Was General Bernard Montgomery worth a shit?

He seems to have screwed up El Alemain, Caen and Market Garden.

But, of course, I’m American.

So, how does he measure up?

Umm… you do know who won El Alamein, don’t you?

It is the duty of a general to win, and Monty won most of his battles. It’s not his fault that he was faced with jealous Americans generals or more specifically Bradley and Patton who disliked him.

He was slow and methodical which did not get headlines but got the job done.
Plus, it’s Field Marshal not General.

Montgomery won most of his battles. That being said he was no miracle-worker. Most of the times he won he pretty much had all the cards (intelligence, resources, forces). He was also considered slow and plodding by American standards, and the Germans weren’t completely impressed with his speed either. The one time he favored heavily on boldness and speed was Market Garden and that did not turn out well. He did win most of the time, however some folks on the allies side tended to have the mindset of ‘we probably could have done that faster and better’ with regard to his victories.

He certainly did seek out his share of headlines as well, and managed to shove his foot down his throat a whole bunch when speaking to the press. This was not exclusively an American trait. Like far too many Brits of the early part of the 20th century he seemed to have the attitude towards Americans of “give us all of your fuel, munitions and put your troops under our generals and we’ll just win things our way, alright chaps?”

Which American generals would that be? Bradley, who lost the plot completely in the first days of the Bulge, and saw most of his troops being placed under Monty, something he never forgave Monty for? Patton, who spent three months hammering himself at Metz, for 50,000 casualties?

Which Germans thought lightly of him? Rommel? Who Monty chased half way across N Africa. Von Kluge? Whose forces were annhailated in N France campaign?

I have always thought that Montys performances in Normandy and N France were amongst the finest of the war by any general.

I think Monty has been overly lauded. A great leader of men, but not one of Britain’s finest leaders by a long shot. Slim was a better commander in my view.

I wonder, sometimes, if the more able British generals were sidelined in the earlier years of the war before they got a chance to properly demonstrate their skill. Churchill interfered in appointments a lot and was always reshuffling the upper ranks. In the early years, the British Army was so underequipped it struggled to match the enemy in the field. By the time Monty took command of 8th Army, and started to gain fame, the supply problems were beginning to be overcome, and part of his strategy was always to ensure material superiority over the enemy. Just as well such a thing was possible at that time and on that front just as he took command, then. If he’d tried that 1940-41 he’d have never attacked!

Bradley at least stopped the Germans at Arden. When Montgomery was given the follow-up he botched and praised himself while shitting on the US troops who fought there.

Patton at least won at Metz, Bradley took just as many casualties and only took Caen because of Cobra

The ones who were convinced, even before the disinformation campaign, that Patton would be leading any invasion of France.

And yet let him get away despite innumerable advantages in resources.

Oh yes, very impressive to defeat an enemy that is mostly surrounded thanks to Bradley’s work in Cobra.

I’d call Africa good but not perfect work, I’d call N. France decent but limited. Market Garden and Post Bugle were pretty dismal works. If I were to give anything by Montgomery an A+ it would be Veritable and Grenade.

None of the allied Generals/Field Marshals were perfect by any stretch and we can play the 'What about when ‘X’ was at ‘Y’" all day long. As I said, Monty was solid but not a miracle worker. To say he was not a headline grabber or arrogant is ignoring history.

By defeating the Afrika Korps and chasing it clear across Libya to the Mareth Line?

By drawing almost all the German armor in Normandy into defending the area around Caen leaving the way open for the breakout on the American sector?

Yeah, okay this one was overly ambitious. His biggest failing was his ego which wouldn’t let him admit that any of his battles hadn’t gone according to plan. One thing he is blamed for but not guilty of is being a glory hound. The “race to Messina” between him and Patton during the Sicilian campaign happened entirely in Patton’s head. The scene in the movie Patton where an aide informs him that Patton has taken Palermo to which Montgomery throws his pen down and says “damn” simply never happened; when it was clear that Montgomery’s drive up the east coast of Sicily was stalling in the face of stiff German opposition he suggested the main effort be shifted to the Americans. Another gratuitous jab at Monty and British ‘slowness’ in general was in the movie A Bridge Too Far where Robert Redford is admonishing British tankers to advance towards Arnhem. When told that they had orders to wait for the infantry which was still clearing out Nijmegen Redford responds with “for christsakes you’re just going to sit there… and drink tea?” What is explained in the book but not the movie is that the terrain from Nijmegen to Arnhem was polder, soil so wet that off-road movement by tanks was impossible. The road was a single lane elevated road; without supporting infantry tanks were no more than sitting ducks to even a single German anti-tank gun, so there was very good reason to need to wait for the infantry. Trying to send the tanks off alone would have been suicide.

So yes, Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery was most definitely ‘worth a shit’. He certainly had issues with his ego, but so did many of his American contemporaries.


This is really the cart before the horse. Cobra was only possible because Montgomery had pinned most of the German armor to defending Caen.

I don’t know that that was the intention, though, so much as just a positive effect. The Canadian advance at Le Mesnil-Patry was a failure, and Bucknell was a disaster with XXX Corps at Villers-Bocage and Operation Bluecoat.

Yes but Montgomery wasn’t trying to pin down the German armor (at least not until the very end) he was trying to capture Caen. He had planned to take Caen on D-Day!

Saying Caen was a success because it pinned down German armor sounds a Blackadder answer to me.

Most of the accusations made against Montgomery were true.

He was certainly not a brilliant general. He won his victories because he fought them with significant advantages in men and equipment. He was often defeated in battles he could have or should have won. And he was arrogant beyond his abilities.

In his defense, he was doing what was best for Britain. To be blunt, Britain was the weak partner of the alliance - it couldn’t match the United States or the Soviet Union in resources. So to sit beside those powers as equal partners, Britain had to emphasize its quality vs their quantity - to say essentially “While you guys may be bigger, we’re better.” It was an argument that was necessary to maintain Britain’s status but British claims of superiority obviously were going to annoy the Americans and Soviets. And Montgomery was right in the middle of that.

The other thing was that Britain couldn’t afford the losses that the United States of the Soviet Union could afford. Those countries could suffer a major defeat and rebuild. Britain had lost all the defeats it could afford. In the second half of the war it needed to keep its army intact. It no longer had the resources to recover from a major defeat. So Montgomery avoided some battles he might have won because he couldn’t take the risk that he might lose. His real victory was that when the war ended in 1945, Britain was on the winning side and still had an army in the field. It was still considered a partner to America and Russia and hadn’t been reduced to the status of France or China, which were essentially regarded as great powers by courtesy.

It pretty much was his intention from mid June onwards. The Germans kept pushing armour towards Caen and denuding their forces versus the Americans. Even the attacks were tactical failures, but strategic successes.

Like, errrr Grant? He had advantages in men and material because he was an excellent logistician. He was able to ensure that the men under his command had sufficient supplies of well everything and would continue to do so throughout the fight. That is not an example of weakness in his generalship at all. Many of his contemporaries were none too enthused about “boring” logistics at all, Patton famously ran out of gas at the German border and Bradleys men often had supply problems.

The plan to take Caen on D-Day was far overly ambitious, and you’ll note I did not call Caen a success. I noted it kept most of the German armor facing the British/Canadian sector which is what allowed Bradley to conduct Operation Cobra. Saying Montgomery only took Caen because of Cobra rather misses the point that Cobra was only possible because of the continuous fighting around Caen pulling all of the German mobile reserves to it.

That said, as I noted Monty had the rather obnoxious habit of insisting that everything had gone according to plan. I can’t find it at the moment, but there is a pre-landing map of planned advance lines of Allied forces from the landings up to about D+120 or so. Looking back, the Allies were behind schedule on it up until the breakout at which point they quickly caught up to it and the planned timetable and actual Allied advances start to match up pretty well. This was largely the cause of Montgomery’s insistence that the Normandy campaign went according to plan if not entirely according to timetable.

Patton ran out of fuel because Market Garden got priority. Patton knew logistics well enough, he just had to take a backseat to Montgomery’s adventure.

D-Day was pretty much Montgomery’s baby in terms of planning, Eisenhower himself said that getting the troops on to the beaches was the Allied aim, but Montgomery was the reason they held it and broke inland.

Montgomery saw far more than D-Day, he had already planned ahead for material and operational requirements for getting into Germany, something that the US had aimed for but had not actually worked out how this was to be achieved

You’ll also note that Montgomery may well have had the resources, but how do you know when you have enough and can move? At El-Alamein his prediction of exactly when the Germans would break was accurate to within a couple of hours, from days of fighting. Its also worth noting that of the Western Allied Generals, he was the first to integrate Air, land and naval power into one force, in very close support, hence the taxi cab system of fighter bombers that proved so effective in the desert - its this that caused Rommel to come to the view that the Allies had to be thrown back from the beaches, whereas other German Generals wanted to take the Allies on further inland and preserve their forces.

This caused a fundamental disagreement on German strategy and led to significant German tank resources to be held back, and were not available without the personal approval of Hitler, whilst you can argue that this is because of intelligence led deception, its also because of the division between Rommel and the rest of the German high command - it turns out Rommel was right about Allied air power and the way it was used to directly support ground forces.

Monty’s prediction was that the Battle of Normandy would take 90 days, and he came under pressure because the break out seemed slow, yet it took a little over 70 days, and within 6 weeks almost all France was liberated - people then as now seem to want instant results and ignore professional assessment - I’d say that getting the job done a couple of weeks inside the deadline in a battle that involved the best part of a million men has to be a damn good call.

One of the things that did weaken the allied advance was the insistence that a general attack all along the lines which was advocated by the US military, when Montgomery pointed out that it was impossible to be strong at all points at once he was ignored by the US high command, to their serious cost. After 4 years of fighting the US still had not understood the implications of Blitzkrieg, but Monty certainly had, his intention was to make concentrated drives to break up axis forces.
Ignoring him without doubt extended the war on the Western front.

Also note that while Patton did cross the Rhine, this was merely a sideshow for his own personal glory, but it needlessly cost US lives, whereas Montys crossing was a far more substantial affair and much better planned, it was able to deal with the usual problems that come from such a large operation and was a complete success

Also worth noting, when the Battle of the Bulge began, Monty was one of the first to grasp the scale of it, whilst US forces did an incredible job of hampering and holding the Germans, the strategic initiative and reorganisation came from Monty, this is what largely turned this situation from a series of smaller intense battles to one organised counter offensive with a plan.

So in terms of planning and strategic vision he is right up there, he made his mistakes in the desert, but didn’t keep repeating them, the ability to reorganise and respond to short term pressure was shown very well at El Alamein - this was not a battle of steamrollering as some seem to think, it took plenty of movement and prediction, he out-generalled Rommel.
As for ego, plenty of those about,

Montgomery tends to enrage the passions of modern authors. Americans underrate him, a bit like we Brits do with Patton. Im no expert on military matters, so take my opinion with a bit of salt. Montgomery was competent, which in WW2 British Army terms places him very highly.

edit: my reply seems pretty poor compared to the excellent post above.

Not really. Montgomery had nothing to do with the improved logistic situation. He just got lucky and happened to be the general in charge at the time the overall British logistic situation was improving.

Something not totally unrelated…Montgomery vs Patton in the style of Deadliest Warrior.

And Rommel was outnumbered by at least 2 to 1 and he still made Monty look like a pecker head. Not even close.

Something like 600 tanks to 30 by the end. Rommel had no supplies and Montgomery had (via Ultra) Rommel’s complete order of battle. Montgomery let Rommel conduct an orderly retreat out of cautiousness. Had Montgomery encircled and captured Rommel personally, rather than giving him time to fly out, D-Day would have been a lot less bloody. Rommel’s person was the only major resource the Nazis had left in North Africa.

North Africa was won for the Brits by resupply of their own troops and interdiction of supplies for the Nazis.
Montgomery was the UK’s best commander. He did not lose battles, which is important, but he was vastly inferior to his opponents and made up for it with caution. For which his men and his country loved him.