Who was the best British Commander?

Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by Garreth Hughes, Apr 4, 2004.


The best Western Desert Force/Eighth Army Commander

  1. O'Connor

  2. Ritchie

  3. Cunningham

  4. Auchinleck

    0 vote(s)
  5. Montgom

  1. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Andrea -
    Missed that quote from Agar Hamilton - but I assume he was there at the time ?

    You should recall that we had lost Godwen -Austin -Norrie was already past it - then the newly appointed Commander of 7th Armoured - Jock Campbell V.C. was killed in a car mishap - we were indeed running out of Generals - so someone had to be promoted ! See the list of our Generals in POW camps....De Wiart - Neame V.C. - O'Conner - Combe ..
    - This was the reason that Monty couldn't fire Lumsden or Gatehouse when he took over -and had to wait until Medenine to do so ... there was very little left and you will note that he brought Leese - Kirkman and Horrocks out to the desert to take over XXX corps and Xth corp as well as shaking up the Artillery - Kirkman designed the El Alamein barrage before taking over a corps - Dempsey also came out.....

  2. Jaeger

    Jaeger Senior Member

    Richard Simpkin among others voice an interesting point about generals in peacetime are no good for a war, or rather the brilliant commanders never rise to higher office in peacetime.

    During peace the most important quality of an officer is conformity. A damned useless trait during campaigning where you need to take important decisions on your feet.

    To follow Simpkins thoughts he suggested that commanders should have a go at buisiness management sprinkled with army service. In this way they would be forced to take important decisions, and think outside the box. A cracking good read.
  3. Some Chicken

    Some Chicken Member

    A strange thread this, which seems to have been around forever and occasionally springs into life again. In my opinion Montgomery stands head and shoulders above the rest (as a general if not physically!) and it is a shame to see his achievements downplayed so often.

    Under Auchinleck, 8th Army stopped Rommel on the Alamein line but then failed badly in the counterattacks which followed later in July, despite enjoying a significant advantage in numbers and materiel. As Tom pointed out earlier, First Alamein had been preceded by defeat at Gazala, the capture of Tobruk and Ash Wednesday, with the loss of Egypt regarded as a real possibility. One account of this period talks of 8th Army perpetually "looking over its shoulder", and anticipating the next retreat to another defensive position.

    Those who criticise Montgomery for being vain, publicity minded etc seem to me to overlook a couple of important points. Firstly wars are seldom won by shrinking violets who are afraid to ruffle feathers if necessary to get the job done. Secondly soldiers want to be led by a commander they can believe in. For all their ability, Wavell and Auchinleck were somewhat aloof characters and didn't communicate well with, or inspire the rank and file in the way Montgomery did. In contrast, Rommel benefited from a 'cult of personality' built around his exploits, so that ordinary Italian soldiers as well as Germans seemingly had confidence in his leadership.

    In taking over a demoralised army which had become accustomed to defeat and retreat, it was vital that Montgomery drew a definite line under what had gone before. Doubters in staff positions and commanders he did not believe to be up to the job had to go, along with contingency plans for further withdrawal. Montgomery set about creating his own personality cult and did it very well, in record time. Those who criticise him now do not explain how else he could have convinced the rank and file that it really would be different this time round. Whether this policy reflected personal vanity or expediency (or a mixture of both) is unimportant – the key was that 8th Army believed it was now led by someone who had the measure of Rommel. Ordinary soldiers are seldom fooled for long by their commanders and none of the personal accounts I have read (and I have read a lot of them) suggest that the fighting troops had anything less than total confidence in Montgomery.

    Detractors also like to point out that Montgomery enjoyed significant superiority in men and equipment at Alamein and give the impression that 8th Army had to do little more than push on the door to throw the Axis out of Egypt. This view fails to acknowledge either the transformation in 8th Army brought about by Montgomery or the strength of the Axis defences. Would 8th Army have won at Second Alamein under Auchinleck? The failure of the July counterattacks suggests otherwise and personally I don’t think so.

    A longer post than I intended but I couldn't find a button to vote Montgomery!

  4. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Hear - Hear - well said that man !

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