B. H. Liddell Hart

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B. H. Liddell Hart

Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart (31 October 1895 – 29 January 1970), commonly known throughout most of his career as Captain B. H. Liddell Hart, was an English soldier, military historian and military theorist. Following World War II, he was a proponent of the West German rearmament and the moral rehabilitation of the German Wehrmacht. As part of these two interconnected initiatives, Liddell Hart significantly contributed to the creation of the Rommel myth.

Life and career

Born in Paris, the son of an English Methodist minister, Liddell Hart received his formal academic education at St Paul's School in London and at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. His mother's side of the family, the Liddells, came from Liddesdale, on the Scottish side of the border with England, and were associated with the London and South Western Railway.[1] The Harts were farmers from Gloucestershire and Herefordshire.[2] As a child Hart was fascinated by aviation.[3]

World War I

On the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 Liddell Hart volunteered for the British Army, where he became an officer in the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and served with the regiment on the Western Front. Liddell Hart's front line experience was relatively brief, confined to two short spells in the autumn and winter of 1915, being sent home from the front after suffering concussive injuries from a shell burst. He was promoted to the rank of captain. He returned to the front for a third time in 1916, in time to participate in the Battle of the Somme. He was hit three times without serious injury before being badly gassed and sent out of the line on 19 July 1916.[4] His battalion was nearly wiped out on the first day of the offensive on 1 July, a part of the 60,000 casualties suffered in the heaviest single day's loss in British history. The experiences he suffered on the Western Front profoundly affected him for the rest of his life.[5] Transferred to be Adjutant to Volunteer units in Stroud and Cambridge, he was in charge of training new units.[6] During this time he wrote several booklets on infantry drill and training, which came to the attention of General Sir Ivor Maxse, commander of the 18th (Eastern) Division. After the war he transferred to the Royal Army Educational Corps, where he prepared a new edition of the Infantry Training Manual. In this manual Liddell Hart strove to instill the lessons of 1918, and carried on a correspondence with Maxse, a commanding officer during the Battle of Hamel and the Battle of Amiens.[7]

In April 1918 Liddell Hart married Jessie Stone, the daughter of J. J. Stone – who had been his assistant adjutant at Stroud[8] – and their son Adrian was born in 1922.[9]

Journalist and military historian

Liddell Hart was placed on half-pay from 1924.[10] He later retired from the Army in 1927. Two mild heart attacks in 1921 and 1922, probably the long-term effects of his gassing, precluded his further advancement in the downsized post-war army. He spent the rest of his career as a theorist and writer. In 1924 he became a lawn tennis correspondent and assistant military correspondent for the Morning Post covering Wimbledon and in 1926 publishing a collection of his tennis writings as The Lawn Tennis Masters Unveiled.[11] He worked as the Military Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph from 1925 to 1935, and of The Times from 1935 to 1939.

In the mid to late twenties Liddell Hart wrote a series of histories of major military figures, through which he advanced his ideas that the frontal assault was a strategy that was bound to fail at great cost in lives. He argued that the tremendous losses Britain suffered in the Great War were due to her commanding officers not appreciating this fact of history. He believed the British decision in 1914 to directly intervene on the Continent with a great army was a mistake. He claimed that historically "the British way in warfare" was to leave Continental land battles to her allies, intervening only through naval power, with the army fighting the enemy away from its principal front in a "limited liability".[12]

In the histories he wrote on Scipio Africanus Major (1926), the Great Captains (1927) and Sherman (1929) he made the argument for maneuver warfare and taking the indirect approach to reach one's objectives. In the thirties Liddell Hart continued along this vein, and added the admonition that in the Great War, Britain had moved away from her traditional strategy of using her naval superiority to attack her adversaries in places unexpected and at times of her choosing, and instead committed herself to a large army of conscripted men who fought on the Continent in direct confrontation with continental armies. The idea of keeping the British army off the continent thereby keeping British casualties low appealed to many people, including Neville Chamberlain.[citation needed]

In "Achtung – Panzer!", written in 1937, Guderian refers to Liddell Hart as one of "the protagonists of mechanization, among - General Fuller, Martel, Liddell Hart and others", who "advocated reinforcing the all tank units by infantry and artillery mounted on permanently assigned armoured vehicles, together with mechanized engineers, and signals, support and supply elements".[13] According to a biography of Liddell Hart by Brian Bond, two high-ranking German officers, Werner von Blomberg and Walther von Reichenau, read Liddell Hart's work, translated his "The British Way in Warfare" into German, and circulated his ideas on mechanization throughout the Reichswehr.[14]

According to Liddell Hart's memoirs, in a series of articles for The Times from November 1935 to November 1936, he had argued that Britain's role in the next European war could be entrusted to the air force. He further theorized that Britain could pursue to defeat her enemies while avoiding the high casualties and limited influence that Britain could impart by placing a large conscript army on the Continent.[15][better source needed] These ideas influenced Chamberlain, then Chancellor, who argued in discussions of the Defence Policy and Requirements Committee for a strong air force rather than a large army that would fight on continental Europe.[16] The idea of winning a war through air power alone was not new. Giulio Douhet had put forward a similar argument in "Command of the Air" published in 1921.[17]

Influence on Chamberlain

Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. As Prime Minister in 1937, Chamberlain placed Liddell Hart in a position of influence behind British grand strategy of the late thirties.[18] In May he prepared schemes for the reorganization of the British Army for defence of the British Empire and delivered them to Sir Thomas Inskip, the Minister for the Co-Ordination of Defence. In June he gained an introduction to the Secretary of State for War, Leslie Hore-Belisha. Through July 1938 the two had an unofficial, close advisorial relationship. Liddell Hart provided Hore-Belisha with ideas that he would argue for in Cabinet or committees.[18] On 20 October 1937, Chamberlain wrote to Hore-Belisha: "I have been reading in Europe in Arms by Liddell Hart. If you have not already done so you might find it interesting to glance at this, especially the chapter on the “Role of the British Army”". Hore-Belisha wrote in reply: "I immediately read the “Role of the British Army” in Liddell Hart's book. I am impressed by his general theories".[19]

Liddell Hart, with Hore-Belisha, drafted a paper on 'The Role of the Army' in November 1937 in which they argued that home defence and empire defence were the primary responsibilities of the army, and that the defence of other people's territory was a secondary role.[20] On 15 November Hore-Belisha wrote to Liddell Hart that "the Cabinet was moving towards the discontinuance of an Expeditionary Force for the Continent"[21] and the next day wrote again to Liddell Hart, claiming Chamberlain was pleased by their paper on the role of the British Army and had requested from Liddell Hart a paper on 'The Reorientation of the Regular Army for Imperial Defence".[22]

World War II

With the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 the War Cabinet reversed the Chamberlain policy advanced by Liddell Hart. With Europe on the brink of war and Germany threatening an invasion of Poland, the cabinet chose instead to advocate a British and Imperial army of 55 divisions, for intervention on the Continent to come to the aid of Poland, Norway and France.[23]


After the war, Liddell Hart was responsible for extensive interviews and debriefs for several high-ranking German generals, who were held by the Allies as prisoners-of-war. Liddell Hart provided commentary on their outlook. The work was published as The Other Side of the Hill (UK Edition, 1948) and The German Generals Talk (condensed US Edition, 1948).

A few years later Liddell Hart had the opportunity to review the notes that Erwin Rommel had kept during the war. Rommel had kept these notes with the intention of writing of his experiences after the war; the Rommel family had previously published these notes in German as War without Hate in 1950. Some of the notes had been destroyed by Rommel and the rest (including Rommel's letters to his wife) had been confiscated by the American authorities. With Liddell Hart's help, these were later returned to Rommel's widow. Liddell Hart then edited and condensed the book and helped integrate the new material. The writings, along with notes and commentary by former general Fritz Bayerlein and Liddell Hart were published in 1953 as The Rommel Papers.[24] (See below for Liddell Hart's role in the Rommel myth.)

The Queen made Liddell Hart a Knight Bachelor in the New Year Honours of 1966.[citation needed]

Theory of Indirect Approach

In his early writings on mechanized warfare Liddell Hart had proposed that infantry be carried along with the fast-moving armoured formations. He described them as "tank marines" like the soldiers the Royal Navy carried with their ships. He proposed they be carried along in their own tracked vehicles and dismount to help take better-defended positions that otherwise would hold up the armoured units. This contrasted with Fuller's ideas of a tank army, which put heavy emphasis on massed armoured formations. Liddell Hart foresaw the need for a combined arms force with mobile infantry and artillery, which was similar but not identical to the make-up of the panzer divisions that Guderian developed in Germany.[25]

As of 2009, Liddell Hart's personal papers and library form the central collection in the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives at King's College London.[26]


Influence on Panzerwaffe

Following the Second World War Liddell Hart pointed out that the German Wehrmacht adopted theories developed from those of J.F.C. Fuller and from his own, and that it used them against the United Kingdom and its allies (1939–1945) with the practice of what became known as Blitzkrieg warfare.[27] Some scholars, such as the political scientist John Mearsheimer, have questioned the extent of the influence which the British officers, and in particular Liddell Hart, had in the development of the method of war practiced by the Panzerwaffe in 1939–1941. During the post-war debriefs of the former Wehrmacht generals, Liddel Hart attempted to tease out his influence on their war practices. Following these interviews, many of the generals claimed that Liddell Hart had been an influence on their strategies, something that had not been claimed previously nor has any contemporary, pre-war, documentation been found to support their claims. Liddel Hart thus put "words in the mouths' of German Generals" with the aim, according to Mearsheimer, to "resurrect a lost reputation".[28]

Shimon Naveh, the founder and former head of the Israel Defense Forces' Operational Theory Research Institute, stated that after World War II Liddell Hart "created" the idea of Blitzkrieg as a military doctrine: "It was the opposite of a doctrine. Blitzkrieg consisted of an avalanche of actions that were sorted out less by design and more by success."[29] Naveh stated that,

"by manipulation and contrivance, Liddell Hart distorted the actual circumstances of the Blitzkrieg formation and obscured its origins. Through his indoctrinated idealization of an ostentatious concept he reinforced the myth of Blitzkrieg. By imposing, retrospectively, his own perceptions of mobile warfare upon the shallow concept of Blitzkrieg, he created a theoretical imbroglio that has taken 40 years to unravel".[30]

Naveh stated that in his letters to German generals Erich von Manstein and Guderian, as well as to relatives and associates of Rommel, Liddell Hart "imposed his own fabricated version of Blitzkrieg on the latter and compelled him to proclaim it as original formula".[31]

Naveh pointed out that the edition of Guderian's memoirs published in Germany differed from the one published in the United Kingdom. Guderian neglected to mention the influence of the English theorists such as Fuller and Liddell Hart in the German-language versions. One example of the influence of these men on Guderian was the report on the Battle of Cambrai published by Fuller in 1920, who at the time served as a staff officer at the Royal Tank Corps. Liddell Hart alleged that Guderian read and later took up his[who?] findings and theories on armoured warfare, which thus helped to formulate the basis of operations that would become known as Blitzkrieg warfare. These tactics involved deep penetration of the armoured formations supported behind enemy lines by bomb-carrying aircraft. Dive bombers were the principal agents of delivery of high explosives in support of the forward units.[32]

Though the German version of the Guderian memoirs mentions Liddell Hart, it did not ascribe to him his role in developing the theories behind armoured warfare. An explanation for the difference between the two translations can be found in the correspondence between the two men. In one letter to Guderian, Liddell Hart reminded the German general that he should provide him the credit he was due, offering "You might care to insert a remark that I emphasized the use of armoured forces for long-range operations against the opposing Army's communications, and also the proposed type of armoured division combining Panzer and Panzer-infantry units – and that these points particularly impressed you."[33]

Role in Rommel myth

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Liddel Hart was instrumental in the creation of the "Rommel myth", a view that the German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was an apolitical, brilliant commander and a victim of the Third Reich due to his (now disputed) participation in the 20 July plot against Adolf Hitler. The myth was created with Rommel's participation as a component of Nazi propaganda to praise the Wehrmacht and instill optimism in the German public. Starting in 1941, it was picked up and disseminated in the West by the British press as they sought to explain its continued inability to defeat the Axis forces in North Africa. Following the war, the Western Allies, and particularly the British, depicted Rommel as the "good German" and "our friend Rommel". His reputation for conducting a clean war was used in the interest of the West German rearmament and reconciliation between the former enemies – Britain and the United States on one side and the new Federal Republic on the other.[34][35][36]

File:The Rommel Papers book cover.jpg
The book cover of the 1953 edition of The Rommel Papers, edited by B. H. Liddell Hart. It was one of the foundational texts that built and sustained the Rommel myth.[37]

After the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, it became clear to the Americans and the British that a German army would have to be revived to help face off against the Soviet Union. Many former German officers were convinced, however, that no future German army would be possible without the rehabilitation of the Wehrmacht.[38] Thus, in the atmosphere of the Cold War, Rommel's former enemies, especially the British, played a key role in the manufacture and propagation of the myth.[39]

The German rearmament was highly dependent on the image boosting that the Wehrmacht needed. Liddell Hart, an early proponent of these two interconnected initiatives, provided the first widely available source on Rommel in his 1948 book on Hitler's generals. He devoted a chapter to Rommel, portraying him as an outsider to the Nazi regime. Additions to the chapter published in 1951 concluded with laudatory comments about Rommel's "gifts and performance" that "qualified him for a place in the role of the 'Great Captains' of history".[40]

1953 saw the publication of Rommel's writings of the war period as The Rommel Papers, edited by Liddell Hart, the former Wehrmacht officer Fritz Bayerlein, and Rommel's widow and son, with an introduction by Liddel Hart. The historian Mark Connelly argues that The Rommel Papers was one of the two foundational works that lead to a "Rommel renaissance", the other being Desmond Young's biography Rommel: The Desert Fox.[37][n 1] The book contributed to the perception of Rommel as a brilliant commander; in an introduction, Liddel Hart drew comparisons between Rommel and Lawrence of Arabia, "two masters of desert warfare", according to Liddel Hart.[41]

Liddel Hart had a personal interest in the work: he had coaxed Rommel's widow into adding material alluding to the fact that Liddel Hart's theories on mechanised warfare had influenced Rommel. Thus, Rommel emerged as his "pupil", giving Liddel Hart credit for Rommel's dramatic successes in 1940.[42] (The controversy was described by the political scientist John Mearsheimer in his work The Weight of History.[42] A review of Mearsheimer's work, published by the Strategic Studies Institute, points out that Mearsheimer "correctly takes 'The Captain' [Liddel Hart] to task for [...] manipulating history".)[28]

According to the historian Mark Connelly, Young and Liddell Hart laid the foundation for the Anglo-American myth, which consisted of three themes: Rommel's ambivalence towards Nazism; his military genius; and the emphasis of the chivalrous nature of the fighting in North Africa.[37] Their works lent support to the image of the "clean Wehrmacht" and were generally not questioned, since they came from British authors, rather than German revisionists.[43][n 2]

MI5 controversy

On 4 September 2006, MI5 files were released which showed that in early 1944 MI5 had suspicions that plans for the D-Day invasion had been leaked. Liddell Hart had prepared a treatise titled Some Reflections on the Problems of Invading the Continent which he circulated amongst political and military figures. It is possible that in his treatise Liddell Hart had correctly deduced a number of aspects of the upcoming Allied invasion, including the location of the landings. MI5 suspected that Liddell Hart had received plans of the invasion from General Sir Alfred "Tim" Pile who was in command of Britain's anti-aircraft defences. MI5 placed him under surveillance, intercepting his telephone calls and letters. The investigation showed no suggestion that Liddell Hart was involved in any subversive activity. No case was ever brought against Pile. Liddell Hart stated his work was merely speculative. It would appear that Liddell Hart had simply perceived the same problems and arrived at similar conclusions as the Allied general staff.[45][46]


  • The principal[citation needed] posthumous biography of Liddell Hart, Alex Danchev wrote the biography of Liddel Hart, Alchemist of War: The Life of Basil Liddell Hart, with the cooperation of Liddell Hart's widow. It reveals, for example, that Liddell Hart connived at the planting of an endorsement of his own work in the English-language version of Panzer Leader, the autobiography of Heinz Guderian.
  • Brian Bond wrote Liddell Hart: a study of his military thought (Cassell, 1977; Rutgers University Press, 1977), which showed that Liddell Hart's writings in the 1920s and 1930s had a marked influence on the German officer corps, in particular German generals Werner von Blomberg and Walther von Reichenau, among many others. Bond also outlined Liddell Hart's writings on the Israel Defense Forces' campaigns of 1956 and 1967, and his broad influence among Israeli military thinkers. For balance, it should be noted that Brian Bond had a friendship and close personal links with Basil Liddell Hart, and so his work should be read with that information in mind.
  • John J. Mearsheimer's "Liddell Hart and the Weight of History" (New York, 1988), published by the Cornell University Press and part of the Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, is a well-researched look at Liddell Hart's claims of theoretical prophecy and influence over the personalities and event of the Second World War. In particular, Mearsheimer uses primary evidence to look at Liddell Hart's claims to have predicted the fall of France by Blitzkrieg tactics and that he was influential with German generals and thinkers (notably Guderian and Rommel) in the 1930s. What emerges are serious questions as to Liddell Hart's version of history.[28]


  • Scipio Africanus: Greater Than Napoleon (originally: A Greater than Napoleon: Scipio Africanus; W Blackwood and Sons, London, 1926; Biblio and Tannen, New York, 1976)
  • Lawn Tennis Masters Unveiled (Arrowsmith, London, 1926)
  • Great Captains Unveiled (W. Blackwood and Sons, London, 1927; Greenhill, London, 1989)
  • Reputations 10 Years After (Little, Brown, Boston, 1928)
  • Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American (Dodd, Mead and Co, New York, 1929; Frederick A. Praeger, New York, 1960)
  • The decisive wars of history (1929) (This is the first part of the later: Strategy: the indirect approach)
  • The Real War (1914–1918) (1930), later republished as A History of the World War (1914–1918).
  • Foch, the man of Orleans In two Volumes (1931), Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England.
  • The Ghost of Napoleon (Yale University, New Haven, 1934)
  • T.E. Lawrence in Arabia and After (Jonathan Cape, London, 1934 - online)
  • World War I in Outline (1936)
  • The Defence of Britain (Faber and Faber, London, 1939; Greenwood, Westport, 1980)
  • The Current of War, London: Hutchinson, 1941
  • The strategy of indirect approach (1941, reprinted in 1942 under the title: The way to win wars)
  • The way to win wars (1942)
  • The Revolution in Warfare, London: Faber and Faber, 1946
  • The Other Side of the Hill. Germany's Generals. Their Rise and Fall, with their own Account of Military Events 1939–1945, London: Cassel, 1948; enlarged and revised edition, Delhi: Army Publishers, 1965
  • "Foreword" to Heinz Guderian's Panzer Leader (New York: Da Capo., 1952)
  • Strategy: the indirect approach, third revised edition and further enlarged London: Faber and Faber, 1954
  • The Rommel Papers, (editor), 1953
  • The Tanks – A History of the Royal Tank Regiment and its Predecessors: Volumes I and II (Praeger, New York, 1959)
  • "Foreword" to Samuel B. Griffith's Sun Tzu: the Art of War (Oxford University Press, London, 1963)
  • The Memoirs of Captain Liddell Hart: Volumes I and II (Cassell, London, 1965)
  • History of the Second World War (London, Weidenfeld Nicolson, 1970)
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  1. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  2. Bond p. 12
  3. Bond p. 13
  4. Bond pp. 16-17
  5. Bond p. 16
  6. Bond p. 19
  7. Bond p. 25
  8. Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart, The memoirs of Captain Liddell Hart: Volume 1 (1965 edition), p. 31 : "In April I married the younger daughter, Jessie, of my former assistant adjutant at Stroud, J. J. Stone..."
  9. Liddell Hart, Adrian John (1922–1991) at aim25.ac.uk, accessed 3 May 2011
  10. Bond p. 32
  11. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  12. Barnett, p. 503.
  13. Guderian, 1937, p. 141
  14. Bond p. 218
  15. Liddell Hart, Memoirs, Vol I, pp. 296-299, pp. 380-381.
  16. Correlli Barnett, The Collapse of British Power (London: Methuen, 1972), pp. 497-499.
  17. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Barnett, p. 502.
  19. Minney p. 54
  20. Liddell Hart, Memoirs, Vol II, p. 50.
  21. Liddell Hart, Memoirs, Vol II, p. 55.
  22. Liddell Hart, Memoirs, Vol II, pp. 56-57.
  23. Barnett, p. 576.
  24. Major 2008.
  25. Bond p. 29
  26. Lidell Hart archive, KCL
  27. Naveh p. 107.
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 Luvaas 1990.
  29. Naveh 1997, pp. 107–108.
  30. Naveh 1997, pp. 108–109.
  31. Naveh 1997, p. 109.
  32. Corum p. 42
  33. Danchev 1998, pp. 234–235.
  34. Searle 2014, pp. 8-27.
  35. Caddick-Adams 2012, p. 471-478.
  36. Major 2008, p. 520-535.
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 37.3 Connelly 2014, pp. 163-163.
  38. Smelser & Davies 2008, pp. 72–73.
  39. Caddick-Adams 2012, p. 471–472.
  40. Searle 2014, pp. 8, 27.
  41. Major 2008, p. 526.
  42. 42.0 42.1 Mearsheimer 1988, pp. 199–200.
  43. Caddick-Adams 2012, p. 483.
  44. Kitchen 2009, p. 10.
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  47. Paperback: Sophron 2012, ISBN 978-0985081133


  1. Connelly also uses the term "Anglophone rehabilitation".[37]
  2. Kitchen: "The North African campaign has usually been seen, as in the title of Rommel's account, as 'War without Hate', and thus as further proof that the German army was not involved in any sordid butcheing, which was left to Himmler's SS. While it was perfectly true that the German troops in North Africa fought with great distinction and gallantry, (...) it was fortunate for their subsequent reputation that the SS murderers that followed in their wake did not have an opportunity to get to work." Kitchen further explains that the sparsely populated desert areas did not lend themselves to ethnic cleansing; that the German forces never reached Egypt and Palestine that had large Jewish populations; and that, in the urban areas of Tunisia and Transpolitania, the Italian government constrained the German efforts to discriminate against or eliminate Jews who were Italian citizens.[44]


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  • Bond, Brian, Liddell Hart: A Study of his Military Thought. London: Cassell, 1977.
  • Corum, James S. The Roots of Blitzkrieg: Hans von Seeckt and German Military Reform Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1992. ISBN 0-7006-0541-X.
  • Danchev, Alex, Alchemist of War: The Life of Basil Liddell Hart. London: Nicholson, 1998. ISBN 0-7538-0873-0
  • Danchev, Alex, "Liddell Hart and the Indirect Approach", 873-0 Journal of Military History, Vol. 63, No. 2. (1999), pp. 313–337.
  • Guderian, Heinz Panzer Leader New York Da Capo Press Reissue edition, 1952.
  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  • Mearsheimer, John, Liddell Hart and the Weight of History. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-8014-2089-X
  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  • Minney, R.J. (ed.) The Private Papers of Hore-Belisha London: Collins, 1960.
  • Naveh, Shimon, In Pursuit of Military Excellence; The Evolution of Operational Theory. London: Francass, 1997. ISBN 0-7146-4727-6.

External links