Alan Cunningham

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Sir Alan Cunningham
British Generals 1939-1945 E6661.jpg
Born(1887-05-01)1 May 1887
Dublin, Ireland
Died30 January 1983(1983-01-30) (aged 95)
Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army
Years of service1906–1946
Service number74
UnitRoyal Artillery
Commands heldEastern Command
Northern Ireland
Staff College, Camberley
Eighth Army
East Africa Force
51st (Highland) Infantry Division
9th (Highland) Infantry Division
66th Infantry Division
5th Anti-Aircraft Division
Battles/warsFirst World War
Second World War
Palestine Emergency
AwardsKnight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order
Military Cross
Mentioned in despatches (4)
RelationsAndrew Cunningham, 1st Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope (brother)
Other workHigh Commissioner of Palestine (1945–48)
Colonel Commandant of the Royal Artillery

General Sir Alan Gordon Cunningham, GCMG, KCB, DSO, MC (1 May 1887 – 30 January 1983) was a senior officer of the British Army noted for his victories over Italian forces in the East African Campaign during the Second World War. Later he served as the seventh and last High Commissioner of Palestine. He was the younger brother of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope.

Early life and military career[edit]

Cunningham was born in Dublin, Ireland, the third son of Scottish Professor Daniel John Cunningham and his wife Elizabeth Cumming Browne.[1] He was educated at Cheltenham College and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich before taking a commission in the Royal Artillery in 1906.[2] During the First World War, he served with the Royal Horse Artillery, and was awarded a Military Cross in 1915 and the Distinguished Service Order in 1918. For two years after the war he served as a staff officer in the Straits Settlements.[2]

After graduating from the Royal Naval College, Greenwich in 1925, followed by the Imperial Defence Studies in 1937, Cunningham became the Commander, Royal Artillery of the 1st Infantry Division.[2] This was followed in 1938 by promotion to major general and appointment as commander of the 5th Anti-Aircraft Division.[2]

Second World War[edit]

General Sir Alan Cunningham.

After the beginning of the Second World War, Cunningham held a number of short appointments commanding infantry divisions in the United Kingdom (66th Infantry Division, 9th (Highland) Infantry Division, and following its renaming, the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division)[2] before being promoted to lieutenant-general to take command of the East Africa Force in Kenya.[2]

During the East African Campaign General Sir Archibald Wavell, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Middle East Command, directed Cunningham to retake British Somaliland and free Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from the Italians whilst forces under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir William Platt would attack from Sudan in the north through Eritrea. Cunningham's offensive started with the occupation of the Indian Ocean ports of Kismayu (Italian: Chisimaio) and Mogadishu (Italian: Mogadiscio), the Italians having retreated into the interior of Somalia. On 6 April 1941, Cunningham's forces entered Addis Ababa. On 11 May the northernmost units of Cunningham's forces, under South African Brigadier Dan Pienaar linked with Platt's forces under Major-General Mosley Mayne to besiege Amba Alagi. On 20 May, Mayne took the surrender of the Italian Army, led by Amedeo di Savoia, 3rd Duke of Aosta, at Amba Alagi.[3]

His success in East Africa led to Cunningham's appointment to command the newly formed Eighth Army in North Africa in August 1941.[2] His immediate task was to lead General Sir Claude Auchinleck's Libyan Desert offensive which began on 18 November. However, early losses led Cunningham to recommend the offensive be curtailed. This advice was not accepted by his superiors, and Auchinleck relieved him of his command.[2]

He returned to Britain to serve the remainder of the war as Commandant of the Staff College, Camberley (1942) and General Officer C-in-C in Northern Ireland (1943) and Eastern Command (1944).[2] He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1941.[4]


General Sir Alan Cunningham's grave, Dean Cemetery.

After the war, Cunningham, who was promoted to general on 30 October 1945, returned to the Middle East as High Commissioner of Palestine; he served in the position from 1945 to 1948.[2] As such, he was in charge of operations against the Hagana, the Jewish pre-independence defense army as well as the Etzel and Lehi terrorist gangs who in this period fought against the Mandate authorities and the Palestinian population. Cunningham had retired from the army in October 1946 when he relinquished the role of Commander-in-Chief Palestine but retained the job of High Commissioner until 1948.[2] Asterrorists and Palestinian militias, with Arab armies poised to invade as soon as the British withdrew. The photo of Cunningham taking down the British flag at the port of Haifa is a historical photo often reproduced in Israeli history textbooks. Cunningham served as Colonel Commandant of the Royal Artillery until 1954.[4] Cunningham died in Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England. He is buried with his father and mother under a very simple monument near the Dean Gallery entrance to Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh.[5]

Orders and decorations[edit]


  1. ^ "D Cunningham Household Census Return, 1901". Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Cunningham, Alan". Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives. Retrieved 20 June 2020.
  3. ^ World War II: People, Politics, and Power. Britannica Educational Publishing. 2009. ISBN 978-1615300464.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Houterman, Hans; Koppes, Jeroen. "British Army Officers 1939–1945 (COAT to CUTT)". World War II unit histories and officers. Retrieved 27 August 2014.
  5. ^ "Alan Cunningham". Gravestones. Retrieved 20 June 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • Mead, Richard (2007). Churchill's Lions: A Biographical Guide to the Key British Generals of World War II. Stroud, UK: Spellmount Limited. pp. 543 pages. ISBN 978-1-86227-431-0.

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
New post
GOC 5th Anti-Aircraft Division
Succeeded by
Robert Allen
Preceded by
Arthur Purser
GOC 66th Infantry Division
January–June 1940
Succeeded by
Post disbanded
Preceded by
Edward Beck
GOC 9th (Highland) Infantry Division
June–August 1940
Succeeded by
Post redesignated 51st (Highland) Infantry Division
Preceded by
New post
GOC 51st (Highland) Infantry Division
August–October 1940
Succeeded by
Neil Ritchie
Preceded by
Douglas Dickinson
GOC East Africa Force
Succeeded by
Harry Wetherall
Preceded by
New post
GOC Eighth Army
September–November 1941
Succeeded by
Neil Ritchie
Preceded by
Montagu Stopford
Commandant of the Staff College, Camberley
Succeeded by
Douglas Wimberley
Preceded by
Vivian Majendie
GOC British Army in Northern Ireland
Succeeded by
Gerard Bucknall
Preceded by
Sir Kenneth Anderson
GOC-in-C Eastern Command
Succeeded by
Sir Oliver Leese
Government offices
Preceded by
John Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort
High Commissioner of Palestine
High Commissioner for Trans-Jordan

21 November 1945–14 May 1948
Succeeded by
Chaim Weizmann
(As President of Israel)
Succeeded by
David Ben-Gurion
(As Prime Minister of Israel)
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
John Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort
High Commissioner of Palestine
High Commissioner for Trans-Jordan

21 November 1945–14 May 1948
Succeeded by
Knox Helm
(As British Ambassador to Israel)