Archibald Percival Wavell, 1st Earl Wavell

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Archibald Percival Wavell, 1st Earl Wavell (May 5, 1883 - May 24, 1950) was a British General and the commander of British Army forces in the Middle East during World War II. He led British forces to victory over the Italians, only to be defeated by the German army.

Wavell was born in Colchester but spent much of his his childhood in India. Wavell's father was a Major General in the British Army and Wavell followed his father's career choice.

Wavell attended Winchester College and Sandhurst. He joined the Black Watch in 1900 and fought in the second Boer War. In 1903, he was transferred to India and fought in the Bazar Valley campaign of 1908. In 1911, Wavell spent a year as a military observer with the Russian Army.

Wavell was working as a staff officer when World War I began. He was transferred to a combat unit and was wounded in the Battle of Ypres in 1915, losing an eye. Following his recovery, he was assigned as a liason officer to the Russian Army in 1916, this time in the field in Turkey. In 1918, he was transferred to Edmund Allenby's staff in Palestine.

Wavell was given a number of different assignments between the two world wars. In 1937, he was transferred back to Palestine, where there was a growing uprising. In July 1939, he was named as the head of the Middle East Command and was in that post when World War II began.

The Middle Eastern theatre was quiet for the first few months of the war until Italy's declaration of war in June 1940. The Italian forces in North Africa greatly outnumbered the British. Wavell however was able to not only defend against the Italian attacks but to defeat the Italians and occupy their colonies in Ethiopia and Somaliland. By February 1941, the British appeared to be on the verge of overrunning the last Italian forces in Libya, which would have ended Axis control in all of Africa.

But at this same time the Germans and Italians were attacking Greece. Wavell was ordered to halt his advance against Libya and sent troops to Greece. He disagreed with this decision but followed his orders. The result was a disaster. The Germans had an opportunity to reinforce the Italians in North Africa, the British were unable to set up an adequate defense on the Greek mainland and were forced to withdraw to Crete with heavy losses, and a pro-Axis faction took over the government of Iraq.

Wavell was replaced as Commander of British forces in the Middle East by Claude Auchinleck in July 1941. He was then transferred to India, where he served as Commander-in-Chief. He once again had the misfortune of being placed in charge of an undermanned theatre which became a warzone when the Japanese declared war on the United Kingdom in December 1941. He was made overall commander in charge of ABDA (American-British-Dutch-Australian) Command, but was forced to evacuate his headquarters from Java following the break up of ABDA.

Wavell, despite his abilities, did not have the resources to defend the territory he was responsible for and was unable to prevent the Japanese from capturing Singapore, Malaya, and Burma.

Wavell was again replaced in his military post by Auchinleck, who by this point had also experienced setbacks in North Africa. In 1943, Wavell was created a viscount and was named Viceroy of India. His mandate there was to maintain the status quo in India during the war and he remained in this post until he was replaced by Lord Mountbatten in 1947. Wavell is generally considered the best Viceroy and Governer General of India, for not only he had done all his homework before he became a viceroy, but he is also considered one of those who touched Indian souls and understood them. His understanding of the Indian situation and ignorance of his requests and proposals by Winston Churchill had made him quite frustrated. He was relieved to see the arrival of Clement Attlee who was more considerate than Churchill. However, he was unhappy with Attlee's slowness to make decisions. He had himself requested serveral times to be removed from post, but his requests were turned down by London. However, had Wavell not been there, the communal tension and civic strife would have been prolonged and more bloody. Wavell was against the Partition of India, as he knew this would lead to bloodshed which neither Indians nor the British would be able to control. He wanted to be prepared for anything and had worked on situation if the country had to be partitioned. It was Wavell who laid the foundation for Radcliffe's work and finally became Radcliffe Line.

Wavell returned to England where he died in 1950.

Preceded by:
Commander in Chief of British Forces in the Middle East
Succeeded by:
Sir Claude Auchinleck
Preceded by:
Sir Claude Auchinleck
Commander-in-Chief, India
Succeeded by:
Sir Alan Hartley
Preceded by:
Commander of ABDACOM
Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
Sir Alan Hartley
Commander-in-Chief, India
Succeeded by:
Sir Claude Auchinlek
Preceded by:
The Marquess of Linlithgow
Viceroy of India
Succeeded by:
The Viscount Mountbatten of Burma

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Preceded by:
New Creation
Earl Wavell
Succeeded by:
Archibald Wavell

Template:End box


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