- Posts: 676
- Joined: 26 Jul 2009 16:14
- Location: Essex, UK
The interwar period saw him in staff roles in British India, and he ended it as Commandant of the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.
He began the second world war as Deputy Chief of General Staff to the British Expeditionary Force, but only saw the phony war, leaving in Feb 1940 to take command of the 4th Indian Infantry Division in Egypt.
In August 1940 he was made General Officer Commanding British Forces in Palestine and Trans-Jordan in the acting rank of lieutenant-general, missing Operation Compass in that December
In February 1941 he was appointed General Officer Commanding & Military Governor of Cyrenaica. His HQ was fixed, in Benghazi, not mobile, as his force was expected to just guard the border, both the British and Italians exhausted from Operation Compass. All the veteran troops of his predecessor, Lt Gen Richard O’Conner were withdrawn back to Egypt, and he was given a very green and poor 2nd Armoured Div and the untried 9th Australian Division, which was short on transport.
Military intelligence believed the Italians to be totally demoralised, and while aware of a small German presence being sent to bolster them, it was understood to be merely a blocking force, aimed at stiffening the Italian defence.
Rommel was to be a complete surprise to the British, as well as to the German High Command, as he didn’t follow orders, and attacked in late March 1941. The British were routed, and only the Australians retreating to Tobruk and digging in to hold the port, stabilised the front. On the 6th April, while retreating to a new HQ site, Neame, along with Lt Gen O’ Conner, and Brigadier Combe, was captured by a German patrol.
In captivity, in Italy, he made a number of escape attempts, but it was only after the Italian Armistice in September 1943, he was able to successfully escape. Both O’Conner and Combe were given commands again, O’Conner as CO of VIII Corps in Normandy, and Combe as CO 2nd Armd Bde in Italy. Neame was given no further active command. Did the stain of March/April 1941 mark him down as a bad general, was he in poor health, and couldn’t take an active command after his release in 1943, or was it something else?