Papers of Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck

Scope and Content

The papers of Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck constitute a rich and detailed record of his military career in the years 1940 to 1947. The bulk of the material concerns two periods in particular: when he was Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, masterminding the campaign against Rommel in the Western Desert, June 1941 to August 1942 (AUC/275-1023); and when he served as Commander-in-Chief, India, and latterly Supreme Commander, June 1943 to November 1947 (AUC/1024-1312), first overseeing the expansion of the Indian armed forces and military production for the war effort, and later preparing the Indian Army for independence and partition. The archive is of central importance for students of military history, particularly the Desert Campaign of the Second World War, and for research into the final years of British rule in India, the rise of the nationalist independence movement, the transfer of power from Britain to India, and the formation of Pakistan. Items include typescript and autograph letters, cipher messages, telegrams, dispatches, reports, military orders, memoranda, and the texts of speeches by Auchinleck.

Correspondents include Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke (Viscount Alanbrooke), Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces (1940-1), Chief of the Imperial General Staff (1941-6); Leo Amery, Secretary of State for India and Burma (1940-5); Clement Attlee, Deputy Prime Minister (1942-5), Prime Minister (1945-50); Sir Winston Churchill, Prime Minister (1940-5); General Sir Alan Cunningham, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, 8th Army (1941); Field Marshal Sir John Dill, Chief of the Imperial General Staff (1940-1), Head of the British Joint Staff Mission, United States (1941-4); Victor Hope, 2nd Marquess of Linlithgow, Viceroy and Governor-General of India (1936-43); Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Governor-General of Pakistan (1947-8); Liaquat Ali Khan, Finance Minister, Viceroy's Executive Council (1946-7), Prime Minister of Pakistan (1947-51); Sir Gilbert Laithwaite, Private Secretary to the Viceroy of India (1936-43); Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander, South-East Asia (1943-6), Viceroy of India (1947), Governor-General of India (1947-8); Jawaharlal Nehru, President of the Congress Party (1936-47), Prime Minister of India (1947-63); Lt.-General Sir Charles Willoughby Norrie, General Officer Commanding, 1st Armoured Division (1940-1), GOC, 30th Corps (1941-2); General Sir Neil Ritchie, Commander, 8th Army (1941-2); Field Marshal Jan Smuts, Prime Minister of South Africa (1939-48); and General Sir Archibald Wavell, Commander-in-Chief, Middle East (1939-41), Commander-in-Chief, India (1941-3), Viceroy and Governor-General of India (1943-7).

The strong emphasis in the papers on the two aspects of Auchinleck's career which have most significance (as Commander during the Desert Campaign of 1941-2 and as Commander-in-Chief, India, 1943-7) suggests that at some point Auchinleck undertook a process of selection on his papers. He was keenly aware of the historical important of the events in which he partook, and of his own role within them; for example, he annotated a memorandum by Churchill on the importance of artillery, "Keep as history!" (AUC/304). This selection process may explain the almost complete absence of any pre-war papers. Auchinleck's private life is also entirely unrepresented in the archive. It is noteworthy that there is not a single reference to his wife Jessie, who left him for another senior officer at the end of the war. Auchinleck intended the archive to document (and perhaps to justify) his military career, and there was no place for extraneous material.

Administrative / Biographical History

Claude John Eyre Auchinleck was born at Aldershot on 21 June 1884, the son of a Colonel in the Royal Horse Artillery. He was educated at Wellington College (1896-1901) and the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, from where he graduated in 1903. He began his military career in April 1904 as a subaltern in the 62nd Punjab Regiment of the Indian Army. Sent with the Regiment to the Middle East at the outbreak of the First World War, he served with distinction against Turkish and Arab forces in Egypt, Aden and Mesopotamia, rising in rank from Captain to Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel in 1919, and winning both DSO and OBE.

During the 1920s he held a number of staff assignments in India and studied, from 1927, at the newly-formed Imperial Defence College in London. After a brief spell as Commander of the 1st Battalion, 1st Punjab Regiment in 1929-30, and promotion to full Colonel, he served as an instructor at the Indian Army's Staff College, Quetta, in 1930-33, before resuming active duties as Commander of the Peshawar Brigade, then engaged in mountain warfare against the Mohmands, an Afghan tribe, on the North-West Frontier. Twice mentioned in dispatches, Auchinleck was promoted successively to the ranks of Brigadier and Major-General and, in 1936, was appointed Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Army Headquarters, India. The year 1938 saw him progress to become the Commander of the Meerut District and to sit as a member of the Expert (Chatfield) Committee on the Defence of India, a position which he used to press forcefully for the modernization of the Indian Army.

Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, Auchinleck was recalled from the Meerut District to England, to form, train and command 4th Corps in readiness for war in France, and was promoted to Lieutenant-General. Allied operations in Norway, however, were going badly under Major-General Pierse Mackesy, and in May 1940 Auchinleck replaced Mackesy as Commander of the Anglo-French land and air forces in the north of the country (see AUC/3-69). His troops held and expanded their position at Narvik, but had to be withdrawn when the rapid German advance through Western Europe necessitated the evacuation of Dunkirk and cut off planned reinforcements for Norway.

In July 1940 Auchinleck was appointed General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Command, a key role planning coastal defences against the expected German invasion (see AUC/70-120).

In November 1940, when the immediate threat of invasion had receded, Auchinleck was promoted to full General and appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, in succession to General Sir Robert Cassels (see AUC/121-274). He was also knighted. Auchinleck left England for India in January 1941 and soon impressed Churchill by dispatching a force to help put down the rebellion of Rashid Ali al-Gaylani in Iraq. After only six months Auchinleck was transferred again, this time to replace General Archibald Wavell as Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, in the wake of the failure of the 'Battleaxe' offensive in the Western Desert and the advance of the Axis forces under Field Marshal Rommel (AUC/275-1023). Early gains at Rommel's expense in the 'Crusader' offensive were quickly reversed during the first half of 1942, and Auchinleck's forces suffered a series of defeats, culminating in the loss of Tobruk in June 1942. In the immediate aftermath of this disaster Auchinleck removed Lt.-Gen. Neil Ritchie as Commander of the 8th Army, and assumed direct control himself. He succeeded in stabilizing the defensive line in the First Battle of El Alamein in July. Auchinleck's relations with Churchill had never been easy; the Prime Minister had continually urged the Auk to take early offensive action, while the General rejoined that he required more time to train his units and build up the strength of his armour, and he resented what he regarded as unwarranted political interference in his campaign. Despite halting the Axis advance, Auchinleck was summarily dismissed in August 1942 and replaced as Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, by General Alexander, with Lt.-Gen. Bernard Montgomery appointed Commander of the 8th Army. The speed and manner of his removal shocked Auchinleck and his supporters; the sense of injustice was heightened by Montgomery's criticisms of his predecessor. Arguments have continued to rage over whether Auchinleck would have achieved victory in the Western Desert had he remained in command.

Auchinleck was offered a new command in Iran and Iraq, which he refused. He returned to India without a formal position until, in June 1943, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief, India, for a second time, in succession to Wavell, who had been promoted to Viceroy (AUC/1024-1312). Although Auchinleck was not involved in active military operations, he played a vital role as War Member of the Viceroy's Executive Council and as commander of the main staging-area for operations against the Japanese in Burma. His background and prestige within the Indian Army were immensely useful in mobilizing enormous numbers of troops and supplies for service in both the European and Far East theatres of war. In June 1946 he was nominated Field Marshal in recognition of his wartime service.

Following the defeat of Japan, Auchinleck's last years in India were spent preparing the country's armed forces for the constitutional process of transferring power from Britain, which led to the formation of the independent states of India and Pakistan. He hoped that an independent India would remain united, and he regarded its armed forces as a bulwark against sectarianism. When he realised that partition was inevitable, he worked tirelessly to ensure an orderly and equitable division of personnel, equipment and facilities, despite the worsening political situation and criticism by Indian nationalist leaders of his being biased towards Pakistan. His hopes of completing the task were frustrated when Viscount Mountbatten, under pressure from local politicians and the British Government, brought forward the date of independence to 15 August 1947. Auchinleck stayed on as Supreme Commander of the two Dominions' armies for a short period, but in November 1947 his headquarters as Supreme Commander were closed and he left India before his work was fully done. He refused the offer of a peerage, despairing at the tragic events of Partition.

After a brief sojourn in Italy, Auchinleck retired to London and Beccles. He led an active life in retirement, holding numerous offices and frequently revisiting India. At the end of 1967 he moved to Marrakesh, Morocco, where he died of influenza on 23 March 1981.


The archive is divided into ten series, arranged in chronological order and reflecting the phases of Auchinleck's military career. It is unclear whether this chronological arrangement was of Auchinleck's own devising, or whether it was imposed after the papers came to the University in 1967. Items are numbered sequentially, AUC/1-1354.

  • AUC/1-2: Pre-war Papers, 1919, 1938;
  • AUC/3-69: Norway Campaign, 1940;
  • AUC/70-120: Southern Command, 1940;
  • AUC/121-274: Commander-in-Chief, India, 1941;
  • AUC/275-1023: Middle East Command, 1941-1943;
  • AUC/1024-1312: Commander-in-Chief, India, 1943-1948;
  • AUC/1313-1331: Post-War Papers, 1950-1962;
  • AUC/1332-1333: Undated Papers, n.d.;
  • AUC/1334-1353: Dispatches and Official Accounts of Military Operations, 1943-1948;
  • AUC/1354: Award of Honorary Doctorate, 1970-1971.

Access Information

The archive is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Sir Claude Auchinleck donated his papers to the University of Manchester Library in November 1967, prior to his emigation to Morocco, through the good offices of Michael Elliott-Bateman and Eric Dorman O'Gowan (formerly Dorman Smith).

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The papers were formerly in the possession of Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck.

Related Material

The John Rylands University Library also holds the papers of Major-General Eric Edward Dorman O'Gowan (formerly Dorman Smith), who for a brief period served as Auchinleck's Chief-of-Staff in the Desert Campaign during the summer of 1942, ref.: GB 133 GOW; correspondence between Sir Syed Maratib Ali and Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, 1937-61, ref.: GB 133 ALI; and the papers of Robin Ridgway, Private Secretary to Auchinleck in India, covering the years 1939-44; the last are as yet unlisted.

King's College, London, Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives holds correspondence with Lord Alanbrooke, 1940-5, ref.: KCLMA Brooke; and correspondence with Sir Basil Liddell Hart, 1948-67, ref.: KCLMA Liddell Hart B H.

The National Army Museum, Department of Archives, Photographs, Film and Sound holds correspondence with Sir Alan Cunningham, 1940-2, ref.: 8303/104; and correspondence with G.N. Molesworth, 1943-4, ref.: 6505/55.

British Library, Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections holds letters to Captain R.A. Newman, 1968-71, ref.: MSS Eur D 1196.

Imperial War Museum Department of Documents holds correspondence with Sir Thomas Riddell-Webster, 1943-4.

Cambridge University, Churchill Archives Centre holds correspondence with Edward Seago, 1947-57, ref.: ESEA; and correspondence with Leo Amery, ref.: AMEL.

McMaster University Library holds a small quantity of correspondence with Bertrand Russell, 1964-5, ref.: Russell Archives.


Four full-length biographies of Auchinleck have been published, as well as an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

  • Brian Bond, 'Auchinleck, Sir Claude John Eyre (1884-1981)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
  • John Connell, Auchinleck: a biography of Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck (London: Cassell, 1959).
  • Alexander Greenwood, Field Marshal Auchinleck: a biography of Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck (Witton le Wear, Durham: Pentland Press, 1990).
  • Roger Parkinson, The Auk: Auchinleck, victor at Alamein (London: Hart-Davis, 1977).
  • Philip Warner, Auchinleck: the lonely soldier (London: Buchan & Enright, 1981).

The secondary literature relating to the Desert Campaign of the Second World War and the independence of India and Pakistan is vast. Of particular relevance to Auchinleck are:

  • Corelli Barnett, The desert generals (London: William Kimber, 1960).
  • Michael Carver, Dilemmas of the desert war: a new look at the Libyan campaign, 1940-1942 (London: B.T. Batsford Ltd in association with the Imperial War Museum, 1986).
  • S. Shahid Hamid and Philip Ziegler, Disastrous twilight: a personal record of the partition of India (London: Cooper in association with Secker & Warburg, 1986).
  • Philip Mason, A matter of honour: an account of the Indian Army, its officers and men (London: Jonathan Cape, 1974).
  • Eric Wilfred Robinson-Horley, Last post: an Indian Army memoir (London: Leo Cooper in association with Secker and Warburg, 1985).
  • Charles Chenevix Trench, The Indian Army and the King's enemies, 1900-1947 (London: Thames & Hudson, 1988).