Bernard Montgomery

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The Viscount Montgomery of Alamein
Bernard Law Montgomery.jpg
Montgomery wearing his beret with two cap badges.
Birth name Bernard Law Montgomery
Nickname(s) Monty, The Spartan General
Born (1887-11-17)17 November 1887
Kennington, London, England
Died 24 March 1976(1976-03-24) (aged 88)
Alton, Hampshire, England
Buried at Holy Cross Churchyard, Binsted
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1908–1958
Rank Field Marshal
Commands held 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment
9th Infantry Brigade
8th Infantry Division
3rd Infantry Division
II Corps
V Corps
XII Corps
South-Eastern Command
Eighth Army (1942–43)
21st Army Group (1943–45)
Chief of the Imperial General Staff (1946–48)
Deputy Supreme Commander Europe of NATO (1951–58)
Battles/wars First World War
Anglo-Irish War
Arab revolt in Palestine
Second World War
Awards Knight of the Order of the Garter
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order
Mentioned in Despatches (9 times)
Other work Colonel Commandant, Royal Tank Regiment
Colonel Commandant, Parachute Regiment (−1956[1])
Representative Colonel Commandant, Royal Armoured Corps (1947[2]-1957[3])
Colonel Commandant, Army Physical Training Corps (1946[4]-1960[5])
Colonel Royal Warwickshire Regiment(1947[6]-1963[7])
Deputy Lieutenant of Southampton (1958–)[8]

Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, KG, GCB, DSO, PC (/məntˈɡʌmərɪ əv ˈæləmn/; 17 November 1887 – 24 March 1976), nicknamed "Monty" and the "Spartan General",[10] was a senior officer of the British Army.

He saw action in the First World War as a junior officer of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. At Méteren, near the Belgian border at Bailleul, he was shot through the right lung by a sniper. He returned to the Western Front as a general staff officer and took part in the Battle of Arras in April/May 1917. He also took part in the Battle of Passchendaele in autumn 1917 before finishing the war as chief of staff of the 47th (2nd London) Division.

In the inter-war years he commanded the 17th (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers and, later, the 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment before becoming commander of 9th Infantry Brigade and then General Officer Commanding 8th Infantry Division.

During the Second World War he commanded the British Eighth Army from August 1942 in the Western Desert until the final Allied victory in Tunisia. This command included the Second Battle of El Alamein, a turning point in the Western Desert Campaign. He subsequently commanded the British Eighth Army during the Allied invasion of Sicily and the Allied invasion of Italy.

He was in command of all Allied ground forces during Operation Overlord from the initial landings until after the Battle of Normandy. He then continued in command of the 21st Army Group for the rest of the campaign in North West Europe. As such he was the principal field commander for the failed airborne attempt to bridge the Rhine at Arnhem, and the Allied Rhine crossing. On 4 May 1945 he took the German surrender at Lüneburg Heath in Northern Germany. After the war he became Commander-in-Chief of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) in Germany and then Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

Early life

Montgomery was born in Kennington, London, in 1887, the fourth child of nine, to an Anglo-Irish Church of Ireland minister, the Reverend Henry Montgomery, and his wife, Maud (née Farrar). The Montgomerys, an 'Ascendancy' gentry family, were the County Donegal branch of the Clan Montgomery. Henry Montgomery, Vicar of St Mark's Church, Kennington, at that time, was the second son of General Sir Robert Montgomery, a native of Inishowen in County Donegal, the noted soldier and proconsul in British India, who died a month after his grandson's birth.[11] He was probably a descendant of Colonel Alexander Montgomery (1686–1729). Bernard's mother, Maud, was the daughter of the preacher Frederic William Farrar and was eighteen years younger than her husband.[12] After the death of Sir Robert Montgomery, Henry inherited the Montgomery ancestral estate of New Park in Moville, County Donegal. However, there was still £13,000 to pay on a mortgage, a large debt in the 1880s, and Henry was at the time still only an Anglican vicar. Despite selling off all the farms that were at Ballynally, "there was barely enough to keep up New Park and pay for the blasted summer holiday" (i.e., at New Park).[13]

It was a financial relief of some magnitude when, in 1889, Henry was made Bishop of Tasmania, then still a British colony and Bernard spent his formative years there. Bishop Montgomery considered it his duty to spend as much time as possible in the rural areas of Tasmania and was away for up to six months at a time. While he was away, his wife, still in her mid-twenties, gave her children "constant" beatings,[14] then ignored them most of the time as she performed the public duties of the bishop's wife. Of Bernard's siblings, Sibyl died prematurely in Tasmania, and Harold, Donald and Una all emigrated.[15] Maud Montgomery took little active interest in the education of her young children other than to have them taught by tutors brought from Britain. The loveless environment made Bernard something of a bully, as he himself recalled, "I was a dreadful little boy. I don't suppose anybody would put up with my sort of behaviour these days."[16] Later in life Montgomery refused to allow his son David to have anything to do with his grandmother, and refused to attend her funeral in 1949.[17]

The family returned to England once for a Lambeth Conference in 1897, and Bernard and his brother Harold were educated for a term at The King's School, Canterbury.[18] In 1901, Bishop Montgomery became secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and the family returned to London. Montgomery attended St Paul's School and then the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, from which he was almost expelled for rowdiness and violence.[19] On graduation in September 1908 he was commissioned into the 1st Battalion the Royal Warwickshire Regiment as a second lieutenant,[20] and first saw overseas service later that year in India.[19] He was promoted to lieutenant in 1910,[21] and in 1912 became adjutant of the 1st Battalion of his regiment at Shorncliffe Army Camp.[19]

File:Montgomery First World War.jpg
Captain Bernard L. Montgomery, DSO (on the right), with Brigadier General James Walter Sandilands the Commanding Officer of 104th Brigade, 35th Division from 13 April 1916. Montgomery served with the brigade from January 1915 until early 1917

First World War

The Great War began in August 1914 and Montgomery moved to France with his battalion that month, which was at the time part of the 10th Brigade of the 4th Division.[19] He saw action at the Battle of Le Cateau that month and during the retreat from Mons.[19] At Méteren, near the Belgian border at Bailleul on 13 October 1914, during an Allied counter-offensive, he was shot through the right lung by a sniper.[19] Montgomery was hit once more, in the knee.[17] He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for gallant leadership: the citation for this award, published in the London Gazette in December 1914 reads:

Conspicuous gallant leading on 13th October, when he turned the enemy out of their trenches with the bayonet. He was severely wounded.[22]

After recovering in early 1915, he was appointed to be brigade major[23] first of 112th Brigade and then with 104th Brigade under training in Lancashire.[24] He returned to the Western Front in early 1916 as a general staff officer in the 33rd Division and took part in the Battle of Arras in April/May 1917.[24] He became a general staff officer with IX Corps, part of General Sir Herbert Plumer's Second Army, in July 1917.[24]

Montgomery served at the Battle of Passchendaele in the autumn of 1917 before finishing the war as General Staff Officer 1 and effectively chief of staff of the 47th (2nd London) Division,[24] with the temporary rank of lieutenant colonel.[25] A photograph from October 1918, reproduced in many biographies, shows the then unknown Lieutenant Colonel Montgomery standing in front of Winston Churchill (Minister of Munitions) at the parade following the liberation of Lille.[26]

Between the world wars

After the First World War Montgomery commanded the 17th (Service) Battalion the Royal Fusiliers,[27] a battalion in the British Army of the Rhine, before reverting to his substantive rank of captain (brevet major) in November 1919.[28] He had not at first been selected for Staff College (his only hope of ever achieving high command). But at a tennis party in Cologne, he was able to persuade the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army of Occupation, Sir William Robertson, to add his name to the list.[29]

After graduating from Staff College, he was appointed brigade major in the 17th Infantry Brigade in January 1921.[30] The brigade was stationed in County Cork carrying out counter-insurgency operations during the final stages of the Irish War of Independence.[24]

Montgomery came to the conclusion that the conflict could not be won without harsh measures, and that self-government was the only feasible solution; in 1923, after the establishment of the Irish Free State and during the Irish Civil War, Montgomery wrote to Colonel Arthur Percival of the Essex Regiment:

Personally, my whole attention was given to defeating the rebels but it never bothered me a bit how many houses were burnt. I think I regarded all civilians as 'Shinners' and I never had any dealings with any of them. My own view is that to win a war of this sort, you must be ruthless. Oliver Cromwell, or the Germans, would have settled it in a very short time. Nowadays public opinion precludes such methods, the nation would never allow it, and the politicians would lose their jobs if they sanctioned it. That being so, I consider that Lloyd George was right in what he did, if we had gone on we could probably have squashed the rebellion as a temporary measure, but it would have broken out again like an ulcer the moment we removed the troops. I think the rebels would probably [have] refused battles, and hidden their arms etc. until we had gone.[31]

In May 1923, Montgomery was posted to the 49th (West Riding) Division, a Territorial Army formation.[24] He returned to the 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1925 as a company commander.[24] In January 1926, having been promoted to major in July 1925,[32] he was appointed Deputy Assistant Adjutant General at the Staff College, Camberley in the temporary rank of lieutenant-colonel,[33] a position he held until January 1929 by which time he had been made a (brevet lieutenant-colonel).[34]

In 1927, he met and married Elizabeth Carver, née Hobart, widow of Oswald Carver, Olympic rowing medallist who was killed in the First World War.[35] Their son, David, was born in August 1928.[24] Elizabeth Carver was the sister of the Second World War commander Percy Hobart.[24]

He returned to 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment again, as Commander of Headquarters Company in January 1929 and went to the War Office to help write the Infantry Training Manual in Summer 1929.[24] In 1931 Montgomery was promoted to lieutenant colonel[36] commanding the 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment and saw service in Palestine and British India.[24] He was promoted to colonel in June 1934 (seniority from January 1932).[37] He attended and was then recommended to become an instructor at the Indian Army Staff College (now the Pakistan Army Staff College) in Quetta, British India.[38]

On completion of his tour of duty in India, Montgomery returned to Britain in June 1937[39] where he became commanding officer of the 9th Infantry Brigade with the temporary rank of brigadier,[40] but that year saw personal tragedy when his wife died. While on holiday in Burnham-on-Sea, she had suffered an insect bite which became infected, and she died in his arms from septicaemia following an amputation.[24] The loss devastated Montgomery, but he insisted on throwing himself back into his work immediately after the funeral."[17]

In 1938, he organised an amphibious combined operations landing exercise that impressed the new commander-in-chief, Southern Command, General Wavell. He was promoted to major-general in October 1938[41] and took command of the 8th Infantry Division[42] in Palestine.[24] There he quashed an Arab revolt before returning in July 1939 to Britain, suffering a serious illness on the way, to command the 3rd (Iron) Infantry Division.[24] On hearing of the rebel defeat in April 1939, Montgomery said, "I shall be sorry to leave Palestine in many ways, as I have enjoyed the war out here".[17]

Second World War

British Expeditionary Force

Retreat to Dunkirk and evacuation

Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939. The 3rd Division was deployed to Belgium as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). During this time, Montgomery faced serious trouble from his military superiors and the clergy for his frank attitude regarding the sexual health of his soldiers, but was defended from dismissal by his superior Alan Brooke, commander of II Corps.[43] Montgomery's training paid off when the Germans began their invasion of the Low Countries on 10 May 1940 and the 3rd Division advanced to the River Dijle and then withdrew to Dunkirk with great professionalism, entering the Dunkirk perimeter in a famous night-time march which placed his forces on the left flank which had been left exposed by the Belgian surrender.[44] The 3rd Division returned to Britain intact with minimal casualties. During Operation Dynamo — the evacuation of 330,000 BEF and French troops to Britain — Montgomery assumed command of the II Corps.[45]

On his return Montgomery antagonised the War Office with trenchant criticisms of the command of the BEF[17] and was briefly relegated back to divisional command of 3rd Division. He was however made a Companion of the Order of the Bath. 3rd Division was at that time the only fully equipped division in Britain.[46]

Montgomery was ordered to make ready his 3rd division to invade the neutral Portuguese Azores.[46] Models of the islands were prepared and detailed plans worked out for the invasion.[46] The invasion plans did not go ahead and plans switched to invading Cape Verde island also belonging to neutral Portugal.[47] These invasion plans also did not go ahead. Montgomery was then ordered to prepare plans for the invasion of neutral Ireland and to seize Cork, Cobh and Cork harbour.[47] These invasion plans like those of the Portuguese islands also did not go ahead and in July 1940, Montgomery was appointed acting lieutenant-general,[48] placed in command of V Corps, responsible for the defence of Hampshire and Dorset, and started a long-running feud with the new commander-in-chief, Southern Command, Claude Auchinleck.[17]

In April 1941, he became commander of XII Corps responsible for the defence of Kent.[45] During this period he instituted a regime of continuous training and insisted on high levels of physical fitness for both officers and other ranks. He was ruthless in sacking officers he considered would be unfit for command in action.[49] Promoted to temporary lieutenant-general in July,[50] in December Montgomery was given command of South-Eastern Command[51] overseeing the defence of Kent, Sussex and Surrey.[49]

He renamed his command the South-Eastern Army to promote offensive spirit. During this time he further developed and rehearsed his ideas and trained his soldiers, culminating in Exercise Tiger in May 1942, a combined forces exercise involving 100,000 troops.[52]

North Africa and Italy

Montgomery's early command

In 1942, a new field commander was required in the Middle East, where Auchinleck was fulfilling both the role of commander-in-chief Middle East Command and commander Eighth Army. He had stabilised the Allied position at the First Battle of El Alamein, but after a visit in August 1942, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, replaced him as Commander in Chief with Alexander and William Gott as commander of the Eighth Army in the Western Desert. After Gott was killed flying back to Cairo Churchill was persuaded by Brooke, who by this time was Chief of the Imperial General Staff, to appoint Montgomery, who had only just been nominated to replace Alexander as commander of the British ground forces for Operation Torch.[53]

A story, probably apocryphal but popular at the time, is that the appointment caused Montgomery to remark that "After having an easy war, things have now got much more difficult." A colleague is supposed to have told him to cheer up – at which point Montgomery said "I'm not talking about me, I'm talking about Rommel!"[54]

Montgomery's assumption of command transformed the fighting spirit and abilities of the Eighth Army.[55] Taking command on 13 August 1942, he immediately became a whirlwind of activity. He ordered the creation of the X Corps, which contained all armoured divisions to fight alongside his XXX Corps which was all infantry divisions. This was in no way similar to a German Panzer Corps. One of Rommel's Panzer Corps combined infantry, armour and artillery units under one corps commander. The only common commander for Montgomery's all infantry and all armour corps was the Eighth Army Commander himself. Correlli Barnett commented that Montgomery's solution "... was in every way opposite to Auchinleck's and in every way wrong, for it carried the existing dangerous separatism still further."[56] Montgomery reinforced the 30 miles (48 km) long front line at El Alamein, something that would take two months to accomplish. He asked Alexander to send him two new British divisions (51st Highland and 44th) that were then arriving in Egypt and were scheduled to be deployed in defence of the Nile Delta. He moved his field HQ to Burg al Arab, close to the Air Force command post in order better to coordinate combined operations.[55]

Montgomery was determined that the Army, Navy and Air Forces should fight their battles in a unified, focused manner according to a detailed plan. He ordered immediate reinforcement of the vital heights of Alam Halfa, just behind his own lines, expecting the German commander, Erwin Rommel, to attack with the heights as his objective, something that Rommel soon did. Montgomery ordered all contingency plans for retreat to be destroyed. "I have cancelled the plan for withdrawal. If we are attacked, then there will be no retreat. If we cannot stay here alive, then we will stay here dead",[57] he told his officers at the first meeting he held with them in the desert, though, in fact, Auchinleck had no plans to withdraw from the strong defensive position he had chosen and established at El Alamein.[58]

Montgomery made a great effort to appear before troops as often as possible, frequently visiting various units and making himself known to the men, often arranging for cigarettes to be distributed. Although he still wore a standard British officer's cap on arrival in the desert, he briefly wore an Australian broad-brimmed hat before switching to wearing the black beret (with the badge of the Royal Tank Regiment next to the British General Officer's badge) for which he became notable. The black beret was offered to him by Jim Fraser while the latter was driving him on an inspection tour.[59] Both Brooke and Alexander were astonished by the transformation in atmosphere when they visited on 19 August, less than a week after Montgomery had taken command.[57]

First battles with Rommel

General Montgomery with his pets, the puppies 'Hitler' (left) and 'Rommel', and a cage of canaries which also travelled with him (France; date unknown)

Rommel attempted to turn the left flank of the Eighth Army at the Battle of Alam Halfa from 31 August 1942. The German/Italian armoured Corps infantry attack was stopped in very heavy fighting. Rommel's forces had to withdraw urgently lest their retreat through the British minefields be cut off.[60] Montgomery was criticised for not counter-attacking the retreating forces immediately, but he felt strongly that his methodical build-up of British forces was not yet ready. A hasty counter-attack risked ruining his strategy for an offensive on his own terms in late October, planning for which had begun soon after he took command.[61] He was confirmed in the permanent rank of lieutenant-general in mid October.[62]

The conquest of Libya was essential for airfields to support Malta and to threaten the rear of Axis forces opposing Operation Torch. Montgomery prepared meticulously for the new offensive after convincing Churchill that the time was not being wasted. (Churchill sent a telegram to Alexander on 23 September 1942 which began, "We are in your hands and of course a victorious battle makes amends for much delay."[63]) He was determined not to fight until he thought there had been sufficient preparation for a decisive victory, and put into action his beliefs with the gathering of resources, detailed planning, the training of troops—especially in clearing minefields and fighting at night[64]—and in the use of 252[65] of the latest American-built Sherman tanks, 90 M7 Priest self-propelled howitzers, and making a personal visit to every unit involved in the offensive. By the time the offensive was ready in late October, Eighth Army had 231,000 men on its ration strength.[66]

El Alamein

9th Australian Infantry Division in a posed photograph during the Second Battle of El Alamein (photographer: Len Chetwyn)

The Second Battle of El Alamein began on 23 October 1942, and ended 12 days later with the first large-scale, decisive Allied land victory of the war. Montgomery correctly predicted both the length of the battle and the number of casualties (13,500).[67] However, soon after Allied armoured units and infantry broke through the German and Italian lines and were pursuing the enemy forces at speed along the coast road, a violent rainstorm burst over the region, bogging down the tanks and support trucks in the desert mud. Montgomery, standing before his officers at headquarters and close to tears, announced that he was forced to call off the pursuit. Historian Corelli Barnett has pointed out that the rain also fell on the Germans, and that the weather is therefore an inadequate explanation for the failure to exploit the breakthrough, but nevertheless the Battle of El Alamein had been a great success. Over 30,000 prisoners were taken,[68] including the German second in command, General von Thoma, as well as eight other general officers.[69] Rommel, having been in a hospital in Germany at the start of the battle, was forced to return on 25 October 1942 after General Stumme – his replacement as German commander – died of a heart attack in the early hours of the battle.[70]


Montgomery was advanced to KCB and promoted to full general.[71] He kept the initiative, applying superior strength when it suited him, forcing Rommel out of each successive defensive position. On 6 March 1943, Rommel's attack on the over-extended Eighth Army at Medenine (Operation Capri) with the largest concentration of German armour in North Africa was successfully repulsed.[72] At the Mareth Line, 20 to 27 March, when Montgomery encountered fiercer frontal opposition than he had anticipated, he switched his major effort into an outflanking inland pincer, backed by low-flying RAF fighter-bomber support.[73] For his role in North Africa he was awarded the Legion of Merit by the United States government in the rank of Chief Commander.[74]

File:Gen. Bernard Law Montgomery and Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.,.jpg
Montgomery visits Patton in Palermo, Sicily, July 1943


The next major Allied attack was the Allied invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky). Montgomery considered the initial plans for the Allied invasion, which had been agreed in principle by Eisenhower and Alexander, to be unworkable because of the dispersion of effort. He managed to have the plans recast to concentrate the Allied forces, having Patton's Seventh US Army land in the Gulf of Gela (on the left flank of Eighth Army, which landed around Syracuse in the south-east of Sicily) rather than near Palermo in the west and north of Sicily.[75] Inter-Allied tensions grew as the American commanders Patton and Bradley (then commanding II US Corps under Patton), took umbrage at what they saw as Montgomery's attitudes and boastfulness.[73]

Italian campaign

File:Montgomery E010786478-v8.jpg
Wartime colour photograph of the then Sir Bernard Law Montgomery with his Miles Messenger aircraft (location and date unknown)

During the autumn of 1943, Montgomery continued to command the Eighth Army during the landings on the mainland of Italy itself.[76] In conjunction with the Anglo-American landings at Salerno (near Naples) by Mark Clark's U.S. Fifth Army and seaborne landings by British paratroops in the heel of Italy (including the key port of Taranto, where they disembarked without resistance directly into the port), Montgomery led the Eighth Army up the toe of Italy.[76] Montgomery abhorred the lack of coordination, the dispersion of effort and the strategic muddle and opportunism he saw in the Allied effort in Italy and was glad to leave the "dog's breakfast" on 23 December 1943.[73]

Montgomery with officers of the First Canadian Army. From left, Major-General Vokes, General Crerar, Field Marshal Montgomery, Lieutenant-General Horrocks, Lieutenant-General Simonds, Major-General Spry, and Major-General Mathews


Montgomery returned to Britain in January 1944.[77] He was assigned to command the 21st Army Group which consisted of all Allied ground forces that would take part in Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy under overall direction of the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces, American General Dwight D. Eisenhower.[76] At St Paul's School on 7 April and 15 May he presented his strategy for the invasion. He envisaged a ninety-day battle, ending when all the forces reached the Seine, pivoting on an Allied-held Caen, with British and Canadian armies forming a shoulder to attract and defeat the main German counter-attacks, while the US armies took the Cotentin Peninsula and Brittany, wheeling south and then east on the right.[73]

During the hard fought two and a half month Battle of Normandy that followed, the impact of a series of unfavourable autumnal weather conditions disrupted the Normandy landing areas.[73] Montgomery's initial plan was to break out immediately towards Caen. Depending on the historical interpretation he was unable or unwilling to do so. As the campaign progressed Montgomery altered his initial plan for the invasion and switched to a strategy of attracting and holding German counter-attacks in the area north of Caen, which was designed to allow the United States Army in the west to take Cherbourg. Hampered by stormy weather and the bocage terrain, Montgomery had to ensure Rommel focused on the British in the east rather than the Americans in the west, who had to take the Cotentin Peninsula and Brittany before the Germans could be trapped by a general swing east. By the middle of July Caen had not been taken, as Rommel continued to prioritise prevention of the break-out by British forces rather than the western territories being taken by the Americans. This was broadly as Montgomery had planned, albeit not with the same speed as he outlined at St Paul's. An American break-out was achieved with Operation Cobra and the encirclement of German forces in the Falaise pocket at the cost of British sacrifice with the diversionary Operation Goodwood.[78]

Advance to the Rhine

The Supreme Commanders on 5 June 1945 in Berlin: Bernard Montgomery, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Georgy Zhukov and Jean de Lattre de Tassigny

General Eisenhower took over Ground Forces Command on 1 September, while continuing as Supreme Commander, with Montgomery continuing to command the 21st Army Group, now consisting mainly of British and Canadian units. Montgomery bitterly resented this change, although it had been agreed before the D-Day invasion.[79]

Winston Churchill had Montgomery promoted to field marshal[80] by way of compensation.[79] Montgomery was able to persuade Eisenhower to adopt his strategy of a single thrust to the Ruhr with Operation Market Garden in September 1944. It was uncharacteristic of Montgomery's battles: the offensive was strategically bold but poorly planned. Montgomery either did not receive or ignored ULTRA intelligence which warned of the presence of German armoured units near the site of the attack.[81]

When the surprise attack on the Ardennes took place on 16 December 1944, starting the Battle of the Bulge, the front of the U.S. 12th Army Group was split, with the bulk of the U.S. First Army being on the northern shoulder of the German 'bulge'. The 12th Army Group commander, General Omar Bradley, was located south of the penetration at Luxembourg and command of the U.S. First Army became problematic. Montgomery was the nearest commander on the ground and on 20 December, Eisenhower (who was in Versailles) temporarily transferred Courtney Hodges' U.S. First Army and William Simpson's U.S. Ninth Army to Montgomery's 21st Army Group until the "bulge" could be reduced and a simpler line of communications restored, despite Bradley's vehement objections on national grounds.[nb 1] Montgomery grasped the situation quickly, visiting all divisional, corps, and field army commanders himself and instituting his 'Phantom' network of liaison officers. He grouped the British XXX Corps as a strategic reserve behind the Meuse and reorganised the U.S. defence of the northern shoulder, shortening and strengthening the line and ordering the evacuation of St Vith. The German commander of the 5th Panzer Army, Hasso von Manteuffel said:

The operations of the American 1st Army had developed into a series of individual holding actions. Montgomery's contribution to restoring the situation was that he turned a series of isolated actions into a coherent battle fought according to a clear and definite plan. It was his refusal to engage in premature and piecemeal counter-attacks which enabled the Americans to gather their reserves and frustrate the German attempts to extend their breakthrough.[82]

Montgomery (left), Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham (centre) and the Commander of the British Second Army, Lieutenant-General Sir Miles Dempsey, talking after a conference in which Montgomery gave the order for the Second Army to begin the crossing of the Rhine.

Montgomery's 21st Army Group advanced to the Rhine with operations Veritable and Grenade in February 1945. A meticulously planned Rhine crossing occurred on 24 March. While successful it was two weeks after the Americans had unexpectedly captured the Ludendorff Bridge and crossed the river on 7 March with less than a battalion. Montgomery's river crossing was followed by the encirclement of the German Army Group B in the Ruhr. Initially Montgomery's role was to guard the flank of the American advance. This was altered, however, to forestall any chance of a Red Army advance into Denmark, and the 21st Army Group occupied Hamburg and Rostock and sealed off the Danish peninsula.[73] On 4 May 1945, on Lüneburg Heath, Montgomery accepted the Surrender of German forces in north-west Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.[83]

Montgomery's lack of diplomacy

Montgomery was notorious for his lack of tact and diplomacy. Even his "patron" the Chief of the Imperial General Staff Lord Alanbrooke frequently mentions it in his war diaries: "he is liable to commit untold errors in lack of tact" and "I had to haul him over the coals for his usual lack of tact and egotistical outlook which prevented him from appreciating other people's feelings".[84] One incident that illustrated this occurred during the North African campaign when Montgomery bet Walter Bedell Smith that he could capture Sfax by the middle of April 1943. Smith jokingly replied that if Montgomery could do it he would give him a Flying Fortress complete with crew. Smith promptly forgot all about it, but Montgomery did not, and when Sfax was taken on 10 April he sent a message to Smith "claiming his winnings". Smith tried to laugh it off, but Montgomery was having none of it and insisted on his aircraft. It got as high as Eisenhower who was said to be absolutely furious, but with his renowned skill in diplomacy he ensured Montgomery did get his Flying Fortress, though at a great cost in ill feeling.[85][86] Even Alanbrooke thought it "crass stupidity".[87]

Montgomery's lack of diplomatic skills was further mentioned by Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld, when he spoke about the Anglo-Polish relationship during Operation Market Garden. The 93-year-old prince was clearly emotional on television and described the Poles as "the best soldiers available" and declared it was an "outrage" that they had not yet received any recognition for their contribution.[88] Furthermore, the prince said, "In general, a typical trait for English commanding officers is that they highly dislike people who prove them wrong," referring to Field-Marshal Montgomery. Finally, he said in a conclusive manner, "Montgomery personally, prevented Sosabowski and his men from receiving any medals."[88]

In August 1945, whilst Alanbrooke, Andrew Cunningham and Charles Portal were discussing their possible successors as "Chiefs Of Staff" they concluded that Montgomery would be very efficient as CIGS from the Army's point of view but that he was also very unpopular with a large proportion of the Army. Despite this Cunningham and Portal were strongly in favour of Montgomery succeeding Alanbrooke after his retirement.[89]

Later life

Montgomery and Soviet generals Zhukov, Sokolovsky and Rokossovsky at the Brandenburg Gate on 12 July 1945

After the war Montgomery became the Commander in Chief of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR), the name given to the British Occupation Forces, and was the British member of the Allied Control Council.[90] He was created 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein in 1946.[91] He was Chief of the Imperial General Staff from 1946 to 1948, succeeding Alanbrooke, but was largely a failure as the role required strategic and political skills he did not possess. He was barely on speaking terms with his fellow chiefs, sending his VCIGS to attend their meetings[90] and he clashed particularly with Arthur Tedder, who as Deputy Supreme Commander had intrigued for Montgomery's dismissal during the Battle of Normandy, and who was by now Chief of the Air Staff. When Montgomery's term of office expired, Prime Minister Clement Attlee appointed Sir William Slim from retirement with the rank of Field Marshal as his successor; when Montgomery protested that he had told his protégé John Crocker, a former corps commander from the 1944–45 campaign, that the job was to be his, Attlee is said to have given the memorable retort "Untell him".[92]

He was then appointed Chairman of the Western European Union's commanders-in-chief committee.[90] Volume 3 of Nigel Hamilton's Life of Montgomery of Alamein gives an account of the bickering between Montgomery and his land forces chief, a French general, which created splits through the Union headquarters. He was thus pleased to become Eisenhower's deputy in creating the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's European forces in 1951.[93] He continued to serve under Eisenhower's successors, Matthew Ridgway and Al Gruenther, until his retirement, aged nearly 71, in 1958.[94] His mother Maud, Lady Montgomery, died at New Park in Moville in Inishowen in 1949; she was buried alongside her husband in the 'kirkyard' behind St. Columb's Church, the small Church of Ireland church beside New Park, overlooking Lough Foyle. Lord Montgomery did not attend the funeral, claiming he was "too busy".[73]

He was chairman of the governing body of St. John's School in Leatherhead, Surrey, from 1951 to 1966, and a generous supporter. Lord Montgomery was an Honorary Member of the Winkle Club, a noted charity in Hastings, East Sussex, and introduced Sir Winston Churchill to the club in 1955.[95]

File:Monty, wavvel, auk.jpg
Lord Montgomery as CIGS with Wavell Viceroy of India and Auchinleck Commander in Chief Indian Army. Delhi 1946

In 1953, the Hamilton Board of Education in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, wrote to Montgomery and asked permission to name a new school in the city's east end after him. Viscount Montgomery Elementary was billed as "the most modern school in North America" and the largest single-storey school in Hamilton when construction began in 14 March 1951. The school officially opened on 18 April 1953, with Montgomery in attendance among almost 10,000 well-wishers. At the opening, he gave the motto "Gardez Bien" from his own family's coat of arms.[96] Montgomery referred to the school as his "beloved school" and visited on five separate occasions, the last being in 1960. On his last visit, he said to "his" students:[96]

Let's make Viscount Montgomery School the best in Hamilton, the best in Ontario, the best in Canada. I don't associate myself with anything that is not good. It is up to you to see that everything about this school is good. It is up to the students to not only be their best in school but in their behaviour outside of Viscount. Education is not just something that will help you pass your exams and get you a job, it is to develop your brain to teach you to marshal facts and do things.

File:BernardMontgomery Aberdare Blog crop.jpg
Statue of Montgomery at Whitehall, London unveiled in 1980

Montgomery's memoirs (1958) criticised many of his wartime comrades in harsh terms, including Eisenhower, whom he accused, among other things, of prolonging the war by a year through poor leadership — allegations which ended their friendship, not least as Eisenhower was still US President at the time. He was threatened with legal action by Field-Marshal Auchinleck for suggesting that Auchinleck had intended to retreat from the Alamein position if attacked again, and had to give a radio broadcast (20 November 1958) expressing his gratitude to Auchinleck for having stabilised the front at the First Battle of Alamein. The 1960 paperback edition of his memoirs contains a publisher's note drawing attention to that broadcast, and stating that in the publisher's view the reader might reasonably assume from Montgomery's text that Auchinleck had been planning to retreat "into the Nile Delta or beyond" and pointing out that it had been Auchinleck's intention to launch an offensive as soon as the Eighth Army was "rested and regrouped".[97] Montgomery was stripped of his honorary citizenship of Montgomery, Alabama, and was challenged to a duel by an Italian officer.[98]

In retirement he publicly supported apartheid after a visit to South Africa in 1962, outraging much British liberal opinion, and after a visit to China declared himself impressed by the Chinese leadership.[99] He spoke out against the legalisation of homosexuality in the United Kingdom, arguing that the Sexual Offences Act 1967 was a "charter for buggery"[100] and that "this sort of thing may be tolerated by the French, but we're British – thank God".[101] Biographer Nigel Hamilton has suggested Montgomery may have been a repressed homosexual;[102] in the late 1940s Montgomery maintained an affectionate friendship with a 12-year-old Swiss boy.[103] One biographer called the friendship "bizarre", although not "improper", and a sign of "pitiful loneliness."[104]

He twice met with Israeli general Moshe Dayan. After an initial meeting in the early 1950s, Montgomery met Dayan again in the 1960s to discuss the Vietnam War, which Dayan was studying. Montgomery was harshly critical of US strategy in Vietnam, which involved deploying large numbers of combat troops, aggressive bombing attacks, and uprooting entire village populations and forcing them into strategic hamlets. Montgomery said that the Americans' most important problem was that they had no clear-cut objective, and allowed local commanders to set military policy. At the end of their meeting, Montgomery asked Dayan to tell the Americans, in his name, that they were "insane".[105]


Montgomery died from unspecified causes in 1976 at his home Isington Mill in Isington, near Alton in Hampshire, aged 88. After his funeral at St George's Chapel, Windsor, Montgomery was interred in Holy Cross churchyard, Binsted.[73] His Garter banner, which hung in St. George's Chapel in Windsor during his lifetime, is now on display in St Mary's, Warwick.[106]


File:Montgomery grave2.jpg
Montgomery's grave, Holy Cross churchyard, Binstead
File:M3 Monty.JPG
Montgomery's Grant command tank, on display at the Imperial War Museum in London
  • The Imperial War Museum holds a variety of material relating to Montgomery in its collections. These include Montgomery's Grant command tank (on display in the atrium at the Museum's London branch), his command caravans as used in North West Europe (on display at IWM Duxford), and his papers are held by the Museum's Department of Documents. The Museum maintains a permanent exhibition about Montgomery, entitled Monty: Master of the Battlefield.[110]
  • The World Champion Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band from Northern Ireland is named after him.[111]
  • Montgomery's Rolls-Royce staff car is on display at the Royal Logistic Corps Museum, Deepcut, Surrey.[112]
  • The Montgomery cocktail is a martini mixed at a ratio of 15:1, facetiously named that because Montgomery supposedly refused to go into battle unless his numerical advantage was at least that high.[113] Ironically, following severe internal injuries received in the First World War, Montgomery himself could neither smoke nor drink.[81]
  • In the 1998 documentary Live At Aspen during the US Comedy Arts Festival, the British comedy troupe Monty Python explained how they came up with their name, saying that the name Monty "... made us laugh because Monty to us means Lord Montgomery, our great general of the Second World War".[114]

Honours and awards

Viscount Montgomery's ribbons as they would appear today, not including campaign or other awards.

Order of the Garter UK ribbon.png Order of the Bath UK ribbon.png Dso-ribbon.png Distinguished Service Medal ribbon.svg

US Legion of Merit Chief Commander ribbon.png Ordervictory rib.png Order of Suvorov 106x30.png Croix de Guerre 1914-1918 ribbon.svg

Orderelefant ribbon.png 100x30px 100x30px 100x30px

ETH Order of Solomon BAR.png 100x30pxUK MID 1920-94.svg NLD Order of the Dutch Lion - Grand Cross BAR.png

Order Sint Olaf 1 kl.png Ruban de la Médaille militaire.PNG Legion Honneur GC ribbon.svg 100x30px

See also


Explanatory notes

  1. For a full discussion see Pogue, Forrest C. (1954). "Chapter XX. Winter Counteroffensives". United States Army in World War II. European Theater of Operations: The Supreme Command. Washington DC: U.S. Department of the Army. CMH Pub. 7-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


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  12. Hamilton, p. 3 (1981)
  13. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
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  15. Hamilton, p. 5 (1981)
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Primary sources
  • Alanbrooke, Field Marshal Lord (2001). Danchev, Alex; Todman, Daniel, eds. War Diaries 1939–1945. London, UK: Phoenix Press. ISBN 1-84212-526-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Brett-James, Anthony (1984). Conversations with Montgomery. Irwin. ISBN 978-0-7183-0531-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  • Montgomery, Bernard Law (2000) [1972]. A Concise History of Warfare. Wordsworth Military Library. Ware, Herts, UK: Wordsworth Editions. ISBN 978-1-84022-223-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Montgomery, Bernard Law (1960). The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery (paperback edition). London and Glasgow: Fontana.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  • Montgomery, Bernard (2008). Brooks, Stephen, ed. Montgomery and the Battle of Normandy: A Selection from the Diaries, Correspondence and Other Papers of Field Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, January to August 1944. Army Records Society series, 27. Stroud, UK: Sutton Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7509-5123-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Geoffrey Raikes
Commander, 9th Infantry Brigade
5 August 1937 – 28 October 1938
Succeeded by
William Robb
New title
Division reformed
Commander, 8th Infantry Division
28 October 1938 – 23 August 1939
Succeeded by
Reade Godwin-Austen
Preceded by
Denis Bernard
GOC, 3rd (Iron) Division
28 August 1939 – 21 July 1940
Succeeded by
James Gammell
Preceded by
Sir Alan Brooke
GOC, II Corps, British Expeditionary Force
30 May 1940 – 1 June 1940
Succeeded by
Edmund Osborne
Preceded by
Sir Claude Auchinleck
GOC, V Corps
22 July 1940 – 1 April 1941
Succeeded by
Sir Edmond Schreiber
Preceded by
Andrew Thorne
GOC, XII Corps
1 April 1941 – 17 November 1941
Succeeded by
James Gammell
Preceded by
Bernard Paget
GOC-in-C, South-Eastern Command
17 November 1941 – 7 August 1942
Succeeded by
John Swayne
Preceded by
Sir Claude Auchinleck
GOC-in-C, Eighth Army
13 August 1942 – 31 December 1943
Succeeded by
Sir Oliver Leese
Preceded by
Sir Bernard Paget
GOC-in-C, 21st Army Group
January 1944 – August 1945
Succeeded by
Post Disbanded
New title
New command
Commander-in-Chief of the British Army of the Rhine
Succeeded by
Sir Richard McCreery
Preceded by
The Lord Alanbrooke
Chief of the Imperial General Staff
Succeeded by
Sir William Slim
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Montgomery of Alamein
Succeeded by
David Montgomery