Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey commanded the British 2nd Army during the D-Day landings in June 1944. Dempsey’s men landed at Gold, Juno and Sword beaches and the spectacular success of the British units at the Normandy landings, and the way they were led, confirmed to many the skill and ability of Dempsey.
Miles Dempsey was born in New Brighton, Cheshire in December 1896. He graduated from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in 1915 and went straight into World War One fighting with the Royal Berkshire Regiment. Dempsey served on the Western Front and was awarded the Military Cross for bravery.
The army was his career and by the outbreak of war in September 1939, he held the rank of lieutenant colonel. Dempsey was sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force where he commanded the 13th Infantry Brigade. As with so many British units faced with a blitzkrieg attack, Dempsey’s men were pushed back to Dunkirk where they were evacuated. His men provided the rear guard for the British and French troops and for his role in the evacuation, Dempsey was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
In December 1942, Dempsey was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and became head of the 13th Corps in the 8th Army. He fought in the North African campaign as part of Montgomery’s 8th Army and was involved in the planning for the invasion of Sicily. In Sicily, Dempsey was very successful. His men led the attack in July 1943 and from Sicily, his men crossed to Italy.
Throughout his time in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, Dempsey gained a reputation for being an expert in combined operations. It was no surprise when Bernard Montgomery selected Dempsey to command the British 2nd Army in January 1944, which was to play a major part in the invasion of Normandy in June 1944.
The British 2nd Army was broken down into the British 30th Corps commanded by Bucknall and the British 1st Corps commanded by Crocker. It was the British 2nd Army that attacked Gold, Juno and Sword beaches with much success.
By the end of July 1944, the British 2nd Army had broken out of Normandy and was advancing across France. It was Dempsey’s troops who liberated Brussels and Antwerp in September 1944. On March 23rd, 1945, Dempsey crossed the River Rhine and in May, his men captured Hamburg.
Miles Dempsey was considered to be a highly competent officer. He asserted a very effective control over the British 2nd Army but always seemed to be in the background. Whereas, General George Patton can be seen as the classic military extrovert, Dempsey was the opposite.
After the war, he was appointed as the military commander of the Middle East in 1946. Dempsey retired from the army in 1947 and died in June 1969.