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on 16 October 2013
I found this to be an outstanding history book - it is crisply written, challenges orthodoxy, it is not biased and, above all, it educates. Prof. Buckley has written a first class addition to the WW2 Canon.

Prior to reading this book, I have to say that it always troubled me how often and how intensely the German army continued to receive the sobriquet of "being the best army" in the war yet lost, while the British army, by contrast, has been denigrated quite viciously, yet won where required.

In this book, Prof. Buckley tries, and in my opinion succeeds, in objectively assessing the British Army's performance in Western Europe, post D-Day. His conclusions are that Britain in fact ended the war with a well honed, highly professional army equipped with excellent and innovative tactical skills and an operational doctrine which brought victories, large and small, in varied conditions and terrain against, in many cases, highly organized and motivated opposition.

Prof. Buckley fluently addresses the basic criticisms leveled at the British Army - First, German interpretations of various battles were best served by focusing on the preponderance of resources, air superiority etc of the allies rather than their own tactical and operational weaknesses.... so to state the obvious point, not to have used those resources and the advantages they conferred would have been negligent indeed, and this holds true for all the allies. But what is clear though is that, in most instances, the British managed those resources very effectively.

Second, the British adapted well and fast to tactical situations, Prof. Buckley gives many examples of this as well as examples of the dire consequences if lessons were ignored. As a result the British Army wasn't the hidebound institution that some maintain, and in becoming more "professional" as combat wore on the British replicated the same learning experience as the Americans, a process which was been well addressed in Rick Atkinson's trilogy.

Third, operationally the British, and in reality the allies as a whole, were constrained by what was considered to be acceptable losses, yet for political reasons the Army had to be shown to be doing its bit, especially as the US commitment grew.... the operational doctrine which Montgomery developed was very well suited to this conundrum. It wasn't perfect, and opportunities were lost as a result of either the wrong strategic decisions as with regard to Market Garden / Scheldt Estuary or an overly conservative approach such as that of crossing the Rhine, yet the goal of beating the Germans in fraught and aggressive engagements without the blood letting of the first would war was ultimately very successfully achieved.

Fourth, the British were no slouches in a number of areas - artillery, engineering, medicine, logistics, intelligence to name some, and as Prof Buckley shows this institutional excellence greatly helped the fighting man achieve his goals without the slaughter seen on the Eastern Front.

Prof. Buckley goes into other aspects of the Army's performance in this excellent book, but rarely if ever does he show anything but appropriate critical analysis - I was surprised for example about his rather scathing assessment of Market Garden - I had always considered it to be a glorious failure rather than the end result of operational incompetence. Similarly, he expresses trenchant and cogent views on other operations as well as on specific generals. As a result one never feels like one is reading a eulogy or an apologia.

Which perhaps brings us on to the most interesting underlying question - exactly why had the British Army's reputation slipped so much with revisionist historians? Although perhaps not Prof Buckley's direct conclusion, my own view was that Montgomery, simply by being Montgomery, was largely responsible. There is a strong argument to suggest that he was the foremost Allied Army commander in the Western European Theatre and certainly the most successful and experienced, but he seems to have been a deeply flawed personality in many ways. It is evident he created a highly effective and efficient army, yet at the same time managed to upset and alienate vast swathes of the US and British High commands. As a result, it would appear that the criticism of Montgomery which erupted post war appears to have wrongly flowed through to criticism of the actual army he led, until such point as we were left with the received, but incorrect, wisdoms which Prof. Buckley so ably corrects.

To conclude, whether or not you agree with Prof. Buckley's positions, this really is a must read. Excellent scholarship, a plethora of new ideas to explore and a challenge to conventional thinking all make this a wonderful, stimulating history.
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on 1 December 2013
I enormously enjoyed John Buckley's latest offering, "Monty's Men". It gives a more positive outlook on the contribution of the British to the success of the North-West Europe Campaign of World War II, going somewhat against the grain of media which tends to portray the Allied push from Normandy to Luneburg Heath as an all-American adventure. This, of course, couldn't be further from the truth, and Buckley gets his point across convincingly without resorting to excessive praise of Field-Marshal Montgomery. Monty's motivation and the pressures he was under from the British political establishment are covered to give a much more balanced view of his command of 21st Army Group; Buckley is not afraid to admit that Montgomery was, to the say the least, a flawed character, and that interpretations of his command style and approach to the Normandy Campaign in particular tend to suffer in comparison the heroic status given to, say, Patton. Buckley does not shy away from reminding readers quite how hellish it was to be involved in close-quarters attritional fighting in Normandy and elsewhere, and to bring across the enormous difficulties that the fighting created for both the Allied attackers and the German defenders. Overall, the book is an excellent history of the campaign, and is a valuable study aid for anyone interested in the Second World War. It's well-written and highly detailed, with testimony from veterans and studious examination of the other literature on the topic.
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Following-up on his excellent 2006 book `British Armour in the Normandy Campaign,' Professor John Buckley's latest work `Monty's Men' examines 21st Army Group's campaign in NW Europe during the last year of WW2, addresses some of the myths manufactured about its performance by detractors since the 1950s and offers us a radical reappraisal.

21AG was composed predominantly of the British 2nd Army with Canadian 1st Army under command from summer 1944, significant American forces (US 9th Army as well as 82nd & 101st airborne divisions) attached from late 1944, plus Polish forces fighting on the allied side in the west. The focus of `Monty's Men' is predominantly the British and Canadian Armies in 21AG: how they were led, how they learned to fight effectively against their Wehrmacht/Waffen SS opponents by exploiting their own strengths and the inherent organizational weaknesses of the German Army, how ultimate allied resource superiority was utilised to best effect, and the political and doctrinal considerations underpinning 21AG's conspicuous - but often under-appreciated - victory in the field.

Rather than repeat the content of so many excellent reviews already posted, I'll offer some general observations about Buckley's book.

1. The style is entertaining and literate. Buckley tells the story so effectively his book is almost novelistic in format, gripping the reader right to the end: no mean feat for a non-fiction work founded on historical documentation.

2. Chapter organization is chronological and editing from Yale University Press first class with comprehensive notes, bibliography and index, and a good monochrome photo section.

3. While Buckley's book has no pretensions to biography, the cast of characters (Montgomery, 2nd Army commander Miles Dempsey, Corps and Divisional commanders, American counterparts and others) are presented fairly as complex 3-dimensional people, `warts and all' with differing motivations and abilities. Monty himself is not lionised by Buckley; his oft-discussed faults of lack of diplomacy and public displays of ego are openly admitted - with examples. However the reader comes away with a deep appreciation of Monty's not inconsiderable achievements at 21AG in comprehensively defeating the Wehrmacht, continuing to motivate his men to fight and win whilst taking great care not to hold their lives cheap, and keeping the army together as a coherent effective fighting force: a task which might have been beyond the abilities of many generals but which he pulled off with conspicuous success.

This is not a book focussed on the relative merits of equipment (i.e. whose tanks or artillery pieces were better) or on detailed analysis of tactical engagements, but is fundamentally themed on the strategic issues underpinning the campaign and the operational methods dictated by these considerations. 21AG had to defeat the German armies in the west using a wasting asset where replacement of combat losses could not be guaranteed (during the campaign more than one infantry division was dissolved just to provide replacements for others), so needed to fight in a way which minimised casualties. The Army needed to be kept intact for the occupation of a defeated and potentially chaotic Germany, and be fit for the planned campaigns in Burma and Malaya against the Japanese; in early 1945 no-one could foresee the Japanese surrender in August and everyone thought the war in the Far East would continue until at least 1946.

The resource superiority of 21AG, especially that of the Royal Engineers who were able to bridge virtually any river crossing or major obstacle under fire, and the skill, effectiveness and accuracy of the artillery in battlefield support is examined with particular thoroughness. Buckley also charts the evolution of fighting techniques in this citizen-army and how inter-arm co-operation developed (particularly between infantry, armour and artillery) to become highly effective in the months following the Normandy campaign.

Minor gripes:

1. The maps are inadequate and nowhere near detailed enough to illustrate and augment the text

2. The latter period of the campaign, from the Ardennes offensive in December 1944 up to the German surrender in May 1945, feels rather rushed and skipped-over compared to the earlier wealth of detail on Normandy, Market Garden and the Scheldt/Antwerp operations of November. Perhaps this is the result of editing by the publisher, concerned a too-heavy page-count might intimidate the potential readership and reduce sales?

Some telling contrasts between the British Army and the German Army in WW2 offer food for thought and demonstrate which army had the more modern attitudes:

* During WW2 the German Army executed more than 15,000 of its own soldiers (this number only those recorded officially), the equivalent of an entire full-strength division, and increasingly threatened young conscripts at the front with the prospect that their families would be terrorised if they failed in their duty. In stark contrast the British Army had abolished the death penalty in 1931 and executed none of its soldiers.

* The way the armies dealt with battlefield casualties, shell-shock, speed of medical evacuation and the like was completely different; in this regard the British Army in 1944-45 had a modern, even 21st century ethos and saved thousands of lives as a consequence. Buckley quotes several soldiers serving at the front who were well aware of this and appreciated it at the time.

The morale of the fighting troops in 21AG is demonstrated to have held up well. Even in 1945 when everyone knew the war was effectively won and wanted only to survive the Army continued to fight and kept confidence in its leadership (well-deserved with the rare exception of the Market Garden debacle, analysed in some detail by the author).

The text quotes from participants many and varied, whose revelations bring the conflict to life. Those who cling to the mythos of the innate superiority of the German Army over the western allies might consider the comments of a liberated civilian in a Belgian town (p246):

"When the Germans were here and we encountered them on the pavement we had to get out of the way always. But with your soldiers it is they who move out of the way and walk on the road. This may seem trivial to you, but to me it is the mark of a civilised nation".

In summary, `Monty's Men' is an excellent piece of work. It brings a fresh perspective, respects the intelligence of the reader and never feels like it eulogises its subject. Replete with detail but using great economy of language, the narrative is engaging throughout. I was sorry when I came to the end of the book (finished it in three days) and could have continued to read Professor Buckley's fine prose for another 300 pages; for me, this is rare indeed.

So does Professor Buckley make a convincing case that 21AG may have been one of the most effective fighting formations in WW2, at least the equal of the Wehrmacht (which it comprehensively defeated) and in many respects superior to it? Yes, he does.
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on 17 March 2014
American historians and some British ones have long peddled a view which denigrates Monty as a General and indeed denigrates the entire performance of the British Army in the European campaign of 1944-45.Popular culture has also picked this up .In "Saving Private Ryan",the character played by Ted Danson says of Montgomery "If you ask me that guys over-rated."
This book provdes a valuable corrective to this view.The style is a little dry and academic but after about 100 pages it begins to grip you.Buckley de-constructs the myth of the British armys failure.You can also see that although Monty was not the great captain of history ,that in his vanity after the war he claimed to be, he was ,along with Slim(a nicer and more modest man) the best British general of the war and better than many of the Americanns ,including Ike, Bradley and Patton.
This book at last does justice to both Monty and his veterans!
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on 11 February 2015
Excellent book. Proper revisionist history. Like a lot of commentators I've read many books on the fighting in Normandy and Europe including the 'classics' by Hastings and Beevor. Increasingly I started to wonder how come the German wonder army was beaten by the 'amateur' allies, how come allied losses in men were usually less than the Germans even though they were on the attack, how even in tanks the losses were no where near the 4 to 1 myth you often hear repeated and finally if you read a personal account of someone in the British army the impression is of dogged, effective, professionalism rather than victory simply through overwhelming odds. Here is the explanation: Prof Buckley asks the same questions and comes up with the answer that the British (and their allies) forged a modern day combined arms fighting force - that was better than the Wermacht. Good to see some of the self serving German accounts of cunning resistance against impossible odds get questioned- the one where the Wermacht officer compels an ack-ack unit to take on the British at Goodwood (which I've seen on several books and even had recounted to me by someone who had met said officer) is debunked with Prof Buckley's remorseless research. All right it agrees with my obvious prejudices - but Buckley criticises when needed and never advances without evidence.
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on 9 March 2015
This book is a description of Montgomery the enabler. The difficulties and pressures he faced as commanding officer in the Normandy campaign were almost as formidable as the organisation of the invasion itself. The book points out his errors and flaws, but it is also a worthy tribute to him.
On the evidence, he was the most suitable British Officer to take responsibility for commanding Anglo Canadian troops in the NW European Campaign. Montgomery learnt lessons from the 1940 French Campaign. He was a realistic about what a largely conscripted army might be capable of against a formidable German Army. He was an effective communicator, trainer and organiser. He devised a clear idea of how to defeat the German Army and did so in North Africa, and used those lessons to refine his methods in Normandy. The book 'Colossal Cracks' is a good companion to this book in describing this.
He damaged his reputation after command was handed over to Eisenhower. Possibly he was distracted by internal politics. He appeared at times petulant and less than professional. The book describes a loss of focus, with excessive risk taking and not identifying where his priorities should have been at Antwerp and Arnhem.
If he could be unpleasant and irritating to colleagues and Allies, It was as well he was. It was part of his overall character. He instilled a confidence in the British Army, a belief they were capable of defeating the Germans. His character enabled him to be the effective commander he was. He kept a 'grip'. People knew what he expected. The troops were informed about what to do and that they would win. If a 'nicer' 'chap' had been selected for Normandy, this might have been created too much consensus and drift in command. Think of Zhukov and Manstein; You need big (and little) bad bastards to win wars.
The final chapter provides important conclusions in describing British Political and Strategic pressures that Montgomery was aware of. The methods Montgomery used, set piece battles and avoiding excessive casualties enabled the British Army in 1945 to achieve these.
This is an excellent and important book that describes both advantages and shortcomings of both British/ Canadian and German Armies.
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on 3 February 2015
Excellent, accurate revision of the British army performance during WW2. Tackles head-on right-wing journalist/pretend historian/question time panelists and occasionally makes them look more than a little foolish in their denigration of the victorious British forces.
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VINE VOICEon 20 February 2014
.. Buckley's previous work "British Armour in Normandy" was the sort of wonderful eye-opening re-appraisal of the British Army's performance post-D-Day that Max Hastings' 'pro-German' treatments had always warranted. It is thus easy to agree with Buckley in this new work that the reputation of the British Army has suffered through a " disturbing" and very unflattering comparison with the German Army. You see it all the time on the net and in the literature - there is a sort of 'fan-boy' admiration for the German Army and its 'flamboyant' commanders - despite the ideological motivations, despite the racial and criminal undertones, despite harsh 'internal' terror - which is ultimately based on a very narrow definition of what constitutes military 'effectiveness'. Buckley argues that this image of German 'superiority'- largely based on the 'Blitzkrieg' of the early war years - conceals and ignores many many shortcomings and deficiencies on the German and almost toally ignores those areas in which the British were much stronger - artillery firepower, logistical competence etc etc. By repeatedly attempting to mount ad-hoc and unsupported operations post-1941 the German Army delivered some short-term success but lived under constant threat of potential near-disaster. As Buckley argues the British conduct of operations predicated on firepower and logistics were not inferior to the Germans; if anything these kinds of operational methods were more sophisticated, requiring as they did, greater integration of the various operational constituents to achieve the desired affect.

No doubt Allied armies "Citizen soldiers" may have seemed lke 'amateurs' compared to German veterans skilled since 1939 - but 'amateurishness' - or at least what some commentators see as such - was a part of the Allies military culture. They were fresh. Free to experiment. Unlike the Germans post- D-Day who were scraping the bottom of barrel, sending Volksturm and Luftwaffe Field Divisions into battle, worn down by six years of constant conflict and intense brutal ground warfare. Manpower concerns were a prime Allied consideration. Another British misfortune after September 1944 was they were fighting on terrain which was best suited to defence. The Dutch-German frontier area is broken by canals , rivers and full of woods.

From the British perspective, morale and manpower were key issues affecting the British 'style' of waging war. Another was command and leadership style - leadership,morale and unit cohesion, rather than racial or political doctrine, were the central tenants in the production of fighting power. When the British recognised the potential fragility of the morale of the men deployed on the ground, Montgomery and other senior commanders sought to develop an operational method that developed fighting power that achieved objectives. The Germans from the First World War through the Second World War had little understanding of theses levels of war as Buckley makes clear and woefully underperformed in this respect. There is some truth that at the smallest unit level the Germans were better than the British, however, this was of little use if it could not be translated into operational or strategic effectiveness. Integration of firepower and movement was a much more 'mature' military philosophy, which ultimately saw Montgomery accepting German surrender on the Baltic less than one year after the landings in Normandy..
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on 20 March 2014
Excellent and well balanced read not one sided in the relationship between the allied Commanders and brought out truths and dispelled some of the myths of the war in Europe. I would read other books by the same author
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on 5 May 2015
Interesting history of the British army from Normandy 1944 to the end of the war in Europe. While not ignoring errors such as the ill fated Arnhem campaign Buckley rescues Monty and the British and Canadian armies from the oft written complaints of them being too slow, too reliant on weight of matériel and inferior to the German opposition. He points out their superiority in intelligence, medical provision, logistics etc. but more importantly highlights the British armies ability to change and adapt tactics unlike the Germans who stuck rigidly to the theory of immediate counterattack leaving them very vulnerable to the superior artillery of the British divisions. Buckley clearly explains the limitations imposed on Montgomery by the knowledge that his manpower was a wasting asset and that both Churchill and Alanbrooke were determined that there must be no repetitions of World War One's battles of attrition such as the Somme and Passchendaele.
A well written history that moves on from the now hackneyed view expounded by Hastings, D'Este etc. that the British army was somehow less effective than the Germans or the Americans
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