9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
David M. Dougherty
- Published on Amazon.com
This book is the worst book I have read on any subject concerning World War II. That Potomac Books could have printed this in their series of Military Profiles is simply incomprehensible. The scholarship in non-existent, facts are wrong, grossly misstated or altered to support the author's contention that Montgomery was "undoubtedly one of the great captains of the twentieth century."
The author mentions Montgomery's dark side: that he was a bully, a misfit, mostly homosexual, arrogant, insubordinate, abrasive, selfish, vain, insufferably egotistical, devious, paranoid, and probably did more to damage the cooperative Allied effort than anyone else in either the British and American armies. But Hamilton always juxtaposes these traits with Montgomery's virtues (as seen by the author) as the greatest Allied commander of the war.
Alexander is depicted as "without brains", Eisenhower "had no ability to command" and others like Bradley come off even worse.
There are so many things wrong with the author's treatise it is difficult to know where to begin. For example, although Montgomery is depicted as an experienced combat commander from World War I, he was in action only for two months from August to October, 1914, when he was wounded and evacuated to England. Returning to France in 1916, he functioned strictly as a staff officer for the remainder of the war. Hardly the record of troop command inferred by the author.
Between the wars Montgomery was supposedly prescient and trained his troops in the tactics that would have defeated the Germans if the British only hadn't been saddled with poor senior commanders. But it didn't show, and Montgomery's division retreated to Dunkirk with the rest.
At Alam Halfa Montgomery used Auchinleck's plan of battle, and was hardly more than a cheerleader. Unfortunately, the author fails to give Auchinleck any credit although he never actually says the plan was Montgomery's. That technique is used repeatedly throughout the book to infer that the credit should be Montgomery's when actually it should have been someone else's. Nor did Rommel possess anything like the resources attributed to him by the author at the battle of El Alamein. And, of course, Montgomery was aided greatly by Ultra which always provided him with superior battlefield intelligence. In fact, Montgomery never won a battle except when in possession of overwhelming force, unlimited supplies and excellent logistics. At Alamein, the force was largely non-British, and the supplies came mostly from the U.S.
Montgomery's victory at Mareth did not show his "great ability to adapt his battle plan to circumstances" as the author states -- rather he simply relied on Freyberg's looping left-wing attack after the failure of his stupid and unimaginative initial frontal attack. In fact, Montgomery never was able to handle fluid situations -- certainly a prerequisite before being name "a great commander."
In Sicily, Montgomery rapidly became bogged down while Patton executed an end run that pulled the Germans away from Montgomery and allowed him to advance. But of course, Montgomery had begged to be placed in overall command so Patton's victory would be his.
Then comes Overlord -- supposedly Montgomery's greatest victory. Yet Montgomery became bogged down (again) and Bradley broke through. Afterwards Montgomery stated (and this is taken at face value by Hamilton) that his job was to fix the Germans in place and let the Americans (once again) make the breakthrough and end run. That almost sounds good, except that twice Montgomery had announced offensives that would break the German line and lead on to Paris. Both of these operations, Epsom and Goodwood, were tactical defeats, two of the three that the Germans would inflict on Montgomery in 1944.
Hamilton handles Market-Garden carefully, knowing full well that had Montgomery been an American commander he would have been sacked after this third defeat. Montgomery's planning was extremely poor, and his battlefield control even worse. He totally overlooked the opening of the Scheldt so that Antwerp could not function as a supply port and had to be ordered by Eisenhower to accomplish that. One would have thought that Montgomery would have been more sensitive to his problems of suppply, but apparently not as long as he could get all the supplies that might otherwise have gone to Patton.
Lastly comes the Battle of the Bulge. Hamilton depicts Montgomery as the master, even though when one reads the author's account carefully, the only things Montgomery did was to move the British XXX Corps up close to the German spearhead (the author is careful not to say that they attacked or stopped the spearhead) and order Hodges to retreat. And he was in command of Bradley's troops only from December 20, 1944 to January 16, 1945. The author makes a big deal of Montgomery visiting Hodges' headquarters (apparently this is leading from the front), which he did only once and then just to throw his weight around. Montgomery then gave a press conference, only mentioned in passing by the author, announcing that he had saved the Americans and that the Battle of the Bulge was one of the trickiest battles he had handled. The author fails to mention that it took Churchill to reign Montgomery in.
Montgomery's crossing of the Rhine is mentioned as notable in the race for Berlin. That Patton crossed a day earlier without the overwhelming forces and support given to Montgomery somehow is omitted. And probably most egregious, the tactic of Montgomery's to have liaison officers in subordinate headquarters (where they functioned as spies since he didn't trust his subordinates), is lauded by the author instead of being condemned.
The author's treatment of Bradley is filled with misstatements and perjorative adjectives. One wonders why the author is so critical on Bradley and Eisenhower. More than any other commander, Montgomery was treated with courtesy and showered with troops and supplies by Eisenhower, and no other commander did less with the troops and supplies he was given than Montgomery.
In Montgomery's defense, also not covered by the author, was that the British resources were declining sharply by 1944, and Brooke had advised Montgomery to avoid British casualties. Unstated but obvious was the intent to use American lives and resources to further British interests and Montgomery's reputation.
Yes, as the author states, Montgomery is controversial, but this book is over the top in its presentation of Montgomery as a military genius and outstanding commander, while at the same time portraying all other commanders as inept, stupid, lazy, and incompetent. Given such polemics, I cannot recommend this book to anyone. Blacking out errors and perjorative adjectives would leave almost nothing remaining.