Hubert de la Poer Gough
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About General Sir Hubert de la Poer Gough, GCB, GCMG, KCVO
General Sir Hubert de la Poer Gough, GCB, GCMG, KCVO (12 August 1870 – 18 March 1963), was a senior officer in the British Army, who commanded the British Fifth Army from 1916 to 1918 during the First World War.
He was born into an Anglo-Irish aristocratic family in Gurteen, County Waterford, Ireland, the eldest son of General Sir Charles J.S. Gough, VC, GCB, nephew of General Sir Hugh H. Gough, VC, and brother of Brigadier General Sir John Edmund Gough, VC (the only family to ever win the Victoria Cross, the highest award for bravery, three times). He married Harriette Anastasia de la Poer, daughter of John William Poer, styled 17th Baron de la Poer, of Gurteen, County Waterford, formerly MP for County Waterford. Their daughter Myrtle Eleanore Gough married Major Eric Adlhelm Torlogh Dutton, CMG, CBE, in 1936.
Gough attended Eton College, and according to his autobiography "Soldiering On" he was terrible at Latin. But he was good at sports such as football and rugby. After leaving Eton, Gough gained entrance to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst in 1888. He joined the 16th Lancers in 1889 and served in the Tirah campaign. Gough first became widely known for his command of a relief column during the siege of Ladysmith in the Second Boer War. His meeting with George Stuart White was widely portrayed.
From 1904 to 1906 he was an instructor at the Staff College and from December 1906 he commanded the 16th lancers. In 1911 he returned to Ireland as a brigadier-general commanding 3rd cavalry brigade, which included the 16th lancers, at the Curragh.
In March 1914 Gough was a leader in the Curragh Incident, in which a number of British Army officers said that they would rather resign rather than enforce the Government's plans to realise Irish home rule.
First World War
At the outbreak of war in August 1914, Gough was commanding a brigade and later commanded the 7th Division, known as "Gough's Mobile Army". A favourite of the British Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Douglas Haig, he experienced a meteoric rise through the ranks during the war. By the time of the Battle of Loos in September 1915, he was commanding I Corps and, at the start of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916, Gough was in charge of the Reserve Army, despite only being a lieutenant general.
At the end of October 1916, Gough's Reserve Army was renamed the Fifth Army. The 16th (Irish) Division and the 36th (Ulster) Division moved under his command. On 1 January 1917, he was promoted to Lieutenant General "for distinguished service in the field". In July 1917 during the Third Battle of Ypres although both divisions were exhausted after 13 days of moving heavy equipment under heavy shelling he ordered their battalions to advance to the east of Ypres through deep mud towards well fortified German positions left untouched by inadequate artillery preparation. By mid August, the 16th (Irish) had suffered over 4,200 casualties and the 36th (Ulster) had suffered almost 3,600 casualties, or more than 50% of their numbers. When he accused the troops in question of not being able to hold onto their gains because they “were Irish and did not like the enemy’s shelling”, Field Marshal Haig was critical of him for "playing the Irish card".
It was Gough's Fifth Army that bore the brunt of the German Operation Michael offensive on 21 March 1918 and the assumed failure of his army to hold the line and stem the German advance led to his dismissal. Andrew Roberts offers a more favourable assessment of Gough's contribution:
. . . the offensive saw a great wrong perpetrated on a distinguished British commander that was not righted for many years. Gough's Fifth Army had been spread thin on a forty-two-mile front lately taken over from the exhausted and demoralised French. The reason why the Germans did not break through to Paris, as by all the laws of strategy they ought to have done, was the heroism of the Fifth Army and its utter refusal to break. They fought a thirty-eight-mile rearguard action, contesting every village, field and, on occasion, yard . . . With no reserves and no strongly defended line to its rear, and with eighty German divisions against fifteen British, the Fifth Army fought the Somme offensive to a standstill on the Ancre, not retreating beyond Villers-Bretonneux . . .
Other historians, such as Les Carlyon, concur in holding the opinion that Gough was unfairly dealt with following the Michael Offensive, but also regard Gough's performance during the Great War in generally unflattering terms, citing documented and repeated failings in planning, preparation, comprehension of the battle space, and a lack of empathy with the common soldier.
In 1919 he was the head of the Allied Military Mission to the Baltic States (see United Baltic Duchy). He retired as a general in 1922.
From 1936 until 1943, he was honorary colonel of the 16th/5th The Queen's Royal Lancers, and President of the Irish Servicemen's Shamrock Club in Park Lane, London W.1.
His book, The Fifth Army, defended his record as commander in 1918.
Gough died in London on 18 March 1963, aged 92. He suffered from bronchial pneumonia for a month before he died, but it is unclear whether this was the cause of death.