Montgomery Controversy

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

  1. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    The discussion about proportion of British born European troops in the British forces of WW2 misses a slightly bigger point directly related to the controversy over Montgomery.

    In WW2 Britain was not a nation of C50m, but the home nation of an Empire and commonwealth of over 300m subjects. It wasn't quite as monolithic as the Roman or Soviet empires. The self governing Dominions of Australia, Canada New Zealand and the Union of South Africa decided what contribution they would make to the war effort. The imperial possessions in Africa and India were under British control and used as the British wished, subject to opposition from native population, which in India was a constraint on Indian mobilization.

    One of the controversial aspects of Montgomery's generalship has been the perception that he was overcautious, and as a result the US to undertake more of the fighting and suffer disproportionate casualties. This was a case made in the American press during the war, and has continued to his day. (It is rather depressing that the "making tea in front of Caen" accusations made by an ill informed wartime press have been repeated unquestioned for the last 70 years)

    As has been pointed out on several occasions the British Army between 1942-45 was acutely short of infantry, which forced British commanders to be risk averse. Britain had sustained heavy losses during the first half of the war and the Army was in competition for manpower with the RAF and Navy. By 1944 the British Army were forced to break up several formations because they did not have the infantrymen to replace losses. In the key battles from Sep 1944 on the decisive NW European front the British contribution was getting smaller rather than bigger.

    But given that the British Empire had a population of 300m it seems odd that the shortage of 50,000 infantrymen was not made up by replacing, one or two battalions in each brigade with Indian or African troops. There were difficulties in integrating what were known at the time as "native troops", but the British were quite good at this.

    It is clear from the Alanbrooke diaries hat Churchill's policy was not the single minded defeat of Germany but on the maintenance of the British Empire. As a consequence the British army in NW Europe had to make do with a finite reinforcement pool despite hundreds of thousands of troops across the globe. It surprises me that American criticism of the British contribution in 1944-45 has not picked up this point.

    The results of British imperial policy were to impose constraints omn the risks and the number of casualties that Montgomery's armies could sustain. Montgomery has unfairly been criticised for policies dictated by Churchill and the overall management of the British Empire.

    The US equivalent is not the Brazilian Expeditionary force, the army of an ally, but the 92nd Division formed with black troops in a combat role. The US 5th Army had a low priority fort US troops. US strategy was to concentrate on the main theatre - the ETO. After the break out from Normandy and the invasion of southern France there was even less point in US eyes to try to attack through the Apennines.

    The "US 5th Army" had lots of British troops including a brigade if AA gunners less guns.

    One nit pick: The 442 RCT were transferred to France in September 1944.They were excellent soldiers and were transferred, like the FEC to where they were needed.
  2. merdiolu

    merdiolu Junior Member

    One thing that puzzled me about manpower shortage of British Army. How it did become so acute ? I got it population in UK was smaller considered Germany , France , USA , Russia. Plus there was a low birthrate after Great War. Being in a war for five years between 1939-1944 couldn't help to your manpower reserves either. Plus there was Imperial policework and defence. Still I see that towards end of war there was too many specialist units like Commandos , Marines etc. Royal Navy but especially RAF was picking best manpower available first before army disproperly. Air Marshall Arthur Harris created his own dominion in Bomber Command. Couldn't British Gov. Defence Ministry cut these extra units some and find more men for frontline. In 1944-45 Army and ground war became priorty since it was clear men on ground would get into Germany and finish the job. If I remember correctly in December 1944 Churchill even himself offered to disband some Royal Marine detachments rather than disbanding veteran 50th Division.

    What about Dominions ? I am very confused how Australian Goverment pulled last Australian troops from British command in Africa at December 1942 and took them back for home defence after whole Japanese invasion threat towards Australia already passed away. After these Australian divisions came back MacArthur Southwest Pacific CiC did not use them much after New Guinea Campaign and they were used mainly for siege and blocade work against Japanese garrisons in Solomons , New Britain etc. Couldn't one Australian Div. released from South West Pacific and spared for say Italian Campaign in 1944. Was Australian Prime Minister John Curtin so much under domestic pressure to bring back every soldier overseas and not to send more ? I think a veteran unit like 9th Australian Division could contribute immensely to Allied war effort in Italy , free up more British or Commonwealth troops from that Theater.
  3. 17thDYRCH

    17thDYRCH Senior Member Patron

    Approximately 75,000 Canadian troops were left in Canada rather then being sent overseas. The 'Zombies' as they were called, were trained troops but the PM at the time was loath to send them over. This forced numerous untrained cooks, mechanics etc to face the enemy as part of the assault battalions. Many died during the last two months of the war.
  4. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    I think your post may have crossed mine on a similar topic. .

    "British " manpower was already stretched. The Brtitish investment in strategic bombing took up a huge amount of resources. I read somewhere that one million people were engaged in building flying and maintaining Lancaster bombers alone, just one type of aircraft.

    I suspect the British perceived big political consequences of bringing in African and Indian troops to fight in France and Italy as part of "British " Formations. The local political leaders of the native peoples would have used this as leverage for equality and independence. Gandhi would have made political capital. Britain itself did not have a colour bar, but across the Empire there were strict divisions about what "Indians, Africans and other natives could do and what they might be paid. It would not have been impossible to either treat native troops serving in Europe as "!Europeans" or to treat treat patches of Europe as if they were the Empire. but I suspect the reaction might have been a uniform "good god no"
  5. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member


    There were several Indian divisions in Italy in 1944 - 1945. More likely it was simply an administrative matter - if specialist services were set up for Indian troops in Middle East and Italy, it was probably not regarded as efficient to set up a parallel organisation in NW Europe.


  6. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    In 1942, Canada's government called a national plebiscite, asking Canadians to release its members from a pledge they had made at the beginning of the Second World War and again in the election campaign of 1940 not to impose conscription for overseas service. Although the government was already conscripting men for service within Canada under the National Resources Mobilization Act (NRMA), it had promised the nation, and particularly Quebec, that it would not send any conscripts to serve overseas. In part, this promise was made to try to ensure a united war effort in Canada. The results of the plebiscite, held on 27 April 1942, only highlighted the divisions in Canada on the issue of conscription. Though the national vote showed that 64 per cent of Canadians were in favour of releasing the government from its pledge, 71 per cent of voters in Quebec, the province to whom the promise was originally made, opposed such a release.
    The essence of the conscription crisis in 1944 concerned the shortage of infantry reinforcements for the five Canadian divisions and two armoured brigades fighting in Europe. Although the government had been assured on 3 August 1944 by Lieutenant-General Kenneth Stuart, Chief of Staff at Canadian Military Headquarters (CMHQ), London, that there were "plenty of reserves", a shortage of infantry reinforcements was already developing. In fact, a deficiency in reinforcements had been perceived early in 1944, and the Canadian General Staff had made some attempt to remuster troops from other arms to infantry service, a process that took some months’ retraining. However, the problem was forgotten until August, when the Canadian campaign in northwestern Europe was at its height.

    Crerar’s telegram of 4 August read, in part: Am concerned about the infantry general duty deficiencies which approximate 1900. Our ability to continue severe fighting or to exploit a break out would be seriously restricted through lack of replacement personnel….I consider this the most serious problem of Cdn Army at the moment and to require most energetic handling.

    Excerpted from:
  7. Wills

    Wills Very Senior Member

    canuck likes this.
  8. Wills

    Wills Very Senior Member

  9. Staffsyeoman

    Staffsyeoman Member

    Much as I am far - very far - from being a fully paid up member of the Monty admiration society I do not hold much truck with the homosexual theories. OK he did have a penchant for youngish, pretty-ish staff officers but that proves nothing. What is that clunking phrase Nigel Hamilton dreamt up? "Homosocial"...
  10. belasar

    belasar Junior Member

    I have read/seen nothing but rumor and innuendo on the matter and as such it isn't worth serious consideration or discussion. And for the record were I to enter a meeting of such a admiration society, half the members would have concluded the anti-Christ had entered the room.

    Hopefully the matter can be left at the door.
  11. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    Sorry about the belated reply. I stand by my statement. The Allies could not be strong everywhere as their superiority was in resources not manpower. They had to take a risk in order to concentrate troops on their their chosen lines of attack. The lack of contingency planning by Hodges, Bradley and Eisenhower says much for their limitations, while the response by Montgomery and Patton illustrates their superior ability to read the enemy's intentions.
    stolpi likes this.
  12. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member


    This was a blast from the past :biggrin:

    I totally agree that the line had to be thinned out so that forces could be concentrated for Allied attacks (we better not mention Broad and Narrow fronts though!!). My issue is with the word "calculated"! There seems to be no evidence that this was a "calculated" risk.

    I think the Americans alone suffered some 90,000 casualties during the Ardennes battle.


  13. Wills

    Wills Very Senior Member

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