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Frank Walter Messervy
File:Gen Sir Frank Messervy.jpg
General Frank Messervy, PA
Nickname Bearded Man
Born (1893-12-09)December 9, 1893
Died February 2, 1974(1974-02-02) (aged 80)
Place of birth Trinidad
Place of death Heyshott near Midhurst
Allegiance  United Kingdom
 British India
Service/branch  British Indian Army
 Pakistan Army
Years of service 1913–1948
Rank General
Commands held 13th Duke of Connaught's Own Lancers (1938–1939)
Gazelle Force (1941)
Indian 9th Infantry Brigade 1941
Indian 4th Infantry Division (1941–1942)
1st Armoured Division (1942)
7th Armoured Division (1942)
Indian 43rd Armoured Division (1942–1943)
Indian 7th Infantry Division (1943–1944)
IV Corps (1944–1945)
Malaya Command (1945–1946)
Northern Command, India (1946–1947)
Chief of Army Staff (Pakistan) (1947–1948)
Battles/wars East African Campaign
Western Desert Campaign
Burma Campaign
Awards KCSI (12 June 1947)
KBE(5 July 1945)
CB (5 September 1942)
DSO (30 December 1941)[1]
DSO (20 April 1944)
MID (1 April 1941)
MID (31 December 1941)[2]
MID (4 April 1945)[3]
MID (19 July 1945)[4]
Legion of Merit (date?)
Other work Honorary Colonel, 16th Light Cavalry (1945–1948)[5][6]
Honorary Colonel, The Jat Regiment (1947–1955)[7]
Deputy Chief Scout (1949–1950)
Berkshire County Councillor (1953–1956)

General Sir Frank Walter Messervy, KCSI, KBE, CB, DSO & Bar, (1893–1974), was a British Indian Army officer in both the First and Second World Wars. Following its independence, he was the first Army Commander of Pakistan Army (15 August 1947 – 10 February 1948)[8] Previous to this he had become a Lieutenant-General in 1945; General 1947; General Officer Commanding in Chief or (GOC-in-C) Northern Command, India (1946–1947).

Early career

He was commissioned into the Indian Army in 1913 and in 1914 joined 9th Hodson's Horse which later became 4th Duke of Cambridge's Own Hodson's Horse. He would see action in the First World War in France, Palestine and Syria from 1914 to 1918. He later served in Kurdistan in 1919.

He was appointed as an Instructor at the Command and Staff College, Quetta from 1932 to 1936. He was made Commander 13th Duke of Connaught's's Own Lancers, British India, during 1938 and 1939.

Second World War

East Africa

In the September 1939 Messervy was promoted colonel and became the General Staff Officer Grade 1 of the Indian 5th Infantry Division which was about to be formed at Secunderabad. In mid-1940, the division was sent to the Sudan to counter the threat from the Italian forces based in Italian East Africa. Messervy was appointed commander of Gazelle Force.[9] Created on 16 October 1940, Gazelle Force was a mobile reconnaissance and strike force of expanded battalion size created from elements of 5th Indian Division. During the ensuing East African Campaign, Messervy commanded the Gazelle Force formation with notable success, latterly attached to Indian 4th Infantry Division. By 13 February 1941, the campaign became static and Messervy's formation was disbanded.[10]

In early March 1941, Messervy was promoted acting brigadier to command Indian 5th Infantry Division's 9th Infantry Brigade and played a significant role in the third Battle of Keren during the second half of March 1941. His promotion was in part related to his actions during the advance from Kassala through Agordat to the early fighting at Keren during February.[10]

When the commander of Indian 4th Infantry Division was promoted to command XIII Corps in North Africa Messervy, a brigadier for only six weeks, was appointed to take his place.[10]

Western Desert North Africa

Messervy took 4th Indian Division to North Africa in April 1941, taking part in Operation Battleaxe in June 1941. During Operation Crusader in November 1941 4th Indian Division, dug in on the Egypt - Libya border, played a key role in repelling Rommel's tanks after they had defeated the British armour at Sidi Rezegh. The division's battle groups took part in the Eighth Army's pursuit when Rommel withdrew from his defensive positions at Gazala in December, ending the year at Benghazi.[11]

In January 1942 Messervy was appointed to replace Herbert Lumsden, the wounded commader of 1st Armoured Division which had recently arrived in the desert.[12] During Rommel's attack from El Agheila in late January 1942 the division was outmatched by the Axis armour and was heavily defeated. On Lumsden's return in March 1942 Messervy was moved to command 7th Armoured Division which had lost its commander, Jock Campbell, killed in a motor accident. Messervy was the only British Indian Army officer to command a British division during the Second World War.[12]

Messervy was known as the "Bearded Man" because he tended not to shave in battle. When Division HQ was overrun by the Germans at the start of the Battle of Gazala he was captured (27 May 1942) but, removing all insignia, managed to bluff the Germans into believing he was a batman and escaped with other members of his staff to rejoin Division HQ the following day.[12]

Messervy knew little about tanks and was not considered a great success commanding armoured divisions by his superiors. He was dismissed from command of 7th Armoured Division by Eighth Army commander Neil Ritchie in late June 1942 following the severe defeat the division had sustained at the Battle of Gazala. He transferred to Cairo as Deputy Chief of General Staff, GHQ Middle East Command 1942 and a few months later sent to India to raise 43rd Indian Armoured Division as its commander. Originally intended for service in Persia, the division was disbanded in April 1943 when the threat to Persia was removed by the Soviet victory at Stalingrad.[13]

India and Burma

Messervy was made Director of Armoured Fighting Vehicles, General Headquarters, India Command in 1943 where ironically (in the light of his failure as an armoured commander in the field) he argued successfully against the then prevailing view that large tanks could not be used in Burma. This was to have a significant impact in 1944 and 1945 when heavy armour was used to telling effect against the Japanese.[13]

In July 1943 Messervy was appointed GOC Indian 7th Infantry Division which was sent to the Arakan in Burma to join XV Corps in September. In the Japanese offensive in February 1944, despite having his headquarters overrun and scattered and his supply lines compromised, Messervy's brigades conducted a successful defence whilst being supplied by air. After going on the attack in late February 7 Indian Division was relieved in mid-March.[14]

In March 1944 he lost two brigades sent to reinforce the hard-pressed defences at Imphal and Kohima in India. By May the whole division was back in the front line in the Kohima sector fighting a key five-day battle at the Naga Village. They then advanced towards the Chindwin river, combining with Indian 20th Infantry Division to inflict a heavy defeat on the Japanese at Ukhrul.[14]

In December 1944 he was appointed to command IV Corps which he led during the 1945 offensive during which, between February and April, he captured the key communications centre at Meiktila in Burma and advanced to Rangoon. When Messervy returned from home leave hostilities had ceased. After the Japanese surrender he was made Commander-in-Chief Malaya Command in 1945.[15]

Post Second World War

Close to the Partition of India, Messervy was made General Officer Commander-in-Chief Northern Command India from 1946 to 1947. Finally when Pakistan came into being he served as Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Army from 1947 to 1948. He retired in 1948[15] and was granted the honorary rank of general.[16] He had resisted the orders of Pakistan’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah, which is seen as the main reason for his early retirement. He died in the United Kingdom in 1974.

Messervy has been criticised for collusion as Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan's Army, with the clandestine Pakistani invasion of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947 codenamed Operation Gulmarg and for not informing Mountbatten or Lockhart.[17]



  • Second Lieutenant-22 January 1913[27]
  • Lieutenant - 22 April 1915[28]
  • Captain - 22 January 1917[29]
    • Acting Major - 23 November to 27 December 1918[30]
    • Brevet Major - 1 July 1929[31]
  • Major - 22 January 1931[32]
    • Local Lieutenant-Colonel - 1 September 1932[33]
    • Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel - 1 July 1933[34]
  • Lieutenant-Colonel - 10 April 1938[35]
  • Colonel - 19 April 1940[36]
    • Acting Major-General[37] (Temporary Brigadier) - 14 April 1941
    • Temporary Major-General - 14 April 1942[38]
  • Major-General - 17 April 1943[39]
    • Acting Lieutenant-General - 8 December 1944[40]
  • Lieutenant-General - 1 June 1945[41]
    • Acting General - 15 August 1947[25]
  • Honorary General - 1948[16]

Honours and Decorations

  • Order of the Nile (4th Class) (Egypt) - 16 January 1920[42]
  • Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB)- 9 September 1942[43]
  • Distinguished Service Order (DSO) - 30 December 1941[44]
  • Bar to DSO - 20 April 1944[45]
  • Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) - 1945
  • Knight Commander of the Star of India (KCSI) - 12 June 1947[46]

See also


External links


  1. "No. 35396". 26 December 1941. 
  2. "No. 35396". 1941-12-26. 
  3. "No. 37015". 1945-04-03. 
  4. "No. 37184". 1945-07-17. 
  5. "No. 37238". 1945-08-24. 
  6. "No. 38431". 1948-10-15. 
  7. "No. 40738". 1956-03-23. 
  8. A letter catalogued by MJF, dated 23 March 1948, refers to Sir Douglas David Gracey as Commander-in-Chief Pakistan Army at that date; but International Who's Who states that Messervy was Commander-in-Chief Pakistan Army until August 1948.
  9. Richard Mead, p.295
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Richard Mead, p.296
  11. Richard Mead, p.297
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Richard Mead, p.298
  13. 13.0 13.1 Richard Mead, p.299
  14. 14.0 14.1 Richard Mead, p.300
  15. 15.0 15.1 Richard Mead, p.301
  16. 16.0 16.1 "No. 38411". 1948-09-21. 
  17. Prasad, S.N.; Dharm Pal (1987). History of Operations In Jammu and Kashmir 1947-1948. New Delhi: History Department, Ministry of Defence, Government of India. (printed at Thomson Press (India) Limited). p. 18. .
  18. "No. 28683". 1913-01-21. 
  19. "No. 28849". 1914-07-14. 
  20. "No. 33829". 1932-05-27. 
  21. "No. 33829". 1932-05-27. 
  22. "No. 33884". 1932-11-18. 
  23. "No. 34264". 1936-03-13. 
  24. "No. 37801". 1946-11-29. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 "No. 38041". 1947-08-08. 
  26. "No. 38400". 1948-09-10. 
  27. "No. 28683". 1913-01-21. 
  28. "No. 29186". 1915-06-08. 
  29. "No. 30236". 1917-08-17. 
  30. "No. 33409". 1928-07-03. 
  31. "No. 33513". 1929-07-02. 
  32. "No. 33693". 1931-02-27. 
  33. "No. 33882". 1932-11-11. 
  34. "No. 33955". 1933-06-30. 
  35. "No. 34516". 1938-06-03. 
  36. "No. 34832". 1940-04-16. 
  37. "No. 35163". 1941-05-13. 
  38. "No. 35533". 1942-04-21. 
  39. "No. 36003". 1943-05-04. 
  40. "No. 37466". 1946-01-25. 
  41. "No. 37294". 1945-10-02. 
  42. "No. 31736". 1920-01-13. 
  43. "No. 35697". 1942-09-08. 
  44. "No. 35396". 1941-12-26. 
  45. "No. 36477". 1944-04-18. 
  46. "No. 37977". 1947-06-06. 
Military offices
Preceded by
Herbert Lumsden
GOC 1st Armoured Division
January 1942–March 1942
Succeeded by
Herbert Lumsden
Preceded by
Jock Campbell
GOC 7th Armoured Division
March 1942–June 1942
Succeeded by
James Renton
Preceded by
Sir Geoffrey Scoones
GOC, IV Corps
Succeeded by
Sir Francis Tuker
Preceded by
Sir Miles Dempsey
GOC Malaya Command
Succeeded by
Sir Alexander Galloway
Preceded by
Sir Richard O'Connor
GOC-in-C, Northern Command, India
1946 – 1947
Succeeded by
Post disbanded
New title
Pakistan Army established
Commander-in-Chief, Pakistan Army
1947 – 1948
Succeeded by
Douglas Gracey

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