Auchinleck returned to England in January 1940, expecting to prepare British units for action in France. Instead, he was sent on 7 May 1940 to command British forces in Narvik in the disastrous Norwegian Campaign, which suffered from lack of air cover and adequate forces and equipment. Just after Britain's evacuation of Norway, on 14 June 1940 Auchinleck took over Southern Command to prepare for a possible German invasion. In this role, he worked effectively to improve the Home Guard. As fears of invasion receded, Auchinleck was promoted to general and sent to India as commander in chief on 21 November 1940 to control pressures for independence while overseeing training of Indian units for Allied use elsewhere.
Auchinleck was called by Winston L. S. Churchill to take the same role in the critical Middle East Theater (21 June 1941), replacing Archibald Wavell. While in Egypt, Auchinleck came under constant pressure from Churchill to undertake aggressive action against Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps. He argued, however, that he had to first train his force and overcome the difficulties of having inadequate supplies and armaments. Auchinleck began his offensive, Operation crusader, on Libya in November 1941, but it suffered from the lack of a strong Eighth Army commander in Lieutenant General Alan Cunningham. Auchinleck replaced Cunningham with Major General Neil Ritchie, and for a time the offensive went well. But Rommel struck back, leading to the fall of Tobruk on 21 June 1942, when more than 30,000 men were taken prisoner.
Auchinleck then took direct control of the Eighth Army and stabilized his line at the First Battle of El Alamein later that month, thus saving Egypt. However, Churchill, still impatient for success from a more aggressive commander, relieved him of his command on 5 August 1942. Damning reports from Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery about Auchinleck surely eased the skids.
Turning down a proffered command in Syria and Iraq, Auchinleck returned to India as commander in chief of the army there (18 June 1943–14 August 1947). Auchinleck was made a field marshal in June 1946, refusing a peerage a year later (he did not wish to be honored for helping to divide India and Pakistan, a result he abhorred). He retired in 1967 to live in Marrakesh, Morocco, and died there on 23 March 1981.
Christopher H. Sterling
Connell, John. Auchinleck: A Biography of Sir Claude Auchinleck. London: Cassell, 1959.; Greenwood, Alexander. Field-Marshal Auchinleck. Durham, UK: Pentland Press, 1991.; Parkinson, Roger. The Auk: Auchinleck, Victor of Alamein. London: Grenada, 1977.; Warner, Phillip. Auchinleck: The Lonely Soldier. London: Buchan and Enright, 1981.; Warner, Phillip. "Auchinleck." In John Keegan, ed., Churchill's Generals. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991.