Edmund Ironside, 1st Baron Ironside bigraphy, stories - British Army officer

Edmund Ironside, 1st Baron Ironside : biography

06 May 1880 - 22 September 1959

Field Marshal William Edmund Ironside, 1st Baron Ironside GCB, CMG, DSO, (6 May 1880 - 22 September 1959) was a British Army officer who served as Chief of the Imperial General Staff during the first year of the Second World War.

Ironside joined the Royal Artillery in 1899, and served throughout the Boer War, followed by a brief period spying on the German colonial forces in South-West Africa. Returning to regular duty, he served on the staff of a Regular Army division during the first two years of the First World War, before being appointed as the chief of staff to the newly raised 4th Canadian Division in 1916. In 1918 he was given command of a brigade on the Western Front, but was quickly promoted to command the Allied intervention force in northern Russia in 1919, then an Allied force occupying Turkey, and finally a British force in Persia in 1921. He was offered the post of the commander of British forces in Iraq, but was unable to take up the role due to injuries in a flying accident.

He returned to the Army as commandant of the Staff College, Camberley, where he became an advocate for the ideas of J. F. C. Fuller, a proponent of mechanisation. He later commanded a division, and military districts in both Britain and India, but his youth and his blunt approach limited his career prospects, and after being passed over for the role of Chief of the Imperial General Staff ('CIGS') in 1937 he became Governor of Gibraltar, a traditional staging post to retirement. He was recalled from "exile" in mid-1939, and appointed as Inspector-General of Overseas Forces, a role which led most observers to expect he would be given the command of the British Expeditionary Force on the outbreak of war.

However, after some political manoeuvering, Lord Gort was given this command, and Ironside appointed as the new CIGS. He himself believed that he was temperamentally unsuited to the job, but felt obliged to accept it. In early 1940 he argued heavily for Allied intervention in Scandinavia, but this plan was shelved at the last minute when the Finnish-Soviet Winter War ended. During the invasion of Norway and the Battle of France he played little part; his involvement in the latter was limited by a breakdown in relations between him and Gort. He was replaced as CIGS at the end of May, and given a role to which he was more suited; Commander-in-Chief Home Forces, responsible for anti-invasion defences and for commanding the Army in the event of German landings. However, he served less than two months in this role before being replaced. After this, Ironside was promoted to field-marshal and given a peerage, as Baron Ironside; he retired to Norfolk to write, and never again saw active service or held an official position.

Interwar period

After recovering from his injuries on half-pay, Ironside returned to active duty as commandant of the Staff College in May 1922. He spent a full four-year term there, running the college efficiently as well as publishing several articles and a book on the Battle of Tannenberg. Most importantly for his future career, he became the mentor of J. F. C. Fuller, who was appointed a lecturer at the College at the same time, and became a close acquaintance of Basil Liddell Hart. Fuller's views were deeply influential on Ironside, who became a supporter of reforming the Army as an élite armoured force with air support, and of forming a single central Ministry of Defence to control the services.Cairns (2004); Holden Reid (2009) He argued frequently over the need for faster modernisation and rearmament, and the problem of the 'old men' still filling the upper ranks of the army; in the end, he had to be reprimanded by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir George Milne.

After Camberley he was appointed to command 2nd Division, a post he held for two years with little effect or interest - he was frustrated by the task of training an infantry force with no modern equipment - and then sent to command the Meerut district, in India, in 1928. He enjoyed life in India, but found the military situation to be equally uninteresting; the equipment was old-fashioned, as were the regimental officers and the overall strategic plans. He was promoted to lieutenant-general in March 1931, and left for England in May, where he returned to half-pay with the notional sinecure of Lieutenant of the Tower of London. He was relieved from this bleakness by a posting to India as Quartermaster-General in 1933, where he travelled extensively, crossing the country to visit regiments and oversee the Indianisation process. For all this, however, it was the best of a bad job; he was still far from the War Office, and unable to make significant impact on the Army's preparation for a future war.

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