Henry Maitland Wilson, 1st Baron Wilson: Wikis


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The Lord Wilson
5 September 1881 – 31 December 1964
Maitland Wilson, Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean. Italy, 30 April 1944
Nickname Jumbo
Place of birth London, England[1]
Place of death Chilton, Buckinghamshire, England[1]
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Rank Field Marshal
Battles/wars Second Boer War

World War I

World War II

Awards GCB (1944)[2]
GBE (1941)[3]
KCB (1940)[4]
CB (1937)[5]
DSO (1917)[6]
Mention in Despatches (1943)[7]
Military Cross, 1st Class (Greece) (1942)[8]
Virtuti Militari (Poland) (1944)[9]
Distinguished Service Medal (USA) (1946)[10]
Legion of Merit (Commander) (USA) (1946)[11]
Other work Constable of the Tower of London[12]

Field Marshal Henry Maitland Wilson, 1st Baron Wilson, GCB, GBE, DSO (5 September 1881 – 31 December 1964), also known as "Jumbo" Wilson, saw active service in the Second Boer War and First World War, and became a senior British general in the Middle East and Mediterranean during the Second World War. Described as "sound but not spectacular"[13] he enjoyed the confidence of Winston Churchill.[14]


Early life and military service

Wilson was the eldest son of the Suffolk landowner Capt Arthur Maitland Wilson, and his wife, Harriet Kingscote, a descendant of the 1st Earl Howe. Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Fuller Maitland Wilson (1859–1941), who commanded XII Corps during World War I, was his uncle. Wilson was educated at Eton College and after attending Sandhurst was commissioned into the Rifle Brigade as a 2nd lieutenant in March 1900,[15] and served in South Africa in the Second Boer War, for which he was awarded the Queen's and King's South Africa Medal each with two clasps.

Promoted captain in 1908 he served in Ireland, and in 1911 became Adjutant of the Oxford OTC.[16] In October 1914 he was appointed Brigade Major of 48th Brigade in 16th Irish division, with which he was sent to France in December 1915. His capabilities as a staff officer led to him being moved to become GSO 2 of the 41st Division on the Somme and of the XIX Corps at Passchendaele. In October 1917 he was appointed GSO 1 of the New Zealand Division. For his war service he was awarded the DSO in 1917 and was thrice mentioned in dispatches.

After being hand-picked for the first post-war staff course at Camberley, and a spell at Sandhurst, he returned to his own regiment. He then spent 3 years as chief umpire to the second division under General Philip Chetwode which greatly progressed his professional development. Next he took command of his regiment's first battalion and spent three years on the North-West Frontier. Here he spent time cultivating the tribesmen as well indulging his enjoyment of field sports.

Returning in the 1930s to be an instructor at Camberley, he had some periods on half pay. He was involved with the development of motorised infantry working with armoured forces, which led to the concept of the motor battalion.

Second World War


Egypt (1939 – 1941)

In June 1939, Wilson was appointed General Officer Commanding (GOC) British Troops in Egypt, and he was also responsible for giving military advice for a range of countries from Abyssinia to the Persian Gulf. He made his HQ in Cairo and undertook successful negotiations with the Egyptian government at their summer quarters in Alexandria. The Treaty of 1936 called for the Egyptian army to fight under British command in the event of war and to supplement the limited force then at his disposal — an armoured division then being formed (later to be the 7th Armoured Division) and eight British battalions. He concentrated his defensive forces at Mersa Matruh some 100 miles from the border with Libya.

Early in August, General Archibald Wavell was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East Command, and he sent reinforcements which had been sought by Wilson, initially the Indian 4th Infantry Division and advanced elements of 6th Australian Division[17] and, as the build up at Mersa Matruh continued, Richard O'Connor and his staff at 7th Infantry Division in Palestine were moved to Egypt to reinforce Wilson's command structure there. O'Connor's HQ, initially designated British 6th Infantry Division, was activated in November and became responsible for the troops at Mersa Matruh. It was redesignated Western Desert Force in June 1940.

When the war started, both Egypt and Italy unexpectedly declared non-belligerency. With fierce radio propaganda in the winter of 1939 the Germans sought to turn the Egyptians against the British. Wilson was responsible for securing the continued cooperation of the Egyptian leaders with his defensive build-up as he concentrated on building roads to supply his forward positions.

On 10 June 1940, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini declared war. Immediately Wilson's forces invaded Libya. However, their advance was reversed when on 17 June France sought an armistice and the Italians where able to move their forces from the Tunisian border in the West and reinforce with 4 divisions those that opposed Wilson in the East. The Italian forces invaded Egypt in September 1940, and advanced some 60 miles (97 km) to occupy Sidi Barrani. Wilson was facing very superior forces. He had 31,000 troops to the Italians' 80,000, 120 tanks against 275, and 120 artillery pieces against 250. He realised that the situation was one where the traditional text books would not provide a solution. As with other 1940s commanders he had been well-schooled in the strategy of the campaigns of Lee and Stonewall Jackson in Virginia, and with his field commanders, in particular O'Connor, and in thorough secrecy, he planned to disrupt the advance of the superior forces by attacking their extended lines at the right spots. After a conference with Eden and Wavell in October and rejecting Wavell's suggestion for a two-pronged attack, Wilson launched Operation Compass on 7 December 1940. The strategy was outstandingly successful and very quickly the Italian forces were cut in half.

Wilson oversaw the first stages of the campaign during which the British Army secured its first field victories of the war and advanced to the border with Libya. Wilson was able to deploy highly mobile motorised infantry in conjunction with armour which he had helped develop in the 1930s. This first land success was used by Churchill to boost home morale, and Wilson was awarded the K.C.B.

After the capture of Tobruk, Wilson was recalled to Cairo where he was offered and accepted the position of Military Governor of Cyrenaica. On 22 February 1941 within a few days of taking up this duty, he met with Wavell, Eden and Dill who were seeking a senior commander to lead reinforcements to Greece.

While Operation Compass continued successfully in 1941 and resulted in the complete defeat of the Italian Army in North Africa, Wilson, who was already highly regarded by his WWI regimental colleague and now Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, had also won the confidence of Churchill himself. In a broadcast Churchill said, "General Wilson, who commands the Army of the Nile, was reputed to be one of our finest tacticians, and few will now deny him that quality."

Greece (April 1941)

Wilson was appointed to lead a Commonwealth expeditionary force of two infantry divisions and an armoured brigade to help Greece resist Italy and the subsequent German invasion in April 1941. Although the Allied forces were hopelessly inadequate Churchill's War Cabinet had thought it important to provide support for the only country outside the Commonwealth which was resisting the Axis advance. Unsurprisingly, Wilson was forced to make a tactical withdrawal to Crete.

Syria, Iraq and Palestine (1941 – 1943)

In May 1941, on his return from Greece, Wilson was appointed GOC Palestine and Trans Jordan and oversaw the successful Syria-Lebanon campaign, in which predominantly Australian, British, Indian, and Free French forces overcame Vichy French forces in fierce fighting. He was made a GBE in March and promoted to full General in May. In October 1941 he took over command of the Ninth Army in Syria and Palestine and was appointed to the honourary title of Aide-de-Camp General to the King.[18]

As a solid, reliable and popular veteran officer, Wilson was Winston Churchill's choice to succeed General Sir Claude Auchinleck as commander of the Eighth Army in August 1942. However, at the urging of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Sir Alan Brooke, General Sir Bernard Montgomery was appointed instead (following Strafer Gott's death). Instead, Wilson was appointed to command the newly created independent Persia and Iraq Command, which included the Tenth Army under Quinan. This command, which had been part of Middle East Command was created when it appeared that Germany, following successes in southern Russia, might invade Persia (Iran).[nb 1]

Wilson with Churchill and Eisenhower in Italy, 25 December 1943. Churchill was recovering from pneumonia. "Jumbo" Wilson's bulk is obvious.

C-in-C Middle East (1943)

In February 1943, after Montgomery's success at Alamein and the expulsion of Axis forces from North Africa, Wilson was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East. The Middle East was by this time comparatively removed from the main centres of fighting. However, on orders from London to create a diversion during the fighting in Italy, in September 1943 he organised an unsuccessful attempt to occupy the small Greek islands of Kos, Leros and Samos. The British forces suffered large losses to German air attacks and subsequent landings, and the campaign was greatly criticised in Britain.

Supreme Allied Commander Mediterranean (1944)

Wilson succeeded Dwight D. "Ike" Eisenhower at Allied Forces Headquarters (AFHQ) as the Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean on 8 January 1944. As such he exercised strategic control over the campaign in Italy. He strongly advocated the invasion of Germany via the Danube plain, but this did not take place when the armies in Italy were weakened to support other theatres of war.

Wilson with Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver Leese, 30 April 1944

A first person account of this period can be found in To War With Whitacker, the Wartime Diaries of the Countess of Ranfurly, who served as Wilson's personal secretary for two and a half years. ISBN 0 7493 1954 2

Washington Mission (1945 – 1947)

In December 1944, following the death of Field Marshal Sir John Dill, Wilson was relieved as Supreme Commander, promoted field marshal[20] and sent to Washington to be Chief of the British Joint Staff Mission, a post he took up in January 1945. He was succeeded in the Mediterranean by Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander. Wilson continued to serve as head of the British Joint Staff Mission until 1947, to the satisfaction of Britain and the United States. President Truman awarded him the Distinguished Service Medal in November 1945.

One of Wilson's most secret duties was as the British military representative on the Combined Policy Committee which dealt with the development, production and testing of the atom bomb. In Wilson's mind it was clear that the use of the bomb to bring the war in Japan to an end, would avoid the loss of large numbers of both allied and Japanese lives by avoiding a drawn-out conflict on the Japanese mainland.

When Wilson departed Washington on 22 April 1947, his old friend "Ike" came to see him off at the station. In September 1948 Eisenhower wrote the foreword to Wilson's book of wartime memoirs.

Post war

In January 1946 he was appointed ADC to the King and was then created Baron Wilson, of Libya and of Stowlangtoft in the County of Suffolk[21]. From 1955 to 1960 he was Constable of the Tower of London. Wilson had married Hester Wykeham in 1914 and had one son and a daughter. The son, Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Maitland Wilson, accompanied his father in the Middle East during WWII, as an intelligence officer. The son's memoirs, Where the Nazis Came, provide anecdotes and descriptions of important events in his father's WWII service. Never a wealthy man, when Field Marshal Lord Wilson died his estate was probated at 2,952 pounds sterling. His only son Patrick succeeded him in the barony.


  1. ^ The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Alan Brooke, had been reluctant to make this appointment because he thought Wilson was too old and tired for the job. However, he later wrote "...I was totally wrong as I soon discovered, and he was still capable of giving the most valuable service. An exceptionally clear brain, a strong personality and an imperturbable character."[19]
  1. ^ a b "Encyclopaedia Britannica". http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/644825/Henry-Maitland-Wilson-1st-Baron-Wilson-of-Libya-and-of-Stowlangtoft. Retrieved 2008-01-08.  
  2. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36544, p. 2567, 1944-06-08. Retrieved on 2009-01-08.
  3. ^ London Gazette: no. 35094, p. 1304, 1941-03-04. Retrieved on 2009-01-08.
  4. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34893, p. 4244, 1940-07-11. Retrieved on 2009-01-08.
  5. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34365, p. 690, 1937-01-29. Retrieved on 2009-01-08.
  6. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29886, pp. 19–28, 1917-01-01. Retrieved on 2009-01-08.
  7. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36065, p. 2853, 1943-06-22. Retrieved on 2009-01-08.
  8. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35519, p. 1595, 1942-04-07. Retrieved on 2008-08-06.
  9. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36828, p. 5616, 1944-12-05. Retrieved on 2008-12-02.
  10. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37442, p. 651, 1946-01-24. Retrieved on 2009-01-08.
  11. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37521, p. 1726, 1946-04-02. Retrieved on 2008-08-07.
  12. ^ London Gazette: no. 40557, p. 4559,. Retrieved on 2008-08-07.
  13. ^ Mead (2007), p. 496
  14. ^ Mead (2007), pp. 495–496
  15. ^ London Gazette: no. 27172, p. 1632, 1900-03-09. Retrieved on 2009-01-08.
  16. ^ London Gazette: no. 28544, p. 7707, 1911-10-24. Retrieved on 2009-01-08.
  17. ^ Mead (2007), p. 489
  18. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36544, p. 6981, 1941-12-05. Retrieved on 2009-01-08.
  19. ^ Alanbrooke diaries, postscript to entry of 21 August 1942
  20. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36861, p. 5936, 1944-12-29. Retrieved on 2009-01-08.
  21. ^ London Gazette: no. 37498, p. 1339,. Retrieved on 2008-08-07.


  • Alanbrooke, Field Marshal Lord (edited by Alex Danchev and Daniel Todman) (2001). War Diaries 1939-1945. Phoenix Press. ISBN 1-84212-526-5.  
  • Dewar, Michael: "Wilson" in Keegan, John (ed.): Churchill's Generals pub: Weidenfeld & Nicolson ISBN 0-8021-1309-5 (1991)
  • Gun, W.T.J.: A Fighting Ancestry. Letter in The Times (16 April 1941, p. 5)
  • Hackett, J.W: Wilson, Henry Maitland in Dictionary of National Biography (1985)
  • Houterman, Hans; Koppes, Jeroen. "World War II unit histories and officers". http://www.unithistories.com/default.asp. Retrieved 2009-02-18.  
  • Mead, Richard (2007). Churchill's Lions: A biographical guide to the key British generals of World War II. Stroud (UK): Spellmount. pp. 544 pages. ISBN 978-1-86227-431-0.  
  • Obituary in The Times (1 January 1965)
  • "One Of Our Finest Tacticians" in The Times (12 April 1941, p. 3)
  • "Persia-Iraq command" in The Times (25 August 1942)
  • Wilson, Henry Maitland: Eight Years Overseas, 1939 - 1947 pub: Hutchinson (1948)
  • Wilson, Patrick Maitland: Where the Nazis Came ISBN 1-904244-23-8 (2002)
Military offices
Preceded by
GOC-in-C British Troops in Egypt
June 1939 - February 1941
Succeeded by
Lieutenant-General Richard O'Connor
Preceded by
new creation
Military Governor and GOC-in-C of Cyrenaica
February 1941
Succeeded by
Lieutenant-General Philip Neame
Preceded by
new creation
GOC-in-C Commonwealth expeditionary force to Greece
April 1941 - 1941
Succeeded by
unit disbanded
Preceded by
Lieutenant-General Philip Neame
GOC Palestine and Trans-Jordan
7 May 1941 - 19 October 1941
Succeeded by
unit disbanded
Preceded by
new creation
GOC British Ninth Army
20 October 1941 - 14 September 1942
Succeeded by
Lieutenant-General Sir William George Holmes
Preceded by
new creation
C-in-C Persia and Iraq Command
15 September 1942 - 18 February 1943
Succeeded by
Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Pownall
Preceded by
Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander
C-in-C Middle East
February 1943 - January 1944
Succeeded by
Preceded by
General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Supreme Allied Commander Mediterranean Theatre
January 1944 - December 1944
Succeeded by
Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander
Preceded by
Field Marshal Sir John Dill
Chief of the British Joint Staff Mission
to Washington DC

December 1944 - 1947
Succeeded by
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Viscount Alanbrooke
Constable of the Tower of London
1955 – 1960
Succeeded by
Earl Alexander
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New Creation
Baron Wilson
Succeeded by
Patrick Maitland Wilson


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