Montgomery, Field Marshal Bernard, 1887-1976

Montgomery’s wilfulness, egocentricity and arrogance were noticeably dominant traits of his character as a young officer. Despite them, he had risen at the outbreak of World War II to general’s rank and to command 3rd Division, which he took to France in 1939 and evacuated from Dunkirk, battered but intact, in June 1940. He was one of the last officers to leave the beaches, and brought home an enhanced reputation, which won him command first of V and then of XII Corps. His rise to fame began in 1942 when he was chosen by CHURCHILL to replace AUCHINLECK in command of 8th Army in the Western Desert. He had the good luck to take over at a time when the 8th Army was receiving its first plentiful consignment of modern equipment and reinforcements and when Rommel’s forces had almost outreached their own supplies by the speed and depth of their advance. It was Montgomery’s remarkable ability to infuse his new command with confidence and belief in his powers of command, as much as these material benefits, which fitted it, however, to undertake the task of defeating the enemy for good at the Battle of El Alamein. Montgomery’s conduct of the battle, and particularly of the pursuit towards Tunis which ensued, has been criticized. But he was the undoubted victor and thus, to that date, the first British general to have defeated a major German Commander in open battle. The British people accepted him as a hero overnight and he never subsequently lost that cachet. After the landing of the Anglo-American armies in French North Africa he became subject to EISENHOWER’s command and fought successfully to destroy what remained of the German-Italian army in Africa, particularly at the Battle of Mareth. In the invasion of Sicily he commanded in competition with the Americans for the capture of the island, and subsequently led the 8th Army in the invasion of Italy as far as the line of the River Sangro. In January 1944 he was recalled with Eisenhower to plan the invasion of Europe, in which he was to command the ground forces under the latter’s supreme direction. He rightly insisted on the amplification of the original landing force from three to five divisions and, once they were ashore on 6 June, conducted a well-judged offensive against the Germans which culminated in the breakout of the Allies from the bridgehead in July. In September he surrendered control of the ground forces to Eisenhower, but continued in charge of the British 21st Army Group until the end of the war. During the Ardennes campaign, he was once again summoned by Eisenhower to take charge of an Anglo-American force on the northern flank of the break in, which he handled with great skill if less tact. His organization of the Rhine Crossing was his last major command achievement before the end of the war, when he accepted the surrender of all German forces in northern Europe. After the war he was Chief of the Imperial General Staff and Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. He had been made Viscount Montgomery of Alamein for his great victory of 1942.

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