Open main menu

Lieutenant General Sir Hugh Jamieson Elles KCB KCMG KCVO DSO (27 May 1880 – 11 July 1945) was a British officer and the first commander of the newly formed Tank Corps during World War I.

Hugh Jamieson Elles
Hugh Elles portrait by William Orpen.jpg
1917 portrait by William Orpen.
Born27 May 1880
British India
Died11 July 1945(1945-07-11) (aged 65)
London, England
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service1899–1938
RankLieutenant General
UnitRoyal Engineers
Royal Tank Regiment
Commands heldTank Corps
9th Infantry Brigade
42nd (East Lancashire) Infantry Division
Battles/warsSecond Boer War
World War I
AwardsKnight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George
Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order
Distinguished Service Order


Early lifeEdit

Born in British India on 27 May 1880, Hugh Jamieson Elles was the younger son of Sir Edmond Alles. Returning to England, he was educated at Clifton College,[1] and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, after which he was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Royal Engineers in June 1899. He served in South Africa during the latter part of the Second Boer War and then undertook regimental duty in Aldershot. In 1913 he attended the Staff College, Camberley.

World War IEdit

On the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, he was posted to the staff of the 4th Division and departed for France soon afterwards. He served at Le Cateau, then took part in the Retreat to the Seine and the battle of the Aisne, where the German Army was halted. He then moved north with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to Flanders, taking part in the Battle of Armentières in October 1914. In February 1915, he was promoted to brevet major and served as the brigade major of the 10th Brigade. He was wounded during the brigades' counterattack, on 25 April 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres.

In August 1915, after recovering from his injuries, Elles was one of three officers specially selected by General Sir William Robertson, soon to be Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), the professional head of the British Army, to liaise with troops at the front and pass the information directly to the British General Headquarters (GHQ). In January 1916, as a General Staff Officer (GSO), Elles was sent by General Sir Douglas Haig, the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the BEF on the Western Front, to investigate the first tanks or "caterpillars" being built in England. He attended the first trials of "Mother" and reported back to Haig on its success. During the summer of 1916, he was tasked to report back from the Somme, where the tanks were first used. Elles was appointed to head the Heavy Branch (the first tank units) of the Machine Gun Corps in France on 29 September 1916, with the temporary rank of colonel. His responsibilities included its advanced training and tactical employment. He also commanded the large central depot and workshops established near Bermicourt.

Having seen the tanks achieve little success during the Battle of Passchendaele because of the exceptionally wet ground conditions of the autumn 1917, he pressed Haig to use massed tanks on the drier, open ground at Cambrai. On 20 November 1917 he personally led 350 tanks into battle at Cambrai in a Mark IV tank called Hilda, named after a favourite aunt.[2] He designed the Corps flag of brown, red and green silk, which he flew from his tank.

Elles continued to command the Tank Corps until Germany's surrender in November 1918.

Later careerEdit

After the war, he commanded the Tank Corps Training Centre at Bovington from 1919–1923 and was Inspector of Tank Corps at the War Office. He then commanded the 9th Infantry Brigade being posted to HQ Eastern Command as Chief of Staff in August 1926. In 1930 he was appointed Director of Military Training at the War Office and then, in 1933, became General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 42nd (East Lancashire) Infantry Division, a Territorial Army formation, for a few months. In April 1934, he was appointed Master-General of the Ordnance in the rank of lieutenant general; he was also the head of the Mechanisation Branch for which his previous service made him particularly suitable. He retired in 1938 and in the early years of World War II, was chief of Civil Defence operational staff (June 1940). Later he was appointed South West Regional Commissioner based in Bristol and would have taken regional command of the resistance in the event of a German invasion and occupation of Britain.

Elles was married three times, his first two wives dying before him. He died in London on 11 July 1945.


Elles accumulated 21 medals during his distinguished military career:[3]


  1. ^ "Clifton College Register" Muirhead, J.A.O. ref no 4717: Bristol; J.W Arrowsmith for Old Cliftonian Society; April, 1948
  2. ^ Fuller, J.F.C. (1936). Memoirs of an unconventional soldier. Nicholson & Watson. p. 200.
  3. ^ Tank Museum: 21 medals
Military offices
Preceded by
Arthur McNamara
GOC 42nd (East Lancashire) Infantry Division
Succeeded by
Kenneth Buchanan
Preceded by
Sir Ronald Charles
Master-General of the Ordnance
Succeeded by