In 1935, McCreery took command of the 12th Lancers, and in 1938, he was appointed principal staff officer to the 1st Division. He served with this division in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France during the so-called Phony War from September 1939 to May 1940. He then commanded with distinction an armored brigade in the subsequent fighting around Dunkerque in May 1940.
Evacuated from France with the BEF, McCreery returned to Britain. Between 1940 and 1941, he commanded the 8th Armoured Division in England and gained a reputation as one of the finest armored division commanders in the Home Forces. In 1942, McCreery was posted to Cairo to act as an armored adviser to General Claude Auchinleck. His advice was unappreciated, and he was dismissed in July 1942. His career quickly revived, however: the next month, he was appointed chief of staff to Lieutenant General Sir Harold Alexander, who had arrived in Egypt to take over from Auchinleck as the new theater commander.
Promoted to major general in mid-1943, McCreery took command of X Corps. He led this corps in the Salerno landing, the crossing of the Garigliano River, the Cassino battles, and the attacks on the Gothic Line. He achieved success during the Italian Campaign, despite serving under U.S. Lieutenant General Mark Clark, an Anglophobe who had a personal dislike of McCreery.
In September 1944, he was appointed commander of the British Eighth Army. A dashing cavalryman, he represented a distinct break from the army's two previous commanders: Generals Bernard L. Montgomery and Oliver Leese. Promoted to lieutenant general in December 1944, he commanded the army through the 1944–1945 winter stalemate in Italy and in the successful spring offensive of April 1945 that ended the war in Italy.
McCreery held several noteworthy postwar appointments, including commander of British occupation forces in Austria and commander in chief of the British Army of the Rhine. Promoted to general in 1948, he retired in December 1949. In 1959, he created a great deal of controversy by writing an article for his regimental journal that was highly critical of both Montgomery's tactics at El Alamein and the subsequent pursuit of the Axis forces retreating from Alamein. McCreery died in London on 18 October 1967.
Bradley P. Tolppanen
Jackson, W. G. F. The Battle for Italy. New York: Harper and Row, 1967.; Morris, Eric. Salerno: A Military Fiasco. New York: Stein and Day, 1983.