William ‘Tiny’ Ironside was given the task of ensuring that Britain was a fortress post-Dunkirk. Ironside was a career army officer and he used all his expertise and experience to ensure that Britain was as safe from invasion as was physically possible given the success of Blitzkrieg both in Poland and Western Europe. The overwhelming factor Ironside had in his favour was the English Channel as this major physical barrier had to be overcome before Nazi Germany could land any men or equipment on to British soil.
Ironside was born in May 6th,1880. His father was a surgeon-major. Ironside attended the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich and in 1899 gained a commission in the Royal Artillery Regiment. He fought in the Boer War from 1899 to 1902.
Ironside fought in World War One. Towards the end of the war, Ironside was Commandant of the Machine Gun Corps school when on March 27th, 1918, Ironside was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general aged 37 and given command of the 99th Brigade, 2nd Division. Ironside was awarded a knighthood in 1919. Ironside later commanded the Allied intervention at Archangel in Russia during the Russian Civil War. After this ill-fated venture, Ironside was given the command of British forces in Persia (1920-21) and was based at Qazvin. In 1935, he was promoted to full general.
Ironside was then given a succession of senior staff positions and on the eve of World War Two he was Chief of the Imperial General Staff. In May 1940, Ironside was appointed Commander-in-Chief of Home Forces. His plan for the defence of Britain basically entailed turning the country into a fortress. His first layer of defence was to create a ‘Coastal Crust’ around the south, south-east and eastern coastlines where invasion was most likely. If the Germans managed to penetrate this, Ironside ordered the building of ‘stop lines’ manned by the Home Guard. These would act as barriers against an invading force that was constantly extending its supply lines as it moved inland from wherever it had landed. Whether this vast building project would have worked will never be known as ‘Operation Sealion’ was never carried out.
Ironside retired in July 1940. By the time of his retirement, Ironside had been promoted to Field Marshal. He gained his nickname ‘Tiny’ on account of his great height. Ironside was described by a colleague as “simple, modest and forthright…..universally liked and respected…an intelligent, imaginative, and unconventional soldier.” Fluent in seven languages, Ironside was a qualified army interpreter. He also played international rugby union for Scotland.
In 1941, he became the first Baron Ironside. He died in 1959.