Harold Alexander

Harold Alexander

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Harold Alexander, the third son of the Earl of Caledon, was born in London on 10th December, 1891. After attending Harrow School (1904-08) he joined Sandhurst Military Academy. He graduated in 1911 and won a commission in the Irish Guards.

During the First World War Alexander fought on the Western Front. Wounded twice he won the Military Cross in 1915 and by the end of the war was brigadier of the 4th Guards Brigade.

In 1919 Alexander volunteered to lead the Baltic Landwehr, a brigade of ethnic Germans, against the Red Army during the Civil War. After successfully driving the communists from Latvia he returned to England where he became second in command of the Irish Guards.

Alexander served in Turkey and Gibraltar before attending the Staff College at Camberley and the Imperial Defense College. As a staff officer he went to at War Office and the Northern Command before being sent to India in 1934.

In 1937 Alexander was promoted to major general. At the age of 45 he was the youngest general in the British Army. In 1938 he was given command of the Ist Division and the following year he took them to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force.

In May 1940, General John Gort gave Alexander the task of planning the rear guard action that enabled the BEF to be evacuated from Dunkirk. With the help of RAF Fighter Command, Alexander achieved remarkable success during this retreat.

On arriving back in Britain Alexander was given command of coastal defences in Yorkshire until replacing Claude Auchinleck as head of the Southern Command.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of Japan into the war in December 1941, Alexander was sent to Burma. Unable to halt the advance of the Japanese Army Alexander decided to retreat to India.

Alexander served briefly under General Dwight Eisenhower in North Africa before taking command of British forces in Egypt. Working closely with General Bernard Montgomery, head of the 8th Army, General Erwin Rommel and the Deutsches Afrika Korps were defeated at El Alamein in November 1942.

In February 1943 Alexander was given command of the new 18th Army Group and after the North African campaign ended in Tunisia led the 15th Army Group in Sicily (July - August, 1943) and was Supreme Allied Commander in Italy (September, 1943 - May, 1945).

In the winter of 1943 General Albrecht Kesselring withdrew his forces to what became known as the Gustav Line on the Italian peninsula south of Rome. Organized along the Garigliano and Rapido rivers it included Monte Cassino, a hilltop site of a sixth-century Benedictine monastery. Defended by 15 German divisions the line was fortified with gun pits, concrete bunkers, turreted machine-gun emplacements, barbed-wire and minefields. In December 1943, the Allied suffered heavy loses while trying to capture Monte Cassino.

In January 1944, Alexander ordered a new Cassino offensive combined with an amphibious operation at Anzio, a small port on the west coast of Italy. The main objective of the operation was to cut the communication lines of the German 10th Army and force withdrawal from the Gustav Line.

On 12th February the exhausted US Army at Cassino were replaced by the New Zealand Corps. Alexander now decided to use these fresh troops in another attempt to capture Cassino. General Bernard Freyberg, who was in charge of the infantry attack, asked for the monastery be bombed. Despite claims by troops on the front-line that no fire had come from the monastery, Alexander agreed and it was destroyed by the United States Air Force on 15th February, 1944.

Once the monastery had been bombed, the German Army moved into the ruins. As Basil Liddell Hart pointed out later in his book The Other Side of the Hill the bombing "turned out entirely to the tactical benefit of the Germans. For after that they felt free to occupy the ruins, and the rubble provided mud better defensive cover than the monastery would have been before its destruction. As anyone with experience of street-fighting knows, it is only when buildings are demolished that they are converted from mousetraps into bastions of defence."

After the bombing the Germans were able to halt several attempts to capture Monte Cassino. It was not until troops led by General Wladyslaw Anders (Polish Corps) and General Alphonse Juin (French Corps) that the monastery was taken on 18th May, 1944.

After the Second World War Alexander was appointed governor general of Canada (1946-1952). Granted the title the Earl of Tunis, in 1952 Winston Churchill appointed Alexander as his Minister of Defence. He did not enjoy his experience of politics and resigned from office in 1954. He published a military autobiography, Memoirs: 1940-1945 in 1961.

Harold Alexander died on 16th June, 1969.

At Charleville, on 24 May, when the B.E.F. was absolutely ripe for the plucking, Hitler informed his astonished generals that Britain was 'indispensable' to the world and that he had therefore resolved to respect her integrity and, if possible, ally himself with her. Perhaps a less fanciful explanation of Hitler's attitude is supplied by Ribbentrop's representative at the Fuhrer's headquarters, who has left on record the comment: "Hitler personally intervened to allow the British to escape. He was convinced that to destroy their army would be to force them to fight to the bitter end."

On the military side the facts are clearer. On 23 May Field-Marshal von Rundstedt, commanding Army Group A, halted General Guderian's XIX Army Corps when two of its panzer divisions were heading for Dunkirk, not twenty miles distant and with little or no opposition ahead. The British counter-attack at Arras on 21 May, though undertaken by no more than two mixed columns, each comprising a tank battalion, an infantry battalion, a field battery, an anti-tank battery, and a machine-gun company, had caused him some concern. He therefore called the halt in order to "allow the situation to clarify itself and keep our forces concentrated". The panzers had just reached the Channel, and the success of this British counterattack engendered the fear of a larger operation that would cut them off from their supporting infantry. The next morning he received a visit from the Fuhrer, who confirmed the stop order. The panzers were not to be risked in a possibly flooded area but preserved for future operations-presumably against the French Army. On the other hand, the Luftwaffe's 'field of action' was not to be restricted.

Actually, on the available evidence, there can be little doubt that it was at the particular instance of the Luftwaffe's commander-in-chief, Field-Marshal Goering, that in the upshot the B.E.F. Was "left to the Luftwaffe". Guderian was to write, bitterly, of the first day of the evacuation, 26 May: "We watched the Luftwaffe attack. We saw also the armada of great and little ships, by means of which the British were evacuating their forces." Guderian's bitterness was shared by the whole of the German Army High Command.

It was clear that the retention of Rangoon was impossible with the forces at my disposal, dispersed as they were and with half of them already encircled. The day after my arrival I therefore ordered the evacuation to begin at daylight the following morning, and the demolition of the port and its installations to be carried out thereafter as quickly as possible. I could not save Rangoon but I could save the Army, with luck. The loss of our base would be a most serious matter, as we should have to depend on the scattered stores and dumps spread about in central and northern Burma. When these were used up, the Army would be crippled unless supplies could be sent in over the mountains from India; but, apart from a few mule tracks, communication with India was non-existent. It seemed that we must do the best with what we had. With Chinese assistance-however doubtful-we should be able at least to make the Japanese advance into Burma slow and costly. Such were the thoughts in my mind when I ordered the destruction and evacuation of Rangoon.

My first step in restoring morale, therefore, was to lay down the firm principle, to be made known to all ranks, that no further withdrawal was contemplated and that we would fight the coming battle on the ground on which we stood. General Montgomery fully concurred in this policy, and communicated it to the Eighth Army H.Q. staff at a meeting held on the second evening of his arrival; and it went out to him as a written directive when I formally took over the Middle East command.

There is no doubt at all that Montgomery, during his address, gave brilliant emphasis to the agreed policy. He informed his audience that he had ordered all withdrawal plans to be burnt, that the defence of the Delta meant nothing to him, that all resources earmarked to that end were to be used to strengthen the Eighth Army.

At Alamein Rommel was utterly defeated but not annihilated: Alamein was a decisive victory but not a complete one. It is easy to look back after eighteen years and suggest that the Afrika Korps could have been destroyed by a more vigorous exploitation after the breakthrough, but let us remember the realities of the time.

Monty had his first big command. He was new to the desert. He was fighting a great battlefield tactician in Rommel, whose troops were seasoned warriors: he and they had won some remarkable victories; whereas the Eighth Army had only recently been reformed and given the material to take on the Axis at better odds; many of our fresh reinforcements were new to desert conditions; and although our Intelligence was good we couldn't know accurately what punch the Germans were still nursing.

Montgomery is a first-class trainer and leader of troops on the battlefield, with a fine tactical sense. He knows how to win the loyalty of his men and has a great flair for raising morale. He rightly boasted that, after the battle of Alamein, he never suffered a defeat; and the truth is that he never intended to run the risk of a defeat; that is one reason why he was cautious and reluctant to take chances. There is, however, much to be said for his attitude when we consider that, up to October 1942, we had not won a single major battle since the start of the war - except Archie Wavell's operations against the Italians and some local victories against the Axis forces in the Western Desert.

Yet I can't disguise that he was not an easy man to deal with; for example, administrative orders issued by my staff were sometimes objected to - in other words Monty wanted to have complete independence of command and to do what he liked. Still, no serious difficulties arose over these very minor disturbances, he was always reasonable when tackled.

Many of the soldiers I talked to had taken part in victorious advances which had led them to Benghazi and beyond, and had then been pushed back: for months, of course, the desert campaign had been a see-saw between the Eighth Army and the Afrika Korps. And the final result of this contest of arms, when I arrived in Cairo, was, as I have said, that we were back on the final ditch of resistance.

During these conversations I detected, not unexpectedly, a belief that Field-Marshal Rommel, who had commanded the German forces in Africa since their first arrival in February 1941, was a wizard of the battlefield: his publicity build-up had been enormous. There is no question that the Field-Marshal was a most able battle commander and a fine tactician for an independent force like the Afrika Korps, but it was hardly necessary to attribute to him preternatural gifts in order to explain his successes.

Incidentally, he was a very chivalrous enemy. I am told that when he took wounded prisoners he would go round the hospitals and praise them for having put up a good show, thereby sustaining and extending, no doubt, the Rommel legend.

Sicily was the first large-scale amphibious operation against enemy-held beaches in the second world war. It was, therefore, without any practical experience that the planners began their task. Apart from the many assault problems to be solved, such as beach gradients, tides, hostile defensive positions, strength and location of German and Italian forces, it was obviously essential for us to have a port or ports through which to supply the troops fighting inland.

There were four good ports with the necessary capacity; Messina, Catania, Syracuse and Palermo. Messina was heavily guarded by fixed defences and beyond the range of our fighters. Catania was only just within fighter cover, and was also heavily defended and under the fighter umbrella of the Luftwaffe based on the Catania group of airfields, within close striking distance of the port. Syracuse and Palermo were both within our fighter cover and not so heavily defended.

They were two completely contrasted military characters; the one impatient of inaction, the other unwilling to commit himself to active operations unless he could clearly see their purpose. On one of my visits to the American head-

quarters, I was fascinated to hear this characteristic exchange:

Patton: Why are we sitting down doing nothing? We must do something!

Bradley: Wait a minute, George! What do you propose we do?

Patton: Anything rather than just sit on our backsides!

Both were good soldiers. Patton was a thruster, prepared to take any risks; Bradley, as I have indicated, was more cautious. Patton should have lived during the Napoleonic wars - he would have been a splendid Marshal under Napoleon.

In spite of all his bravura and toughness and terrific drive General George Patton was a very emotional man. He loved his men and they loved him. I have been with him at the front when he was greeted with demonstrations of affection by his soldiers, and there were - as I saw for myself - tears running down his cheeks.

An historical postscript can now be added to the much discussed question of the destruction of the historic Benedictine Monastery on Monte Cassino as a preliminary step in the Allied offensive there in February. The task was carried out by a large force of American bombers and supporting artillery. According to the announcements of the Allied Command at the time this destruction was ordered because the Monastery, which dominated the approaches to the town, had been "occupied and fortified" by the Germans. These statements were repeated in Field-Marshal Sir H. Maitland Wilson's report published in 1946 - which seemed strange in view of earlier testimony from the Vatican and the Abbot himself that the Germans had avoided trespassing on the Monastery, despite the tactical disadvantage which this involved for them.

The irony of the bombing was, as both Senger and Vietinghoff remarked, that it turned out entirely to the tactical benefit of the Germans. For after that they felt free to occupy the ruins, and the rubble provided mud better defensive cover than the Monastery would have been before its destruction. "As anyone with experience of street-fighting knows, it is only when buildings are demolished that they are converted from mouse-traps into bastions of defence." Batteries posted and concealed in the ruins were able to enfilade and break up the subsequent British attempts to drive through to the town of Cassino.

The battle for Cassino-or rather the series of battles for Cassino - began on 17 January 1944, when X Corps attacked across the Garigliano. On 20 January, United States II Corps attacked across the Rapido, but this blow failed and X Corps, after meeting with some initial success, were checked by heavy counter-attacks. One more attack began on 16 February, and it was this assault that was preceded by the destruction of the monastery by bombing and artillery fire. But Cassino town and the monastery were not to be captured until 18 May, when the Poles raised the red and white standard with the white eagle over the ruins of the monastery.

Till the February bombardment, the great Benedictine monastery had been spared deliberately, to our detriment. Whether the Germans took advantage of its deep cellars for shelter and its high windows for observation I do not know; but it was obvious that this huge and massive building offered the defenders considerable protection from hostile fire, merely by their sheltering under its walls. As Winston Churchill has observed, the enemy fortifications were hardly separate from the building itself.

Was the destruction of the monastery a military necessity? Was it morally wrong to destroy it?

The answer to the first question is 'yes'. It was necessary more for the effect it would have on the morale of the attackers than for purely material reasons.

The answer to the second question is this: when soldiers are fighting for a just cause and are prepared to suffer death and mutilation in the process, bricks and mortar, no matter how venerable, cannot be allowed to weigh against human lives. Every good commander must consider the morale and feelings of his fighting men, and, what is equally important, the fighting men must know that their whole existence is in the hands of a man in whom they have complete confidence. Thus the commanding general must make it absolutely clear to his troops that they go into action under the most favourable conditions he has the power to order.

In the context of the Cassino battle, how could a structure which dominated the fighting field be allowed to stand? The monastery had to be destroyed. Withal, everything was done to save the lives of the monks and their treasures: ample warning was given of the bombing.

The great Benedictine monastery, from which a magnificent view of the surrounding country can be gained, has been completely rebuilt in cut stone. Both outside and in, it has been restored to its former condition, even down to the marble work and interior decoration.

The bombs of the Allied air forces had left nothing of the building standing except part of one of the outer walls - all else was a heap of rubble. Yet amidst this appalling destruction St. Benedict's tomb, in the centre of the monastery, went utterly unscathed.

After the capture and liberation of Rome I was able to tell the late Pope of its survival. He was deeply moved. He assured me, moreover, that he well understood the military necessity for the bombing and the inevitable destruction of the monastery.

Field-Marshal Kesselring had given express orders that no German soldier should enter the Monastery, so as to avoid giving the Allies any pretext for bombing or shelling it. I cannot testify personally that this decision was communicated to the Allies but I am sure that the Vatican found means to do so, since it was so directly interested in the fate of Monte Cassino. Not only did Field-Marshal Kesselring prohibit German soldiers from entering the Monastery, but be also placed a guard at the entrance gate to ensure that his orders were carried out.

General Harold R. L. G. Alexander has a winning personality, wide experience in war, an ability to get along with people, and sound tactical conceptions. He is self-effacing and energetic. The only possible doubt that could be raised with respect to his qualifications is a suspected unsureness in dealing with certain of his subordinates. At times it seems that he alters his own plans and ideas merely to meet an objection or a suggestion of a subordinate, so as to avoid direct command methods. This, I must say, is only a feeling. I have no proof that in the cases where he has apparently changed his mind rather radically that he was swayed by anything except further reflection on the problem.

Anzio played a vital role in the capture of Rome by giving me the means to employ a double-handed punch - from the beachhead and from Cassino - which caught the Germans in a pincer movement. Without this double-handed punch I do not believe we should ever have been able to break through the German defences at Cassino.

Orders for the operation were issued on 2 January. The objective was defined as to cut the enemy communications and threaten the German rear. Fifth Army was ordered to make "as strong a thrust as possible towards Cassino and Frosinone shortly before the assault landing to draw in enemy reserves that might be employed against the landing forces and then to create a breach in his front through which every opportunity will be taken to link up rapidly with the seaborne operation". Despite the switch, in all, of five divisions from Eighth Army to the Fifth Army, German resistance on the main front remained stubborn; and during the early critical days the British and United States divisions at Anzio had to fight unaided for their own salvation. Meanwhile, on the Adriatic sector. General Montgomery had continued with his attempt to break through the enemy's defensive system; but with even less success as the weather worsened and the enemy's strength increased.

Against a less formidable foe an operation such as we had devised would have succeeded; but I think we may well have underestimated the remarkable resilience and toughness of the Germans, in expecting them to be frightened by such a threat to their rear.

Hitler's orders to Kesselring were to hold on to Cassino at all costs, for political reasons, and to eliminate the Anzio landing. The withdrawal of the Hermann Goring division from Italy was cancelled, and Hitler told Kesselring that he would be reinforced by two motorized divisions, three independent regiments, two heavy tank battalions and some heavy and medium artillery units. Thus the enemy refused to weaken his battlefront at Cassino by drawing back formations to deal with the landings.

Every time we attacked Kesselring in Italy we took him completely by surprise; but he showed very great skill in extricating himself from the desperate situations into which his faulty intelligence had led him. I feel now that he would not, in these circumstances, have altered his dispositions on the main front to any great degree until he had tried every means to eliminate the threat to his rear. Nor need his determination be doubted. The forces under his command had been engaged in a continuous retreat for almost a year since November 1942, a retreat that had brought them just short of Alexandria to just north of Naples - and it was time to put a stop to it.

Twenty-six nations contributed contingents to my command in Italy. I feel, therefore, it will be agreed that I speak from first-hand experience of the varying fighting qualities of troops in battle when I affirm that there are no better soldiers than those of the British race, provided they have a cause worth fighting for - and dying for, if necessary.

They object to being pushed around - they are intelligent enough to want to know what it is all about and they will become unhappy and disgruntled if they feel that unfairness exists. Yet, if their leaders are worthy of them, they will follow them anywhere. They are very patient and tough in defence. Yet though the British will go into the attack with great bravery and tenacity, as a whole they are not quick to exploit a success or to react to a sudden emergency.

British military leaders are reluctant to accept heavy losses unless the scales of victory are weighted in their favour. This attitude of mind no doubt results from our experiences in the first world war, when our enormous casualties in such battles as the Somme and Passchendaele gave us nothing more than a few square miles of French territory, and sometimes achieved an advance of no more than a few yards.

And what of the foe that our soldiers and those of our allies overcame and mastered? Having fought against the Germans in two world wars I cannot conceal my regard for their ability as fighting men. They are very brave and tough, and have a marked sense of duty and discipline. Furthermore, they take pride in mastering their weapons and learning their job on the battlefield.

If the Germans are a warrior race, they are certainly militarist also. I think they love the military pageant and the panoply of war; and the feeling of strength and power that a well-organized and disciplined unit gives to each and every individual member of that unit. I am quite willing to admit that I myself share this curious attraction for the strength and elegance of beautifully trained and equipped formations, with all the art and subtlety of their movements in action against an enemy. I can well understand the enthusiasm which the soldiers-from marshals to the private soldier - showed for Napoleon; and why they followed their leader without doubt or question in his victorious campaigns. Feeling thus, they shared the glory of his conquests.

I can also understand the German soldier's high morale when Hitler seemed invincible; but I think it very remarkable that they fought their last battles just as toughly and bravely as when they were winning their first-although they must have realized that all was lost. The last battles in Italy were just as bitter as any we had experienced in the Western Desert, or in the earlier stages of the Italian campaign. Like the boxer in the ring, the German soldier didn't give up until he was knocked out: and make no mistake about it, he was!

Harold Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis is born

Today in Masonic History Harold Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis is born in 1891.

Harold Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis was a British Army Officer.

Harold Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis was born on December 10th, 1891 in London, England. He was educated at Hawtreys Preparatory School and Harrow School. He at one point considered becoming an artist, instead attending the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.

In 1911, Alexander was commissioned a second lieutenant in the British Army. Prior to the beginning of World War I he was promoted to lieutenant. At the age of 22, Alexander was placed in command of a platoon at the Western Front. He spent most of his time on the Western Front during the war. Notably he only came away from the Western Front when he was wounded, returning shortly after to resume his command. By the end of the war, Alexander had been promoted to an acting lieutenant colonel.

Between World War I and World War II, Alexander served in a variety of duty stations around the world. He was also promoted to the rank of major-general. He served largely during this time in India. He was also appointed as one of the aides-De-camp to the newly coronated King George VI. He left his command in India to participate in the King's coronation.

In 1939, after the outbreak of World War II, Alexander took command of a division serving in France. He led the division's withdrawal to Dunkirk and remained on the beach until he was certain all British soldiers had left. Back in England he was placed in charge of various defense forces around England. At one point he was made the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOCIC) of the Southern Command, which was responsible for the defense of southwest England.

In 1942, when the Germans invaded Burma, Alexander was sent to be the GOCIC of the British forces in Burma. Again, Alexander distinguished himself and was recalled to England just a few months later.

Winston Churchill placed him in the position of Commander in Chief of the Middle East Command, placing him in charge of Operation Torch which was an Allied offensive against Axis forces in North Africa. In 1943, the Axis forces in Tunisia surrendered. Alexander's forces which had been re-designated as the 15th Army group consisted of two armies, one commanded by British general Montgomery and the United States General George Patton. For the rest of the war, Alexander oversaw the Allied efforts in Italy and accepted the surrender of the German forces in Italy. By the end of the war he was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal.

After World War II, King George VI, at the request of the Prime Minister of Canada, made Alexander the Governor General of Canada. The position of viceroy. Alexander represented the King in matters having to do with Canada. Later in his appointment, King George granted him more control of matters pertaining to Canada. Alexander was warmly accepted by the Canadian people. He became the first non-aboriginal chief of the Kwakiutl tribe.

In 1952, Alexander returned to England at the request of Winston Churchill who wanted him to serve as minister of defense. Shortly after his return King George VI passed away. He was placed in on the Queen's Coronation committee and was charged with carrying the Sovereign's Orb in the state procession.

Alexander retired from politics in 1954. For the rest of his life he spent a great deal of time in Canada visiting family and friends. He passed away on June 16th, 1969 from a perforated aorta.

Alexander was a member of th Grand Lodge of England and served as Grand Steward and a Grand Warden.

My history hero: Field Marshal Harold Alexander (1891–1969)

Born into an aristocratic family, Harold Alexander studied at Harrow and later Sandhurst. He was an accomplished painter and sportsman but in 1914 the First World War intervened and he embarked on a military career. He served with distinction in the forces, rising through the ranks until in 1937 he became the youngest general in the British army. During the Second World War Alexander commanded forces in France, Burma, north Africa and Italy. His outstanding record saw him promoted to field marshal in 1944. After the war he served as the last British governor-general of Canada from 1946–52.

When did you first hear about Alexander?

It was when I was a young boy. There was an article in a magazine called Look and Learn with pictures of Montgomery and Alexander. I didn’t like the look of Monty, but Alexander had a gentle face with laughter lines stretching from his eyes, and yet he still looked like a proper general too. For some reason that picture stuck with me.

What kind of person was he?

He was a brilliant man. He understood the different facets of war – the tactical, operational and strategic – but he also had the ability to get on with everybody. He successfully commanded an Allied coalition of over 20 different nationalities, and was hugely respected and liked by the Americans – in contrast with many of the British commanders. He was also as kind and good-humoured as the picture suggested – the letters he wrote to his children, full of cartoons and doodles, are hilarious.

What made him a hero?

He had a profound sense of duty and honour, and is, I think, almost unique among successful commanders in having no personal ambition at all. He simply approached each task with the same intention: to do his very best for his men and his country.

He served on the frontline throughout the First World War (apart from when recovering from wounds), commanded German troops against the Russians in 1919–20, was a brigade commander in the North-West Frontier in the 1930s, was the last man to leave Dunkirk in 1940, successfully led the British back across the Irrawaddy in Burma in 1942 and, from arriving in the Middle East later that year, never suffered a single defeat. The only time he was ever seen to lose his temper was during the battle of Passchendaele, when he saw one of his men refuse to give a wounded German soldier some water. And he played in Fowler’s Match at Lord’s – the most famous Eton- Harrow cricket clash of all.

What was his finest hour?

This is a tricky one, because he had many, but I’m going to go for the surrender of all Axis forces in north Africa in May 1943. The campaign had been floundering, but when he took over as army group commander, he very quickly turned things around and handled Patton and the still-green American troops brilliantly. The capture of 250,000 Axis soldiers was an even greater number than was taken at Stalingrad a few months earlier.

Is there anything you don’t particularly admire about him?

He has been accused of lacking intelligence and of being pushed about by people like Montgomery, but close evidence does not support this. He also spoke French, German, Italian, Russian and Urdu, was a highly accomplished artist, and was a bit of a dandy too. So, no: I think he was incredible.

Can you see any parallels between his life and your own?

Not really, sadly. I paint and I also love cricket, but I think it’s a lot easier to write about war than actually take part and command in it.

Harold Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis

Field Marshal Harold Rupert Leofric George Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis, KG , GCB , OM , GCMG , CSI , DSO , MC , CD , PC (Can) , PC (10 December 1891 – 16 June 1969), [2] was a senior British Army officer who served with distinction in both the First and the Second World War and, afterwards, as Governor General of Canada and the first Lord Lieutenant of Greater London in 1965.

Alexander was born in London to aristocratic parents and was educated at Harrow before moving on to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, for training as an army officer of the Irish Guards. He rose to prominence through his service in the First World War, receiving numerous honours and decorations, and continued his military career through various British campaigns across Europe and Asia. In the Second World War, Alexander oversaw the final stages of the Allied evacuation from Dunkirk and subsequently held high-ranking field commands in Burma, North Africa and Italy, including serving as Commander-in-Chief Middle East and commanding the 18th Army Group in Tunisia. He then commanded the 15th Army Group for the capture of Sicily and again in Italy before receiving his field marshal's baton and being made Supreme Allied Commander Mediterranean.

In 1946 he was appointed as Governor General of Canada by King George VI, on the recommendation of Prime Minister of Canada William Lyon Mackenzie King, to replace the Earl of Athlone as viceroy, and he occupied the post until he was succeeded by Vincent Massey in 1952. Alexander proved to be enthusiastic about the Canadian wilderness and popular with Canadians. He was the last Governor General before Adrienne Clarkson who was not born in Canada as well as the last Governor General to be a peer.

After the end of his viceregal tenure, Alexander was sworn into the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and thereafter, [3] in order to serve as the British Minister of Defence in the Cabinet of Winston Churchill, into the Imperial Privy Council. Alexander retired in 1954 and died in 1969.

Early life

Alexander was born in London into an aristocratic family from County Tyrone of Ulster-Scots descent. He was the third son of James Alexander, 4th Earl of Caledon, and the Countess of Caledon, a daughter of the 3rd Earl of Norbury. Alexander was educated at Hawtreys and Harrow School, there participating as the 11th batsman in the sensational Fowler's Match against Eton College in 1910. [4] Though Alexander toyed with the notion of becoming an artist, [5] he went instead on to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. [6]

Marriage and children

Alexander married Lady Margaret Bingham, daughter of George Bingham, 5th Earl of Lucan, on 14 October 1931. They had three children together and adopted a fourth: [7]

  • Lady Rose Maureen Alexander (born 28 October 1932, died 21 August 2017) (born 30 June 1935) Brian James Alexander, CMG (born 31 July 1939)
  • Lady Susan Mary Alexander (born 26 February 1948) (adopted)

Military career

In September 1911, Alexander entered the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Irish Guards. [8] He was promoted to lieutenant in December 1912. [9]

First World War

Alexander spent most of the First World War on the Western Front. As a 22-year-old platoon commander in the 1st Battalion, Irish Guards, he served with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in 1914. He took part in the retreat from Mons and was wounded at First Ypres and invalided home. [10] He was promoted to temporary captain on 15 November 1914 and permanent captain in the newly raised 2nd Battalion on 7 February the following year. [11]

Alexander returned to the Western Front in August 1915, fought at the Battle of Loos and was, for ten days in October 1915, an acting major and acting Commanding Officer (CO) of the 1st Battalion, Irish Guards, as a "Battle Casualty Replacement". He then returned to the 2nd Battalion as a company officer [10] and, in January 1916, received the Military Cross for his bravery at Loos. [12] For service in the Battle of the Somme on 15 September 1916, he was, in October, appointed to the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), [13] the citation for which read: "For conspicuous gallantry in action. He was the life and soul of the attack, and throughout the day led forward not only his own men but men of all regiments. He held the trenches gained in spite of heavy machine gun fire." [13] In the same month, Alexander was further honoured with induction into the French Légion d'honneur. [14]

On 10 December 1916, his twenty-fifth birthday, Alexander became second-in-command (2-i-c) of the 1st Battalion, Irish Guards, as an acting major. [10] By May, he was briefly acting CO of the 1st Battalion, [10] as an acting lieutenant colonel, while still only a substantive captain. [15] [16] He became a permanent major on 1 August 1917, [17] and was again promoted acting lieutenant colonel, [10] this time confirmed as CO of the 2nd Battalion, Irish Guards, on 15 October. [18] Alexander commanded his battalion at Third Ypres, where he was slightly wounded, then at Bourlon Wood (part of the battle of Cambrai), where his battalion suffered 320 casualties out of 400 men. [10] Alexander, between 23 and 30 March 1918, had to assume command of the 4th Guards Brigade, during the British retreat from the German Army's Spring Offensive. [10] [19] He once again commanded the 2nd Battalion, Irish Guards, at Hazebrouck in April 1918, where it took such severe casualties that it saw no further action. [10] Still an acting lieutenant colonel, he then commanded a corps infantry school in October 1918, a month before the war ended on 11 November 1918. [20]

Rudyard Kipling, who wrote a history of the Irish Guards, in which his own son, Jack Kipling, fought and was killed in action, noted that, "it is undeniable that Colonel Alexander had the gift of handling the men on the lines to which they most readily responded. His subordinates loved him, even when he fell upon them blisteringly for their shortcomings and his men were all his own." [21]

Inter-war years

Alexander in 1919 served with the Allied Control Commission in Poland. As a temporary lieutenant-colonel, [22] he led the Baltic German Landeswehr in the Latvian War of Independence, commanding units loyal to Latvia in the successful drive to eject the Bolsheviks from Latgalia. During service there, he was accidentally wounded by one of his own sentries on 9 October 1919. [23]

Alexander returned to Britain in May 1920 as a major, second in command of the 1st Battalion, Irish Guards [10] in May 1922, he was promoted substantive lieutenant-colonel and appointed commanding officer. [24] He commanded the battalion at Constantinople (a sensitive posting in the runup to the Chanak Crisis), then Gibraltar from October 1922, then in London from April 1923 until January 1926, when he was released from that role to attend Staff College, Camberley. [25] [26] Alexander was then in February 1928 promoted to colonel (backdated to 14 May 1926 [25] ) and was the next month appointed Officer Commanding the Irish Guards Regimental District and 140th (4th London) Infantry Brigade, part of 47th (1/2nd London) Division, in the Territorial Army, [25] [27] [28] a post he held until January 1930, when he again returned to study, attending the Imperial Defence College for one year. [29] [30] There, two of Alexander's instructors—the future field marshals Alan Brooke and Bernard Montgomery—were unimpressed by him. [31]

Alexander then held staff appointments as (from January 1931) GSO2 in the Directorate of Military Training at the War Office and (1932–1934) GSO1 at HQ Northern Command in York, [25] before being made in October 1934 a temporary brigadier and given command of the Nowshera Brigade, [32] [33] on the Northwest Frontier in India. [34] [35] For his service there, and in particular for his actions in the Loe-Agra operations against the Pathans in Malakand between February and April 1935, Alexander was that year made a Companion of the Order of the Star of India and was mentioned in dispatches. [36] [37] He was mentioned once more for his service during the Second Mohmand Campaign in Northwest Frontier Province from August to October of the same year, serving under Brigadier Claude Auchinleck. Alexander had a reputation for leading from the front and for reaching mountain crests with or even ahead of his troops. [25] [38]

In March 1937, Alexander was appointed as one of the aides-de-camp to the recently acceded King George VI and in May returned to the United Kingdom to take part in this capacity in the state procession through London during the King's coronation. [39] [40] Alexander would have been seen in this event by two of his Canadian viceregal successors: Vincent Massey, who was then the Canadian high commissioner to the United Kingdom, and Massey's secretary, Georges Vanier, who watched the procession from the roof of Canada House on Trafalgar Square. [41] Following the coronation celebration, Alexander returned to India, where he was made the honorary colonel of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Punjab Regiment, [42] and then in October 1937 was promoted to the rank of major-general, [43] making Alexander the youngest general in the British Army. [14] He relinquished command of his brigade in January 1938, [44] and in February returned to the United Kingdom to take command of the 1st Infantry Division. [45] In June 1938 he was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath. [46]

Second World War

Following the outbreak of the Second World War, in September 1939, Alexander brought the 1st Division to France, where it became part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and served there for the next eight months. In May 1940, when the German Army invaded France, he successfully led the division's withdrawal to Dunkirk, where it was evacuated to England, along with the rest of the BEF. Shortly after Major General Bernard Montgomery had been appointed to command II Corps (and before that the 3rd Division), Alexander was, while still on the beachhead, placed in command of I Corps, and left the eastern mole on the destroyer Venomous late on 2 June after ensuring that all British troops had been evacuated. [25] [47] [48] [49] In recognition of his services in the field from March to June 1940, Alexander was again mentioned in despatches. [50]

After Dunkirk, Alexander returned to the United Kingdom and continued to command I Corps, now guarding the coasts of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. [51] He was promoted acting lieutenant-general in July 1940, [52] and appointed the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) of Southern Command, which was responsible for the defence of south-west England. [53] [54] His rank of lieutenant-general was made permanent in December 1940. [51]

On 1 January 1942 he was knighted and appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, [55] and in February, after the Japanese invasion of Burma, was sent to India to become GOC-in-C of British Forces in Burma as a full general. [54] [56] Alexander was unable to fulfil his orders to hold Rangoon, which was abandoned on 6–7 March. [57] He took personal charge of some small local engagements, [51] and was encircled by the Japanese troops in the Battle of Yenangyaung. Rescued by Chinese troops commanded by General Sun Li-jen, Alexander was able to escape. Following that, Alexander increasingly left much of the tactical conduct of the campaign to his corps commander, Lieutenant-General William Slim, while he himself handled the more political aspects of relations with Joseph Stilwell, the nominal commander of the Chinese forces. [58] Alexander was promoted to Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of Allied Land Forces in Burma, March 1942, and ordered Slim to abandon Mandalay and retreat to India. [51]

By July 1942, the British and Indian forces in Burma had completed their fighting retreat into India, and Alexander, having yet again been mentioned in despatches for his Burma service, [59] was recalled to the United Kingdom. He was at first selected to command the British First Army, which was to take part in Operation Torch, the Anglo-American invasion of French North Africa. However, following a visit in early August to Egypt by the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), General Sir Alan Brooke, Alexander flew to Cairo on 8 August to replace General Claude Auchinleck as C-in-C of Middle East Command, the post responsible for the overall conduct of the campaign in the desert of North Africa. At the same time, Lieutenant-General Montgomery replaced Auchinleck as GOC of the British Eighth Army. [58] Alexander presided over Montgomery's victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein and the advance of the Eighth Army to Tripoli, for which Alexander was elevated to a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, [60] and, after the Anglo-American forces of the First Army (under Lieutenant-General Kenneth Anderson) from Operation Torch and the Eighth Army converged in Tunisia in February 1943, they were brought under the unified command of a newly formed 18th Army Group headquarters, commanded by Alexander and reporting to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MTO) at Allied Forces Headquarters (AFHQ). [61] The American General Omar Bradley, who fought in the Tunisian Campaign, then commanding the U.S. II Corps, credited Alexander's patience and experience with helping an inexperienced United States "field command mature and eventually come of age." [62]

The Axis forces in Tunisia surrendered by May 1943, and Alexander's command became the 15th Army Group, which was, under General Eisenhower, responsible for mounting in July the Allied invasion of Sicily, again seeing Alexander controlling two field armies: General Montgomery's Eighth Army and Lieutenant General George S. Patton's U.S. Seventh Army. After Sicily, and in preparation for the Allied invasion of Italy, the Seventh Army headquarters were replaced by those of the U.S. Fifth Army, led by Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark. [61]

When Eisenhower was appointed Supreme Allied Commander for the planned Normandy landings he suggested that Alexander become ground forces commander, as he was popular with both British and American officers. Bradley, who after Normandy commanded the U.S. 12th Army Group, remarked that he would have preferred to work with Alexander, rather than Montgomery, as he regarded the former as "a restrained, self-effacive and punctilious soldier". Of the problems that subsequently surfaced with Montgomery's command of the Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group, Bradley suspected they would not have occurred with Alexander in command. [63] Brooke, however, applied pressure to keep Alexander in Italy, considering him unfit for the assignment in France. [64] Thus, Alexander remained in command of the 15th Army Group, and, with the support of numerous Allied commanders, controversially authorised the bombing of the historic abbey at Monte Cassino, which resulted in little advance on the German Winter Line defences. It was not until the fourth attempt that the Winter Line was breached by the Allies, and Alexander's forces moved on to capture Rome in June 1944, thereby achieving one of the strategic goals of the Italian Campaign. However, the U.S. VI Corps in the Anzio beachhead, under Clark's orders, failed to follow their original break-out plan that would have trapped the German 10th Army escaping northwards in the aftermath of the Battle of Monte Cassino, instead favouring an early and highly publicised entry into Rome two days before the Allied landings in Normandy. [65]

Alexander remained in command of the 15th Army Group, as well as its successor, the Allied Armies in Italy (AAI), for most of the Italian Campaign, until December 1944, when he relinquished his command to Clark and took over as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces Headquarters, responsible for all military operations in the Mediterranean Theatre. Alexander was concurrently promoted to the rank of field marshal, [65] though this was backdated to the fall of Rome on 4 June 1944, [66] so that Alexander would once again be senior to Montgomery, who had himself been made a field marshal on 1 September 1944, after the end of the Battle of Normandy. Alexander then received the German surrender in Italy, on 29 April 1945. Further, as a reward for his leadership in North Africa and Italy, Alexander, along with a number of other prominent British Second World War military leaders, was elevated to the peerage on 1 March 1946 by King George VI he was created Viscount Alexander of Tunis and Errigal in the County of Donegal. [67]

Brooke felt that Alexander needed an able chief of staff "to think for him", [68] while Montgomery (Alexander's subordinate in Africa and Italy) claimed to think of Alexander as "incompetent" and success was attained in Tunisia only because Montgomery lent Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks, the commander of IX Corps, to organise the coup de grace. [68] However, Harold Macmillan was impressed by Alexander's calm and style, conducting dinners in his mess like those at an Oxbridge high table, discussing architecture and the campaigns of Belisarius, rather than the current war. [68] Macmillan thought Alexander's urbane manner and willingness to discuss and compromise were a sensible way to maintain inter-Allied cooperation, but Alexander's reserve was such that some thought him empty of strategic ideas and unable to make decisions. [n 1] Graham and Bidwell, however, wrote that Alexander's impenetrable reserve made it hard to judge whether or not he had any military ideas, but that he was "unable or unwilling" to assert his will over his army commanders, and that Mark Clark, who often referred to him scornfully as a "peanut" and a "feather duster", exploited this weakness. [68]

Governor General of Canada

With the cessation of hostilities, Alexander was under serious consideration for appointment to the post of Chief of the Imperial General Staff, the British Army's most senior position beneath the sovereign. He was invited, though, by Canadian prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to be his recommendation to the King for the post of Governor General of Canada. Alexander thus chose to retire from the army and take up the new position, in anticipation of which he was on 26 January 1946 appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George [73] and created Viscount Alexander of Tunis, of Errigal in the County of Donegal, on 1 March. [74] On 21 March 1946, the commission under the royal sign-manual and signet appointing Alexander was issued. [75] Alexander was subsequently sworn-in during a ceremony in the Senate chamber on 12 April that year. [76]

Alexander took his duties as the viceroy quite seriously, feeling that as governor general, he acted as a connection between Canadians and their King, and spent considerable time traveling Canada during his term he eventually logged no less than 294,500 km (184,000 mi) during his five years as governor general. On these trips, he sought to engage with Canadians through various ceremonies and events he was keenly interested in his role as Chief Scout of Canada and, in preparation for his kicking of the opening ball in the 1946 Grey Cup final, practised frequently on the grounds of the royal and viceregal residence, Rideau Hall. Also, in commemoration of Alexander being named the first non-aboriginal chief of the Kwakiutl tribe, he was given a totem pole on 13 July 1946 crafted by Mungo Martin, it remains on the grounds of Rideau Hall today. [14] By the end of the year, Alexander was also distinguished with his induction as a Knight of the Order of the Garter. [77]

In 1947, the King issued letters patent granting his Canadian governor general permission to exercise all those powers belonging to the monarch in respect of Canada and, at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference of 1949, the decision was reached to use the term member of the Commonwealth instead of Dominion to refer to the non-British member states of the Commonwealth of Nations. That same year, Alexander oversaw the admission of the British crown colony of Newfoundland into Canadian Confederation and toured the new province that summer. Then, during a later visit to Alberta, the Governor General was admitted to the Blackfoot tribe as Chief Eagle Head. However, though the post-war period saw a boom in prosperity for Canada, the country was again at war by 1950, with Alexander, in his role as acting commander-in-chief, deploying to the Korean War soldiers, sailors, and airmen, whom he would visit prior to their departure for north-east Asia. [14]

The Viscount travelled abroad on official trips—in 1947 visiting US president Harry S. Truman and in June 1948 Brazilian president Eurico Gaspar Dutra—as well as hosting a number of dignitaries. The visit of the Irish Taoiseach, John A. Costello, in 1948 caused Alexander some embarrassment when Costello chose the occasion to announce that most of Ireland would leave the Commonwealth (Northern Ireland would remain a constituent part of the United Kingdom). Although the decision had been taken in principle earlier, the sudden announcement caused a diplomatic storm and Costello, to deflect criticism, claimed that he had been provoked into making the announcement by a series of diplomatic snubs by Lord Alexander. In his memoirs, Costello was to admit that Alexander's behaviour had in fact been perfectly civil and could have had no bearing on a decision which had already been made to declare the Republic of Ireland. [78]

The Alexanders' relatively informal lifestyle at Rideau Hall was demonstrated when during the Canadian tour of Princess Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Viscount and Viscountess hosted a square dance in the palace's ballroom. Alexander painted (creating a personal studio in the former dairy at Rideau Hall and mounting classes in art at the National Gallery of Canada [14] ), partook in a number of sports (including golf, ice hockey, and rugby), and enjoyed the outdoors, particularly during Ontario and Quebec's maple syrup harvest, himself overseeing the process on Rideau Hall's grounds. [14] The Viscount was known to escape from official duties to partake in his most favourite pastime of fishing, once departing from the 1951 royal tour of Princess Elizabeth to take in a day's fishing at Griffin Island, in Georgian Bay, and granting a day off for students in the town of Drayton, Ontario, where his train briefly stopped. [79] He presented the Alexander Cup to the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association in November 1950 the cup became the championship trophy of the Major Series of senior ice hockey. [80]

Among Canadians, Alexander proved to be a popular viceroy, despite the calls for a Canadian-born governor general that had preceded his appointment. [64] He not only had a much praised military reputation (he was considered to be the best military strategist since the 1st Duke of Wellington [79] ) but also was a charismatic figure, with an easy ability to communicate with people. [14] Others, however, did not fully approve of Alexander editor Hugh Templin, from Fergus, Ontario, met with Alexander during Templin's time as a special correspondent with the Canadian Press during the Second World War, and he said of the encounter: "Lord Alexander impressed us considerably, if not too favourably. He was an aristocratic type, who didn't like newspaper men." [79]

British Minister of Defence

Lord Alexander departed the office of Governor General of Canada in early 1952 after Churchill asked him to return to London to take the post of Minister of Defence in the British government. [64] The aging Churchill had found it increasingly difficult to cope with holding that portfolio concurrently with that of prime minister, although he still took many major decisions himself, leaving Alexander with little real power. [81] Soon after, George VI died on the night of 5–6 February and Alexander, in respect of the King's mourning, departed quietly for the United Kingdom, leaving Chief Justice of Canada Thibaudeau Rinfret as administrator of the government in his place. After his return to the UK, Alexander was on 14 March 1952 elevated in the peerage by the new queen, becoming Earl Alexander of Tunis, Baron Rideau of Ottawa and Castle Derg. [82] He was also appointed to the organising committee for the Queen's coronation and was charged with carrying the Sovereign's Orb in the state procession on that occasion in 1953. [83] [84]


The Earl served as the British defence minister until 1954, when he retired from politics and, in 1959, the Queen appointed Alexander to the Order of Merit. [85] From 1960 to 1965, he served as Constable of the Tower of London. [86] Alexander was an active freemason. [87]

Canada remained a favourite second home for the Alexanders and they returned frequently to visit family and friends until Alexander died on 16 June 1969 of a perforated aorta. [1] His funeral was held on 24 June 1969, at St. George's Chapel, in Windsor Castle, and his remains are buried in the churchyard of Ridge, near Tyttenhanger, his family's Hertfordshire home. [14]

Where the Alexander Surname is Found

Perhaps surprising, but the Alexander surname is found in the greatest frequency in the Caribbean island nation of Grenada, where one in 52 people bears the surname. According to Forebears, it also ranks among the top 20 surnames in several other Caribbean countries, including St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Alexander is also popular in Scotland and the United States it ranks just out of the top 100 surnames in both countries. WorldNames PublicProfiler highlights Alexander as an especially popular surname in Australia and New Zealand, followed by the United States and Great Britain. Within Scotland, Alexander is found most frequently in South Ayrshire.


First World War and the interwar period

Harold Alexander was born the third son of James Alexander , the fourth Earl of Caledon and Lady Elizabeth Graham Toler. He attended Harrow School and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst . He was inducted into the Irish Guards as a Second Lieutenant on September 23, 1911 . At the beginning of the First World War he served as a platoon leader on the Western Front. For his services in the Battle of Loos he was awarded the Military Cross and in the Battle of the Somme with the Distinguished Service Order . At the Battle of Cambrai he commanded the 2nd Battalion of the Irish Guards . Alexander was wounded twice and was accepted into the Legion of Honor as a knight . His highest rank was that of a Brevet - lieutenant colonel .

After the World War, Alexander took part in the Allied Aid Commission in newly established Poland. From May 1919 he took part in the Latvian War of Independence and after the armistice of Strasdenhof became commander of the Baltic National Army . He returned to Great Britain and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on May 14, 1922 and commander of the 1st Battalion of the Irish Guards in the Aldershot Garrison . With this unit he took part in the occupation of Istanbul and served in Gibraltar . From 1926 he attended the Staff College in Camberley, after which he was regimental commander of the Irish Guards as Colonel . He held this post for two years and then attended Imperial Defense College for one year .

On October 14, 1931, he married Lady Margaret Diana Bingham, second daughter of the 5th Earl of Lucan . After some staff assignments, he took over in 1934 as a temporary brigadier general of the Nowshera Brigade on the North West Frontier in British India . Between February and April 1935 an expedition led against the Pashtuns in Malakand . In September 1935 he fought under Claude Auchinleck in an operation against the Mohmand Pashtuns . For his service there he was Mentioned twice in Despatches and in 1936 as Companion in the Order of the Star of India . In 1937 he returned to Great Britain and was promoted to Major General on October 16, 1937, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Aldershot Command .

Second World War

At the beginning of the Second World War , Harold Alexander became commander of the 1st Division of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France. During the German campaign in the west , he led the division in retreat to Dunkirk . Alexander took command of the 1st Corps during the evacuation of British troops in Operation Dynamo . He returned to England on June 3, 1940 on the last destroyer to leave France. In recognition of his achievements, he was promoted to Lieutenant General on July 13, 1940 and appointed Commander in Chief of the Southern Command . This was due to the expected German invasion a prominent position.

On January 1, 1942, he was accepted as Knight Commander in the Order of the Bath and thereby elevated to the personal nobility. After the Japanese invasion of Burma , he was appointed commander in chief of this theater of war in February 1942 and at the same time promoted to general . He left the tactical leadership there largely to his subordinate William Slim , while he himself primarily dealt with political issues. After the withdrawal of British troops to India, Alexander was recalled to England in July 1942, originally to lead the British 1st Army in what would later become Operation Torch . Due to the simultaneous crisis in Egypt , where the Axis troops threatened Alexandria , he was appointed in August by Winston Churchill to succeed Claude Auchinlecks as Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East. At the same time, Bernard Montgomery became the new commander of the 8th Army .

After the capture of Tripoli , Alexander was raised to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Bath on November 11, 1942 . After the Anglo-American forces of Operation Torch met with the armed forces of the Western Desert in Tunisia in early 1943, he was appointed Commander in Chief of the 18th Army Group and Deputy Dwight D. Eisenhowers as Commander in Chief of the entire Allied Armed Forces in the Mediterranean. After the end of the Tunisian campaign , his staff was converted into the 15th Army Group , which was responsible for the subsequent Operation Husky (the invasion of Sicily in July 1943) and the Allied invasion of Italy in September 1943.

After Eisenhower was appointed Commander in Chief of the SHAEF , the Allied Headquarters for Operation Overlord , the latter proposed Alexander as Commander in Chief of the Ground Forces for this operation. However, on Sir Alan Brooke's intervention , Alexander was left in his post in Italy under Eisenhower's successor Henry Maitland Wilson, and Montgomery was selected for the role. Alexander successfully overcame the German resistance at Monte Cassino . After Rome was declared an open city at the beginning of June 1944 , Allied troops marched there. On December 12, 1944, Alexander was appointed Field Marshal, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces in the Mediterranean, and thus successor to Wilson, who went to Washington, and on April 29, 1945, accepted the German partial surrender in Italy .

Alexander Stephens: Early Life and Political Career

Alexander Stephens was born in Crawfordville, Georgia, on February 11, 1812. He grew up destitute and was raised by relatives after both his parents died by the time he was 14. Stephens then attended Franklin College and graduated in 1832. After an unhappy stint as a schoolteacher, he studied law and then served as a successful defense lawyer in Crawfordville starting in 1834.

Did you know? Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, suffered from numerous ailments during his lifetime and often weighed less than 100 pounds. His small size earned him the nickname “Little Aleck,” which followed him throughout his career.

Stephens first entered politics in 1836, when he won a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives. He served in this position until 1841 and was then elected to the Georgia Senate the following year. During this time Stephens fostered what would become a lifelong friendship with Robert Toombs, a fellow Georgia assemblyman. The two would remain political allies for the rest of their careers.

In 1843 Stephens was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He would go on to win reelection seven consecutive times, serving consistently until 1859. Stephens was a strong supporter of states’ rights and regularly switched political parties whenever he felt they drifted too far from his principles. While he began his career as a Whig, he would later serve as both a Democrat and a Constitutional Unionist.

A frail and sickly man who weighed less than 100 pounds, Stephens was nevertheless a political force, and by the mid-1840s he became a leading Southern statesman. In 1848 he was attacked and stabbed multiple times by Francis H. Cone, a Democratic judge who was enraged by Stephens’ opposition to the Clayton Compromise, a bill that addressed the legality of slavery in territories won in the Mexican-American War (1846-48). Stephens attended a political rally only days later, using the attack to disparage the Democratic Party and encourage voters to elect the Whig presidential candidate Zachary Taylor.

While Stephens vehemently supported the institution of slavery, he was also committed to preserving the Union. Among other moderate measures, he was a supporter of the Compromise of 1850, a package of bills that helped stave off Southern secession. At the same time, Stephens worked to maintain a balance between free and slave states as new territories were introduced into the Union. One of his greatest victories in this respect came in 1854, when Stephens helped pass Senator Stephen A. Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska Act. This allowed settlers in these new territories to choose whether or not to permit slavery.

Alexander Becomes King of Persia

After conquering Egypt, Alexander faced Darius and his massive troops at Gaugamela in October 331 B.C. Following fierce fighting and heavy losses on both sides, Darius fled and was assassinated by his own troops. It’s said Alexander was sad when he found Darius’s body and he gave him a royal burial.

Finally rid of Darius, Alexander proclaimed himself King of Persia. But another Persian leader, Bessus (also thought to be Darius’s murderer), had also claimed the Persian throne. Alexander couldn’t let the claim stand.

After relentless pursuit by Alexander, Bessus’s troops handed Bessus over to Ptolemy, Alexander’s good friend, and he was mutilated and executed. With Bessus out of the way, Alexander had full control of Persia.


Landing in Italy in September 1943, Allied forces under General Sir Harold Alexander began pushing up the peninsula. Due to the Apennine Mountains, which run the length of Italy, Alexander's forces advanced on two fronts with the Lieutenant General Mark Clark's US Fifth Army on the east and Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Montgomery's British Eighth Army on the west. Allied efforts were slowed by poor weather, rough terrain, and a tenacious German defense. Slowly falling back through the fall, the Germans sought to buy time to complete the Winter Line south of Rome. Though the British succeeded in penetrating the line and capturing Ortona in late December, heavy snows prevented them from pushing west along Route 5 to reach Rome. Around this time, Montgomery departed for Britain to aid in planning the invasion of Normandy and was replaced by Lieutenant General Oliver Leese.

To the west of the mountains, Clark's forces moved up Routes 6 and 7. The latter of these ceased to be usable as it ran along the coast and had been flooded at the Pontine Marshes. As a result, Clark was forced to use Route 6 which passed through the Liri Valley. The southern end of the valley was protected by large hills overlooking the town of Cassino and atop which sat the abbey of Monte Cassino. The area was further protected by the fast-flowing Rapido and Garigliano Rivers which ran west to east. Recognizing the defensive value of the terrain, the Germans built the Gustav Line section of the Winter Line through the area. Despite its military value, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring elected not to occupy the ancient abbey and informed the Allies and Vatican of this fact.

1 Answer 1

— My memory is all Greek to me too. —

But it seems that here we see mainly a slight slip-up in letters with a bit of retroactive reasoning, or perhaps a certain conflation of concepts?

The concept of photos seems unfamiliar.

The concept of pothos is not.

Especially in connection with Alexander:


Pothos is the Greek word for "longing", a divine power (daimon).

In Greek myth, Pothos ("longing") and his brothers Eros ("love") and Himeros ("desire") were the sons of Zephyr, the westerly wind. Alternatively, Himeros and Pothos were the sons of Eros. Whatever their precise family connections, Himeros represented the desire towards something that was within human reach, and Pothos was the longing towards an unattainable goal. Since the object of this longing could only be reached in a better, more perfect world, it comes as no surprise that Pothos was associated with death. For example, the word is also used to describe the Delphinium flowers that were placed on tombs.note

According to the Greek author Pausanias (second century CE), the sculptor Skopas made statues of Eros, Himeros, and Pothos. They were exhibited in the sanctuary of Aphrodite in Megara.

Aristobulus, one of the biographers of Alexander the Great, seems to have introduced the Pothos-motif in the histories of the Macedonian conqueror of the Achaemenid empire. He and all ancient historians after him believed that Alexander's inner drive was a kind of longing to see foreign countries. One of the attractions of the word was that an author who used it, could leave Alexander's reckless behavior during battles and sieges and his outrageous drinking habits unexplained. Like his legendary ancestor Achilles, the famous hero from Homer's Iliad, Alexander the Great had chosen to be famous and die young.

It is possible that the official portraits of Alexander were influenced by the Pothos of Skopas. If so, the idea to link the king with a longing for knowledge was contemporary with his conquests.

For the generalized question in the title of this post: we do not know much reliable specifics of his youth in terms of intellectual achievements. But we do know the name of his teacher. Making it perhaps a fair guess that Alexander was some kind of Aristotelian (notably, Alex's tutor was not yet that famous or accomplished when called to Pella)?

The often legendary and obviously 'just invented' information we get about Alexander's youth are one problem to consider, but a much too strong influence of Aristotle on the young man and his views must not be assumed either.

Especially interesting for this is a contemporary critique of this choice of education:

Unfortunately, I am told that you study the wrong type of philosophy. This pseudo-philosophy concentrates on eristics. Now, eristics may not be entirely useless it is even a good thing for men who will never be anything but private persons and will only meet others like themselves in order to refute each other. For you who are destined to be a monarch and ruler of peoples eristic is entirely unsuitable. Don't forget your future rank, don't forget that you should think of yourself as superior to your subjects. Are you to engage in eristic disputations with your inferiors? Yours is to command, not to persuade theirs is to obey, not to debate with you. I am afraid, however, the reports are true, and it is indeed eristics of which you are fond.

Here is my own program of education. We should learn to speak - viz. the kind of speeches which can be used in practical everyday affairs and those which will enable us to deliberate about public affairs. If you will pursue this kind of philosophy, you will be able to form a sound opinion about the future, you will be able to give proper orders to your subjects, you will be able to judge correctly what is good and just and what is not so, and you will know how to reward and punish.

Compare this program of education with what the sophists from the Academy have to offer. They will teach you to quibble and split hairs concerning problems of no practical value whatsoever. They will never enable you to cope with the actualities of daily life and politics. They will teach you to disdain opinion (common sense) in spite of the fact that common sense assumptions are the only basis for ordinary human affairs and they are sufficient to judge the course of future events. Instead of common sense opinions, they will make you chase after a phantom which they call true and precise knowledge, as distinct from mere opinion. Even if they could reach their ideal of precise and exact knowledge – it would be a knowledge of things entirely useless. Do not be deceived by their extravagant notions of goodness and justice or their opposites. These are just ordinary human notions not so very difficult to understand, and you need them only to help you to meet out rewards and punishments.

Sober up, therefore, give up your present studies under Aristotle and others of his ilk, and study the way I told you to. Only in this way can you hope to become another Philip in due time.

[Isocrates writing a letter to warn the Macedon court of the perils of their choices.] Quoted from
— Philip Merlan: "Isocrates, Aristotle and Alexander the Great", Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Vol 3, No 1, 1954, pp60–81.

Note that only the Latin transcription lends itself to this letter switch from photos to pothos so easily:

Given how "photos" was described in the question, my guess is that it is mixed up a bit with the Aristotelian concept of 'truth'?

Truth, in metaphysics and the philosophy […]

The correspondence theory

The classic suggestion comes from Aristotle (384–322 BCE): “To say of what is that it is, or of what is not that it is not, is true.” In other words, the world provides “what is” or “what is not,” and the true saying or thought corresponds to the fact so provided. This idea appeals to common sense and is the germ of what is called the correspondence theory of truth. As it stands, however, it is little more than a platitude and far less than a theory. Indeed, it may amount to merely a wordy paraphrase, whereby, instead of saying “that’s true” of some assertion, one says “that corresponds with the facts.” Only if the notions of fact and correspondence can be further developed will it be possible to understand truth in these terms.

Watch the video: General Alexander speaks in Rome 1944