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Remembered Today:

General Sir Edmund Allenby


Will O'Brien
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I'm trying to understand a little better what sort of Commander Edmund Allenby really was................................as such I would be obliged if the Pals could give their thoughts & opinions on the matter.

Was he a good commander, unfairly banished by Haig to a secondary role in Palestine, only for him to show his qualities there?

or

Was he ineffectual & lacking whilst commanding on the Western Front & placed in a position in Palestine which would have been difficult to 'cock up'

........................or is there some middle ground to this?

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I can't really comment on Allenby's skills during his time on the Western Front. My sense is that he was 'banished' as much because of this behaviour towards Haig but I would be interested in others comments on this.

With regard to Palestine, he was not ineffectual and lacking. He took over an army that was lacking in men and material (at Gaza II, the British had fought with a 3:5 inferiority in men; there was little in the way of artillery). Morale had slumped. His style was not to everyone's liking but he did command respect and he did galvanise a new spirit. Coupled with this, Allenby completely revamped the strategic thinking. His predecessor could only consider an amphibious landing north of Gaza to break the stalemate (shades of Anzio looming). Allenby used deception to pin the Turko-German forces across the front, then secretly created a mass d'rupture and was able to achieve break-throughs. He knew how best to exploit what little water there was and he made effective use of his strengths, particulary the light horse. Allenby seriously outfoxed his opponents, almost capturing Liman von Sanders at one point. Allenby was greatly helped by the superb intelligence advantage that the British had but he was also a fine leader and general.

Robert

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Allenby seems to have had a most unfortunate manner.I have seen references to him by 'Banjo' Patterson- the Australian poet not normally particularly pro British-which suggested he was respected by Australian troops during the South African War.

Greg

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You don’t get the nickname, The Bull, for nothing….. Allenby was tough, but (mostly) fair in my opinion.

Allenby earned respect, from the start, by moving his headquarters from Cairo to the front line – so that he could better appreciate the needs of his men, and the situation.

He brought with him some brilliant staff Phillip Chetwode and Guy Dawnay, who presented him with some of the most brilliant plans of WW1; simple and achievable. Allenby responded by visiting every unit he could, and informing the most junior soldiers what he expected from them – and how it was to be achieved.

He bought/borrowed every book he could get his hands on, connected to Palestine – especially historical books on the Crusades. Allenby was convinced that the commanders of battles which took place nearly 1000 years before, had done things for a reason – and that history would repeat itself; this was proved correct with the battle of Megiddo.

Allenby noted the effects of the various climates, seasons, diseases, wildlife, and how they had influenced Richard the Lionheart and Napoleon (in Egypt) – to the extent that he hired an expert on flies, and changed Chetwodes plans to a time when the disease-carrying insects were less prevalent.

He kept his private life separate from his working life – and even when his son (Michael Allenby, MC) was killed by a shell splinter, Allenby never let his men know how much this sad loss deeply affected him. His letters to his wife barely mention the war and concentrate, instead, on the flora of the region.

Sir Archibald Wavell, in his 1940 two-book volumes - Allenby, A Study in Greatness – cites the following quote from an officer of a Yeomanry regiment….

“Seldom in the course of military history has the personality of a new commander had such a marked effect on his troops.”

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Will,

I am inclined to go for the middle-ground option [or if you prefer, Allenby was in the right place at the right time].

Firstly, he was provided with intelligence which was beyond price.

Maj-Gen MacDonogh, giving a lecture at RMA Woolwich in 1919 said

"You will no doubt remember the great campaign of Lord Allenby in Palestine and perhaps you are surprised at the daring of his actions. Someone who is looking from the sidelines, lacking knowledge about the situation, is likely to think that Allenby took unwarranted risks. That is not true. For Allenby knew with certainty from his intelligence [in Palestine] of all the preparations and all the movements of his enemy. All the cards of his enemy were revealed to him, and so he could play his hand with complete confidence. Under these circumstances, victory was certain before he began."

In 1924 Savage, who was Allenby's Dep. Mil. Sec., also gave credit to ".....the daring work of young spies, most of them natives of Palestine, which enabled the brilliant Field Marshal to accomplish his undertaking so effectively."

Secondly, in Palestine, Allenby was able to make full use of his talents as a cavalry commander, talents which were less well suited to a theatre such as the WF.

Regards

Michael D.R.

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Allemby took to paying surprise visits on his subordinates in the field and if he didn't like what he found, he exploded and had no hesitation in sending someone home. Sympathetic officers on his staff took to giving out a general warning when he went out on one of his surprise excursions by sending out a general message to all units of just two letters "BL" (Bull loose!)

Tim

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I spoke to someone who had met Allenby and was told how rude a man he was. I remember someone saying of Montgomery that, "he wasn't a nice man but nice men don't win battles". From what I've read of Allenby, I think the same could be said of him too.

Cheers,

Jim

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Greg - I'd be interested in the references to Allenby by 'Banjo' Patterson.

Is there a recent biography of Allenby?

Cheers

Simon

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Simon,

I have a copy of 'Imperial warrior' by Lawrence james..His life and times etc..As with many of my books havent yet read it but have skim read cetain sections for my 'project' and it seems pro Allenby.If you want any certain time info etc let me know and i will have alook see what it says.

Will and others,

I am of the opinion that Allenby would have gone down in the Gough mould of general if he had stayed on the Western front as he was not on good terms with Haig and also had not what i would call the correct temperment for it. Palestine and overall command suited him best and let him make all the decisions. He knew when to use intelliegence and who to use for the best of the days work.

On the western front he was constrained by conditions and Haig and his temper that I believe did not help the situation.

I have studied the actions at Gommecourt on 1st july 1916 and it is obvious that both he and Snow (7th corps) did not wish to fight there and would have gone to Arras as a better sight , though i wonder what difference this would have had? His relationship with Haig was not good and he must have felt under pressure to perform. This is in my opinion but I think that many of the generals felt bound to push on and see it through for fear of being seen to be inadequate in some way and Allenby was no differenet.

When left to the dessert and open spaces and also significantly his own devises he was without doubt successful. though as stated this was also due to some good officers below him. That does not mean to say that he would have made a good western front commander in chief. I do not think he was suited to the style of warfare in the mud etc.. A bull penned in can be a bad animal, a bull in open fields can roam freely and content.

The best use of the man was done by shifting him side ways and up though this was probably not the real intent.

Will,

to answer your question, I think it would have beeen very easy to cock up the palestine front as Murray adequately demonstrated prior to Allenby so i think he should rightly collect the cudos for doing a good job out there, but lets not equate the two fronts as similar!!!!!

Arm.

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Many many thanks for all the comments posted so far.............it seems there is a general consensus that Allenby did a good job in Palestine & used the resources available to him to great advantage............From the comments it seems that the type of warfare being carried out in Palestine suited Allenby's style better than the attritional nature of the western front (which dented many a reputation)

Allenby earned respect, from the start, by moving his headquarters from Cairo to the front line – so that he could better appreciate the needs of his men, and the situation.
Teapots..........I see this being a very smart move irrespective of whether the tactical/operational benefits were real or not. Given the reputation of Senior Officers at the time, such a move would ingratiate Allenby to his men straightaway.

I am inclined to go for the middle-ground option [or if you prefer, Allenby was in the right place at the right time].
Michael............I tend to agree, although play devils advocate I wonder whether this was by accident or design. Was Haig's decision to send Allenby to Palestine merely fortuitous or did he also see the potential in the situation. Alternatively could Allenby have orchestrated his transfer realising that he would be less constrained in Palestine & better suited to the situation there?

I think it would have been very easy to cock up the Palestine front as Murray adequately demonstrated prior to Allenby so I think he should rightly collect the kudos for doing a good job out there, but let’s not equate the two fronts as similar!!!!!
Arm.............Fair points. Did Murray really perform that badly or was it a case that his efforts were eclipsed by Allenby's later successes?
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Will,

I think, though i have not done any great research on this topic, that Murray did not have the apptitude for the job and that given more time would not have got very much further. That said there maybe others far better qualified to answer that question.

I often wonder about different Generals in different postions etc. Like how would Haig have done in Palestine or Gough and then try to see if I believe given thier mind set how things may have turned out. I am convinced that given the open spaces that a cavalry or mounted infantry mind was needed. Also I am sure that given the failures occurring on the western front that Allenby was determined to use the advantages he had. I wonder if he would have approached things differently had he not have served in the mud of france and flanders?

Arm.

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I am of the opinion that Allenby would have gone down in the Gough mould of general if he had stayed on the Western front as he was not on good terms with Haig and also had not what i would call the correct temperment for it.

Could you elaborate? I don't recall that Gough was on bad terms with Haig. IIRC, Haig preferred Gough over Plumer for Third Ypres for example. Even after he botched this, Gough was still given command of the Fifth Army. I don't imagine Allenby was regarded this way by Haig.

Haig did not have to send Allenby to Palestine. Given his political connections, it is quite possible that Haig could have sidelined him in Whitehall or similar. My guess is that Haig was able to recognise the qualities in Allenby that emerged.

I was interested to learn that Allenby read so much about the Crusades, etc after he was given the command. This could explain why he knew how to use the mounted infantry to best effect with limited water supplies. IMHO, it took more than a cavalry mind to unlock Palestine in the way that Allenby did. For the exploitation phase of Megiddo for example, yes Haig or Gough would have recognised how to do this. Though it is interesting to reflect that Haig never really seemed understand that the cavalry on the Western Front were largely ineffectual in the mounted role (they were great as dismounted infantry), even with the return to mobile warfare. In Palestine (as on the Western Front) it was the break-in and break-through that was critical. I just wonder if others could have manipulated the enemy in quite the way that Allenby did, thereby creating the opportunity for the break-out.

It's all speculation anyway, so what the hell :D

Robert

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I am of the opinion that Allenby would have gone down in the Gough mould of general if he had stayed on the Western front as he was not on good terms with Haig and also had not what i would call the correct temperment for it.

Could you elaborate? I don't recall that Gough was on bad terms with Haig. IIRC, Haig preferred Gough over Plumer for Third Ypres for example. Even after he botched this, Gough was still given command of the Fifth Army. I don't imagine Allenby was regarded this way by Haig.

Sorry made this statement in a bad way what i meant was not that Gough was on bad terms with Haig but that Allenbys nature being fundementally shy would lead him to distance himself from those below him and to adopt the 'bull' approach to matters.

I meant to imply that had he have remained the trench warfare would have suffocated him and I dont believe he had it in his mentality to adapt adequately to it. This may seem a silly thing to imply given that he showd much adaptation and thought of mind but this was when he was sole commander and not surbordinated to anyone. I beleive that he could focus better when he did not have anyone above him to hound him for an answer so to speak.

Thus as the war ended i see more than most Allenby being closer in reputation not necesserilly fact to Gough than any other general if he had stayed on the western front.

I am not so sure that Haig sent Allenby to Palestine though he may have had a manouvering hand in it but i was of the impression that L-G had a part in it?

Arm.

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According to Wavell, the person first selected by Lloyd George - to replace Murray - was General Smuts. Smuts turned down the role after an interview with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir William Robertson who told Smuts that he would not have the backing of the War Office "who disliked the idea of diverting troops from the Western Front for a side show."

Robertson then recommended Allenby to Lloyd George. Wavell contends that Robertson "must have known that relations between Haig and Allenby were not happy...." There is no mention, according to Wavell, of Haig having any dealings in the matter.

Allenby, it is stated, was dismayed at his new command. He believed he was being 'relegated' and it was only after "interviews with the Prime Minister and CIGS that he began to reconcile himself to the change."

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Arm/Teapots.........Many thanks for the additional comments................Interesting that it appears Robertson had some hand in Allenby going to Palestine.......I understand that Robertson fell into the 'Westerner' camp & a loyal supporter of Haig (even though he was touted as a possible rival for the top job in December 1915)............so I wonder what the real motive in Allenby's transfer was or who was pulling the strings? ........................Perhaps I'm being too harsh as I also believe he was known to be efficient at his job so maybe he saw that Allenby & Palestine suited each other.....................Side issue.........is it true that Robertson is the only British Soldier in history to have started his career as a Private & end it as a Field Marshal?

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I think Haig's hand was all over this one. Robertson and Haig would have spoken together. I was not aware of the specific details so this is interesting. But it has all the hallmarks of backroom dealing, as Allenby would well have known.

I understand your point about the similarity between Gough and Allenby. Thank you for clarifying that.

Robert

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it has all the hallmarks of backroom dealing

Ah Robert but backroom dealing for the right reasons or the wrong ones?........... Were Robertson &/or Haig simply trying to get shot of Allenby & Palestine was a good opportunity..............or did they see the potential for Allenby to achieve great success there?

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My instinct is that both could be correct.

I have just been catching up with a little of Allenby's performance on the Western Front. For another reason, I was re-reading the various sources I have on Monchy-le-Preux, April 1917. This was part of the Battle of Arras. The attack south of the Scarpe went reasonably well to begin with. Allenby recorded that the Germans were on the run and ordered forward the cavalry. He encouraged his troops to push on and bypass resistance. Well, that didn't work - although Monchy was captured.

Robert

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The Australian historian CEW Bean in the book 'Gallipoli Mission' describes Allenby's entry to Constantinople in 1919.

'On arrival we noticed a few British troops on guard alond the sweeeping, rather stately high street, evidently keeping the way clear for some expected grandee; and then up the hill from the direction of the quay came several motor cars, in the chief of which was General Allenby, whose army had conquered the Turks in Palestine & Syria. His entry to the Turkish capital attracted little more attention than would the humblest funeral, but despite his victorious march from Sinai to Syria he was not the Allied commander in Turkey itself.

On the following day the street was lined on both sides with blue coated French infantry. The paths and the windows of the houses were crowded with excited people. The wide sweep of the cobbled high road had been saddled, and up the curve came, this time, a procession of which the leading figure rode a stout, champing, ambitious bay cob, with tautly arched neck and a French soldier on each side holding the horse's bit. On the cob-and rather like it-with broad back, square soldiers and a huge square chin-and with one hand in his waistcoat and the other loose at his side, sat, like a conquerer of old, General Franchet d'Esperey, the French Commander in Chief from Salonica....................From many windows Greek girls showered flower petals. Every other house seemed to be flying the blue and white Greek flag-indeed it was impressively predominant in Constantinople in those days. The Greeks had always been numerous there, and friends in Constantinople told us that the Greek people had hopes that it would be returned to them..................

There was no doubt of their excitement. But I wondered whom it was that Franchet d'Esperey was trying to impress; there could hardly be a greater contrast than between his entry and Allenby's.'

And later on

'Wilkins and I saw Allenby again during that visit. We were in Saint Sophia, gazing up at the wonderful dome and pendants where the mosaics of the old Christian church-huge figures of seraphim, with their wings hiding their faces, feet and bodies-were most clearly discernable under the Turkish whitewash. Everywhere you could see the relics of Christian symbols.............................................We were beneath the dome, gazing at the mosaics, when three British officers came silently to a point near us, and they, too, stood for a while gazing up. One was Allenby; you couldn't mistake his clipped moustache and big chin-not an unworthy successor of other conquerers who must have stood there, beginning with Belisarius. I wonder if any ever stood there as modestly as he.'

Regards

Andrew

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Allenby recorded that the Germans were on the run and ordered forward the cavalry. He encouraged his troops to push on and bypass resistance. Well, that didn't work - although Monchy was captured.

Robert

Allenby's 'relentless pursuit' here was objected to by his divisional commanders and this time Allenby carried the can. Travers quotes from Edmonds (to Acheson 19 Jul '50) indicating that Allenby was "Stellenbosched to Palestine." He also opinions that Edmonds was probably exaggerating when he added "where all failures are consigned" adding that for Allenby it was a lucky break.

Regards

Michael D.R.

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Will,

William Robertson enlisted against his mothers wishes into the cavalry she is reported to have said "I would rather bury you than see you in a red coat" his achiement of rising from Private/trooper to field marshall in the times that he did it is remarkable and more so that he was accepted by almosty all of his fellow officers in the times of a class concious society.

He certainly was the first and too my knowledge the only one though some quote Slim as a candidate fro that award too.

To my mind Robertson was one of the better Generals who was perhaps wasted in his job as CIGS given that he had no relationship as such with lloyd-George. Whilst i am not sure he would have been the man for C in C on the western front I feel he could have made a better contribution there than at home, though it can also be argued that he did a good service as CIGS in keeping the war on the western front as the major area of conflict.

As an aside for me can anyone tell me seeing as he was a cavalryman and thus would have been a trooper he then called his bio 'From Private to Feild Marshall' ??

Arm.

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To my mind Robertson was one of the better Generals who was perhaps wasted in his job as CIGS given that he had no relationship as such with lloyd-George.

Arm........My understanding is that Lloyd George disliked him immensely & was the main driving force for having Robertson replaced by Wilson, a fact that Haig was extremely annoyed about.

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