- Montgomery: D-Day Commander
Author of the official three-volume biography of Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, no one is perhaps more qualified than Nigel Hamilton to write a short, 142-page book whose focus is largely, but not exclusively, on Montgomery's role as D-Day commander. Hamilton is also the author of JFK: Reckless Youth and Bill Clinton: An American Journey. He is currently the John F. Kennedy Scholar and Visiting Professor in the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
The editor of Potomac Books' series of Military Profiles, the incomparable Dennis Showalter observes that Montgomery has had "poor posthumous press coverage in America." He also observes that in Britain itself, Montgomery's reputation as "undoubtedly one of the great captains of the twentieth century " remains controversial. Once on display at the Imperial War Museum in London, Montgomery's wartime battlefield caravans were banished to Duxford, "Europe's premier aviation museum." Professor Showalter also does justice to Montgomery in quoting Walter Bedell Smith (Eisenhower's [End Page 1283] chief of staff) and Eisenhower in their assessment that although Montgomery was a "difficult man to handle . . . there wasn't anyone else who could have got us across the Channel and ashore in Normandy; it was his sort of battle."
It is hardly surprising that any writing on Montgomery must mention his personality deficiencies: He was not the stereotype of the British gentleman officer, a "nice chap," big and handsome, and most importantly, modest. He was not always an easy person to like, and he was all too easy to dislike. Asked to name history's three greatest commanders, Montgomery replied "the other two were Alexander the Great and Napoleon." He was not joking. His first biographer, Alan Moorehead, wrote that Montgomery most resembled Mahatma Gandhi in that both men "enjoyed the genial conviction that what they said and did was absolutely right."
Hamilton prepares the reader for his subject's climactic campaign by devoting four chapters to the pre-Overlord years: Montgomery's experience in World War I, which led to his famous statement in 1917, when he was still too young and too junior an officer to question the high command, that "the whole art of war is to gain your objective with as little loss [of lives] as possible." Most interesting is Montgomery's reaction to the Irish "Troubles" in 1921–22 in which, writes Hamilton, Montgomery showed his independence of mind by rejecting the ideas of some of his fellow officers that it was a terrible mistake to abandon southern Ireland when the British were on the verge of crushing the rebels. "Oliver Cromwell or the Germans would have settled it [the uprising] in a very short time," wrote Montgomery, but "Nowadays public opinion precludes such [brutal] methods." In Montgomery's opinion, Prime Minister David Lloyd George was right to grant self-government to Eire because they were the only people who could stamp out the rebellion.
The author's two chapters on Dunkirk and Alamein emphasize Montgomery's realistic tactical training of this troops, and rejection of the traditional concern with "spit and polish." He was almost demoted on the eve of war in 1939 when he issued the famous written order that condoms should be issued to prevent venereal disease. Montgomery had always understood his men's need for what he liked to call "horizontal refreshment."
The Battle of El Alamein (23 October–4 November 1942) in Egypt, where British Empire forces of the 8th Army under the command of the largely unknown Lieutenant-General Bernard Law Montgomery, defeated the legendary Field Marshal Erwin Rommel who was within striking distance of the Suez Canal and control of the Middle East. As with the Greeks at Thermopylae, Montgomery declared, "If we can't stay here alive then let us stay here dead." After the turning-point victory at El Alamein, "Monty" became recognizable the world over, wearing a black beret, standing in...