Herbert Lumsden was born at Clanfield, Oxfordshire on 8 April 1897, the son of John Lumsden. Educated at The Leys School, at the outbreak of the First World War he was only 17 years old. He served in the ranks with the Territorial Force for ten months before passing into the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He was commissioned into the Royal Horse Artillery on 13 August 1916. On 26 July 1918 Lumsden was awarded the Military Cross. The citation read:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during 13 days of continuous fighting in charge of a forward section. He invariably showed the greatest coolness and courage in the face of danger, keeping his section in action, and always volunteering for any officer's patrol work. As FOO he was consistently shelled whenever he moved his OP, and, although finally wounded, he continued to work and observe for his battery.
On 19 April 1923 Lumsden married Alice Mary Roddick in Northaw. They would have two sons, Michael & Peter. Lumsden continued to serve in the Royal Artillery until 24 June 1925, when he transferred to the 12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales), a cavalry regiment. In August he was promoted from lieutenant to captain after eight years in the former rank. He was an ardent horseman, despite his 6 ft height, and participated in a number of Grand Nationals. In 1926 he won the Grand Military Gold Cup at Sandown riding Foxtrot.
In 1929 Lumsden attended and passed the Staff College, Camberley course. Promoted to major in 1931, he held staff appointments in the cavalry for the next four years, being GSO3 of Aldershot Command and then Brigade Major of the 1st Cavalry Brigade. After a period of not being employed he became GSO2 at the Staff College before being given command, in 1938, of his old regiment, the 12th Royal Lancers in succession to Colonel Richard McCreery. He was still in command of the regiment, now converted to armoured cars, at the outbreak of the Second World War.
Lumsden was widely praised for his command of his regiment during the retreat to Dunkirk in 1940 as part of the British Expeditionary Force. For his actions he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). He was promoted and commanded a tank brigade before being appointed General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 6th Armoured Division in the Home Command in October 1941.
On 5 November 1941 he was given command of the 1st Armoured Division. It was in this role that he first saw service in the North African Campaign. A forceful personality, he was wounded twice in 1942 (having to hand over his command from January to March), received a Bar to his DSO and, on his return to service, survived Bernard Montgomery's cull of Eighth Army commanders.
Lumsden was appointed commander of X Corps for the Second Battle of El Alamein upon the recommendation of Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks, who turned the command down in his favour.
During the night of 24 October 1942, the planned British assault of infantry and engineers over the Miteiriya Ridge during the Second Battle of El Alamein failed. Despite having agreed to Mongomery's battle plan, Lumsden believed it was impossible for his 10th Corps armour to fight its way into the open without incurring appalling casualties from uncleared minefields and ongoing anti-tank fire. He wanted to pull his tanks back and send them into battle once the assault of infantry and engineers had taken place as originally planned.
In the early hours of 25 October, Lumsden argued fiercely with Montgomery that his armour should be pulled back. When Montgomery insisted the attack continue, Lumsden asked one of his tank commanders Major General Alexander Gatehouse commanding 10th Armoured Division, to back him up. In a heated telephone conversation with Montgomery, Gatehouse said that he concurred with Lumsden and that to advance through uncharted and uncleared minefields, covered by strong batteries of anti-tank guns, with the noise of tank tracks making surprise impossible, would be disastrous. Montgomery modified the scope of the attack from six armoured regiments to one: the Staffordshire Yeomanry. It lost all but fifteen of its tanks and the operation ended where it had begun, on the wrong side of the Miteiriya Ridge having failed to break through with the armour.
Ultimately the Allies were victorious at El Alamein, but for Lumsden, his confrontation with Montgomery in the heat of battle proved ruinous. Lumsden was replaced by Horrocks, who had previously recommended Lumsden to Montgomery, while Gatehouse was also removed from command. On his return to London, Lumsden was heard to comment, "I've just been sacked because there isn't room in the desert for two cads like Monty and me". After Lumsden's death in 1945 Montgomery, notoriously sensitive to criticism of his generalship, unjustly blamed the near failure of his offensive on 24/25 October 1942 on alleged cowardice by Lumsden.
Lumsden was liked and respected by Winston Churchill. After his dismissal by Montgomery he was given command of VIII Corps in Britain in January 1943 and command of II Corps in July, before being sent to the Pacific as Winston Churchill's special military representative to United States Army General Douglas MacArthur. Lumsden was killed by a Japanese kamikaze plane while on the bridge of the United States Navy battleship USS New Mexico in Lingayen Gulf observing the bombardment of Luzon on 6 January 1945, becoming the most senior British Army combat casualty of the Second World War.
"A General Dies at Sea"
Leading the armored pack when Montgomery chased Rommel, the Desert Fox, out of Africa was hard-riding Herbert Lumsden, commander of the X Corps. A Lieutenant-General at the age of 45, he was accounted one of Britain's most brilliant young commanders.
But lean, gimlet-eyed Lumsden, who had risen from the ranks, became involved in a ruinous personal disagreement with his superior officers. Winston Churchill assigned Lumsden as his liaison officer with General MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific. There Lumsden faithfully did his routine duty with a heavy heart and longed for another combat command.
On the first day of the Luzon bombardment General Lumsden was killed on the bridge of a U.S. warship in Lingayen Gulf. In London, the War Office announced his death "with deep regret." MacArthur did better by him: "It is superfluous for me to speak of the complete courage which this officer so frequently displayed.... His general service and usefulness to the Allied cause was beyond praise." The Chief of the Imperial General Staff described his death as "a great loss".
Standing only the width of the ship's bridge away from Lumsden, with whom he had been discussing the action, was Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, commander in chief of the British Pacific Fleet. He got nothing worse than "a bit of a bang in the ears." Sir Bruce will soon lead his own powerful fleet into battle under U.S. overall command.