General Archibald Wavell was born in Colchester on May 5th 1883. Wavell went to school at Winchester and from here he progressed to the army’s military college at Sandhurst. At Sandhurst, Wavell was a highly successful student and came out top of his class. Wavell gained his commission in 1901. Wavell quickly developed a reputation and in the Boer War he was awarded five medals. He was similarly successful as a junior officer on the Western Front in India.
When World War One broke out, Wavell went to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. He fought at the Battle of Ypres but received a bad wound which led to him losing his left eye. Despite this loss, Wavell remained in the British Army and served in Palestine with the 20th Corps.
In 1939, Wavell was given the task of creating the Middle East Command which had the primary tasks of protecting the Suez Canal and the oil reserves in the region. Wavell’s first enemy in the area was Italy led by Benito Mussolini. When Mussolini sent over 1 million men to North Africa in 1940, Wavell only had 36,000 men at his command. The Italians made major advances from Libya towards the Suez but stopped at the British defences at Mersa Matruh. In December 1940, Wavell ordered a major British counter-attack which was very successful – pushing the Italians back nearly 500 miles. In January 1941, Tobruk was captured from the Italians.
However, this success forced Hitler into sending the Afrika Korps to North Africa commanded by Erwin Rommel. By March 1941, Rommel was in a position to attack the British and he succeeded in pushing them out of Libya, though the British continued to hold out at Tobruk. Wavell attempted a counter-attack in June 1941, but it was halted by the Germans at Halfaya Pass. By now, Winston Churchill had lost confidence with Wavell and he was replaced by General Claude Auchinleck.
Wavell was appointed as Commander-in-Chief of British troops in India. On December 7th, Japan bombed the American base at Pearl Harbour and the Far East was engulfed in war. Wavell’s main task was to organise the British forces in the region so that British territory was protected against a Japanese attack. Wavell believed that he was being starved of the necessary reinforcements which he believed he needed and he resigned in February 1942.
In January 1943, Wavell was promoted to Field Marshall and he returned to India to supervise the liberation of Burma. However, throughout the spring of that year, his men failed to drive the Japanese out of the region. Despite this setback, in July 1943, Wavell was made the 1st Earl of Cyrenaica. It was in this role that he tried to resolve the Muslim- Hindu differences in India. In 1947, Wavell was replaced by Lord Louis Mountbatten in India and he became Lord Lieutenant of the County of London.
Archibald Wavell died on May 24th, 1950.