Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, November 2, 2015

Evaluating Allenby

Field Marshal Edmund Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby

"He has been everywhere and is the most energetic commander I have yet come across…He is just the kind of man we wanted here."
Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Chauvel describing Allenby’s impact in Palestine.

Claim to fame: Led the Egyptian Expeditionary Force to victory in Palestine and Syria in 1917 and 1918. He successfully pioneered the combined use of infantry, cavalry, and aeroplanes at the Battle of Megiddo.

Nickname: "The Bull"

Allenby (1861–1936) was commissioned into the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons in 1881, serving in South Africa before returning to Britain to attend Staff College. By 1898 he was a brigade-major with the 3rd Cavalry Brigade. During the Boer War (1899–1902) he served with General French’s Cavalry Division, earning himself a reputation as a bold and resourceful commander, particularly during the anti-guerrilla operations.

Allenby returned home in 1902 to command the 5th Royal Irish Lancers. Promoted to brigadier-general, Allenby assumed command of the 4th Cavalry Brigade in 1905. In 1909 he was promoted to major-general and appointed Inspector-General of Cavalry. During this period he encouraged a re-assessment of the cavalry’s role in modern warfare, steering a path between the traditionalists and those who favored the use of mounted infantry.

During World War One Allenby commanded the British Expeditionary Force’s Cavalry Division, winning praise for his leadership during the retreat from Mons (1914). He later commanded the Cavalry Corps and in 1915 led the 5th Corps during the 2nd Battle of Ypres (April–May 1915). In October 1915 he took charge of the 3rd Army. Like many other generals, Allenby struggled to come to terms with the new technological warfare. At Arras (April–May 1917), his forces failed to exploit a breakthrough and he was replaced by General Byng, although his removal and transfer owed much to his feud with Field Marshal Haig, whose judgements he had ceased to trust.

Allenby's Most Memorable Moment —
Entering Jerusalem at the Jaffa Gate, 11 December 1917

Allenby took command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) in June 1917 and set about improving its organization, efficiency, and discipline. He also embarked on morale-boosting visits to the front, something his predecessor had neglected. Allenby also encouraged irregular warfare, increasing support for Colonel T. E. Lawrence’s revolt. These changes revitalized the campaign. Victory during the 3rd Battle of Gaza (October–November 1917) was followed by the capture of Jerusalem (December 1917), an event that made him a national hero. The need to reinforce the Western Front during the German Spring Offensive meant that Allenby lacked the troops necessary to push on, but in August 1918 enough men had arrived to resume the offensive. Victory at Megiddo (September 1918) secured the decisive breakthrough and the EEF quickly advanced, taking Damascus and Aleppo, before the Turks sued for peace in October 1918.

Made a field marshal in 1919, he remained in the Middle East as High Commissioner for Egypt and Sudan until 1925. Allenby was often abrupt with his subordinates and a stickler for presentation and discipline, traits that combined with his physical stature led people to nickname him "The Bull." Nevertheless, he can be regarded as one of the most successful commanders of the war, using strategies in Palestine that he developed from his experiences in South Africa and on the Western Front. His leadership at Megiddo in particular, with its skillful series of maneuvers and use of aeroplanes, artillery, infantry, and cavalry, is considered by many to be a forerunner of the German Blitzkrieg tactics of 1939–40.

Sources:  National Army Museum, London, and Tony Langley's Collection

1 comment:

  1. Allenby pioneered the change from the reliance on the arme blanche to the role of cavalry as Mounted Infantry. he was successful in transitioning from the cavalry carbine to the rifle. He balanced this with recognition that the saber and lance still were a viable weapon for cavalry action. He came to recognize that trench warfare no longer allowed cavalry to be used in its historic role, exploit breakthroughs, raids, and pursuit. Haig's insistence that all offensives provide opportunity to allow the cavalry to get through was something Allenby believed no longer possible in France. Palestine provided the opportunity for cavalry to operate in its traditional role and his skill in combining all arms assault at Megiddo proved the concept.