Alfred Reade Godwin-Austen

General Sir Alfred Reade Godwin-Austen KCSI, CB, OBE, MC (17 April 1889 – 20 March 1963) was a British Army officer who served during World War I and World War II.

Sir Reade Godwin-Austen
General Sir Reade Godwin-Austen in 1947.
Born17 April 1889
Frensham, Farnham, Surrey, England
Died20 March 1963 (aged 73)
Maidenhead, Berkshire, England
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service1909–1947
Service number6446
UnitSouth Wales Borderers
Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry
Commands held2nd Battalion, Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry
13th Infantry Brigade
14th Infantry Brigade
8th Infantry Division
2nd (African) Division
12th (African) Division
XIII Corps
Battles/warsWorld War I
Arab revolt in Palestine
World War II
AwardsKnight Commander of the Order of the Star of India[1]
Companion of the Order of the Bath[2]
Officer of the Order of the British Empire
Military Cross[3]
Mentioned in dispatches (3)[4][5][6]
RelationsHenry Godwin
Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen
Other workColonel of the South Wales Borderers, (1950–54)[7][8]

Early life and military careerEdit

The second son of Lieutenant Colonel A. G. Godwin-Austen, late the 24th and 89th, Reade Godwin-Austen was born in Frensham, Farnham in Surrey, on 17 April 1889. He was educated at St Lawrence College, Ramsgate and later at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst to pursue a military career, following both his father and great-grandfather.[9]

He was a great-grandson of Major General Sir Henry Godwin (1784–1853) who commanded the British and Indian forces in the Second Anglo-Burmese War. His uncle was Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen, who gave his name to the second highest mountain in the Karakoram range; this mountain is now better known as K2.

Upon passing out from Sandhurst, Godwin-Austen was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the South Wales Borderers in 1909. During his service in the First World War he was awarded the Military Cross and twice mentioned in dispatches while serving as a staff officer with the 13th (Western) Division, a Kitchener's Army formation, in Gallipoli, Palestine and Mesopotamia.[10]

Between the warsEdit

He attended the Staff College, Camberley as a student, from 1924 to 1925, alongside fellow students such as Ivor Thomas, Noel Beresford-Peirse, Vyvyan Pope, Douglas Graham, Michael O'Moore Creagh, Daril Watson, Archibald Nye, Humfrey Gale and Noel Irwin, all of whom rose to high command in the next war.[10] He served in numerous staff positions at the War Office until receiving a position as an instructor at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Due to a lack of promotion in his own regiment, Godwin-Austen transferred to the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry (DCLI) and commanded the 2nd Battalion, from 1936 to 1937, before being employed with the British Military Mission to the Egyptian Army, from 1937 to 1938. His next appointment, during the Arab revolt in Palestine, in successive command of the 13th and 14th Infantry Brigades, the latter post being held until August 1939, shortly before the Second World War began.[10]

World War IIEdit

On the outbreak of war in September 1939, Godwin-Austen, mentioned in despatches for his services in Palestine, had just been promoted to the acting rank of major-general to become General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 8th Infantry Division.[11] Bernard Montgomery had relinquished command and returned to England to command the 3rd Infantry Division. The understrength division was responsible for internal security in the British Mandate of Palestine. After the division was disbanded in February 1940, he was nominated in July to command the 2nd (African) Division which was forming in Kenya.[12] He was again mentioned in despatches in July 1940.[13]

In mid-August, before taking up his command, he was sent to British Somaliland, to take over the British forces during the Italian conquest of British Somaliland. His withdrawal at the decisive Battle of Tug Argan was fatal to his attempt to defend the territory but it allowed almost the entire Commonwealth contingent to withdraw to Berbera and evacuate by sea to Aden. Commonwealth losses in the short campaign are estimated to have been exceedingly light, about 260 (38 killed, 102 wounded and 120 missing).[12]

The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, stung by the loss to British prestige, criticised General Sir Archibald Wavell, Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of Middle East Command, concerning the loss of British Somaliland, which was a Middle East Command responsibility. Because of the few casualties, Churchill fretted that the British had abandoned the colony without enough of a fight. He demanded the suspension of Godwin-Austen and the convening of a court of inquiry.[12]

Wavell claimed that the defence of Somaliland was a textbook withdrawal in the face of superior numbers. He pointed out to Churchill that "A bloody butcher's bill is not the sign of a good tactician". According to Churchill's staff, Wavell's retort moved Churchill to greater fury than they had ever seen.[14] Wavell refused to accede to Churchill's demand and Godwin-Austen moved on to take command of his division in Kenya on 12 September. Churchill was to retain his grudge towards him.[15]

During the East African Campaign he led the 2nd (African) Division (renamed 12th (African) Division) as part of East Africa Force, commanded by Lieutenant-General Alan Cunningham, in its advance from Kenya into Italian East Africa. His division invaded Italian Somaliland on 11 February and by late February had scored an emphatic victory over Italian forces at Gelib. Once Mogadishu had been taken, Cunningham swung his force inland across the Ogaden desert and into Ethiopia, entering the capital, Addis Ababa on 6 April.[15]

At the end of the campaign he was promoted to his last fighting command, leading the Western Desert Force (which became XIII Corps) in the Western Desert Campaign in North Africa. During Operation Crusader he was vociferous in his opposition to the suggestion of Alan Cunningham, by now commanding Eighth Army and so once more his direct superior, that they should abandon the offensive after the setback of Rommel's "dash to the wire". The C-in-C Middle East, now General Claude Auchinleck, chose to continue the offensive; Crusader went on to relieve the Siege of Tobruk and push the Axis forces back to El Agheila and Cunningham was relieved of his command.[16]

When Rommel counter-attacked in January 1942, the Allies were forced to retreat in some confusion. Godwin-Austen, seeing that one of his divisions, 4th Indian Infantry Division was under threat, after consulting with Cunningham's successor, Lieutenant-General Neil Ritchie, ordered them to withdraw. Ritchie changed his mind and issued a countermand directly to Major-General Francis Tuker, the divisional commander. Feeling that Ritchie had by this action displayed a lack of confidence in him, he tendered his resignation to Auchinleck, which was reluctantly accepted.[17] Tuker was later to write

His going was the latest of many misjudegments which had started to shake confidence in the leadership. We lost the wrong man.[18]

In spite of support from General Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) and Sir James Grigg, the Secretary of State for War, Churchill was adamant that Godwin-Austen should not receive a new posting.[a] Churchill relented in November after the intervention of the South African Field Marshal Jan Smuts and Godwin-Austen was appointed Director of Tactical Investigation at the War Office. He subsequently became Vice Quartermaster-General at the War Office and as the war ended, the Quartermaster-General and then Principal Administrative Officer in India, reporting to the C-in-C, General Sir Claude Auchinleck.[17]


He was knighted in 1946 and retired from the army on 5 March 1947, after having achieved the rank of general.[20] Serving as Chairman of the South-West Division of the National Coal Board, from 1946 to 1947, he was also Colonel of the South Wales Borderers from 1950 to 1954. Godwin-Austen, a bachelor, after suffering from a long illness, died in Maidenhead on 20 March 1963, just under a month from his 74th birthday.[21]


  1. ^ Alanbrooke in his diary entry of 11 May 1942 wrote: "...Grigg and I tackled PM again about Cunningham and Godwin-Austen, but without any luck!...the moment their names are mentioned one might imagine they are criminals of the worst order".[19] A further attempt and refusal is mentioned in the entry of 18 May.


  1. ^ "No. 37615". The London Gazette. 18 June 1946. p. 3071.
  2. ^ "No. 35176". The London Gazette. 30 May 1941. p. 3091.
  3. ^ "No. 29608". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 June 1916. pp. 5570–5573.
  4. ^ "No. 34904". The London Gazette (Supplement). 23 July 1940. p. 4579.
  5. ^ "No. 35071". The London Gazette (Supplement). 7 February 1941. p. 812.
  6. ^ "No. 35821". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 December 1942. p. 5437.
  7. ^ "No. 38829". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 February 1950. p. 584.
  8. ^ "No. 40150". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 April 1954. p. 2358.
  9. ^ 'Godwin-Austen, General Sir Alfred Reade (born 17 April 1889, died 20 March 1963)' in Who Was Who 1961–1970 (London: A. & C. Black, 1979 reprint, ISBN 978-0-7136-2008-5)
  10. ^ a b c Smart, p. 120
  11. ^ "No. 34684". The London Gazette. 15 September 1939. p. 6329.
  12. ^ a b c Mead, p.168
  13. ^ "No. 34904". The London Gazette (Supplement). 23 July 1940. p. 4579.
  14. ^ Mockler, Anthony. Haile Selassie's War: The Italian-Ethiopian Campaign, 1935–1941, p. 251.
  15. ^ a b Mead, p.169
  16. ^ Mead, p. 170
  17. ^ a b Mead, p. 171
  18. ^ Tuker, Francis (1963). Approach to Battle, A Commentary: Eighth Army, November 1941 to May 1943. London: Cassell. p. 81. OCLC 2783033.
  19. ^ Alanbrooke War Diaries, 11 May 1942
  20. ^ "No. 37899". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 March 1947. p. 1105.
  21. ^ Smart, p. 121


External linksEdit

Military offices
Preceded by
Bernard Montgomery
GOC 8th Infantry Division
Succeeded by
Post disbanded
Preceded by
New post
GOC 12th (African) Division
Succeeded by
Charles Fowkes
Preceded by
Noel Beresford-Peirse
Succeeded by
William Gott
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Dudley Johnson
Colonel of the South Wales Borderers
Succeeded by
Francis Matthews