Horrocks – The General Who Led From The Front

Horrocks – The General Who Led From The Front

Philip Warner
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
Written by Philip Warner, this is possibly the most engaging biography I’ve ever read - something I don’t say lightly. This excellent book charts the careers of Lieutenant General Sir Brian Horrocks, from Subaltern in the Great War, through various inter war “interesting” posts (including lengthy experience in revolutionary Russia), trials, success and eventual victory in World War 2, then changing horses to become Black Rod, a captain of industry, and finally a distinguished presenter, writer and journalist. It almost reads like Flashman’s fictional entry in Who’s Who, an over the top history of an over-achiever. However his life was not a constant upward arc; he was wounded several times, and imprisoned for lengthy periods, which shaped his character and contributed to him becoming an exceptional commander, one of the Second World War’s most successful soldiers, and in the opinion of Eisenhower, “Monty’s best General”.

Horrocks has often been touted as "Britain's answer to Rommel" and compared to him in his outlook and style. He rose to fame thanks to his contributions as a Corps Commander to the British victory at El Alamein, and the destruction of the Afrika Korps in Tunisia. Severely wounded prior to the Sicily invasion, he returned to service as Commander 30 Corps in Normandy after D Day, and led them through to the end of the war, from the liberation of France and Belgium, Operation Market Garden (his role was immortalised by Edward Fox in the movie “A Bridge Too Far”, which he advised on), the crossing of the Rhine through to the final Nazi surrender (all of which are dealt with in detail and – in my opinion – honesty). A charismatic and boundlessly enthusiastic leader, he was famously popular with his subordinates. He met and knew many of the most famous military characters of his time; of all these his close association with Montgomery is the best known, and his candid views of his old commander, whilst not disloyal, are not necessarily what might be expected from a man so closely associated with him.

The book rattles along (thankfully in chronological order) at a sustained pace, and by far the largest amount of ink is rightly expended on his service between 39 and 45. Whilst the subject matter is fascinating, the writing style of the author complements it perfectly. Warner, who spent time with Horrocks in his later years, was obviously fond of the old General and this exudes from every page. However, as far as I can tell this fondness has not been allowed to cloud his critical judgement of Horrocks, who was by no means perfect (as he himself was aware). The examination of Horrocks particularly in Africa and Europe does not pull any punches, critiquing his shortcomings as well as lauding his many successes. Horrocks’ post war career is almost as fascinating as his military exploits; invalided out in 48 from effects of his wounds he continued to live a full and interesting life, and his achievements are entertainingly chronicled in detail.

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The book I read is a paperback with a dozen black and white photos included; rather pricey at £12.99, but in my humble opinion worth every penny. If you intend to buy one book about the Second World War this year, I suggest that this one will give you the most satisfaction. An excellent read, fully deserving 5 Mr Potato Heads, my first top score!
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