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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best of Enemies, 29 Dec. 2011
This review is from: Monty and Rommel: Parallel Lives (Hardcover)
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.
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Location: Gorizia Italy

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