Basil Henry Liddell Hart was born on 31 October 1895 in Paris, the son of Rev H Bramley Hart and Clara Liddell. He was educated at St Paul's School and Corpus Christi College Cambridge, where he was reading history when the First World War broke out. He was commissioned in 1914, into the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and served at Ypres and on the Somme as a Company Commander.
The slaughter of the Somme, and in particular, the success of an attack on Mametz Wood which revived the use of surprise, strongly influenced the cast of his mind in later life. The aim of nearly all his tactical thinking thereafter was to outwit the enemy, preferably by a paralysing combination of surprise and mobility, and to avoid head on collisions that were bound to lead to carnage. Having written influentially on battle drill while recovering from war wounds in 1916, in 1924 he was asked by General Sir Ivor Maxse to redraft the Infantry Training Manual. Within this he included what he named the 'expanding torrent' method of attack which was a development of infiltration tactics introduced in 1917-1918 and more memorably became a recognisably key pattern of the German Blitzkrieg of 1940. But if the seeds had been sown for a career as a military writer, Liddell Hart's military career as such was at an end . Although selected for the Royal Tank Corps in 1924, he was found unfit, due to the long term effects of gassing. Placed on halfpay, in 1927 he reluctantly retired.
In the meanwhile, in July 1925, Liddell Hart was appointed Military Correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, a post he held until transfer to the Times as their Military Correspondent in 1934. Between 1925 and 1939, the year of his resignation, he wrote over 1,250 articles and published 18 of his eventual 31 books. He also founded a reputation as the foremost military critic in Britain, and possibly the world, of the interwar period. His particular strengths were in the fields of tactics, weapons, military training and organisation. The basic changes in mechanised warfare to which the Army owed much of its eventual success in the Second World War had all been advocated by Liddell Hart in the 1930s.
Liddell Hart was not a scholar or historian in the traditional sense. For the most part his writings are at their strongest in the stimulation they offer to debate and in their reflection of his committment to the shaping of better policies for the defence of Britain. With perhaps the exception of his history of the Royal Tank Regiment, he used history to justify his conclusions rather than vice versa. This was not, however, to say his conclusions were not well grounded. His frequently passionate advocacy of a position was based on both a solid knowledge of historical precedent and the practical realities and priorities of serving officers of the day both in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. His ideas were invariably tested on a proportion of his several thousand correspondents.
Liddell Hart's only real venture into the heart of the political arena in 1937, as personal adviser to Hore Belisha, the new Secretary of State for War, met with less success. By the Summer of 1938 he had already withdrawn when the partnership failed to push through the formation of several more armoured divisions, the complete mechanisation of the infantry divisions and the expansion of anti aircraft forces which he believed was needed. Liddell Hart's advocacy of a strictly limited committment of the army to the continent in time of war meant that he was also to become increasingly linked to Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement. For once he appeared on the wrong side of public opinion. He was to continue to advocate a separate peace with the Nazis until 1940 during which time his disagreements with the editor of The Times led to his resignation in 1939 and his influence in government circles and military high command was very substantially diminished. 1938 also saw the end of his twenty year marriage to Jessie Stone, the mother of his only son Adrian. In 1940 he was remarried to Kathleen Nelson.
If perhaps Liddell Hart's ability to sway opinion on the grand public stage was ultimately reduced by the Second World War, in its aftermath there was again a ready audience for measured assessments of events present and past. Between 1940 and his death in 1970 Liddell Hart produced another 660 articles, including pioneers studies of nuclear war, wrote 13 books including major histories of the First and Second World Wars and two volumes of memoirs, gave numerous interviews, broadcasts, and lectures. The majority of his books sold well, and many were translated into other languages. A number have been reprinted several times. At home, his cumulated research material, including his extensive and every growing correspondence and diary notes on conversations over the decades, and above all his enthusiasm for debate and sharp ability to marshall facts made his house into a magnet for military men and scholars alike. In 1966 Captain Basil Liddell Hart was knighted in recognition of his role as one of the outstanding military commentators of his era. He died on 29 January 1970.
A complete listing of Liddell Hart's published works is given at the end of this section. Further details on his published books will be found in Section 9. A complete listing of his published articles is given in Section 10. Liddell Hart's military thinking has been the subject of comment in a number of military books and articles. Section 13 lists a large number of texts published in his life time.
Overall the most significant texts on Liddell Hart are as follows:
Under an agreement made in 1960 Liddell Hart bequeathed his military papers and library to King's College London. When, therefore, in 1964 Professor Michael Howard, then Head of the Department of War Studies, sought in conjunction with the University and College authorities to establish a Centre for Military Archives at King's it was the intention that Liddell Hart's military papers should form its nucleus.
After Liddell Hart's death in 1970 his widow, Lady Liddell Hart decided that the archive would be of much greater value to historians if treated as a whole, and that it was in any case unsatisfactory to attempt to divide it into military and non-military material. Under a new agreement signed in 1973, King's College purchased Liddell Hart's complete archive except for critical and printed material on fashion and manners which was placed in the library of Liverpool John Moore's University and an amount of family and business material retained by Lady Liddell Hart and passed to Liddell Hart's son, Adrian Liddell Hart.
At the same time the College acquired Liddell Hart's military library with the exception of a small collection of rare eighteenth and nineteenth-century editions of military texts which was passed to Adrian Liddell Hart. To mark the importance of the acquisition, the Centre was renamed the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives in 1973. The papers were physically transported to the Centre in 1978 following cataloguing at Liddell Hart's home, States House, by Stephen Brooks. During the course of the cataloguing a number of letters to Lady Liddell Hart and cuttings, notably obituaries, were added to the principal series of correspondence files (Section 1). Adrian Liddell Hart's own papers, including significant biographical material on Liddell Hart, were acquired in 1991, on his death, thanks to the generosity of Lady Liddell Hart. At that time the College acquired twentieth century printed books which had been annotated by Liddell Hart and retained by Adrian and returned them to Liddell Hart's library collection. The remainder of Adrian Liddell Hart's library, including the rare eighteenth century editions, and all which carried bookplates identical to that of Liddell Hart, was sold.
SCOPE AND CONTENT
Liddell Hart's papers reflect his position as one of the foremost military commentators of his era and as a prolific author of books and articles on military history and theory. As such he sustained throughout his life an extensive correspondence with a wide variety of prominent individuals, including those in the armed forces, politicians, playwrights, military historians, embassy officials and clergymen. The collection includes Liddell Hart's files containing correspondence with several thousand individuals as well as government departments and military establishments, and clubs, political parties and pressure groups. For those unfamiliar with the Liddell Hart collection, the breadth is more likely to surprise than disappoint. Within it for example are found the largest collection of Robert Graves' private letters known to be available in a public repository, the most complete records available of the influential All Souls Foreign Affairs Group (1937-1938) and a rich vein of material on disarmament and the League of Nations for the 1930s as well as more predictable comprehensive coverage of the early history of armoured warfare and extensive correspondence with leading German generals of the inter war period and Second World War. Liddell Hart's own military writings include diary notes, memoranda, books, articles, letters to the press and texts of lectures. These are supported by an extensive collection of reference material, mainly comprising newspaper cuttings and pamphlets, covering a wide range of topics including military history, politics and society. The collection includes a small quantity of correspondence with Lady Liddell Hart, particularly after 1970, as well as discrete collections of papers of others. These are the papers of
The vast extent of Liddell Hart's archive reflects both the immensity of his own output and the consistency with which he preserved documents over a long period. As early as 29 September 1915, Liddell Hart wrote to his parents urging them 'to keep my letters carefully and study them intelligently.' Liddell Hart threw virtually nothing away and from 1940 onwards had anything that he considered to be important produced in multiple copies; some to be despatched to interested parties, others distributed through the archive to provide ready reference in a variety of overlapping subject, chronological, personal, business and correspondence files.
Over the years a number of different ways of ordering the files was employed, and various people at times employed to arrange parts of the archive. The majority of filing, however, over a thirty year period fell to Lady Liddell Hart and retrieval was dependent upon her understanding of a complex system and Liddell Hart's memory. The collection itself was physically housed in almost every part of States House and some outhoused at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies and a strong room of Lloyd's Bank.
On acquisition of the archive by the College, a simplified scheme of arrangement was devised which drew upon headings already in use but which had generally only been applied to parts of the archive. A large number of duplicates was also thinned, although many remain where they are integral to the file or provide evidence of Liddell Hart's working methods. Successive drafts of Liddell Hart's own work were brought together and ordered chronologically, as was the discrete mass of memoranda, notes and articles. Overall the collection has been arranged in three major groups covering correspondence, military writings, and reference material. Much smaller groups contains biographical and non-military material (Sections 8, 13 and 14).
None of the major groups are entirely exclusive. Both major and general correspondence series (Sections 1 and 2) include texts under discussion (Liddell Hart's or his correspondent's) and press cuttings. Equally, sections on books or articles commonly include related correspondence. Of particular note in section nine are major runs of correspondence with a number of German generals (9/24), with pioneers of the development and deployment of the tank (9/28), and with respect to the reputation of T E Lawrence (9/13). The section of his earliest military writings (Section 7) includes letters to his parents.
Within section 9 are papers written and collated by Lt Col Philip Johnson mainly relating to the Medium D tank. Within the reference section (LH 15), largely a rich collection of secondary material assembled by Liddell Hart, are seven discrete archives of private papers which were given to Liddell Hart during his lifetime, already listed in 'Scope and Content', and typescript copies of papers by Capt (later Maj Gen) Orde Charles Wingate on the organisation and training of Special Night Squads in Palestine in 1938 (LH 15/5/300).
The first catalogue to the papers was published in 1975. The detailed descriptions of this catalogue were substantially expanded and revised in 1995-1998, but few changes were made in the order of the documents with the exception of Sections 15/2 - 15/5 for which concordances with the original references have been provided.
CONDITIONS OF ACCESS AND USE
Open, subject to signature of reader's undertaking form.
Copies, subject to the condition of the original, may be supplied for research use only. Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the Trustees of the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, attention of the Director of Archive Services.
Mainly English, but some sections contain substantial amounts of material in German (notably 9/24, concerning the German generals) and French (notably 15/8/241-257, French military manuals).
The following is a select list of collections of individuals with whom Liddell Hart corresponded and for whom the Centre holds papers: Gen Sir Ronald Adam (1885- 1982); FM Edmund Henry Hynman, 1st Viscount Allenby (1861-1936); Maj Gen Sir George Aston (1861-1938); Maj Gen Robert, 2nd Viscount Bridgeman (1896-1982); ACM Sir Henry Brooke-Popham (1878-1953); FM Sir John Dill (1881-1944); Brig Gen Sir James Edmonds (1861-1956); Maj Gen Sir Francis de Guingand (1900-1979); Gen Sir Ian Hamilton (1853-1947); Lt Gen Sir Thomas Hutton (1890-1981); Maj Gen Sir Frederick Maurice (1871-1951); FM Sir George Milne (1866-1948); FM Sir Archibald Montgomery-Massingbird (1871-1947); Gen Sir Richard O'Connor (1889- 1981); Gen Sir Harold Pyman (1908-1971); Maj Gen Sir Edward Spears (1886-1974); Maj Gen Sir Ernest Swinton (1868-1951). The Centre also holds the papers of Liddell Hart's son Adrian Liddell Hart (1922-1991) which include biographical material and notes relating to Liddell Hart.
Liddell Hart's papers relating to fashion are held at Liverpool John Moores University, and are described in The Liddell Hart Collection (Art and Design Library, Liverpool, 1983).