Years of service
29 July 1897British Guiana (modern Guyana) (
Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment)
51st (Highland) Infantry DivisionBritish Eighth Army52nd (Lowland) Infantry DivisionXII CorpsScottish CommandFar East Land Forces
World War IWestern FrontMesopotamian campaignWorld War IIDunkirk evacuationNorth African CampaignBattle of GazalaBattle of Normandy
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British EmpireKnight Commander of the Order of the BathDistinguished Service OrderMilitary CrossLegion of MeritKnight Grand Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau with SwordsVirtuti Militari, Fifth Class (Poland)
December 11, 1983, Toronto, Canada
Lancing College, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst
General Sir Neil Methuen Ritchie, (29 July 1897 – 11 December 1983) was a senior British Army officer who saw service during both the world wars. He is most notable during the Second World War for commanding the Eighth Army in the North African Campaign until being dismissed in June 1942. Returning to England and demoted, he later commanded the 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division and led XII Corps in the campaign in Northwest Europe from June 1944 until May 1945, later going on to have a successful postwar career.
Early life and military career
Following Lancing and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, Ritchie's military career started in December 1914 during the First World War when he was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders). During the war he served with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in Belgium and France, where he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1917, and later in the Mesopotamian campaign, in which he won the Military Cross in 1918, for "a fine example of coolness, courage and utter disregard of danger".
Second World War
By the start of the Second World War Ritchie had risen to the rank of brigadier, and was involved in the evacuation of Dunkirk. He commanded the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division from October 1940 until June 1941. He held posts on the staffs of Archibald Wavell, Alan Brooke and Claude Auchinleck and was highly regarded by them all. It was Auchinleck who was to give him his highest field command, the British Eighth Army, in November 1941, following the dismissal of Alan Cunningham from that position.
Ritchie had the bad luck to hold his highest command during the earliest phases of the war, when British fortunes were at their lowest ebb. The Eighth Army, fighting in the North African Campaign, was the only British land force engaging the German Army anywhere in the world. After some early successes against the Italians the British were pushed back following the arrival of the Afrika Korps under Erwin Rommel. Ritchie was originally intended as a temporary appointment until a suitable commander could be found, but in fact ended up commanding the Eighth Army for over six months. He was in command of the Eighth Army at the Battle of Gazala in May–June 1942 where he failed to exercise strong command over the Army and the British and Commonwealth forces were heavily defeated, losing the port of Tobruk. He was sacked by Auchinleck on 25 June 1942 prior to the First Battle of El Alamein.
Auchinleck is often seen as having appointed Ritchie, a relatively junior commander, in order to allow him to closely direct the battle himself as Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of Middle East Command. Ritchie was criticised heavily both during and after the war for his failure to stop Rommel. Since then several commentators have come to his defence, most notably Field Marshal Sir Michael Carver.
After being replaced as the Eighth Army commander Ritchie was, from September 1942, appointed to command the 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division, which was then being trained in mountain warfare, in the United Kingdom, and relinquished command in November 1943. He was later selected by General Sir Bernard Montgomery, commander of the Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group, to command XII Corps, part of Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey's British Second Army. He led XII Corps during the Battle of Normandy in the summer of 1944 and the subsequent campaign in Western Europe, ending in May 1945 with the end of World War II in Europe. The fact that Ritchie regained an active command following his dismissal, unlike his Eighth Army predecessor, Cunningham, reflects the high esteem in which he was held by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke.
From December 1948 until retirement from the army he held the ceremonial appointment of Aide-de-camp general to the King and from September 1950 he was colonel-in-chief of the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment), his old regiment. Following his retirement he emigrated to Canada where he became a director of the Canadian subsidiary of Tanqueray Gordon & Co. and in 1954 became chairman of the Mercantile & General Reinsurance Co. of Canada. He died at the age of 86 in Toronto.