Brian Gwynne Horrocks was born September 7th, 1895, in Ranikhet, India, the son of an army doctor. After graduating from boarding school in England, he attended the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. He was only a mediocre student, yet, at the outbreak of World War One, he was posted to the Middlesex Regiment. He was injured in October 1914, near Yper in Belgium and was taken prisoner. Despite various attempts at escape, he remained a POW for the remainder of the war. He returned to England but could not get used to the inactivitiy of peacetime. He found a way to return to active service. April 1919, he turned up in Vladiwostok, Russia fighting against the Bolsjewiks. During this war, he was again taken prisoner but despite various diseases he recuperated well after his release.
Horrocks' committment to his regiment, in which he served for 15 years, took him to places like Silesia, Germany and Wormwood Scrubs. 1938, he returned to Camberley as a member of the staff. He was to assess the needs for an impending war and organized short courses for future staff officers of the Territorial Army. When Germany invaded western Europe, Horrocks was sent to France and put in command of 2nd. Bat, Middlesex Rgt, itself part of General Bernhard Montgomery's 3rd Division. In July 1940, while still in France, Horrocks was promoted to Brigadeer and put in command of 11th Brigade. Under supervision by Alan Brooke and Bernhard Montgomery, Horrocks came out well during the retreat to Dunkirque.
March 1942, he was put in command of the newly established 9th Armoured Division. August 1942, Montgomery made him come to North-Africa to command 13th Corps. When he arrived, he was tasked with setting up a defensive line on the Alem-el-Halfa ridge to repel an attack by the German Afrika Korps. When the Germans attacked, they were not able to deploy their famous 88's against the British tanks; instead they came under fire from the British 7th Armoured Division and from the Allied Desert Air Force. On September 2nd, 1942, after fierce fighting, it became clear to the Germans that the battle was lost and a demoralized Rommel gave orders for a strategic withdrawal. German losses had beem substantial and Rommel had been tought his first lesson.
Following the battle of Alem-el-Halfa, Horrocks was offered the post of commander of 10th Corps but he turned it down, arguing that he rated hinself no better than the incumbent commander, Herbert Lumsden and so he remained in command of 13th Corps. After the battle at El Alamein however, he was named commander of 10th Corps. During Operation Pugilist in the south of Tunisia, Horrocks executed one of his most successfull attacks of the war. Montgomery had planned an assault on the Mareth Line, a frontal attack in combination with a 200 mile deep flanking attack to the south. After the frontal attack had bogged down, Montgomery decided to re-inforce the troops moving south with, among others, Horrocks' men. March 27th, the Tebaga Gap was breached, rendering the defensive line untenable and forcing the Axis forces to abandon their positions. In April 1943, during the last stages of the Tunisia campaign, Horrocks volunteered to command 9th Corps, part of the British 1st Army commanded by Lieutenant-general Sir Kenneth Anderson. In June 1943, Horrocks was seriously injured after having been hit by gunfire from a wandering German airplane
In September 1943, he flew back to England, accompanied by American Lieutenant-general Omar Nelson Bradley. Back home, doctors told him he would never again lead his men in battle. He found a little comfort in being awarded the title Companion of the Order of the Bath and the conferment of the DSO. Anyway, a year would pass before he would be named commander again. Being one of Monty's favourites, he was appointed to replace Lieutenant-general Gerard Corfield Bucknall of 30th Corps in late August 1944, who had fallen from grace. As officer commanding, he led 30th Corps in the fighting in the Falaise Pocket where the Allies defeated the German 7th Army. Horrocks remained in command of 30th Corps during its drive through Belgium. He liberated the Belgian capital of Brussels and at one time had advanced 300 miles in just six days. Horrocks' drive was halted as he received orders to capture the port of Antwerp. After the war he regretted this decision because it gave the Germans time to recuperate. The port of Antwerp was vital to the Allied cause as all deep sea ports on the French coast would remain in German hands until May 1945 and so all supplies still had to come all the way from Normandy. In September 1944, without anyone being aware of it, 30th Corps faced just one single German division but by the time preparations for the attack northwards had been completed, the Germans had deployed their 1st Fallschirmarmee (Paratroop army) of Generaloberst Kurt Student.
In mid-September, 30th Corps was sent east and the Canadian 1st Army was tasked with clearing the German fortified defensive line running from Antwerp on both sides of the river Scheld to the North Sea. Meanwhile, General Montgomery had devised Operation Market Garden which was to be the main objective of his 21st Armygroup. 30th Corps under the command of Horrocks would spearhead the attack on the ground, ultimately to link up with the British 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem. 1st Airborne had been told that 30th Corps would relieve them within two days. When battle was joined, German Armygroup B commanded by Generalfeldmarshall Walter Model launched a series of counter-attacks, forcing Horrocks' units into the defensive. The terrain through which Horrocks' men had to advance was not suitable for their mission either. Often whole divisions were hindered in their drive and they had to advance along a single highway, later to be known as Hell's Highway. In the end, Horrocks' ground attack failed and he could not link up with the beleaguered 1st Airborne at Arnhem. He was however not held personally responsible for the failure of his Corps.
At the end of 1944, he was sent home on sickleave. In March 1945, he had returned however and led his Corps across the river Rhine. From there they advanced further into Germany, liberated the city of Bremen and came eye to eye with the horrors of Sandbostel concentration camp.
Horrocks was knighted in July 1945 but he remained in the army. From 1946 to 1948, he was General Officer Commanding Western Command and from 1948 to 1949 General Officer Commander-in Chief British Army of the Rhine in Germany. 1949, owing to bad health as a result of the injuries he had sustained in North-Africa, he was declared physically unfit for service. After his retirement he became Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, a function within the British House of Commons and from 1963 to 1977 he was chief executive of a contracting firm. During the sixties, he enjoyed a successfull career hosting a number of television documentaries on military history. He continued this success writing a number of books on the history of various British regiments. In the last years of his life, he remained active in charity work and ultimately was dealt a severe blow in 1979 when his daughter and only child drowned while swimming in the river Thames.
Sir Brian Gwynne horrocks, KCB, KBE, DSO, MC died Janaury 4th 1985.
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