Miles Dempsey

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Miles Dempsey
Lieutenant General M C Dempsey, Cb, Dso, Mc, Commander in Chief, British Second Army, April 1944 TR1654.jpg
Lieutenant-General Sir Miles Christopher Dempsey, General Officer Commanding British Second Army, in April 1944.
Birth name Miles Christopher Dempsey
Nickname(s) "Lucky" or "Bimbo"
Born (1896-12-15)15 December 1896
New Brighton, Wallasey, Cheshire
Died 5 June 1969(1969-06-05) (aged 72)
Yattendon, Berkshire
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1915–1947
Rank General
Commands held
Other work

General Sir Miles Christopher Dempsey GBE KCB DSO MC (15 December 1896 – 5 June 1969) was a senior officer of the British Army who served in both World War I and World War II. During the Second World War he had a close relationship with Bernard Montgomery and commanded XIII Corps for the invasions of Sicily and Italy and later commanded the British Second Army during the Battle of Normandy and made notably rapid advances in the subsequent campaign in Northern France and Belgium. Dempsey was the first British Army commander to cross the Rhine. A career infantryman who made his reputation in active service, but remains relatively unknown.

Early life

Dempsey was born in Cheshire in 1896[6] and was educated at Shrewsbury School where he captained the first eleven Cricket team in 1914. On leaving Shrewsbury he attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst during the First World War.

First World War and inter-war years

After graduating from the Royal Military College in 1915, Dempsey joined the Princess Charlotte of Wales's (Royal Berkshire Regiment). He served on the Western Front in France during the First World War, where he was awarded the Military Cross for bravery.[citation needed]

After the war, in 1919, Dempsey played two first-class cricket matches for Sussex against Oxford University and Northamptonshire.[7] Between 1926 and 1932, he also played Minor Counties Championship cricket for Berkshire.[8]

Second World War

By the start of the Second World War, Dempsey had reached the rank of lieutenant colonel and was commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment (Princess Charlotte of Wales's).[9] In November he was promoted to command of the 13th Infantry Brigade, attached to the 5th Infantry Division, itself part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France. In common with other Allied units, his brigade was forced back to Dunkirk, where it provided part of the rear-guard for the evacuation. For his part in the evacuation, Dempsey was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.[citation needed]

In December 1942 he was promoted to lieutenant-general and commanded XIII Corps of the British Eighth Army during the North African Campaign. He subsequently helped to plan the invasion of Sicily and led the assault on Sicily in 1943. Dempsey later led the invasion of Italy across the Strait of Messina, in which his troops advanced more than 300 miles (480 km) to the north before linking up with American troops at Salerno.

Half length portrait taken at his desk, April 1944.

In North Africa, Sicily and Italy, Dempsey had gained a reputation for his expertise in Combined Operations. This prompted Bernard Montgomery, his commanding officer in North Africa and Sicily, to select him to command the British Second Army in January 1944. The Second Army was the main British force (although it also included Canadian Army units) involved in the D-Day landings, making successful assaults at Gold, Juno and Sword beaches on 6 June 1944.

Dempsey (right) with 21st Army Group Commander Bernard Montgomery (centre), and United States First Army commander Omar Bradley (left), 10 June 1944.

The successful assaults were followed by a battle of attrition during which the Anglo-Canadian forces were frustrated by determined German resistance. This fighting forced the transfer of vital German units away from the eventual American break-out. Second Army made a rapid advance across northern France into Belgium, liberating Brussels and Antwerp in September 1944. On 15 October 1944, during a visit to the Second Army, King George VI knighted Dempsey on the battlefield. Because of the fast and successful advance over more than 200 miles in a week Dempsey got the nickname "Two Hundred Miles” Dempsey.

Dempsey crossing the Rhine in a small boat, March 1945.

The Second Army crossed the Rhine on 23 March 1945, and Dempsey was the first British Army commander to do so. On 7 April 1945, The Illustrated London News carried a full front page of a specially commissioned portrait painting of Dempsey by artist Arthur Pan.[10] In May, Dempsey's men captured Bremen, Hamburg and Kiel. At 11.00 am on 3 May, a delegation of senior German officers led by General Admiral von Friedeberg arrived at Dempsey's Tac HQ and after questioning it appeared that Friedeberg was a representative of General Keitel and Admiral Donitz who wished to surrender. In typical fashion Dempsey sent them on their way to report to Montgomery which led to the formal surrender the next day at Lüneberg Heath.

After the end of the war in Europe, Miles Dempsey was appointed to the command of the British Fourteenth Army and GOC in C Malaya Command[11] and then Land Force Commander, South East Asia. The Japanese surrendered shortly afterwards. Within his command were 123,000 British and Dutch prisoners and nearly 750,000 captured Japanese.

Miles Dempsey was considered to be a highly competent officer. He asserted a very effective control over the British Second Army without taking the limelight. This was despite the stalemate in Normandy and the failure to advance beyond Antwerp and thus ensure that German forces remained isolated. He was claimed by military historian Carlo D'Este to be: "A career infantryman, Dempsey was an ardent student of military history and during the interwar period had frequently visited Europe to study its battlefields firsthand. Blessed with an active and incisive mind, a phenomenal memory and a unique skill in reading maps, Dempsey would soon leave his army staff in awe over his ability to remember everything he saw on a map, to bring a landscape literally to life in his mind even though he had never actually seen it. This talent proved particularly important during the crucial battles around Caen in June and July 1944. Dempsey was considered the Eighth Army's best expert in combined operations and, as he grew in experience, Montgomery soon recognized his potential for army command. The two men shared many qualities, including a disdain for paperwork and a determination, based on their First World War experiences, never to waste their soldiers lives'."[12]


In 1946 he was appointed British Commander in Chief of Middle East Land Forces. He was made a General in 1946. Dempsey retired from the British Army in August 1947.[13] In 1950, he was given a 'shadow' appointment as Commander In Chief, British Home forces. He was Colonel Commandant of the Royal Military police, the Special Air Service (1951–1960) and the Princess Charlotte of Wales Royal Berkshire Regiment.

In 1948, Dempsey married Viola O'Reilly, the youngest daughter of Captain Percy O'Reilly of Coolamber, County Westmeath, Ireland. The couple lived at "The Old Vicarage", Greenham, Newbury, Berkshire, and later rented "Coombe House", Yattendon, Berkshire. When the former house was requisitioned as part of the US Airforce base, President Eisenhower personally arranged compensation to be paid to his friend and wartime colleague.[citation needed]

He was Chairman of the Race Course Betting Board, H&G Simonds, Greene King and Sons (the first non-family chairman) and Deputy Chairman of Courage. Dempsey declined to write any memoirs about his military experiences. He ordered that his diaries be burned.[14]


Miles Dempsey died in Yattendon, Berkshire, in 1969 at the age of 72.[citation needed]


  • Second Lieutenant (17 February 1915)
  • Lieutenant (8 August 1915)
    • Acting Captain (28 July-22 August 1916; 30 November 1916 – 8 February 1917; 20 July 1917 – 15 July 1918; 24 July 1918 – 19 May 1921)
  • Captain (20 May 1921)
  • Major (22 September 1932)
  • Lieutenant-Colonel (11 February 1938)
    • Actg. Colonel; Actg. Brigadier (20 November 1939 – 19 May 1940)
    • Temp. Colonel (20 May 1940 – 10 August 1941)
    • Temp. Brigadier (20 May 1940 – 14 June 1942)
    • Actg. Major-General (15 June 1941 – 14 June 1942)
  • Colonel (11 August 1941, seniority 11 February)
    • Temp. Major-General (15 June 1942 – 11 December 1943)
    • Actg. Lieutenant-General (12 December 1942 – 11 December 1943)
  • War Substantive Major-General (12 December 1943)
    • Temp. Lieutenant-General (12 December 1943 – 1 January 1945)
  • Major-General (27 April 1944)
  • Lieutenant-General (2 January 1945)
    • Actg. General (28 June-13 October 1946)
  • General (14 October 1946)

Retired 22 August 1947 [15]


  • In September 1944, Miles Dempsey was made an honorary citizen of the city of Caen in Normandy, France.
  • Around 1990, a street in Caen (avenue Général Dempsey) was named after him,[16] in a district close to the Mémorial pour la Paix museum, where many of the streets commemorate personalities linked with the Second World War. The street links the avenue Maréchal Montgomery to the avenue Amiral Mountbatten.
  • In the Dutch town of Langenboom a street was named after him (Dempseystraat).
  • In the small Belgian town Hamont-Achel, General Sir Miles Dempsey and his 2nd British Army held headquarters from September 1944 until April 1945. In honour, the street was named after him 'Generaal Dempseylaan'.

See also

Media related to Miles Dempsey at Wikimedia Commons


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  1. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37027. p. 1947. 10 April 1945.
  2. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37853. p. 324. 16 January 1947. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  3. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37909. p. 1315. 18 March 1947. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  4. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39270. p. 3538. 26 June 1951. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  5. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39176. p. 1498. 16 March 1951. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  6. "Miles Dempsey biography at Spartacus Educational".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "First-Class Matches played by Miles Dempsey". CricketArchive. Retrieved 22 June 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Minor Counties Championship Matches played by Miles Dempsey". CricketArchive. Retrieved 22 June 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "The Illustrated London News 1945", Retrieved 19 September 2009.
  11. Army Commands
  12. D'Este, p. 60.
  13. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 38051. p. 3933. 19 August 1947. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  14. Hamilton, Nigel (1983). Master of the Battlefield Monty's War Years 1942-1944. McGraw-Hill Book Company. p. 697.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Unithistories
  16. Caen map, La Poste, 1993.
Military offices
Preceded by
Brian Horrocks
December 1942 – December 1943
Succeeded by
Sidney Kirkman
Preceded by
Kenneth Anderson
GOC-in-C Second Army
January 1944 – August 1945
Succeeded by
Post disbanded
Preceded by
Under Japanese control
GOC Malaya Command
November 1945 – December 1945
Succeeded by
Sir Frank Messervy
Preceded by
New post
C-in-C Middle East Land Forces
Succeeded by
Sir John Crocker