Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Gott, William Henry Ewart "Strafer" (1897–1942)

British army general. Born on 13 August 1897 in Leeds, England, William Gott was educated at Harrow and Sandhurst. Commissioned into the King's Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) in February 1915, Gott fought in France during World War I, where he was wounded, awarded the Military Cross (MC), and taken prisoner. Gott continued in the army after the war, serving in the 13th London Regiment. He was promoted to major in January 1934 and saw service in India. Advanced to lieutenant colonel in 1938, Gott commanded a battalion of the KRRC.

In 1940, Gott was promoted to brigadier general and appointed as a staff officer to Major General Percy Hobart's Mobile Force in Egypt, which he was rapidly developing into an armored division. As commander of the Support Group of the 7th Armoured Division, Gott took part in Operation compass in December 1940, and in May 1941 he led the composite armored strike force for Operation brevity, the first Allied attempt to relieve Tobruk. Gott was then promoted to major general and given command of the 7th Armoured Division, which he led with great daring during Operation crusader.

As with most other British officers, Gott—himself an infantry officer—initially failed to comprehend the concept of mobile mechanized warfare. However, on the basis of his experience fighting the Germans, who coordinated antitank guns, artillery, and infantry with their tanks, Gott suggested using 25-pounder field artillery to support British tanks. He was primarily responsible for the belated British policy of breaking down the traditional and rigid divisional organization into combined all-arms brigade groups, which became standard throughout the British army.

Gott built a reputation as a brilliant and energetic armored commander, and he was widely recognized as knowing more about the desert than any other senior British officer. Standing 6 feet 2 inches and built like a heavyweight boxer, Gott had an imposing presence and was one of the most inspiring commanders in the Middle East. Gott had an unrivaled knowledge of the exigencies and possibilities of desert warfare and a reputation for a lightning-quick grasp of a situation and a faculty for making rapid decisions. A legend in the desert fighting, Gott was known as a "British Rommel," tirelessly roaming the battlefield to rally and drive on the shaken troops.

Promoted to lieutenant general in 1942—one of the youngest officers of that rank in the British army—Gott took command of XIII Corps and led it through the defeats at Gazala and Mersa Matr?h. Nevertheless, his reputation was not tarnished during the British withdrawal to El Alamein. In August 1942, British Prime Minister Winston L. S. Churchill selected Gott to replace Auchinleck as commander of the Eighth Army. Although Gott protested that he was tired out and depressed by fatigue and defeat and would like nothing more than three months' leave in England to recuperate, he agreed to take on the new post. On 7 August 1942, he flew to Cairo to take up his appointment. His aircraft was intercepted by a lone German fighter and shot down. Although his plane managed to land safely, Gott had been shot and killed. Following his death, Churchill immediately appointed his second choice, Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery, as commander of the Eighth Army. Gott's death, therefore, had a great impact on succeeding events in the desert and subsequently in Europe.

Paul H. Collier


Further Reading
Moorehead, Alan. Desert War: The North African Campaign, 1940–1943. London: Cassell, 2000.; Pitt, Barrie. The Crucible of War. 2 vols. London: Jonathan Cape, 1980–1982.; Vernon, Dick. Strafer Gott: 1897–1942. Winchester, UK: Regiment Headquarters, Royal Green Jackets, 1984.
 

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