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John Crocker

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Honest John

John Crocker

Years of service

United Kingdom

John Crocker

Birth name
John Tredinnick Crocker

4 January 1896Lewisham (

9 March 1963(1963-03-09) (aged 67)

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General Sir John Tredinnick Crocker, (4 January 1896 – 9 March 1963) was a senior British Army officer who fought in both world wars. He served as both a private soldier and junior officer in the First World War, and as a division and corps commander during the Second World War. After the war he rose to become Adjutant-General to the Forces, the second most senior officer on the Army Council.


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Early life

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As related in Delaney's book 'Corps Commanders';

"The son of Mary (Tredinnick) and Isaac Crocker, a secretary with the Champion Reef Gold Mining Company, John Crocker was born on 3 January 1896, one of five siblings who lived in a modest Exbury Road dwelling in Catford, Lewisham. Owing to a respiratory ailment, young John was too sickly to attend public school, so his mother, who had been widowed with five children since John was only four years old, somehow managed to send him instead to a retired parson for instruction. The parson was a voracious reader whose disciplined self-study and rectitude rubbed off on his pupil, as did a certain piety. Crocker remained a deeply religious man his entire life. Under the tutelage of his parson instructor, he also learned to think before speaking, to choose his words carefully, and never to lie. His tutor liked things done properly, something Crocker would always demand of his own charges. One subordinate would later comment that he possessed 'a most penetrative insight into character and behaviour. Anyone who tried to hoodwink him was on a forlorn and dangerous path.' Odd as it may have been, his unorthodox education served him well in his military career".

First World War

Upon the outbreak of the First World War (1914–18), which occurred in the summer 1914, Crocker, aged 18, enlisted into the British Army as a private soldier in the Artists Rifles, a training corps for potential officers. He was commissioned as a temporary second lieutenant into the Machine Gun Corps (MGC) in January 1917. He had a distinguished career in the war and in April and July 1918 was awarded, respectively, the Military Cross (MC) and Distinguished Service Order (DSO). After further training at the Machine Gun School at Grantham, Lincolnshire, he joined the 174th Machine Gun Company, part of the 59th (2nd North Midland) Division, a Territorial Force (TF) formation then serving in the trenches of the Western Front as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). He fought with his company, which in early March 1918 became part of the 59th Machine Gun Battalion, in the Battle of Passchendaele (also known as the Third Battle of Ypres) in mid-1917 and in the German Army's Spring Offensives of 1918. He was promoted to temporary lieutenant in July 1918.

The citation for his MC award, published in the official London Gazette reads:

T./2nd Lt. John Tredinnick Crocker, M.G. Corps.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty as section commander in a machine-gun battery. He stuck to his battery until it was blown up, and then, going forward to the barrage, he salved two guns and took them forward to support the infantry, where the situation was uncertain.

The citation for the DSO reads:

T./2nd Lt. John Tredinnick Crocker, M.C., M.G.C.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When in charge of four machine guns he broke down two strong enemy attacks, holding on from 10a.m. till dusk, when infantry and reinforcements arrived. The following day he maintained his position till outflanked, when he stood up between two of his guns and directed their fire on the enemy, who were within 30 yards, then covered the withdrawal with bombs and rifle fire, killing many himself at close range. Took up a fresh position until almost surrounded again, when he again went out with bombs. His example throughout was magnificent.

He continued to serve on the Western Front, fighting in the Hundred Days Offensive, until the war came to an end on 11 November 1918 with the signing of the Armistice with Germany.

Between the wars

After the war, Crocker left the army to train as a solicitor. However, he did not enjoy his new profession and returned to soldiering as an infantry officer in the Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge's Own) in the Regular Army. His rank of lieutenant was confirmed at the end of 1920, the same year of his marriage to Hilda Mitchell; they had a son, Wilfrid. In early 1922 Crocker was seconded to the Royal Tank Corps (later the Royal Tank Regiment) to specialise in the then new field of armoured warfare. His secondment became a permanent transfer in August 1923 (backdated to June 1919).

After graduating from the Staff College, Quetta, in 1929, he held a number of both field and staff posts including brigade major to Brigadier Percy Hobart's 1st Tank Brigade and General Staff Officer Grade 1 (GSO1) to Major General Alan Brooke when the latter was commanding the Mobile Division (later 1st Armoured Division). He also had a period of secondment to the Royal Tank School in India from September 1925 and was promoted captain from April 1929.

Promotion in the interwar army was slow and Crocker's advancement was evidenced by a succession of brevet ranks: brevet major in 1935, brevet lieutenant colonel in 1936 and brevet colonel in 1938. However, his permanent rank caught up when he was promoted full colonel in August 1938. By the time the Second World War began in September 1939 he was a GSO1 staff officer in Southern Command.

France and England

In April 1940 Crocker was appointed to command of the 3rd Armoured Brigade, in succession to Brigadier Vyvyan Pope. The brigade was part of Major General Roger Evans's 1st Armoured Division (formerly the Mobile Division), then serving in England but preparing to move to France. Crocker's brigade, like much of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), was virtually destroyed in the Battle of France in May–June 1940. Landed at Cherbourg as the rest of the BEF retreated to Dunkirk in late May, the division unsuccessfully attacked the German bridgeheads over the River Somme before returning to Cherbourg where the remnants (including the brigade's last 13 tanks) were evacuated. Crocker and his brigade were evacuated in mid-June, Crocker himself returning with Lieutenant General James Marshall-Cornwall on the last ship.

Back in Britain, Crocker was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his efforts in France, and became General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the newly created 6th Armoured Division in September 1940 with the rank of acting major general. The division, initially composed of the 20th and 26th Armoured Brigades, along with the 6th Support Group, was formed in Southern Command and, under its perfectionist GOC, trained intensively, with Crocker ensuring that all ranks knew their jobs.

In October 1941 Crocker, after having been GOC of the division for well over a year, handed over to Major General Herbert Lumsden and was selected to command one of the new Armoured Groups in Home Command, but was advanced to take over command of XI Corps, succeeding Lieutenant General Noel Irwin, in East Anglia in March 1942 with the rank of acting lieutenant general. Aged just 46, he was one of the youngest corps commanders in the army, and was realised as being a potential senior commander.

North Africa

In September 1942 Crocker relinquished command of XI Corps, handing over to Lieutenant General Gerard Bucknall, and took command of IX Corps, succeeding Lieutenant General Francis Nosworthy. The corps, with Brigadier Gordon MacMillan as its chief of staff, saw service in the Tunisian Campaign as part of Lieutenant General Kenneth Anderson's British First Army from late March 1943 onwards. The corps immediately took under command the 6th Armoured Division, now under Major General Charles Keightley, and the 46th Infantry and 1st Armoured Divisions, commanded, respectively, by Major Generals Harold Freeman-Attwood and Raymond Briggs.

In his first battle, an attempt to cut off the Italian First Army at Fondouk Pass on 8 April 1943, Crocker underestimated the strength of the defences in front of him. Elements of the 26th Armoured Brigade of the 6th Armoured Division and the U.S. 34th Infantry Division, under Major General Charles W. Ryder, at the time attached to Crocker's command, became entangled with each other and when the armour eventually broke through most of the Italians had escaped. Crocker's handling of his infantry was also thought to be poor and his subsequent criticism of the Americans caused upset at Allied Forces Headquarters (AFHQ) and infuriating General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in North Africa. IX Corps was involved in heavy fighting during the latter stages of the campaign but, on 27 April, Crocker was wounded in a training accident, during a demonstration of a PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank) anti-tank weapon, shortly before the final battle for Tunis and saw no further action in North Africa. A piece of shrapnel had entered Crocker's upper chest. Command of IX Corps passed temporarily to Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks, who transferred over from the British Eighth Army's X Corps. Crocker was, nonetheless, appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath for his command in Tunisia.

North-western Europe 1944−1945

Crocker returned to England in May after his IX Corps HQ was disbanded and he remained temporarily unemployed. On his return to service in August he was, upon the recommendation of General The Hon. Sir Harold Alexander, commander of the Allied 18th Army Group in North Africa, to General Sir Alan Brooke, now the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), who thought highly of "Honest John", gave Crocker command of I Corps in early August. Crocker took over from Lieutenant General Gerard Bucknall, who had requested demotion to major general to command a division overseas.

I Corps was to form part of the British Second Army, then under Lieutenant General Sir Kenneth Anderson (but replaced in January 1944 by Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey), training for Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Northern France. Despite Crocker's background in armoured warfare, I Corps was predominantly an infantry formation, but General Sir Bernard Montgomery, commanding the Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group, had confidence in Crocker's organisational skills and assigned I Corps the difficult task of capturing the city of Caen. For the landings I Corps had under command the 3rd Canadian Division, supported by the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, and Major General Tom Rennie's British 3rd Division, supported by the 27th Armoured Brigade, and Major General Richard Gale's 6th Airborne Division. On D-Day, 6 June 1944, Crocker had a larger task than any other Allied corps commander: he had to control two landing beaches (Juno and Sword) and an airborne assault. The fact that, in spite of inevitable mishaps, the landings went so well was a testimony to Crocker's planning.

However, Caen did not fall on D-Day as planned, although a battalion of the British 3rd Division made a spirited attempt before being driven back by the 21st Panzer Division. Instead, Crocker's corps took part in the bloody two-month Battle for Caen, including Operation Charnwood, which still had the 3rd Canadian and 3rd British Divisions under command (the latter now under Major General Lashmer "Bolo" Whistler after Rennie was injured), along with Major General Lewis Lyne's 59th Division. The operation began on 7 July and, after heavy fighting, had captured most of the Caen city centre, although the Germans still held the southern half. The corps, losing the 3rd Division soon after and gaining Major General Evelyn Barker's 49th Division in exchange, came under command of Lieutenant General Harry Crerar's First Canadian Army in August 1944, I Corps drove forward to the River Seine and then took part in the unglamorous mopping up operations along the French and Belgian coastline. The relationship between Crocker and Crerar were not always cordial, with the latter, shortly after taking Crocker's I Corps under command of the First Army, attempted to sack Crocker and replace him with either Lieutenant Generals Neil Ritchie (GOC XII Corps) or Gerard Bucknall (GOC XXX Corps). However, Crerar was overruled by General Montgomery, the 21st Army Group commander, although the relationship improved thereafter.

When severe British manpower shortages prompted the disbandment of two infantry divisions (the 59th (Staffordshire) and 50th (Northumbrian)) in late 1944, I Corps HQ was withdrawn from the front line to take over the administration of the 21st Army Group's rear areas in Germany as it advanced across the river Rhine in March 1945. Crocker was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in September 1944 for his performance in the Normandy invasion and its aftermath. In June 1945, with the war in Europe over, Crocker returned to the United Kingdom to take over Southern Command from Lieutenant General Sir Sidney Kirkman.

Crocker's only son, Wilfrid, a tank officer serving with the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, part of the 7th Armoured Division, was killed in action on 20 October 1944 fighting in the Netherlands.

Later life

In 1945 he became General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) Southern Command, then in 1947 he moved on to be Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) Middle East Land Forces in succession to Dempsey. He was advanced to Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in the 1947 Birthday Honours. In 1950 Crocker's career culminated in his appointment as Adjutant-General to the Forces. Made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 1948, Crocker retired in 1953. Crocker's permanent rank had been advanced to lieutenant general in October 1945, and full general in 1947. In addition to the British honours he had received, Crocker was also honoured by the Netherlands government in 1947 for his service in North West Europe in the form of being appointed a Grand Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau with Swords.

In 1948 Montgomery recommended Crocker to be his successor as CIGS, but the then Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, appointed the better-known and more senior General Sir William Slim. Crocker's most important postwar contribution was to write the training manuals that laid down the British Army's doctrine of armoured warfare through the years of the Cold War. Crocker held a number of honorary appointments including Aide de Camp to the King (1948 to 1951), Colonel Commandant Royal Tank Regiment (1949), Honorary Colonel Royal Armoured Corps (1949).

After retiring he became Vice-Chairman of the Imperial War Graves Commission and Lord Lieutenant of Middlesex. He was also a Member of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation.


John Crocker Wikipedia