Ironside: The Authorised Biography of Field Marshal Lord Ironside is a fine study of one of the most senior British generals of the first year of the Second World War. The volume was written by Ironside’s son based on his father’s voluminous diaries. Ironside was a master linguist and a huge man (for which he was inevitably nicknamed “Tiny”) with real mettle. In his dramatic early years as a soldier, Ironside served as an artillery officer in the Boer War, an intelligence agent in southern Africa (on which John Buchan based the hero in his novel The Thirty-Nine Steps), a staff officer and brigade commander on the Western Front in World War One, and commander at Archangel in North Russia in 1918-19. In the immediate aftermath of the Great War, Ironside held temporary commands in Hungary, Turkey, and Persia. In the last appointment he was involved in the rise to power of Reza Shah.
At the outset of the Second World War Ironside was a full general and appointed Chief of the Imperial General Staff in succession to Gort who became commander-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France. As First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill supported Ironside’s appointment as CIGS. Churchill had known Ironside for many years and having been impressed, had previously “smoothed” his path to active duty while Secretary of War and as Colonial Secretary. Churchill, however, lost confidence in Ironside’s abilities and on becoming prime minister on May 10, 1940 soon replaced him as CIGS with John Dill. Ironside was moved to take over as commander-in-chief, Home Forces. With the fall of France, he was again quickly replaced. After just two months in the command Ironside turned over the Home Forces to Alan Brooke and went into retirement. A more detailed examination of Ironside being twice replaced in rapid succession could have been included in the volume.
The author should receive credit for discussing his father’s disturbing remarks about Hore-Belisha as well as acknowledging his “high opinion of himself,” but a more extensive discussion would have been beneficial of the charges made against Ironside of being a careerist and intriguer who lacked intelligence.
These comments aside, Ironside: The Authorised Biography of Field Marshal Lord Ironside is a long overdue study of an important general who had a fascinating career.