Field Marshal William Edmund Ironside, 1st Baron Ironside GCB, CMG, CBE, DSO (6 May 1880 - 22 September 1959) was a British soldier who played a significant role as commander of British forces in Persia in 1920-1921. He went on to serve as Chief of the Imperial General Staff during the early part of World War II.
He was posted to India in 1906, promoted to captain in 1908, followed by a further South African posting, where he served as a Staff Captain and brigade major, he returned home in late 1912, and attended Staff College in 1913, where he was apparently a rather disruptive student. On the outbreak of the First World War he was sent to France, where he served on the Western Front, initially as a Staff Captain. He was appointed a General Staff Officer, Grade 3 in November 1914, and attached to 6th Division, promoted to Grade 2 in February 1915, and Grade 1 (and temporary lieutenant-colonel) in March 1916 (made a brevet rank that year's King's Birthday Honours). With this promotion he was transferred to the 4th Canadian Division and fought with them at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in the 1915 King's Birthday Honours. In 1918 he briefly served as Commandant of the Small Arms School before being appointed to command 99th Infantry Brigade as a temporary brigadier-general.
Ironside was sent to Arkhangelsk in north-west Russia in 1918, and placed in command of the Allied army fighting against the Bolsheviks. The war, fought on permafrost, was very difficult and involved British, Canadian, French, Italian and American soldiers who were greatly outnumbered. Ironside was popular with his men, with stories, due to his large size, of having crushed a Boer soldier with his arms, in the Boer War. The Red Army managed eventually to gain a superior position in the Civil War and in autumn 1919 he was forced to abandon the White Army to their fate. Ironside was made a Knight Commander of the Bath, and promoted to substantive major-general for his efforts.
In 1920 he served with British forces in Izmit, Turkey. He commanded some 6,000 British troops in Persia (NORPERFORCE) with headquarters in Qazvin from 4 October 1920 to 18 February 1921. His four and a half months in Persia were known primarily for two accounts. First, his role in the discharge of more than a hundred Russian officers and NCOs of the Cossack Division and their replacement by Persians under the command of Reza Khan, founder of the Pahlavi dynasty; and second, his encouragement of Reza Khan's coup d'état of 1921. On each occasion Ironside acted on his own responsibility without authority from London. He distrusted Russian loyalties after the 1917 Revolution and with the assistance of Herman Norman, the British Minister in Tehran, persuaded the Shah to dismiss the Cossack Division's commanding officer, and every Russian under him. It was also Ironside who selected Lieutenant Colonel Reza Khan as the Russian's successor. The appointment was based on the advice of a British officer friend, attached to the Cossacks for a short time, and after several visits to their camp near Qazvin where he was much impressed by the Persian contingent. Ironside's decision "to let the Cossacks go" was, according to his diary, because he wanted a strong military commander in the capital to save the country from the Bolsheviks and chaos and safeguard the imminent withdrawal of NORPERFORCE from Persia. In return, Reza Khan promised not to hinder British withdrawal or depose the Shah.
Ironside was given the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun, Third Class in 1922. He was Commandant of the Staff College from 1922–1926. In 1926 he was appointed to command 2nd Division, holding the appointment until 1928. He commanded Meerut district in India from 1928–1931 before he was appointed Lieutenant of HM Tower of London in July 1931, and held the post until September 1933. He returned to India as Quartermaster General from October 1933 until he was appointed head of Eastern Command in 1936. He was promoted to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) in the 1938 King's Birthday Honours, and served as Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Gibraltar (1938-39). In June 1939 he was made a knight of the Venerable Order of Saint John.
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