This Day In History: Montgomery, Victor of El Alamein Was Born (1888)

General Bernard L. Montgomery watches his tanks move up." North Africa, November 1942

On this day in 1887, Bernard Law Montgomery, was born. He was to become one of the greatest British generals of WW II. He was a difficult man in many ways, like many other brilliant men and he was not popular with his colleagues.

Montgomery had graduated with distinction from Sandhurst, and served as an officer in France during WWI. He had led an infantry unit at the Battle of Ypres and here he proved to be an able and gifted leader. After the war he stayed in the army and became an instructor and was regarded as a tough commander and a man who could get things done.

[Bildbegleitzettel:] General [Erwin] Rommel und General Cruewell in der W¸ste bei einer Panzerdivision (Flankenstellung bei El Agheila); Film-Nr. 101/3, 17B [Scherl-Text:] Prop.-Kp. Lw.7, Text: 17B/15AK Bildberichter Zwilling Nordafrika [aufgenommen am] 12.1.42 Generaloberst [Erwin] Rommel bei der italienischen Division "Pavia" in der nordafrikanischen W¸ste. Ganz vorne rechts einer der Gener‰le der Division.
Rommel- Montgomery’s great adversey
When war broke out in 1939, Montgomery was ordered to France and was part of the British Expeditionary Forces. He witnessed at first hand the devastating impact of the Blitzkrieg and his view on military tactics changed as a result.  Montgomery was evacuated form Dunkirk in 1940. In 1942 Churchill gave Montgomery command of the 8th Army in Egypt. The command was originally intended to be given to another general but he was killed in an air crash. Montgomery did much to boost morale and he enforced discipline. At the Second Battle of El Alamein he defeated the apparently invincible Rommel and Afrika Korps. After his he managed to push Rommel all the way to Tunisia and here Montgomery met up with the Americans and they eventually forced the Afrika Korps to surrender. Montgomery was hugely popular with his men and the British public but he had many arguments with his American counterparts.

Montgomery was part of the invasion of Sicily and he became notorious for his ‘Race to Messina’ with Patton. Many people believed that he was reckless at this time and that he was endangering the lives of his men in order to win glory.

Scherl Bilderdienst Tiger zerschlagen Brückenkopf bei Arnheim Die bei Arnheim gelandeten anglo-amerikanischen Luftlandetruppen sind von deutschen Eingreifverbänden auf engstem Raum zusammengedrängt und zum grossen Teil vernichtet worden. Deutsche Panzertruppen haben an diesem Erfolg besonders Anteil. Die ersten Gefangenen werden eingebracht. MPK-Aufnahme, PK-Kriegsberichter Höppner (Sch), 205/45 Archivvermerk: Ort Arnheim
British POW taken after Operation Market Garden

‘Monty’ as he was popular known was given command of the 21st Army Group after D-Day and he was involved in the breakout from Normandy. Montgomery was often at odds with General Eisenhower, the supreme Allied Commander, who considered many of Monty’s strategies risky and down-right foolish.  Ike did not have a high regard for Monty as a commander. The British general heartily disliked the Americans and did not rate them as soldiers.

Montgomery was the driving force behind Operation Market Garden, which was an audacious plan to seize bridges over the Rhine in the Netherlands, which would  it was hoped, end the war quickly.  This became a bloody failure and Monty is widely considered to have been at least partly responsible for this defeat.

Montgomery received the surrender of the German Army in the north of Europe in April 1945. At a news conference he virtually claimed all the credit for this success and asserted that the Americans had been inept.  The caused great offense and Monty nearly lost his command and none of the American High Command would talk to him ever again after that press conference.

After the war, Monty, became Deputy Commander of NATO. He was also knighted and wrote several books and treatise and he died at the age of 88.