3rd Indian Motor Brigade
Run for Tunis
Sidi Bou Zid
Invasion of Sicily
Invasion of Italy
Armistice with Italy
Winter Line (
Bernhardt Line / Cassino / Anzio Nettuno)
1945 Spring offensive
The Eighth Army was a field army formation of the
British Army during
the Second World War, fighting in the North African and Italian
campaigns. Units came from Australia, British India, Canada, Free
French Forces, Greece, New Zealand, Poland, Rhodesia, South Africa and
the United Kingdom.
Significant formations which passed through the Army included V Corps,
X Corps, XIII Corps, XXX Corps,
I Canadian Corps
I Canadian Corps and the II Polish
2.1 North Africa
2.2 Italian Campaign
3 Commanders of the Eighth Army 1941–45
4 Corps which passed through the Eighth Army
6 See also
9 External links
The Eighth Army was formed from the
Western Desert Force in September
1941 and put under the command of Lieutenant-General
Cunningham. At its creation, the Eighth Army comprised two Corps: XXX
Corps under Lieutenant-General Willoughby Norrie and XIII Corps under
Lieutenant-General Reade Godwin-Austen. XXX Corps was made up of 7th
British Armoured Division (commanded by Major-General William Gott),
South African 1st Infantry Division
South African 1st Infantry Division (commanded by Major-General
George Brink) and the 22nd Guards Brigade. XIII Corps composed of the
4th Indian Infantry Division (commanded by Major-General Frank
2nd New Zealand Division (commanded by Major-General
Bernard Freyberg) and the 1st Army Tank Brigade. The Eighth Army also
included the Tobruk garrison (the 70th British Infantry Division,
under Major-General Ronald Scobie), and the Polish Carpathian Brigade.
In reserve, the Eighth Army had the 2nd South African Infantry
Division making a total of seven divisions.
By the time the army was fighting the Second Battle of El Alamein, it
had reached a size of over 220,000 men in 10 divisions and several
Infantry advance during the Battle of El Alamein.
The Eighth Army first went into action as an Army as part of Operation
Crusader, the Allied operation to relieve the besieged city of Tobruk,
on 17 November 1941, when it crossed the Egyptian frontier into Libya
to attack Erwin Rommel's Panzer Army Africa.
On 26 November the Commander-in-Chief Middle East Command, General Sir
Claude Auchinleck, replaced Cunningham with Major-General Neil
Ritchie, following disagreements between Auchinleck and Cunningham.
Despite achieving a number of tactical successes, Rommel was forced to
concede Tobruk and was pushed back to
El Agheila by the end of 1941.
In February 1942 Rommel had regrouped his forces sufficiently to push
the over-extended Eighth Army back to the Gazala line, just west of
Tobruk. Both sides commenced a period of building their strength to
launch new offensives but it was Rommel who took the initiative first,
forcing the Eighth Army from the Gazala position.
Ritchie proved unable to halt Rommel and was replaced when Auchinleck
himself took direct command of the army. The Panzer Army Afrika were
eventually stopped by Auchinleck at the First Battle of El Alamein.
Auchinleck, wishing to pause and regroup the Eighth Army, which had
expended a lot of its strength in halting Rommel, came under intense
political pressure from British Prime Minister
Winston Churchill to
strike back immediately. However, he proved unable to build on his
success at Alamein and was replaced as Commander-in-Chief Middle-East
in August 1942 by General Harold Alexander and as Eighth Army
commander by Lieutenant-General William Gott. Gott was killed in an
air crash on his way to take up his command and so Lieutenant-General
Bernard Montgomery was appointed in his place. Alexander and
Montgomery were able to resist the pressure from Churchill, building
the Army's strength and adding a pursuit formation, X Corps, to the
Army's XIII and XXX Corps.
At the beginning of November 1942 the Eighth Army defeated Rommel in
the decisive Second Battle of El Alamein, pursuing the defeated Axis
army across Libya and reaching the Mareth defensive line on the
Tunisian border in February 1943, where it came under the control of
18th Army Group. The Eighth Army outflanked the Mareth defences in
March 1943 and after further fighting alongside the British First
Army, the other
18th Army Group
18th Army Group component which had been campaigning
Tunisia since November 1942, the Axis forces in North Africa
surrendered in May 1943.
Tanks of the County of London Yeomanry, part of the British 4th
Armoured Brigade, of the Eighth Army in the village of Milo near
Catania in Sicily, August 1943 with local children on board.
The Eighth Army then participated in the Italian Campaign which began
with the Allied invasion of the island of Sicily, code-named Operation
Husky. When the Allies subsequently invaded mainland Italy, elements
of the Eighth Army landed in the 'toe' of Italy in Operation Baytown
Taranto in Operation Slapstick. After linking its left flank
with the U.S. Fifth Army, led by Mark W. Clark, which had landed at
Salerno on the west coast of Italy south of Naples, the Eighth Army
continued fighting its way up Italy on the eastern flank of the Allied
forces. Together these two armies made up the Allied Armies in Italy
(later redesigned 15th Army Group, under General
Sir Harold Alexander.
Aftermath of the Battle of Monte Cassino.
At the end of 1943, General Montgomery was transferred to Britain to
begin preparations for Operation Overlord. Command of the Eighth Army
was given to Lieutenant-General Oliver Leese, previously the commander
of XXX Corps, which was being returned to England.
Following three unsuccessful attempts in early 1944 by the U.S. Fifth
Army to break through the German defensive positions known to the
Allies as the Winter Line, the Eighth Army was covertly switched from
the Adriatic coast in April 1944 to concentrate all forces, except the
V Corps, on the western side of the
Apennine Mountains alongside the
U.S. Fifth Army in order to mount a major offensive with them. This
Battle of Monte Cassino
Battle of Monte Cassino was successful with the Eighth Army
breaking into central Italy and the Fifth Army entering
Rome in early
After the Allied capture of
Rome the Eighth Army continued the fight
northwards through central Italy to capture Florence. The end of the
summer campaign found Allied forces butting up against the Gothic
Line. The Eighth Army returned to the Adriatic coast and succeeded in
forcing the Gothic line defences, but ultimately the Allied forces
could not break into the Po valley before the onset of winter forced
an end to serious offensive operations. During October, Leese was
reassigned to South East Asia Command, and Lieutenant-General Sir
Richard L. McCreery, who had previously commanded X Corps, replaced
The final offensive in Italy saw the Eighth Army back in action.
Working in conjunction with the U.S. Fifth Army, now commanded by
Lucian K. Truscott, on its left flank, it cut off and destroyed,
(during April), large parts of the opposing Army Group C defending
Bologna and then made a rapid advance through northeast Italy and into
Austria. Problems occurred where British and Yugoslavian forces met.
Josip Broz Tito's forces were intent on securing control of the area
of Venezia Giulia. They arrived before British forces, and were very
active in trying to prevent the establishment of military government
in the manner that had applied to most of the rest of Italy. They even
went as far as to restrict supplies through to the British zone of
Austria and tried to take over part of that country as
well. On 2 May 1945, the
2nd New Zealand Division of the Eighth Army
liberated Trieste, and that same day, the Yugoslav Fourth Army,
together with Slovene 9th Corpus NOV entered the town. During the
fighting on the Italian Front the Eighth Army had, from 3 September
1943 until 2 May 1945, suffered 123,254 casualties.
In its early days, the Eighth Army had seen many tribulations.
However, since the Second Battle of El Alamein, the worst that could
be said of its operations was that they degenerated into temporary
stalemates. Its advance from El Alamein to
Tunisia was one of the
greatest military logistical feats of all time, and it had
distinguished itself fighting under difficult conditions during the
campaign in Italy. It ended its days by being redesignated British
Forces in Austria; controlling the British forces occupying part of
that country. In this capacity
Trevor Howard appears in the 1949 film,
The Third Man, as "Major Calloway", an Eighth Army Royal Armoured
Commanders of the Eighth Army 1941–45
9 September – 26 November 1941 Lieutenant-General Alan Cunningham
26 November 1941 – 25 June 1942 Lieutenant-General Neil Ritchie
25 June 1942 – 13 August 1942 General Claude Auchinleck
13 August 1942 – 29 December 1943 General Bernard Montgomery
29 December 1943 – 1 October 1944 Lieutenant-General Oliver Leese
1 October 1944 – July 1945 Lieutenant-General Richard McCreery
Corps which passed through the Eighth Army
Canadian I Corps
New Zealand Corps
Polish II Corps
After the war, veterans from the Eighth Army organized Annual Reunions
at the Royal Albert Hall. Then, in the late 1970s, the Eighth Army
Veterans Association was formed. At the height of its membership,
there were over 35 branches, with a particular strength in the North
West of the UK. Reunions were held at the Winter Gardens in
Blackpool. Eventually, in 2002 the National Association disbanded.
However, the Manchester Branch decided to continue, under the title of
Eighth Army Veterans, City of Manchester. It has an active membership,
who hold regular meetings and events. Its newsletter, "The Manchester
Veteran", is still distributed to 300 ex-servicemen and women, or
their dependants, and is a lively forum for the community it
represents. A facility exists for Schools Talks to be given, in the
Manchester–North Cheshire area.
World War II
World War II portal
British military history of World War II
Operation Crusader - order of battle
Battle of Alam el Halfa
Battle of Alam el Halfa - order of battle
Second Battle of El Alamein
Second Battle of El Alamein - order of battle
Operation Husky - order of battle
Operation Diadem - order of battle
Operation Olive - order of battle
^ "A bit more information on the 8th army in Northern Africa".
wordpress. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
^ "Tales from the Supply Depot". Retrieved 20 February 2016.
^ "CHAR 20/45 Official: Prime Minister: Personal Telegrams (copies)".
Retrieved 20 February 2016.
^ Eighth Army Veterans (City of Manchester) Archived 21 June 2006 at
the Wayback Machine., accessed October 2012.
Moorehead, Alan, The March to Tunis: The North African War
1940–1943, Harper and Row, New York, 1967.
Stewart, Adrian. Early Battles of the Eighth Army: Crusader to the
Alamein Line. Barnsley, England: Pen & Sword, 2002.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Eighth Army (United Kingdom).
A personal account of the 8th Army