat command and took charge of the 1st Australian Corp for the battles in Borneo.
Interestingly, yet again the British Army tried to impose a British general for the role, again with no combat experience against the Japanese, it was rejected. If the Atomic Bomb had not happened, Borneo would have been a springboard for Singapore. Hence the British Army meddling.
Morshead gave a lecture in 1947 on Rommel, and described "Blitzkrieg" as "a very limited tactical manoeuvre".
He is largely unknown outside Australia, indeed his private papers were not published (and only then partially) till 2006 in the book "Tobruk" by Peter Fitzsimmons.
The British do not like to be shown their failings and the Americans sadly rarely look beyond their own history.
just for some fun a poem.
ALI BABA MORSHEAD
Jerry had us on the run, the news was far from hot,
He had his feet in Egypt and the Sphinx was on the spot,
So Auchinleck despondent sent signals out in sheaves
To Ali Baba Morshead and his twenty thousand thieves.
So Leslie called his officers and whispered in their ears,
And his message went to Auchy "Have a spot and drown your fears.
We'll make that blinking Rommel think he's got the desert heaves,
With Ali Baba Moorshead and his twenty thousand thieves."
So we travelled down from Syria by tank and truck and car,
Leaving Tel Aviv and Haifa and pleasant towns afar.
Both Cairo and Alex were left to grieve
For losing Ali Baba Moorshead and his twenty thousand thieves.
So we came back to the desert, well-known from days of yore,
And stopped the foe at Alamein close by the Meddy shore.
The Eyeties were pathetic, the Huns fell back like leaves
From Ali Baba Moorshead and his twenty thousand thieves.
Now Rommel's got a headache, his tanks can't take a trick,
His Afrik' Corps are not so hot and his air force makes us sick;
His dreams of looting Egypt are ditched and he is peeved
With Ali Baba Moorshead andhis twenty thousand thieves,
We have Kittyhawks and Hurricanes and bombers by the score,
Dropping loads on Jerry's bases and rushing back for more.
And it's sure that Rommel's stonkered, whatever plans he weaves
'Gainst Ali Baba Moorshead and his twenty thousand thieves.
Edited to fix my typos