- William Slim, 1st Viscount Slim
Infobox Military Person
name=Field Marshal The Viscount Slim
born= birth date|1891|8|6
died= death date and age|1970|12|14|1891|8|6
caption=Sir William Slim (as he then was) as
Governor-General of Australia
Chief of the Imperial General Staff
World War I Battle of Gallipoli World War II
East African Campaign
Middle East Campaign Burma Campaign Battle of Kohima Battle of Imphal
Knight of the Garter Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St GeorgeKnight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire Distinguished Service Order Military CrossChief Commander of the Legion of Merit Knight of the Order of St John
Governor-General of AustraliaConstable and Governor of Windsor Castle Field MarshalWilliam Joseph "Bill" ["No one called him William." Max Hastings, "Retribution" (2008, Knopf) p. 68.] Slim, 1st Viscount Slim, KG, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, GBE, KStJ, DSO, MC (6 August 1891 – 14 December 1970) was a British military commander and the 13th Governor-General of Australia. He fought in both World War Iand World War II. He was wounded in action three times during his career.
Slim was born in Bishopston, near
Bristolto John and Charlotte Slim (nee Tucker), a lower-middle class family. He grew up in Birminghamand attended St. Philip's Schooland King Edward's School. After leaving school, he taught at an elementary school and worked as a clerk in Stewarts & Lloyds, a metal-tube maker, between 1910 and 1914. He joined Birmingham University Officers' Training Corpsin 1912, and was thus able to be commissioned as a temporary second lieutenantin the Royal Warwickshire Regimenton 22 August 1914, at the outbreak of World War I; in later life, as a result of his modest social origins and unpretentious manner, he was sometimes wrongly supposed to have risen from the ranks. He was badly wounded at Gallipoli. On return to England, he was granted a regular commission as a second lieutenant in the West India Regiment. In October 1916, he returned to his regiment in Mesopotamia. On 4 March 1917, he was promoted to lieutenant (with seniority back dated to October 1915).LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] He was wounded a second time in 1917. Having been previously given the temporary rank of captain, he was awarded the
Military Crosson 7 February 1918 for actions in Mesopotamia.LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] Evacuated to
India, he was given the temporary rank of majorin the 6th Gurkha Rifleson 2 November 1918.LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] He was formally promoted to captain and transferred to the
British Indian Armyon 22 May 1919.LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] He became adjutant of the battalion in 1921.
He married Aileen Robertson in 1926 (died 1993), with whom he had one son and one daughter.
In 1926, Slim was sent to the Indian Staff College at
Quetta. On 5 June 1929, he was appointed a General Staff Officer, Second GradeLondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] On 1 January 1930, he was given the brevet rank of major,LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] with formal promotion to this rank made on 19 May 1933.LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] His performance at Staff College resulted in his appointment first to Army Headquarters India in
Delhiand then to Staff College, Camberleyin England (as a General Staff Officer, Second Grade),LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] where he taught from 1934 to 1937. In 1938, he was promoted to
accessdate=2007-12-31] and given command of the 2nd Battalion,
7th Gurkha Rifles. In 1939 he was briefly given the temporary rank of brigadieras commander of his battalion.LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] On 8 June 1939, he was promoted to
colonel(again with temporary rank of brigadier)LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] and appointed head of the Senior Officers' School at
East African Campaign
On the outbreak of
World War II, Slim was given command of the Indian 10th Brigade of the Indian 5th Infantry Divisionand was sent to Sudan. He took part in the East African Campaign to liberate Ethiopiafrom the Italians. Slim was wounded again during the fighting in Eritrea. On 21 January 1941, Slim was hit when his position was strafed during the advance on Agordat.
Middle East Campaign
Slim joined the staff of General
Archibald Wavellin the Middle East Command. He was given the rank of acting major-generalin June 1941.LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] He commanded British forces in the
Middle East Campaign, leading the Indian 10th Infantry Divisionas part of Iraqforceduring the Anglo-Iraqi War, the Syria-Lebanon Campaign, and the invasion of Persia. He was twice mentioned in despatchesduring 1941.LondonGazette
South-East Asian Theatre of World War IIand Burma Campaign"
In March 1942, Slim was given command of 1st Burma Corps, also known as
BurCorps, consisting of the 17th Indian Infantry Division and 1st Burma Division). Slim was made acting lieutenant-general on 8 May 1942.LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] The corps was under attack in Burma by the
Japanese and, heavily outnumbered, he was soon forced to withdraw to India. On 28 October 1942, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire(CBE).LondonGazette
He then took over XV Corps under the command of the Eastern Army. His command covered the coastal approaches from Burma to India, east of
Chittagong. He had a series of disputes with Noel Irwin, commander of Eastern Army and, as a result, Irwin (although an army commander) took personal control of the initial advance by XV Corps into the ArakanPeninsula. The operations ended in disaster, during which Slim was restored to command of XV Corps, albeit too late to salvage the situation. General Irwin and Slim blamed each other for the result but in the end Irwin was removed from his command and Slim was promoted to command the new Fourteenth Army—formed from IV Corps (Imphal), XV Corps (Arakan) and
XXXIII Corps (reserve)—later joined by XXXIV Corps. On 14 January 1943, Slim was awarded the
Distinguished Service Order(DSO) for his actions in the Middle East during 1941.LondonGazette
He quickly got on with the task of training his new army to take the fight to the enemy. The basic premise was that off-road mobility was paramount: much heavy equipment was exchanged for mule- or air-transported equipment and motor transport was kept to a minimum and restricted to those vehicles that could cope with some of the worst combat terrain on Earth. The new doctrine dictated that if the Japanese had cut the lines of communication, then they too were surrounded. All units were to form defensive 'boxes', to be resupplied by air and assisted by integrated close air support and armour. The boxes were designed as an effective response to the tactics of infiltration practiced by the Japanese in the war. Slim also supported increased offensive patrolling, to encourage his soldiers to lose both their fear of the jungle and also their belief that Japanese soldiers were better jungle fighters.
At the start of 1944, Slim held the official rank of colonel with a war-time rank of major-general and the temporary rank of lieutenant-general.LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] In January 1944, when the
Second Arakan Offensivewas met by a Japanese counter-offensive, the Indian 7th Infantry Divisionwas quickly surrounded along with parts of the Indian 5th Infantry Divisionand the 81st (West Africa) Division. The 7th Indian Division's defence was based largely on the "Admin Box"—formed initially from drivers, cooks, suppliers, etc. They were supplied by air—negating the importance of their lost supply lines. The Japanese forces were able to defeat the offensive into Arakan, but they were unable to decisively defeat the allied forces or advance beyond the surrounded formations. While the Second Arakan Offensive ended in failure, it proved tactics that were very effective against the Japanese.
In early 1944, Slim was appointed a Companion of the
Order of the Bath(CB).The CB was awarded prior to 31 March 1944 when Slim is recorded with this honour in the "London Gazette", but the record of the award appears to be unpublished.] Later in 1944 the Japanese launched an invasion of India aimed at Imphal—hundreds of miles to the north. Slim airlifted two entire veteran divisions (5th & 7th Indian) from battle in the Arakan, straight into battle in the north. Desperate defensive actions were fought at places such as Imphal, Sangshakand Kohima, while the RAF and USAAF kept the forces supplied from the air. While the Japanese were able to advance and encircle the formations of 14th Army, they were unable to defeat those same forces or break out of the jungles along the Indian frontier. The Japanese advance stalled. The Japanese refused to give up even after the monsoon started and large parts of their army were wrecked by conducting operations in impossible conditions. As a result their units took unsupportable casualties and were finally forced, in July 1944, to retreat in total disorder, leaving behind many dead. On 8 August 1944, Slim was promoted to lieutenant-general,LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] and, on
28 September 1944, he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath(KCB).LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] He was also mentioned in despatches.LondonGazette
In 1945, Slim launched an offensive into Burma, with lines of supply stretching almost to breaking point across hundreds of miles of trackless jungle. He faced the same problems that the Japanese had faced in their failed 1944 offensive in the opposite direction. He made the supply of his armies the central issue in the plan of the campaign. The Irrawaddy River was crossed (with the longest
Bailey bridgein the world at the time—most of which had been transported by mule and air) and the city of Meiktilawas taken, followed by Mandalay. The Allies had reached the open plains of central Burma, sallying out and breaking Japanese attacking forces in isolation, maintaining the initiative at all times, backed up by air-land co-operation including resupply by air and close air support, performed by both RAF and USAAF units.
In combination with these attacks,
Force 136helped initiate a countrywide uprising of the Burmese people against the Japanese. In addition to fighting the allied advance south, the Japanese were faced with heavy attacks from behind their own lines. Toward the end of the campaign, the army raced south to capture Rangoon before the start of the monsoon. It was considered necessary to capture the port because of the length of the supply lines overland from India and the impossibility of supply by air or land during the monsoon. Rangoon was eventually taken by a combined attack from the land (Slim's army), the air (parachute operations south of the city) and a seaborne invasion. Also assisting in the capture of Rangoon was the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom Leaguelead by Thakin Soewith Aung San(the future Prime Minister of Burma and father of Aung San Suu Kyi) as one of its military commanders.
As the Burma campaign came to an end Slim was informed in May by
Oliver Leese, the commander of Allied Land Forces South-East Asia (ALFSEA) that he would not be commanding Fourteenth Army in the forthcoming invasion planned for Malaya but would take command of the new Twelfth Army being formed to mop up in Burma.Mead (2007), p. 425] Slim refused the appointment, saying he would prefer to retire. As the news spread Fourteenth Army fell into turmoil and Alan Brooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, furious at not having been consulted by Leese, and Claude Auchinleck, the C-in-C India who was at the time in London, brought pressure to bear. [Alanbrook in his diary entry of 17 May wrote "...(met) with Auk about appointment of Slim to Burma Command. Leese is going quite wild and doing mad things, prepared a fair rap on the knuckles for him!"] The Supreme Allied Commander of the Southeast Asia Theatre, Louis Mountbatten was obliged to order Leese to undo the damage. On 1 July 1945, Slim was promoted to generalLondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] and was informed that he was to succeed Leese as C-in-C ALFSEA. However, by the time he took up the post, having taken some leave, the war was at an end.
After World War II
At the end of 1945 Slim returned to the UK. On 1 January 1946, he was made a Knight Grand Cross of the
Order of the British Empire(GBE).LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] and took the post of Commandant of the
Imperial Defence Collegefor its first course since 1939. On 7 February 1947 he was made an Aide-de-camp(ADC) to the King.LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] At the end of his two year appointment at the Imperial Defence College Slim retired as ADC and from the army on 11 May 1948.LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] He had been approached by both India and Pakistan to become C-in-C of their respective armies post independence but refused and instead became Deputy Chairman of
British Railways.Mead (2007), p.426] However, in November 1948 Clement Attlee, the British Prime Minister rejected the proposal by Bernard Montgomerythat he should be succeeded as Chief of the Imperial General Staffby John Crockerand instead brought back Slim from retirement in the rank of field marshal in January 1949.LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] Slim thus became the first Indian Army officer to be so appointed. Also in 1948 the United States awarded Slim the Commander of the Legion of Merit.LondonGazette
In September 1949, he was appointed to the Army Council.LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] On 2 January 1950, he was made a Knight Grand Cross of the
Order of the Bath(GCB)LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] and later that year was made a Chief Commander of the
Legion of Meritby the United States.LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] On 1 November 1952, he relinquished the position of Chief of the Imperial General StaffLondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] and, on 10 December 1952, was made a Knight Grand Cross of the
Order of St Michael and St George(GCMG) on his appointment as Governor-General of Australia.LondonGazette
On 2 January 1953, he was appointed a Knight of the Order of St. John (KStJ).LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] On 8 May 1953, he took up the post of Governor-General of Australia. On 27 April 1954, he was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the
Royal Victorian Order(GCVO).LondonGazette
Slim was a popular choice for Governor-General since he was an authentic war hero who had fought alongside Australians at Gallipoli and in the Middle East. In 1954 he was able to welcome Queen Elizabeth II on the first visit by a reigning monarch to Australia. Slim's duties as Governor-General were entirely ceremonial and there were no controversies during his term. The Liberal leader
Robert Menziesheld office throughout Slim's time in Australia. His Official Secretary throughout his term was Murray Tyrrell.
In 1959, Slim retired and returned to Britain, where he published his memoirs, "Unofficial History" and "
Defeat into Victory". On 24 April 1959, he was appointed a Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter (KG).LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] On 15 July 1960, he was created
Viscount Slim, of Yarralumlain the Capital Territory of Australia and of Bishopstonin the City and County of Bristol.LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] After a successful further career on the boards of major UK companies, he was appointed Constable and Governor of Windsor Castle on 18 June 1964.LondonGazette
accessdate=2007-12-31] He died in
Londonon 14 December 1970.
He was given a full military funeral at
St. George's Chapel, Windsorand was afterward cremated. A remembrance plaque was placed in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral.
The road William Slim Drive, in the district of
Belconnen, Canberrais named after him.
Relations with troops
Slim had a unique relationship with his troops - the "
Forgotten Army", as they called themselves and despite being very close to defeat at the hands of the Japanese, who had driven them back to the Indian border by 1942, Slim raised training and morale within the ranks. It was this turnaround in the army under him that was a contributing factor to the eventual defeat of the Japanese. Of all the memorials to Slim the one that he would perhaps have cherished most was the impact he made on those he commanded. A half-century later, one of them recalled:
"the burly man who came to talk to the assembled battalion … it was unforgettable. Slim was like that: the only man I've ever seen who had a force that came out of him. British soldiers don't love their commanders ... Fourteenth Army trusted Slim and thought of him as one of themselves, and perhaps his real secret was that the feeling was mutual". [George MacDonald Fraser, "Quartered Safe Out Here" (1992)]
lim's place in history
Lieutenant GeneralSir John Kiszelyhas recommended Slim's memoirs (" Defeat into Victory") describing Slim as "perhaps the Greatest Commander of the 20th Century" and commenting on Slim's "self-deprecating style" [ [http://www.da.mod.uk/publications/reading-list The Defence Academy: The Director's Reading List] ] Slim's 14th Army was composed of an amalgam of Indian (Hindu, Sikh and Muslim troops), British, African, and other troops; he was on the far end of a long logistical pipeline and generally had the oldest equipment of any Allied army. By all accounts, he was a superb logistician, imaginative in his tactics and operational concepts, and - unusually - very popular with his troops.
As a British commander on the Asian mainland, Slim's contribution to the U.S. war effort in the Pacific has often been undervalued.Fact|date=July 2008 For three years, Slim's soldiers tied down tens of thousands of Japanese troops in Burma that could have been otherwise redeployed against U.S. forces in
New Guinea, the Philippines, Iwo Jimaand Okinawa.
"In contrast to almost every other outstanding commander of the war, Slim was a disarmingly normal human being, possessed of notable self-knowledge. He was without pretension, devoted to his wife, Aileen, their family and the Indian Army. His calm, robust style of leadership and concern for the interests of his men won the admiration of all who served under him ... His blunt honesty, lack of bombast and unwillingness to play courtier did him few favours in the corridors of power. Only his soldiers never wavered in their devotion". [Hastings, p. 69.]
The spirit of comradeship Slim created within 14th Army lived on after the war in the
Burma Star Association, of which Slim was a co-founder and first President. [ [http://www.burmastar.org.uk/history.htm Burma Star Association history] ]
A statue to Slim is on
Whitehall, outside the Ministry of Defence, was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990. Designed by Ivor Roberts-Jones, the statue is one of three of British Second World War Field Marshals (the others being Alanbrooke and Montgomery). [ [http://www.ukattraction.com/london/statue-of-viscount-slim.htm UK attractions: Statue of Viscount Slim] ] Slim's papers were collected by his biographer, Ronald Lewin, and given to the Churchill Archives Centreby Slim's wife, Aileen, Viscountess Slim, and son, John Slim, 2nd Viscount Slim, and other donors, 1977-2001. [ [http://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/db/node.xsp?id=EAD%2FGBR%2F0014%2FSLIM Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge] ] Lewin's biography, entitled "Slim: The Standardbearer" was awarded the 1977 WH Smith Literary Award
*1891-1915: William Slim
*1915-1917: Second-Lieutenant William Slim
*1917-1918: Lieutenant William Slim
*1918-1919: Lieutenant William Slim, MC
*1919-1933: Captain William Slim, MC
*1933-1938: Major William Slim, MC
*1938-1939: Lieutenant-Colonel William Slim, MC
*1939-1941: Colonel (Temp. Brigadier) William Slim, MC
*1941-1942: Colonel (Actg. Major-General) William Slim, MC
*1942-1943: Colonel (Actg. Major-General) William Slim, CBE, MC
*1943-January 1944: Colonel (Actg. Major-General) William Slim, CBE, DSO, MC
*January-August 1944: Colonel (Actg. Major-General) William Slim, CB, CBE, DSO, MC
*August-September 1944: Lieutenant-General William Slim, CB, CBE, DSO, MC
*September 1944-July 1945: Lieutenant-General Sir William Slim, KCB, CBE, DSO, MC
*July 1945-1946: General Sir William Slim, KCB, CBE, DSO, MC
*1946-1947: General Sir William Slim, GBE, KCB, DSO, MC
*1947-1948: General Sir William Slim, GBE, KCB, DSO, MC, ADC
*1949-1950: Field Marshal Sir William Slim, GBE, KCB, DSO, MC
*1950-1952: Field Marshal Sir William Slim, GCB, GBE, DSO, MC
*1952-1953: Field Marshal Sir William Slim, GCB, GCMG, GBE, DSO, MC
*1953-1954: Field Marshal Sir William Slim, GCB, GCMG, GBE, KStJ, DSO, MC
*1954-1959: Field Marshal Sir William Slim, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, GBE, KStJ, DSO, MC
*1959-1960: Field Marshal Sir William Slim, KG, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, GBE, KStJ, DSO, MC
*1960-1970: Field Marshal The Right Honourable The Viscount Slim, KG, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, GBE, KStJ, DSO, MC
Defeat into Victory" by Field Marshal Sir William Slim; NY: Buccaneer Books ISBN 1-56849-077-1, Cooper Square Press ISBN 0-8154-1022-0; London: Cassell ISBN 0-304-29114-5, Pan ISBN 0-330-39066-X.
*Early in his career, Slim wrote short fiction under the alias of "Anthony Mills".
*Other publications include "Courage and Other Broadcasts" (1957); and "Unofficial History" (1959).
*cite web| title=General Bill Slim| work=The Burma Star website| url=http://www.burmastar.org.uk/slim.htm | first=Frank| last=Owen| accessdate=2008-09-04
*cite book| title=Slim, War Leader| authorlink=Mike Calvert| first=Mike | last=Calvert| location=London| year=1973 |isbn=0345097882
*cite book| title=Slim as Military Commander| authorlink=Geoffrey Charles Evans| first=Sir Geoffrey| last=Evans| location=London| year=1969| isbn=81-8158-099-0
*cite book| title=The British Field Marshals 1736-1997| first=Tony | last=Heathcote| publisher=Pen & Sword Books |year=1999| isbn=0-85052-696-5
*cite book|title=Churchill's Generals| first=John (editor)| last=Keegan| publisher=Grove Weidenfeld Press| location=New York| year=1991
*cite book| title=Slim - The Standardbearer| first=Ronald |last=Lewin| publisher=Leo Cooper| location=London| year=1976
*cite book| title=Burma: The Forgotten War| authorlink=Jon Latimer| first=John| last=Latimer| publisher=John Murray| location= London| year=2004
*cite book|title=Slim, Master of War: Burma and the Birth of Modern Warfare| first=Robert| last=Lyman| publisher=Constable and Robinson |location=London| year=2004
*cite book | first=Richard| last=Mead| title=Churchill's Lions: A biographical guide to the key British generals of World War II| year=2007| publisher=Spellmount| location=Stroud (UK)| pages=544 pages| isbn=978-1-86227-431-0
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