Oliver Leese
Lieutenant-General (UK)
Lieutenant-general is a senior rank in the British Army and the Royal Marines, although the highest ranking officer in the Royal Marines at present is major general...

 Sir Oliver William Hargreaves Leese, 3rd Baronet
Leese Baronets
The Leese Baronetcy, of Sendholme in Send in the County of Surrey, is a dormant title in the Baronetage of the United Kingdom. It was created on 15 July 1908 for Joseph Leese, Liberal Member of Parliament for Accrington from 1892 to 1910...

Order of the Bath
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate mediæval ceremony for creating a knight, which involved bathing as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as Knights of the Bath...

Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...

Distinguished Service Order
The Distinguished Service Order is a military decoration of the United Kingdom, and formerly of other parts of the British Commonwealth and Empire, awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat.Instituted on 6 September...

 (27 October 1894 - 22 January 1978) was a British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 general during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...


Early years

Leese was the son of Sir William Hargreaves Leese, 2nd Baronet, a barrister, and attended Ludgrove School
Ludgrove School
Ludgrove School is an independent preparatory boarding school for about 200 boys, aged from seven or eight years to thirteen. It is situated in the civil parish of Wokingham Without, adjoining the town of Wokingham in the English county of Berkshire.-History:...

 and Eton College
Eton College
Eton College, often referred to simply as Eton, is a British independent school for boys aged 13 to 18. It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as "The King's College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor"....

. At the start of First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, he joined the army and he was commissioned into the Coldstream Guards
Coldstream Guards
Her Majesty's Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards, also known officially as the Coldstream Guards , is a regiment of the British Army, part of the Guards Division or Household Division....

 on 15 May 1915. Leese was wounded three times during the Somme offensive in 1916, was Mentioned in Despatches and awarded the DSO
Distinguished Service Order
The Distinguished Service Order is a military decoration of the United Kingdom, and formerly of other parts of the British Commonwealth and Empire, awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat.Instituted on 6 September...

. The citation to his DSO which was gazetted in November 1916 read:

After the war, he remained in the army being promoted captain in 1921 and attended the Staff College, Camberley
Staff College, Camberley
Staff College, Camberley, Surrey, was a staff college for the British Army from 1802 to 1997, with periods of closure during major wars. In 1997 it was merged into the new Joint Services Command and Staff College.-Origins:...

 from 1927 to 1928. In November 1929 he was appointed as Brigade Major
Brigade Major
In the British Army, a Brigade Major was the Chief of Staff of a brigade. He held the rank of Major and was head of the brigade's "G - Operations and Intelligence" section directly and oversaw the two other branches, "A - Administration" and "Q - Quartermaster"...

 to 1st Infantry Brigade (Guards) and was formally promoted to major a few days later. He was promoted to brevet
Brevet (military)
In many of the world's military establishments, brevet referred to a warrant authorizing a commissioned officer to hold a higher rank temporarily, but usually without receiving the pay of that higher rank except when actually serving in that role. An officer so promoted may be referred to as being...

 lieutenant-colonel in July 1933

From 1932 to 1938 Leese held a number of staff appointments and was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in December 1936, brevet colonel in September 1938 and colonel in October 1938. In September 1938 he was posted to India to be a GSO1 instructor at the Staff College, Quetta. He had succeeded to the baronetcy on his father's death on 17 January 1937.

World War II

Leese returned to the UK from India in March 1940. It had been planned for him to command a brigade in Norway but with the German invasion of Western Europe in May, he was sent to join Lord Gort's headquarters as Deputy Chief of Staff of the British Expeditionary Force
British Expeditionary Force (World War II)
The British Expeditionary Force was the British force in Europe from 1939–1940 during the Second World War. Commanded by General Lord Gort, the BEF constituted one-tenth of the defending Allied force....

. He evacuated from Dunkirk with Gort on 31 May

On his return to the UK Leese was ordered to form and train a large brigade group, 29th Infantry Brigade
British 29th Infantry Brigade
The 29th Infantry Brigade was an infantry brigade unit of the British Army. It was originally raised in 1914 and saw service during the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War.-First World War:...

. In December 1940 he was appointed acting major-general and given command of the West Sussex County Division which included 29th Brigade. A month later he was moved to command of the 15th (Scottish) Division
British 15th (Scottish) Division
The 15th Infantry Division was a British Army division in both the First and Second World Wars.- First World War :The division was a New Army unit formed in September 1914 as part of the K2 Army Group. The division moved to France in July 1915 and spent the duration of the First World War in...

. His rank was upgraded to temporary major-general in November and was made substantive in December. In June 1941 he was given command of the Guards Armoured Division during its formation and training.

In September 1942 he was sent at the request of Eighth Army
Eighth Army (United Kingdom)
The Eighth Army was one of the best-known formations of the British Army during World War II, fighting in the North African and Italian campaigns....

 commander Bernard Montgomery to North Africa
Western Desert Campaign
The Western Desert Campaign, also known as the Desert War, was the initial stage of the North African Campaign during the Second World War. The campaign was heavily influenced by the availability of supplies and transport. The ability of the Allied forces, operating from besieged Malta, to...

 to assume command, as an acting lieutenant-general, of the Eighth Army's XXX Corps. Montgomery had formed a good opinion of Leese when he had instructed him at Staff College in 1927 and 1928 and had also been impressed by his work at GHQ in France.

Leese commanded the Corps for the rest of the campaign which ended with the Axis surrender in May 1943 in Tunisia
Tunisia Campaign
The Tunisia Campaign was a series of battles that took place in Tunisia during the North African Campaign of the Second World War, between Axis and Allied forces. The Allies consisted of British Imperial Forces, including Polish and Greek contingents, with American and French corps...

. He was mentioned in despatches for his services in North Africa.

The Corps then took part in the Allied invasion of Sicily
Allied invasion of Sicily
The Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky, was a major World War II campaign, in which the Allies took Sicily from the Axis . It was a large scale amphibious and airborne operation, followed by six weeks of land combat. It launched the Italian Campaign.Husky began on the night of...

 in July 1943 before returning to the UK after the Sicily campaign, which ended in August, to prepare for the planned invasion of Northwest Europe. Leese was promoted to temporary lieutenant-general in September.
On 24 December 1943, however, Leese received a telegram ordering him to Italy to succeed Montgomery as Eighth Army
Eighth Army (United Kingdom)
The Eighth Army was one of the best-known formations of the British Army during World War II, fighting in the North African and Italian campaigns....

 commander as Montgomery was to return to the UK in January 1944 to prepare for the Allied invasion of Normandy. Leese commanded the Eighth Army at the fourth and final Battle of Monte Cassino
Battle of Monte Cassino
The Battle of Monte Cassino was a costly series of four battles during World War II, fought by the Allies against Germans and Italians with the intention of breaking through the Winter Line and seizing Rome.In the beginning of 1944, the western half of the Winter Line was being anchored by Germans...

 in May 1944 (when the bulk of the army was switched in secret from the Adriatic coast to Cassino to strike a joint blow with the United States Fifth Army) and for Operation Olive on the Gothic Line
Gothic Line
The Gothic Line formed Field Marshal Albert Kesselring's last major line of defence in the final stages of World War II along the summits of the Apennines during the fighting retreat of German forces in Italy against the Allied Armies in Italy commanded by General Sir Harold Alexander.Adolf Hitler...

 later in 1944. His rank of lieutenant-general was made permanent in July 1944.

In September 1944 he was appointed to succeed George Giffard
George Giffard
General Sir George Giffard GCB DSO was a British military officer, who had a distinguished career in command of African troops in World War I, rising to command an Army Group in South East Asia in World War II.-Early career:...

 as the Commander-in-Chief of Eleventh Army Group and assumed command in November, by which time the Army Group had been renamed Allied Land Forces, South-East Asia. He viewed the existing command structure as inefficient and proceeded to appoint former members of his Eighth Army staff. The methods of the two staffs differed and the newcomers were resented. As Slim expressed it in his memoirs, "His staff, which he brought with him... had a good deal of desert sand in its shoes, and was rather inclined to thrust Eighth Army down our throats."

Leese's command covered three separate groups: the Northern Combat Area Command under US Lieutenant General Dan Sultan
Daniel Isom Sultan
General Daniel Isom Sultan, was an American General during World War II. He fought in the China-Burma-India theater at the last half of the war....

, Fourteenth Army under Lieutenant-General William ("Bill") Slim
William Slim, 1st Viscount Slim
Field Marshal William Joseph "Bill"'Slim, 1st Viscount Slim, KG, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, GBE, DSO, MC, KStJ was a British military commander and the 13th Governor-General of Australia....

 in central Burma and finally, further south in the Arakan
Rakhine State
Rakhine State is a Burmese state. Situated on the western coast, it is bordered by Chin State in the north, Magway Region, Bago Region and Ayeyarwady Region in the east, the Bay of Bengal to the west, and the Chittagong Division of Bangladesh to the northwest. It is located approximately between...

, Indian XV Corps
Indian XV Corps
XV Corps was first established in 1942, as part of the British Indian Army, during World War II. XV Corps was first formed from Headquarters Assam and Bengal Presidency District HQ on 30 March 1942, to defend Bengal, under the command of Eastern Army. It was disbanded in 1945.The Corps was...

 under Lieutenant-General Philip Christison
Philip Christison
General Sir Philip Christison, 4th Baronet GBE CB DSO MC was a British military commander of the Second World War.-Early life and career:...

. Through the year-end he fought a successful campaign which led to the capture of Rangoon by an amphibious landing (Operation Dracula
Operation Dracula
During World War II, Operation Dracula was the name given to an airborne and amphibious attack on Rangoon by British and Indian forces, part of the Burma Campaign. When it was launched, the Imperial Japanese Army had already abandoned the city.-Background:...

) in early May 1945.

Slim had turned Fourteenth Army into an effective military force and had commanded a highly successful campaign from the relief of Imphal
Imphal is the capital of the Indian state of Manipur.In the heart of the town and surrounded by a moat, are ruins of the old Palace of Kangla. Kangla Fort used to be the home of the Assam Rifles, a paramilitary force and on November 2004 it was handed over to state of Manipur by Prime minister Dr....

 to the recapture of Rangoon including the effective destruction of the Japanese forces in Burma. However, Leese believed that Slim was very tired (he had asked for leave once Rangoon had been taken) and proposed to the Supreme Commander South East Asia, Louis Mountbatten and the CIGS, Alan Brooke, that he should be replaced by Philip Christison
Philip Christison
General Sir Philip Christison, 4th Baronet GBE CB DSO MC was a British military commander of the Second World War.-Early life and career:...

 (who had amphibious experience and so would be well suited to leading the army in the planned seaborne landings in Malaya), leaving Slim to take over the new Twelfth Army with the less demanding task of mopping up in Burma. Leese misread the reactions of Brooke and Mountbatten and having then met Slim to discuss the proposals came away believing Slim had agreed to them. In fact, Slim reacted by telling his staff he had been sacked and wrote to Leese and Claude Auchinleck
Claude Auchinleck
Field Marshal Sir Claude John Eyre Auchinleck, GCB, GCIE, CSI, DSO, OBE , nicknamed "The Auk", was a British army commander during World War II. He was a career soldier who spent much of his military career in India, where he developed a love of the country and a lasting affinity for the soldiers...

, the C-in-C India, to say he would refuse the new post and resign from the army in protest. Once the news circulated within the Fourteenth Army, mutinies
Mutiny is a conspiracy among members of a group of similarly situated individuals to openly oppose, change or overthrow an authority to which they are subject...

 and mass resignations of officers were threatened.

Leese was obliged to reinstate Slim when the Supreme Commander South East Asia Louis Mountbatten, although he had authorised the original proposals, now refused to support him. Mountbatten subsequently approached Alan Brooke (who had always doubted Leese's suitability for the role) and they agreed that Leese should be removed. He was succeeded by Slim.

Leese had achieved success with the Eighth Army in North Africa and Italy, so he did not lack ability. Where he was deficient, in his post in South-East Asia, was in his knowledge of the intricacies of the local command environment and its personalities and in his ability to mould the existing staff into a different style of leadership and administration whilst reconciling antagonistic staffs into a unified organisation.


None of the main parties' actions in the Slim affair show up well in retrospect. Richard Mead in Churchill's Lions suggests that Leese was naive, Slim petulant and Mountbatten devious. However, it was Leese's career that suffered and he returned to the UK to be GOC-in-C Eastern Command
Eastern Command (United Kingdom)
-History:The Command was established in 1905 from the Fourth Army Corps and was based in London. Among the formations raised under its supervision in World War I was the 12th Division. Its headquarters was initially located at Horseguards in London. During World War II the Command relocated to...

, a significant downward move having been one of only three army group commanders in the British Army. His promotion to full general is believed to have been blocked by Mountbatten and he retired from the army in January 1947 and became a noted horticulturist
Horticulture is the industry and science of plant cultivation including the process of preparing soil for the planting of seeds, tubers, or cuttings. Horticulturists work and conduct research in the disciplines of plant propagation and cultivation, crop production, plant breeding and genetic...

, writing books on cacti
-See also:* RRDtool The underlying software upon which Cacti is built* MRTG The original Multi Router Traffic Grapher from which RRDtool was "extracted".* Munin -External links:******...

 and keeping a well noted garden at his in Claverley
Claverley is a village and civil parish in east Shropshire, England. The parish also includes the hamlets of Beobridge, Hopstone, Upper Aston, Ludstone, Heathton and a number of other small settlements....

, Shropshire
Shropshire is a county in the West Midlands region of England. For Eurostat purposes, the county is a NUTS 3 region and is one of four counties or unitary districts that comprise the "Shropshire and Staffordshire" NUTS 2 region. It borders Wales to the west...

. Although a keen cricketer, he had only modest success as a batsman in the 1914 Eton XI and was relegated to 12th man for that year's Eton v Harrow
Eton v Harrow
The Eton v Harrow cricket match is an annual cricket match between Eton College and Harrow School. It one of the longest-running annual cricket fixtures in the world. It is the last annual school cricket match played at Lord's Cricket Ground...

 match, but was President of the Marylebone Cricket Club
Marylebone Cricket Club
Marylebone Cricket Club is a cricket club in London founded in 1787. Its influence and longevity now witness it as a private members' club dedicated to the development of cricket. It owns, and is based at, Lord's Cricket Ground in St John's Wood, London NW8. MCC was formerly the governing body of...

 in 1965. He served as High Sheriff of Shropshire
High Sheriff of Shropshire
The High Sheriff is the oldest secular office under the Crown. Formerly the High Sheriff was the principal law enforcement officer in the county but over the centuries most of the responsibilities associated with the post have been transferred elsewhere or are now defunct, so that its functions...

in 1958.
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