Field Marshal Lord Carver

Richard Michael Power Carver, army officer: born Bletchingley, Surrey 24 April 1915; MC 1941; DSO 1943 and Bar 1943; CBE 1945; Deputy Chief of Air Staff, East Africa 1954, Chief of Staff 1955; CB 1957, KCB 1966, GCB 1970; Director of Plans, War Office 1958-59; Commander, 6th Infantry Brigade 1960-62; General Officer Commanding, 3rd Division 1962-64; Director, Army Staff Duties, Ministry of Defence 1964-66; Commander, Far East Land Forces 1966-67; Commander-in-Chief, Far East 1967-69; General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Command 1969-71; Chief of the General Staff 1971-73; Field Marshal 1973; Chief of the Defence Staff 1973-76; created 1977 Baron Carver; British Resident Commissioner in Rhodesia 1977-78; married 1947 Edith Lowry-Corry (two sons, two daughters); died Fareham, Hampshire 9 December 2001.

Michael Carver had few intellectual equals in the armed services and there were few braver men. A fearless soldier, with a DSO and bar (1943) as well as a Military Cross (1941), he was always resolute and determined in his actions on the battlefield. He remained the same in his thinking on post-war strategy, particularly on the Trident programme, which he deplored.

Richard Michael Power Carver was born at Bletchingley, Surrey, in 1915 and educated at Winchester. He should have gone to Cambridge University, but a sudden change in family circumstances prevented this; the alternative, which he thoroughly enjoyed, was Sandhurst, where he won the King’s Medal before being commissioned into the Royal Tank Corps in 1935. The intention was for him to undertake a short stint with the corps before taking up law. Had this happened, many a criminal might have thought twice about re-offending and having to appear before Judge Carver.

But with the outbreak of the Second World War, all his thoughts of the law were forgotten. Posted to Egypt, Carver came under the spell of his divisional tank commander, Maj-Gen Sir Percy Hobart, who was at the time forming an armoured division, later to become the Desert Rats. Carver showed his undoubted bravery throughout the fighting in the Western Desert, where he was twice mentioned in despatches and awarded an MC for his coolness under fire. As GSO1 Armoured Division, he displayed an ability to think on his feet under fire and command his staff which earned him a DSO. In 1943, whilst in command of 1 Royal Tank Regiment in Italy, he received a bar to his DSO for his “exceptional high powers of command, initiative and foresight”. His well-organised attack on Cardito which combined infantry, artillery and tanks, was a classic example of how to conduct a battle.

On the day after D-Day, 7 June 1944, 44 Royal Tank Regiment landed at Normandy and after a quiet spell saw action on 26 June when they took part in savage fighting around Cheux. Their first major battle took place in the operation to cross the River Odon. On the first day, the Brigade Commander was killed and his place was taken by Carver. At the age of 29 he was the youngest acting brigadier in the British Army. What followed in the Allies’ push to the Rhine, in often appalling conditions, was intense battle after battle but Carver was always at the forefront, not only thinking through the strategy of each day, week and month, but getting among his troops and inspiring them. A man of few words, his men saw him as a rock-like figure, imperturbable and totally determined to defeat the enemy.

Many highly decorated men left the life of action in 1945 because the peacetime Army did not offer excitement. Carver saw beyond this and was confident that he would achieve the highest position in the Army. Instead of looking backwards, he confidently advanced from one staff appointment to the next until he found himself on Field Marshal Montgomery’s staff at SHAPE in 1952. Montgomery, no slouch when it came to ambition, wrote of Carver, “This officer thinks there is nothing but dead wood between him and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff.” Carver attained Brigadier rank when he left his desk for the jungles of Kenya in the tough operation against the Mau Mau.

In 1958, he was appointed Director of Plans at the War Office before becoming Commander of the 6th Infantry Brigade Group. He was then appointed Major-General, General Officer Commanding the Air Mobile 3 Division and it was his steadfastness and diplomatic skills which succeeded in stabilising a fraught situation in Cyprus. He went on to establish a United Nations Force which still remains on the island.

He returned to Whitehall in 1964 as Director of Army Staff Duties. With Denis Healey’s Defence Review, the Navy saw its fleet carriers disappear and the RAF fumed over the loss of the highly advanced TSR 2 strike and reconnaissance aircraft. With the regular Army at full stretch, the only area open for reduction was the Territorials. Carver and General Sir John Hackett overcame considerable resistance in trimming this large force and neither made many friends.

In 1967, he became Commander-in-Chief Far East before returning to the UK as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Southern Command. He became Chief of the General Staff in 1971 and finally, as many, including himself, had expected, Chief of the Defence Staff. Carver recognised that Britain’s defence was intricately tied up with Nato. We could not go it alone. We should, he always advocated, adapt a continental strategy, prepared for any eventuality.

Although he retired from the Army in 1976, he continued to influence defence matters. In 1977 he was created Baron Carver, and spoke in the upper chamber with power and insight on the Trident programme. “What the bloody hell is it for?” he asked. With reluctance, he came out of retirement to deal with the tricky problem of Rhodesia in 1977.

In 1954 he wrote Second to None, a history of the Royal Scots Greys, and his El Alamein (1962) earned a complimentary notice from a not easily impressed Montgomery. He was to write a further 11 books including his autobiography, Out of Step (1989). His attention to detail throughout his life carried over to the launch of one of his last books, Letters of a Victorian Army Officer (1995), where, without reference to notes, he thanked every member of his literary agency, from the highest to the lowest, by name.

Those who knew him well knew too that behind Mike Carver’s chiselled features lay a delicious sense of humour. He was a fine public speaker, his stammer only detectable in private conversation. Tough, poker-faced and at times bloody-minded he might have been, but beneath that hard exterior beat a heart that was immensely proud of his country’s achievements and in particular those of the armed services.

Max Arthur

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