Montgomery Controversy

Discussion in 'General' started by merdiolu, Dec 12, 2013.

  1. mapshooter

    mapshooter Senior Member

    Apropos German losers, Kenneth Macksey pointed out that the German General Staff managed to distinguish itself by losing two world wars.
  2. idler

    idler GeneralList

    But I prefer to remember them as a great bunch of throughly decent chaps with such warm personalities...
  3. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron


    Slight clarification please.

    Which chaps ?

  4. idler

    idler GeneralList

    The German General Staff, Ron. I can only conclude that none of them had 'highly objectionable personalities', otherwise Monty's wouldn't be such a big issue.

    It was, admittedly, a slightly sarcastic reaction to the ease with which ad-homs like 'highly objectionable personality' roll off the tongues of even objective historians of the quality we have here (and that last bit is definitely not sarcasm, just for the avoidance of doubt).
  5. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Inasmuch as this is the season of peace and tranquility - and to avoid re-reading Belasar's LOOOONg dissertation I am willing to accede that Patton was the

    greatest Armoured Leader of WW2 - once he accepted the fact in the NWE campaign - he had to do some fighting….and that Monty was ..perhaps the

    greatest Infantry leader since Wellington and a few others on our side……or even his side...

    However I should like to suggest yet another challenge to Patton's greatest title albeit little known except to those who were lucky enough to serve in Italy

    and beyond…..and the man - an ADC to Alexander at the time of El Alamein (Oct. battle) and had the temerity to suggest to Monty that the use of his Corps di

    Chasse of 1st - 7th - and 10th Armoured Divisions be used to assault and breakthrough to overcome Rommel's resistance leaving Lumsden miffed that he

    didn't think of it and leaving his corps too tired to fight in the rain swept desert beyond Fuka ….and even Monty miffed as the suggestion came from a TANK

    man - who again made a suggestion on the British Blitzkreig on the departure of Lumsden - Monty had had enough of him and transferred him to look after

    Xth corps attached to the US 5th Army of the redoubtable Wayne Clark - who recognized him as a "feather duster " who saved his bacon on the last push at

    the Argenta gap who was finally promoted as GOC 8th Army...

    I refer of course to Lt.Gen McCreery who might have prospered in the NWE where Tanks were more useful than in the Infantry battles of Italy - and the

    leadership of Oliver Leese - an Infantry man- who once boasted before Operation Diadem that he had 2000 Tanks of which he could afford to lose 50%

    this cheered the rest of us up no end as he nearly made it by ONLY losing 800 - and got rid of even more at the Gothic Line where he was happily transferred

    to Burma - allowing McCreery to finish the job - with HIS Tanks...

  6. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Weinberg is a very considerable scholar, and not to be lightly dismissed. He is not a great writer, and 'panic' is undoubtedly a poor choice of words. Montgomery was not the panicky type. I have checked the reference to the withdrawals, though, and it comes from a letter by Montgomery to Simbo Simpson in the Alanbrooke papers in the Liddell Hart Center archive. If Montgomery really did call for major withdrawals elsewhere on the front, then he was absolutely wrong to do so. He could be mistaken at times, and this may have been one such case. I would like to see the letter in full, of course. But that, in all these cases, is what you have to do. You can't rely on secondary authorities, so back to the sources: war diaries, message logs, diaries, letters, interviews close to the events.

    I have checked a number of secondary authorities on Montgomery's role in the Ardennes, and they give somewhat contradictory accounts and interpretations. My own feeling is that he was not at his best in the closing months of the war, particularly over broader streategy and his relations with higher commanders and Britain's allies. I don't know enough about 21 Army Group's own operations to comment much on how he handled those.
    Rich Payne likes this.
  7. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    To clarify:

    Personality, in and of itself, has little or no bearing on a commander's ablity. A commander without some hardness in his make-up is no commander; wars are not won entirely by nice guys. Zhukov was a brute, Napoleon a liar and a cad, but both were great commanders. Manstein was (arguably) a great commander, but he was also a two-faced sneak; Kesselring frequently toadied to Hitler while taking a brutally harsh line with the soldiers and airmen who were fighting for him.

    Montgomery had the hardness that every great commander needs. He was a great deal harder on the officers under him than he was on the men, which is I think as it should be. As a man, Montgomery could be amusing and even charming when he chose, and he used these abilities to the full to stimulate morale and build confidence among his troops.

    Yet Montgomery was an egotistical man, and the hardness required in his job sometimes crossed the line and became uneccessary rudeness and coldness. He was very reluctant to admit error, often insisting that a battle (Mareth, Caen) had gone according to plan when it had not. (In both cases, of course, Montgomery recovered well and won anyway.) He would take credit for the work of others, as when he insisted that 8th Army had done nothing right until he arrived. His troops did not see this side of Montgomery's personality, but his colleagues and superiors did and it won him no friends. Montgomery's professional skill outweighed his personal weaknesses and the latter were bearable when he commanded only British and Commonwealth troops, but they became a real hindrance when he had to work with Allied forces.

    For what it is worth I find Patton's personality even more displeasing. I don't put Montgomery's or Patton's personality defects on the same level as the greed and brutality of the German commanders, by any means; for all their chatter about 'honor,' the German generals were a despicable crowd. I also feel that too much of the literature about Allied generals focuses on personalities, to the detriment of more substantial issues such as battlefield performance. It was Montgomery's curse--as it was Patton's--that his personal flaws would leave him more vulnerable to his critics and obscure much of his achievement.
  8. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    you forgot to add to your penultimate paragraph……."when he had to work with Allied forces - of lesser professional training and experience…

  9. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    By 1944, being known as either a "tank" man or an "infantry man" could and should be considered a career limiting assessment. It implies being one dimensional and at that stage of the war, the ability to proficiently manage mobile, combined arms formations should have been a minimum requirement for senior commanders.
  10. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    by 1944 it should have been the case but wasn't and it was late that the Battle grouping came about with Tanks - Infantry - Artillery and support units with

    the Air Force acting as a cab rank support group on call….to-day of course all these various commands are better integrated and each is understood...

    it was in it's infancy at El Hamma and Tunis in 1943...

  11. belasar

    belasar Junior Member

    My knowledge of Gen. McCreery is sadly limited, but that of which I do know has been universally positive, so he indeed might have thrived in NW Europe in command of 2nd Army or perhaps even 21 Army Group itself. In the case of Gen. Leese one might have to question if Burma found his transfer as quite the happy occasion 8th Army did. Certainly it seems the superb Slim and the media savvy Mountbatten had somewhat less cheery opinions on the man's presence in Burma.

    Earlier in this thread his "I can afford to lose a thousand tanks, because I have a thousand replacements" comment was interjected and I objected because, however true it might have been, only a fool or a tyrant would say something like that about troops he commanded.

    As for Mark Clark, what can one say? I suppose the kindest comment I can make is that he was a man promoted beyond his ability. I suspect that had he been relegated to administrative commands, say chief of staff of an Army or Army Group, he might have both thrived and fulfilled the expectations of Marshall when he entered his name in the little black book in the pre-war period.
  12. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    One of the facts of life is that when your leader just before a major battle which was the operation "Diadem" the clearing of the Liri Valley and the push

    of the two German Armies onto the "anvil " which was to be created at Valmontone by the US 5th Army Commander - was heard to boast that " he had 2000

    Tanks and that he could afford to lose 50% of them…." had the effect of turning the content of our lower bowels into bricks as in the first few hours both NIH

    and 51st RTR lost some 36 Tanks from a total of 170 or close to 20% of strength……only because that my brigade- 21st TB was sitting not 20 miles away at

    Prezenzano acting as reserve to 25 th TB….it can be imagined how the leaders words were received….it was even worse at the Gothic Line where my unit

    lost 30 out of 57 Tanks in just under the month long battles..we were more than pleased to learn that our leaders had been inflicted upon the Burma crowd

    and McCreery had been finally let loose upon a smaller 8th Army..and it should be noted that this did not equal the size of Dempsey's 2nd Army nor indeed

    Monty's three armies grouping at 21st AG….there was still an apprenticeship to be served...

  13. merdiolu

    merdiolu Junior Member

    You know I am glad this thread developed like that so many interesting side topics about Montgomery and Allied military establishment. Just let you know.

    Richard McCreery was a very understated but very gifted leader. I have his biography but have not read it yet. Along with Truscott -another humble but veteran commander from US - they revived 15th Army Group and carried it to victory in final Alied offensive across Po Valley in April 1945. I heard that during critical point of Battle of Alamein in November 1942 actually McCreery working for Alexander's staff back then-picked up breakthough - break out point for decisive assault Operation Supercharge initiated by New Zealander Div and 10th Corps , a junction point between German and Italian forces at Axis defence. Is that true ? Later his leadership of 8th Army for final assault across Po Valley was excellent. But after the war I read somewhere he said some criticism about Monty and dew flak. Is that true ?
  14. 17thDYRCH

    17thDYRCH Senior Member Patron

    I have talked with several Canadian Veterans who shared the view that Monty and the British were only to happy to send in the Canadians when the merde was about to hit the proverbial fan. Dieppe? Battle of the Scheldt?
    My wife's second cousin, Perth Regiment, 5CAD, told me about Montgomery addressing Canadian troops somewhere in Holland in April '45. He was met with guffaws and rolling eyeballs during his 'pep talk'.
    canuck likes this.
  15. mapshooter

    mapshooter Senior Member

    Eh, the Canadian Army was on the left of 21 AG, basically hugging the coast and liberating ports. Why should they complain about Scheldt? Did they expect Brit troops to take over when the going got tough? The Army Commandos seized their objectives at Dieppe. I suspect the Canadian problem was poor training and leadership.
  16. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    I suspect that the guffaws and rolling eyes from the Perths of Cdn 5th AD was a throwback to Monty firing the division when some unit chose to insult the

    the 1st Cdn Div by stating that they would now show them how to fight Ortona…after taking weeks to get ready for battle..Monty was not pleased as he

    thought the world of the 1st Div on their performance in Sicily...

    17thDYRCH likes this.
  17. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    Actually, half the casualties in the taking of the Scheldt were British. The point is, it was all so unnecessary. Attacking over the most difficult terrain, with no numeric advantage over the defenders, the German opponents thought that they fought brilliantly.

    As for the Dieppe Commandos, you may want to check that out. Number 4 did, Number 3 didn't and neither were part of the main landings. The Marines didn't even get off the boats.
    17thDYRCH and gpo son like this.
  18. gpo son

    gpo son Senior Member

    Tom Canning this didn't happen Montgomery was in England by the time the 5th CAD and 11th CIB were in the line. Montgomery; however; did want Crerar fired and wanted the 1st Canadian Corp stripped out for parts. the 5th CAD was to replace the 7th AD in the 8th army's order of battle (under the provisions of Operation Timberwolf). As part of the deal the 5th CAD was to take over the 7th's equipment but it was already stripped out for spares by the other British formations in the region.
    The Perth's were cocky and anxious to get into battle they were also handed a flawed battle plan (prepared by Alfery) where they were to attack across open ground against prepared positions of numerical superiority (2 Battalions of Para's) the Tanks bogged down and hit mines and could not go forward leaving them in killing zones of interlocking fields of fire. they learned a hard lesson that day.
    Again I remind you that my father served with the 5th CAD and he was there and spoke of vehicles with gas tanks filled with sand oil breathers the same 2 wheel drive vehicles and diesel tanks that had already worn out. they took on the 5th RHA 25 lbers and sent several weeks calibrating these shot out his words "desert guns"
    Lastly the winter stalemate had already ground out Montgomery's last great offensive in Italy, which nearly wiped out the 1st CID. By this time there was nothing for an armoured division to do until the spring, The spring breakout though the Hitler lines was led by the 1st CID, and exploited by the 5th CAD for 7 days until ordered off the roads by untils of the 6th AD. in fact provosts of the 6th AD seized a Canadian bridge at gun point on May 29th. forcing attacking 5th CAD troops into the fields and cart tracks.
    17thDYRCH likes this.
  19. markdeml

    markdeml Member

    Canadians were a minority in the 1st 'Canadian' army, most of the fighting done at the Scheldt, liberating the coast and liberating Holland was done by British and Polish divisions
  20. belasar

    belasar Junior Member


    I am going to have to quibble with you on the make up of 21 Army Group as it was not actually a three army grouping as such. As formed it consisted of 1st Canadian and 2nd British Army's. During Arnhem and the Rhine crossing the "1st Allied Airborne Army" were attached for specific operations (Market-Garden and Varsity) but in calling them a 'army' is an act of charity as in truth they represented perhaps a corps in Holland and Germany.

    The US 9th Army (with much of US 1st Army absorbed by the 9th) was attached to 21 Army Group for an extended period (20 December, 1944 to 4 April, 1945,) but for the Ardennes offensive this likely never would have occurred and if Bradley had his preference, would have been returned as soon as the "bulge" had been pinched out by early January 1945 as was the 1st Army units detached from 9th Army.

    By contrast 12 Army Group (under Bradley) was organized as a three army grouping (US 1st, 3rd and 9th) and would have remained such without the German attack in December, 1944.

    There were two other notable occasions when American troops were lent to 21 Army Group. The 104th Infantry Division ("Timberwolves") were attached to the Canadian 1st Army to assist in clearing the Scheldt after Market-Garden. Also the 84th Infantry Division ("Railsplitters") were attached to XXX Corps in a joint operation to secure the Geilenkirchen salient.

    On the face of it, that while 21 Army group was indeed a larger command than the 8th Army left behind in Italy, it must be viewed as somewhat undersized for its task as American troops were needed to be attached on 4 separate occasions to permit offensive operations to take place. Perhaps it would not have been too great a stretch for McCreery to handle.

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