William Gott
Lieutenant-General William Henry Ewart Gott CB
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...

 and bar
Medal bar
A medal bar or medal clasp is a thin metal bar attached to the ribbon of a military decoration, civil decoration, or other medal. It is most commonly used to indicate the campaign or operation the recipient received the award for, and multiple bars on the same medal are used to indicate that the...

, MC
Military Cross
The Military Cross is the third-level military decoration awarded to officers and other ranks of the British Armed Forces; and formerly also to officers of other Commonwealth countries....

 (13 August 1897 – 7 August 1942), nicknamed "Strafer", was a British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 officer during both the First
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...

 and Second World Wars
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...

, reaching the rank of lieutenant-general when serving in the British Eighth Army.

Military career

Educated at Harrow School
Harrow School
Harrow School, commonly known simply as "Harrow", is an English independent school for boys situated in the town of Harrow, in north-west London.. The school is of worldwide renown. There is some evidence that there has been a school on the site since 1243 but the Harrow School we know today was...

 he was commissioned into the King's Royal Rifle Corps
King's Royal Rifle Corps
The King's Royal Rifle Corps was a British Army infantry regiment, originally raised in colonial North America as the Royal Americans, and recruited from American colonists. Later ranked as the 60th Regiment of Foot, the regiment served for more than 200 years throughout the British Empire...

 (KRRC), Gott served with distinction with the BEF in France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 during World War I
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...

. His nickname was a pun on the phrase Gott strafe England
Gott strafe England
"Gott strafe England" was a slogan, during World War I, used by the German Army. The phrase means "May God punish England". It was created by the German-Jewish poet Ernst Lissauer , who also wrote the poem Hassgesang gegen England "Gott strafe England" was a slogan, during World War I, used by the...

. He was promoted to the rank of captain in January 1921 and attended Staff College from January 1931. He was promoted major in July 1934 (having been made a brevet major earlier in January. His service between the World Wars included a posting as adjutant to a territorial battalion and a period of postings in India as a general staff officer (GSO2) and Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General.

Having been promoted lieutenant-colonel
Lieutenant-Colonel (UK)
Lieutenant colonel is a rank in the British Army and Royal Marines which is also used in many Commonwealth countries. The rank is superior to major, and subordinate to colonel...

 in October 1938 to command the 1st Battalion KRRC on its transfer from Burma to Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 to become part of the Mobile Division (later to become 7th Armoured Division), Gott enjoyed a remarkably rapid promotion path: he was successively chief staff officer of the division (General Staff Officer, Grade I) ranked lieutenant-colonel) commander of the Support Group
7th Support Group (United Kingdom)
.The 7th Support Group was a brigade size formation within the British 7th Armoured Division.-History:The 7th Support Group provided whatever support the division's armoured brigades needed for the operation in hand...

 as acting brigadier, and General Officer Commanding (acting major-general)
Major General
Major general or major-general is a military rank used in many countries. It is derived from the older rank of sergeant major general. A major general is a high-ranking officer, normally subordinate to the rank of lieutenant general and senior to the ranks of brigadier and brigadier general...

 of the 7th Armoured Division (the Desert Rats). While under Gott's command the Support Group performed well during the Italian invasion of Egypt
Italian invasion of Egypt
The Italian Invasion of Egypt was an Italian offensive action against British, Commonwealth and Free French forces during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. Initially, the goal of the offensive was to seize the Suez Canal. To accomplish this, Italian forces from Libya would have...

, conducting a planned withdrawal, and the subsequent Operation Compass
Operation Compass
Operation Compass was the first major Allied military operation of the Western Desert Campaign during World War II. British and Commonwealth forces attacked Italian forces in western Egypt and eastern Libya in December 1940 to February 1941. The attack was a complete success...

 which saw the destruction of the Italian Tenth Army. Following the arrival of German troops in North Africa the British Commonwealth forces were pushed back to the Libyan border with Egypt where Gott was placed in command of a mixed force to plan and conduct Operation Brevity
Operation Brevity
Operation Brevity was a limited offensive conducted in mid-May 1941, during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. Conceived by the commander-in-chief of the British Middle East Command, General Archibald Wavell, Brevity was intended to be a rapid blow against weak Axis front-line...

which was unsuccessful. A subsequent larger scale operation, Operation Battleaxe
Operation Battleaxe
Operation Battleaxe was a British Army operation during the Second World War in June 1941 with the goal of clearing eastern Cyrenaica of German and Italian forces; one of the main benefits of this would have been the lifting of the Siege of Tobruk....

in which the support Group also took part was also a failure and led to a reorganisation of the commands in the Western Desert which included Gott's promotion to command the 7th Armoured Division.

In late 1941 the next major Commonwealth offensive, Operation Crusader
Operation Crusader
Operation Crusader was a military operation by the British Eighth Army between 18 November–30 December 1941. The operation successfully relieved the 1941 Siege of Tobruk....

, took place. Although ultimately the operation was a success for British Eighth Army, 7th Armoured Division was heavily defeated by the Africa Corps at Sidi Rezegh in November 1941.

Gott's permanent rank had been made up to full colonel in October 1941 and he was promoted to acting lieutenant-general and given command of XIII Corps
XIII Corps (United Kingdom)
XIII Corps was a British infantry corps during World War I and World War II.-World War I:XIII Corps was formed in France on 15 November 1915 under Lieutenant-General Walter Congreve to be part of Fourth Army. It was first seriously engaged during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. On the First day on...

 in early 1942. He led the corps in the battles of Gazala
Battle of Gazala
The Battle of Gazala was an important battle of the Second World War Western Desert Campaign, fought around the port of Tobruk in Libya from 26 May-21 June 1942...

 and First Alamein
First Battle of El Alamein
The First Battle of El Alamein was a battle of the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War, fought between Axis forces of the Panzer Army Africa commanded by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, and Allied forces The First Battle of El Alamein (1–27 July 1942) was a battle of the Western Desert...


A big man with an aggressive, outgoing personality, he was popular with soldiers under his command, but as a senior commander he was considered by some to be out of his depth. The South African official historian, J. A. I. Agar-Hamilton, wrote of Gott:

"It has not been unknown for a commander to pass from disaster to disaster, but it is quite without precedent for any commander to pass from promotion to promotion as a reward for a succession of disasters."

In August 1942, Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 removed General Sir 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...

 as Commander-in-Chief Middle East and acting General Officer Commanding Eighth Army. Gott's aggressive, somewhat impetuous personality appealed to Churchill, and Gott was chosen to take over Eighth Army. This was despite the reservations of Auchinleck and General Sir Alan Brooke
Alan Brooke, 1st Viscount Alanbrooke
Field Marshal The Rt. Hon. Alan Francis Brooke, 1st Viscount Alanbrooke, KG, GCB, OM, GCVO, DSO & Bar , was a senior commander in the British Army. He was the Chief of the Imperial General Staff during the Second World War, and was promoted to Field Marshal in 1944...

, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Brooke knew Gott very well and had a high opinion of his abilities. However, a number of factors, including a personal interview with Gott on 5 August (during which Gott had revealed that he had "...tried most of his ideas on the Boche. We want someone with new ideas and plenty of confidence in them."), led Brooke to conclude that Gott was tired and had temporarily lost his drive having been in the desert since the start of the war. He also felt that Gott needed more experience before taking an army command.

Before he could take up his post, Gott was killed when an unarmed transport plane he had hitched a lift in, a Bristol Bombay
Bristol Bombay
|-See also:...

 of 216 Squadron RAF
No. 216 Squadron RAF
No. 216 Squadron of the Royal Air Force operates the Lockheed Tristar K1, KC1 and C2 from RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire.- History :216 Squadron was formed at RAF Manston by re-numbering No. 16 Squadron RNAS when the RAF was established in 1918, hence it is always spoken of as 'two-sixteen Squadron'...

 flown by 19-year-old Flight Sergeant
Flight Sergeant
Flight sergeant is a senior non-commissioned rank in the British Royal Air Force and several other air forces which have adopted all or part of the RAF rank structure...

 Hugh "Jimmy" James, was shot down by Uffz. Bernd Schenider of JG27
Jagdgeschwader 27
Jagdgeschwader 27 Afrika was a World War II Luftwaffe Geschwader. It was most famous for service in the North African Campaign, supporting the Deutsches Afrikakorps.- Formation:...

, while returning to Cairo
Cairo , is the capital of Egypt and the largest city in the Arab world and Africa, and the 16th largest metropolitan area in the world. Nicknamed "The City of a Thousand Minarets" for its preponderance of Islamic architecture, Cairo has long been a centre of the region's political and cultural life...

 from the battle area. With both engines out, James made a successful crash landing but the passengers, including Gott, were burned to death when the rear hatch jammed. There is speculation that the Germans were aware that he was on board the aircraft through signals interception but this has never been proved. He is buried in a Commonwealth War Grave
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is an intergovernmental organisation of six independent member states whose principal function is to mark, record and maintain the graves, and places of commemoration, of Commonwealth of Nations military service members who died in the two World Wars...

  at the El Alamein War Cemetery.

Gott's replacement was Lieutenant-General Bernard Law Montgomery.

External links

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