Monday 20 December 2010

Monty: The Lonely Leader

I bought this book a while back but decided to hold off reading it until I had read a good history of the Normandy campaign. As It was I ended up reading several histories each of which had an opinion about Bernard Law Montgomery. The intriguing things was that often these opinions varied considerably and even before I picked this book up I realised that Monty was going to be a complex character.

The book focuses on Operation Overlord and the Normandy Campaign during 1944-45. However there is an interesting opening chapter that sets the scene by giving a synopsis of a full and complex life up to the point when he became Commander of all Land Forces in 1944.

The author was assisted in this challenging endeavour by Montgomery’s son, David, who provided access to many previously unseen documents and correspondence. Alistair Horne and David Montgomery also travelled across the battlefields of 1944-5 and visited all the key locations – principally Monty's TAC HQ’s – that featured in those last momentous months of WWII.

Neither the author nor the son shy away from criticism of Montgomery and they acknowledge from the start that he was a deeply flawed character. Often insensitive and egotistical he was non-the-less a brilliant leader, beloved by his men while simultaneously disliked by many of his fellow generals and superiors. Often vain and petty he had little time for anyone he considered stupid. Indeed he was so focused on the job in hand that he almost completely overlooked the importance of politics and public support to the maintenance of his position. Eisenhower almost sacked Monty on several occasions and it was only wiser heads that alerted Monty to the threat in time to smooth things over.

Erwin Rommel has often been described as Monty’s greatest adversary but this book clearly shows that Monty was his own worst enemy. One of the most often ‘mistakes’ attributed to him is his inability to acknowledge when operations had not gone to plan. Most often quoted are the ‘Phase Lines’ showing objectives over the days following the landings. These were only ever meant to be a guide and ultimately by D+90 all the objectives had been met. So when Monty looked back and says “everything went to plan” he was partly right if stretching the truth. Partly he did this because he believed in never showing weakness of failure in front of his troops, and partly because his vanity would not allow it.

4 May 1945 the German surrender at Lüneburg Heath
Many of the people he sacked or disapproved of went on to hold important and influential positions in SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force). While he followed his doctrine of being at the front he was isolated from the politics of SHAEF back in England. As Monty battered the German Army into ruins in Normandy his enemies dripped poison into the ears of his superiors back home. Not that much poison was needed. His often high handed approach isolated him on a personal level from Eisenhower and even, eventually, from his friend and supporter, Bradley.

Despite this failure on a personal level his strategy for defeating the Germans proved to be the right one. Revisionist historians have played down the success of the Normandy Campaign and played up the character flaws of the man that drove that campaign. More flamboyant generals (like Patton) have tended to dominate the history books but it was Monty’s strategy - of holding the bulk of the German forces in front of the British and Canadians around Caen, and grinding them down until they ceased to be an effective fighting force – that ultimately made the American breakout not only possible but also the huge success that it was.

Author: Alistair Horne and David Montgomery
Publisher: HarperCollins 1994
Paperback: 381 pages


  1. Like that it shows his flaws aswell as his talents because he had a few.

  2. I read a biography of Monty a few years back that came to similar conclusions.

  3. Alistair Horne? I wasn't aware of this book, but I like what I've read from him. Just ordered this book for $4 including shipping from


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