John Frederick Charles Fuller (1878-1966) was a prodigious writer of world and military history, and one of the progenitors of tank warfare strategy during and after World War I.
John Frederick Charles Fuller's career in the British military included service in the Second Boer War, service to the British Raj in India, World War I battlefield experience, and establishment of the Royal Tank Corps, where he earned respect as the man responsible for leading the first offensive in military history that employed tanks as the primary offensive weapon. After his retirement from the military in 1933, he dedicated himself as a military correspondent for the London Daily Mail, which provided him the opportunity to cover the Abyssinian War from 1935 to 1936 and the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939. During this period, he met Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco, and various generals of Hitler's Third Reich. A controversial figure, Fuller was a member of Sir Oswald Mosely's fascist group, the British Union, during the 1930s and was a supporter of Europe's fascist governments, in addition to possessing ardent anti-Semitic views. Following World War II, he devoted himself to composing military histories, many of which are admired and remain in print. Fuller further incurred notoriety through his affiliation with occultist Aleister Crowley during the first decade of the twentieth-century, as well as his lifelong fascination with the occult.
Steeped in the Military and the Occult
John Frederick Charles Fuller (also known as J.F.C. Fuller) was born in Chichester, England, the son of Alfred, a minister, and Selma Fuller on September 1, 1878. Nicknamed "Boney," Fuller was educated at Malvern College and the Royal Military College in Sandhurst, England. His first commission was as a light infantry soldier in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire in 1898, before service in the Second Boer War. In 1903, he was commissioned to India, where he immersed himself in the country's mysticism. He was promoted to the rank of captain in 1905 and married Margaretha "Sonia" Karnatz the following year. In 1906, he also befriended Aleister Crowley. The friendship was initiated after Fuller read the poetry and occult writings of Crowley, which also caused Fuller to praise Crowley in his 1907 book, The Star of the West. In this work, Fuller declared Crowley "more than a new-born Dionysis, he is more than a [William] Blake, a Rabelais or a [Heinrich] Heine; for he stands before us as some priest of Apollo." Crowley's stated purpose was to replace Christianity with a new religion he dubbed Crowleyanity. To fulfill this end, he established a magical order, the Argenteum Astrum, or Silver Star. Besides Fuller, the Argentum Astrum included George Cecil Jones, Pamela Hansford Johnson, artist Austin Osman Spare, violinist Leila Waddell, and mathematics professor Norman Mudd from Bloemfontein. Essentially based on MacGregor Mather's secret rituals written for the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Argenteum Astrum gradually incorporated Crowley's views on yoga and sex magic. Fuller co-edited with Crowley the Argentum Astrum magazine, The Equinox, and is credited also with introducing Crowley and Victor Neuburg, who became Crowley's most dedicated disciple and homosexual lover. It is important to note that Jean Overton Fuller, who wrote Neuburg's biography, was not related to J. F. C. Fuller. Legal enmity separated Fuller and Crowley in 1911, and Fuller disparaged his The Star of the West as "a jumble of undigested reading with a boyish striving after effect." He maintained until his death, however, that Crowley was "one of the greatest of English lyric poets." Fuller continued his interest in esoteric subject matter, publishing Yoga: A Study of the Mystical Philosophy of the Brahmins and Buddhists and Atlantis: America and the Future in 1925 and The Secret Wisdom of the Quabalah in 1937.
While indulging his passion for the occult, Fuller contemporaneously progressed in his military career. In 1907, he was assigned to the Second Middlesex Volunteers, which became known as the Tenth Middlesex Volunteers after 1908. Serving as an instructor allowed Fuller to refine his writing skills, which he employed to compose training manuals. By 1914, he had written two books upon entering the military staff college at Camberley. He proceeded to alienate his instructors and senior officers with an uncooperative and surly disposition that ultimately stifled his military career. The student papers he composed were refused by his commanding officer. He was placed in several staff positions in England before his transfer to the western front of World War I in July of 1915. The delay in sending him to the battlefield caused him to miss the First Battle of Ypres, which resulted in the slaughter of the regular British Expeditionary Force. In December of 1916, Fuller transferred to the Heavy Branch Machine Gun Corps, where he acquitted himself admirably by writing a series of papers on the ability of the tank to eliminate the devastating fatalities and time-consuming aspects of trench warfare. The methods outlined in his paper "Plan 1919" were based upon the successful British tank attack on Cambrai, inspired by Fuller and representing the first time a tank was used successfully as a primary offense weapon. Invigorated by the success at Cambrai, Fuller pressed the importance of mechanized warfare. He insisted that tanks should be used as a flanking device that, coordinated with aircraft support, could effectively frighten opponents into surrender.
Fuller's military career continued after World War I, but his insubordinate behavior and insistence on his principles for warfare prevented him from making an effective contribution as a military strategist. He was assigned to the Staff Duties branch at the War Office, and was assigned to the Tank Corps in 1922, which eventually became known as the Royal Tank Corps. In 1923, he was reassigned as a chief instructor at the Staff College, and his lectures were published later as The Reformation of War and The Foundations of the Science of War. In 1925, he began a long and fruitful editorial partnership with Captain Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart, a prodigious writer of military history. Two years later, Fuller was given the opportunity to command the inaugural Experimental Brigade, but by all accounts ruined his chances by behaving in a belligerent fashion. Upset that his ideas were not put into practice, Fuller resigned but was reinstated shortly thereafter. The result, however, was that his hopes for military advancement were nullified. Instead of another prestigious appointment, he was transferred to serve as General Staff Officer at Aldershot and subsequently served as commander of the Second Rhine Brigade at Wiesbaden, Germany. He was promoted to Major General in 1930 but placed on half pay by the British Army after refusing the command of the Second Class District of Bombay, India. He wrote several military books in 1932, including Lectures on Field Service Regulations, II, Lectures on Field Service Regulations, III, and The Dragon's Teeth: A Study of War and Peace. By the end of 1933, Fuller was placed on the Army's retirement list.
Fascism and Military History
In 1934, Fuller joined Sir Oswald Mosely's British Union of Fascists and engaged in fascist propaganda leading up to World War II. His military background, however, rescued him from British arrest in 1940, while all other British Union leaders were incarcerated. Because of his membership in the British Union, he was refused military service during World War II. Much of the writing he produced during this period is vehemently anti-Semitic, which endeared him to such high-ranking officials of Hitler's Third Reich as Heinz Guderian, one of the German military's chief proponents of Panzer warfare. Such was his affinity to Fuller, that Guderian referred to him as his mentor. As a military correspondent for the London Daily Mail during the 1930s and 1940s, Fuller traveled to the fascist capitals of Europe and knew the era's chief fascist proponents. Following the war, Fuller dedicated himself to writing military histories on the campaigns of such generals as Ulysses S. Grant, Julius Caesar, Robert E. Lee, and Alexander the Great. He also contributed more than 400 articles to British and American periodicals.
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Contemporary Authors, Permanent Series, Gale Research, 1975.
Dictionary of National Biography, 1961-1970, edited by E.T. Williams and C.S. Nicholls, Oxford University Press, 1981.
Drury, Neville, The History of Magic in the Modern Age: A Quest for Personal Transformation, Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 2000.
The Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology, 5th Edition, edited by J. Gordon Melton, Gale Group, 2001.
Fuller, John Frederick Charles, A Military History of the Western World, Volume 1: From the Earliest Times to the Battle of Lepanto, Da Capo Press, Inc., 1954.
Historical Encyclopedia of World War II, edited by Marcel Baudot, Facts on File, 1980.
The Oxford Companion to Military History, edited by Richard Holmes, Oxford University Press, 2001.
The Reader's Companion to Military History, edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, New York, 1996.
Who's Who in Twentieth-Century Warfare, edited by Spencer C. Tucker, Routledge, 2001.