Middle East Command

Scope and Content

This series, by far the largest in the archive, comprises papers covering the period when Auchinleck was Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, from July 1941 to his dismissal by Churchill in August 1942. After the fall of France, this was the most important land-based theatre of war. 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. Despite halting the Axis advance, Auchinleck was summarily dismissed in August 1942.

The significance of this period is reflected in the extensive correspondence between Auchinleck, Winston Churchill, Leo Amery (Secretary of State for India and Burma), Sir John Dill and Sir Alan Brooke (successive Chiefs of the Imperial General Staff), and Field Marshal Jan Smuts (Prime Minister of South Africa). There is also extensive correspondence with other commanders such as Lieutenant-Generals Thomas Corbett, Sir Alan Cunningham, Sir Neil Ritchie, Sir Arthur Smith and Sir Henry Maitland ('Jumbo') Wilson, and Major-Generals William ('Strafer') Gott, Sir Leslie Morshead, Charles Willoughby Norrie and Eric Dorman-Smith. Papers include letters, cipher messages, telegrams, reports and memoranda. The material is of paramount importance for studies of the Desert Campaign, and of the wider conduct of the war. There is also a considerable quantity of material relating to Auchinleck's dismissal. Appended to this series is a small number of items from the period of Auchinleck's temporary retirement during late 1942 and the first half of 1943.