Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery (1887-1976)

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Abrasive, difficult but successful British General during the Second World War. Montgomery had served on the Western Front during the First World War, and remained in the army between the wars. In 1939 he managed to get command of the 3rd Division. His command abilities were first appreciated (by others) during the retreat to Dunkirk, where his division covered the rest of the retreated army. Montgomery showed an ability to stay on top of the details under pressure that suggested he was suitable for high command.

In August 1942 he was appointed to command the Eighth Army, facing Rommel in the Western Desert. In a war so far dominated by movement, Montgomery reverted to First World War tactics, forcing Rommel to attack a strong defensive line. With this victory behind him, Montgomery was able to stand up to Churchill, refusing to go on the offensive until he had been reinforced. When he finally went on to the offensive at El-Alamein (23 October-5 November) his army massively outnumbered the Germans and was able to inflict a crushing defeat on Rommel, one of the first suffered by the Germans. This made Montgomery a national hero in Britain, and helped to mark the turning point of the Second World War (along with the siege of Stalingrad).

Montgomery and Leigh-Mallory during Overlord
Montgomery and
Leigh-Mallory
during Overlord

In December 1943, Montgomery was recalled to Britain, where he took control of the planning for Operation Overlord. He was in direct command on D-Day (6 June 1944), but his reputation now started to decline. German resistance away from the beaches was greater than expected, and when the breakthrough came it was in the American zone. His relationships with his American colleagues were increasingly hostile, especially after Eisenhower took over direct command of the army. Montgomery was promoted to Field Marshal in the aftermath of the breakout from the beaches.

The biggest blot on Montgomery’s record is Operation Market Garden, the attempt to capture the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem. However, bad luck played a significant part in this defeat – a crack German division was recovering from the Eastern Front in the area, and victory at Arnhem could have dramatically shortened the war.

Montgomery was a very capable general, who played a key role in the allied victory, both in Africa and on D-Day. Moreover, he was careful with the lives of his men, and won his victories without suffering huge casualties. His ability to irritate his colleagues should not be allowed to distract from his reputation.
Bernard Montgomery, Tim Moreman. Focusing on his time in North Africa and in northern Europe in 1944-45, Moreman's biography of Britain's best known general of the Second World War looks at his style of leadership and the reasons for his successes and his failures, and the famous character flaws that poisoned his relationship with his American allies. [read full review] cover cover cover

The Art of Leadership, Field Marshal The Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. This is a revised edition of Monty's classic work on leadership including a chapter comparing Churchill and Eisenhower that was excluded from the original work. Of interest both for Montgomery's thoughts on what made a good leader and for the insight it gives us into his attitudes towards some of his wartime contemporaries. [read full review]

cover cover cover
The British Army 1939 45 (2) Middle East & Mediterranean, Brayley, Martin J., Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2002, Men-At-Arms Series No. 368. Part two of a three part look at the British Army during the Second World War, this book provides a good summary of the fighting around the Mediterranean, including North Africa and Italy, looks at the special uniforms needed in these theatres and includes an overview of the British Artillery. [see more] cover cover cover

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How to cite this article:Rickard, J (12 November 2005) Montgomery, Bernard Law, General (1887-1976), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_montgomery.html

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