Field Marshal Sir Claude John Eyre Auchinleck GCB GCIE CSI DSO OBE (21 June 1884 – 23 March 1981) was a British Army commander during the Second World War. He was a career soldier who spent much of his military career in India, where he rose to become Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army by early 1941. In July 1941 he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East theatre, but after initial successes the war in North Africa turned against the British, and he was relieved of the post in 1942 during the crucial Alamein campaign. In June 1943 he was once again appointed Commander-in-Chief, India, where his support through the organisation of supply, maintenance and training for Slim's Fourteenth Army played an important role in its success. He served as Commander-in-Chief, India until the Partition in 1947, when he assumed the role of Supreme Commander of all British forces in India and Pakistan until late 1948.
Born at 89 Victoria Road in Aldershot, the son of Colonel John Claud Alexander Auchinleck and Mary Eleanor (Eyre) Auchinleck, Auchinleck attended Eagle House School at Crowthorne and then Wellington College on scholarships. After attending the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, Auchinleck was commissioned as an unattached second lieutenant in the Indian Army on 21 January 1903 and joined to the 62nd Punjabis in April 1904. He soon learnt several Indian languages and, able to speak fluently with his soldiers, he absorbed a knowledge of local dialects and customs: this familiarity engendered a lasting mutual respect, enhanced by his own personality. He was promoted to lieutenant on 21 April 1905 and then spent the next two years in Tibet and Sikkim before moving to Benares in 1907 where he caught diphtheria. After briefly serving with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers at Aldershot he returned Benares in 1909 and became adjutant of the 62nd Punjabis with promotion to captain on 21 January 1912. Auchinleck was an active freemason.
Auchinleck saw active service in the First World War and was deployed with his regiment to defend the Suez Canal: in February 1915 he was in action against the Turks at Ismaïlia. His regiment moved into Aden to counter the Turkish threat there in July 1915. The 6th Indian Division, of which the 62nd Punjabis were a part, was landed at Basra on 31 December 1915 for the Mesopotamian campaign. In July 1916 Auchinleck was promoted acting major and made second in command of his battalion. He took part in a series of fruitless attacks on the Turks at the Battle of Hanna in January 1916 and was one of the few British officers in his regiment to survive these actions. He became acting commanding officer of his battalion in February 1917 and led his regiment at the Second Battle of Kut in February 1917 and the Fall of Baghdad in March 1917. Having been mentioned in despatches and having received the Distinguished Service Order in 1917 for his service in Mesopotamia, he was promoted to the substantive rank of major on 21 January 1918, to temporary lieutenant-colonel on 23 May 1919 and to brevet lieutenant-colonel on 15 November 1919 for his "distinguished service in Southern and Central Kurdistan" on the recommendation of the Commander-in-Chief of the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force.
Auchinleck attended the Staff College, Quetta between 1920 and 1921. He married Jessie Stewart in 1921. Jessie had been born in 1900 in Tacoma, Washington, to Alexander Stewart, head of the Blue Funnel Line that plied the west coast of the United States. When he died about 1919, their mother took her, her twin brother Alan and her younger brother Hepburne back to Bun Rannoch, the family estate at Innerhadden in Perthshire. Holidaying at Grasse on the French Riviera, Auchinleck, who was on leave from India at the time, met Jessie on the tennis courts. She was a high-spirited, blue-eyed beauty. Things moved quickly, and they were married within five months. Sixteen years younger than Auchinleck, Jessie became known as 'the little American girl' in India, but adapted readily to life there.
Auchinleck became temporary Deputy Assistant Quartermaster-General at Army Headquarters in February 1923 and then second-in-command of his regiment, which in the 1923 reorganisation of the Indian Army had become the 1st battalion, 1st Punjab Regiment, in September 1925. He attended the Imperial Defence College in 1927 and, having been promoted to lieutenant-colonel on 21 January 1929 he was appointed to command his regiment. Promoted to full colonel on 1 February 1930 with seniority from 15 November 1923, he became an instructor at the Staff College, Quetta in February 1930 where he remained until April 1933. He was promoted to temporary brigadier on 1 July 1933 and given command of the Peshawar Brigade, which was active in the pacification of the adjacent tribal areas during the Mohmand and Bajaur Operations between July and October 1933: during his period of command he was mentioned in despatches. He led a second punitive expedition during the Second Mohmand Campaign in August 1935 for which he was again mentioned in despatches, promoted to Major-General on 30 November 1935 and appointed a Companion of the Order of the Star of India on 8 May 1936.