The story

Bernard Montgomery

Bernard Montgomery


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Bernard Montgomery, the son of a bishop, was born in London on 17th November 1887. He was educated at St Paul's School and Sandhurst Military Academy. He later recalled: "In 1907 entrance to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, was by competitive examination. There was first a qualifying examination in which it was necessary to show a certain minimum standard of mental ability; the competitive examination followed a year or so later. These two hurdles were negotiated without difficulty, and in the competitive examination my place was 72 out of some 170 vacancies." After graduating in 1908 joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

Montgomery served in India before being sent to France at the beginning of the First World War. He was seriously wounded when he was shot in the chest in October 1914: "My life was saved that day by a soldier of my platoon. I had fallen in the open and lay still hoping to avoid further attention from the Germans. But a soldier ran to me and began to put a field dressing on my wound; he was shot through the head by a sniper and collapsed on top of me. The sniper continued to fire at us and I got a second wound in the knee; the soldier received many bullets intended for me. No further attempt was made by my platoon to rescue us; indeed, it was presumed we were both dead. When it was dark the stretcher-bearers came to carry us in; the soldier was dead and I was in a bad way."

After a long spell in a military hospital, Montgomery returned to the Western Front in 1916 and by 1918 was chief of staff of the 47th London Division. In his autobiography Montgomery argued that: " The higher staffs were out of touch with the regimental officers and with the troops. The former lived in comfort, which became greater as the distance of their headquarters behind the lines increased. There was no harm in this provided there was touch and sympathy between the staff and the troops. This was often lacking. The frightful casualties appalled me."

Montgomery remained in the British Army and in 1926 became an instructor at Camberley. Promoted to the rank of major general he was sent to command British forces Palestine in October, 1938. On the outbreak of the Second World War Montgomery was sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force. He led the 2nd Corps but was forced to retreat to Dunkirk during Germany's Western Offensive and arrived back in England on 1st June, 1940. Montgomery was placed in command of the 5th Corps (July 1940-April 1941), the 12th Corps (April 1941-December 1941) and the South-Eastern Army (December 1941-August 1942).

In July 1942 Erwin Rommel and the Deutsches Afrika Korps were only 113km (70 miles) from Alexandria. The situation was so serious that Winston Churchill made the long journey to Egypt to discover for himself what needed to be done. Churchill decided to make changes to the command structure. General Harold Alexander was placed in charge of British land forces in the Middle East and Montgomery was chosen to become commander of the Eighth Army.

On 30th August, 1942, Erwin Rommel attacked at Alam el Halfa but was repulsed by the Eighth Army. Montgomery responded to this attack by ordering his troops to reinforce the defensive line from the coast to the impassable Qattara Depression. Montgomery was now able to make sure that Rommel and the German Army was unable to make any further advances into Egypt. Rommel reported that he was ill and was evacuated. Doctors reported that he was "suffering from chronic stomach and intestinal catarrh, nasal diphtheria and considerable circulation trouble."

Over the next six weeks Montgomery began to stockpile vast quantities of weapons and ammunition to make sure that by the time he attacked he possessed overwhelming firepower. By the middle of October the Eighth Army totalled 195,000 men, 1,351 tanks and 1,900 pieces of artillery. This included large numbers of recently delivered Sherman M4 and Grant M3 tanks.

On 23rd October, 1942, Montgomery launched Operation Lightfoot with the largest artillery bombardment since the First World War. The attack came at the worst time for the Deutsches Afrika Korps as Erwin Rommel was on sick leave in Austria. His replacement, General George Stumme, died of a heart-attack the day after the 900 gun bombardment of the German lines. Stume was replaced by General Ritter von Thoma and Adolf Hitler phoned Rommel on 24th October: "Rommel, there is bad news from Africa. The situation looks very black. No one seems to know what has happened to Stumme. Do you feel well enough to go back and would you be willing to go?"

When Erwin Rommel returned he launched a counterattack at Kidney Depression (27th October). Montgomery now returned to the offensive and the 9th Australian Division created a salient in the enemy positions. Winston Churchill was disappointed by the Eighth Army's lack of success and accused Montgomery of fighting a "half-hearted" battle. Montgomery ignored these criticisms and instead made plans for a new offensive, Operation Supercharge.

On 1st November 1942, Montgomery launched an attack on the Deutsches Afrika Korps at Kidney Ridge. After initially resisting the attack, Rommel decided he no longer had the resources to hold his line and on the 3rd November he ordered his troops to withdraw. However, Adolf Hitler overruled his commander and the Germans were told to stand and fight.

The next day Montgomery ordered his men forward. The Eighth Army broke through the German lines and Erwin Rommel, in danger of being surrounded, was forced to retreat. Those soldiers on foot, including large numbers of Italian soldiers, were unable to move fast enough and were taken prisoner. For a while it looked like the the British would cut off Rommel's army but a sudden rain storm on 6th November turned the desert into a quagmire and the chasing army was slowed down. Rommel, now with only twenty tanks left, managed to get to Sollum on the Egypt-Libya border. On 8th November Rommel learned of the Allied invasion of Morocco and Algeria that was under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. His depleted army now faced a war on two front.

The British Army recaptured Tobruk on 12th November, 1942. During the El Alamein campaign half of Rommel's 100,000 man army was killed, wounded or taken prisoner. He also lost over 450 tanks and 1,000 guns. The British and Commonwealth forces suffered 13,500 casualties and 500 of their tanks were damaged. However, of these, 350 were repaired and were able to take part in future battles. Winston Churchill was convinced that the battle of El Alamein marked the turning point in the war and ordered the ringing of church bells all over Britain. As he said later: "Before Alamein we never had a victory, after Alamein we never had a defeat."

Montgomery and the Eighth Army continued to move forward and captured Tripoli on 23rd January, 1943. Rommel was unable to mount a successful counterattack and on 9th March he was replaced by Jurgen von Arnium as commander in chief of Axis forces in Africa. This change failed to halt the Allied advance in Africa and on 11th May, 1943, the Axis forces surrendered Tunisia.

At the Casablanca Conference held in January 1943, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to launch an invasion of Sicily. It was hoped that if the island was taken Italy might withdraw from the war. It was also argued that a successful invasion would force Adolf Hitler to send troops from the Eastern Front and help to relieve pressure on the Red Army in the Soviet Union.

The operation was placed under the supreme command of General Dwight D. General Harold Alexander was commander of ground operations and his 15th Army Group included Montgomery (8th Army) and General George Patton (US 7th Army). Admiral Andrew Cunningham was in charge of naval operations and Air Marshal Arthur Tedder was air commander.

On 10th July 1943, the 8th Army landed at five points on the south-eastern tip of the island and the US 7th Army at three beaches to the west of the British forces. The Allied troops met little opposition and Patton and his troops quickly took Gela, Licata and Vittoria. The British landings were also unopposed and Syracuse was taken on the the same day. This was followed by Palazzolo (11th July), Augusta (13th July) and Vizzini (14th July), whereas the US troops took the Biscani airfield and Niscemi (14th July).

General George Patton now moved to the west of the island and General Omar Bradley headed north and the German Army was forced to retreat to behind the Simeto River. Patton took Palermo on 22nd July cutting off 50,000 Italian troops in the west of the island. Patton now turned east along the northern coast of the island towards the port of Messina.

Meanwhile Montgomery and the 8th Army were being held up by German forces under Field Marshal Albrecht Kesselring. The Allies carried out several amphibious assaults attempted to cut off the Germans but they were unable to stop the evacuation across the Messina Straits to the Italian mainland. This included 40,000 German and 60,000 Italian troops, as well as 10,000 German vehicles and 47 tanks.

On 17th August 1943, General George Patton and his troops marched into Messina. The capture of Sicily made it possible to clear the way for Allied shipping in the Mediterranean. It also helped to undermine the power of Benito Mussolini and Victor Emmanuel III forced him to resign.

Montgomery, as commander of the 8th Army, led the invasion of Italy on 3rd September, 1943. When he landed at Reggio he experienced little resistance and later that day British warships landed the 1st Parachute Division at Taranto. Six days later the US 6th Corps arrived at Salerno. These troops faced a heavy bombardment from German troops and the beachhead was not secured until 20th September.

The German Army fought ferociously in southern Italy and the Allied armies made only slow progress as the moved north towards Rome. The 5th Army took Naples on 1st October and later that day the 8th Army captured the Foggia airfields.

In December 1943, Montgomery was appointed head of the 2nd Army and commander of all ground forces in the proposed invasion of Europe. Montgomery believed he was better qualified than General Dwight Eisenhower to have been given overall control of Operation Overlord. However, as the United States provided most of the men, material and logistical support, Winston Churchill was unable to get the decision changed.

Soon after the D-Day invasion Montgomery ptoposed Operation Market-Garden. The combined ground and airborne attack was designed to gain crossings over the large Dutch rivers, the Mass, Waal and Neder Rijn, to aid the armoured advance of the British 2nd Army. On 17th September 1944, three divisions of the 1st Allied Airbourne Corps landed in Holland. At the same time the British 30th Corps advanced from the Meuse-Escaut Canal. The bridges at Nijmegen and Eindhoven were taken but a German counter-attack created problems at Arnhem. Of the 9,000 Allied troops at Arnhem, only 2,000 were left when they were ordered to withdraw across the Rhine on 25th September.

After the failure of Operation Market-Garden Montgomery began to question the strategy developed by Eisenhower and as a result of comments made at a press conference he gave on 7th January, 1945, he was severely rebuked by Winston Churchill and General Alan Brooke, the head of the British Army.

Although he came close to being sacked Montgomery was allowed to remain in Europe and the end of the war was appointed Commander in Chief of the British Army of Occupation.

In 1946 Montgomery was granted a peerage and he took the title Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. He also served under General Dwight Eisenhower as deputy supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe.

Montgomery wrote several books on his war experiences includingEl Alamein to the River Sangro (1948), The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery (1958), An Approach to Sanity (1959), The Path to Leadership (1961), Normandy to the Baltic (1968) and A Consise History of Warfare (1972) .

Bernard Montgomery died on 25th March 1976.

In 1907 entrance to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, was by competitive examination. These two hurdles were negotiated without difficulty, and in the competitive examination my place was 72 out of some 170 vacancies. I was astonished to find later that a large number of my fellow cadets had found it necessary to leave school early and go to a crammer in order to ensure success in the competitive entrance examination.

In those days the Army did not attract the best brains in the country. Army life was expensive and it was not possible to live on one's pay. It was generally considered that a private income or allowance of at

least £100 a year was necessary, even in one of the so-called less fashionable County regiments. In the cavalry, and in the more fashionable infantry regiments, an income of up to £300 or £400 was demanded before one was accepted. These financial matters were not known to me when I decided on the Army as my career; nobody had explained them to me or to my parents. I learned them at Sandhurst when it became necessary to consider the regiment of one's choice, and this was not until about halfway through the course at the college.

The fees at Sandhurst were £150 a year for the son of a civilian and this included board and lodging, and all necessary expenses. But additional pocket money was essential and after some discussion my parents agreed to allow me £2 a month; tills was also to continue in the holidays, making my personal income £24 a year.

My life was saved that day by a soldier of my platoon. When it was dark the stretcher-bearers came to carry us in; the soldier was dead and I was in a bad way. I was taken back to the Advanced dressing Station; the doctors reckoned I could not live and, as the station was shortly to move, a grave was dug for me. But when the time came to move I was still alive; so I was put in a motor ambulance and sent back to a hospital.

The higher staffs were out of touch with the regimental officers and with the troops. This was often lacking.

The frightful casualties appalled me. The so-called "good fighting generals" of the war appeared to me to be those who had a complete disregard for human life. There were of course exceptions and I suppose one was Plumer; I had only once seen him and I had never spoken to him.

There is a story of Sir Douglas Haig's Chief of Staff who was to return to England after the heavy fighting during the winter of 1917-18 on the Passchendaele front. Before leaving he said he would like to visit the Passchendaele Ridge and see the country. When he saw the mud and the ghastly conditions under which the soldiers had fought and died, he was horrified and said: "Do you mean to tell me that the soldiers had to fight under such conditions?" And when he was told that it was so, he said: "Why was I never told about this before?"

I had the greatest admiration for his precision of statement and lucidity as a lecturer and also for what I, as an airman, considered his ability and breadth of view as a soldier. But he appeared to me to be regarded with grave suspicion for holding what I understood were heretical, though they seemed to me very reasonable, views about the conduct of future war. As a stranger in a strange land I kept my own counsel, but I left the course with a very definite impression that in Monty we certainly had a soldier who knew his onions, no matter what the "high-ups" in the army might officially think of the smell.

I always pride-myself that Monty, who is only too willing to learn anything new and learns at speed, got his first real understanding of air co-operation from me, during his very short term of office in Palestine in 1939. It was short, because he was taken desperately ill not long after his arrival in the country and left for home on a stretcher. Knowing that more serious war was close upon us, I thought with dismay that we

were to lose a man whom I considered to be one of our best generals. But whatever bug it was that bit Monty on that occasion - and it bit him so hard that we never expected him to reach home - he got the better of it.

I hadn't been there two hours when I was told that the divisional commander. General Montgomery, was in his car on the road and wanted to see me. Monty had obviously come up at once to cast an eye over his new divisional machine-gun commander. This was my first meeting with him. I saw a small, alert figure with piercing eyes sitting in the back of his car - the man under whom I was to fight all my battles during the war, and who was to have more influence on my life than anyone before or since.

I knew him well by reputation. He was probably the most discussed general in the British Army before the war, and-except with those who had served under him - not a popular figure. Regular armies in all countries tend to produce a standard type of officer, but Monty, somehow or other, didn't fit into the British

pattern. His methods of training and command were unorthodox, always a deadly crime in military circles. He was known to be ruthlessly efficient, but somewhat of a showman. I had been told sympathetically that I wouldn't last long under his command, and, to be honest, I would rather have served under any other divisional commander.

Auchinleck took me into his map-room and shut the door; we were alone. He asked me if I knew he was to go. I said that I did. He then explained to me his plan of operations; this was based on the fact that at all costs the Eighth Army was to be preserved "in being" and must not be destroyed in battle. If Rommel attacked in strength, as was expected soon, the Eighth Army would fall back on the Delta; if Cairo and the Delta could not be held, the army would retreat southwards up the Nile, and another possibility was a withdrawal to Palestine.

I listened in amazement to his exposition of his plans. I asked one or two questions, but I quickly saw that he resented any question directed to immediate changes of policy about which he had already made up his mind. So I remained silent.

General Montgomery is a very able, dynamic type of army commander. I personally think that the only thing he needs is a strong immediate commander. He loves the limelight but in seeking it, it is possible that he does so only because of the effect upon his own soldiers, who are certainly devoted to him. I have great confidence in him as a combat commander. He is intelligent, a good talker, and has a flare for showmanship. Like all other senior British officers, he has been most loyal - personally and officially - and has shown no disposition whatsoever to overstep the bounds imposed by allied unity of command.

I believe that the first and great principle of war is that you must first win your air battle before you fight your land and sea battle. If you examine the conduct of the campaign from Alamein through Tunisia, Sicily and Italy you will find I have never fought a land battle until the air battle has been won. We never had to bother about the enemy air, because we won the air battle first.

The second great principle is that Army plus Air has to be so knitted that the two together from one entity. If you do that, the resultant military effort will be so great that nothing will be able to stand against it.

The third principle is that the Air Force command. I hold that it is quite wrong for the soldier to want to exercise command over the air striking forces. The handling of an Air Force is a life-study, and therefore the air part must be kept under Air Force command.

The Desert Air Force and the Eighth Army are one. We do not understand the meaning of "army cooperation". When you are one entity you cannot cooperate. If you knit together the power of the Army on the land and the power of the Air in the sky, then nothing will stand against you and you will never lose a battle.

One of the most fascinating studies of the last war was the contrast between these two great commanders, Montgomery and Rommel, each in his own way an outstanding general, yet utterly and absolutely different in almost every respect. Rommel was probably the best armoured corps commander produced by either side. Utterly fearless, full of drive and initiative, he was always up in front where the battle was fiercest. If his opponent made a mistake, Rommel was on to it like a flash, and he never hesitated to take personal command of a regiment or battalion if he thought fit. On one occasion he was found lifting mines with his own hands. His popularity with the soldiers was immense, but a great many officers resented his interference with their commands.

All this reads like the copybook general but, in point of fact, this is not the best way to control a swift-moving, modern battle. Very often at a critical moment no one could find Rommel, because he was conducting personally some battalion attack. He tended to become so involved in some minor action that he failed to appreciate the general picture of the battlefield.

Monty was not such a dashing, romantic figure as his opponent; nor would you find him leading a forlorn hope in person, for the simple reason that if he was in command forlorn hopes did not occur. He had an extraordinary capacity for putting his finger straight on the essentials of any problem, and of being able to explain them simply and clearly. He planned all his battles most carefully - and then put them out of his mind every night. I believe he was awakened in the night only half a dozen times during the whole war.

Their handling of the battle of Alam Haifa makes the contrast clear. Having made the best possible plan to win the battle, yet at the same time to husband his resources, Monty dismissed Alam Haifa entirely from his mind and concentrated on the next one.

While Rommel was leading his troops in person against strongly-held defensive positions on the Alam Halfa ridge, Montgomery was planning the battle of Alamein. That was the difference between the two.

The Eighth Army viewed the arrival of a new commander with some scepticism. We did not have much faith in generals in the summer of 1942. Montgomery was on trial, and he knew it. He was a brilliant exponent of the art of leadership, and understood soldiers' psychology. So, his showmanship was a means to an end. Hitherto, the army commander had been a remote figure; some might not even know his name, but all had heard of Rommel! Montgomery intended not only to win the battle, but to win over his army. Nothing succeeds like success.

Much has been written about the remarkable effect Montgomery had on the troops, his appearance in peculiar hats, and so on. This was superficial. We judged him on results and his manner of achievement. Many of the troops never saw him: our first encounter was months later at Tripoli. Yet the signs of a new grip on affairs was palpable, as Churchill noticed. There was the first of those special messages to the troops. These were printed on sheets, some 11 inches by 8 inches, and were widely circulated. The first gave the gist of the famous address to the staff. We were going to fight where we stood. There would be no withdrawal, no surrender. We had to do our duty so long as we had breath in our bodies.

Eisenhower complained that Dempsey was leaving all the fighting to the Americans. His attention was drawn to my basic strategy, i.e. to fight hard on my left and draw Germans on to that flank whilst I pushed with my right. It was pointed out that he had approved this strategy and that it was being carried out; the bulk of the German armour had continuously been kept on the British front. Eisenhower could not refute these arguments. He then asked why it was we could not launch major offensives on each army front simultaneously - as the Russians did. It was pointed out to him that the German density in Normandy was about 2.5 times that of the Russian front, and our superiority in strength was only in the nature of some 25 per cent as compared to the 300 per cent Russian superiority on the eastern front. We clearly were not in a position to launch an all-out offensive along the whole front; such a procedure would be exactly what the Germans would like and would not be in accord with our agreed strategy. We had already (on the 25th July) launched the break-out operation on the right flank. It was an all-out offensive; it was gathering momentum rapidly. The British Second Army was fighting to keep the Germans occupied on the left flank. Our strategy was at last about to reap its full reward. What was the trouble?

I thought he (Montgomery) was very cautious, considering his immensely superior strength, but he is the only Field-Marshal in this war who won all his battles. In modem mobile warfare the tactics are not the main thing. The decisive factor is the organization of one's resources to maintain the momentum.

I would not class Ike as a great soldier in the true sense of the word. He might have become one if he had ever the experience of exercising direct command of a division, corps, and army - which unfortunately for him did not come his way. But he was a great Supreme Commander - a military statesman. I know of no other person who could have welded the allied forces into such a fine fighting machine in the way he did, and kept a balance among the many conflicting and disturbing elements which threatened at times to wreck the ship.

Where does his strength lie? He has a good brain and is very intelligent. But his real strength lies in his human qualities; he is a very great human being. He has the power of drawing the hearts of men towards him as a magnet attracts the bits of metal. He merely has to smile at you, and you trust him at once. He is the very incarnation of sincerity. He has great common sense. People and nations gave him their confidence.

Operation Market Garden was duly launched on the 17th September 1944. It has been described by many writers. I will not go over it all again. We did not, as everyone knows, capture that final bridgehead north of Arnhem. As a result we could not position the Second Army north of the Neder Rijn at Arnem, and thus place it in a suitable position to be able to develop operations against the north face of the Ruhr. But the possession of the crossings over the Meuse at Grave, and over the Lower Rhine (or Waal as it is called in Holland) at Nijmegen, were to prove of immense value later on; we had liberated a large part of Holland; we had the stepping stone we needed for the successful battles of the Rhineland that were to follow. Without these successes we would not have been able to cross the Rhine in strength in March 1945 - but we did not get our final bridgehead, and that must be admitted.

There were many reasons why we did not gain complete success at Arnhem. The following in my view were the main ones.

First. The operation was not regarded at Supreme Headquarters as the spearhead of a major Allied movement on the northern flank designed to isolate, and finally to occupy, the Ruhr - the one objective in the West which the Germans could not afford to lose. There is no doubt in my mind that Elsenhower always wanted to give priority to the northern thrust and to scale down the southern one. He ordered this to be done, and he thought that it was being done. It was not being done.

Second. The airborne forces at Arnhem were dropped too far away from the vital objective - the bridge. It was some hours before they reached it. I take the blame for this mistake. I should have ordered Second Army and 1st Airborne Corps to arrange that at least one complete Parachute Brigade was dropped quite close to the bridge, so that it could have been captured in a matter of minutes and its defence soundly organised with time to spare. I did not do so.

Third. The weather. This turned against us after the first day and we could not carry out much of the later airborne programme. But weather is always an uncertain factor, in war and in peace. This uncertainty we all accepted. It could only have been offset, and the operation made a certainty, by allotting additional resources to the project, so that it became an Allied and not merely a British project.

Fourth. The and S.S. Panzer Corps was refitting in the Arnhem. area, having limped up there after its mauling in Normandy. We knew it was there. But we were wrong in supposing that it could not fight effectively; its battle state was far beyond our expectation. It was quickly brought into action against the 1st Airborne Division.

Montgomery is a first-class trainer and leader of troops on the battlefield, with a fine tactical sense. He knows how to win the loyalty of his men and has a great flair for raising morale. He rightly boasted that, after the battle of Alamein, he never suffered a defeat; and the truth is that he never intended to run the risk of a defeat; that is one reason why he was cautious and reluctant to take chances. There is, however, much to be said for his attitude when we consider that, up to October 1942, we had not won a single major battle since the start of the war - except Archie Wavell's operations against the Italians and some local victories against the Axis forces in the Western Desert.

Yet I can't disguise that he was not an easy man to deal with; for example, administrative orders issued by my staff were sometimes objected to - in other words Monty wanted to have complete independence of command and to do what he liked. Still, no serious difficulties arose over these very minor disturbances, he was always reasonable when tackled.

On the afternoon of May 9, 1967, the field marshal, having just completed an exhausting tour of his front via helicopter, army vehicles and at least two hours on foot, invited us all to a quiet cup of tea on the beach. I think it was meant as a gesture to make up for the strain of the day, as well as for a momentary flash of dismay. He had spotted the steel rigging of a recently discovered oil well standing precisely on the spot of his command post and remarked acerbically that no one had the right to change the terrain of his battle as he recalled it and as it went down in history. I had tried to tell him that oil discoveries were vital to the Egyptian people, but I do not believe he was convinced.

On the beach, in front of the villa where he was staying, Montgomery appeared to make a conscious effort to show us another side of his personality, and started to hold forth. We were an audience of six - the four generals, Hamilton and myself - and he was now in top form. He spoke at length on his German adversary, saying: "Poor Rommel. He was starving for fuel for his tanks, and little did he know that entire fields of oil were sleeping beneath the layers of earth over which they were rolling." He recalled that Winston Churchill, in his zeal for a victory in the desert war, nearly, "drove his commanders around the bend with his pressures on them".

Eventually, the conversation turned to the idea of war. Montgomery outlined, very explicitly, his four essential prerequisites for going to war. In light of their bearing on the situation today, I would like to focus attention on them. He said that there must exist:

a) A clear objective that is desirable to realise nationally.

b) The means and the will to realise this objective militarily.

c) The ability to ground the recourse to force legally.

d) The ability to defend that course of action at home and abroad, morally.

I was struck to have heard these four points from a professional soldier, and replied that 50 per cent of the factors he mentioned could be said to concern strategy and 50 per cent ethics.

That, Monty answered, was because, "Victory in war requires, even more than arms, that the people who are making war believe in what they are doing to the degree that they will be prepared to sacrifice themselves and that others accept its legal and moral legitimacy to the extent that will guarantee their support."


George Patton vs. Montgomery: Who Was the Better World War II General?

Key Point: The rivalry between General George S. Patton, Jr. and Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery became a significant obstacle in Allied cooperation.

The most contentious of command rivalries during World War II involved General George S. Patton, Jr., of the U.S. Army and British Army Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery. Their squabbles, in the field and in the press of the day, have been recounted many times in books and on the silver screen. These were two egocentric leaders whose command decisions shaped the outcome of the war, for better or worse. Those who admire them offer continuing praise. Critics often see them as driven by the need for personal glory, at times placing themselves above the mission.

Patton’s Lust for Fame

A Californian by birth, Patton had ties to the Old South. His grandfather, a Confederate colonel, was killed in action at the Third Battle of Winchester in 1864. Patton graduated 46th in the Class of 1909 at the U.S. Military Academy, finished fifth in the modern pentathlon in the 1912 Olympic Games, and was an early advocate of the tank in the U.S. Army. Wounded in combat during World War I, he became fast friends with Dwight Eisenhower in the 1930s. During World War II, Patton whipped the U.S. II Corps into shape in North Africa and led Seventh Army during the Sicily Campaign, racing up the coast to the city of Palermo and then to Messina ahead of Montgomery.

All the while, Patton sought personal fame. He yearned to be hailed as the conquering hero, and at times he placed the lives of his men at risk in the effort to grab newspaper headlines. Patton possessed a legendary temper and could not tolerate behavior he perceived as cowardly. In two separate incidents in Sicily, he slapped soldiers suffering from combat fatigue and was relegated to the “bench” during planning for the D-Day landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944.

Undoubtedly, Patton’s long friendship with Eisenhower helped to salvage his career. The impetuous, hard-driving commander did achieve the glory he craved while leading Third Army, dashing across France, and coming to the rescue of soldiers encircled at Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge. However, when his supply of gasoline was cut off in favor of Montgomery’s drive to the north, Patton seethed with rage. Ironically, the daring battlefield commander died at the age of 60 in December 1945, of complications from injuries suffered in a car accident. Nevertheless, he had achieved the fame he sought so long, and it was only magnified after his death.

Montgomery: Just As Egocentric?

Montgomery, a 1908 graduate of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, was wounded twice during World War I and commanded the 3rd Infantry Division during the Battle of France in 1940. His moment of glory arrived during the Battle of El Alamein in October 1942. Montgomery had assumed command of the Eighth Army in August and presided over a lengthy resupply effort and the augmentation of his forces to achieve numerical superiority over the Germans and Italians. Eventually, the Eighth Army drove the enemy westward toward defeat in the spring of 1943.

Prior to the invasion of Sicily, Montgomery used his influence to have the plan altered to give Eighth Army the primary objective of Messina, reducing Patton’s command to a supporting role. Patton never forgot the slight, the first of several – either real or imagined. Montgomery rose to command Allied ground troops during the Normandy invasion and later 21st Army Group. He continually boasted, criticized others, and made demands of Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied commander in Europe.

Critical of Eisenhower’s broad front strategy, Montgomery clamored for more men and supplies. When Eisenhower relented to Montgomery’s call for a combined ground and airborne offensive in Holland that could end the war by Christmas 1944, the result was the disastrous Operation Market-Garden.

At times, Montgomery’s progress was painfully slow in northern Europe. However, he proved himself an effective leader of men, although he was just as famous for a pronounced lack of tact and decorum. He eventually became Chief of the Imperial General Staff and Deputy Supreme Commander of NATO. He died in 1976 at the age of 88.

Patton and Montgomery achieved their fame and glory however, their motivation and performance remain heated topics of discussion.


Bernard Montgomery

He saw action in the First World War, where he was seriously wounded. During the Second World War he commanded the Eighth Army from August 1942 in the Western Desert until the final Allied victory in Tunisia. This command included the Battle of El Alamein, a turning point in the Western Desert Campaign. He subsequently commanded the Eighth Army in Sicily and Italy.

He was in command of all Allied ground forces during Operation Overlord from the initial landings until after the Battle of Normandy. He then continued in command of the 21st Army Group for the rest of the campaign in North West Europe. As such he was the principal field commander for the failed airborne attempt to bridge the Rhine at Arnhem and the Allied Rhine crossing. On 4 May 1945 he took the German surrender at Lüneburg Heath in northern Germany. After the war he became Commander-in-Chief of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) in Germany and then Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

Brilliant World War II field marshal. Great Britain's most famous commander of World War II, Bernard Montgomery would end the war with the rank of Field Marshall. Montgomery's most famous action came in 1942, when he led the British Eighth Army in expelling General Erwin Rommel and the German Afrika Corps out of North Africa. He also led the British forces during the Normandy Invasion, but received a lot of criticism for his slowness in taking the French town of Caen. Montgomery also blundered Operation Market-Garden, the attempt to establish an allied bridge-head across the Rhine River. Montgomery claimed to have won the Battle of the Bulge (much to the Americans' disbelief), but in reality, he had little or nothing to do with the battle at all. He died in 1976.


El Alamein

In 1942, Prime Minister Winston Churchill appointed Montgomery commander of the 8th Army in the Western Desert. Montgomery rapidly restored the army's flagging morale and ensured his men were properly supplied. For nearly two months, he continued to train and re-equip his soldiers.

Montgomery effectively organised the defence of El Alamein against the German forces led by General Erwin Rommel. He countered both Italian and German attacks, before delivering the Allies their first major land victory of the war at the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942.

This was a turning point in the North African campaign and indeed the Second World War.

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British infantry advancing at El Alamein, 1942

Montgomery also played a crucial role in the Allied invasions of Sicily and then Salerno in Italy during 1943. This was in spite of disagreements with US Generals Patton and Bradley, who both viewed his previous successes jealously.

Montgomery's rivalry with Rommel was so fierce that he even named his pet spaniel after him. Monty also had another dog, a fox terrier named Hitler.

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Montgomery explaining his plans to King George VI, 1944

Montgomery explaining his plans to King George VI, 1944


Between wars

In the years between World War I and World War II, Montgomery served in a number of locations around the world, rising steadily through the ranks of the army. After serving with the occupation forces in Germany, Montgomery attended the army's Staff College at Camberley, then spent some years in Ireland. In 1926 he became an instructor at the Staff College, and in 1929 he was assigned to head the committee to rewrite the army's manual on infantry training. Montgomery ruffled some feathers when he ignored the other committee members' opinions and wrote the manual himself.

When he was thirty-nine years old, Montgomery shed his bachelor status and married Betty Carver, the widow of an officer who had died in World War I. The marriage was happy and produced a son, David, born in 1928. After ten years, however, Betty died from an insect bite. Montgomery was devastated by her death, but reacted by throwing himself even more deeply into his work.


Contents

Montgomery was born in Kennington, Surrey, in 1887, the fourth child of nine, to an Anglo-Irish Church of Ireland minister, The Reverend Henry Montgomery, and his wife, Maud (née Farrar). [11] [12] The Montgomerys, an 'Ascendancy' gentry family, were the County Donegal branch of the Clan Montgomery. Henry Montgomery, at that time Vicar of St Mark's Church, Kennington, was the second son of Sir Robert Montgomery, a native of Inishowen in County Donegal in Ulster, [13] the noted colonial administrator in British India, who died a month after his grandson's birth. [14] He was probably a descendant of Colonel Alexander Montgomery (1686–1729). Bernard's mother, Maud, was the daughter of The V. Rev. Frederic William Canon Farrar, the famous preacher, and was eighteen years younger than her husband. [11]

After the death of Sir Robert Montgomery, Henry inherited the Montgomery ancestral estate of New Park in Moville in Inishowen in Ulster. There was still £13,000 to pay on a mortgage, a large debt in the 1880s (equivalent to £1,456,259 in 2019). [15] , and Henry was at the time still only an Anglican vicar. Despite selling off all the farms that were at Ballynally, "there was barely enough to keep up New Park and pay for the blasted summer holiday" (i.e., at New Park). [16]

It was a financial relief of some magnitude when, in 1889, Henry was made Bishop of Tasmania, then still a British colony and Bernard spent his formative years there. Bishop Montgomery considered it his duty to spend as much time as possible in the rural areas of Tasmania and was away for up to six months at a time. While he was away, his wife, still in her mid-twenties, gave her children "constant" beatings, [17] then ignored them most of the time as she performed the public duties of the bishop's wife. Of Bernard's siblings, Sibyl died prematurely in Tasmania, and Harold, Donald and Una all emigrated. [18] Maud Montgomery took little active interest in the education of her young children other than to have them taught by tutors brought from Britain. The loveless environment made Bernard something of a bully, as he himself recalled, "I was a dreadful little boy. I don't suppose anybody would put up with my sort of behaviour these days." [19] Later in life Montgomery refused to allow his son David to have anything to do with his grandmother, and refused to attend her funeral in 1949. [20]

The family returned to England once for a Lambeth Conference in 1897, and Bernard and his brother Harold were educated for a term at The King's School, Canterbury. [21] In 1901, Bishop Montgomery became secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and the family returned to London. Montgomery attended St Paul's School and then the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, from which he was almost expelled for rowdiness and violence. [22] On graduation in September 1908 he was commissioned into the 1st Battalion the Royal Warwickshire Regiment as a second lieutenant, [23] and first saw overseas service later that year in India. [22] He was promoted to lieutenant in 1910, [24] and in 1912 became adjutant of the 1st Battalion of his regiment at Shorncliffe Army Camp. [22]

The Great War began in August 1914 and Montgomery moved to France with his battalion that month, which was at the time part of the 10th Brigade of the 4th Division. [22] He saw action at the Battle of Le Cateau that month and during the retreat from Mons. [22] At Méteren, near the Belgian border at Bailleul on 13 October 1914, during an Allied counter-offensive, he was shot through the right lung by a sniper. [22] Montgomery was hit once more, in the knee. [20] He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for gallant leadership: the citation for this award, published in the London Gazette in December 1914 reads: "Conspicuous gallant leading on 13th October, when he turned the enemy out of their trenches with the bayonet. He was severely wounded." [25]

After recovering in early 1915, he was appointed brigade major, [26] first of the 112th Brigade, and then with 104th Brigade training in Lancashire. [27] He returned to the Western Front in early 1916 as a general staff officer in the 33rd Division and took part in the Battle of Arras in April–May 1917. [27] He became a general staff officer with IX Corps, part of General Sir Herbert Plumer's Second Army, in July 1917. [27]

Montgomery served at the Battle of Passchendaele in late 1917 before finishing the war as GSO1 (effectively chief of staff) of the 47th (2nd London) Division, [27] with the temporary rank of lieutenant colonel. [28] A photograph from October 1918, reproduced in many biographies, shows the then unknown Lieutenant Colonel Montgomery standing in front of Winston Churchill (then the Minister of Munitions) at the parade following the liberation of Lille. [29]

1920s Edit

After the First World War Montgomery commanded the 17th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, [30] a battalion in the British Army of the Rhine, before reverting to his substantive rank of captain (brevet major) in November 1919. [31] He had not at first been selected for the Staff College in Camberley, Surrey (his only hope of ever achieving high command). But at a tennis party in Cologne, he was able to persuade the Commander-in-chief (C-in-C) of the British Army of Occupation, Field Marshal Sir William Robertson, to add his name to the list. [32]

After graduating from the Staff College, he was appointed brigade major in the 17th Infantry Brigade in January 1921. [33] The brigade was stationed in County Cork, Ireland, carrying out counter-insurgency operations during the final stages of the Irish War of Independence. [27]

Montgomery came to the conclusion that the conflict could not be won without harsh measures, and that self-government for Ireland was the only feasible solution in 1923, after the establishment of the Irish Free State and during the Irish Civil War, Montgomery wrote to Colonel Arthur Ernest Percival of the Essex Regiment:

Personally, my whole attention was given to defeating the rebels but it never bothered me a bit how many houses were burnt. I think I regarded all civilians as 'Shinners' and I never had any dealings with any of them. My own view is that to win a war of this sort, you must be ruthless. Oliver Cromwell, or the Germans, would have settled it in a very short time. Nowadays public opinion precludes such methods, the nation would never allow it, and the politicians would lose their jobs if they sanctioned it. That being so, I consider that Lloyd George was right in what he did, if we had gone on we could probably have squashed the rebellion as a temporary measure, but it would have broken out again like an ulcer the moment we removed the troops. I think the rebels would probably [have] refused battles, and hidden their arms etc. until we had gone. [34]

In May 1923, Montgomery was posted to the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division, a Territorial Army (TA) formation. [27] He returned to the 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1925 as a company commander [27] and was promoted to major in July 1925. [35] From January 1926 to January 1929 he served as Deputy Assistant Adjutant General at the Staff College, Camberley, in the temporary rank of lieutenant colonel. [36]

Marriage and family Edit

In 1925, in his first known courtship of a woman, Montgomery, then in his late thirties, proposed to a 17-year-old girl, Miss Betty Anderson. His approach included drawing diagrams in the sand of how he would deploy his tanks and infantry in a future war, a contingency which seemed very remote at that time. She respected his ambition and single-mindedness, but declined his proposal of marriage. [37]

In 1927, he met and married Elizabeth (Betty) Carver, née Hobart. [27] She was the sister of future Second World War commander Major General Sir Percy Hobart. [27] Betty Carver had two sons in their early teens, John and Dick, from her first marriage to Oswald Carver. Dick Carver later wrote that it had been "a very brave thing" for Montgomery to take on a widow with two children. [38] Montgomery's son, David, was born in August 1928. [27]

While on holiday in Burnham-on-Sea in 1937, Betty suffered an insect bite which became infected, and she died in her husband's arms from septicaemia following amputation of her leg. [27] The loss devastated Montgomery, who was then serving as a brigadier, but he insisted on throwing himself back into his work immediately after the funeral. [20] Montgomery's marriage had been extremely happy. Much of his correspondence with his wife was destroyed when his quarters at Portsmouth were bombed during the Second World War. [39] After Montgomery's death, John Carver wrote that his mother had arguably done the country a favour by keeping his personal oddities—his extreme single-mindedness, and his intolerance of and suspicion of the motives of others—within reasonable bounds long enough for him to have a chance of attaining high command. [40]

Both of Montgomery's stepsons became army officers in the 1930s (both were serving in India at the time of their mother's death), and both served in the Second World War, each eventually attaining the rank of colonel. [41] While serving as a GSO2 [42] with Eighth Army, Dick Carver was sent forward during the pursuit after El Alamein to help identify a new site for Eighth Army HQ. He was taken prisoner at Mersa Matruh on 7 November 1942. [43] Montgomery wrote to his contacts in England asking that inquiries be made via the Red Cross as to where his stepson was being held, and that parcels be sent to him. [44] Like many British POWs, the most famous being General Richard O'Connor, Dick Carver escaped in September 1943 during the brief hiatus between Italy's departure from the war and the German seizure of the country. He eventually reached British lines on 5 December 1943, to the delight of his stepfather, who sent him home to Britain to recuperate. [45]

1930s Edit

In January 1929 Montgomery was promoted to brevet lieutenant colonel. [46] That month he returned to the 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment again, as Commander of Headquarters Company he went to the War Office to help write the Infantry Training Manual in mid-1929. [27] In 1931 Montgomery was promoted to substantive lieutenant colonel [47] and became the Commanding officer (CO) of the 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment and saw service in Palestine and British India. [27] He was promoted to colonel in June 1934 (seniority from January 1932). [48] He attended and was then recommended to become an instructor at the Indian Army Staff College (now the Pakistan Army Staff College) in Quetta, British India. [49]

On completion of his tour of duty in India, Montgomery returned to Britain in June 1937 [50] where he took command of the 9th Infantry Brigade with the temporary rank of brigadier. [51] His wife died that year. [27]

In 1938, he organised an amphibious combined operations landing exercise that impressed the new C-in-C of Southern Command, General Sir Archibald Percival Wavell. He was promoted to major general on 14 October 1938 [52] and took command of the 8th Infantry Division [53] in the British mandate of Palestine. [27] In Palestine, Montgomery was involved in suppressing an Arab revolt which had broken out over opposition to Jewish emigration. [54] He returned in July 1939 to Britain, suffering a serious illness on the way, to command the 3rd (Iron) Infantry Division. [27] Reporting the suppression of the revolt in April 1939, Montgomery wrote, "I shall be sorry to leave Palestine in many ways, as I have enjoyed the war out here". [20]

British Expeditionary Force Edit

Retreat to Dunkirk and evacuation Edit

Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939. The 3rd Division was deployed to Belgium as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). During this time, Montgomery faced serious trouble from his military superiors and the clergy for his frank attitude regarding the sexual health of his soldiers, but was defended from dismissal by his superior Alan Brooke, commander of II Corps. [55] Montgomery's training paid off when the Germans began their invasion of the Low Countries on 10 May 1940 and the 3rd Division advanced to the River Dijle and then withdrew to Dunkirk with great professionalism, entering the Dunkirk perimeter in a famous night-time march that placed his forces on the left flank, which had been left exposed by the Belgian surrender. [56] Early in the campaign, when the 3rd Division was near Leuven, they were fired on by members of the Belgian 10th Infantry Division who mistook them for German paratroopers Montgomery resolved the incident by approaching them and offering to place himself under Belgian command. [57] The 3rd Division returned to Britain intact with minimal casualties. During Operation Dynamo—the evacuation of 330,000 BEF and French troops to Britain—Montgomery assumed command of the II Corps. [58]

On his return Montgomery antagonised the War Office with trenchant criticisms of the command of the BEF [20] and was briefly relegated back to divisional command of 3rd Division. 3rd Division was at that time the only fully equipped division in Britain. [59] He was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath. [60]

Montgomery was ordered to make ready his 3rd Division to invade the neutral Portuguese Azores. [59] Models of the islands were prepared and detailed plans worked out for the invasion. [59] The invasion plans did not go ahead and plans switched to invading Cape Verde island also belonging to neutral Portugal. [61] These invasion plans also did not go ahead. Montgomery was then ordered to prepare plans for the invasion of neutral Ireland and to seize Cork, Cobh and Cork harbour. [61] These invasion plans, like those of the Portuguese islands, also did not go ahead and in July 1940, Montgomery was appointed acting lieutenant-general, [62] and placed in command of V Corps, responsible for the defence of Hampshire and Dorset, and started a long-running feud with the new Commander-in-chief (C-in-C) of Southern Command, Lieutenant General Claude Auchinleck. [20]

In April 1941, he became commander of XII Corps responsible for the defence of Kent. [58] During this period he instituted a regime of continuous training and insisted on high levels of physical fitness for both officers and other ranks. He was ruthless in sacking officers he considered would be unfit for command in action. [63] Promoted to temporary lieutenant-general in July, [64] in December Montgomery was given command of South-Eastern Command [65] overseeing the defence of Kent, Sussex and Surrey. [63]

He renamed his command the South-Eastern Army to promote offensive spirit. During this time he further developed and rehearsed his ideas and trained his soldiers, culminating in Exercise Tiger in May 1942, a combined forces exercise involving 100,000 troops. [66]

North Africa and Italy Edit

Montgomery's early command Edit

In 1942, a new field commander was required in the Middle East, where Auchinleck was fulfilling both the role of Commander-in-chief (C-in-C) of Middle East Command and commander Eighth Army. He had stabilised the Allied position at the First Battle of El Alamein, but after a visit in August 1942, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, replaced him as C-in-C with General Sir Harold Alexander and William Gott as commander of the Eighth Army in the Western Desert. However, after Gott was killed flying back to Cairo, Churchill was persuaded by Brooke, who by this time was Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), to appoint Montgomery, who had only just been nominated to replace Alexander, as commander of the British First Army for Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Africa. [67]

A story, probably apocryphal but popular at the time, is that the appointment caused Montgomery to remark that "After having an easy war, things have now got much more difficult." A colleague is supposed to have told him to cheer up—at which point Montgomery said "I'm not talking about me, I'm talking about Rommel!" [68]

Montgomery's assumption of command transformed the fighting spirit and abilities of the Eighth Army. [69] Taking command on 13 August 1942, he immediately became a whirlwind of activity. He ordered the creation of the X Corps, which contained all armoured divisions, to fight alongside his XXX Corps, which was all infantry divisions. This arrangement differed from the German Panzer Corps: one of Rommel's Panzer Corps combined infantry, armour and artillery units under one corps commander. The only common commander for Montgomery's all-infantry and all-armour corps was the Eighth Army Commander himself. Correlli Barnett commented that Montgomery's solution ". was in every way opposite to Auchinleck's and in every way wrong, for it carried the existing dangerous separatism still further." [70] Montgomery reinforced the 30 miles (48 km) long front line at El Alamein, something that would take two months to accomplish. He asked Alexander to send him two new British divisions (51st Highland and 44th Home Counties) that were then arriving in Egypt and were scheduled to be deployed in defence of the Nile Delta. He moved his field HQ to Burg al Arab, close to the Air Force command post in order to better coordinate combined operations. [69]

Montgomery was determined that the army, navy and air forces should fight their battles in a unified, focused manner according to a detailed plan. He ordered immediate reinforcement of the vital heights of Alam Halfa, just behind his own lines, expecting the German commander, Erwin Rommel, to attack with the heights as his objective, something that Rommel soon did. Montgomery ordered all contingency plans for retreat to be destroyed. "I have cancelled the plan for withdrawal. If we are attacked, then there will be no retreat. If we cannot stay here alive, then we will stay here dead", [71] he told his officers at the first meeting he held with them in the desert, though, in fact, Auchinleck had no plans to withdraw from the strong defensive position he had chosen and established at El Alamein. [72]

Montgomery made a great effort to appear before troops as often as possible, frequently visiting various units and making himself known to the men, often arranging for cigarettes to be distributed. Although he still wore a standard British officer's cap on arrival in the desert, he briefly wore an Australian broad-brimmed hat before switching to wearing the black beret (with the badge of the Royal Tank Regiment and the British General Officer's badge) for which he became notable. The black beret was offered to him by Jim Fraser while the latter was driving him on an inspection tour. [73] Both Brooke and Alexander were astonished by the transformation in atmosphere when they visited on 19 August, less than a week after Montgomery had taken command. [71]

First battles with Rommel Edit

Rommel attempted to turn the left flank of the Eighth Army at the Battle of Alam el Halfa from 31 August 1942. The German/Italian armoured corps infantry attack was stopped in very heavy fighting. Rommel's forces had to withdraw urgently lest their retreat through the British minefields be cut off. [74] Montgomery was criticised for not counter-attacking the retreating forces immediately, but he felt strongly that his methodical build-up of British forces was not yet ready. A hasty counter-attack risked ruining his strategy for an offensive on his own terms in late October, planning for which had begun soon after he took command. [75] He was confirmed in the permanent rank of lieutenant-general in mid-October. [76]

The conquest of Libya was essential for airfields to support Malta and to threaten the rear of Axis forces opposing Operation Torch. Montgomery prepared meticulously for the new offensive after convincing Churchill that the time was not being wasted. (Churchill sent a telegram to Alexander on 23 September 1942 which began, "We are in your hands and of course a victorious battle makes amends for much delay." [77] ) He was determined not to fight until he thought there had been sufficient preparation for a decisive victory, and put into action his beliefs with the gathering of resources, detailed planning, the training of troops—especially in clearing minefields and fighting at night [78] —and in the use of 252 [79] of the latest American-built Sherman tanks, 90 M7 Priest self-propelled howitzers, and making a personal visit to every unit involved in the offensive. By the time the offensive was ready in late October, Eighth Army had 231,000 men on its ration strength. [80]

El Alamein Edit

The Second Battle of El Alamein began on 23 October 1942, and ended 12 days later with one of the first large-scale, decisive Allied land victories of the war. Montgomery correctly predicted both the length of the battle and the number of casualties (13,500). [81]

Historian Corelli Barnett has pointed out that the rain also fell on the Germans, and that the weather is therefore an inadequate explanation for the failure to exploit the breakthrough, but nevertheless the Battle of El Alamein had been a great success. Over 30,000 prisoners of war were taken, [82] including the German second-in-command, General von Thoma, as well as eight other general officers. [83] Rommel, having been in a hospital in Germany at the start of the battle, was forced to return on 25 October 1942 after Stumme—his replacement as German commander—died of a heart attack in the early hours of the battle. [84]

Tunisia Edit

Montgomery was advanced to KCB and promoted to full general. [85] He kept the initiative, applying superior strength when it suited him, forcing Rommel out of each successive defensive position. On 6 March 1943, Rommel's attack on the over-extended Eighth Army at Medenine (Operation Capri) with the largest concentration of German armour in North Africa was successfully repulsed. [86] At the Mareth Line, 20 to 27 March, when Montgomery encountered fiercer frontal opposition than he had anticipated, he switched his major effort into an outflanking inland pincer, backed by low-flying RAF fighter-bomber support. [87] For his role in North Africa he was awarded the Legion of Merit by the United States government in the rank of Chief Commander. [88]

Sicily Edit

The next major Allied attack was the Allied invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky). Montgomery considered the initial plans for the Allied invasion, which had been agreed in principle by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander Mediterranean, and General Alexander, the 15th Army Group commander, to be unworkable because of the dispersion of effort. He managed to have the plans recast to concentrate the Allied forces, having Lieutenant General George Patton's US Seventh Army land in the Gulf of Gela (on the Eighth Army's left flank, which landed around Syracuse in the south-east of Sicily) rather than near Palermo in the west and north of Sicily. [89] Inter-Allied tensions grew as the American commanders, Patton and Omar Bradley (then commanding US II Corps under Patton), took umbrage at what they saw as Montgomery's attitudes and boastfulness. [87] However, while all three were considered three of the greatest soldiers of their time, due to their competitiveness they were renowned for "squabbling like three schoolgirls" thanks to their "bitchiness", "whining to their superiors" and "showing off". [90]

Italian campaign Edit

During late 1943, Montgomery continued to command the Eighth Army during the landings on the mainland of Italy itself, beginning with Operation Baytown. [91] In conjunction with the Anglo-American landings at Salerno (near Naples) by Lieutenant General Mark Clark's US Fifth Army and seaborne landings by British paratroops in the heel of Italy (including the key port of Taranto, where they disembarked without resistance directly into the port), Montgomery led the Eighth Army up the toe of Italy. [91] Montgomery abhorred what he considered to be a lack of coordination, a dispersion of effort, a strategic muddle and a lack of opportunism in the Allied effort in Italy, and he said that he was glad to leave the "dog's breakfast" on 23 December 1943. [87]

Normandy Edit

Montgomery returned to Britain in January 1944. [92] He was assigned to command the 21st Army Group consisting of all Allied ground forces participating in Operation Overlord, codename for the Allied invasion of Normandy. Overall direction was assigned to the Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, American General Dwight D. Eisenhower. [91] Both Churchill and Eisenhower had found Montgomery difficult to work with in the past and wanted the position to go to the more affable General Sir Harold Alexander. [93] However Montgomery's patron, General Sir Alan Brooke, firmly argued that Montgomery was a much superior general to Alexander and ensured his appointment. [93] Without Brooke's support, Montgomery would have remained in Italy. [93] At St Paul's School on 7 April and 15 May Montgomery presented his strategy for the invasion. He envisaged a ninety-day battle, with all forces reaching the Seine. The campaign would pivot on an Allied-held Caen in the east of the Normandy bridgehead, with relatively static British and Canadian armies forming a shoulder to attract and defeat German counter-attacks, relieving the US armies who would move and seize the Cotentin Peninsula and Brittany, wheeling south and then east on the right forming a pincer. [87]

During the ten weeks of the Battle of Normandy, unfavourable autumnal weather conditions disrupted the Normandy landing areas. [87] Montgomery's initial plan was for the Anglo-Canadian troops under his command to break out immediately from their beachheads on the Calvados coast towards Caen with the aim of taking the city on either D Day or two days later. [94] Montgomery attempted to take Caen with the 3rd Infantry Division, 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division and the 3rd Canadian Division but was stopped from 6–8 June by 21st Panzer Division and 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, who hit the advancing Anglo-Canadian troops very hard. [95] Rommel followed up this success by ordering the 2nd Panzer Division to Caen while Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt asked for and received permission from Hitler to have the elite 1st Waffen SS Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler and 2nd Waffen SS Division Das Reich sent to Caen as well. [95] Montgomery thus had to face what Stephen Badsey called the "most formidable" of all the German divisions in France. [95] The 12th Waffen SS Division Hitlerjugend, as its name implies, was drawn entirely from the more fanatical elements of the Hitler Youth and commanded by the ruthless SS-Brigadeführer Kurt Meyer, aka "Panzer Meyer". [96]

The failure to take Caen immediately has been the source of an immense historiographical dispute with bitter nationalist overtones. [97] Broadly, there has been a "British school" which accepts Montgomery's post-war claim that he never intended to take Caen at once, and instead the Anglo-Canadian operations around Caen were a "holding operation" intended to attract the bulk of the German forces towards the Caen sector to allow the Americans to stage the "break out operation" on the left flank of the German positions, which was all part of Montgomery's "Master Plan" that he had conceived long before the Normandy campaign. [97] By contrast, the "American school" argued that Montgomery's initial "master plan" was for the 21st Army Group to take Caen at once and move his tank divisions into the plains south of Caen, to then stage a breakout that would lead the 21st Army Group into the plains of northern France and hence into Antwerp and finally the Ruhr. [98] Letters written by Eisenhower at the time of the battle make it clear that Eisenhower was expecting from Montgomery "the early capture of the important focal point of Caen". Later, when this plan had clearly failed, Eisenhower wrote that Montgomery had "evolved" the plan to have the US forces achieve the break-out instead. [99]

As the campaign progressed, Montgomery altered his initial plan for the invasion and continued the strategy of attracting and holding German counter-attacks in the area north of Caen rather than to the south, to allow the US First Army in the west to take Cherbourg. A memo summarising Montgomery's operations written by Eisenhower's chief of staff, General Walter Bedell Smith who met with Montgomery in late June 1944 says nothing about Montgomery conducting a "holding operation" in the Caen sector, and instead speaks of him seeking a "breakout" into the plains south of the Seine. [100] On 12 June, Montgomery ordered the 7th Armoured Division into an attack against the Panzer Lehr Division that made good progress at first but ended when the Panzer Lehr was joined by the 2nd Panzer Division. [101] At Villers Bocage on 14 June, the British lost twenty Cromwell tanks to five Tiger tanks led by SS Obersturmführer Michael Wittmann, in about five minutes. [101] Despite the setback at Villers Bocage, Montgomery was still optimistic as the Allies were landing more troops and supplies than they were losing in battle, and though the German lines were holding, the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS were suffering considerable attrition. [102] Air Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder complained that it was impossible to move fighter squadrons to France until Montgomery had captured some airfields, something he asserted that Montgomery appeared incapable of doing. [103] The first V-1 attacks on London, which started on 13 June, further increased the pressure on Montgomery from Whitehall to speed up his advance. [103]

On 18 June, Montgomery ordered Bradley to take Cherbourg while the British were to take Caen by 23 June. [103] In Operation Epsom, the British VII Corps commanded by Sir Richard O'Connor attempted to outflank Caen from the west by breaking through the dividing line between the Panzer Lehr and the 12th SS to take the strategic Hill 112. [104] Epsom began well with O'Connor's assault force (the British 15th Scottish Division) breaking through and with the 11th Armoured Division stopping the counter-attacks of the 12th SS Division. [104] General Friedrich Dollmann of the 7th Army had to commit the newly arrived II SS Corps to stop the British offensive. [104] Dollmann, fearing that Epsom would be a success, committed suicide and was replaced by SS Oberstegruppenführer Paul Hausser. O'Connor, at the cost of about 4,000 men, had won a salient 5 miles (8.0 km) deep and 2 miles (3.2 km) wide but placed the Germans into an unviable long-term position. [104] There was a strong sense of crisis in the Allied command, as the Allies had advanced only about 15 miles (24 km) inland, at a time when their plans called for them to have already taken Rennes, Alençon and St. Malo. [104] After Epsom, Montgomery had to tell General Harry Crerar that the activation of the First Canadian Army would have to wait as there was only room at present, in the Caen sector, for the newly arrived XII Corps under Lieutenant General Neil Ritchie, which caused some tension with Crerar, who was anxious to get into the field. [105] Epsom had forced further German forces into Caen but all through June and the first half of July Rommel, Rundstedt, and Hitler were engaged in planning for a great offensive to drive the British into the sea it was never launched and would have required the commitment of a large number of German forces to the Caen sector. [106]

It was only after several failed attempts to break out in the Caen sector that Montgomery devised what he later called his "master plan" of having the 21st Army Group hold the bulk of the German forces, thus allowing the Americans to break out. [107] The Canadian historians Terry Copp and Robert Vogel wrote about the dispute between the "American school" and "British school" after having suffered several setbacks in June 1944:

Montgomery drew what was the indisputably correct conclusion from these events. If the British and Canadians could continue to hold the bulk of the German armoured divisions on their front through a series of limited attacks, they could wear down the Germans and create the conditions for an American breakout on the right. This is what Montgomery proposed in his Directive of June 30th and, if he and his admirers had let the record speak for itself, there would be little debate about his conduct of the first stages of the Normandy campaign. Instead, Montgomery insisted that this Directive was a consistent part of a master plan that he had devised long before the invasion. Curiously, this view does a great disservice to 'Monty' for any rigid planning of operations before the German response was known would have been bad generalship indeed!" [108]

Hampered by stormy weather and the bocage terrain, Montgomery had to ensure that Rommel focused on the British in the east rather than the Americans in the west, who had to take the Cotentin Peninsula and Brittany before the Germans could be trapped by a general swing east. [109] Montgomery told General Sir Miles Dempsey, the commander of the 2nd British Army: "Go on hitting, drawing the German strength, especially some of the armour, onto yourself – so as to ease the way for Brad [Bradley]." [110] The Germans had deployed 12 divisions, of which six were Panzer divisions, against the British while deploying eight divisions, of which three were Panzer divisions, against the Americans. [110] By the middle of July Caen had not been taken, as Rommel continued to prioritise prevention of the break-out by British forces rather than the western territories being taken by the Americans. [111] This was broadly as Montgomery had planned, albeit not with the same speed as he outlined at St Paul's, although as the American historian Carlo D'Este pointed out the actual situation in Normandy was "vastly different" from what was envisioned at the St. Paul's conference, as only one of four goals outlined in May had been achieved by 10 July. [112]

On 7 July, Montgomery began Operation Charnwood with a carpet bombing offensive that turned much of the French countryside and the city of Caen into a wasteland. [113] The British and Canadians succeeded in advancing into northern Caen before the Germans, who used the ruins to their advantage and stopped the offensive. [114] On 10 July, Montgomery ordered Bradley to take Avranches, after which the 3rd US Army would be activated to drive towards Le Mans and Alençon. [115] On 14 July 1944, Montgomery wrote to his patron Brooke, saying he had chosen on a "real show down on the eastern flanks, and to loose a Corps of three armoured divisions in the open country about the Caen-Falaise road. The possibilities are immense with seven hundred tanks loosed to the South-east of Caen, and the armoured cars operating far ahead, anything can happen." [116] The French Resistance had launched Plan Violet in June 1944 to systematically destroy the telephone system of France, which forced the Germans to use their radios more and more to communicate, and as the code-breakers of Bletchley Park had broken many of the German codes, Montgomery had—via Ultra intelligence—a good idea of the German situation. [117] Montgomery thus knew German Army Group B had lost 96,400 men while receiving 5,200 replacements and the Panzer Lehr Division now based at St. Lô was down to only 40 tanks. [115] Montgomery later wrote that he knew he had the Normandy campaign won at this point as the Germans had almost no reserves while he had three armoured divisions in reserve. [118]

An American break-out was achieved with Operation Cobra and the encirclement of German forces in the Falaise pocket at the cost of British losses with the diversionary Operation Goodwood. [119] On the early morning of 18 July 1944, Operation Goodwood began with British heavy bombers beginning carpet bombing attacks that further devastated what was left of Caen and the surrounding countryside. [120] A British tank crewman from the Guards Armoured Division later recalled: "At 0500 hours a distant thunder in the air brought all the sleepy-eyed tank crews out of their blankets. 1,000 Lancasters were flying from the sea in groups of three or four at 3,000 feet (910 m). Ahead of them the pathfinders were scattering their flares and before long the first bombs were dropping". [121] A German tankman from the 21st Panzer Division at the receiving end of this bombardment remembered: "We saw little dots detach themselves from the planes, so many of them that the crazy thought occurred to us: are those leaflets. Among the thunder of the explosions, we could hear the wounded scream and the insane howling of men who had [been] driven mad". [122] The British bombing had badly smashed the German front-line units e.g., tanks were thrown up on the roofs of French farmhouses. Initially, the three British armoured divisions assigned to lead the offensive, the 7th, 11th and the Guards, made rapid progress and were soon approaching the Borguebus ridge, which dominated the landscape south of Caen, by noon. [123]

If the British could take the Borguebus Ridge, the way to the plains of northern France would be wide open, and potentially Paris could be taken, which explains the ferocity with which the Germans defended the ridge. One German officer, Lieutenant Baron von Rosen, recalled that to motivate a Luftwaffe officer commanding a battery of four 88 mm guns to fight against the British tanks, he had to hold his handgun to the officer's head "and asked him whether he would like to be killed immediately or get a high decoration. He decided for the latter". [124] The well dug-in 88 mm guns around the Borguebus Ridge began taking a toll on the British Sherman tanks, and the countryside was soon dotted with dozens of burning Shermans. [125] One British officer reported with worry: "I see palls of smoke and tanks brewing up with flames belching forth from their turrets. I see men climbing out, on fire like torches, rolling on the ground to try and douse the flames". [125] Despite Montgomery's orders to try to press on, fierce German counter-attacks stopped the British offensive. [125]

The objectives of Operation Goodwood were all achieved except the complete capture of the Bourgebus Ridge, which was only partially taken. The operation was a strategic Allied success in drawing in the last German reserves in Normandy towards the Caen sector away from the American sector, greatly assisting the American breakout in Operation Cobra. By the end of Goodwood on 25 July 1944, the Canadians had finally taken Caen while the British tanks had reached the plains south of Caen, giving Montgomery the "hinge" he had been seeking, while forcing the Germans to commit the last of their reserves to stop the Anglo-Canadian offensive. [126] Ultra decrypts indicated that the Germans now facing Bradley were seriously understrength, with Operation Cobra about to commence. [127] During Operation Goodwood, the British had 400 tanks knocked out, with many recovered returning to service. The casualties were 5,500 with 7 miles (11 km) of ground gained. [126] Bradley recognised Montgomery's plan to pin down German armour and allow US forces to break out:

The British and Canadian armies were to decoy the enemy reserves and draw them to their front on the extreme eastern edge of the Allied beachhead. Thus, while Monty taunted the enemy at Caen, we [the Americans] were to make our break on the long roundabout road to Paris. When reckoned in terms of national pride, this British decoy mission became a sacrificial one, for while we tramped around the outside flank, the British were to sit in place and pin down the Germans. Yet strategically it fitted into a logical division of labors, for it was towards Caen that the enemy reserves would race once the alarm was sounded. [128]

The long-running dispute over what Montgomery's "master plan" in Normandy actually was has led historians to differ greatly about the purpose of Goodwood. The British journalist Mark Urban wrote that the purpose of Goodwood was to draw German troops to their left flank to allow the Americans to break out on the right flank, arguing that Montgomery had to lie to his soldiers about the purpose of Goodwood, as the average British soldier would not have understood why they were being asked to create a diversion to allow the Americans to have the glory of staging the breakout with Operation Cobra. [126] By contrast, the American historian Stephen Power argued that Goodwood was intended to be the "breakout" offensive and not a "holding operation", writing: "It is unrealistic to assert that an operation which called for the use of 4,500 Allied aircraft, 700 artillery pieces and over 8,000 armored vehicles and trucks and that cost the British over 5,500 casualties was conceived and executed for so limited an objective". [129] Power noted that Goodwood and Cobra were supposed to take effect on the same day, 18 July 1944, but Cobra was cancelled owing to heavy rain in the American sector, and argued that both operations were meant to be breakout operations to trap the German armies in Normandy. American military writer Drew Middleton wrote that there is no doubt that Montgomery wanted Goodwood to provide a "shield" for Bradley, but at the same time Montgomery was clearly hoping for more than merely diverting German attention away from the American sector. [130] [131] British historian John Keegan pointed out that Montgomery made differing statements before Goodwood about the purpose of the operation. [132] Keegan wrote that Montgomery engaged in what he called a "hedging of his bets" when drafting his plans for Goodwood, with a plan for a "break out if the front collapsed, if not, sound documentary evidence that all he had intended in the first place was a battle of attrition". [133] Again Bradley confirmed Montgomery's plan and that the capture of Caen was only incidental to his mission, not critical. The American LIFE magazine quoted Bradley in 1951:

While Collins was hoisting his VII Corps flag over Cherbourg, Montgomery was spending his reputation in a bitter siege against the old university city of Caen. For three weeks he had rammed his troops against those panzer divisions he had deliberately drawn towards that city as part of our Allied strategy of diversion in the Normandy Campaign. Although Caen contained an important road junction that Montgomery would eventually need, for the moment the capture of that city was only incidental to his mission. For Monty's primary task was to attract German troops to the British front that we might more easily secure Cherbourg and get into position for the breakout. "While this diversion of Monty's was brilliantly achieved, he nevertheless left himself open to criticism by overemphasizing the importance of his thrust toward Caen. Had he limited himself simply to the containment without making Caen a symbol of it, he would have been credited with success instead of being charged, as he was, with failure. [134]

With Goodwood drawing the Wehrmacht towards the British sector, the First American Army enjoyed a two-to-one numerical superiority. General Omar Bradley accepted Montgomery's advice to begin the offensive by concentrating at one point instead of a "broad front" as Eisenhower would have preferred. [135]

Operation Goodwood almost cost Montgomery his job, as Eisenhower seriously considered sacking him and only chose not to do so because to sack the popular "Monty" would have caused such a political backlash in Britain against the Americans at a critical moment in the war that the resulting strains in the Atlantic alliance were not considered worth it. [136] Montgomery expressed his satisfaction at the results of Goodwood when calling the operation off. Eisenhower was under the impression that Goodwood was to be a break-out operation. Either there was a miscommunication between the two men or Eisenhower did not understand the strategy. Alan Brooke, chief of the British Imperial General Staff, wrote: "Ike knows nothing about strategy and is quite unsuited to the post of Supreme Commander. It is no wonder that Monty's real high ability is not always realised". [137] Bradley fully understood Montgomery's intentions. Both men would not give away to the press the true intentions of their strategy. [138]

Many American officers had found Montgomery a difficult man to work with, and after Goodwood, pressured Eisenhower to fire Montgomery. [126] Although the Eisenhower–Montgomery dispute is sometimes depicted in nationalist terms as being an Anglo-American struggle, it was the British Air Marshal Arthur Tedder who was pressing Eisenhower most strongly after Goodwood to fire Montgomery. [139] An American officer wrote in his diary that Tedder had come to see Eisenhower to "pursue his current favourite subject, the sacking of Monty". [140] With Tedder leading the "sack Monty" campaign, it encouraged Montgomery's American enemies to press Eisenhower to fire Montgomery. [140] Brooke was sufficiently worried about the "sack Monty" campaign to visit Montgomery at his Tactical Headquarters (TAC) in France and as he wrote in his diary "warned [Montgomery] of a tendency in the PM [Churchill] to listen to suggestions that Monty played for safety and was not prepared to take risks". [126] Brooke advised Montgomery to invite Churchill to Normandy, arguing that if the "sack Monty" campaign had won the Prime Minister over, then his career would be over, as having Churchill's backing would give Eisenhower the political "cover" to fire Montgomery. [140] On 20 July, Montgomery met Eisenhower and on 21 July, Churchill, at the TAC in France. [140] One of Montgomery's staff officers wrote afterwards that it was "common knowledge at Tac that Churchill had come to sack Monty". [140] No notes were taken at the Eisenhower–Montgomery and Churchill–Montgomery meetings, but Montgomery was able to persuade both men not to fire him. [135]

With the success of Cobra, which was soon followed by unleashing the 3rd American Army under the General George S. Patton, Eisenhower wrote to Montgomery: "Am delighted that your basic plan has begun brilliantly to unfold with Bradley's initial success". [141] The success of Cobra was aided by Operation Spring when the II Canadian Corps under General Guy Simonds (the only Canadian general whose skill Montgomery respected) began an offensive south of Caen that made little headway, but which the Germans regarded as the main offensive. [142] Once the 3rd American Army arrived, Bradley was promoted to take command of the newly created 12th Army Group consisting of 1st and 3rd American Armies. Following the American breakout, there followed the Battle of Falaise Gap, as the British, Canadian and Polish soldiers of 21st Army Group commanded by Montgomery advanced south, while the American and French soldiers of Bradley's 12th Army Group advanced north to encircle the German Army Group B at Falaise, as Montgomery waged what Urban called "a huge battle of annihilation" in August 1944. [141] Montgomery began his offensive into the Suisse Normande region with Operation Bluecoat with Sir Richard O'Connor's VIII Corps and Gerard Bucknall's XXX Corps heading south. [143] A dissatisfied Montgomery sacked Bucknall for being insufficiently aggressive and replaced him with General Brian Horrocks. [143] At the same time, Montgomery ordered Patton—whose Third Army was supposed to advance into Brittany—to instead capture Nantes, which was soon taken. [143]

Hitler waited too long to order his soldiers to retreat from Normandy, leading Montgomery to write: "He [Hitler] refused to face the only sound military course. As a result the Allies caused the enemy staggering losses in men and materials". [141] Knowing via Ultra that Hitler was not planning to retreat from Normandy, Montgomery, on 6 August 1944, ordered an envelopment operation against Army Group B—with the First Canadian Army under Harry Crerar to advance towards Falaise, the Second British Army under Miles Dempsey to advance towards Argentan, and the Third American Army under George S. Patton to advance to Alençon. [144] On 11 August, Montgomery changed his plan, with the Canadians to take Falaise and to meet the Americans at Argentan. [144] The First Canadian Army launched two operations, Operation Totalize on 7 August, which advanced only 9 miles (14 km) in four days in the face of fierce German resistance, and Operation Tractable on 14 August, which finally took Falaise on 17 August. [145] In view of the slow Canadian advance, Patton requested permission to take Falaise, but was refused by Bradley on 13 August, which prompted much controversy, many historians arguing that Bradley lacked aggression and that Montgomery should have overruled Bradley. [146]

The so-called Falaise Gap was closed on 22 August 1944, but several American generals, most notably Patton, accused Montgomery of being insufficiently aggressive in closing it. About 60,000 German soldiers were trapped in Normandy, but before 22 August, about 20,000 Germans had escaped through the Falaise Gap. [141] About 10,000 Germans had been killed in the Battle of the Falaise Gap, which led a stunned Eisenhower, who viewed the battlefield on 24 August, to comment with horror that it was impossible to walk without stepping on corpses. [147] The successful conclusion of the Normandy campaign saw the beginning of the debate between the "American school" and "British school" as both American and British generals started to advance claims about who was most responsible for this victory. [141] Brooke wrote in defence of his protégé Montgomery: "Ike knows nothing about strategy and is 'quite' unsuited to the post of Supreme Commander. It is no wonder that Monty's real high ability is not always realised. Especially so when 'national' spectacles pervert the perspective of the strategic landscape". [148] About Montgomery's conduct of the Normandy campaign, Badsey wrote:

Too much discussion on Normandy has centered on the controversial decisions of the Allied commanders. It was not good enough, apparently, to win such a complete and spectacular victory over an enemy that had conquered most of Europe unless it was done perfectly. Most of the blame for this lies with Montgomery, who was foolish enough to insist that it had been done perfectly, that Normandy – and all his other battles – had been fought accordingly to a precise master plan drawn up beforehand, from which he never deviated. It says much for his personality that Montgomery found others to agree with him, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. His handling of the Battle of Normandy was of a very high order, and as the person who would certainly have been blamed for losing the battle, he deserves the credit for winning it. [149]

Advance to the Rhine Edit

General Eisenhower took over Ground Forces Command on 1 September, while continuing as Supreme Commander, with Montgomery continuing to command the 21st Army Group, now consisting mainly of British and Canadian units. Montgomery bitterly resented this change, although it had been agreed before the D-Day invasion. [150] The British journalist Mark Urban writes that Montgomery seemed unable to grasp that as the majority of the 2.2 million Allied soldiers fighting against Germany on the Western Front were now American (the ratio was 3:1) that it was politically unacceptable to American public opinion to have Montgomery remain as Land Forces Commander as: "Politics would not allow him to carry on giving orders to great armies of Americans simply because, in his view, he was better than their generals." [151]

Winston Churchill had Montgomery promoted to field marshal [152] by way of compensation. [150] In September 1944, Montgomery ordered Crerar and his First Canadian Army to take the French ports on the English Channel, namely Calais, Boulogne and Dunkirk. [153] On 4 September, Antwerp, the third largest port in Europe, was captured by Horrocks with its harbour mostly intact. [154] The Witte Brigade (White Brigade) of the Belgian resistance had captured the Port of Antwerp before the Germans could destroy the port. Antwerp was a deep water inland port connected to the North Sea via the river Scheldt. The Scheldt was wide enough and dredged deep enough to allow the passage of ocean-going ships. [155]

On 3 September 1944 Hitler ordered the 15th German Army, which had been stationed in the Pas de Calais region and was withdrawing north into the Low Countries, to hold the mouth of the river Scheldt to deprive the Allies of the use of Antwerp. [156] Thanks to ULTRA, Montgomery was aware of Hitler's order by 5 September. [156] Starting that same day, SHAEF's naval commander, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, had urged Montgomery to make clearing the mouth of the Scheldt his number-one priority, arguing that as long as the mouth of the Scheldt was in German hands, it was impossible for the Royal Navy to clear the mines in the river, and as the Scheldt was mined, the port of Antwerp was useless. [157] Alone among the senior commanders, only Ramsay saw opening Antwerp as crucial. [158]

On 6 September 1944, Montgomery told Crerar that "I want Boulogne badly" and that city should be taken no matter what the cost. [153] By this point, ports like Cherbourg were too far away from the front line, causing the Allies great logistical problems. The importance of ports closer to Germany was highlighted with the liberation of the city of Le Havre, which was assigned to John Crocker's I Corps. [153] To take Le Havre, two infantry divisions, two tank brigades, most of the artillery of the Second British Army, the specialized armoured "gadgets" of Percy Hobart's 79th Armoured Division, the battleship HMS Warspite and the monitor HMS Erebus were all committed. [153] On 10 September 1944, Bomber Command dropped 4,719 tons of bombs on Le Havre, which was the prelude to Operation Astonia, the assault on Le Havre by Crocker's men, which was taken two days later. [153] The Canadian historian Terry Copp wrote that the commitment of this much firepower and men to take only one French city might "seem excessive", but by this point, the Allies desperately needed ports closer to the front line to sustain their advance. [153]

On 9 September, Montgomery wrote to Brooke that "one good Pas de Calais port" would be sufficient to meet all the logistical needs of the 21st Army Group, but only the supply needs of the same formation. [153] At the same time, Montgomery noted that "one good Pas de Calais port" would be insufficient for the American armies in France, which thus forced Eisenhower, if for no other reasons than logistics, to favour Montgomery's plans for an invasion of northern Germany by the 21st Army Group, whereas if Antwerp were opened up, then all of the Allied armies could be supplied. [159] Montgomery ordered that Crerar take Calais, Boulogne and Dunkirk and clear the Scheldt, a task that Crerar stated was impossible as he lacked enough troops to perform both operations at once. [160] Montgomery refused Crerar's request to have British XII Corps under Neil Ritchie assigned to help clear the Scheldt as Montgomery stated he needed XII Corps for Operation Market Garden. [161] Montgomery was able to insist that Eisenhower adopt his strategy of a single thrust to the Ruhr with Operation Market Garden in September 1944. The offensive was strategically bold. [162]

On 22 September 1944, General Guy Simonds's II Canadian Corps took Boulogne, followed up by taking Calais on 1 October 1944. [163] Montgomery was highly impatient with Simonds, complaining that it had taken Crocker's I Corps only two days to take Le Havre while it took Simonds two weeks to take Boulogne and Calais, but Simonds noted that at Le Havre, three divisions and two brigades had been employed, whereas at both Boulogne and Calais, only two brigades were sent in to take both cities. [164] After an attempt to storm the Leopold Canal by the 4th Canadian Division had been badly smashed by the German defenders, Simonds ordered a stop to further attempts to clear the river Scheldt until his mission of capturing the French ports on the English Channel had been accomplished this allowed the German 15th Army ample time to dig into its new home on the Scheldt. [165] The only port that was not captured by the Canadians was Dunkirk, as Montgomery ordered the 2nd Canadian Division on 15 September to hold his flank at Antwerp as a prelude for an advance up the Scheldt. [155]

Operation Market Garden Edit

Montgomery's plan for Operation Market Garden (17–25 September 1944) was to outflank the Siegfried Line and cross the Rhine, setting the stage for later offensives into the Ruhr region. The 21st Army Group would attack north from Belgium, 60 miles (97 km) through the Netherlands, across the Rhine and consolidate north of Arnhem on the far side of the Rhine. The risky plan required three Airborne Divisions to capture numerous intact bridges along a single-lane road, on which an entire Corps had to attack and use as its main supply route. The offensive failed to achieve its objectives. [166]

In the aftermath of Market Garden, Montgomery made holding the Arnhem salient his first priority, arguing that the 2nd British Army might still be able to break through and reach the wide open plains of northern Germany, and that he might be able to take the Ruhr by the end of October. [167] In the meantime, the First Canadian Army, which had been given the task of clearing the mouth of the river Scheldt, despite the fact that in the words of Copp and Vogel ". that Montgomery's Directive required the Canadians to continue to fight alone for almost two weeks in a battle which everyone agreed could only be won with the aid of additional divisions". [168] For his part, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, the German commander of the Western Front, ordered General Gustav-Adolf von Zangen, the commander of 15th Army, that: "The attempt of the enemy to occupy the West Scheldt in order to obtain the free use of the harbor of Antwerp must be resisted to the utmost" (emphasis in the original). [169] Rundstedt argued with Hitler that as long as the Allies could not use the port of Antwerp, the Allies would lack the logistical capacity for an invasion of Germany. [169]

Montgomery pulled away from the First Canadian Army (temporarily commanded now by Simonds as Crerar was ill), the British 51st Highland Division, 1st Polish Division, British 49th (West Riding) Division and 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, and sent all of these formations to help the 2nd British Army hold the Arnhem salient. [170] However, Simonds seems to have regarded the Scheldt campaign as a test of his ability, and he felt he could clear the Scheldt with only three Canadian divisions, namely the 2nd, the 3rd, and the 4th, despite having to take on the entire 15th Army, which held strongly fortified positions in a landscape that favoured the defence. [171] Simonds never complained about the lack of air support (made worse by the cloudy October weather), shortages of ammunition or having insufficient troops, regarding these problems as challenges for him to overcome, rather than a cause for complaint. [171] As it was, Simonds made only slow progress in October 1944 during the fighting in the Battle of the Scheldt, although he was praised by Copp for imaginative and aggressive leadership who managed to achieve much, despite all of the odds against him. [172] Montgomery had little respect for the Canadian generals, whom he dismissed as mediocre, except for Simonds, whom he consistently praised as Canada's only "first-rate" general in the entire war. [153]

Admiral Ramsay, who proved to be a far more articulate and forceful champion of the Canadians than their own generals, starting on 9 October demanded of Eisenhower in a meeting that he either order Montgomery to make supporting the First Canadian Army in the Scheldt fighting his number one priority or sack him. [173] Ramsay in very strong language argued to Eisenhower that the Allies could only invade Germany if Antwerp was opened, and that as long as the three Canadian divisions fighting in the Scheldt had shortages of ammunition and artillery shells because Montgomery made the Arnhem salient his first priority, then Antwerp would not be opened anytime soon. [173] Even Brooke wrote in his diary: "I feel that Monty's strategy for once is at fault. Instead of carrying out the advance to Arnhem he ought to have made certain of Antwerp". [173] On 9 October 1944, at Ramsay's urging, Eisenhower sent Montgomery a cable that emphasized the "supreme importance of Antwerp", that "the Canadian Army will not, repeat not, be able to attack until November unless immediately supplied with adequate ammunition", and warned that the Allied advance into Germany would totally stop by mid-November unless Antwerp was opened by October. [173] Montgomery replied by accusing Ramsay of making "wild statements" unsupported by the facts, denying the Canadians were having to ration ammunition, and claimed that he would soon take the Ruhr thereby making the Scheldt campaign a sideshow. [173] Montgomery further issued a memo entitled "Notes on Command in Western Europe" demanding that he once again be made Land Forces Commander. This led to an exasperated Eisenhower telling Montgomery that the question was not the command arrangement but rather his (Montgomery's) ability and willingness to obey orders. Eisenhower further told Montgomery to either obey orders to immediately clear the mouth of the Scheldt or he would be sacked. [174]

A chastised Montgomery told Eisenhower on 15 October 1944 that he was now making clearing the Scheldt his "top priority", and the ammunition shortages in the First Canadian Army, a problem which he denied even existed five days earlier, were now over as supplying the Canadians was henceforth his first concern. [174] Simonds, now reinforced with British troops and Royal Marines, cleared the Scheldt by taking Walcheren island, the last of the German "fortresses" on the Scheldt, on 8 November 1944. [175] With the Scheldt in Allied hands, Royal Navy minesweepers removed the German mines in the river, and Antwerp was finally opened to shipping on 28 November 1944. [175] Reflecting Antwerp's importance, the Germans spent the winter of 1944–45 firing V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets at it in an attempt to shut down the port, and the German offensive in December 1944 in the Ardennes had as its ultimate objective the capture of Antwerp. [175] Urban wrote that Montgomery's most "serious failure" in the entire war was not the well publicised Battle of Arnhem, but rather his lack of interest in opening up Antwerp, as without it the entire Allied advance from the North Sea to the Swiss Alps stalled in the autumn of 1944 for logistical reasons. [176]

Battle of the Bulge Edit

On 16 December 1944, at the start of the Battle of the Bulge, Montgomery's 21st Army Group was on the northern flank of the allied lines. Omar Bradley's US 12th Army Group was to Montgomery's south, with William Simpson's US Ninth Army adjacent to 21st Army Group, Courtney Hodges' US First Army, holding the Ardennes and George S. Patton's US Third Army further south. [177]

SHAEF believed the Wehrmacht was no longer capable of launching a major offensive, and that no offensive could be launched through such rugged terrain as the Ardennes Forest. Because of this, the area was held by refitting and newly arrived American formations. [177] The Wehrmacht planned to exploit this by making a surprise attack through the Ardennes Forest whilst bad weather grounded Allied air power, splitting the Allied Armies in two. They would then turn north to recapture the port of Antwerp. [178] If the attack were to succeed in capturing Antwerp, the whole of 21st Army Group, along with US Ninth Army and most of US First Army would be trapped without supplies behind German lines. [179]

The attack initially advanced rapidly, splitting US 12th Army Group in two, with all of US Ninth Army and the bulk of US First Army on the northern shoulder of the German 'bulge'. The 12th Army Group commander, Bradley, was located in Luxembourg, south of the bulge, making command of the US forces north of the bulge problematic. As Montgomery was the nearest army group commander on the ground, on 20 December, Dwight D. Eisenhower temporarily transferred command of US Ninth Army and US First Army to Montgomery's 21st Army Group. Bradley made vehement objections to this transfer on nationalistic grounds but was overruled by Eisenhower. [nb 1]

With the British and American forces under Montgomery's command holding the northern flank of the German assault, General Patton's Third Army, which was 90 miles (140 km) to the south, turned north and fought its way through the severe weather and German opposition to relieve the besieged American forces in Bastogne. Four days after Montgomery took command of the northern flank, the bad weather cleared and the USAAF and RAF [180] resumed operations, inflicting heavy casualties on German troops and vehicles. Six days after Montgomery took command of the northern flank, General Patton's 3rd Army relieved the besieged American forces in Bastogne. Unable to advance further, and running out of petrol, the Wehrmacht abandoned the offensive. [177] [181]

Montgomery subsequently wrote of his actions:

The first thing to do was to see the battle on the northern flank as one whole, to ensure the vital areas were held securely, and to create reserves for counter-attack. I embarked on these measures: I put British troops under command of the Ninth Army to fight alongside American soldiers, and made that Army take over some of the First Army Front. I positioned British troops as reserves behind the First and Ninth Armies until such time as American reserves could be created. [182]

Speaking subsequently to a British writer while himself a prisoner in Britain, the former German commander of the 5th Panzer Army, Hasso von Manteuffel spoke of Montgomery's leadership during the battle of the Bulge using almost the same words:

The operations of the American First Army had developed into a series of individual holding actions. Montgomery's contribution to restoring the situation was that he turned a series of isolated actions into a coherent battle fought according to a clear and definite plan. It was his refusal to engage in premature and piecemeal counter-attacks which enabled the Americans to gather their reserves and frustrate the German attempts to extend their breakthrough. [183]

However Ambrose, writing in 1997, maintained that "Putting Monty in command of the northern flank had no effect on the battle". [184]

Command of the US First Army reverted to the US 12th Army Group on 17 January 1945, [185] whilst command of the US Ninth Army remained with 21st Army Group for the coming operations to cross the Rhine. [186]


General Overviews

Chester Wilmot, an Australian war correspondent for the BBC, wrote the first outstanding military narrative of Allied operations in northwest Europe, Wilmot 1952. Wilmot had seen Montgomery close-up, and he was later given access to some of Monty’s papers. The “desert war” fought in Libya and Egypt, in which Montgomery won his world fame, is dismissed by John Ellis, one of Britain’s most provocative historians on World War II, as not worthy of a footnote (see Ellis 1990). Ellis argues that Allied victory in World War II was inevitable, given their industrial superiority. Overy 1996 provides an important corrective to the thesis that the Allies won the war primarily because of their larger population and production resources. Many of the debates over military operations that have dominated the writings of World War II military historians are superbly reappraised in Murray and Millett 2000. Weinberg 1994 is a breathtaking global history of World War II, based on exhaustive archival research. A new view of the global history of World War II is provided by Mawdsley 2009. Concisely written and offering a unique assessment of the war’s multiple theaters and fronts, it is especially useful for undergraduate students studying World War II. A printed primary source from which to examine Montgomery views as commander of the British Eighth Army are the papers edited by Stephen Brooks (Brooks 1991), and those for the battle of Normandy edited by the same author (Brooks 2008, cited under Battle of Normandy). Another essential source is the Eisenhower papers (see Chandler 1970).

Baxter, Colin F. The War in North Africa, 1940–1943: A Selected Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996.

Seven historiographical essays evaluate and critically assess the major contributions to the literature on the Desert War. They discuss in detail the Montgomery-Auchinleck dispute, as well as other issues involving Montgomery in the Desert War.

Baxter, Colin F. Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1887–1976: A Selected Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1999.

The author assesses 413 works bearing on Montgomery’s life, starting with his Australian childhood, his military career, and the post–World War II years. In this historiographical study, the author discusses many of the controversies that surrounded Montgomery’s conduct of military operations during World War II.

Brooks, Stephen, ed. Montgomery and the Eighth Army: A Selection from the Diaries, Correspondence and Other Papers of Field Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, August 1942 to December 1943. London: Bodley Head, 1991.

Brooks spent four years cataloguing the Montgomery papers at the Imperial War Museum, London, and this work was published for the Army Records Society. Students and researchers will find correspondence relating to Montgomery in the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, London (the depository for the Alanbrooke and de Guingand papers General Sir Francis de Guingand had been Monty’s chief of staff), among others, and the Churchill College Archives Centre, Cambridge, England. Government records are deposited in the National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom.

Chandler, Alfred D., Jr., ed. The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower: The War Years. 5 vols. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1970.

On the great debatable issues, such as the single-thrust versus the broad front approach, or whether the Allies should have tried to beat the Russians to Berlin, there are ample details in these papers.

Danchev, Alex, and Daniel Todman, eds. War Diaries, 1939–1945: Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke. By Lord Alanbrooke. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2001.

In this superbly edited volume of the diary kept by Chief of the Imperial General Staff Lord Alanbrooke, the editors had full access to his diaries and associated materials deposited in the Liddell Hart Centre archives. The diary is an essential primary source on British wartime strategy, of which Alanbrooke was the master. Alanbrooke alone could silence his own protégé, Montgomery, sending him pale and tight-lipped from the room.

Delaney, Douglas E. Corps Commanders: Five British and Canadian Generals at War, 1939–45. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press, 2011.

As single-division attacks rarely succeeded against the Germans, corps operations largely won the war in the West. Brian Horrocks is rated the highest in professional competence, commanding corps in North Africa and Northwest Europe. Canadian corps commander Guy Simmonds commanded Second Canadian Corps and shone in the Battle of the Scheldt, much to the satisfaction of Montgomery. Horrocks and Simmonds were both “Monty men” and were rated as his two best corps commanders in Northwest Europe.

Ellis, John. Brute Force: Allied Strategy and Tactics in the Second World War. New York: Viking, 1990.

British military historian Ellis echoes prior arguments that the Allies won World War II only because of “brute force,” that is, their possession of overwhelming industrial strength. Provocatively, he asserts that all the Allied commanders were vastly overrated, especially Montgomery, whom he rates highest in incompetence and criticizes for excessive caution.

Mawdsley, Evan. World War II: A New History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

In his references to Montgomery, the author presents a fair and balanced treatment of the field marshal.

Murray, Williamson, and Allan R. Millett. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2000.

This is a serious analytical study full of fresh insights and a good read. Montgomery is fairly assessed militarily and not on the basis of his personality.

Overy, David. Why the Allies Won. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996.

In retrospect, writes Overy, Allied victory looks almost predetermined, but the overriding theme in his book is that Allied manpower and industrial superiority did not make victory a foregone conclusion. While not denying the importance of those factors, he includes the elements of combat prowess and leadership in explaining Allied victory. In that context, he gives Monty high marks for generalship in the battle of Normandy.

Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Weinberg is on firmer ground when dealing with grand strategy, but less so on operational history. Beginning with the Normandy campaign, he begins a series of attacks on Montgomery’s generalship.

Wilmot, Chester. The Struggle for Europe. London: Collins, 1952.

Though many of his judgments have been challenged and others demolished, Wilmot’s book remains a thought-provoking read.

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Son of War Hero Montgomery & Friend of Manfred Rommel, Dead at 91

David Montgomery inherited his title from his father, the famous Field Marshal, who tackled Erwin ‘Desert Fox’ Rommel in the deserts of North Africa in World War Two.

Despite a reputation for wildness, earned during his days as an undergraduate reading Engineering at Trinity College Cambridge, David Montgomery became a master of international diplomacy, becoming life-long friends with Manfred Rommel, the son of his father’s greatest adversary.

The sons of General Bernard Montgomery (right) and Field Marshall Erwin Rommel leave Westmister Abbey after a moving service of remembrance marking the 60th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein. Getty Images

Montgomery inherited his father’s title on the death of the legendary General Bernard ‘Monty’ Montgomery in 1976.

He was also patron of the 8 th Army amongst other veteran’s associations, and of the D-Day and Normandy Trust. In 2014 he became patron of Freedom Flame UK following the lighting of the Torch of Unity at the D-Day stone in Southsea, Portsmouth. The torch was first lit by his father in 1948.

For more than thirty years he attended commemorative events with Manfred Rommel, who was also the only son of a World War Two Field Marshall.

General Bernard Montgomery (second left), Commander of the Eighth Army, sitting outdoors with his son David and major and Mrs Reynolds, in the grounds of Amesbury School, Hinghead, July 13th 1943. (Photo by Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

They were born within three months of each other in 1928, went on to be active in politics, and both had a powerful legacy each had to learn to manage well.

‘We had a great deal in common,’ Observed Montgomery, ‘our fathers are ever present in our lives.’

Manfred Rommel became the Mayor of Stuttgart in Germany and developed a reputation for liberal inclusive politics.

Manfred Rommel.

David Montgomery, sitting in the British House of Lords under his title Viscount of Alamein, campaigned for constitutional reform which saw him lose his seat in the second chamber, only to return in a by-election.

Both men attended the fiftieth anniversary of the Allied victory at El Alamein in Westminster Abbey, London in 1992, reading lessons at the remembrance service.

British politician David Montgomery, 2nd Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, the son of Field Marshal Montgomery. Getty Images

Mayor Rommel read from Romans 12: 9-18 ‘Let love be genuine hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good love one another with brotherly affection outdo one another in showing honour’. Just before, the 2nd Viscount Montgomery of Alamein had read from Micah.

General Auchinleck was fired as Commander in Chief Middle East Command in August 1942 and his replacement, Lieutenant General Gott killed en-route to replace him.

The next in line was Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery, whose fate it was to lead the 8 th Army’s offensive against Hitler’s forces.

General Dwight Eisenhower (left) talking to Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery, during a meeting at Columbia University, New York, December 2nd 1949. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The ensuing victory was a major turning point in the North Africa campaign removing the Axis ambitions to take the Suez Canal and take the Middle East and Persian oil fields.

It was the first landmark victory in Africa for the Allies and cemented Montgomery as a force to be reckoned with. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, after the end of the war, said of the campaign, ‘Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat.’

The funeral of Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount of Alamein (1887 – 1976) at the Church of the Holy Cross in Binsted, Hampshire, 1st April 1976. Members of the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards carry the coffin through the churchyard to its final resting place under a 50-year-old yew tree. (Photo by David Ashdown/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Despite losing the battle and giving up the foot hold in North Africa, Erwin Rommel was full of praise for the way the troops under his command had defended themselves. ‘The German soldier has astonished the world the Italian Bersagliere has astonished the German soldier.’

Manfred Rommel also maintained a friendship with the son of American General Patton, George Patton VI, who went on to make a name for himself in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

The Duke of Kent applauds the Band of the Grenadier Guards whilst seated next to Earl Alexander (2nd right), Viscount Montgomery (2nd left) and the youngest daughter of Sir Winston Churchill, Lady Soames. (Photo by Johnny Green – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

David Montgomery was a firm believer in talking to people to overcome differences and saw trade as the foundation on which to build productive international relations.

Fury at Disney-Style ‘D-Day Theme Park’ Plans for a $110 Million Attraction

Fluent in both Spanish and Portuguese he developed links with several South American nations winning accolades for his work in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia. He was appointed CBE in 1975 and CMG in 2000 and held decorations from Belgium and Germany too.


No sex please

In The Full Monty, Nigel Hamilton is revising the three-volume biography he wrote two decades ago. The son of an Ulster bishop, Montgomery was decorated for gallantry as a young officer when he was wounded early in the first world war. He made his name in the second, when his eighth army defeated Rommel at El Alamein in 1942, just as Rommel was about to reach the Nile. He later added to his laurels by masterminding the D-day landings in Normandy.

When I met Hamilton in the documents department of the Imperial War Museum a year or two ago and asked him what he was up to, he replied that he was at work reducing the massive three volumes of his official biography, published in 1981, 1983 and 1986, to one. Having, as he well knew, criticised them at the time as far too long and detailed, I jocularly remarked that he would find it difficult and wished him luck in the task. But what he has produced is nothing of the sort instead, it is a rehash of the first of those volumes, Monty: The Making of a General 1887-1942 .

Why The Full Monty? Were not 2,728 pages in three volumes full enough? In his acknowledgments, Hamilton confirms that it was his original intention to produce a single condensed version, but that his work as a university teacher of the history of 20th-century biography had convinced him that "what was acceptable to one generation became inadequate for the next", and that "a committed biographer cannot avoid controversy in the quest to make his work actual".

In his preface he cites three further factors that have induced him to revisit his material. The first is new material giving us "far richer opportunities for comparison with his counterparts and contemporaries, such as Field Marshal Haig, TE Lawrence and Basil Liddell Hart". Then there are "the rumours and stories that have circulated in increasing number in recent times". "If the official biographer of the field marshal, who knew the man intimately in the final 20 years of his life, will not undertake to clarify the position and incorporate a fresh view of Monty's sexuality when looking at his military life, who will?" Third, and what he calls most important: "Is it not time that the question of 'gayness' - of affection and love, even passion for members of one's own sex - be reconsidered as a primary factor in military effectiveness in a democracy?"

Hamilton explains that when he undertook his original task, he "did not, at that time, peer too closely into Monty's strange sexuality, not only because I had a larger task in hand, but because I wasn't ready, as a young biographer, to enter those dark waters". Since that time more has been revealed, especially by Lucien Treub, who was befriended by Monty as a boy, in TEB Howarth's 1985 Monty at Close Quarters. Hamilton says that since the age of 12 he himself had been the object of Monty's affection and "had received over 100 affectionate letters, which I had kept and, indeed, treasured".

But the cat had long been out of the bag. Alun Chalfont, in the epilogue to his biography of Montgomery, published just before the latter's death in 1976, had written: "There was always something disturbingly equivocal about his attitude towards boys and young men. In their company he often seemed to display a heightened awareness and an almost febrile gaiety. His tactical headquarters in the desert, with its entourage of gilded youth and its cloying atmosphere of hero-worship, suggest that he had a predilection for the company of younger men and found contentment there which he was unable to find with women and older men." This shocked many people, and the unfortunate Chalfont found himself told off ferociously by Field Marshal Templer on the steps of St George's chapel at the end of Monty's funeral.

Hamilton is quite frank about this, but he goes much further. He puts forward a preposterous theory that his hero created "first in England, then in the Egyptian desert, a homosocial bond with his men - officers and other ranks - on a scale unequalled in British history: a bond that could, I am certain, only have been created by a man who loved men - young men - beyond all else, and was prepared to sweep aside any obstruction - traditional, military, political or social - in order to get the best out of them."

He goes on: "It is time, therefore, to recount his unique life history in terms of those sublimated passions and that homosocial bond for upon it, in the great battles of world war two, rested the fortunes of democracy in its struggle against the Nazis. I hope. that this new 'tale of love' will help enlarge our understanding of 20th-century history, the unique role that Monty played in that history, and the man he really was."

He loses no opportunity to plug this theme wherever he can in the narrative, including five pages on "War and Sex" in his chapter "Preparing for Battle" before El Alamein. Contrasting Monty with Wavell and Auchinleck, he writes: "Monty was, so far as 'love' was concerned, an unembarrassed evangelist - and the ideal of a male-male love increasingly dominated his life, giving rise to a sort of demonic - because sexually repressed - energy: an energy that spilled out in his work as a field commander in his passionate pedagogy as a military educator and trainer and increasingly, in his military writings. from his diary and letters to his training notes and famous 'messages' to his troops." Hamilton would have us believe that if Monty's mother had not dressed him in girlish clothes, he would not have been forced to try to prove to her his masculinity and we would not then have had our great general, and would therefore have lost the second world war!

All this twaddle is added on to the myth, which Hamilton exaggerated in his original volume, that Monty was constantly seen and heard personally by all his soldiers that, between the battles of Alam Halfa and El Alamein, he visited "hundreds of British and Commonwealth units on a series of whistlestop tours to weed and reinvigorate the army". This would have been physically impossible, and I know from personal experience that it was certainly not the case of those units in contact with the enemy. Monty's popularity with his soldiers was based on his obvious self-confidence and professional ability, the fact that he won his battles, and on the considerable effort he devoted to his public relations.

As for Hamilton's "new material", providing richer opportunities for comparison with his contemporaries, he has looked around for books and papers that support, and if possible strengthen, the views and prejudices displayed in his original volume especially those providing evidence against his demons, who range from the historian Correlli Barnett to Haig, Mountbatten and even Churchill. He makes use of General Oliver Leese's daily letters to his wife from El Alamein, a genuinely valuable contribution to history. But he has also discovered a Major Witherby, "wireless officer of 23rd Armoured Brigade", whom he quotes at length as if he were the greatest expert in armoured warfare in the desert, having arrived there in July 1942.

Throughout the book Hamilton harps on the theme that the modern, democratic Montgomery's advancement was blocked by the "aristocratic, class-conscious" military and political establishment, the prime example being the selection of Gott to command the eighth army. (Hamilton has the bad taste to suggest that Gott was flying down to Cairo just to have a bath when he was killed). He bangs on about this even more tediously than he does about sexuality.

In doing so, he does his subject no service. Montgomery was a first-class soldier and general it was a pleasure to serve under him or on his staff. He gave clear, concise orders, and if one did one's stuff well, he allowed one considerable freedom of action in carrying them out. He had some unpleasant characteristics, but some agreeable ones too. However, Hamilton's monotonous, exaggerated, long-winded, excessively detailed hagiography, allowing almost nobody else any credit, begins to turn one not just against the author but against the subject himself. One begins to suspect that the aim of the author and/or publisher is to provide as many sensational headlines as possible for the Sunday papers.

The blurb tells us that Hamilton is a professor of biography at De Montfort university, Leicester. Heaven help his students and preserve us from the second volume, which he tells us will "examine the impact of fame" upon Monty's often tormented personality. It also tells us that he is currently working on a biography of Bill Clinton. It will be interesting to see if this too will claim that the effect of mother-fixation on the subject's sexuality was responsible for his success.

• Field Marshal Lord Carver's latest book, The Imperial War Museum Book of the War in Italy: 1943-1945 , is published by Sidgwick & Jackson.


My history hero: Bernard Montgomery

Bernard Montgomery (1887–1976) – or ‘Monty’ – ranks among the most celebrated British soldiers of the 20th century. He cut his teeth in the First World War, earning a Distinguished Service Order for gallantry in 1914. Yet it is for his exploits in the Second World War – particularly for leading the 8th Army to victory over the Axis powers at El Alamein in 1942 – for which he is best remembered.

In 1943, he was appointed commander of ground forces for the upcoming Normandy invasion, a campaign that would take Allied troops from the beaches of northern France all the way to Germany.

When did you first hear about Montgomery?

I grew up in a household that was really interested in history and, in particular, the Second World War. Monty is an iconic face of the war – a symbol of Britain resurgent, when we were beginning to figure out how to beat the Germans. I was drawn to him by the fact that he was such a peculiar, divisive figure. He even managed to divide opinion in our house: my dad, a former airborne soldier, wasn’t a fan but I’ve always found Monty compelling.

What made Montgomery a hero?

He helped mastermind two of the most important campaigns of the Second World War – the battle for north Africa in 1942 and 43 and the invasion of western Europe in 1944. Without him, I think it’s safe to say that the war could have taken a different course.

He was the best British general in the western theatre by a long way. Many of his fellow generals disliked him intensely but, as Churchill told them, that was only because he was so much better than them. One group of people who certainly didn’t dislike him was his troops. He had a magnetic effect on them. Churchill was taken aback by how quickly he galvanised the 8th Army in 1942 – transforming it, he remarked, in a matter of days.

What kind of person was he?

He certainly didn’t do humility! He was entirely confident in his own brilliance, which probably explains how he managed to alienate so many of his fellow generals. Yet confidence can’t be a bad thing for a general – surely all great military leaders need it.

He was a brilliant organiser and, thanks to his experiences of fighting in the First World War – where he was horribly injured – acutely tuned in to the needs of his troops. He tried to be like an ordinary soldier – he was the first general to wear battle dress, and he almost got into trouble for letting his men eat a looted pig. It was this attitude that enabled him to motivate his troops like no other British general could.

What was Montgomery’s finest hour?

I think it has to be his role in masterminding the invasion of Normandy. He’ll always be remembered for victory over Rommel at El Alamein, but that was an inherited situation and the 8th Army was in the process of rebuilding anyway. Normandy was his great triumph. Nobody could have held their nerve and made such a massive undertaking work like he did – General Patton [who led the US 3rd Army in Normandy] certainly wouldn’t have been able to.

Is there anything you don’t particularly admire about him?

The way he treated some of his colleagues was disgusting. Historians have often declared how ghastly he was. But let’s be honest: if you’re looking for someone to shoulder the pressure of leading something as critical as the Normandy campaign, that person often has to be an ugly character – and, in many ways, Monty was just that.

Can you see any parallels between his life and your own?

No, absolutely not. Which is probably the reason I admire him!

If you could meet Montgomery, what would you ask him?

I’d probably ask him what went wrong at Market Garden [the unsuccessful Allied attempt to seize a series of bridges behind enemy lines on the Dutch/German border in 1944]. It was his idea, and he got it wrong. But, blimey, I’m glad it was him having to make those decisions – and not me!


Watch the video: Surrender Films, Europe, May 1945 - Audio! (May 2022).