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Posted on Jul 11, 2005 in Carlo D'Este, Front Page Features

Monty: World War II’s Most Misunderstood General, Part 1

By Carlo D'Este

[Note: This is Part 1 of a scheduled three-part analysis of Montgomery’s leadership and battlefield performance in World War II. Part 2 can be found here. Part 3 can be found here.]

monty_portrait.jpgLove him or detest him, there has rarely been a middle-ground when it comes to opinions about one of World War II’s most controversial and misunderstood generals: Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery. He has been the subject of gossip, endless articles and a number of biographies, as well as portraits and assessments in books about the battles, campaigns and theaters of war in which he served. Overall, historians have been unkind to Montgomery. In this article I intend to make the case that these judgments are mostly superficial and as often as not, wrong. He had a personality we love to hate and a record of accomplishment few could claim.

Monty was married to the British Army and was a dedicated officer whose entire existence was geared to preparing for war and to fighting that war to win. To that end, he demanded the highest standards of conduct, training and performance. Those who failed to live up to his standards were ruthlessly replaced by men who could. In the disastrous wake of Dunkirk in 1940 Montgomery began training the men under his command with both relish and a hardnosed insistence on performance. "His first priority was fitness," notes historian Alastair Horne, "’physical and mental,’ quoting with relish his favorite lines from Kipling;

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Nations have passed away and left no trace,
And history gives the naked cause of it -
One single, simple reason in all cases;
They fell because their peoples were not fit.1

The relevance of Montgomery’s insistence on fitness has a modern day parallel. In the July 4, 2005 edition of The Boston Globe the Associated Press reported that, "Besides terrorists, germ warfare, and nuclear weapons, military officials increasingly worry about a different kind of threat – troops too fat too fight. Weight issues plague all branches of the military, from elite Marines to the Air Force . . . ‘This is quickly becoming a national security issue for us,’" noted one colonel. During World War II, this was a problem quickly solved by Montgomery: the unfit or those overweight were quickly weeded out. In his command even staff officers ran weekly seven-mile runs. These doctrines were among those he brought to each of his wartime commands. This is but one example of a general who was ahead of his time.

Like that of his adversary, Erwin Rommel, and his ally George S. Patton, Montgomery’s reputation was exemplified by his forceful personality, a trait possessed by all successful battlefield commanders. Like "Ike," Montgomery was instantly recognizable by the single nickname – "Monty." The British soldier had a reassuring sense that their commanding general not only knew what he was doing but would look out for their welfare, and, most important of all – their lives. Rommel, Patton, and Montgomery made such a deep impression upon their men that they, in turn, felt a bond with their commander that all would be well as long as he led them. All three made their presence felt by personal visits to their troops to motivate in times of uncertainty. A British writer has described such men as "characters." "Soldiers love a character, whether he happens to be their platoon commander, C.O., or commander-in-chief. Montgomery was a genuine character, a born exhibitionist with a sense of the dramatic and with tremendous confidence in himself."2

Fearless, and occasionally foolhardy in his public and private utterances, Montgomery was thoroughly disliked by many of his contemporaries for the usual reasons: jealousy and rivalry. However, right or wrong, Montgomery was scrupulously honest in his opinions which, combined with his rasping personality, attracted legions of detractors, both during the war and since, especially some American historians who have been unable or unwilling to judge him fairly. Yet, as was said of Admiral Ernie King’s appointment by FDR, Montgomery was not picked for high command because he was pleasant or a gentleman. In fact, what separated Montgomery from his peers was that he was unafraid to be unpopular.3 In short, neither Monty’s personality nor his sexuality is the criteria by which he should have been judged – then or now.

He was a consummate professional soldier at a time when Britain was desperate for competent battlefield commanders, not chivalry. Indeed, one of the ills of the British Army was that it was staffed with far too many "nice chaps." No one ever referred to Bernard Law Montgomery as a "nice chap."

An accomplished student of war like Patton and Eisenhower, Montgomery spent the interwar years studying, writing and preparing for the world war he too was convinced would one day occur. At first sight, Montgomery neither inspired nor intimidated. "He had not [Gen. Sir Claude] Auchinleck’s impressive presence, nor the handsome, martial bearing of Alexander, nor the rugged, bulldog features of Wavell."4 Habitually dressed in a nondescript uniform of his own design, Montgomery’s five foot seven inch frame, hawk-like features, thinning hair, high-pitched voice and, although born an Ulsterman, his English accent, all added to the impression far more reminiscent of a faceless civil servant than a general. Indeed, Omar Bradley’s aide once described Montgomery, "with his corduroy trousers, his enormous loose fitting gabardine coat and his beret" as resembling "a poorly tailored bohemian painter."5

monty_portrait2.jpg

Those who misjudged him on the basis of first impressions were soon disabused of their lapse. Montgomery’s most striking feature was his penetrating grey-blue eyes, which literally flashed with authority and determination and exuded the air of authority characteristic of all great commanders.6 Correspondent John Gunther thought he possessed, "the most piercing and luminous blue eyes I have ever seen."7 Montgomery’s lack of physical presence was more than compensated for by the magnetism with which he dominated the British Eighth Army. Other than [Field Marshal Sir Alan] Brooke [the Chief of the Imperial General Staff], whom he both respected and rather feared, no one intimidated Montgomery, not even Churchill with whom he maintained a spirited professional relationship that was devoid of the warmth and intimacy the prime minister enjoyed with men like Eisenhower and Alexander. Thus, while Montgomery seemed to have had Churchill’s ear, he never seemed to have had his heart. Churchill once said of him that he was "indomitable in retreat; invincible in advance; insufferable in victory!"

[continued on next page]

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65 Comments

  1. Montgomery demonstrated the insececurity of a short man at almost every opportunity .While choosing in Africa to build up a public persona , Rommel’s legend is strictly accomplishment based .While seeking out ways to annoy superiors , he demanded unconditional obediance from subordinates .Eisenhower’s task was far above anything a Montgomery could have accomplished because of his insecurities .He wasn’t interested in getting the job done , but claiming the creadit for it was his aim as well as denying that credit to others .A small man in many ways , very similar to Patton and McCarthur . Average generals not in the catagory of a Rommel or a Zukov

    • Ah, bull. Another cad who watched the film “Patton” and things Monty climbed to the top of the mountain by falling there. Montgomery was the best general of WWII and would even be effective in the modern era.

      • His sucesses in North africa, Monty is an incredibly overrated general, in part because the British Army of the time was not willing to take risks that other generals would. He failed to close the gap at Falaise when Patton could have if Bradley had not been so timid & his arrogance in Demanding that Market Garden go on despite the presence of German armor is one of his greatest failures. Never aggressive enough and always waiting for everything to be in place. Reminds me in many ways of McClellan. – I once knew a survivor of the British 1st who was still so bitter some 8 ars after the battle that he refused to talk about it.

    • Not in the category of a Rommel. Didn’t Montgomery defeat Rommel twice? Alamein and in Normandy?

      • For all of you who are so impressed that Montgomery defeated Rommel, here is a little test. Imagine Monty in command of the Afrika Korps – outnumbered, low on supplies and equipment, including tanks, fuel and air cover. Now imagine his opponent – Rommel in command of the allied forces, swimming in fuel, no supply problems, air superiority, complete naval superiority, out numbering the Afrika Korps in tanks, men artillery and everything else. How long do you think Monty’s Afrika Korps would have lasted against Rommel’s 8th Army?

      • No one has mentioned a quite important detail about Montgomery’s successes in North Africa; intelligence. Due to cracking the German enigma code, Montgomery knew in advance much of Rommel’s plan. And the British were hesitant to share that information initially with their allies.

  2. Monty beat Rommel…EVERY time they came up face to face. Monty’s Market Garden was almost successful, while Patton was mired down in Metz for 3 months.

    Bottom line: You cannot judge a person’s skill based upon their personality. Sometimes, real @#@$@’s are the best at what they do.

    • Logistics beat Romel far more than Monty.
      “When one comes to consider that supplies and materiel are the decisive factor in modern warfare, it was already becoming clear that a catastrophe was looming on the distant horizon for my army.”
      I.Rommel

      • Oh and I suppose Montgomery had nothing to do with ensuring the 8th Army and 21st Army Group where properly equipped.

  3. “General Montgomery’s plan was a failure. It not only failed to encircle and trap the Germans, it also failed in that it lost and wasted thousands of tons of supplies that could have been used by other armies (especially the Third Army) to continue their successful attacks. Because none of the plans were accomplished, it was also a waste of many soldier’s lives. Lastly, it caused unnecessary destruction in the Netherlands. After it was all over, Prince Bernard of the Netherlands said, “My country can never again afford the luxury of another Montgomery success.”"

    http://pattonhq.com/textfiles/thirdhst.html

    • The 3rd Army, under Patton, did well when mopping up scattered fleeing Germans. When it hit Metz, it hit a brick wall, a wall Monty would have crumbled in the 1/3rd of the time.

      • “Eisenhower’s decision created a shortage of gasoline and other necessary supplies that were badly needed by the Third Army to keep up its fast-paced advance. Without these supplies the Third Army was forced to slow down and finally to halt its rapid advance.

        This was another decision made by Eisenhower and his officers at SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) that would become very controversial later. Many people thought, and still think, that if the Third Army had not been stopped when it was, it might have been able to bring the war to a close by the end of 1944, instead of the middle of 1945.”

        http://pattonhq.com/textfiles/thirdhst.html

        Monty kept on taking supplies that Patton needed to keep advancing. If he hadn’t, Metz would have been taken much faster. And on another note, the 3rd army was on the front lines, not “mopping up fleeing germans.” They left the up to the other armies. They were always advancing, and had the BEST record of any army of WWII.

      • Seriouslynow

        Your comments seemed based on British national pride rather than reality. Monty had a history of ignoring orders, causing massive loss of life and allowing German armies to escape solely because of his ego.

        His record as a commander has consistently been under attack by objective historians who correctly view him as a general who would rather prolong the war and cause mass death rather than have anyone become vicorious other than him and his army no matter what the cost. The Americans should have insisted that Monty be relieved of command in order for continued financial and armament support to the British.

        Montgomery brazenly trashed American fighting capabilites when the reality was that the Americans were the best fighting men in the world in World War II and did not allow the Germans time to dig in and rearm themselves while they took a day off “for tea”. American generals would have never said such things about British soldiers as did Monty about the Americans.

        While the Americans had their prima donnas, Patton and McArthur, these generals are largely lauded by historians, particularly in their effective use of military strategy. No general in the Allied Forces is more loathed by history than Montgomery.

      • You mean Monty would have taken Metz the way he took Caen? And as I recall, Montgomery’s “Operation Market Garden” was a catastrophic failure as well, costing the Britain her 1st Para’s Division and accomplished very little else except emptying an asylum and killing thousands of allied soldiers.

      • He could have taken Metz in 1/3 the time? You mean like he took Caen?

      • You sir are blind to facts

  4. From what I read about ‘Monty’, he was an old style typ’o'general. Very authoritarian, close to his troops and highly believing in British Empire. Hence even his military genius (proven in field), Allies, especially Americans ‘were not fond of him’. I think it’s mostly US as the commanding state of western front that has created such evil image of him.

    Apropos Patton, Montgomery would never send his men to certain death. Now we can argue if Patton’s punch through Sigfried line and run on Berlin was worth the casualties but whether we compare their tactics or not Monty managed pull his men out of most trouble.

    Another issue is that allied hq was full of ego-bearers so from press arena, it were those with better political connections that are known as heroes.

    • Montgomery was a general who “never sent his men to certain death?” If that’s true then he was a useless general! My friend, I fought in several wars in Asia, Africa and South America for a period of 15 years. Any General or officer or sergeant who doesn’t send men to death loses every war he fights in. For there is one certainty in EVERY war since time began: People have to die. That’s how wars are won. A good general figures strategies that allow fewer of his men to die than the enemy.

      For your reference, there is a book titled “Caen: The Anvil of Victory” by McKee that will enlighten you how many Canadians he sent to their death. Monty was apparently willing to fight to the last Canadian.

      • Indeed – the English have a way of using colonials as their sandbags – ask Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and especially the Irish.

    • Arnhem.

  5. he was a good leader : )

  6. The guys was an arrogant buffoon. I tend to agree with his critics.
    How about you write about the operation Market Garden in the Rhura in Germany- British Intelligence chief- Urquhart had warned him (even sent spitfires to confirm) that near Arnhem there were two additional Panzer Divisions extremaly experienced in combat, which would have destroy the MG operation easily. He was warned yet he chose not to listen to those who were telling him this is too risky. He even went as far as apparently sending poor Mjr Urquart to hospital claiming he is “too stressed and over exaggerating the situation”…
    Well- the fiasco was unavoidable, good soldiers died there for nothing- among them thousands of Polish dessant jumpers. Professional risk in anyother situation- but what I cannot forgive and forget- is teh fact that after that that little punk Monty blamed the lost battle on those Pols saying they were cowardly, whereas facts are that by percentage they have lost more soldiers in tehir formation in this particular action than any other brigade.
    And that paints a picture of typical English arrogant, set in his ways, buffoon who though he was unmistakable.
    Worth to be mentioned in history as an a coward, lier, and unworthy to be on this “hall of heroes” wall.

    • In reply to “The other Highlander” I think that simply ranting does not add anything to the debate at all. The rational argument has surely to be based on facts. The battle of Normandy was a masterpiece which, whilst he was only in command of the ground forces, was very much Monty’s battle. Criticism of Montgomery simply falls away when one considers the fact that he planned it to take 90 days, and it did, he crushed Rommel for the second time, and Von Rustend, The silly arguments about Patton and fuel also fall away when it became clear that the broad front strategy was a political not a military decision. Patton stole gas, fair enough, but he went nowhere with it. The decisive front, in the west, was in the
      north and it was the crossing of the Rhine and the elimination of the Ruhr followed by the dash to Hamburg that was where the Allied victory was most important. Patton, don’t forget went off in search of the mythical redoubt in the mountains of Bavaria. Now, let us consider what happened after Monty was replaced by Ike as ground commander, the battle bogged down stalled all along the line and the Germans counter attacked in the Ardennes, battle of the bulge, and routed the American army causing 80,000 casualties. This was a direct result of the American political interference in the military strategy. Montgomery was naturally miffed and the American generals were embarrassed and hated to see him, who likes a smart arse who is actually right, insufferable! And Monty let them have it, and nearly lost his job because of it.
      To sum him up, Monty – Great General, Politically inept.

      • The thrust to the north that Montgomery advocated would have captured the Ruhr Valley. Sadly, Montgomery would not have launched such and attack in much less than 6 to 9 months. Thus the war would have dragged on for another year.

        Remember Montgomery was the master of planning and not much action in the short term. He failed to capture Caen by his own deadline, D+3, and in fact took some months to do it. His operation Market Garden was a disaster cost thousands of Americans and a British Airborne division.

        Finally, while Montgomery was planning and lining up his logistics, what were the half million American troops going to do? Smoke and Joke with the Germans? Remember Britain was at the bottom of her manpower barrel and had no significant reinforcements for Monty.

        The Americans by reason of supply, armaments and troop numbers were in charge of the war by now. The “BULGE” was a terrible battle and the only General who had plans for what to if it did happen was Patten. The reason thereafter that Patton Pushed around scattered pockets of Germans was, of the 250,000 Germans who participated in the Ardennes offensive, about three quarters became casualties or captured. As the Falaise Pocket would have been had Montgomery his objective in a timely fashion, the Ardennes Battle was a catastrophe for the Germans and crippled their capacity in the west, This course made things much easier for Montgomery as well.

      • Monty was a bold-faced liar that constantly revised his statements to match situations after circumstances had changed. His D-Day plans clearly called for a quick conquest of Caen and his army breaking into the open plains and charging toward Paris. How he thought that could be done in three days when his spearhead stopped ten miles inland and didn’t advance for a full day, is unclear.

        Yet, as the days dragged into weeks, he began making public comments that it was his plan all along to get into a slugfest and draw German panzer divisions to him in order for the Americans to break out. Those were blatant lies. He continually contradicted himself, his stated goals and plans whenever he failed to fulfill them. I never understood why no one called him out when he did it.

        Montgomery could devise bold strategies but he was not the type general to pull them off. Market Garden required bold leadership, especially the leader of the column. Apparently, the British commander lacked a sense of urgency.

        Importantly, a great general demonstrates the ability to take advantage of opportunities presented to him on the midst of battles, in real time, regardless of the original plans. After all, it is the fog of war. Patton and several excellent generals in his armored units constantly took advantage of unfolding circumstances of 3rd Army’s breakout.

        Two examples of opportunities not capitalized on by British forces under Montgomery are closing the Falaise gap (outlined well in another comment) and another you rarely hear mentioned, the failure of the taking the bridges North of Antwerp, trapping the German 15th Army and cutting off the peninsula that formed the Scheldt estuary.

        The bridges were virtually undefended the first day the Canadians and British entered Antwerp and it took months to clear the estuary and at great cost. It was also the 15th that contributed to the failure of Market Garden.

  7. Montgomery was ground forces commander for the D day invasion and won the battle of Normandy. You Americans are so pathetic in seeming to think only an American General could win battles. All we ever hear from you arrogant people is the cry ‘Market Garden’. When in fact the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ was a greater set back for the allies.Montgomery was a great general, if not the greatest allied commander in WW2 and nothing you hypocritical buffoons say will alter that fact. I think its time that the American grew up and stopped hiding behind myths and legends created in their Hollywood studios.

    • The failure of Market Garden is not a myth. Montgomery’s poor planning, arrogance, and ambition… cost many brave soldiers and civilians their lives. A great unit, the 1st Airborne Division, was virtually destroyed.

      Afterwards, Montgomery scapegoated and laid the blame for his failure… at the feet of General Stanisław Sosabowski. Not exactly the actions of a “Great Leader.”

      • Sorry for the long delay, I did not see the responses.
        The Ardennes was a massive blow which petered out due to the failure of the Germans to break through and separate the British and Canadians 21st Army Group from Bradley’s US Army. What is odd about the historians views is the concentration on the events at Bastogne. Much is made of the very heroic defence of the town and the truly remarkable 90 degree turn made by Patton in his dash northwards. However it was other Americans fighting along the ridges in the north that won the battle not Pattons third army. Just look at a map of the campaign and, together with the knowledge that the German objective was Antwerp, and you can see that Bastogne is in the south and is not on the route to Antwerp.
        The problem is that the American troops in the north were placed under Montgomery’s command by Eisenhower after the collapse of of Bradley’s command and control system. Montgomery did not actually do much save for listen to American General Collins who suggested that they did not withdraw to shorten the line but held firm on the (Eisenberg?) ridge. This decision and the fighting prowess of the Americans backed up by 21st Army Group stopped the advance in its tracks long enough for the weather to clear and for the Airforce, both American and British, to do its stuff and destroy the German armour from the air.
        Monty then screwed it up by his press conference which rubbed the American a Generals noses in the mess they had created.

        As to Monty taking six to nine months to organise a pencil like thrust, that is a bit unfair. France and Belgium were liberated in August, a Market Garden was launched in September, just a few weeks after the greatest victory in the west in the war.

        Market Garden failed by a hairs breadth, a bridge too far, but it was not a bad idea. Had he bounced the Rhine in September and gained a lodgement on the eastern bank of the Rhine then it is highly likely that Eisenhower would have still taken over ground forces control but in doing so he would have bought Bradley in through the gap behind Montgomery who would then have burst out into Germany just as Patton burst out into France from the Normandy battle. Had that happened then the war would have ended before December with enormous benefits for the world at large and Europe in particular. Russia would not have taken Poland, Hungary, Austria or Checheslovakia. No Berlin Wall, no a Eastern Block, no captured German Rocket scientists or Nuclear experts?

        Possibly at least possibly.

        Back to Normandy

        Again the issue of Caan on the 3rd day after D Day is greatly misunderstood. The point of the Normandy battle was to draw the German Armour onto 21st Army Group in order to all 3rd Army to build up its strength and then break out in a very wide strategic sweep to the Seine. Whether he took Caan or not was not the issue, it was the perceived threat that drew the bulk of forces to 21st Army Group that enabled Patton and Bradley to break out in the south and east.

        That was Montgomery’s plan, a master stroke of strategic brilliance. But he was politically inept, he upset just about everyone he worked with both British and American and French! Because of that he is ignored by American historians or belittled unfairly. Because of this Patton is glorified beyond his true worth, Bradley is excused his human failures by pushing him into the background and Eisenhower is elevated to almost the level,of a Ceasar, or Napoleon of even a General Lee. But the truth is that these fine men, all if them, were thrust into a completely unknown circumstance that changed daily from one horror to another and in these circumstances they all did an extraordinary job and it is time that they were all credited fairly with the great work they did in those extraordinary days.

        Barry

    • Tom,
      You lost any credibility of objectivity when you commented that Montgomery always told there truth. If you cannot see the man’s lies you cannot see the man.

      His Overlord plans were not to draw German Armor to him in order for the Americans to breakout. His plan called for a quick taking of Caen by his Army.

  8. As for the disputes about “Monty” versus Patton or others, the most telling book was published in the early ’70s, the Ultra Secret. It was written by a Brit who had worked at Bletchley and after much of the information on WW 2 had been declassified.
    Read thoughtfully, this book demonstrates how easy Monty had it with Rommel, how Patton was anything but over aggressive and how much our fathers suffered with the political correctness of Ike and Bradley in shifting resources away from Patton and giving them to BLM.

    • I bet the poor sods in the 8th Army at El Alamein and the 21st Army Group in Normandy thought it was easy against Rommel.

    • Good post by Barry. However, I think you underestimate BLM’s contribution at the Battle of the Bulge. He moved XXX Corps swiftly to reinforce the American defences behind the Meuse bridges and deploy his liaison officers and assess the situation in the 1st and 9th Armies cut off from Bradley stranded in Luxemborg. They found Hodges 1st Army HQ abandoned. BLM consequently was given command of all allied troops in the north and was a tactical triumph of calculated aggressive defence. BLM personally visited the US 7th Armoured Division and galvanised them with a pep talk. He did ask Major General ‘Lightening Joe’ Collins, who BLM greatly admired, to form a strategic reserve ready to go on the offensive. During this period BLM was at his very best, afterwards he was at his very worst rubbing Eisenhower’s and Bradley’s noses in it.

  9. Monty and Patton both had their strengths and both had their faults. Both wanted to lead the big push into Berlin , but Ike insisted on a broad front policy.
    It’s sad to think that here we are , after all these years
    still doing the limey /yank thing. I don’t think the fighting men of the war ever held each in such contempt , while laying down their lives along side each other. As allies we suck at trying to remember each others
    strengths. We need to remember that without each other it would not have turned out good for anyone. The same thing applies today.
    If we can’t look at each other thru unbiased eyes then
    in the next big mess maybe we shouldn’t help each other
    and see where that gets us.

    • I am not a Monty hater but this business about giving him enormous credit for taking over the North shoulder of the bulge doesn’t sit right with me. He was an Army Group commander for goodness sake! If he couldn’t be counted on to regroup cut off units in his area… what could he be counted on to do?

      He accomplished many good things in the war but this particular event was no great feat IMO.

  10. Monty didn’t beat romel. the fact that hitler abandoned rommel in n. africa beat rommel.

    Monty was slow and indecisive in the hedgerow campaign, the breakout from the normandy beachhead.

    Monty insisted on a plan , Market Garden, that was shown from the start to fail…2 panzer divisions in arnhem …are you kidding me. and the bastard sacrificed 15000 allied casualties for his ego.
    Patton was on the bank of the Rhine when his fuel was stopped so monty could run his messes up ego trip.

    Absolutely, one of the most overrated generals in the entire WWII.

    • On the contrary Montgomery was very decisive in Normandy, he command of the battlefield like no other. It was his ability to respond to setbacks and new eventualities with a flexible approach that made Overlord such a success. The allies got to cross the Seine 3 days early, something Eisenhower was happy to brag about but failing to have any follow on plan. Despite the skills that got him from a desk to Supreme Allied Commander in 2 years he couldn’t manage the egos of his subordinates and ended up lamely advancing slowly on a broad front, unable to sufficiently keep his armies supplied and losing the momentum Montgomery had created during Overlord.

      • How hard did you hit your head before you made this comment? Montgomery was one of the most indecisive commanders on either side throughout the entire war. He often refused to attack unless he had an overwhelming advantage, he refused to allow deviations in his battle plans, and would’ve best served the Allied cause by remaining firmly in the rear as a logistics officer. He took two months to capture the city of Caen, which should have been captured on the first day.

      • Davidht. You are miserably wrong, and, like Ike, you misunderstand the plan of the Battle of Normandy. The plan was to draw German armour onto the area around Caen, and use Caen as the hinge around which the battle would pivot, with the Americans breaking out in the South and West, which is what they did, on schedule. If you look at the balance of armour on the 22nd Army front and the American front you will see a great preponderance of armour facing the British, Canadian and Polish Forces. The phase line indicating that Caen would be taken by day 1 was nothing more than a marker, not an objective. The success of Monty’s handling of the battle was that it worked like clockwork, the British took on the main body of German troops, while the Americans had the “glory” of the breakout. The whole point of the battle towards Caen was to attract German armour, and it succeeded. That the German army was all but defeated in Normady, and ran pell mell across the North European plain is disorder is an indication of the degree of success of Monty’s plan and his handling of the battle as a whole, since he was the overall land forces commander for the Battle of Normandy.

        The problem was that Eisenhower had the strange idea of fighting continuously all along the front, and, not understanding the basic strategy of the Battle of Normandy, effectively drained away the momentum achieved in Normandy which might have been used, with a concentration of forces, to break through the Rhine. Operation Market Garden, which attempted to do this was too little, too late, and meanwhile, while Marget Garden was on, Patton made sure that he was embroiled in a battle of his own, which starved the thrust into Germany and across the Rhine with the supplies it needed.

  11. great generals of the war von Manstein, Zhukov, Patton, Guderian, Rommel, Timeoshenko,

    the brits didn’t have a great general cause they didn’t have an army…little monty always had a 2 to 1 advantage in every engagement he fought…and still had problems…when someone questioned his plan(M garden) with real intelligence ..he had the intelligence put in the looney bin.

    (Redacted). the brits have not been a major ground force player since wwi.

    Can you imagine monty crapping his pants if he was force to command an army on the eastern front.
    Full counter attacks were normal there and the need to exploit breakthroughs had to happen fast, monty would have been shot by stalin for incompetence and fired by hitler…

    yet the allied politics allowed this yahoo to command american troops…sad ….sad …sad

    • Not as sad as allowing an organiser with a nice smile who had never held command beyond a desk and had never seen a dead soldier until he arrived in 1943 command over British & Canadian soldiers.

    • Hello David, I must rebut some of your assertions here. You assert that the broad front strategy was not sound. I have a quote from German army group commander Balk who disagreed. My summation of his dispatch is that the superior mobility of allied forces allowed this to be a very effective strategy indeed! As shown in greatest effect in the Lorraine tank battles. In fact this is precisely what the US army was built for.

      • The US army may have been built for this kind of warfare, but it would not have worked against the Wehrmacht, regardless of an opinion from a German General. The fact is that it did not work, and using this strategy lost the allies some vital months. Montgomery showed in Normandy how the Wehrmacht “schwer-punkt” method worked, but unbalancing the opposition, the method that Montgomery actually used in the Battle. Wasting men and materiel on the broad front strategy was a losing strategy, and, as I say, caused the allies valuable time, letting the Wehrmacht regroup, rearm, repair, and then make their strike through the Ardennes, which was poorly defended precisely because of the broad front strategy. And Montgomery’s reinforcing of this front, which was entirely Bradley’s responsibility, shows how inept American commanders could be.

    • Patton was no a great general, nowhere in the league with Mongomery, McArthur, Rommel, Guderian, Manstein, Model, Zhukov, etc. Patton was a brilliant tank commander, and on a limited field a good tactician, but he was a poor strategist. He was, however, wasteful of the lives of his troops, and would have been unable to command an army group, since he never had a grasp of battles as a whole. That is why, though Bradley was in command at the time that Montgomery moved British troops to protect the crossing of the Meuse, there was never a breakout through the Ardennes’ salient. When Montgomery took control of the Northern flank of the bulge, he straightened the line, gave confidence to the American forces that were in some disarray, and managed to prevent a major catastrophe. It took Patton several days to fight through to Bastogne, and looked very much as though he might not make it in time. Patton is a greatly overrated American commander, and reached his limit in command of an army. Montgomery’s keen mind and system of liason officers enabled him to keep tabs on huge battles comprising the strength of many armies. The really sad part is that he was not retained in control of the land forces, with Ike as Supreme Commander. Had this happened, there is very little doubt that Germany would have capitulated in 1944.

    • “I hate monty” — that in itself says a lot: This is the worst pile of horse-shit I have seen in a long while. You obviously have no grasp of Montgomery’s generalship, which outshone all the American Commanders by a country mile. Ike, as Supreme Commander, was excellent, because he was diplomatic, but he was hopeless at commanding land forces in battle. Montgomery would have done well on the Russian front, since he was completely unflappable. He had no fear at all, and was often chided by his officers for not taking better care of himself. He was quite amused when, during the Battle of the Bulge, Bradley locked himself up in his headquarters, and was incommuicado for some time, for fear that he would be shot. Not only that, but Montgomery always had his hand on the pulse of a battle, and knew how to move troops around to best advantage. You clearly know nothing about Montgomery, and very little about the battles involved, writing so ignorantly as you do. Montgomery knew how to fight the Wehrmacht, and would have done just fine on the Eastern Front, where all the others mentioned in this thread would be all at sea.

  12. Monty’s greastest mistake was not opening the Schsldt estuary. Part of the reasoning for Market-Garden was to rid the area of V1-2 rockets that were falling on London. However, for the supply conscious Monty, he blew a get opportunity to shorten his supply lines by over 300 miles, leaving the Red Ball express roads for the Americans. (Few ever discuss the disrepair of lorries by the over-extended supply lines). As it was, the cost was over 12,000 casualties (mostly Canadiens) and a delay until Nov 28 of the port being used. Remember, the port had to be opened anyway. Mkt-Garden delayed that by over 2 months at a cost of over a complete division decimated. In short, Monty’s strategy completely cost 2 full divisions (1st AB + the Canadians). Had the port been opened, the supply lines shorten and resources not wasted on MG, the allies could have continued to press the Germans on all fronts, not allowing them a chance to regroup and bolster defenses. By the way, Monty was not the right person to run MG. He was great as a set-piece general but not one to improvise like Patton.

    • Montgomery was an innovative general, wouldn’t have been victorious at El Alamein or Overlord if he wasn’t.

      • I must agree with Mike here. I believe Montgomery’s seeming refusal to allocate more resources to the estuary as was explicitly ordered was down right insubordinate. Montgomery complained about conflicting orders. The records I’ve seen don’t reflect this.

    • In his memoirs Montgomery acknowledges the failure to clear the Western side of the Scheldt estuary as a mistake. He underestimated the number of German troops in this area. But this was also Ike’s fault, since he was in overall command, and took command of the land forces on 1 September 1944. The problem was that Ike’s headquarters was always too far away from the battle front to have any idea in time of what was happening, to be able to respond in a timely fashion to fast changing actions taking place miles away from his command post, first on the coast of the Cherbourg peninsula, and then at Versailles. At one point almost all the leading American generals were holed up at Versailles at a crucial point in the Battle of the Bulge for fear of being assassinated by German assassins dressed in US uniforms.

      American generalship overall in the European theatre of war was on the whole second rate. None of the American generals seems to have understood Montgomery’s plan in Normandy, and so unfortunate claims about British reluctance to fight were made when the British were faced with the bulk of German forces in Normandy. Bradley was seriously at fault in failing to place defences in the Ardennes, given that the Germans had surprised the allies at the very start of the war by operating through this area, where, at the time (viz., in 1940), it was thought that tanks could not be used effectively. Ike also misunderstood the strategy of the Battle of Normady (as do several American commenters here), and subsequently, having taken over land forces commmand, his headquarters was too far away from the battle to be able to make decisions that had to be made instantly or sooner. And Patton was showboating, instead of paying attention to the progress all along the front, so that when he came to Metz and the Siegfried line he was stalled for weeks, and he wouldn’t have even made the Rhine crossing effectively had it not been for the British crossing of the Rhine in the north, which drew away a lot of armour from Patton’s front. The other fault was to use the area of the bulge, and to operate Eastward from there, thus dispersing its strength. It is strange that, under the circumstances, practically every American thinks that it was the US alone that won the war.

    • Montgomery did do so when ordered, but the orders were several days too late. Besides, had Market Garden worked, as it might have done if adequately supplied, the estuary would have been isolated in any case. And remember that, at the time, Montgomery was under great pressure to put a stop to the V1 and V2 attacks on Britain which caused more damage than the Blitz.

  13. Montgomery= the slowest moving, most unimaginative, most carefullllll General I’ve ever read. Only won battles through sheer weight of his numerical superiority. Lost Many battles: First Battle of El Alamein, Dieppe Raid, Operation Charnwood, Operation Epsom, Operation Goodwood, Operation Market Garden. He lost those battles even though he had every advantage. He even had ULTRA and was reading the German plans, yet he still failed numerous times. Wow. What a mediocre General.

    • Wow what a mediocre and factually incorrect post.

      • Why mediocre and incorrect?

      • Davidht, it is not only factually correct, it is something that needed saying in this forum. The fact that not even Eisenhower understood the strategy of the Battle of Normandy, in which the British did all the hard slogging and the Americans got the glory (which is perhaps the most selfless thing that a great general has ever done), is a plain fact. And anyone who did not understand the strategy is obviously inferior in generalship to to the general whose strategy it was (that is, Montgomery). Americans have crowed about Patton’s great end run around the British. But it was Montgomery and the British who made Patton’s breakout possible. The fact that Eisenhower would not support a winning strategy is evidence enough how seriously incapable of understanding war the American generals in the theatre actually were.

    • Brian, you simply misunderstand the battles concerned. The eighth army during the first battle of El Allamein was not Montogmery, but General Sir Claude Auchinleck. Montgomery was not present for the raid on Dieppe (since he had been transferred to Egypt), though he had recommended against it before he left. That fiasco is mainly the responsibility of Lord Mountbatten, whose proposal it was. The three operations carried out during the Battle of Normandy, Charnwood, Epsom, and Goodwood, could not have succeeded, but were intended to convince the Germans that the allies were going to break out in the East, thus drawing forces away from the South-Western, American Front, to enable the breakout to take place, as it did. Not to understand this is to misunderstand the Battle of Normandy. Montgomery’s greatest failure, if it can be called that (since it did actually pave the way for the later crossing of the Rhine), was Operation Market Garden, the operation that he had recommended from the time that the Germany armies collapsed in Normandy. It was too little, too late, but, had it been adequately supported by the Americans, it would have brought the allied Armies across the Rhine in 1944, and would likely have shortened the war by several months and several thousand dead. Its failure to be given that support was a measure of the American failure in generalship.

  14. I Can’t believe I have Finally found something About my Great Grandfather Field marshal montgomery. I am so glad that I can finally learn about him thank you to who ever made this site.

    • Well, Dylan, you have a heritage to be proud of! There are lots of books about your great grandfather, including his own memoirs. Nigel Hamilton wrote a three volume biography of him, and if you get the chance you should read it. Hamilton is quite frank about some of your great grandfather’s faults, but he makes it clear what a great general he was.

  15. Other than not being present at the first battle of El Alamien, and Dieppe,looks correct to me.

    • No, Dave, Montgomery was not present at Dieppe. He was asked to comment on the plans, and he advised against the raid, which went ahead without his approval after he had been transferred to Egypt, or at least was on his way.

    • Sorry, Dave, reading your note over again I seem to have misunderstood.

  16. I think that overall Monty was a very good general during the war. We need to keep in mind the militaristic history of Germany, and the fact that Germany had more than a few good generals and soldiers. As for Monty’s failures, as a boxer named Marciano once said, “everybody’s got a plan (to beat me) until he gets hit.” The Germans were smart and tough and they hit hard.

    • Montgomery was not only a great general during the war, but as Chief of the Imperial General Staff he was one of the formative influences on the founding of NATO, and later played a more immediate personal role in NATO affairs.

  17. Montgomery, Patton, Eisenhower, etc., — all were extraordinary men. All were flawed. All had great triumphs. All made awful blunders. The situation in war is fluid, constantly changing. What is a great tactic one day is a disaster the next. But to be ultimately victorious, all you have to do is one thing: make fewer mistakes than your enemy. One can make the argument that Hitler lost the war as much as the allies won it.

    • I am not sure I have ever been able to understand your closing remark, Mark (835). After all, if someone wins, someone loses, but it scarcely makes sense to say that the reason someone won is that someone else lost. That makes a logical point, but not a substantive one. That’s simply what it means to win: that someone lost. But it takes more than a loser to win a war, or practically anything else, if it comes to that.

  18. After 70 years of research and debate, it can be categorically asserted that Montgomery as the architect and ground force commander of the D day invasion is without a doubt the greatest general of the 20th century, and as WW2 was a global conflict, he could very well be the greatest operational commander of all time. It is really sad to read the pathetic discourse from mostly american writers who can never accept that somebody other than one of theirs could be the best

    • Tom, I agree entirely, and, if he had remained land forces commander, instead of Ike, who had never commanded an army in his life, the result of the victory in Normandy would have been the absolute collapse of the German Western Front. Unfortunately, the quickly promoted colonel pulled rank on Montgomery, and possibly necessarily, since politically the Americans would have objected to continue being commanded by a British general. However, had Montgomery remained in control, the European war would in all likelihood have been over in 1944.

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