The Best Defense

Sir Michael Howard on Field Marshal Montgomery: A deeply flawed officer who excelled at leading large battle formations

I don't know why, but I only recently came across Sir Michael Howard's fine essay on Field Marshal Montgomery. (I suspect the reason is that it is tucked away in a collection of essays titled The Causes of War.) I wish I had read it while writing my most recent book, The Generals -- I would have quoted a couple of passages.

He really captures the guy well. "Montgomery was by no means a well-loved figure," he begins. Among other things, he notes, the general was flawed by a "total absence of generosity."

Montgomery's strength, as many others have observed, was the set-piece battle. "He did not adjust himself rapidly to the needs of that most difficult and necessary of military operations, the pursuit.... He would take no risks."

Most of all, "Montgomery had mastered the art which officers brought up in the small British Army had so little chance to learn -- that of commanding large formations in the field."

One quibble: Sir Michael contrasts "the smoothness" of the British debarkation on the beaches of D-Day with "the bloody shambles at the American." Yes, Omaha Beach was a mess, so much so that Bradley mulled withdrawing. But I thought Utah Beach went pretty smoothly, too, no? (Adrian Lewis, wanna weigh in here?)

Speaking of Normandy, I didn't realize that Montgomery may have had roots in that area, in an ancestral local warlord named Roger de Mont Gommeri.

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