William Riddell Birdwood, 1st Baron Birdwood (13 September 1865 - 17 May 1951) was a World War I general who is best known as the commander of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915.
Birdwood was born in Poona, India and served with the British Indian Army between 1885 and 1899. During the Second Boer War he served on the staff of Field Marshal Lord Kitchener. He was promoted to the rank of major general in 1911.
In November 1914 Birdwood was instructed by Kitchener to form an army corps from the Australian and New Zealand troops that were training in Egypt before moving to the Western Front. This Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was diverted to the campaign to capture the Gallipoli peninsula and carried out the landing at Anzac Cove on April 25, 1915. Under Birdwood's leadership, the soldiers of the corps showed great courage and endurance but were too ill-equipped and inexperienced to overcome the obstacles that confronted them. The Anzac front at Gallipoli remained a stalemate for much of the campaign, except for a brief period during the Battle of Sari Bair in August.
The one outstanding success of the campaign was the evacuation, starting in December, however Birdwood was the only corps commander opposed to abandoning Gallipoli. In the campaign's final throes, following the dismissal of the commander-in-chief, General Sir Ian Hamilton, Birdwood briefly took over command of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force which was now responsible for the new front at Salonika as well. (Birdwood had been considered for command of the MEF when it was originally formed but because the commander of the French contingent was his senior in rank, Hamilton was appointed instead.)
Birdwood was promoted to lieutenant general on October 28, 1915 and given command of the Dardanelles Army which contained ANZAC plus the British VIII Corps at Helles and British IX Corps at Suvla. While Birdwood managed the Dardanelles Army, the command of ANZAC passed to General Alexander Godley, commander of the New Zealand and Australian Division and head of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
In early 1916 the Australian and New Zealand contingents, back in Egypt, underwent reorganisation to incorporate the new units and reinforcements that had accumulated during 1915. ANZAC was disbanded to be replaced by two corps; I Anzac Corps and II Anzac Corps and Birdwood reverted to the command of II Anzac. Birdwood also assumed command of the AIF (that is, command of all Australian forces), a post originally held by General Sir William Bridges who was killed at Gallipoli.
When I Anzac Corps became the first to depart for France, Birdwood, as senior corps commander, took over command, swapping with General Godley who assumed command of II Anzac Corps. In France, where I Anzac joined the fighting in the Battle of the Somme, Birdwood was bypassed by his senior army commander, General Hubert Gough, who directly influenced how the Australian divisions were to be utilised.
Birdwood was promoted to full general on October 23, 1917 but remained a corps commander. Normally a general holds an army command. However, in November the five Australian divisions were combined in a single corps, the Australian Corps, under Birdwood's command. This corps was the largest on the Western Front. Birdwood attained command of the British Fifth Army on May 31, 1918, with command of the Australian Corps passing to General John Monash.
Birdwood had been knighted in 1916 and, after the war, he was raised to the peerage in recognition of his wartime service as Baron Birdwood, of Anzac and of Totnes in the County of Devon. Returning to India, he was eventually promoted to Field Marshal and made Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army from 1925 to 1930.
After retirement from the army, Birdwood made a bid in 1930 to become Governor General of Australia. He had the backing of the King and the British government. However, the Australian Prime Minister James Scullin insisted that his Australian nominee Sir Isaac Isaacs be appointed. The King ultimately felt bound to accept the advice of the Prime Minister, but he did not disguise his reluctance and displeasure. The official proclamations of these appointments were usually phrased as "The King has been pleased to appoint ...", but on this occasion George V directed that it say merely "The King has appointed Sir Isaac Isaacs". George V's ungraciousness aside, this incident was significant in that it highlighted that Governors-General no longer primarily (if at all) represented the interests of the British government, and confirmed the right of a Commonwealth Prime Minister to nominate the Governor-General of his choice.
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