The Memoirs of Field Marshall Montgomery

I read the memoirs of Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery a year or two ago, and I recently discussed the book elsewhere, so I pass these thoughts along here.

It was very good. Anyone with an interest in the Second World War and early Cold War should read it. Monty’s involvement in setting up the postwar military alliance with the United States was a surprisingly interesting part of the book which I knew little about. His personal connection with senior US military personnel proved to be very important.

Montgomery, like Slim, was an unglamorous commander, and he is probably underrated. They both focused on the basics, particularly adequate supply, and they both also recognized the limitations of what their own men and equipment could do.

Monty is castigated, often by American writers, for not being more dashing. He preferred meticulous planning, and sticking to the script, and he was willing to forgo targets of opportunity. He recognized that to try to operate in a more extemporaneous way would be to play to the strength of the Germans. They were good at that sort of thing, but he recognized that his own army was not. Recognizing that armies have national character seems to be a feature of the thinking of senior British commanders.

Wolseley in his memoirs thinks in a remarkably similar way, offering his unsentimental comments about the relative strengths and weaknesses of his own English, Scottish, and Irish troops versus those of their opponents. Montgomery similarly understood that the Germans were good at certain things, the English were good at other things: Do what you are good at.

Montgomery also has a reputation for being egotistical and self-serving, which certainly has some basis in fact. Nonetheless, his book comes off as reasonably fair, and seems to be honest, with the single major exception of his discussion of the way the Normandy campaign played out. He claims in the book that it was always his intention to wage an attrition battle against the Germans on the left flank of the lodgment with his own troops, so that the Americans could break out on the right. I don’t believe a word of this. His repeated, major ground offensives, such as Goodwood, failed because the Germans outfought him. Monty was not intentionally waging an attrition battle. He wanted the American to wear down the Germans, and to break out with his own army on the left. That was, so I speculate, always his actual plan. But of course the enemy always gets a vote.

Monty had good reason for wanting it to play out this way, with the main breakout on the left. Montgomery always paid attention to the larger political aspects of the war. My guess is that his goal was always to clear the channel and North Sea coasts, and capture the exits from the Baltic to secure Britain’s position, including capturing Antwerp, and lock up the Russians. This would be consistent with centuries of proven British strategic thinking and practice. It was almost an axiom of British strategy and international politics that it is essential to neutralize or secure control of the Low Countries, the most likely and most threatening locale for a foreign invasion base to attack Britain. This was a perpetual British imperative, particularly in wartime. This would explain why Monty was willing to roll the dice on Market Garden, to regain the initiative for the left-wing of the Allied advance.

Montgomery is improperly understood, largely by American readers, as a foil to the American commanders in the Second World War. We view him as a jarring note in an otherwise predominantly American story. But this is not an enlightening way to look at Montgomery. He is better understood in the context of British history, British strategic thinking, and long-standing British military practice.

33 thoughts on “The Memoirs of Field Marshall Montgomery”

  1. Montgomery is idolized in the Imperial War Museum and I think he is over rated. Of course, I think that too of Bradley.

    Montgomery was always aware of the British Army problem with numbers. They never recovered from Sir John French and the WWI carnage.

    Monty was always better with the defense. El Alamein was mostly a defensive battle that the Germans broke the panzers on.

    He also wanted lots of material before he was willing to fight. His predecessors did much worse than he did and Churchill favored him very much.

    The Brits had the moral authority of having been at war when we were neutral and Eisenhower never forgot that.

    Patton was a great tactical and theater commander but too volatile for overall command.

    His ancestor Sherman was much the same way. Sherman knew it and did not want overall command.I’m not sure Patton knew it.

  2. Monty was in charge of all land forces for D-day. Since he got the men ashore and off the beaches that must be reckoned a great success for him.

    The most recent book I’ve read about Normandy explained that Monty’s trouble thereafter was that his British and Canadians were facing the best of the Germans. Bradley had the weaker opponents; he did well against them. I can see why an erratic chap like Patton couldn’t be entrusted with Bradley’s job.

    Patton was then put in command of what became a virtual cavalry charge across France against light opposition; at times, no opposition. Grand stuff. When he faced Germans in defensive positions near the German border he was not, apparently, a great success. I have the impression that he was at least half mad by the end.

    My father told me that the troops liked Monty because they trusted him not to waste their lives. The troops didn’t have to put up with Monty’s absurd vanity.

    British opinion seems to be that Bill Slim was a finer general. Slim’s victory against the Japanese in Burma was a remarkably one-sided triumph. Like much of the war against the Japanese – e.g. the reconquest of the Philippines – it was, however, basically a side-show; the main event was the attack on the Japanese home islands; blockade by submarine, bombing raids, the eventual threat of invasion. I suspect that it’s not only hindsight that makes that clear. Bradley almost committed himself to a side-show in Brittany. Wiser counsels prevailed – Eisenhower, presumably?

  3. ” the troops liked Monty because they trusted him not to waste their lives.”

    Exactly and it showed. He preferred to waste American lives.

    a virtual cavalry charge across France against light opposition; at times, no opposition.

    His relief of Bastogne is one of the great military campaigns of modern times.

    Whereas Market Garden was a “dog’s breakfast” with lots of American killed or captured.

  4. ”the troops liked Monty because they trusted him not to waste their lives.”

    This ties back to something I read years ago about Monty’s very conservative style after Normandy. Yes, he was famously known for his set-piece approach to operations and supply, in that everything had to lined up *just so*, before he would step off. But after Normandy, he had another conundrum: he had all the soldiers the British empire could provide for the rest of that year. Manpower-wise, they were tapped out; he had all that year’s draftees. And he realized that. And so he was very careful to commit forces aggressively during that period, Market Garden aside.

  5. ” When he faced Germans in defensive positions near the German border he was not, apparently, a great success. ”

    Lack of supplies tends to limits ones options.

  6. Market Garden was a risk worth taking. The airborne divisions were never going to be used again. Expanding them on a gamble, which might of got the allies over the Rhine, being completely cold blooded about it, was worth it. Notably, most of the casualties were British, because the British airborne division was sent farthest north. It was Monty’s idea, but Eisenhower approved it, and he was right to do so.

    The idea that Montgomery was callous with regard to American lives has no basis in fact. The people who were callous with American lives were American generals, Courtney Hodges being one particularly egregious example.

    Monty preferred to pulverize the Germans with firepower. Montgomery snd all of the British commanders of his generation learned in the first world war that artillery fire defeated the enemy, and then the infantry occupied the positions smashed by the artillery. That of course is an overstatement, and there was always plenty of fighting to be done even after a massive application of firepower. Nonetheless, that was the model, and it was the correct one. The allied live just tickle advantage could be turn to reduce the casualties by substituting capital intensive for a labor-intensive type of war. Montgomery knew that getting into tactical, nose to nose infantry fighting with the Germans was a losing prospect for the British, and also for the Americans, most of the time. The Germans were good at it, and they good often manage local tactical success is due to their superior skill. There’s no excuse for giving them that opportunity better to blow them to bloody bits with tonnage of metal.

  7. Monty did play to the strengths of the British, arguably to a fault. He passed up chance after chance to bag most of the Afrika Korps during the advance from El Alamein to Tripoli even when, thanks to ULTRA, he knew for a fact he outnumbered the Germans 10-1 (or more) in tanks, and for all practical purposes, infinitely better supplied with fuel and ammunition. As one author put it, Operation Lightfoot would’ve been more accurately code-named Operation Clodhopper. A longer campaign cost more British lives in the end. The less said about Sicily, the better. Since a large amount of German tactical superiority was due to superior small-unit training and leadership, one might suspect that Monty would’ve gone to great lengths to attempt to remedy that. But no, not really. “Let’s ignore our weaknesses and play to our strengths, and let the enemy continue to take full advantage of our known weaknesses.” Doesn’t seem too smart to me…

  8. MArket-Garden was a risk worth taking ONLY if one ignored all of the intelligence suggesting their assumptions were wrong. And truly idiotic drop plans that were forced down despite Para complaints. Even if it had succeeded, where would the “breakthrough” have led? More bogs, more river crossings, nowhere important against any reasonably expected opposition. It was stupid from the beginning, especially since the number one goal was the clearance of the Scheldt estuary. The one time Monty abandoned his set-piece battle plan with months worth of supplies built up before hand in WWI manner, he quite literally threw away everything he knew and bet everything on Black 24. I can see why he didn’t trust himself to gamble. He gambled like a jackass.

  9. The Scheldt might’ve been worthy of an airborne operation. Meanwhile, the rest of the front was starved of supplies to support Market-Garden because of the ports being so very far in the rear. Eisenhower should’ve had more sense than to give Monty his head in that op. Patton was more than half a loon, and yet he had more sense than Monty with regard to Market-Garden.

  10. For an honest, penetrating opinion on one of the best opponents of the Allies, a German general who took the ideas of his elders and polished them until they made the British look like amateurs, try reading Manstein, by Major General Mungo Melvin .

    An honest portrait of one of Hitler’s best, which includes the appraisal of Manstein’s troops’ operations against the Soviet irregulars on the Eastern Front; it serves as a reminder of what could have happened if our Adolf had not believed in his own invincibility.

    Well worth the search and read.

  11. The only example of the waste of American lives I know of, at only second hand, was perpetrated by an American infantry colonel. In spite of pleading from his artillery commander (a Kiwi) and his tanks commander (my father) the pig-headed bastard insisted on a head-on attack against prepared German defences in a position from which the Germans were bound to fall back in the next few days. But he wanted his glory so he sent his infantry in. Casualties were severe; they retreated in disarray with nothing achieved. A couple of days later the Germans vanished overnight.

    Was he hoping to advance his career after the war? Who knows? I dare say that the mothers and wives of his glorious dead never did learn why their menfolk died.

  12. I wouldn’t say that Montgomery had any greater skill on defence than he did with offense, which was mediocre. Alamein was a situation in which the enemy had so little reserve and logistical support that simply moving a panzer division around the front was deemed too wasteful of fuel except in dire emergencies. The Afrika Corps was quite literally at the end of its supply line and was not going anywhere. In truth they were at the end of their supply line much earlier than that but captured British stocks were enough to push them a few hundred miles more. Losing at Alamein would have been one of the most embarrassing military defeats in history given the relative positions of each side. His one useful insight was that the British Army was not good at manoeuvre and to tangle with the Panzers on open ground was a losing proposition. That meant everything he did had to be overdone, he needed more of everything to stand an even chance and he needed overwhelming superiority to have victory in the bag. The question to my mind is if he had commanded the men of the Afrika Corps, could he have won the tactical battles that the Germans took for granted? I don’t think he could. He was a man who based his generalship on planning and rigid control and those things simply couldn’t be done when fighting a battle of manoeuvre.

  13. I remember that discussion on Facebook. One of the points of contention was the fighting ability of American GIs. It’s commonly thought that our infrantry spent most of their time either huddling around waiting for the artillery to blast the German positions, waltzing through the artillery-blasted German positions, or getting picked off by superior but fewer German troops. That was probably close to the truth for the lightly trained replacements that fell under Monty’s command after D-Day, and the results bore that out. Patton and his Third Army commanders further south recognized the limitations of their manpower, so they slowed down the pace rather than needlessly sacrifice American boys. Patton may have projected madness, but he was quite innovative in his tactics. He knew how to use and motivate use his troops.

  14. “The Germans were good at it, ”

    I think most analysts believe that German soldiers were far superior in small unit tactics. The German noncoms were excellent and the Americans had far too many officers compared to the Germans. I don’t know enough about the British army.

    I agree with Larry about Market Garden.

    One problem the American army had was that the infantry was the bottom of the barrel for soldiers. Far too many were siphoned off to the AAF and other less essential tasks. Not that the AAF was not essential but it did less to win the war than they thought at the time. Eighth AF casualties were horrendous, nearly those of the submarines in the Pacific.

    The logistical “tail” of the American army was too big and, after The Bulge, Eisenhower started stripping supernumeraries from JCH Lee’s bloated command. Lee was often referred to as “Jesus Christ Himself” Lee. He had a luxurious headquarters and made a very good thing of the war. One of the incidents in “Once an Eagle” may have referred to Lee’s wife lording it over other wives toward the end of the war.

    I think analysis of the US army after the war agreed that artillery was the most effective combat arm. Armor was handicapped by the decision to stay with the Sherman tank. Tactical air power, which was soon abandoned by the new Air Force, was the other effective combat method.

  15. “I don’t believe a word of this.”

    And yet this is entirely true. The reason Bradly could break out at Omaha was that Monty had largely destroyed the German armor. That was the point of his battle of attrition. That we, the Canadians, bore much of the brunt of this, is history. I do laugh at the American simple minded notion that we can just go forward. You would have lost the damn war. The German armor would have cut Bradly to ribbons of bloody ….

  16. “The German armor would have cut Bradly to ribbons of bloody ….”

    Well, PenGun thinks the Brits and Canadians won the war all by themselves (with the Russians, of course).

    It is interesting to see the British/Canadian anti-American view of the war, Too bad we got involved.

    I wonder why King had to keep threatening to shift American attention to the Pacific to encourage the Brits to get serious about Overlord?

    Probably just the brilliant British strategic sense. “Set the Balkans aflame, blah, blah….”

  17. I admit that I may be considered biased, in that my father fought in Patton’s Third Army; but there is planning and there is planning.

    Montgomery and his staff could plan a set piece battle, preferably defensive, probably better than most.

    In the command meeting at Verdun after the German attack began; Eisenhower called together Air Marshal Arthur Tedder, General Bradley, General Patton, Lt. Gen. Jacob Devers, and Field Marshal Montgomery’s deputy, Freddie de Guingand, and their aides. The counterattack [and the relief of Bastogne] depended on the ability of Patton to turn the axis of advance 90 degrees on short notice and redeploy to attack the southern flank of the German thrust.

    As the saying goes, amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics. And the complexity of that kind of a change is immense.

    Quoting the conference: “George,” Eisenhower instructed Patton at Verdun, with a diplomatic nod toward Bradley to keep him in the picture although Patton was now much on his own, “I want you to command this move—under Brad’s supervision, of course—making a strong counter­attack with at least six divisions. When can you start?”.

    “As soon as you’re through with me,” Patton claimed. “I can attack the day after tomorrow morning.”

    He had thought his moves out the night before, and did not mention that he had left three alternative plans with his deputy, Maj. Gen. Hobart Gay, in Nancy. All he had to do was telephone a code word to activate his troops.

    Patton had made sure that no matter where he was ordered to respond to, he could instantly do it while shifting tens of thousands of troops, tanks, vehicles, supply lines, with planned routes of march and unit demarcations to avoid friendly fire. As I understand, but I am willing to be corrected, the three plans were to increase pressure on entering Germany by going east harder, a move to the north-east to try to cut off the German attack at the shoulder, and the move north that he was ordered to make.

    A major component of good generalship is the ability to react effectively to changed circumstances. Patton had it, and he picked his staff for the same ability.

    Not every general has identical abilities. But I rather suspect that if it had been Montgomery in command in the 3rd Army area, either with his own Brit troops, staff, and logistics or in command of the Third Army’s; that the Germans would have crossed the Meuse and then some.

  18. Subotai, there is no doubt a revisionist force in Britain./ Canada that would rather not have to be indebted to Americans for saving them from Hitler.

    Montgomery is idolized, even 70 years later. The exhibit in the Imperial War Museum reminds me of The Sistine Chapel.

    Britain did have a great general in Slim and I have read his book. Alexander was very good.

    Montgomery was, as you said, very good at set piece battles. The German generals, when interviewed after the war, said that Patton would never have allowed Rommel to get away with the Afrika Corps after Alamein.

    Mobility is also important. Both Sherman and Patton excelled at it. It saved lives. Patton’s casualties were much lower than Bradley.

  19. Oh Mike K do you not understand the Russians won WW2. They killed about 80% of all German soldiers killed and were the reason Truman nuked Japan.

    As I have pointed out elsewhere the Russians could have just overrun Europe at that point.

    I understand you are the special snowflake of countries, but really, the truth is important.

  20. Russia had two armies. One to fight the Germans, and one to make sure the first one actually fought the Germans. There’s a great book called Comes The Comrade! by Alexandra Orme, about a Polish/Hungarian family’s experiences as the Germans and the Russians go back and forth through their region late in the war. Fascinating stuff.

    The first Russian army was full of serfs who wanted revenge on the Germans, and to destroy, rape, etc., (life in the army at the time was probably better than they were used to at home), and also very much didn’t want to get shot by the other Russian army, made up of NKVD and other true believers. The notion that this first army would have been eager or even willing to keep on fighting through West Germany and France once they started getting chewed up by Western armies and air power is preposterous.

  21. I understand you are the special snowflake of countries, but really, the truth is important.

    I wonder if you understand how much your attitude makes some Americans regret that we lost 500,000 lives to save your ass?

    I mentioned to a friend of mine, who is a retired British army doctor, that we probably should have stayed out of WWI. He was startled to hear that.

    I reassured him that I thought they should have stayed out, too but they had serious provocation.

    We didn’t. I just listened to the audible book, “Dead Wake, the story of the sinking of the Lusitania.

    The Kaiser should have been hung after the war instead of being allowed to go into exile. He made the fatal decisions.

    Hitler was just the second half of the European Civil War. He was never a threat to us.

    Europe has now resumed their march to suicide.

  22. Mr Green

    I feel you’ve been hoodwinked, don’t worry, it’s a common occurrence when using Gen Montgomery’s autobiography as a reference. Basing my view on ‘Correlli Barnett’s, The Desert Generals’ which sez bunches about Montgomery and his autobiography. It’s available on Kindle and Nook. The Desert Generals isn’t about Montgomery versus Americans, purely comparing the British generals of the Desert War.

    For an introduction here is a detailed summery from SSG’s (Strategic Studies Group) in house gaming magazine Run 5 Magazine – Issue 24,

    “Book of the Quarter

    Some people have suggested that we at SSG have’ got it in for’ the British Army
    and British generals in particular. This is of course completely untrue and we
    will soundly refute anyone who spreads such scurrilous rumours. Just to prove
    it in this issue I’m reviewing Correlli Barnett’s classic study of British generalship,
    The Desert Generals.
    In Issue 22 one of our correspondents argued that we treat Field Marshal
    Montgomery too harshly and I felt the need to reply at length explaining just
    why we feel that Montgomery was at best mediocre and at worst a third rate
    commander, a liar and a braggart.
    After the release of Issue 22 The Desert Generals was recommended to me by a
    friend who, on the basis of what I had written, was frankly surprised that I
    had not already read it. I was delighted to find a book which reinforced practically
    all of my judgements as to the relative competence of British com-
    . manders in the western desert between 1940 and 1943.
    Finding that somebody else has come to the same conclusions as oneself, and
    expressed them with somewhat more authority is extremely reassuring,
    which may be why I enjoyed this book so much.
    The reason why Correlli Barnett wrote The Desert Generals was, in his own
    words, because “most of all I wanted to redress the injustice done to Sir Claude
    Auchinleck and to puncture the inflated Montgomery myth.”
    The book was first published in 1960, a mere two years after the release of
    Montgomery’s own memoirs and, Barnett admits very much as a response
    to that work. What was seen by many as dangerous heresy in 1960 is, 34 years
    later, much the accepted historical line.”
    Continued with an indepth summery of The Desert Generals

  23. Montgomery Gave Churchill a win when he and Great Brittan desperately needed one. Further, he proved that he was a general that could win, a more uncommon ability among generals than one would wish. Reversing the Europe First strategy at that time would still have required only the change of sailing orders and rerouting trains. This helped confirm that Europe wasn’t a lost cause.

    El Alamein, the second battle of, was an ugly affair. Full of bad communication, poor/hesitant unit leadership and a reliance on coordination and time keeping between units that was unrealistic. Montgomery simply kept pushing west, when one maneuver failed, he started another one. He was never able to cut off Rommel’s retreat and it’s arguable that pushing him back to Tunisia was counter productive versus leaving him starved and impotent in Western Egypt. A win is still a win.

    At the same time, to me, it looks like he had a habit building overly intricate plans that would come back to bite him during Market Garden. I’m sure not smart enough to end the argument whether the plan ever had a realistic chance of success, although I tend toward the negative, it would have been a tremendous blow to Germany had it succeeded.

    In the end, he won, we won. A good general requires self confidence to order other men to their death, bloody mindedness to order yet more men to their deaths when previous orders have proven mistaken and judgement to know not only when to stop but when not to begin and especially who to trust. Not to mention Luck. Montgomery proved he could win, the Allies had the men and material to make good the mistakes, so winning was all it took.

  24. “I wonder if you understand how much your attitude makes some Americans regret that we lost 500,000 lives to save your ass?”

    Well we spent slightly more as a percent of population but it was the Russians who lost 25 million. destroyed most of the German army and allowed you to get ashore.

    In Canada we were as hard to get at as you for the Germans, so no not our asses.

  25. Pengun,

    Regards this —

    >>And yet this is entirely true. The reason Bradly could break out at Omaha was that Monty had largely destroyed the German armor. That was the point of his battle of attrition. That we, the Canadians, bore much of the brunt of this, is history. I do laugh at the American simple minded notion that we can just go forward. You would have lost the damn war. The German armor would have cut Bradly to ribbons of bloody ….

    You are wrong for a whole host of technical, tactical and doctrinal reasons starting with tank radios.

    Tank radios German VHF tank radios were amplitude modulated (AM). So were British and Japanese tanks (lend lease Sherman’s were fitted with British radios).

    American Tank radios were frequency modulated (FM), VHF band and most importantly, crystal controlled. This meant they could and were USED ON THE MOVE, as the quartz crystals were polished to a specific frequency and stayed there no matter the vibrations of the vehicle they were in.

    There were also other advantages for FM radios.

    You could jam AM radios on the same frequencies as FM radios with certain jamming wave forms that blocked AM signals, while leaving FM signals mostly unaffected (range was slightly shorter). This was done for several days during 3rd Army’s Dec 1944 counterattack in the Battle of the Bulge.

    Tank AM radios also had two other issues. First, the engine’s spark plugs had to be shielded or the engine running at high RPM added too much static for the radios to be useful in the move.

    Second, even German radios lost proper tuning to the proper frequencies after moving because they had master oscillator controls in lieu of crystals.

    While both Axis and Allied aircraft had both better shock mounts for their radios and shielded spark plugs on their engines. Not so much for most combatant’s tanks, AKA why waste resources for shielding spark plugs if you could not talk on the move anyway.

    This was another real but undocumented reason, other than logistics, that the US Army in Europe preferred Sherman’s with aircraft engines, even with FM radios, as the longer range high frequency radios on command tanks and Sherman chassis based 105mm guns were AM.

    See this Richard Thompson video touching on some of these issues.

    See also this video on the M4A1 Sherman starting at the 6 min 20 sec for radios and the 11 min 35 Sec mark regards Sherman gun controls.

    Inside the Chieftain’s Hatch: M4A1 Sherman part 2

    As far as the Germans were concerned, their armored divisions ran to about 300-350 tanks in 1940. By 1944 there were — at best — 100 tanks and assault guns in a division. The best Panzer divisions had a roughly a (under-strength) battalion each of Panzer IV, Panzer V (Panthers) and Jadpanzer IV (Panzer IV hull assault guns with Panther high velocity 75mm guns).

    While that was less than 1/2 of 1940 count, there were several times the 1940 number of Panzer divisions plus the odd-ball Panzer brigades.

    The issue in 1944-45 was that there were several times as many Luftwaffe fighters built than 1940. Since the Luftwaffe fighter force had absolute priority over the German armored force. The Luftwaffe’s death spiral meant each fighter built and lost was one tank without a radio.

    Many Panther tanks in France had only has AM radio receivers with untrained radiomen to use them.

    Short form, the Sherman was the premier tank to use in a WW2 armored meeting engagement because with a well trained crews more Sherman’s could be coordinated faster due to their crystal controlled VHF Radios.

    This was seen at both France during the Normandy breakout and again during the “Battle of the Bulge.”

  26. Short form, the Sherman was the premier tank to use in a WW2 armored meeting engagement because with a well trained crews more Sherman’s could be coordinated faster due to their crystal controlled VHF Radios.

    Reminds me of the argument for the F-35.

  27. Montgomery “unglamourous”? “Underrated”?

    Montgomery was a publicity hound who devoted great effort to cultivating his image and burnishing his reputation.

    That doesn’t mean he was not an able general. Patton was similar, except that he didn’t get to outrank nearly all of his colleagues, and he died just after the war and didn’t get to write memoirs.

    Montgomery did both, and actively sought to monopolize credit for British successes. As the leading British general, he was the beneficiary of wartime cheerleading.

    The negativism about him in later years began as a reaction to his bragging and inflated image by irritated historians and other British generals.

    He had considerable talents, especially as a meticulous planner and organizer. D-Day was his greatest triumph. He could have been more aggressive in the pursuit after El Alamein; but Rommel had pulled so many astounding rabbits out of hats that great caution was understandable.

    And he could be bold. Much is made of Patton’s dash across France after the breakout from Normandy. But few Americans know that British forces made a comparable rush (from the Seine to Antwerp in six days).

    And finally, his personal posturing was praised as very useful by at least one observer at the time. Major Vladimir “Popski” Peniakoff returned to Cairo after several months in the Libyan desert soon after Montgomery had taken over; he was very impressed by the improved morale and the confidence Montgomery inspired in the troops.

    However, his memoirs (even more than most) have to read with a skeptical eye.

  28. Pengun,

    Hero of the Soviet Union and tank battalion commander Dmitriy Loza for the 46th Guards Tank Brigade, 9th Guards Mechanized Corps would beg to differ.


    Commanding the Red Army’s Sherman Tanks: The World War II Memoirs of Hero of the Soviet Union Dmitriy Loza


    “Hero of the Soviet Union Dmitriy Loza has carefully crafted his World War II experiences with U.S.-provided Sherman tanks into a highly readable memoir. Between the fall of 1943 and August 1945, Loza fought in the Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Austria. He commanded a tank battalion during much of this period and had three Shermans shot out from under him. Loza’s unit participated in such well-known combat actions as the Korsun-Shevchenkovskiy Operation, the Jassy-Kishenev Operation, and the battles for Budapest, Vienna, and Prague. Following the German surrender, Loza’s unit was sent to Mongolia, where it participated in the arduous trek across the Gobi Desert to attack the Japanese Kwantung Army in Manchuria.”

    And this book review of same —

    Even discounting the novelty of the author’s imported vehicle, Commanding the Red Army’s Sherman Tanks: The World War II Memoirs of Hero of the Soviet Union Dmitry Loza is a fascinating story. A veteran of service in the indigenous T-34 medium tank and the British-made Matilda, Loza begins his narrative with the acquisition of new M-4s (M-Chetyrye in Russian, contracted into the nickname of “Emcha”) in the autumn of 1943. Four tons heavier than the T-34s, with a higher center of gravity, narrower track and inferior maneuverability, the Shermans took some getting used to, but their relative roominess, superior navigational equipment and reasonably potent 76.2mm gun eventually endeared them to their Soviet crews.

    Stringing together a variety of colorful anecdotes into a running narrative, Loza relates his experiences with the 1st Battalion of the 233rd Tank Brigade, 5th Mechanized Corps (redesignated the 46th Guards Tank Brigade of the 9th Guards Mechanized Corps in September 1944). The unit fought its way from the Ukraine through Hungary into Austria, where Loza was badly wounded in combat with a German Tiger tank on April 16, 1945. Loza returned to action when the Red Army invaded Japanese-occupied Manchuria on August 9, 1945. He describes how the Sherman tankers learned to deal with a new enemy, who tried to compensate for his inferior armor (“more suited,” the author remarks, “for colonial campaigns than serious war fighting”) by sheer fanaticism–including air attacks on the advancing Soviet columns by suicide planes.

  29. Another review of the same book by my friend Tom Holsinger–

    The Soviets preferred the Lend-Lease M4a2 Sherman (with a diesel engine) to the T-34/76 (and the M4a2 76mm variant to the T-34/85) because the Sherman was far more reliable. Their mechanized “corps” aka divisions were equipped almost entirely with Shermans, and as much Lend-Lease equipment in general in lieu of Soviet equivalent as possible, because the mechanized corps were used mostly for deep-penetration missions and needed the extra reliability. The 76mm Sherman was especially prized because of its superior fire control aka optics – they assigned their best gunners to those as tank “snipers”.

    What the Soviets disliked about the Sherman was its higher ground pressure than most East Front tanks due to its narrower tracks, and that the rubber tread pedals tended to melt in really hot weather (which was also why American tankers kept it down to under 25 mph on roads). Dimitri Loza, who commanded a Sherman battalion of a mechanized corps during the 1945 invasion of Manchuria, also found the Sherman’s narrower wheel base (than the T-34) a problem in riding along railroad tracks through Manchurian railroad passes. T-34’s could just straddle the tracks, as their treads were outside the ties, but his Shermans had to drive with one tread either on a rail or outside the ties on one side. The former resulted in periodic crashes while the latter meant the tanks heaved in convulsions.

    He also found the Shermans to be remarkably resilient when hit by Kamikazes, though it took his battalion a while to figure out what the Japanese pilots were trying to do. The liquid loading of the M4a2 turret and hull ammunition bins also saved his life when his command tank was brewed up by a German tank and he and his crew had to huddle beneath it because they were under direct observation and fire They waited for the Sherman’s ammuntion to cook off in the bins and kill them, but it never did.

    One time his battalion were moving up to the Eastern front on railroad flat cars when the train stopped and they were ordered to debark to repel a German breakthrough. This was a problem as they didn’t have the necessary lumber for the Shermans to drive off the flatcars. So he ordered the crews out except for drivers, and told the driver at the end of each flat car to do the Soviet Sherman equivalent of “Punch it, Chewie!” The first tank rolled over and the driver broke his arm rattling around inside, but the rest of them figured out how to do it. Their suspensions needed major work after the German attack was driven off.

  30. Monty carried a heavy spiritual load, being the military commander Churchill and Brooke elevated to personify the British Army after its many failures early in the war–not unlike deGaulle in a way, of being the incarnation of something big and fragile. He was no Patton or Guderian, but given the limited British resources and the memories of 1914-18, he couldn’t be. He probably was the right man for the time and the job, when he kept his mouth shut and let de Guingand clean up his inter-Allied messes.

    But, Market-Garden was a military mistake. It was in Monty’s sector and he was exactly the wrong general, and the British Army exactly the wrong instrument. That was a consequence of decisions made in 1942/43, when it was decided for good logistical reasons that the Brits and Canadians would be on the left/north, and the Americans on the west/south. But Eisenhower had to live with that disposition, and there is just no way Monty and the Brits were the right people to make a bold, balls-to-the-wall dash up the road to and across the Rhine, and then exploit the breakthrough. Maybe Patton, maybe Hodges with Collins’ corps in the lead; but not the Brits under Montgomery.

    Their lack of dash in post-Alamein North Africa and in Sicily, timidity at Falaise, and the lack of foresight and drive to open the Scheldt Estuary should have made it clear, but for whatever reason (I always thought it political pressure from Churchill, because surely Ike was aware of all this) Ike gave Monty the rope he wanted, and the First Airborne Army was shattered in the process. It may have been politically necessary, but in military terms it was doomed from the start.

  31. There’s a good reason to believe that it was Montgomery’s plan to break out to the South with the US and not the North, and that is in his own Notes written at the time.

    The reason to stage such assaults as Goodwood was simply to keep the German attention focused on the Northern sector around Caen. On top of that, the US forces struggled hard for a considerable period to establish a suitable jumping off point for a major assault. At the time the final attack kicked off, there were something like 6-700 German tanks (nominally, exactly how many runners can be argued), and something like 500 or so were facing the British & Canadians. Facing the US was Panzer Lehr with a little over 100, and the rump of another SS division. When the attack went in the Germans had no reserves and especially no armoured reserves.

    It was setup extremely well and under Montgomery’s direction. I think he deserves full credit.

    One of Montgomery’s issues earlier at Alamein and after, was that British tank doctrine and training was severely deficient. He had great difficulty getting the armoured divisions to act as desired. At Alamein they were supposed to push forward and support the infantry attacks but almost never actually did so almost the entire burden of that battle fell on the various infantry divisions like the Australians and New Zealanders who burrowed their way into the Axis defenses, which weren’t weak in themselves. German combined arms tactics were hugely superior. He also suffered after this as others have noted with a declining manpower base. It could be noted that the NZ Division, one of the better units available in Nth Africa and Italy, was so incensed with the poor performance of the UK armoured divisions that after being let down once to often and losing an entire brigade in an attack supposed to be closely supported by an armoured column that never bothered even turning up; so they demanded and received replacement for that missing brigade (irreplaceable from NZ’s resources – note NZ suffered a greater % loss in WW2 than most other allied nations) a full armoured brigade turning them into an essentially self sufficient semi-armoured division themselves.

    As for Corelli Barnett, he is thoroughly unreliable on this matter. he has the unfortunate British habit of snobbery down to a T, Auchinleck “looked” the part but in his actions and direction, he was an utter disaster. His plans for defending Alamein were nonsense and he was by then a defeatist.

    Montgomery had many faults, no doubt, but with the possible exception of Slim he was the outstanding British general of WW2, and one who I suggest had a far superior strategic judgement to any of the US generals including Eisenhower. Eisenhower was however, an infinitely better political general who was able to command the Allied armies in a way Montgomery never could.

    I endorse the idea that Market garden was worth trying right up until just before it was launched when the new intelligence on the German reinforcements should have led to it being called off. Montgomery and the British were the wrong people to have done it too, they were no where near as mobile or fast or capable of a sustained effort as Patton’s army. Ideally Patton might have been able to pull it off, but again as noted, the whole campaign had been planned sometime before to place the British & Canadians in the North and west because they were much less mobile.

    Eisenhower’s mistake though was to continue to direct so much material and supply to Patton so far out as there was never any real prospect of significant gains in that direction. He should instead have been looking at ways to direct his forces more directly to North Germany, preferably with his best attacking General, Patton leading it. They however may not have been possible, but the broad-front approach was not ultimately a good idea, though it may have been the only practical one.

  32. Praises have been sung about the M4, what about the savior of the Battle of Gazala, the axis was caught flat footed by this bucket of faults.

    First read about their exploits outside North Africa in ‘Tank Tracks to Rangoon: The Story of British Armour in Burma Paperback – July 19, 2014
    by Bryan Perrett (Author)’

    When the Brits made their move to retake Burma they counted on British infantry tanks but they failed the task, the Lee/Grants were the answer.

    “The Medium Tank M3 was an American tank used during World War II. In Britain, the tank was called by two names based on the turret configuration and crew size. Tanks employing US pattern turrets were called the “Lee,” named after Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Variants using British pattern turrets were known as “Grant,” named after U.S. general Ulysses S. Grant.

    Design commenced in July 1940, and the first M3s were operational in late 1941.[2] The U.S. Army needed a medium tank armed with a 75mm gun and, coupled with the United Kingdom’s immediate demand for 3,650 medium tanks,[3] the Lee began production by late 1940. The design was a compromise meant to produce a tank as soon as possible. The M3 had considerable firepower and good armor, but had serious drawbacks in its general design and shape, including a high silhouette, an archaic sponson mounting of the main gun preventing the tank from taking a hull-down position, riveted construction, and poor off-road performance. They were extensively used in northern Africa.

    Its overall performance was not satisfactory and the tank was withdrawn from combat in most theaters as soon as the M4 Sherman tank became available in larger numbers. In spite of this, it was considered by Hans von Luck (an Oberst (Colonel) in the Wehrmacht Heer and the author of Panzer Commander) to be superior to the best German tank at the time of its introduction, the Panzer IV (at least until the F1 variant).[4]

    Despite being replaced elsewhere, the British continued to use M3s in combat against the Japanese in southeast Asia until 1945.[5]

    Let’s not forget the M3 Stuart (light tank), “With the IJA’s drive toward India within the South-East Asian theatre of World War II, the United Kingdom hastily withdrew their 2nd Royal Tank Regiment and 7th Hussars Stuart tank units (which also contained some M2A4 light tanks) from North Africa, and deployed them against the Japanese 14th Tank Regiment. By the time the Japanese had been stopped at Imphal, only one British Stuart remained operational.’

    Perrett’s book covers their ordeal in detail, they arrived in time to cover the retreat … no r&r.

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