on 4 June 2011
This book is excellent, I enjoyed reading about the incidental facts that go along with the fast paced and fact filled pages (example; the year of Monty's birth saw the birth of a famous detective who lived in 221b baker street) It all fits beautifully believe me. The lives of the two generals are paralleled and interweaved in this book really well and it surprised me how close they were.
I have read Monty's and Rommel's Bio (individual volumes) previously, and this single volume pulls them easily and confidently together to make a most fascinating and brilliant read. Its well worth the money and a really good read, a good addition to anybody's library.
on 13 August 2014
A very good book well written and easy to follow. The learning ground for these two commandeers was the horrors of the First World War . Some fascinating accounts of the battles of this war and the accounts of the slaughter and carnage make grim and sad reading.
The war in North Africa provided a good boost to the public at home and is well covered in the book.
Only part through the book up to the D day landings and I am hoping it gives some insight into Rommel's fall from grace being involved in the plot against Hitler.
on 10 October 2014
Fascinating ! THe writer has seen stuff that we mere mortals have missed ! You really need to read the book to appreciate that comment and the drift of the whole book. If you have a son or grandson who wants to be a Field Marshal ... Look no further !
on 29 June 2011
This bringing together of two biographies in a single comparative format is the literary equivalent of a supermarket multi-buy deal, the 'Buy One Get One Free'. Unlike many of its retail equivalents, however, this book is exceptionally good value, not least in the extraordinary depth of detail, context and analysis applied by the author to his two subjects. Caddick-Adams brings together two of the generals most well known to front line British soldiers fighting in Europe and the Mediterranean in the Second World War. Indeed, Rommel was more famous than any of his British counterparts, to the fighting troops at least, until the arrival of Monty in command of the 8th Army in Egypt in August 1942. One of the soldiers I have interviewed about the Desert War, Private Alex Franks, remarked unashamedly that he would have preferred to have been commanded by Rommel than any of the British generals under which he had the misfortune to be led in 1940 and 1941. The rampant mythologizing of the Desert Fox among British troops was a real concern to the British authorities in North Africa in 1941 and 1942, demonstrated in part by the famous memorandum by Claude Auchinleck in 1942 which ended with the remark that 'I am not afraid of Rommel.' Deeply amused, Rommel keep a translated copy of the order in his papers. It was no secret that many British soldiers were like the young Alex Franks because, until November 1942 at least, Rommel had won most of his battles whilst their own leaders (with the exception perhaps of Richard O'Connor) had demonstrated no great success at all.
In bringing these two men together Caddick-Adams employs no clunky, artificial artifice: the parallels between the two men, in terms of their characters and histories, are extraordinary, and enable him to produce a quite brilliant piece of writing. Here in a single volume we have a first rate expose of two of the war's best known commanders, to a British audience at least. In late 1942 into early 1943, and then again in Normandy in 1944, the two men can be seen perhaps as duellists, but the uncanny links in their lives began as early as the Western Front, and in 1940, unknown to each other of course, they commanded divisions (Monty the 3rd Infantry Division of the BEF and Rommel the famous 7th Panzer Division) on opposite sides during the German invasion of France in 1940.
The danger in a book of this nature would be to produce separate commentaries on the two subjects, held together by the thin thread of a common chronology. Caddick-Adams succeeds in avoiding this pitfall, building a beautifully proportioned picture of two great men in which their lives and histories, both professional and personal, are carefully and closely interwoven, not chapter-by-chapter, but within each chapter, the rich context of their lives intricately painted carefully on a vast and detailed canvas. Indeed the book bursts at the seams: if Caddick-Adams were a landscape painter his book would be the equivalent of Monet, full of rich and intriguing colours and patterns. The resultant effect is spectacular, and Caddick-Adams is to be congratulated on his achievement. It is as though this is Caddick-Adams' first and last book: he has been concerned to pack in everything he knows (and as a lecturer and professional military historian, this is vast) but the sheer volume of material, comment and analysis is in no way overpowering. His close links with modern military doctrine are clearly observable to those in the know, but this knowledge is not intrusive, being illuminatory rather than a peacock's display of the author's knowledge. I feel I have learned more from this book than from a plethora of others on similar subjects.
The book is not immune from the minor errors that bedevil very author, not matter how diligent they be (e.g. Maud was 16 when married on p. 6 but only 14 on p.8). But this is nit-picking, for this is quite a brilliant book, written with passion and verve, Caddick-Adams allowing his writing to be suffused with quite evident and attractive enthusiasm for his subjects (and deep knowledge) combined with the urge found only in the best writers to convey the excitement of his discoveries to the widest possible audience. Bravo!
on 13 July 2012
Another reviewer suggests that this book is a rehash of others' previous work and a glance at the bibliography shows that there has been much written about these two soldiers. I first read The Rommel Papers and Monty's Memoirs as a teenager and on one amazing afternoon, at the War Museum, sat and looked through some of Rommel's personal photographic collection - as loose photos! So these gents have interested me from a very early age. My library includes both the above books, plus numerous others about them and the two armies which they lead in the North African Desert. So, when this new book was brought to my attention, I grabbed it with both hands.
It has proved an enjoyable and very worthwhile read. I learned a lot that I didn't know before, which is always a good measure of a factual book. It is especially valuable as it describes fully both men's World War One experiences, which deeply affected them both - it certainly made Monty careful of the lives of the men under his command and ensured that both men put less distance (but in different ways) between themselves and their men, than had the WW1 generals.
Even if the writer has used others' research, he has pulled it together and put a thoughtfully different slant on the subject. The parallels and differences in the lives and styles of leadership of the two men are well drawn out, while he holds back no punches in reflecting on their failings (NO-ONE is perfect!).
Be warned, it will take a chunk out of your life while you consume its 500 pages, plus many more of interesting footnotes!
Heartily recommended to anyone with an interest in these two remarkable men and how they fought their battles against each other.
on 5 December 2012
The best I can say about this book is that it is original in concept, exhaustively researched, and detached in its treatment of its enigmatic subjects. But I found the book hard work, and do not recommend it.
The book is simply too detailed in parts, too anecdotal, too personalized, and goes off on far too many tangents. The author wears his military credentials on his sleeve, for example when listing the decorations of every soldier, or when unnecessarily making comparisons with the British Army of today. The effect is wearying, and distracts the reader. The book is far longer than it needs to be, and could have been better edited. Points of detail are repeated.
The author also skirts rather gingerly around Monty's private and family life, when some proper assessment would surely have been helpful in better understanding the man behind the public persona.
on 25 June 2011
This is an unusual but eminently readable comparison of two leaders from opposing forces who first encountered each other in the Western Desert in WW II, and then at the Normandy landings, in 1944. They had both served in WWI, where both had been wounded, but were later able to continue fighting. This was received from Amazon where I had seen it advertised, extremely promptly.
on 30 August 2012
The idea of showing the similarities in both men's lives is a good one. Both were hugely influenced by their experiences in the First World War. Rommel was a "Boy's Own" style dashing hero, doing daring acts, always excelling and making himself a dazzling reputation (and earning himself the Blue Max). Monty did well enough, too, although nothing so stunning as capturing huge numbers of enemy troops by sheer audacity. Both were wounded, Monty quite badly. Both were trainers and writers during the interwar period, Monty wrote staff college courses, Rommel a best-selling book on infantry tactics. So far, so good. Of course, the real story starts when they fight in North Africa. Although they fought again in Normandy, both men's reputation's grew because of their desert war and the book treats this in good detail.
No matter how hard the author tries to be fair and unbiased, Monty still comes across as a horribly rude little man who was employed because he was an excellent organiser, a competent staff officer and a brilliant trainer rather than a true fighting general. Rommel comes across as a man promoted beyond his technical abilities, a fighting general who would have been better employed in a lower position. He was not a great staff officer, more of a seat-of-your-pants fighter who wanted to be involved in the front line stuff, not shuffling paper behind the lines. Both men recognised the importance of speaking to their troops and letting them know what was happening. Both inspired their forces, both believed in themselves and led by example. I got the impression that Rommel did it because he saw value in it, wanted to copy the officers he had admired in the First War. Monty did it to increase his own standing (although the benefit to his men was considerable).
Peter's accounts are well researched, he never tells you his opinion, he just gives you the facts and lets you form your own. I enjoyed the writing style, it treats you as an intelligent adult, you feel you are sitting by the fire talking to a well-informed friend. There are no intrusive "I'll show you how many foreign words I know" passages in the book, any German words are only used because there are no direct translations and Peter always explains what he is talking about.
I thought there could have been a greater discussion of Market Garden and its fall-out on Monty's reputation, although to be fair, because Rommel died in 1944, there is always a danger that the book would stray away from its title and the latter half of the book would be "Monty from 1944 until he died". I think the author manages to balance the conflicting demands to finish both men's stories well. If you want an in-depth story of Monty, buy a biography. Rommel's reputation was not spoiled by people actually meeting him after the war (his part in the bomb plot enhanced his reputation, if anything) whereas Monty's character defects became known to those who knew him, which undermined his military achievements, in my opinion. There's also a similar book comparing Monty and Patton, perhaps Peter could turn his considerable talents and write us a Patton-Rommel book to really highlight two of the best Blitzkrieg generals the world has ever known? Anyway, an excellent history book, well worth buying.
on 29 December 2011
Peter Carrick-Adams' study, effectively, covers two World Wars, portrayed through the eyes of Bernard Montgomery, and his nemesis of the desert, Erwin Rommel. They, like two other controversial commanders of the previous century, Wellington and Napoleon, were outsiders, and both lived similar lives in their respective states in their time. Unlike, these the first two remained military men through and through, avoiding politics as something unknown.
Both, when alive, and since their deaths, were either idolised: Rommel was regularly the blond "Desert Fox", pin-up boy of the "Ghost / Phantom Division" on the covers of Signal and Time, loved by women of all ages, and the only German commander with a personal marching song Unsere Rommel, or totally despised: Rommel had antagonised leading Nazis, crossed swords with senior colleagues Generals Guderian and Kesselring, as well as causing long term personal jealousies with FMs Keitel and Jodel; Monty with a "peacock vanity" seemed to gain pleasure in presenting himself as the sole winner, dismissing his predecessor, General Auchinleck, as useless, his US, Generals Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton, and Polish, General Maczek, Allies as unprepared, blaming them for not ending the European War at Christmas 1944, and destroying his critical subordinates, Brig Dorman-Smith. Each throughout their military careers had their protectors: Monty was saved twice from being sacked by General Brooke, whereas when Rommel had outlasted his use in the wake of the Stauffenberg coup of July, 20th 1944 neither Goebbels, nor Hitler, not even any of the top brass in the Wehrmacht would speak on his behalf or would give him the benefit of the doubt.
Monty's own books: El Alamein to the River Sangro (1945)El Alamein to the River Sangro; Normandy to the Baltic, From Normandy to the Baltic (1946), and The Memoirs of FM Montgomery (1958)The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery, all reflect the character of the person, his desire to irritate, humiliate, as well as to present his truth before others as the sole dominant and important one. Not to rock the boat, his friend Gen "Bimbo" Dempsey decided to burn his own campaign diaries, containing material which the author considered was dynamite, acknowledging Monty's inability to name and praise the very team he was captain. The author spends much space in pointing out his so-called victories in Normandy between Operations Epsom and Goodwood between mid June and the end July 1944 as failures, not intended as cooperative holding measures with the Americans in the west for a breakout until after D+55, and stating that had they succeeded he would have pushed on alone towards Berlin. What is more, Carrick-Adams stresses that in the wave of Operation Torch the famous second El Alamein battle of October-November 1942, which was Churchill's End of the Beginning, was "strategically unnecessarily", fought for political reasons, for by being caught with forces moving from the rear from Algeria Rommel was bound to retire on his own accord. Much of Monty's genius and his version of the war, however, was already being questioned after the first mention of the code-breaking at Bletchley in the 1970s. Fortunately for him, he was no longer around to face further embarrassment and criticism.
Because Rommel died and cremated, many myths have spread from the moment of his state funeral, real for a "Nazi hero" if one accepts the Nazi line, phoney and unreal if one assumes that he was anti-Nazi, and one of the plotters. During his brief recovery at home in Herrlingen, following the air attack, Rommel is thought to have destroyed any incriminating evidence either to his command in Normandy, or the nature of the relationship with any of the plotters (Oberstleutnant von Hofacker, cousin of Count Stauffenberg, had failed to win him over to the plot on July 9th). It is believed that he was unaware that the plot was imminent. What is certain is that his wife, Lucie, also stated that her husband was opposed to assassination of the Führer, fearing it would create martyrdom and push the country into civil war, preferring an arrest followed by a trial. This led to the first much acclaimed biography by Brig Desmond Young (1950)Rommel, and film with James Mason (1951)Desert Fox, The - Studio Classics [DVD], the first time a German officer was presented sympathetically and not a murderous fiend. Until the 1970s the belief rested that Rommel was supportive and active with the resistance and a "Good German"; then in 1977 the since maligned David Irving produced his The Trail of the Fox The Trail of the Fox: Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, showing greater closeness between the commander and the regime, and even severely questioning the Desert Fox's understanding of logistics as previously commented even by Kesselring. Since then, naturally, the myth has reopened.
Carrick-Adams concludes by turning to a summarised model of generalship, first proposed by Gen Wavell in 1939 Generals and Generalship, a copy always kept by Rommel himself. It is here that despite all the earlier analysis he shows his true colours and preferences, stating that while the Desert Fox was inspirational as a leader, he was not efficient, whereas the more cautious, risk-taking Monty was more efficient. For in addition to all the officers Rommel sacked many more immediate subordinates were killed in the field following him, running around chaotically from one Division to another. Furthermore, at a conference in November 2011, at the National Army Museum, Chelsea, when asked if the protagonists were placed in the opposing camps who would have benefited more the author still plumped for his hero, Monty, because by repeating the words of Irving, Rommel was more linked to the corrupt, discredited and now failed regime. I feel that was an answer given on the spur of the moment. Had Rommel been British he would not have had to compromise himself with dictatorship. He, like Brooke, would have had to put up with the tantrums of a bearlike child, such as Churchill. He would never fear speaking his mind and risk being shot. However, if Monty had been German the question is would his natural rebellious nature have prompted him to support the Nazis before 1933 or soon after, and if he became a fanatical Nazi like the SS General Sepp Dietrich, who Rommel knew and had to work with in Normandy, was he prepared like the Nazi when the time changed to play a favourable game with the resistance? That would have been the question.
The book is rich with illustrations and enjoyable. Its 500 pages is far from being a heavy slog. Rommel's Great War service in Rumania and Italy in 1917 are well documented and condensed for readers unskilled in German, Italian or Rumanian, in order to understand better the man, who in May 1940. later in the brief French campaign as commander of 7th Panzers, led the mythical,
magical Phantom Div. The author does underline that his greatness started to be questioned in the field even before the arrival of Monty, when his specialists intercepting British voice transmissions in the desert, 621 Strategic Intercept Company, were located, attacked, and documents plundered in July 1942, still to Monty's (and not the Auck's) advantage. He mentions Monty's devious ingratiating manner towards 1960s historians of the Donkey ilk The Donkeys: A History of the British Expeditionary Force in 1915, and their anti-War supporters, purposely forgetting that for much of the Great War he was not in the trenches with the men as he was in 1914, but wearing the dreaded red tabs.
Like modern military historians today Carrick-Adams has walked the fields of battle, met the soldiers in the field, and spoken with the few remaining survivors to make the papers in the archives come alive. To conclude, Monty's supporters will not be hurt, those of Rommel will be pleased. A lengthy, but worthwhile achievement, and a brilliant tribute to the best of enemies.
on 5 May 2013
I am deeply interested in the 2nd World War and I did not think this book too bad. Yes, it's difficult to compare Monty, who finished the war as a viscount, with Rommel who finished the war effectively murdered. And I think that the main idea behind this comparison is the war in North Africa which the allies won due to superior supply chains. Thereafter, I don't see much in common between the two and, in fact, I don't really see that much in North Africa other than they were opponents.
This said, there are a number of facts to be uncovered in the book which I had not previously known and are interestiing. My sympathies are with Rommel who was the better general and the more "correct" individual. Both my grandfather, my great-grandfather and my wife's grandfather served as senior officers under Montgomery and describe him in the rudest terms. He was certainly a self-publicist which detracted from the main task of winning the war.
However, back to the book. You will probably read it until the end and for that reason we can't knock it too much. You will gain some insight from it unless you are an expert in the field. Not a bad try but not a great comparison to begin with.