Eighth and First Army friction

Discussion in 'Higher Formations' started by Chris C, Sep 29, 2018.

  1. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    I am reading A Full Life by "Jorrocks" and he says that at the time of link-up between 1 Army and 8 Army, the Eighth had been getting all the press while the First had been engaged in very hard fighting, as a result of which there were some bitter feelings. And that when 78 Division joined 8 Army for the invasion of Sicily, they wrote "We have no connection with the 8th Army" on their vehicles.

    Can anyone confirm this general sentiment? I think it's been left out of other accounts I've read.
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  2. Tony56

    Tony56 Member Patron

    The answer I think is yes. I have read somewhere that Monty made some comment to the effect that he would "see if they were good enough to join his army". I believe that was also the reason he left 78th Division in Africa for the initial Operation Husky, but then had to call them over. See the following extract:
    Assault on Sicily by Ken Ford
    Pg 201

    “The 78th Division was one of Britain’s best divisions, a mix of regular and territorial battalions that had performed particularly well in Tunisia. Under the divisional badge of a yellow crusader’s battleaxe, the formation took part in most of the major operations carried out by the 1st Army. Major General Vivian Evelegh commanded the division, which had arrived in North Africa as the spearhead of Anderson’s formation during the Torch landings in Algiers. With armoured support it made the dash to Tunis and came within 15 miles of the Capital before being stopped dead by the elite paratroopers and tanks of Oberst Koch’s famed battle group. For the greater part of the Tunisian campaign, the battleaxe division fought in the hills and mountains above Medjez, earning a reputation as Britain’s premier mountain division. It suffered, in Montgomery’s eyes, from being part of the 1st Army, but now in Sicily, he needed the division more than he cared to admit. The famed 8th Army divisions were unable to complete the task Monty had felt they could achieve on their own; they were stalled in the mountains and needed a boost. Evelegh’s Battleaxe Division was just the outfit to get them going again”,
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  3. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles


    Try this, for example:

    [Dates: 1943, obviously]

    20180930_023836.jpg 20180930_023831.jpg

    I might have a look at Leese's biography later on and see if it comes up.
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  4. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    Oof. Rough stuff. Thanks for the input!
  5. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    I've found the part from Horrocks you're referring to:

    Inside the caravan were Generals Alexander and Montgomery standing in front of a map.

    Monty turned to me and said: " The whole weight of the final attack is being shifted from here round to the 1st Army front, from where the final coup de grace will be administered. You will go off to-day, taking with you the 4th Indian Division, 7th Armoured Division, and 201st Guards Brigade, and you will assume command of the 9 Corps in General Anderson's army. You will then smash through to Tunis and finish the war in North Africa."

    When I inquired what had happened to Crocker, the commander of 9 Corps, I was told that he had been wounded during a demonstration and would be out of action for a few weeks.

    My heart leapt. This was the real art of generalship a quick switch, then a knock-out blow. How much better than battering our heads against the strong Enfidaville position. And what luck for me that I should be selected for the job. Then my better nature asserted itself and I began to feel very sorry for poor John Crocker who, after bearing the brunt of all the fighting in North Africa, was to be deprived of the final fruits of victory.

    At 3.15 I was off, taking with me a small staff, and by that evening I had entered a new world, because the 1st and 8th Armies were as different as chalk from cheese. It is astonishing how each army in battle develops its own personality. These two most certainly had. They looked different and felt different.

    There was no doubt that the 8th Army was by this time a very efficient force, but it was the scruffiest-looking army you could imagine. The vehicles were battered and old, and round them hung a collection of old tin cans each of which had an important role to play in the by now famous desert brew.

    Few people, certainly among the officers, wore uniform, and when they did it was patched and holed. The Americans when, we first joined up, poured over, complete in full uniform and equipment and wearing their steel helmets, to have a look at the famous, victorious 8th Army. And what did they find? A curious sort of gypsy encampment! Montgomery like his distinguished predecessor Wellington paid little attention to dress. As Gratton who served in the 88th during the Peninsular War wrote:

    "Provided we brought our men into the field well appointed with their sixty rounds of ammunition each he (Wellington) never looked to sec whether trousers were black, blue or grey; and as to ourselves we might be rigged out in any colour of the rainbow if we fancied it."

    These words might well have been written about the 8th Army in the desert. It is a curious fact that two of Britain's most successful armies, Wellington's and Montgomery's were also two of the scruffiest which ever went to war.

    The 1st Army looked much more like an army. Their vehicles were fairly new and painted green, not yellow like ours. Headquarters were camouflaged, everyone wore uniform. In fact this was the army with which I had trained in the U.K. up to nine months before.

    Coming from the 8th Army I didn't expect to be exactly welcomed with open arms because, as I knew only too well, there was no love lost between the two. But I was getting used to this sort of situation by now.

    I have no doubt that many people will be surprised to read so often of dislikes, jealousies and personal animosities, but just because people go to war they don't change their natures. In fact the unpleasant traits in people's characters tend to be emphasised. Everyone is living under considerable strain for most of the time. On the battlefield the niceties of peace-time civilised behaviour disappear, and the naked emotions, fear, hatred and jealousy are apt to emerge. Bitter animosities flare up suddenly; in the 1914 war the gunners and infantry were constantly at loggerheads, in the desert it was the infantry and tanks who did not get on.

    A regiment may imagine that the one next to it, by failing to capture some objective, has uncovered a flank, and as a result a bitter hostility grows up between them which may last for years. These are the sort of things which happen in war and it is no good pretending they don't.

    In this case I could quite understand why the 1st Army so disliked us. They had experienced some hard fighting in that difficult North African mountainous country and had come through a gruelling test with great credit. If you have any doubt about that, read the account of the battle of Tebourba, when the 2nd Battalion the Hampshire Regiment held out for four days though attacked by German forces which outnumbered them by four to one, supported by modern tanks and with complete air superiority.

    Yet the 1st Army had no spectacular gains to show for all their hard fighting, and the papers were full of the victorious drive of the 8th. We had captured the headlines, and by this time were insufferably conceited. When I met a senior 1st Army general a few weeks before, he greeted me by saying sarcastically, " You must be having a wonderful time rounding up the Italians in the desert." [Charley: who, I wonder?]

    So bitter was this feeling that later on, when 78th Division, the famous 1st Army " Battle Axe " division, came under Montgomery's orders during the invasion of Sicily, they bore proudly on their vehicles the words, " We have no connection with the 8th Army."

    These things have to be faced, and on arrival at 9 Corps headquarters I assembled as many people as I could and explained that I had not come there as a superior being from a superior army to teach them anything at all. I knew very well the difficulties they had been
    through. I couldn't help the fact that I came from the 8th Army, and I probably wasn't as bad as they thought. Anyhow, here I was and they had better make the best of me. This cleared the atmosphere considerably, because everyone laughed.

    I had been warned that General Anderson, the 1st Army commander, was a dour Scot and a difficult man to serve, but as far as I was concerned no one could have been nicer. He was quite clear about what I was to do: " Capture Tunis " it was as simple as that. Then he went on to enumerate the forces he proposed to place under my command, namely: two infantry divisions, the 4th British and 4th Indian with 160 Churchill tanks and two armoured divisions, the 6th and 7th, supported by the whole tactical air force commanded by " Mary " Coningham, and an immense weight of artillery. My spirits soared. If I failed to break through with this immensely powerful force under command, then I deserved to be shot.
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2019
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  6. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Does anybody have a copy of this to hand?


    I have Alexander's Generals by the same author and it is good on the relationships between the senior officers in Italy. This book might (or might not) shed more light here.
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  7. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    First Army got no glory, though they fought every bit as hard as the Eighth. I am not surprised at all that many of the old First felt bitter. I should also add that in 1943 K.A.N. Anderson was one of only a handful of British Army commanders who had actually won a major victory, yet he never held another field command. There can't be much precedent for that.
  8. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    The Blaxland book is good, as are his other titles.
  9. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    An excerpt of an account written by a friend's father, Capt Percy Hamilton MC. mentions his memory of that time:

    "We had a big parade one day on a flat piece of ground near the camp. The three Bttns were on parade separately and Montgomery inspected each in turn; we had all been warned of his method of inspecting troops: that is to make them take their hats off, so we all had our hair cut.

    We spent a long time getting in straight lines and the flag was flying on a specially planted flagstaff. When Monty arrived, he was met by the CO, who he spoke to and then drove in the car right into the middle of the square and told us to gather round the car. Next thing was “take your hats off. I want to see what you look like.” He asked where the best men came on and went on bellyaching till someone said “Derry”, which he wanted all along. Then he told us we looked a good looking bunch, which to us was as good as saying “you’re off to Sicily.”

    Next, after a few days, there was a meeting of all ranks from Sgt upwards in a cinema in Tunis and we were told that the 1st Army was joining the 8th. We took a very poor view of this and are, to this day, proud of the 1st on our ‘Africa Stars’."
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  10. hutt

    hutt Member

    While he never said much I did pick up on a few occasions that my father must have felt this 1st vs 8th Army thing long after the war as he once said quite pointedly that he had been 1st Army and not 8th or a Dessert Rat.

    For the historical record, attached is some evidence that there was indeed a 1st Army and they also fought in Africa!

    Attached Files:

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  11. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Having checked the bookshelf, I find that I have far too many publications on and by those involved in this period--it would take a whole day to read and reference the pertinent parts.

    That said, a few passages cropped up immediately. Rowland Ryder, author of Oliver Leese makes several milder references to 1st Army being perceived not to be getting the job done properly.

    This is the main one:

    Operation Torch was not proving successful. In accordance with a decision taken at Casablanca, Alexander was to exercise tactical command if the battle in Tunisia as soon as English Eighth Army had crossed the Tunisian frontier, and Eisenhower had told him to take over on 20 February. Alexander was highly critical of Anderson's handling of 1 Army, and wrote to Monty asking Monty if Leese could be spared from 30 Corps to replace Anderson.

    I'd imagine that such a replacement would have gone down like a cup of cold sick with 1st Army. Ryder then quotes Monty's reply of 17/3/43 saying that Leese was up to the job but could not be spared with Pugilist, the Mareth offensive, on his plate.

    He continues:

    Monty wrote again on 29 March releasing Leese, but Alexander had by that time changed his mind and was virtually commanding First Army himself.
    In a similar vein, Rupert Clarke, Alex's ADC, writes in With Alex At War:

    As far as British 1st Army was concerned, Alex at once realized that he was going to have to hold General Kenneth Anderson firmly by the hand. Described by Monty, in a typically unkind way as 'a good plain cook', Anderson simply did not have the flair for Army command and needed all the help and encouragement that Alex could give him. The final battles and the breakthrough would all be fought under Alex's personal command.
    The implication from Nigel Nicholson's biography, Alex, is that Alexander was treating Monty and Anderson very differently, consulting and soliciting advice from Monty, but simply issuing orders to Anderson. Alanbrooke's War Diaries make reference to the good impression he had formed of Anderson in France, but adds that he was proving a disappointment in North Africa. It must be borne in mind, however, that much of the basis for this judgment would be his correspondence with Alex. Returning to Alex's view, Nicholson sweetens the pill when he concedes:

    [Alexander] was hard on Anderson, whose sheepish appearance concealed a strong will. He described in telegrams to Brooke and Montgomery a situation of confusion and planlessness which was less Anderson's fault than Eisenhower's, for Anderson had not been given proper authority until too late nor enough troops, disadvantages from which Alexander himself did not suffer. Montgomery was not displeased by the implicit contrast between the performance of the two armies. 'From all I have heard from you and many others', he wrote to Alexander on 21 March, 'it is obvious that Anderson is completely unfit to command any army. He must be far above his ceiling, and I should say that a divisional command is probably his level.' Alexander asked him if he could spare Oliver Leese to take over from Anderson, but Montgomery could not. Anderson remained in command until the end of the campaign, watched closely by Alexander, and justifying his position if not adorning it.

    [He then goes on to detail the heavy criticism Alex made of the American performance, too]

    Possibly my favourite anecdote is from Maj-Gen David Belchem, at the time having just returned to Monty's staff and been appointed G1 (Ops) at the rank of Lieut-Colonel. In his memoirs, All In The Day's March, he concludes his section on North Africa by writing:

    The assault on Tunis was made by General Horrocks in conformity with Montgomery's principles. The thrust was made on 6 May by two divisions on a front of 3,000 yards, and 7 Armoured Division led the way into Tunis on 7 May. A joker erected a sign at the entry of the city, 'Eighth Army welcomes First Army to Tunis.' This nearly led to a war between our armies!

    As I say, I haven't done sufficient reading to declare a conclusion, but the picture emerging is one where much of 8th Army had conducted a long, hard slog from Alamein and believed themselves to have learnt vital desert-fighting lessons for which they had paid in blood. With this mindset, they weren't inclined to allow any (in their view) Johnny-come-lately step in and take the final prize if they could help it, whether that Johnny was 1st Army or Yank. This understandably irked members of 1st Army at all levels, as they were not nearly as green as was being alleged and had themselves been learning lessons at a fair cost. These 'outward demonstrations' of rivalry we've read of were no doubt tolerated (possibly encouraged) as means of fostering esprit de corps, but the fact that they were reflected at the command level was a failure the likes of which Horrocks describes in the earlier quotation. It clearly should not have been tolerated at the top, but despite Monty's frequent prohibitions against 'bellyaching', he was as eager as ever to make himself appear taller by diminishing the work of any and all possible rivals.

    Can anybody supply some 1st Army perspectives? I feel that all I've dug up presents an excessively lop-sided picture.

    [Un-oh, blaming Monty: I've seen threads go south at this point, so it might be worthwhile adding that I am a great admirer of Montgomery. He was a great man but possessed almost equally great flaws, not least an almost pathological tendency to promote himself and deride fellow generals (not all of them even rivals). His nurturing of a 'Montgomery Myth' (of sorts) was extremely valuable in forging 8th Army into the weapon it needed to be, but the preservation of this image later brought far more pain than gain for the Allied War effort; the state of inter-army relationships in NWE 1944+ was nothing short of a disgrace and soured what should have been Monty's moment of supreme triumph].
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2019
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  12. Richelieu

    Richelieu Well-Known Member

    One of the things that has puzzled me about this period were the circumstances that led to Colonel David Stirling’s capture in January 1943. I have seen his last mission characterised as little more than an ego trip - just so he/the SAS could claim to be the first to make the link. As I understand it, the vehicles couldn’t carry enough fuel to bridge the gap so extra vehicles (delivered at great cost) were sacrificially used to carry fuel and then abandoned. Was this the product of this rivalry or was there a genuine military purpose for this mission?
  13. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    Have you read Ben Macintyre's 'SAS Rogue Heroes' p.180-3?

  14. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    The answer is definitely yes!
    Here are a few paragraphs I transcribed from an IWM interview with John Gowan, a Trooper with 56 Recce with whom my father served with:

    .........It was a bit tricky when we met the 8th Army, because they were coming - we knew they were about, and we were expecting to meet them, so when we saw armoured cars, which were a lot bigger than ours, and a lot heavier, coming down or moving across the top of the road, and we were down here, at our end, they just edged forward gradually until they recognised each other. Then we met the 8th Army.

    Was there a danger they would fire?

    Well you could have done, because there was no fixed line obviously, because they were pushing forward and we were pushing, not necessarily in their area, but it was just a case of, you’ve got to be a bit wary when you know they’re about, obviously.

    How did you get on with them?

    Well we didn’t. Now then, we captured Tunis and Montgomery - General Alexander was our Commander - we were pulled in together to meet Montgomery, and he was stood on a truck, I think it was, and got us round him “Take your hats off, hmmm” - Oh, he seemed very supercilious to me, he looked down his nose and said “Hmmm, I suppose you men could fit into my Army”, just like that, which wasn’t very good actually, we didn’t think so. So after that…

    Did anybody give him the bird?

    No what we did after that, you found that all 1st Army vehicles, ‘cause we were 8th Army then, he said you know, when we went to Sicily we were 8th Army, we finished in Africa as 1st Army, but all our vehicles were marked “no connection with any other Army”. There was a lot of row about it you know, it died out in the end but, it was the manner in which he met you, and yet at the end of Italy, he said he had never known a fighting Division as good as the Battleaxe Division. He said he thought it was the finest in the British Army! Now surely he knew what they’d been doing in Africa, they’d kept in touch with each other, surely the 1st and 8th Armies, they were working together, but there you are, so it went down like a lead bomb when he said you may fit into my Army, my 8th Army (laugh!)

    Trooper John Gowan, 56 Recce - IWM Interview transcription

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  15. Staffsyeoman

    Staffsyeoman Member

    The animosity continued; how many senior commanders of 1st Army were picked up for Normandy? Not (m)any...
  16. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Well Crocker for a start.
  17. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Didn't Crocker have some kind of prior connection with Monty and Alanbrooke though?

    Staff college?

    Dimly recalled--will check later.
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2018
  18. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Just for the record, i arrived in North Africa too late to do any fighting and joined my first major unit at Tunis.

    Prior to that, I had been a 1st Army reinforcement but within months, once we had landed in Sicily, we became the 8th Army and henceforth were known only under that title.

    Back home in the UK, any reference to the 8th Army automatically conjured up images of the Desert Rats and I was most amused when, on my first leave home in 1945 my Dad referred to me as being "one of Monty's men"

    I've dug up my original posting of some 5 years ago which went as follows:

    "In his heyday, Monty achieved almost a mystical reputation for being the greatest of Generals..

    I still remember my first LIAP leave in the UK, when my dad took me to a local whist drive and introduced me as "One of Monty's men"

    People actually lined up to shake my hand" :)

    Last edited: Oct 6, 2018
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  19. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    I was wrong.

    Crocker was at Quetta a few years before Monty, but he served as Alanbrooke's GSO1 between the wars.

    Any more 1st Army high-flyers?
  20. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    Bradley, Patton... :whistle:
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2018

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