Richard O’Connor

Richard O'Connor

Richard O’Connor

This article is about a British officer in the Desert War of North African Campaign of World War II.

Sir Richard Nugent O’Connor (Srinagar, 21 August, 1889 – London, 17 June, 1981) was a general of UK. The Lieutenant General O’Connor was commander of the Western Desert Force in the early years of World War II and was the commander of Operation Compass, during which British troops, highly mobile, efficient, totally defeated the Italian forces deployed in North Africa, numerically superior but poorly equipped with modern weaponry.

In the Second World War, Richard O’Connor, an officer experienced and respected in the circles of the British Army and formerly involved in the command of the Light Brigade in India north-west, was in command of British forces in Palestine Southern.

In June 1940 (entry into the imminence of war Italy ) was reassigned from the Middle East Command, known as the head of the Mobile Division deployed with a number of light armored regiments in defense of Egypt in view of a possible Italian threat. The general command of the department maintained even after mechanizing its reinforcement with new heavy armored regiments sent from England and its subsequent renaming as the 7th Armored Division (the famous Desert Rats).

After entry into the war of Italy and the subsequent advance of the enemy forces in Egypt to Sidi Barrani, O’Connor skillfully maneuvered his departments, planning a successful retreat operated and inflicting losses with some forays against the slow mechanized columns the enemy.

During the pause in operation from September to December 1940, O’Connor was promoted to lieutenant general and given the command of the Western Desert Force, which brought together all British mobile forces in North Africa (in practice the 7th Armored Division and 4th Infantry Division, Anglo-Indian), O’Connor was the same tactical plan to devise counter-offensive of the so-called Operation Compass which was launched on 9 December, 1940 , the deployment would suddenly overwhelm Italian and would have marked a turning point in the war on the African front.

Over the next two months, after this first resounding success, General O’Connor gave evidence of great energy and great skill in maneuvering for armored forces systematically bypassing the fortified Italian (Bardia, Tobruk, Derna), combining appropriately armored forces, infantry, artillery and aviation, and completing a Bede Fomm, with a successful encirclement maneuver performed by the “Combe Force ” led, in fact, by Brigadier General John Combe, the destruction of the entire 10th Italian Army.

It was probably the most complete and brilliant victory of the whole British World War II and General O’Connor gave a remarkable demonstration of military capability and understanding of tactics with modern mechanized forces. For these successes, some British historians, O’Connor must be considered as one of the best British general operating of the Second World War and worthy to stand next to the prestigious German General Erwin Rommel’s desert war as an expert.

After the victory, O’Connor was recalled to Cairo to reorganize his forces and became exhausted in view of subsequent advance to Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and the defense was entrusted to be weak and inexperienced just arrived from England and departments entrusted to General Philip Neame; of the subsequent counter-offensive  in April 1941 by the highly mobile forces of the German Afrika korps of General Rommel caught totally unprepared for the British defenses, which were quickly overcome and forced to retreat back to Egypt losing all the ground gained (except Tobruk, which was severely defended by the 9 th Infantry Division in Australia ).

General Neame, after being back to the desert war, surprised by the skillful maneuvers and hence the German General Archibald Wavell, commander of the Theater of the Middle East, decided to post on the fighting front O’Connor rushed to help him control the situation and advise.

He just arrived with his staff near Derna, General O’Connor was captured (for an error of direction by his driver) from a patrol of German avant-garde, on the night of 7 April, 1941, together with general Combe and Carton de Wiart. In its turn, Neame and General Gambier Parry (commander of the 2 nd Armored Division) were captured by German mobile columns dangerous.

General O’Connor then spent two years in an Italian prison camp at Vincigliata, from which he was released only after September 8, 1943, taking refuge in the Romagna Apennines with other British officers and generals, including General quoted Combe.

With the help of the partisans of Romagna and in particular of Torquato Nanni, Tonino Brush and Bruno Vailati, O’Connor was able to return home in December of 1943 , together with the General Neame and Marshal Owen Tudor Boyd. While the aide of Neame, General Combe, Forlì remained in Apennines, with other senior British officials including General Edward Todhunter, until the end of March 1944, to maintain relationships with local partisans and in particular with the team, led by Commander Free, Richard Fedel.

In 1944, O’Connor won the command of the VIII Corps in Normandy in which he participated in many battles of the campaign of liberation in Europe, in particular, led the largest organized group armor for Operation Goodwood, which however did not obtain the results hoped and suffered heavy losses in the face of anti-German forces. O’Connor was criticized for his general conduct and tactics of employment of armored forces.

During the campaign of 1,944 - 1,945,  O’Connor (perhaps because subject to a demanding and authoritarian commander like General Montgomery) did not achieve results comparable to his victories in the desert, while attending to the end victorious in the final stages of the war in Belgium and in Germany, North-West.

After the war, O’Connor became in 1945 Governor of East India and finally, in the final stages of British rule the Indian subcontinent, Governor of North India.

His last position in the British Armed Forces was to aide in London.

Richard O’Connor demonstrated, especially during his period of command in the desert, the great qualities of leadership, energy and preparation; skillfully commanded the British mechanized forces and obtained significant achievements in the period of greatest weakness in English, contributing decisively to lift the Homeland weaken the moral and imperial ambitions in Africa Italian.

The capture will abruptly interrupted his career and prevented a direct comparison with Rommel, while the subsequent period of command in Europe in part confirmed the qualities demonstrated in the desert and perhaps showed his moral and physical wear and tear as a result of his imprisonment, but the results obtained with its weak forces in Africa in 1940 – one thousand nine hundred and forty-one and proven strategic and tactical skills in the field, generally confirm the great military capabilities of O’Connor and his position among the Allied commanders of World War II.

It is among the most decorated British military: Order of the Thistle, Order of the Bath, Distinguished Service Order (twice), Military Cross, Silver Medal for valor, Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor and served as adjutant King George VI. It was also mentioned in dispatches nine times of war, during the First World War, a time in Palestine in 1939, three times during the Second World War.


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