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John Charles Campbell
Photograph taken after being presented with the VC by the Commander-in-Chief General Sir Claude Auchinleck
Nickname "Jock"
Born (1894-01-10)10 January 1894
Died 26 February 1942(1942-02-26) (aged 48)
Place of birth Thurso, Scotland
Place of death Killed in Action near Halfaya, North Africa
Buried at Cairo War Memorial Cemetery
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1915 - 1942
Rank Major-General
Unit Royal Horse Artillery
Commands held
Battles/wars World War II
Official VC citation

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to Brigadier (acting) John Charles Campbell, DS0, MC (135944), Royal Horse Artillery,

in recognition of most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at Sidi Rezegh on the 21st and 22nd November, 1941.

On the 21st November Brigadier Campbell was commanding the troops, including one regiment of tanks, in the area of Sidi Rezegh ridge and the aerodrome. His small force holding this important ground was repeatedly attacked by large numbers of tanks and infantry. Wherever the situation was most difficult and the fighting hardest he was to be seen with his forward troops, either on his feet or in his open car. In this car he carried out several reconnaissances for counter-attacks by his tanks, whose senior officers had all become casualties early in the day. Standing in his car with a blue flag, this officer personally formed up tanks under close and intense fire from all natures of enemy weapons.

On the following day the enemy attacks were intensified and again Brigadier Campbell was always in the forefront of the heaviest fighting, encouraging his troops, staging counter-attacks with his remaining tanks and personally controlling the fire of his guns. On two occasions he himself manned a gun to replace casualties. During the final enemy attack on the 22nd November he was wounded, but continued most actively in the foremost positions, controlling the fire of batteries which inflicted heavy losses on enemy tanks at point blank range, and finally acted as loader to one of the guns himself.

Throughout these two days his magnificent example and his utter disregard of personal danger were an inspiration to his men and to all who saw him. His brilliant leadership was the direct cause of the very heavy casualties inflicted on the enemy. In spite of his wound he refused to be evacuated and remained with his command, where his outstanding bravery and consistent determination had a marked effect in maintaining the splendid fighting spirit of those under him.

London Gazette, 30 January 1942.[1]

Major-General John Charles "Jock" Campbell VC, DSO & Bar, MC (10 January 1894 – 26 February 1942) was a Scottish officer in the British Army, recipient of the Victoria Cross.

History[edit | edit source]

Campbell was born in Thurso and educated at Sedbergh School. In 1915, he was commissioned to the Royal Horse Artillery, becoming a first class horseman (in the top flight at both polo and hunting) and also a first class artillery officer

as well as being awarded the Military Cross [2][3]

When World War II started, Campbell was 45 years old and a major commanding a battery in the 4th Regiment Royal Horse Artillery in Egypt. When Italy declared war in June 1940, Campbell, by then a lieutenant-colonel, was commanding the artillery component of 7th Armoured Division's Support Group under Brigadier William Gott. The British Army was heavily outnumbered by the Italians, so General Archibald Wavell formulated a plan with his senior commanders to retain the initiative by harassing the enemy using mobile all-arms flying columns. Campbell's brilliant command of one of these columns led to them being given the generic name "Jock columns" (although it is unclear if the idea originated with Campbell or not).[2]

During Operation Compass Campbell's guns played an important role in 7th Support Group's involvement in the decisive battle at Beda Fomm in February 1941 which led to the surrender of the Italian Tenth Army.[4] In April 1941 Campbell was awarded the DSO.[5]

In September 1941 Gott was promoted to command 7th Armoured Division and Campbell took over command 7th Support Group as an acting brigadier. In November 1941 during Operation Crusader, 7th Support Group was occupying the airfield at Sidi Rezegh, south of Tobruk, together with 7th Armoured Brigade. On 21 November 1941 they were attacked by the two armoured division's of the Afrika Korps. The British tanks suffered heavy losses but prevented the Germans taking the airfield. Brigadier Campbell's small force, holding important ground, was repeatedly attacked and wherever the fighting was hardest he was to be seen either on foot, in his open car or astride a tank. According to Alan Moorehead,

He led his tanks into action riding in an open armoured car, and as he stood there, hanging on to its windscreen, a huge well-built man with the English officer's stiff good looks, he shouted, 'There they come, let them have it.' When the car began to fall behind, he leapt on to the side of a tank as it went forward and directed the battle from there ... They say that Campbell won the VC half a dozen times that day. The men loved this Elizabethan figure. He was the reality of all the pirate yarns and tales of high adventure, and in the extremes of fear and courage of the battle he had only courage. He went laughing into the fighting.


Next day, under intensified enemy attacks, he was again in the forefront, encouraging his troops and personally controlling the fire of his batteries - he twice manned a gun himself to replace casualties. During the final attack, although wounded, he refused to be evacuated. His brilliant leadership was the direct cause of the very heavy casualties inflicted on the enemy, and did much to maintain the fighting spirit of his men. On 23 November the fighting continued but with 7th Armoured Brigade destroyed and the 5th South African Infantry Brigade (which had been sent as reinforcements) in the process of being destroyed, Campbell withdrew the remains of the Support Group to the south. For his actions during the battle Campbell was awarded the Victoria Cross.

He is purported to have received a letter of congratulation from General Johann von Ravenstein, commander of the one of armoured divisions 21st Panzer Division which Campbell had faced at Sidi Rezegh. A Prisoner of War since the battle, von Ravenstein expressed his "greatest admiration" for Campbell's skill on "those hot days" and recalled "all the many iron that flew near the aerodrome around our ears".[7]

In February 1942 when Gott was promoted to lead XIII Corps Campbell was promoted major general and given command of 7th Armoured Division. He was killed three weeks later when his jeep overturned on a newly laid clay road surface.[8]

The driver of the jeep had been his Aide-de-Camp, Major Roy Farran who was thrown clear in the process

and the other passengers knocked unconscious. Farran later admitted that he had considered suicide whilst awaiting rescue [9]

During the Western Desert Campaign Campbell was considered to be one of foremost commanders in the Eighth Army, an old desert hand who had been in North Africa from the start of the war. His loss was deeply felt by the soldiers of the Eighth Army.

Further information[edit | edit source]

A memorial to Campbell stands in his old school, Sedbergh, commemorating his brave deeds.

There is a plaque and bench on a seaside walk in his home town in his honour.

Victoria Cross[edit | edit source]

His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Royal Artillery Museum, Woolwich, England. The citation for the award was published in the London Gazette on 30 January 1942[1]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Footnotes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 "No. 35442". 30 January 1942. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/35442/page/ 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Mead (2007), p. 88
  3. Omand (1989), p. 194
  4. Mead (2007), p.89
  5. "No. 35120". 28 March 1941. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/35120/page/ 
  6. Moorehead, Alan, A Year of Battle, London, p. 61
  7. Letters to the Daily Telegraph
  8. Mead (2007), p.90
  9. The Times - Obituary for Major Roy Faran

External links[edit | edit source]

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Military offices
Preceded by
William Gott
GOC 7th Armoured Division
6 February 1942–23 February 1942
Succeeded by
Frank Messervy

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