General Montgomery - was he inept?

In my readings on WWII, I’ve noticed some historians are very hard on the British general Bernard Montgomery. Stephen Ambrose is especially tough on him, and lays a lot of blame on Monty for prolonging the fighting in Europe after D-Day.
Other writers, such as John Keegan, seem to have better opinions of him as a general.

What’s the deal? Was he really an incompetant showman of a soldier, or did he just have a different style of command than the Americans? I mean, let’s face it - could people like Patton really act politely with another general in the room?

No, he was not inept. Monty, you see, was a veteran of WW1, where he saw thousands of soldiers sent to their deaths by generals who couldn’t care less whether they lived or died. As a result, he was very reluctant to risk the lives of his troops, a fact that made him somewhat disliked by his allies, but very popular among his own men. Perhaps he overcompansated a bit, but he did win his battles, eventually.

This is headed for the Great Debates, I bet.

I have to side with Ambrose, more or less. Operation Market Garden was by and large a waste of lives and material that set back VE day or at least the liberation of substantial parts of the area in question. I can’t really think of a campagain that he had a substantial role in that he could be said to have performed especially well. Someone will take me to task on North Africa, but IMHO this (victory there) was because he had massive material, manpower, and intelligence (Enigma) superiority. Also, his predecessors were so outstandingly poor that almost anyone who could win over the morale of the rank and file soldiers would look like Alexander the Great. Note that Monty was not the first choice for the British 8th Army --he got the job because the intended replacement commander was killed in an air crash.

But no matter what one thinks of Monty, he will always remain controversial principally because of his ego —HE thought he was great, and was not shy about expressing that. So it isn’t hard for his critics to say he was full of baloney because he didn’t shut his yap and let his achievements speak for themselves.

“Inept” is an unfair characterization of Montgomery. ‘Extremely methodical’ is probably closer to the mark.

‘Extremely methodical’ can be a very valuable commodity in a commander, as it was at El Alamein or in D-Day and the fighting in Normandy up until August 1944. On the other hand, in conditions of fluid fighting and rapid maneuver, ‘extremely methodical’ could be a great impediment, as it was in the pursuit of Rommel after El Alamein, the pursuit to Messina in Sicily, the Falaise encirclement, the pursuit to the Seine, and in Market-Garden as been pointed out. Maybe the most egregious example of this is Montgomery’s failure to clear the Scheldt estuary in September 1944 after capturing the port of Antwerp intact. The chances of ending the fighting in 1944 were slim, but they were zero without Antwerp functioning at full capacity.

Montgomery made two great contributions to beating the Germans: in 1942 - 1943 he showed that the Germans could be beaten in a stand-up and his organizational powers were absolutely critical to the immediate success of D-Day.

Of course, Montgomery gets a lot of bad press from historians because of his absolute inability to admit that any of his plans were less than stunningly successful and fulfilled to the letter.

Andrew Warinner

I’d disagree with JCHeckler that Montgomery’s predecessors were as incompetetant as suggested.

The British nearly cleared North Africa of occupying Italians fairly early on in the war under Auchinlek but their advance was stopped by the need to divert many men and resources to defend far Eastern possessions, notably Singapore, and this reduced force was then left to face the Germans who very nearly returned the favour.

There is a case to be made, but only with hindsight, the Britain would have been better off using its resources to remove all opposition in North Africa which in turn would have demanded less attention than was eventually needed at El-Alamein.

I’d agree with warinner. Montgomery saw himself as an ultra-professional, ultra-precise ‘academic’; battles were to be kept as tidy as possible. This may have cost him a number of major victories. At the same time, he was intensely loyal to his commands, and apparently did not enjoy throwing them into battles that they may have won.

I think his faults were more personal; pettiness, coldness, invulnerability to criticism; they alienated his seniors and led to troubled relationships with the US commanders. His only ‘command’ fault was to be too cautious at times. He was still probably one of the top three commanders in Britain in World War 2.

What was it Churchill said about Monty, ‘Unbearable in victory, unbeatable in defeat.’

Winner! Lines all pay, don’ts away. Off to Great Debates.

Not ever really been interested in the details of the second world war,and not representing myself as a scholar, but my impression of Monty is from the movie Patton. On the one side is this maverick American general with the line “I hate to pay twice for the same real estate” justifying a rapid advance, just the opposite of the cautious Monty. I saw a documentary on Market Garden where the Germans were all set to leave north of the Rhine in Holland, but Monty ignored Dutch underground information and decided to hole up. That cost a lot of Dutch civilian lives which sucks for me, with relatives there. If Patton was in charge there, a lot of lives would have been saved.