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Sir Frederick Arthur Montague Browning
20 October 1896(1896-10-20) – 14 March 1965 (aged 68)
Browning as Commander, Airborne Corps
Nickname Boy[1]
Place of birth Kensington
Place of death Cornwall
Service/branch British Army
Rank Lieutenant General
Commands held First Allied Airborne Army
I Airborne Corps
1st Airborne Division
Battles/wars World War I

World War II

Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Companion of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order
Relations children Tessa, Flavia and Kits

Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Arthur Montague Browning GCVO, KBE, CB, DSO (20 December 1896 – 14 March 1965) was a British military officer and Olympic competitor. His most famous role was as the deputy commander of First Allied Airborne Army in Operation Market Garden. He was known affectionately as "Boy" Browning in the Army, and "Tommy" to his family and friends.[2] He was also the husband of author Daphne du Maurier.


World War I

His military career began in World War I, for service in which he received the DSO and Croix de Guerre in 1917. During the war he met Winston Churchill, who many years later placed him in command of the 1st Airborne Division during the Second World War.

Inter-War Period

He became a captain in 1920, and a major in 1928.

He spent a while as Adjutant at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, where he was the first Adjutant, during the Sovereign's Parade of 1926, to ride his horse "The Vicar" up the steps of Old College and to dismount in the Grand Entrance. There is no satisfactory explanation for why he did it, but it is a tradition which endures to this day. (A ramp has to be provided for the horse to return, since horses have great difficulty going down steps).[3]

At the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland he was a member of the British bobsleigh team. His team Great Britain II finished tenth in the five man competition. He was also a keen sailor in his boat, Ygdrasil. He married Daphne du Maurier in 1932 when Daphne was 25, and he a 35-year old major in the Grenadier Guards stationed in Frimley.[4] They settled at the Menabilly House in Fowey Harbour, Cornwall.

Promotion to lieutenant-colonel was followed by appointment as the commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards. He held that position until about the time of the outbreak of World War II, when he became Commandant of the Small Arms School as a Brigadier.

World War II

In 1940, he was given command of the 24th Guards Brigade. During 1941 Churchill, who had by then become Prime Minister, appointed him as commander of the 1st Airborne Division. In this new role he was instrumental in parachutists adopting the maroon beret, and assigned an artist, Major Edward Seago, to design The Parachute Regiment's now famous emblem of the warrior Bellerophon riding Pegasus, the winged horse. However Browning also "designed his own uniform, made of barathea with a false Uhlan-style front, incorporating a zip opening at the neck to reveal regulation shirt and tie, worn with medal ribbons, collar patches, and rank badges, capped off with grey kid gloves, and a highly polished Guards 'Sam Browne' belt and swagger stick." all of which were worn in the field, including during Operation Market Garden.[5]

He held that position through the unit's fighting in North Africa. Relinquishing command of the division on 6 May 1943, he was promoted lieutenant general in December of that year and assigned to HQ Airborne Forces in Britain. On 16 April 1944 he became commander of I Airborne Corps. The corps became part of the First Allied Airborne Army, commanded by US Lieutenant-General Lewis H Brereton, when it was organized in August 1944. While retaining command of the British airborne corps, Browning also became Deputy Commander of the Army despite poor relationship with Brereton and being disliked by many American officers, including Ridgeway. During preparations for one of many cancelled operations, Linnete II, his disagreement with Brereton caused him to threaten resignation, which, due to differences in military culture, Brereton regarded as tantamount to disobeying an order.

Gen. Sosabowski (left) with Gen. Browning.

I Airborne Corps commanded the airborne forces committed during Operation Market Garden. Browning landed with a tactical headquarters near Nijmegen but found it difficult to command the troops due to communications failures and their geographical separation. His use of 38 aircraft to move his corps headquarters on the first lift has been criticised[6][7]; the number of combat troops on the first lift was already restricted due to a decision not to make two drops on the first day. The US General James M. Gavin, commanding the US 82nd Airborne Division, was also highly critical of Browning, writing in his diary on 6 September 1944 that he "...unquestionably lacks the standing, influence and judgment that comes from a proper troop experience....his staff was superficial...Why the British units fumble along...becomes more and more apparent. Their tops lack the knowhow, never do they get down into the dirt and learn the hard way."


Operation Market-Garden

The operation in many ways defined Browning's life and perhaps death. He and his large staff landed by gliders near Nijmegen, and established a field HQ co-located with that of the 82nd Airborne Division. However for much of the operation he had no contact with either the British 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem or the American 101st at Eindhoven. The situation was remedied after 20th September with a flight of four Spitfires from No. 16 Squadron flying drop-tanks from Evere outside Brussels to deliver messages from 21st Army Group HQ to the XXX Corps and 1st Airborne Army HQs DZ located at Nijmegen.[8]

After the battle Browning's critical evaluation of the contribution of Polish forces led to the removal of Polish Brigadier-General Stanisław Sosabowski as the commanding officer of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade. This is now seen as unjustified scapegoating of Sosabowski by the inner circle of British higher military ranks.[9] In 2006 the Dutch awarded Sosabowski the Bronze Lion, and the Polish 1st. Independent Parachute Brigade the Order of William, the oldest and the highest military honour of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Although Field Marshal Montgomery attached no blame to Browning for the failure of Operation Market Garden, he received no further promotion.

Post-war service and life

After serving as Admiral Lord Mountbatten's Chief of Staff in India[10] whose protégé he had been before the war, he became Commander-in-Chief of the South East Asia Command. His predecessor in that post, Lieutenant General Pownall, acerbically described Browning as "rather nervy and highly strung". Browning remained in South East Asia until the end of the war.

Post-War Period

His last major military post was as Military Secretary of the War Office, 1946-1948. From 1948 to 1952 he was Comptroller and Treasurer to Her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth Duchess of Edinburgh (later Queen Elizabeth II). His wife suggested in an interview that when appointed Comptroller of the Household at the Buckingham Palace, he "embarrassingly "fell in love with the Queen", and could not even enter a room where the Monarch was without going to pieces."[11]

Browing had been drinking since the war, but his drinking became chronic, and led to a severe nervous breakdown which forced his resignation from the position at the Palace. This caused him to increasingly retreat to the Menabilly House, but his alcoholism and subsequent erratic driving caused a local scandal. Du Maurier later accused him of taking a mistress in Fowey.[12]

From 1944 to 1962 he was Commodore of the Royal Fowey Yacht Club, and subsequently was elected its first Admiral while at the same time from 1952 to 1959 serving as the Treasurer to the Duke of Edinburgh. He was awarded a knighthood in 1946, with Daphne becoming Lady Browning. One of their daughters, Tessa, married David Bernard Montgomery, 2nd Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, son of Field Marshal Montgomery.

His cousin was the broadcaster and cricket commentator Brian Johnston.

Browning was appointed a CB in 1943. He was also Mentioned in Despatches, and awarded Legion of Merit in 1945. He was made a KBE in 1946. In 1953 he was made a KCVO, and was advanced to GCVO in 1959.

Browning died from a coronary.

Browning was portrayed by Dirk Bogarde in the film A Bridge Too Far based on the events of Operation Market Garden.

Styles and honours

  • Mr Frederick Browning (1896-1917)
  • Mr Frederick Browning DSO (1917-1943)
  • Mr Frederick Browning CB DSO (1943-1946)
  • Sir Frederick Browning KBE CB DSO (1946-1953)
  • Sir Frederick Browning KCVO KBE CB DSO (1953-1959)
  • Sir Frederick Browning GCVO KBE CB DSO (1959-1965)

External links


  1. ^ Mead, p. 84.
  2. ^ Michael Thornton, Daphne's terrible secret, Mail Online, 11 May 2007 [1]
  3. ^ Christopher Pugsley, Angela Holdsworth, ed. "Chapter 30 - The Sovereign's Parade". Sandhurst - A Tradition of Leadership. Third Millennium Publishing Ltd.. pp. 180. ISBN 1 903942 39 x.  
  4. ^ Michael Thornton, Daphne's terrible secret, Mail Online, 11 May 2007[2]
  5. ^ Lieutenant-General Frederick Arthur Montague Browning, Pegasus Archive [3]
  6. ^ Neillands, Robin (2006). The Battle for the Rhine 1944. London: Cassell Military Paperbacks. pp. 102, 105-107. ISBN 0-3043-6736-2.  
  7. ^ p.440, Murray & Millett
  8. ^ Taylor, 'Jimmy', H.J.S., Photographic Reconnaissance and Operation 'Market Garden', unpublished, 2003
  9. ^
  10. ^ Louis Allen, Transfer of power in Burma, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 1743-9329, Volume 13, Issue 2, 1985, Pages 185 – 194
  11. ^ Michael Thornton, Daphne's terrible secret, Mail Online, 11 May 2007[4]
  12. ^ Michael Thornton, Daphne's terrible secret, Mail Online, 11 May 2007[5]


  • Mead, Richard (2007). Churchill's Lions: A biographical guide to the key British generals of World War II. Stroud (UK): Spellmount. ISBN 978-1-86227-431-0.  
  • Murray, Williamson; Millett, Allan Reed (2000). A war to be won: fighting the Second World War. Cambridge Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674001633.  


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