General Sir Miles Dempsey is perhaps the least-well known senior British commander of the Second World War, familiar to many by name, but otherwise an unknown figure, overshadowed by his close association with Field Marshal Montgomery. This despite an impressive track-record during the Second World War that saw Dempsey take part in the retreat to Dunkirk and the anti-invasion preparations that followed, before moving to North Africa to take command of a corps during the invasion of Sicily and southern Italy.
He then moved to command the British Second Army, half of the Allied force that landed in France on D-Day. He was then involved in most of the famous British battles in Normandy, including Epsom and Goodwood, before leading his army during the breakout from Normandy, the advance across France, the ground-based part of the battle of Arnhem and the Rhine crossing in 1945. Before that he had fought on the Western Front from 1916 until the end of the war, taking part in the second part of the battle of the Somme.
Dempsey is obscure in a rather unusual way, in that anyone who has ready about the campaign in northern-western Europe in 1944-45 will be very familiar with his name, and the achievements of his army, but many (myself included) will know very little about the man himself. This obscurity can be blamed on a variety of causes. His own modesty, dislike of publicity and refusal to write memoirs undoubtedly play a major part in it. His decision to retire soon after the end of the war, thus missing a chance to become Chief of the General Staff, the professional head of the British Army, probably didn't help. The nature of his career also played a part, in that he didn't hold any important independent commands during the war, instead spending much of his time serving under Monty.
Much military history focuses on either the high command (Montgomery and Eisenhower) or on smaller-scale units - divisions and regiments in the British case. In some ways this reflects the reality of the fighting during the Second World War, with the high command establishing the strategy and the smaller units attempting to actually implement it. In this view of the army Corps and Army commanders are 'middle management', passing orders on from the men who issued them to the men who had to carry them out.
Rostron's work proves that to take that view of Dempsey would be a mistake. His role on D-Day was of vital importance, while his diplomatic skills helped to keep the peace between Montgomery and his American colleagues (not to mention with the RAF, where Monty managed to make enemies at an impressive rate!). The reasons behind his success as a commander are analysed alongside some of the key battles, with Dempsey's role in and opinion of the Arnhem plan getting the most coverage.
This is a useful biography of an important figure, and one that Dempsey would probably have approved of, avoiding as it does most of the exaggerated controversies that developed between the Allied generals in the post-war world, and that Dempsey found rather distasteful.
1 - School
2 - Execute Orders Received
3 - Orderly Room
4 - Officers
5 - Alarm (for Troops to Turn out under Arms)
6 - Return or Troops About Wheel
7 - Draw Swords
8 - Head of Column Change Direction Half Right
9 - Front
10 - Form Line
11 - Charge
12 - Pursue
13 - Halt
14 - Stand Fast/ Cease Firing
15 - Last Post
16 - Sunset
Author: Peter Rostron
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military