Ritchie held several staff appointments during the interwar period. In 1939 and 1940, he was a brigadier general and chief of staff of Lieutenant General Alan Brooke's II Corps with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France. Following the BEF evacuation from Dunkerque, Ritchie held the same post under Major General Claude Auchinleck in Southern Command. Promoted to major general, he then served as deputy to Auchinleck when the latter took over the Middle East Command. Ritchie was the only feasible replacement for Lieutenant General Alan Cunningham when Auchinleck relieved Cunningham from command of the Eighth Army.
Ritchie was an able, vigorous, and cool-headed staff officer, but he was rather slow and unimaginative. His personality and appearance made him the very image of a British general. He was also much junior to his corps commanders, Lieutenant Generals Charles Willoughby Norrie and Alfred Godwen-Austin, and he had had no experience in field command since leading a battalion in World War I. Auchinleck intended his appointment as commander of Eighth Army to be temporary, but Ritchie was fortunate to reap the triumph of victory by relieving the siege of Tobruk and chasing General Erwin Rommel from Cyrenaica. With these two successes, his appointment became permanent.
An unshakable optimist, Ritchie prepared to advance and neglected the defenses at Gazala and Tobruk. When Rommel attacked again in May 1942, Ritchie lost most of Eighth Army's armor as well as control of the battle. Auchinleck belatedly relieved him from his command on 25 June, four days after the fall of Tobruk.
The inexperienced Ritchie was unfortunate to be assigned a command at a desperate moment, but he retained his personal stature and surprisingly survived this debacle. He was given another chance as commander of 52nd Division in the United Kingdom, and he led XII Corps under Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery in Normandy and northwest Europe with some success. Ritchie was promoted to full general in April 1947 and was appointed commander in chief, Far East Land Forces and then commander, British Army Staff in Washington. He retired in 1951 to become an insurance executive in Canada. He served as both president and director of the Mercantile and General Reinsurance Company and as director of Tanqueray Gordon and Company. Ritchie died on 11 December 1983 in Toronto, Canada.
Paul H. Collier
Barnett, Correlli. The Desert Generals. New York: Viking, 1961.; Pitt, Barrie. The Year of Alamein, 1942. New York: Paragon, 1990.