Frederick Alfred Pile

Frederick Alfred Pile

General Sir Frederick Alfred Pile, 2nd Baronet GCB DSO MC (14 September 1884 - 14 November 1976) was a British Army officer who served in both World Wars. In the Second World War he was General Officer Commanding Anti-Aircraft Command; one of the elements that protected Britain from aerial attack.

He was born in Dublin, the second of four children and the eldest of three sons of Sir Thomas Devereux Pile, 1st Baronet, Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1900, and his wife, Caroline Maude, daughter of John Martin Nicholson JP of Rathgar. Sir Frederick's youngest brother was killed in action in 1917.

Early life

From the first he was an enthusiast — be it for the rather inadequate mixed school at which he was educated, for horse riding, for polo, or for tennis. But the insufficiency of his initial education all but robbed him of the opportunity to indulge in what proved to be his greatest enthusiasm — the business of soldiering as a member, to begin with, of the Royal Artillery. Only by desperate cramming was he able to enter, "bottom of his term", the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, in 1902.Fact|date=April 2008 Yet by hard work he passed out twenty-sixth, endowed with the foundations of knowledge, which were to stand him in good stead throughout a career rich in managerial and technical experience.

Army service

As a battery commander in the Royal Horse Artillery, he took part in the retreat from Mons; and in the four years of war to come performed the duties of brigade-major and General Staff officer, 2nd grade, Royal Artillery, in France, where artillery was to dominate the battlefield and field gunnery was to undergo a revolution. New ideas stimulated Pile but were not necessarily greeted with acclaim by the instructors at the Staff College, which he attended from 1922 to 1923. At the suggestion of Colonel J. F. C. Fuller he transferred to the Royal Tank Corps in 1923 ‘because liked bright ideas there', and he at once embarked upon development work at the heart of the mechanization and modernization of the army. During World War I he had won the Military Cross and been appointed to the Distinguished Service Order (1918), as well as being mentioned in dispatches.

Two years with the RAF/Army Co-operation School and a short spell with the 501 Battalion of the Royal tank Corps before taking command as Lieutenant-colonel, of the 3rd Battalion in 1927, were good grounding for his work in command of the fast group of the Experimental Mechanized Force. This force, in 1927, established, on Salisbury Plain, the kind of armoured warfare which lay at the heart of Blitzkrieg as practiced by the Germans in 1939. With a reputation as a dangerous commander who would "chance his arm" and pull things off in battle, he was sent in 1928 to work for four years as assistant director of mechanization at the War Office, where he was immersed in the effort to design and produce the war machines of the future — medium and light tanks, self-propelled and lorry-towed artillery, swimming tanks, and the wide variety of prototypes which were, within a decade, the operational paraphernalia of the British Army.

Pile, who had succeeded his father in the baronetcy in 1931, was not to lead these new forces he helped create. Instead in 1932 he was sent to Egypt to command the Canal Infantry Brigade (in which one of his battalion commanders was Bernard Montgomery, later Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. There he demonstrated his prowess as a trainer until returning to Britain in 1936. Despite many arguments, he remained "Monty's" friend for life. In 1937 he re-entered the world of artillery as major-general in command of the 1st Anti-Aircraft Division (TA) guarding London. This was a Territorial formation and its state was deplorable. Units were much below establishment and there was an appalling shortage of equipment. General Pile flung himself into this entirely unfamiliar work.

With war imminent and air raids certain, Pile found himself in command of a part-time force, equipped for the most part with obsolete weapons and employing antiquated methods, which had little hope of deterring enemy bomber pilots. His responsibility became all the heavier when on 28 July 1939 he assumed command of Anti-Aircraft Command, a post he was to hold until 15 April 1945 (he was promoted to general in 1941), as the only commander to retain the same high position throughout World War II. He was to tell the story after the war, in his official dispatch and in his book "Ack-Ack: Britain's Defence against Air Attack during the Second World War" [cite web|url=|title=JSTOR: Ack-Ack: Britain's Defence against Air Attack during the Second World War|work=Journal Storage (JSTOR)|accessdate=2007-05-10|publisher=] (1949). It was a tale of expansion to meet dire threats with resources which were tardily provided and several times whittled down to the bone, an unremitting struggle to obtain modern guns, improved searchlights, and radar to replace sound locating while the battle was instantly under pressure to reduce manpower. He filled the gaps by the voluntary recruitment of 70,000 young women. Eventually 74,000 members of the Auxiliary Territorial Service took their place on the gun sites, joined by members of the nominally all-male British Home Guard.

Perhaps his most striking quality was that he was a most gifted 'mixer'. He could establish contact and confidence immediately with anyone from the highest to the lowest.Fact|date=April 2008 He was a close friend and regular confidant of Sir Winston Churchill; he could talk on equal terms with the great scientists and with the Chiefs of Staff: and in five minutes' conversation he could calm down an infuriated Mayor who had just had an unexploded shell through the roof of his Town Hall.Fact|date=April 2008

It was a measure of his success that he kept the Prime Minister's confidence in all the crises of the Battle of Britain, the night Blitz, and the concluding attack by pilotless aircraft and rockets in 1944-5. One reason for that success was openness of mind when tackling a new problem, a willingness to work closely with scientists and operational researchers, and a keen sympathy with subordinates. It was no accident that, in Anti-Aircraft Command, courts martial and absence without leave were less than 50 per cent of other commands. Pile also managed the incredible large-scale redeployment of guns and ammunition under Operation Crossbow against the V-1 flying bomb. General Pile's plan for "Engagement of Long Range Rockets with AA Gunfire" (gunfire into a radar-predicted airspace to intercept the V-2 rocket) was ready on March 21 1945 but the plan was not used due to the danger of shells falling on Greater London.cite book |last=Ordway |first= Frederick I, III|authorlink= |coauthors=Sharpe, Mitchell R|title=The Rocket Team|series= Apogee Books Space Series 36|publisher= |location= |isbn= |pages=p262]

Post-war career

After the war he became director-general of housing in the Ministry of Works, but soon entered private industry on the board of Fothergill & Harvey and, later, as chairman of Cementation Ltd. He was colonel commandant of the Royal Artillery in 1945-52. Pile was appointed CB (1938), Knight Commander (KCB) (1941), and Knight Grand Cross (GCB) (1945). In 1946 he received an honorary LLD from Leeds University. In 1948 a locomotive of the Southern Railway SR Battle of Britain Class was named after him at Waterloo station in London. This locomotive has since been preserved and is under restoration at the Avon Valley Railway in Bristol, United Kingdom.

Family life

Pile married first, in 1915, Vera Millicent, daughter of Brigadier-General Frederick Charles Lloyd; they had two sons. This marriage was dissolved in 1929.

In 1932 Pile married Hester Mary Melba, daughter of George Grenville Phillimore, barrister, of Shedfield, Hampshire. She died in 1949.

Thirdly, he married, in 1951, Molly Eveline Louise Mary, widow of Brigadier Francis Wyville Home, of the Royal Marines, and daughter of Ralph Smyth, gentleman, of Newtown, Drogheda. She had been chief commander of the ATS. Pile died 14 November 1976 in the Lister Hospital, Stevenage. He was succeeded in the baronetcy by his elder son, Frederick Devereux Pile (born 1915).


External links

* [ 1943 photo of Pile] with the Nettlestone battery
* [] Pile Family Crest] as carried by the Southern Railway locomotive
* [ view of the locomotive showing the SIR FREDERICK PILE name and crest]
* cite web
url =
title = 34058 - Sir Frederick Pile
accessdate = 2006-07-08
publisher = 34058 Restoration Group

* cite web
url =
title = Rebuilt Bulleid WC/BB 'West Country' and 'Battle of Britain' class 4-6-2
date = 2003-06-23
publisher = Southern E-Group

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