The Papers of Lieutenant-General Thomas Corbett
Scope and Contents
There are numerous files relating to Corbett's endeavours to convert Indian Army cavalry units into armoured vehicle divisions to meet the fighting requirements of the Second World War. The history of the part played in the war by the Indian Army is also to be found in the collection.
Perhaps the most important material in the collection pertains to the period Corbett spent commanding a Corps in the Middle East and to his time as Chief of the General Staff under Auchinleck. To Corbett fell the unenviable task of informing the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill that the 300 Sherman tanks sent by President Franklin Roosevelt to Egypt after the fall of Tobruk would not be ready for action for three weeks. Subsequently, Corbett and Auchinleck were both removed in the 1942 "Cairo purge" and there are interesting papers and letters on this subject in the collection.
Amongst the few "personal" papers are some letters exchanged between Corbett and Auchinleck at various stages in their careers from which their friendship and mutual respect is evident. In this section is also to be found a gripping account of the adventures and perils Corbett faced on a hunting trip in Kashmir in 1929 and it would appear that several of the photographs in the collection relate to this expedition.
- 1906 - 1950
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Biographical / Historical
In January 1942 Corbett took command of 4th Indian corps in Iraq, with the rank of acting lieutenant-general. Shortly afterwards, on 15 March 1942, he was appointed by Auchinleck (now General Sir Claude) to the key post of chief of general staff (CGS), Middle East, to the surprise of many senior British service officers in London and Cairo who knew nothing about this Indian cavalryman. As the situation in the western desert deteriorated Corbett acted as an intermediary between the commander-in-chief and his hard-pressed field commanders. When Major-General Neil Ritchie was relieved, Auchinleck briefly considered Corbett as general officer commanding Eighth Army, but then decided to take command in the field himself.
While the commander-in-chief was absent Corbett remained at general headquarters Cairo as his representative, carrying out its routine business and preparing the city and the Nile delta for defence. His inexperience of higher command, however, meant that Corbett, now clearly out of his depth, failed to impress Churchill and many senior officers who met him. In particular, his lacklustre efforts to instil a warlike spirit among the large number of troops in the rear areas exposed him to considerable criticism. Along with Auchinleck, Corbett was dismissed in the ‘Cairo purge’ in August 1942 and returned to India where he briefly commanded 7th Indian division. Corbett retired from the Indian army in 1943 and became involved in farming in Kenya. Following his first wife's death in 1951, he married in 1952 Sara (Sally) N. E. Withers (née Raymond), widow of Lieutenant-Colonel H. H. C. Withers. They had a daughter. On 28 December 1981 he died of bronchopneumonia at Panthill, Spithurst, near Barcombe, near Lewes.
22 archive box(es)
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Immediate Source of Acquisition
- 2005-01-27 09:52:00.513000+00:00
- Language of description
- Script of description