William Slim, 1st Viscount Slim

Field Marshal Sir William Slim (pictured here as a Major General)
Field Marshal Sir William Slim (pictured here as a Major General)

Field Marshal William Joseph Slim, 1st Viscount Slim (6 August 189714 December 1970), British military commander and 13th Governor-General of Australia, was born near Bristol, Gloucestershire.


Early career

At the outbreak of World War I, Slim was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He was badly wounded at Gallipoli, and later served in France and Mesopotamia.

In 1919 Slim was given the rank of captain in the British Indian Army, in which he served with Gurkha regiments until 1934. He taught at Camberley Military College from 1934 to 1937. In 1939 he was promoted to brigadier and became head of the Senior Officers' School at Belgaum, India.

On the outbreak of the World War II Slim was given command of the Indian 10th Brigade and sent to Sudan, from where he took part in the East African Campaign helping to liberate Ethiopia from the Italians. He was wounded again in Eritrea. He then joined the staff of General Archibald Wavell in the Middle East Command. Promoted to Major-General, he commanded British forces in the Middle East Campaign commanding the Indian 10th Infantry Division in the Syria-Lebanon campaign and the invasion of Persia.

Burma campaign

See South-East Asian Theatre of World War II and Burma Campaign

In March 1942, Slim was given command of BurCorps (consisting of the Indian 17th and Burmese 1st Division) in Burma, which was being attacked by the Japanese. Heavily outnumbered, he was soon forced to withdraw to India.

Having successfully brought the majority of his shattered command out of Burma, he took over XV Corps, which covered the coastal approaches from Burma to India, east of Chittagong. During this time he planned for a revolutionary new style of warfare—to negate the advantages the Japanese had in mobility on the offense and depth in defence. He also took to the task of training the rapidly-growing Eastern Army and restoring their confidence and abilities.

However, XV Corps was taken from him by Noel Irwin, the incompetent commander of Eastern Army. Slim had been planning for XV Corps' advance into the Arakan Peninsula for nearly a year. His plan involved indirect approaches, resupply by the air, concentration in the attack and defence and integration at all levels between air and ground forces—Irwin threw all this out of the window and just went for a traditional, direct attack—which went disastrously wrong. Irwin then stepped back and ordered Slim to retake control of XV Corps.

Once again, Slim was thrown in at the deep end with considerable portions of his corps already destroyed by the Japanese. Once again, Slim managed to extricate the majority of his force from a desperate situation.

Irwin initially blamed Slim for the disastrous Arakan Campaign, but justice was done and Slim was elevated to command the new Fourteenth Army—formed from IV Corps (Imphal), XV Corps (Arakan) and XXXIII Corps (reserve)—later joined by XXXIV Corps.

He quickly got on with the task of training his new army to take the fight to the enemy. The basic premise was that off-road mobility was paramount: Much heavy equipment was exchanged for mule- or air-transported equipment and motor transport was kept to a minimum and restricted to those vehicles that could cope with some of the worst combat terrain on earth. From now on there would be almost no non-combatants: All troops were trained to fight as infantrymen first and foremost. The new doctrine dictated that if the Japanese had cut the lines of communication, then they too were surrounded. All units were to form defensive 'boxes', to be resupplied by air and assisted by integrated close air support and armour. These boxes would then become the anvil, upon which the Japanese would be broken by the hammer coming down from the reserve formations.

This theory was put to the test in January 1944, when the Second Arakan Offensive was met by a Japanese counter-offensive, which quickly surrounded the Indian 7th Infantry Division and parts of the 5th Indian and West African 81st Divisions. The 7th Division's defence was based largely on the "Admin Box"—formed initially from drivers, cooks, suppliers, etc, who now fought as "Uncle Bill" had told them to do. They were supplied by air—negating the importance of their lost supply lines. The Japanese forces were then almost totally destroyed by the reserve divisions coming down from the north.

But the real test was now to commence—the Arakan had been a distraction. the main Japanese offensive was heading for Imphal—hundreds of miles to the north. Slim was initially caught off-balance, but rallied incredibly. He airlifted two entire veteran divisions (5th & 7th Indian) from battle in the Arakan, straight into another battle in the north. The Second Arakan Campaign was repeated on a much larger scale—desperate defensive actions were fought at places such as Imphal, Sangshak and Kohima, while the RAF and USAAF kept them resupplied from the air.

Once again, the Japanese were broken upon the anvil by the hammer that Slim brought against them from colossal distances. These were the first major land defeats ever suffered by the IJA.

In 1945, Slim launched his greatest gamble—a blitzkrieg-style offensive into Burma, with lines of supply stretching almost to breaking point across hundreds of miles of trackless jungle. The Irrawaddy was crossed (with the longest Bailey bridge in the world at the time—most of which had been transported by mule and air) and the city of Meiktila was taken, followed by Mandalay. The Allies then switched to a mobile defence, sallying out and breaking Japanese attacking forces in isolation, maintaining the initiative at all times, backed up by possibly the best air-land co-operation seen in WWII—fully integrated air resupply and close air support, performed by both RAF and USAAF units.

With virtualy all major Japanese formations in Burma crushed, Rangoon was taken by a textbook combined land/air/sea operation in May 1945.

Post World War II

After the war Slim became commander of Allied Land Forces in South-East Asia. In 1948 he returned to England where he became head of the Imperial Defence College and then Chief of the Imperial General Staff. In 1953 he was promoted to Field Marshal, and accepted the post of Governor-General of Australia, without retiring from the Army. His correct title while Governor-General was therefore Field Marshal Sir William Slim.

Although public opinion in Australia was not as keen on British Governors-General as it had been before the war, Slim was a popular choice since he was an authentic war hero who had fought alongside Australians at Gallipoli and in the Middle East. In 1954 he was able to welcome Queen Elizabeth II on the first visit by a reigning monarch to Australia.

Slim's duties as Governor-General were entirely ceremonial and there were no controversies during his term. The Liberal leader Robert Menzies held office throughout Slim's time in Australia. In 1959 he retired and returned to Britain, where he published his highly acclaimed memoirs, Unofficial History and Defeat Into Victory. In 1960 he became 1st Viscount Slim. He died in London in December 1970.



Preceded by:
The Viscount Montgomery of Alamein
Chief of the Imperial General Staff
Succeeded by:
Sir John Harding
Preceded by:
Sir William McKell
Governor-General of Australia
Succeeded by:
The Viscount Dunrossil

Template:End box

Preceded by:
New Creation
Viscount Slim Succeeded by:
John Slim

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