In 1940, Leese was appointed deputy chief of the General Staff of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France. Following the evacuation from Dunkerque, he took command of an infantry brigade in England. He was promoted to major general in 1941 and was later appointed to form and train the Guards Armoured Division. In September 1942, Leese was sent to Egypt to command XXX Corps in Bernard Montgomery's Eighth Army. Montgomery held a high opinion of Leese and declared to the chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Sir Alan Brooke, that "the best soldier out here is Oliver Leese." Leese was assigned to achieve the breakthrough in the Battle of El Alamein, and he subsequently served in the advance across Libya to Tripoli, the Tunisia Campaign, and the amphibious invasion of Sicily.
In December 1943, Leese succeeded Montgomery as commander of the Eighth Army. In that post, he participated in two major offensives: the Fourth Battle of Cassino in May 1944 and Operation olive in August 1944. olive, planned and developed by Leese, achieved considerable success, as it forced the Gothic Line and brought an Allied breakout into the Po Valley. He was promoted to lieutenant general in 1944.
In November 1944, Leese was appointed army group commander in Southeast Asia under Lord Louis Mountbatten. In this position, he provided direction to Lieutenant General William Slim's Fourteenth Army in Burma. Following the fall of Rangoon in May 1945, Leese's career met with disaster when he attempted to dismiss Slim. He believed Slim was both worn out after several years of service in Burma and inexperienced in the amphibious warfare required in the proposed campaign in Malaya. Leese attempted to assign Slim to a less important command but did not have the authority to do so. As a result of this blunder, Leese was himself dismissed in July 1945. He took the sacking with his usual aplomb and returned to England to briefly lead Eastern Command before retiring in 1946. He died in Cefn Coch, Wales, on 22 January 1978.
Bradley P. Tolppanen
Allen, Louis. Burma: The Longest War, 1941–45. London: J. M. Dent, 1985.; Graham, Dominick, and Shelford Bidwell. Tug of War: The Battle for Italy, 1943–45. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1986.; Ryder, Rowland. Oliver Leese. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1987.