Military Wiki
General The Right Honourable
The Lord Rawlinson
General Sir Henry Rawlinson, Bt, at Fourth Army HQ, Querrieu Chateau, July 1916.
Born (1864-02-20)February 20, 1864
Died March 28, 1925(1925-03-28) (aged 61)
Place of birth Westminster, London, England
Place of death Delhi, British India
Allegiance  United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1884–1925
Rank General
Unit King's Royal Rifle Corps
Commands held Staff College, Camberley
2nd Infantry Brigade
3rd Division
4th Division
IV Corps
British First Army
British Fourth Army
British Second Army
Aldershot Command
Battles/wars Mahdist War
Second Boer War
World War I
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India
Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order
Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George
Order of St. George (Russia)

General Henry Seymour Rawlinson, 1st Baron Rawlinson, GCB, GCSI, GCVO, KCMG (20 February 1864 – 28 March 1925), known as Sir Henry Rawlinson, Bt between 1895 and 1919, was a British First World War general best known for his roles in the Battle of the Somme of 1916 and the Battle of Amiens in 1918.

Military career

Rawlinson was born in Westminster, London.[1] His father, Sir Henry Rawlinson, 1st Baronet, was an Army officer, and a renowned Middle East scholar who is generally recognised as the father of Assyriology). Rawlinson attended Eton College and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and entered the Army in 1884 as an officer in the King's Royal Rifle Corps in India.[2] His first military experience was serving in Burma during an 1886 uprising.[2]

In 1889, Rawlinson's mother died and he returned to England. He transferred to the Coldstream Guards[2] and was promoted to captain. He served on General Herbert Kitchener's staff during the advance on Omdurman in Sudan in 1898, and served with distinction in a field command in the Boer War from 1899 to 1902.[2] Rawlinson was promoted to Colonel in 1903 and named as commandant of the Army Staff College.[2] He was made Commander of 2nd Infantry Brigade at Aldershot in 1907 and General Officer Commanding 3rd Division in 1910.[2]

Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Rawlinson was appointed General Officer Commanding 4th Division in France.[2] He then took command of the IV Corps.[2] Rawlinson wrote to the Conservative politician Lord Derby (24 December 1914) forecasting that the Allies would win a war of attrition, but it was unclear whether this would take one, two or three years.[3]

At the end of 1915, Rawlinson was considered for command of British First Army, in succession to Douglas Haig, but the command was instead given to Sir Charles Monro. Rawlinson assumed command of the new Fourth Army on 24 January 1916.[4] as the planned Allied offensive on the Somme. He wrote in his diary: "It is not the lot of many men to command an army of over half a million men."[5] The Somme was originally conceived as a joint Anglo-French offensive, but owing to the demands of the Battle of Verdun, French participation was greatly reduced, leaving the British, and especially Rawlinson's inexperienced army, to bear the brunt of the offensive.[6] Nevertheless, on the eve of the offensive, he "showed an attitude of absolute confidence."[7]

The Battle of the Somme

The Somme offensive was launched on 1 July. It soon became a heavy defeat, with British forces repulsed by the German along most of the front, with the British sustaining nearly 60,000 casualties on the first day. The heaviest defeats were in Rawlinson's own sector, in front of Pozières and Thiepval. By the afternoon Rawlinson was aware of the scale of the disaster.[8] On the Allied right, the British and French had more success, but Rawlinson would not allow the corps commander, General Walter Congreve, to advance beyond his set objectives: a decision for which he was later criticised.[9]

The principal cause of the defeat, however, was the Army's miplaced belief that the long and heavy preliminary artillery barrage had destroyed the German barbed wire and trenches. In fact, the German trenches were largely intact, and heavily laden British infantry were required to advance at a slow walk, across a maze of shell holes, into concentrated German machine-gun fire.[10] After the war Rawlinson was held responsible for the tactics followed on 1 July. The historian Martin Middlebrook wrote: "What is certain is that those divisions, Regular or otherwise, which most closely followed Rawlinson's advice, suffered the heaviest casualties and achieved the least success."[11] As the disaster unfolded, however, it was too late for either Haig or Rawlinson to change the set plan.

The full extent of British casualties on the Somme were not known to the public until after the war: even Haig and Rawlinson were not fully aware of them.[12] The blame for the defeat was directed mainly at divisional and corps commanders: but only two, Major-General Edward Stuart-Wortley and Major-General Thomas Pilcher, were dismissed. Both were dismissed for not driving their units hard enough - that is for not creating more casualties, rather than for causing too many.[13] To dismiss Rawlinson would have been to admit that the Somme offensive had been defeated, and that it had been incompetently planned and executed, which neither Haig nor the British government was willing to do. Middlebrook writes: "Haig and Rawlinson were protected by the sheer enormity of the disaster."[12]

Middlebrook holds Rawlinson principally responsible for the heavy British casualties on the Somme: "Rawlinson was not to blame for the shortage of heavy artillery, but he had failed to recognise the depth and strength of the German dug-outs it was supposed to destroy. He ignored the doubts of infantry officers on this score... By insisting on his own rigid attack plan he robbed his men of any opportunity to use the intelligence and initiative which they surely possessed. Rawlinson must take full responsibility for this, the worst mistake of the day and the one which had caused most of the casualties."[14]

In January 1917, Rawlinson was promoted to permanent General "for distinguished service in the field".[15] For a period in 1917–18, he also commanded the Second Army. In February 1918 he was appointed British Permanent Military Representative to the inter-Allied Supreme War Council at Versailles.

Battles of 1918

Rawlinson returned to the Fourth Army in July 1918 for the Allied counter-offensive.[16] By this time the German Army's great spring offensive, Operation Michael, had been checked, and the Allies were preparing a counter-offensive. Following the success of the Australian attack at Le Hamel on 4 July, Haig entrusted Rawlinson with planning a larger attack, designed to force the Germans back from the city of Amiens, and also further to damage the German Army's weakening morale. Rawlinson had learned from his experiences on the Somme. "The immeasurable superiority of the planning for 8 August 1918 over that for 1 July 1916 testified to the distance the BEF had travelled in the interim."[17] The attack was to be on a relatively narrow front, with no prior bombardment and limited objectives. To ensure a breakthrough, Haig gave Rawlinson command of virtually the whole British armoured forces. By this stage of the war British manpower was severely depleted, and Rawlinson relied heavily on Australian, Canadian and American troops to achieve the breakthrough.[18]

The Allies achieved complete surprise, and the Battle of Amiens proved a striking success. On 8 August, described by General Erich Ludendorff as "the black day of the German Army", the Allies took 12,000 prisoners and captured 450 guns. Both the German and Allied commands were struck by the collapse in German morale and the high number of Germans surrendering without a fight.[19] Nevertheless, the Allies were still cautious about pressing their advantage too far: on 11 August Rawlinson advised Haig to halt the offensive.[20]

In September, again commanding a mixed force of British, Australian and American divisions, Rawlinson led his Army in the Hundred Days Offensive, the successful Allied effort to break through the Hindenburg Line of German defences. Rawlinson daringly ordered the Australian commander, General John Monash, to cross the Canal du Nord, a key part of the German defences. The resulting Battle of Canal du Nord saw the Germans decisively defeated. By 30 September, a 50 kilometre stretch of the Hindenburg Line had been taken, and the Germans were in full retreat.[21]

Later life

Rawlinson received many honours. He was made GCVO in 1917 and KCMG 1918. Following the Armistice, Parliament passed a vote of thanks to him for his service. In 1919, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Rawlinson of Trent in the County of Dorset,[22] and appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB). He was again called on to organise an evacuation, this time of the Allied forces that had been sent to Russia to intervene in the Russian Civil War.[2] In November 1919 he became General Officer Commanding-in-Chief for Aldershot Command.[2] In 1920, Rawlinson was made Commander-in-Chief, India, a post he held until his death.[2] In 1924, he was appointed a Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India (GCSI). He died when he was taken ill after playing polo and cricket on his 61st birthday in 1925.

Henry Rawlinson's brother Alfred Rawlinson also played a significant role during World War I, but this was mostly confined to the Middle Eastern theatre in Turkey, Mesopotamia and Persia. He was taken prisoner of war by the Turks, which caused some political complications based on his brother's position. The story is contained in his book, Adventures in the Near East, 1918-1922.


  • Commissioned Lieutenant - 6 February 1884[23]
  • Captain - 4 November 1891[24]
  • Major - 25 January 1899[25]
    • Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel - 26 January 1899[26]
    • Local Colonel - 6 May 1901[27]
    • Brevet Colonel - 1902
  • Colonel - 1 April 1903[28]
    • Temporary Brigadier-General - 1 March 1907[29]
  • Major-General - 10 May 1909[30]
    • Temporary Lieutenant-General - 4 October 1914[31]
    • Temporary General - 22 December 1915[32]
  • Lieutenant-General - 1 January 1916[33]
  • General - 1 January 1917[34]



  • Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO) - 14 July 1917[35] (KCVO: 15 August 1916;[36] CVO: 30 June 1905[37])
  • Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG) - 1 January 1918[38]
  • Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) - 1 January 1919[39](KCB: 18 February 1915;[40] CB: 1902)
  • Baron Rawlinson, of Trent in the County of Dorset - 31 October 1919[41]


  • Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour of France - 24 February 1916[42]
  • Order of Danilo, 1st Class of the Kingdom of Montenegro - 31 October 1916[43]
  • Obilitch Medal in Gold of the Kingdom of Montenegro - 21 April 1917[44]
  • Order of St. George, 4th Class of the Empire of Russia - 1 June 1917[45]
  • Grand Officer of the Order of Leopold of Belgium - 26 July 1917[46]
  • Croix de Guerre of Belgium - 11 March 1918[47]
  • Croix de Guerre of France - 11 March 1919[48]
  • American Army Distinguished Service Medal - 12 July 1919[49]


  1. Free BMD
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives
  3. Jeffery 2006, p139
  4. Prior & Wilson 2003, p. 137.
  5. Martin Middlebrook, The First Day on the Somme, Allen Lane, 1971, p78
  6. Middlebrook, 70
  7. Middlebrook, 90
  8. Middlebrook, 226
  9. Middlebrook, 213, 226, 291
  10. Middlebrook, 279 et seq
  11. Middlebrook, 279
  12. 12.0 12.1 Middlebrook, 258
  13. Middlebrook, 259
  14. Middlebrook, 291
  15. "No. 29886". 29 December 1916. 
  16. National Archives
  17. David Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918, Allen Lane 2011, 119
  18. Stevenson, 120
  19. Stevenson, 123
  20. Stevenson, 125
  21. Stevenson, 140
  22. "No. 31624". 31 October 1919. 
  23. London Gazette, 5 February 1884
  24. London Gazette, 24 November 1891
  25. London Gazette, 3 February 1899
  26. London Gazette, 3 February 1899
  27. London Gazette, 21 June 1901
  28. London Gazette, 5 May 1903
  29. London Gazette, 8 March 1907
  30. London Gazette, 18 May 1909
  31. London Gazette, 13 October 1914
  32. London Gazette, 10 January 1916
  33. London Gazette, 14 January 1916
  34. London Gazette, 1 January 1917
  35. London Gazette, 3 August 1917
  36. London Gazette, 18 August 1916
  37. London Gazette, 30 June 1905
  38. Edinburgh Gazette, 1 January 1918
  39. London Gazette, 1 January 1919
  40. London Gazette, 18 February 1915
  41. London Gazette, 31 October 1919
  42. London Gazette, 24 February 1916
  43. London Gazette, 9 March 1917
  44. London Gazette, 21 April 1917
  45. London Gazette, 1 June 1917
  46. London Gazette, 26 July 1917
  47. London Gazette, 11 March 1918
  48. Edinburgh Gazette, 18 March 1919
  49. Edinburgh Gazette, 18 July 1919

Further reading

  • Jeffery, Keith (2006). Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson: A Political Soldier. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-820358-2. 
  • Maurice, Major-General Sir Frederick The Life of General Lord Rawlinson of Trent G.C.B., G.C.V.O., G.C.S.I., K.C.M.G.: From His Journals and Letters Cassell and Company Ltd, 1928
  • Prior, Robin Command on the Western Front: The Military Career of Sir Henry Rawlinson 1914-1918 Leo Cooper Ltd (30 Jul 2004) ISBN 1-84415-103-4
  • Yockelson, Mitchell A. (30 May 2008). Borrowed Soldiers: Americans under British Command, 1918. Foreword by John S. D. Eisenhower. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3919-7. 
  • Rawlinson, A. Adventures in the Near East, 1918-1922 Andrew Melrose, 1923

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Herbert Miles
Commandant of the Staff College, Camberley
Succeeded by
Henry Wilson
Preceded by
William Franklyn
General Officer Commanding the 3rd Division
1910 – 1914
Succeeded by
Hubert Hamilton
Preceded by
Thomas Snow
General Officer Commanding the 4th Division
September 1914–October 1914
Succeeded by
Henry Wilson
Preceded by
New Post
GOC IV Corps
October 1914–December 1915
Succeeded by
Charles Woollcombe
Preceded by
Sir Douglas Haig
Commander, British First Army
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Monro
Preceded by
New Post
Commander, British Fourth Army
February 1916– November 1916
Succeeded by
Post Disbanded
Preceded by
Sir Herbert Plumer
Commander, British Second Army
Succeeded by
Post Disbanded
Preceded by
New Post
Commander, British Fourth Army
July 1918–November 1918
Succeeded by
Post Disbanded
Preceded by
Sir Archibald Murray
GOC-in-C Aldershot Command
1919 – 1920
Succeeded by
The Earl of Cavan
Preceded by
Sir Charles Monro
Commander-in-Chief, India
Succeeded by
Sir Claud Jacob
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Henry Rawlinson
(of North Walsham)
Succeeded by
Alfred Rawlinson
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Rawlinson

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).