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Sir Richard Nelson Gale
Gale as GOC 6th Airborne Division, 10 June 1944.
Nickname Windy[1]
Born (1896-07-25)25 July 1896
Died 29 July 1982(1982-07-29) (aged 86)
Place of birth Wandsworth, London, England
Place of death London
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1915 – 1957
1958 – 1960
Rank General
Unit Worcestershire Regiment
Commands held Royal Leicestershire Regiment
1st Parachute Brigade
6th Airborne Division
I Airborne Corps
1st Infantry Division
Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Europe

World War I
World War II

Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order
Military Cross
Other work Aide-de-camp (general) to Queen Elizabeth II (1954–7), Colonel of the Worcestershire Regiment (1950–61), and Colonel-Commandant of the Parachute Regiment (1956–67).

General Sir Richard Nelson "Windy" Gale GCB, KBE, DSO, MC (1896 – 1982) was a soldier in the British Army who served in both world wars. In World War I he was awarded the Military Cross in 1918 whilst serving as a junior officer in the Machine Gun Corps. In World War II he served with 1st Parachute Brigade and then the 6th Airborne Division during the invasion of Normandy and Operation Tonga in 1944. After the end of the conflict, Gale remained with the Army and eventually became the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

Early life[edit | edit source]

Gale was born on 25 July 1896 in London, England.[2] The early years of his life were spent in Australia and New Zealand due to his father gaining employment in insurance, but the Gale family returned to England in 1906.[3] He was educated at Merchant Taylors' School, Northwood, a foundation school in the City of London, gaining an average academic record but becoming a prolific reader.[3] After this, he attended further education at Aldenham School in Hertfordshire.[2] For a time, he was a boarder at King Edward VI School Stratford-upon-Avon.[4] When Gale left Aldenham he wanted to become an officer in the Royal Artillery, but did not possess the academic qualifications or physical grades required for entry into the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. Instead he followed in his father's footsteps and gained employment as an insurance agent, but rapidly grew to dislike the job; determined to enter the British Army, he attended regular physical training classes and studied hard to improve his academic grades.[5]

World War I[edit | edit source]

When World War I broke out in 1914, Gale was still below the medical standards required for a recruit and failed to join a Territorial Army unit in London. He finally gained entry to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in the summer of 1915 and before the end of the year had been commissioned into the Worcestershire Regiment as a Second Lieutenant.[6] When Gale joined the regiment, he put his name forward for a course on training with machine guns and was accepted, being transferred to the Machine Gun Training Centre at Grantham; there he discovered that he had not applied to join a course, but to actually join the Machine Gun Corps. In short order he was posted to the Western Front and it was during his service as a subaltern in France that he won the Military Cross.[7] During the Spring Offensive launched by the German Army in mid-March 1918, Gale was awarded his Military Cross for 'conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty'. He covered the retreat of a British infantry unit with his machine gun section, and when an artillery shell landed by a gun limber, he unhitched the killed and wounded horses under heavy fire to allow the limber to be moved away.[8]

Inter-war years[edit | edit source]

When the war ended in 1918, Gale volunteered to go to India and serve with the British Indian Army, remaining in the Machine-Gun Corps until it was disbanded in 1922 and then reverting to serving with the Worcestershire Regiment.[2] During his time in India he gained entry to the Staff College at Quetta and after two years in the institution he graduated as a staff officer.[9] Promotion prospects in the inter-war years were limited, and although he received above average grades in his annual reports, he remained as a subaltern for fifteen years, until he was promoted to the rank of Captain in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry in 1930.[2] Gale left India in January 1936 and returned to England to serve with the Worcestershire Regiment. After a year he was then transferred to the War Office as a General Staff Officer with responsibilities for the creation of training pamphlets and publications. In December 1938 he was promoted to Major and moved to the Staff Duties (Planning) section of the General Staff.[10]

World War II[edit | edit source]

Gale talking to troops of 5th Parachute Brigade, June 1944.

By 1941 Gale had been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and given command of a Territorial Army battalion of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment.[2] Then in the summer of 1941 1st Parachute Brigade was formed as part of the expansion of the British airborne forces, and Gale was offered command of the Brigade by General Alan Brooke, who was impressed with the high morale and standards in the battalion; Gale accepted the command.[2][11] After a period spent organizing the Brigade, choosing officers and devising new training schemes,[12] Gale was then posted to the War Office in 1942 as Deputy Director of Staff Duties, and subsequently promoted to Director of Air.[13] Gale's remit as Director of Air was to attempt to formulate a clear policy about the use of airborne forces between the Army and the Royal Air Force, as well as to solve the aircraft shortages that stymied many attempts to conduct further airborne operations. There was a great deal of rivalry between the two services, with the RAF sure that large-scale bombing would win the conflict, and therefore unwilling to transfer any aircraft to the Army for use by airborne forces.[13] Then, in May 1943 Gale was promoted to the rank of major-general and assumed command of the newly formed 6th Airborne Division.[14] Gale had just under a year to organize and train the division before it was due to participate in Operation Tonga, the British airborne landings in Normandy in June 1944. The division was initially understrength due to trained airborne troops being transferred to North Africa and Sicily to replace the losses suffered by 1st Airborne Division during its operations, but it was soon expanded with the arrival of a Canadian Parachute Battalion, as well as the formation of 5th Parachute Brigade and 6th Airlanding Brigade.[15] No British airborne division had ever been deployed into battle entirely through aerial means, and devising plans and formulating tactics for the operation placed a great deal of pressure on Gale.[2][15] However, Gale's thoroughness paid off when the division successfully landed in Normandy in June 1944, with Gale accompanying the division and landing by glider.[16] For his part in planning and taking part in Operation Tonga, Gale was awarded the DSO on 29 August 1944.[17] On 5 September the division was taken out of the frontlines and returned to England for rest and recuperation; Gale did not remain with the division, instead being appointed to the headquarters of First Allied Airborne Army.[18] In the last months of the conflict, he was given command of I Airborne Corps.[2]

Later life[edit | edit source]

Between 1946-1947 Gale was given command of the 1st Infantry Division when it served in the Middle East, and in 1948 he was appointed General Officer Commanding British Troops, Egypt and Mediterranean Command. Then in 1949 he was transferred and became Director-General of Military Training. Then, after three years he was promoted to Commander-in-Chief, Northern Army Group, Allied Land Forces Europe and British Army of the Rhine, which he held until 1957.[19] Gale initially retired in 1957, but early in 1958 he was recalled to serve with NATO and replaced Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery as Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Europe;[2] he retired permanently in 1960 after three years in the post.[20] During the post-war years, Gale also held a number of ceremonial and non-military posts; he was aide-de-camp (general) to the Queen Elizabeth II between 1954–7, Colonel of the Worcestershire Regiment between 1950–61, and Colonel-Commandant of the Parachute Regiment between 1956–67.[2] Gale died in a hospital in Kingston upon Thames on 29 July 1982.[2]

Military thinking[edit | edit source]

Gale's approach to military affairs emerged from both his personal history and personality. Gale, a 'tall, bluff, ruddy'[21] individual, with a reputation as 'a bit of a buccaneer'[22] but allegedly possessing a 'hectoring manner and a loud voice',[23] was one of a number of Great War veterans to challenge the military status quo that had led to the terrible losses on the Western Front. Events such as the losses on the Somme heavily influenced Gale's thinking,[24] and he emerged from the war with a suspicion of predominantly firepower-led operations.[25] Looking back, Gale was to remember the 'wonderful panorama' of the infantry successfully advancing using modern infiltration tactics on a clear day in the spring of 1918,[26] contributing to his embracing the interwar manoeuvrist theorists during his time at Staff College. Gale saw a narrative in the sequence of developments from the creation of the new infantry tactics of 1918, through to the tanks and airborne forces of the 1940s, that demonstrated the 'fundamental necessity of mobility on the battlefield', and the importance of surprise at all levels of warfare.[27]

During World War II, Gale applied these principles to the development of airborne forces. An advocate of shock manouvre with elite forces, Gale stressed extensive training, the use of the latest battlefield technologies and strong personal leadership.[28] For Gale, the quality of one's military forces were as important as their number, and he drew additional lessons on the disproportionate effect that surprise manouvre had on a 'demoralised or unprepared enemy', as opposed to a 'well-trained opposition', from the operations of the 6th Division in Normandy.[29] Later in life, Gale examined the issues of war in the nuclear age. Still an advocate of manouvre and high quality forces, Gale was to stress the importance of achieving mobility and flexibility in the face of the Soviet threat,[30] foreshadowing in many ways the evolution of the AirLand battle doctrine of the 1980s.

Honours and awards[edit | edit source]

Publications[edit | edit source]

  • With the 6th Airborne Div in Normandy (Sampson Low, Marston & Co, London, 1948)
  • Infantry in Modern Battle: Its Organization and Training (Canadian Army Journal 8, no. 1, 1955: 52-61)
  • Generalship and the art of Command in this Nuclear Age (RUSI Journal 101, no. 603, 1956: 376-384)
  • Call to arms. An autobiography (Hutchinson, London, 1968)
  • Great battles of biblical history (Hutchinson, London, 1968)
  • The Worcestershire Regiment, the 29th and 36th Regiments of foot (Leo Cooper, London, 1970)
  • Kings at arms: The Use and Abuse of power in the Great Kingdoms of the East (Hutchinson, London, 1971)

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Mead, p. 154
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Farrar-Hockley, Anthony; revised (2004). "Gale, Sir Richard Nelson (1896–1982)" (subscription required). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Digital object identifier:10.1093/ref:odnb/31134. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/31134. Retrieved 20 January 2009. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Dover, p. 27
  4. Watkins, Leslie (1953). The Story of Shakespeare's School, 1853-1953, Stratford-upon-Avon: Herald Press, & Edward Fox, p. v.
  5. Dover, p. 28
  6. Dover, p. 29
  7. Dover, pp. 30-31
  8. "No. 30813". 26 July 1918. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/30813/page/ 
  9. Dover, p. 31
  10. Dover, pp. 31-32
  11. Dover, pp. 26-27
  12. Dover, p. 32
  13. 13.0 13.1 Dover, p. 105
  14. Dover, p. 109
  15. 15.0 15.1 Dover, p. 110
  16. Dover, pp. 115-116
  17. "No. 36679". 29 August 1944. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/36679/page/ 
  18. Dover, p. 118-119
  19. Dover, p. 177
  20. Dover, pp. 178-179
  21. "Horizon Unlimited". 2 April 1945. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,775472-3,00.html. Retrieved 28 April 2009. 
  22. Crookenden, p.51
  23. Lovat, p.325
  24. Gale, 1956 p.377
  25. Gale, 1955, p.54
  26. Gale, 1968, p.41
  27. Gale, 1968, p.41, 156
  28. Gale, 1948
  29. Gale, 1968, pp.132
  30. Gale, 1956

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Crookenden, Napier (1976). DropZone Normandy: the story of the American and British airborne assault on D Day 1944. London (UK): Ian Allan. OCLC 249433658. 
  • Dover, Major Victor (1981). The Sky Generals. Cassell. ISBN 0-304-30480-8. 
  • Farrar-Hockley, Anthony; revised (2004). "Gale, Sir Richard Nelson (1896–1982)" (subscription required). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/31134. Retrieved 20 January 2009. 
  • Gale, Richard (1948). With the 6th Airborne Division in Normandy. London (UK): Sampson Low. OCLC 4447265. 
  • Gale, Richard (1955). Infantry in Modern Battle: Its Organization and Training, (Canadian Army Journal 8, no. 1, 1955: 52-61)
  • Gale, Richard (1956). Generalship and the art of Command in this Nuclear Age, (RUSI Journal 101, no. 603, 1956: 376-384)
  • Gale, Richard (1968). Call to arms: an autobiography. London (UK): Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-086430-1. 
  • Lovat, Lord (1978). March past : a memoir. London (UK): Weidenfeld and Nicholson. ISBN 0-297-77456-5. 
  • Mead, Richard (2007). Churchill's Lions: A biographical guide to the key British generals of World War II. Stroud (UK): Spellmount. ISBN 978-1-86227-431-0. 
Military offices
Preceded by
New Post
General Officer Commanding the 6th Airborne Division
Succeeded by
Eric Bols
Preceded by
Frederick Browning
General Officer Commanding the 1st Airborne Corps
Succeeded by
Post Disbanded
Preceded by
Charles Loewen
General Officer Commanding the 1st Division
Succeeded by
Horatius Murray
Preceded by
Sir John Harding
Commander-in-Chief of the British Army of the Rhine
Succeeded by
Sir Alfred Ward

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