Monday, October 31, 2011

Uselessly comparing Patton and Montgomery

One of the things I most dislike about bad comparisons from World War Two, is romantic comparisons that take the public imagination, but serve no useful relation to reality. The Western Allies tendency to idealise Rommel as the best German general for the simple reason that he was the sexiest or most dramatic general THEY fought is such a useless statement. In practice they were beaten by von Runstedt and Guderian and many others in 1940, and had a hard time matching the far less resourced von Kluge and Model in 1944. Still it hangs around more for its popular romance than any useful purpose.

Such is the idea that Patton and Montgomery were the great rivals of the war. Please!

The great rivalries amongst the Allies that made a real imact were Marshall and Brooke over war policy, Nimitz and MacArthur over resources, Eisenhower and Montgomery over strategy; and then between Percival and MacArthur for incompetence, Patton and O'Connor for aggressiveness, MacArthur and Clarke for vainglory, (and possibly Clarke and Wavell for the stupidity of letting defeated enemies escape), were the issues that defined the war for the Western allies. The idea that a competition between Patton and Montgomery was more important is cute, but niave.

I am not even sure where the idea comes from. Much is made of the bet between Patton and Montgomery over reaching Palermo in Sicily first, but in practical terms that was the only time in the war that Patton ever appeared on Montgomery's radar. For the rest of the war Monty was so much higher up the food chain than Patton that he was unaware, or disinterested in Patton's opinions.

Montgomery was, by 1944, an experienced general who very successfully fought extensively in both combat and staff roles for 4 years throughout World War One. (Patton got a combat command for a few weeks when the Germans were already collapsing.) Montgomery led a division very successfully through the Battle of France, and a corps through the crucial Battle of Britain training and rebuilding years. He led an army in combat for two years, through many successful battles both on defense and in attack. By 1944 Patton had led a corps for a few months, and an army for a few weeks. For the very brief period of the Sicily compaign they were theoretically equals in command, but probably only in Patton's mind. (Montgomery saw Patton as an enthusiastic if amateurish old man.)

Montgomery saw his HQ 'betting book' as a bit of fun (and was delighted when bet a B17 by someone who should have known better). When he and Patton met and co-ordinated the Sicilian campaign Alexander seemed not interested in co-ordinating, Monty saw Palermo as a similar bit of fun to pursue, no bigger or smaller than the hundreds of other bets in the book. Patton saw it, as he saw anything relating to his persona, as the most vitally important challenge of his whole life... up until the next one. Montgomery lost a bet and moved on to the next challenge. Patton won but didn't. (Or at least that is what bad writers have tried to suggest. I think he moved straight on to the next challenge anyway.)

That was the last time Monty and Patton were in direct competition, no matter what revisionists or romantics would say. The next time Patton was allowed in the field he was one of half a dozen army commanders in Monty's Normandy army group, and, familiarly, he did not arrive until the Germans in Normandy were already collapsing. Very soon afterwards Eisenhower split off Bradley's army group, and Monty had no control, nor much interest, in what Patton was up to thereafter.

The romantics like to suggest that therafter Monty railed against Patton's supplies, and that Patton railed against Montgomery's caution. The truth is less foolish for both of them.

In fact Montgomery railed against Eisenhower's broad front strategy regardless of which of the other sub-commanders was benifitting (to the point of Montgomery making an offer to serve under Bradley as long as someone got single control to pursue a single strategy). He railed against the diversion of resources anywhere not at the main point where a thrust might have achieved early victory. Leaving aside whether that victory could have happened, Montgomery's beef was with Eisenhower first, his appalling chief of supply Lee second, fellow Army Group Commanders who couldn't control the excesses of their subordinates like Bradley (and to a lesser extent) Devers third, and only then with the several army commanders who each tried to do their own thing.

In practical terms Montgomery seemed more appalled by the negative effects of the incompetence of Hodges (1st US Army,) and the obnoxiousness of De Gaulle's orders to 'his' army (French First Army), and perhaps even the ineffectiveness of his own subordinate Crerar (Canadian 1st army) , than he did by Patton's enthusiasms. There is hardly a mention of Patton in his diaries through this period, compared to several comments on Bradley and De Gualle, and endless ones on Eisenhower.

Patton too is being maligned by the pretense that his war was taken up with a vain competition with Montgomery. Patton, like Montgomery, was totally concerned with the main issue of defeating Germany. But unlike Montgomery, he did not have Brooke - the Chief of Imperial General Staff - to rely on for support against Eisenhower's broad front strategy. Patton too was convinced that this was the wrong way to go, but to get his version of a thrust (with him at the front) happening, he had to be a bit more manipulative than Montgomery.

Every word Patton used to wheedle and manipulate support, or at least a blind eye to what he was doing, was designed to get more resources from his superiors. Indeed, if he couldn't get them from Eisenhower, he was willing to steal them wherever he could, and then get Bradley to pretend to not know what he was doing. In this he was quite willing to encourage Bradley's inferiority complex in relation to Montgomery, and to happily manipulate Bradley into tantrums to get what they both wanted, but it seems likely that Patton was more interested in getting his way by making his superiors compete with Montgomery, than in competing with Montgomery himself.

Patton is actually a more complex and clever character than the romantics give him credit for. His 'kill them even if they try to surrender' speeches in Sicily were part of his stage management of troops, not part of his innate personality. HIs 'us against the world' propaganda was more manipulative, not so much like Bradley's inferiority complex. He wanted to win, and he would use anything to get what he needed to win, even ramping up his superiors to distrust their allies. But his genuine competitiveness with Montgomery at this stage was less about him and Montgomery, and more about him and how he could maneouvre others to support him. He would have shown the same level of competitiveness, and the same willingness to undermine, any competitor at this point. British, French, Russian or even American.

Montgomery on the other hand only saw Patton as one more junior general syphoning supplies from an inadequate source. Montgomery was in competition with Eisenhower for control, and possibly with Bradley for resources. Minor army commanders in other people's army groups only registered on his horizon if he could get their armies assigned to his army group.

Just for amusement, it might be fun to consider how Montgomery and Patton might have worked together?

Montgomery was notoriously superb to serve under, no matter what your nationality. British, Australian, New Zealander, South African, Indian, Canadian, French, Polish, and American troops who served under him were all very happy to do so. So were their generals. Bradley certainly learned more about being a field commander from a few months of Montgomery's distant mentoring than from anything Eisenhower ever did for him in their much closer relationship. There is no doubt that Montgomery preferred effective subordinates to ineffective ones, and it seems possible that Patton would have made a preferable subordinate to Crerar or Bradley in his mind.

As for Patton, he would have served anyone who got him what he wanted. Had Montgomery offered him the chance to spearhead the attack into Germany, there is virtually no doubt that Patton would have jumped at the chance. Patton was not the racist that Bradley or Eisenhower were, and was happy to have black troops. He was not the American supremacist that Roosevelt or MacArthur were, and worked well with others (as long as they let him have enough lime light). Had Montgomery been left as land forces commander, there is little doubt that he would have used Patton's aggression in a way that would have made Patton much happier than Eisenhower's broad front strategy ever allowed.

It is fun to imagine Montgomery as land forces commander using Patton's 3rd Army in conjunction with British 2nd to leapfrog ahead at top speed into Germany. The best British tactics were never the broad front strategy that the worst American's like Marshall and Eisenhower fancied. They were always the 'hold the enemy, crumble the enemy, breakthrough the enemy, and pursue with as much force as fast and far as possible' skills that had worked since the development of mechanised warfare in 1918. (As demonstrated by the Germans in Poland and France and Russia, the British and Germans in North Africa, the Japanese and British in Asia, and the Russians in Eastern Europe.) Montgomery would have used his traditional two corps up, one back, one resting deployment, adapted to armies, to keep up the momentum. Patton's preferred tactics were almost exactly the same, and he and his 3rd Army would have fit it like a glove into Montgomery's thrust strategy.

Personally I think that the limited reality behind their competitiveness paid trumps in Sicily, and I wish that it had been repeated in France. Patton could not have been a worse Army group commander than Bradley was, and would almost certainly have been better. It is amusing to think of him and Montgomery effectively conspiring to destroy the broad front strategy while they got on with winning the war in the best spirit of competition. Although I have a sneaking suspicion that one of Patton's biographers was right to suggest that by 1945 he had suffered a few too many hits on the head, there is little doubt that he would have been almost as valuable to the Allied cause in Bradley's place against Eisenhower's policies directly, as he would have under Montgomery's army group. That might have been a useful version of rivalry.

But I still wish people would get over the big Montgomery versus Patton beat up. By 1944 Patton would have competed against anything or anyone to get his way, and co-operated with anyone who would support him. Anyone. Aw for Montgomery, he simply did not see Patton as competition.


  1. Three words in response to your adulation of Gen. Montgomery: "Operation Market Garden."

    As for Monti's opinion of non-British forces, consider this statement he made in the aftermath of Operation Market Garden's failure review: "I reckoned the Canadian Army could do it while we were going for the Ruhr. I was wrong ............. In my — prejudiced — view..." He also claimed, vainly so, that Operation Market Garden was "90% successful". He was a terrible general. Montgomery made Polish 1st Parachute Brigade commander Major-General StanisÅ‚aw (who had been ignored) and the Poles the scapegoat (source: D'Este 2002, pp. 615–618.)

    1. One word on Patton: METZ

    2. The "Dream Team" would be replacing Horrocks with Patton. Had Patton been driving the forces up the road to Arnhem, they might have made it in time.

    3. The thing about Metz was that Eisenhower stopped Patton's advance towards Germany through orders and denial of resources, allowing the Germans to build up their defenses in and around Metz... in essence, creating the very situation that Patton's previous aggression had been successful in avoiding... being forced to assault a heavily supplied and fortified location. The length of the Metz campaign is on Eisenhower's head. But unlike Montgomery's Market Garden... Patton was able to achieve success. Monty's war winning gambit ended up being an unmitigated disaster and he tried to scapegoat some of the divisions that were used to try to salvage his own public image.

    4. The thing about the 'broad front' strategy is that Eisenhower stopped the Allies from winning the war in 1944. The useless constant diversion and rediversion of resources made BOTH the Metz AND Market Garden fail. So I will agree that it is largely on Eisenhower's head.

      As to the Metz being a success and Market Garden being a failure, that takes pretty selective understanding.

      Both 'pincers' made it a long way. Both were a bit late and with too few resources when stopped. Both were stuck for months before they advanced again. Both were Eisenhower's fault. Both became launching pads for the final advances. But how anyone could imagine that makes one a success and one a failure, I do not consider very logical.

    5. Oh look at the silly American cherry-picking operation market garden to completely condemn Bernard Law Montgomery.
      Oh yes a "terrible general", the rest of his career shall be overlooked? Well Montgomery had no knowledge of the SS Panzer Corps refitting there, which is what's usually attributed to its failure.

      Of course that operation contradicts the usual, American garbage about Monty being too cautious.

      We know what this is really all about: the fact Montgomery ruffled some feathers by saying his forces reduced the Americans in the Battle of the Bulge. Never mind he was correct...

    6. Montgomery was victorious in North Africa due to complete air supremacy and overwhelming resources over the Germans. Rommel was back in Germany with a case of impetigo. A girl scout could have led the British and won. Montgomery also had to approach Eisenhower with his hat in his hand more than once so as not to be replaced after D-Day. Excuse me, but in my opinion, Montgomery was a legend in his own mind.

    7. Michael Glados - Your Girl Scout comment shows little regard for the ability of the average German soldier.
      With regard to D-Day, the day itself went very well in overall terms but Monty made the famous Caen "in one day error". If only he could keep his mouth shut. That is usually the only thing that the Septics hark on about despite the fact that he was responsible for much of the overall invasion strategy.

      Overall, this isn't a bad article and IMO the generals can be summed up as follows:

      Monty - Vain but good commander. All the trrops loved him.
      Patton - Also vain and the school bully. But to be fair, on the smaller tactical stage, he always got the job done.
      Bradley - Uninspired - Why oh why didn't he accept the help of the 79th Armoured division on the beaches?
      Eisenhower - Much better than people think. He was a true diplomat and people manager.

      Cheer - Reg.

  2. Hmm, my adulation for Montgomery and Patton will be put into context when I do an analysis of each individually. At that point I will go properly into the weaknesses of each.

    Montgomery had certainly reached his ceiling as an Army Group Commander or Ground Forces Commander. he was later to be a terrible CIGS. But his experience and reliability was later admitted even by Eisenhower and Bradley (usually after years of whinging about him). His disgust with the Canadian Crerar is something I commented on, though you will note he just seems sad the Canadians failed, not doing the lavish poisonous pen that was the more usual comparison between Allied generals.

    Not a great general, not a nice person, just the most experienced commander present, and certainly the most effective 4 or 5 star.

    Patton, as I said, was potentially a much better Army Group commander than his inexperienced junior Bradley, though I am serious about wondering if he had been hit on the head too many times by 1945. Also not a great general, and very not a nice person, but a better general than Bradley and Eisenhower by a long shot.

    As for Market Garden, I stick by the idea that it was worth trying. I agree with the only one of Eisenhower's many contradictory statements over decades (some listed in those pages you quote in D'Este's biography of him), that the weather was the main issue.

    IN fact of the 17 rapidly planned and rapidly discarded plans for using the airborne army between June and December 1944, this one was no better or worse than any other. Yes Browning was overoptimistic, yes Brereton was foolish to refuse two drops a day, yes it was unfortunate that 2 panzer units were reforming at the vital point, yes it was a shame some things worked and some didn't, and yet through all of it, better weather might have made it work.

    War is about risk, not certainty. D-Day had more things that could have gone wrong, but again, the decisive thing was the weather. Anything that close that has that potential payoff is not only a god idea, but criminal not to attempt.

    As for all the recriminations thrown around, none of the generals involved covered themselves with glory. Montgomery is an arse in this regard, but so are most of the others. One of the best comments on this is in Wrigley's book Eisenhower's Lieutenants (, where he points out that unimportant middle class officers got very pompous and self righteous when suddenly made heroes... a fair comment on democratic armies and their generals...

    None of which alters my point that claiming some great rivalry between Montgomery and Patton is cute, but naive.

  3. Yep, "cute, but naive", because your supposition of "Monty-Patton rivalry" is a shaggy straw man-cliche compared to the historical reality. There was indeed no rivalry, let alone "great rivalry", because Patton knew that Monty and his ilk were dangerously incompetent.

    Patton's own records, and 3rd party press memoirs, reveal clearly that Patton regarded Monty with utter contempt. It seems Patton's contempt for Monty first became publicly apparent during Monty's pompous, condescending post-Tunis "command & staff training" tedium.

    Matt Davies (not stalking you here, Nigel! All just good fun)

    1. Montgomery was the best general in the European Theatre. Hammered Rommel out of Africa. Eisenhower later said that Montgomery was "the only one who could have got us and kept us ashore on D-Day, whatever else you say about him."

      And if you toss out Market Garden, it almost worked. Compare that to Patton slogging away at Metz and losing 40,000 troops over three months.

    2. Dear Anonymous,

      I would not go so far as to say Monty was the best. I think quiet highly of Brooke, Juin, Truscott and a few others who might have actually been better than Monty. (Or at least almost as good in most areas, and better in some vital other ones...).

      I do agree that Ike and Bradley showed a modicum of humility to later admit that they would probably have failed at Normandy if not for Monty. Certainly any sensible soldier on the ground would prefer to be under Monty than Patton (and only people who do not know the details of the Metz campaign can possibly ignore the manifold weaknesses that dogged Patton being at least as great as those that dogged Monty... ).

      I also think that Patton's 'hatred' of Monty was as much a pose as his 'kill them all' speeches about Germans or his ivory handled guns. I suspect that if he had had a chance to write anything post war he would have been a bit less outrageous. (He certainly showed more strategic sense than his bosses in Africa and Germany, and that argues he wasn't as stupid as his public statements sometimes pretend.... I suspect that in geo-political terms he was streets beyond the equally outrageous Monty...)

      Patton was of course playing catch up. Having been relegated by his own superiors to being junior to his previous corps commander, he had no chance whatsoever of competing directly with Montgomery as an Army group commander, so he had to make as much noise as possible where he was. Being anti-Monty was just his easiest way of getting incompetent superiors to listen to him sometime, and I am pretty sure he played it far harder than he actually believed.

      PS. You can pretty much ignore Matt's anti-Btritish reflex's, they are apparently too ingrained to allow him to discuss anything that challenges his world view.

    3. Got a source for this alleged contempt of Monty from Patton?

    4. Actually the supposed Patton line I find best is 'Let's go on and drive the British back into the sea for another Dunkirk...', which is really a Bradleyism I suppose. I think of it as a classic example of Patton rattling his bosses cages without being particularly serious.

      But clearly some people try to take it seriously.

  4. It's worth noting that Montgomery and Patton were similar in character and personality in some ways; both had an understanding of the necessity of proper training, and both are reported to have had a mania for ordering physical training (Montgomery famously making no friends among his senior commanders when he turned out his brigadiers for morning runs on taking command of 8th Army in the desert). I think they may have been more like each other than some casual observers may be willing to admit. "Media" hype being what it is, it is no surprise that the rivalry aspect has been played up over the years, and unfortunately, many people get their history from Hollywood, which magnifies the problem. The British and American army groups had a very similar "way of war" in North-west Europe in 1944-45 - which Stephen Ashley Hart talks about with respect to 21st Army Group in his book Colossal Cracks. The British may have been more casualty and resource-management conscious but both relied on firepower. It's hardly an indictment; in the end, it worked. I don't know who the "best general" was, but certainly the hardest working of them all had to be Eisenhower, who kept that coalition of American, British, French, Canadian, Dutch, Belgian, Polish and you-name-it soldiers welded together, placating their governments (and governments-in-exile) while catering to the whims of his own senior commanders.

    1. Happy to agree with all your points on M and P.

      Not so keen on being impressed by Ike's work ethic. Frankly working hard is not often a sign of success. Cunningham worked himself to collapse in the desert, as did Admiral Pound, and a couple of the French generals in 1940, and Eisenhower in 1944-5. All of them could be considered failures as commanders, particularly when it became clear that things were starting to get away from them (as in the Bulge). in fact no one worked harder, or with more disastrous impact on their forces, than Adolf Hitler. Hard work does not a successful leader make.

      Eisenhower was a chain smoking nervous wreck after just a few months in France. Compare that to Brooke taking days or even a few hours off to birdwatch during his several years of endless grind. Or Montgomery going to bed every night with instructions that he only be called in an emergency, and probably that it would be pointless then.

      I also have quibbles about his effectiveness as a leader. HIs HQ was a cesspool of intrigue, his broad front strategy was a directionless mess, and most of his subordinates worked on whatever they could get away with (or simply avoiding taking his calls).

      Frankly I can think of many many generals who would have done a better job as SCAEF despite their own various limitations... Alphabetically a few might include: Alexander, Auchinlek, Brooke, Blamey, Cunningham (the Admiral not the general), Eichenberger, Juin, Nimitz, Sikowski, Spruance, Truscott, Wavell... the list goes on and on. All these men had more experience than Ike, all of them had at least the skill set of Ike, all of them had at least similar workloads (often for much longer), and all of them had far far more functional work ethics.

    2. Very interesting response. I've said once or twice that I never quibble when the C.O. of my reserve army unit gets a cot to sleep on in the field (while the rest of us recline in the mud), because as the commander, I want him well rested when he is making decisions that may affect the life and limb of the rest of us. Montgomery certainly had the right idea.

      The SHAEF command is an interesting point to ponder, but I'm not sure if there is a good measure of "diplomacy" that can be applied to your list of candidates. This seems to be the standard that Eisenhower is held to, and any failings in grand strategy are dismissed based on strengths in that area. I would agree that Eisenhower could not have been the only possible candidate for the job. But the question re: work ethic one might ask is whether or not Eisenhower was a "nervous wreck" as a result of the stresses on him - and if those stresses might not also have reduced an Alexander, a Brooke, a Truscott etc. to the same state, or worse. Would anyone really have been immune?

    3. Dear Michael,

      thanks for the response.

      My particular gripe with Ike here is that he decided to be his own ground forces commander at the same time he was doing a more complex diplomatic job than any of the other theatre commanders. Check the list - Wavell, Auchinlek, MacArthur, Nimitz, Mountbatten, Wilson, Alexander - who else tried to do both jobs at once? The closest is Alexander in 1945, and he did not have a fraction of the issues Ike was trying to handle all at once. I agree that anyone might have failed under that workload, but don't think anyone else was stupid enough to even imagine that it was possible to do both jobs effectively.

      Going beyond that simple fact, Ike was not qualified to be a ground forces commander, and did not do it well.

      Finally, I am less than convinced that he did a good job of the thing he was supposed to be concentrating on - diplomacy. I don't think Wavell had a less difficult mess of allies and governments and causes to deal with in 1941(ME) or 1942 (ABDA) than Ike did in 1944-5; nor Stilwell in '42-'44, nor Wilson in '44 nor Alexander in '45. Only MacArthur and Nimitz probably had it easy on that front.

      Which just reinforces the point that even MacArthur and Nimitz didn't try to do the impossible.

    4. Truscott and Arnold had heart attacks at the end of the war. Stress was pretty rough all around.

      The Broad Front strategy was not directionless. The western allies had two advantages: Mobility and Firepower. The Broad Front permitted both to be employed against the Germans to good advantage.

      It prevented the Germans from concentrating fortifications and heavy forces in front of allied attacks, and stretched the German forces enough to create weak points. It also denied Germany any opportunity to counterattack the flanks of the 'great penetration'. By contrast a narrow front would have prevented Allied mobility from being employed against German concentrations, and flank guards would have had to be dropped off as the penetration went further and further.

      Now consider where the 'great penetration' would be made. Near the sea, where another D-Day landing would be required for every river crossing? Or inland where the Vosage, the Hartz mountains would have significantly improved German defenses.

  5. I consider Montgomery a compatent theater commander and a keen eye of strategy , training , planning logistics and balancing of his forces and their capabilities. His tactical sense was outdated though (WW1 infantry attritional tactical sense with minding to preserve a huge reserve , combatting with big unit structures ) and very little importance on pursuit and exploitation of breakthrough. His specialty was set piece battles

    Patton was at the other hand did not give much thought to set piece battles but he was an outstanding cavalry commander with a skill unmatched among Allies in open manuever fast pursuit exploitation operations. Like Montgomery he was an effective motivator of troops. Plus he was very good in encircling , bypassing , getting rear of enemy tactics.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      yes, and no.

      Montgomery's pursuit of broken enemies was as fast, or faster, than Patton's best efforts in both North Africa (where he was very cautious not to overextend his troops and offer Rommel a chance to mount his preferred counter-attack option), and in Northern France (where 2nd Army moved faster pursuing retreating Germans than Patton did even wandering around empty countryside).

      Patton's reputation is based on wandering around the parts of Sicily where there were no Germans taking the surrender of Italians who desperately wanted to be out of the war, or swanning around vast tracks of empty French countryside against no opposition. He had a lot of fun doing so, and I would agree that he pushed harder and faster than most others were capable of. (Though I would rank O'Connor as better at this, in both North Africa and France).

      Patton's weakness, as you say, was that on the one and only occasion when he came up against a real fight - the Metz - he demonstrated what you call WWI attrition tactics… except that he failed repeatedly, to the point of abandoning the front to sulk in Paris. (All this within days of his 'shit through a goose' nonsense.)

      In practical terms Monty was a bit too cautious with his set piece attacks (which did use the absolute best of WWI tactics - the succesful ones from 1918), partly because his own public profile was built on never making mistakes, and his understanding of his troops was built on keeping them confident that he never would. Unfortunately this was more necessary for the overtired British troops who had already fought for 4 or 5 years than for the fresh American ones. (Only the Big Red 1 showed similarly understandable war weariness in France after two years of regular combat.)

      In fact I am not joking when I say that Patton was too inexperienced to be let loose on his own, but would have been a vital asset if kept under Montgomery's control. I really mean that.

    2. It was a shame that after investing two amphibious landings (Casablanca and Sicily) to train Patton in them, the Allies were unable to exploit such an investment either in Italy, or France. By contrast, the investment of training in Truscott (Dieppe, North Africa) paid off in Husky, Avalanche, Shingle, and Dragoon.

  6. I'm not going to pretend to know what Generals were more or less capable..all I have to go on is an author's writing skill of events 60 years ago. With that, I thought parachuting British troops behind German lines with a likelihood of tanks in the area was not too keen
    such as Market Garden. I don't know what Patton was up against at Metz, but it must have been ugly. I think Eisenhower's broad front strategy was somewhat politically driven. I will always think that Hitler's decision to fight on two fronts was suicide, and his orders to fight to the last breath was insane. I think the best weapon in the war was the Winter of '44 in Stalingrad. Aside from that, I admire all WWII Generals, good or bad, who fought with their troops to keep us from German and Japanese domination. Jim Talbot, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

    1. There was no likelihood of German tanks in the area. If there had been; Monty wouldn't have come up with he plan.

  7. Dear Jim,

    war is about balancing risk and opportunity. Assessing generals is rally a matter of assessing whether they can see opportunity, and whether the risks they take are reasonable. That does not mean taking no risk, and it does not mean taking excessive risk.

    On the two you quote, Arnhem was a reasonable risk considering the results that might have been. If it had worked (and it came closer than most people think except for exactly the sort of weather problems that might have also seen D-Day fail), then we would be acclaiming it as brilliance. (I heard a German quote bemoaning that their greatest disaster was winning at Arnhem and dooming much of central Europe to Russian occupation for decades.)

    Patton at the Metz fails in that he did not recognize the problem he faced, and his only solution was to keep repeating attrition attacks until the Germans finally left (not thrown out, left to rejoin the rest of their army on the German border).

    Montgomery accepted the need for attrition when their was no alternative (Alemein and Caen), and frantically tried to avoid it when there was an alternative (Tunisia, Italy, Arnhem).

    Patton was usually assigned the outflanking role, but signally failed to think of an alternative when he lacked that opportunity.

    Neither were bad, both were in fact much better than the average, but lets not pretend either were perfect. Of the two Montgomery was more experienced, and Patton less experienced. With more experience Patton might have been as good as Montgomery, but I don't think there is much argument that he was better in any major way.

    But as you say, a lot of it is hindsight.

  8. Ah, a reference to my old dad;

    "-if he couldn't get them from Eisenhower, he was willing to steal them wherever he could

    I asked the old sarge if he was ever wounded in the war, when I was about eight, if he had ever been shot in the war.

    "Yep" he said, "by the Americans, I was shot in the ass, Patton sent us back to steal gas from Eisenhower.".

    He said Patton "kicked him in the ass" one time. But that is another story. He never explained if it was the same cheek as the one "Eisenhower" shot.


  9. I have linked your post to one I wrote, National Security Act of 1947 – A Horse of a Different Color, at Just wanted you to know in case you have any objections.

    1. No objection, always happy to be cited as a 'delightful romp' by someone who doesn't take what I say too seriously. That's the response I am looking for.

      Interesting article by the way.

  10. I'll take issue with your statement, “Western Allies tendency to idealise Rommel as the best German general for the simple reason that he was the sexiest or most dramatic general THEY fought...”. Rommel was unique in many ways: Foremost, while perhaps not the strategic thinker on par with von Manstein or Kesselring (perhaps), his tactical brilliance is beyond dispute. He was one of those generals whose mere presence on a battlefield could change its outcome. Second, he was very much a self-made man. But what I think accounts most for Rommel's high historical esteem is that he is one of the very, very, very few whose reputation is unmarred by “the taint” of Nazism. He was a man of decency and morality and honor. Indeed, his convictions ultimately cost him his life.

    1. If Rommel was so good why was he never in eastern front. Why didn't OKW use him in Kursk, Belo Russia or Ukraine?

      Perhaps he was just a mediocre German army commander (it means quite good while not superb) but over hyped by western "experts".

  11. Sexiest, most dramatic, most decent, certainly happy to add that.

    But 'untainted by Nazism'. He may have lost his infatuation by late in the war, but he had got his first division through commanding the Fuhrer's bodyguard! He was not promoted over the heads of many others because he was indifferent to the Fuhrer, or the Fuhrer to him.

  12. Very biased. Wrong about Patton and Normandy, and very wrong on "Monty's" arrogance as the best best commander as well as his very British centric concept of war.

    1. Yep, the sort of reply from someone who has been told something they didn't like but can't counter, and yet can't resist saying something.

  13. Interesting premise and some good points but not well worked out in my humble opinion. The article displays a clear bias towards Montgomery´s accomplishments that weakens the point you are trying to make. You forget that both were flamboyant generals that revelled in public acknowledgement as far as i know and thus they brought comparison between them on themselves. Even if they operated at different levels (which one could argue is relative), this means that people will look at their merits individually. This is where your bias ruins the whole point you are making. There was amongst American and British military leaders a lot of criticism towards Montgomery, just or unjust. Saying there was no direct rivalry by putting Montgomery out of reach on a pedestal doesn't strengthen the point that perhaps they were not real rivals. It also doesn't exclude the possibility that perhaps they were real rivals in showboating (Montgomery planning an overkill crossing of the Rhine vs. Patton peeing when crossing the rhine). I agree romanticism creates a distorted image but dismissing the notion this easily is hard to swallow considering things like the failure to close the falaise pocket and the motives behind Market Garden. Emphasis on the role of Ike and Omar also doesn't do enough on it's own to take away the idea without any further explanation. Again the bias doesn't help here. Monty serving under Bradley doesn't mean much per se like Patton's willingness to serve under his former underling

    1. Certainly they were rivals in PR, and both better at it than most other Allied generals... But here again, if you want to do the direct comparison, you can't compare Patton's disastrous results from striking soldiers and being effectively demoted under his former juniors to Monty's more effective results.

      As you say, both were considered arrogant pains by their superiors. Bedell-Smiths comment that Monty might be a joy to serve under but he was a pain to serve over would be applicable to both.

  14. I am not sure the rivalry is the issue; it’s the similarity that strikes me. As Carlo D’Este suggests in a number of books both men were among the most professional soldiers of their day, ambitious, ruthless, and focused SOBs with egos the size of Jupiter! Even given this, their qualities complemented each other and I suspect that they would have worked well together.
    Monty’s great genius was that, unlike many other British commanders who may have been theoretically more exciting, he understood perfectly the instrument he was using. The British army of the 1940s was a conscript citizen force, ponderous, generally reliable and solid, but with little understanding or liking of manoeuvre and mobility, despite the ’apostles’ of mobility of the 1930s (and Monty was Hobart’s brother in law!). The British had tired all this on several occasions and got hammered for their efforts by people who were better at it. Monty knew this and rather than trying to force his tools to do things they were not suitable for, he adjusted his style to suit them. He was for sure a most unpleasant personality to be on the wrong side of, though he could turn on the charm too.
    This may well have resulted in somewhat less pezzaz than other commanders, and disappointments, but, and it’s a big but, he won all his battles. Many other ‘ace’ commanders did not, Rommel, for example or Manstein ended as failures. How Monty won, and criticism arising therein are irrelevant, this was total war. Patton too won all his battles, they were generally smaller scale than Monty’s but in the right circumstances he was touched with genius and drive.
    Both were ‘great’ generals, and what better definition of this is there but they are the right person at the right time, not ‘a man for all seasons’. As I say, I think they would have been complimentary.

    1. Actually that is the greatest single reason I rate Monty as a better general than many others. He understood the strengths and weaknesses of his units, and refused to get thine to try things beyond them. His overly cautious advance after Alemein prevented a Kasserine for instance. And where Patton's men kept complaining that 'Blood and Guts' Patton was all about their blood and his guts, which is not something anyone could say of Monty.

      Saying Monty always won his battles, in the end, is a bit of an exaggeration. He had plenty of failures along the way, but never ever had a disastrous failure, and even the ones people like to think of as failures (first attack at Aleimain, first attack into Tunisia, several attacks at Normandy, Arnhem) came so close to success and provided indisputable advantages to the next advance that they were all part of his eventual successes. Few other generals could claim their 'failures' were so successful. No other general can claim that every single one of his 'failures' led to eventual victory.

      But do not underestimate his weaknesses. he would have been even worse as Supreme Commander than Eisenhower, even though his strategy would have been much better, simply because his HQ and Allied relations would have self destructed even worse than Ike's.

  15. Okay, now I am confused. I like your comment about rivalry not being the issue and being striken with the similarities concluding it with the eloquent 'Both were ‘great’ generals, and what better definition of this is there but they are the right person at the right time, not ‘a man for all seasons’.' Your comments go well with the author's comment of 'romantic comparisons that take the public imagination, but serve no useful relation to reality' like supposed rivalry between patton and Montgomery.I agree with you both there.
    Why is it then that both you and the author go out of your way to put Monty on a pedestal? Isn't it you who is romanticly comparing? Sure, I forgive you for emphasizing differences in level of command between Monty and Patton for the sake of downplaying perceived rivalry. However, I do not understand how one can pretend to look objectively at their similarities and downplay any (existent or non-existent) rivalry, while making so many (even unfair) comparisons themself. I dare say it is you who pit Montgomery against others. For sake of argument for you Pattons is semi ok though less than Montgomery and don't speak of any others. Between you and the author i noticed for instance:
    - Rommel and Manstein ended as failures. I will not comment on this except that it is creating a romantic comparison in favor of one person. Compare them or not but dont dismiss a more than worthy adversary (in military aspects) like this.
    - Monty won all his battles. Sorry but in my book market garden was a failure
    - Eisenhower and Bradley inter alia are put aside effortlessly.
    - the mention that Patton got a combat command for a few weeks when the Germans were already collapsing [in WW I] to stress how experienced Montgomery was.
    Maybe it's unjust because i agree the notion of rivalry between the two is exaggerated but i think you and the author are internalising the arguments: no rivalry because Montgomery was way above Patton. So similar because Patton was brilliant so Montgomery is brilliant if not more.

    Maybe it's more productive to pretend there was real rivalry between them., albeit not the romanticised version. Maybe we understand history better then. After all from what i read Patton was convinced he was bred for war and the instrument for victory and hated Montgomery's guts probably. Vice versa Monty thought himself the only one capable enough. Both had an influence on allied strategy and it's fruition

    1. Well yes, the comparison is foolishly exaggerated. Yes, they were both great generals. (Yes they both had great weaknesses). Yes Montgomery was so much more experienced in so many more fields than Patton that there is no comparison. Yes Patton might have been pretty bloody good with more experience and more mentoring by a competent superior (such as Montgomery, or Brooke... perhaps even Eichelberger or Truscott).

      But your suggestion that Patton hated Monty for taking the limelight doesn't alter the fact that Monty considered Patton an enthusiastic amateur who needed controlling by a competent superior... (Though I will point out that despite NOT being an amateur Monty also desperately needed controlling by a competent superior... pity neither of them had one in Sicily, Italy or France!)

      I still wish Patton had been higher in the food chain in France though, despite his inexperience and his limited tactical viewpoint he was so much better than Bradley, Hodges, and Eisenhower on strategy.

  16. The purpose of this website is bragging British military and debunk all the critics. The pale truth is that both Monty and Patton is some cases fall in love with the idea of "final crucial breakthrough"-fantasy. They loved the Blitzkrieg idea while Eisenhower as much more conservative leader understood better the idea how to win the war. Of course the crucial element is measurement. They won the war because Germany has less soldiers, supplies, material, oil etc. If battle skill is the most important Germans surely have won the whole war in east and west.

    OK. I understand why so many people have still love affair with Bliezkrieg. But lets not forget how fast armies learned to react that deep battle strategy. In eastern front Germans knew pretty well to keep not much troops in front line. It was after 1942 much like having 50-80 km zone of defence. Red Army always made breakthrough but tens of times Germans hit back latter giving terrible bad beating to Russians. Note that Red Army got these worst casualties, not in 1941, but during July43-April 44 campaign.

    Then came 1944 with lots of lend lease mobiles making Red Army first time moving faster than Germans. We know the result in Belo Russia. We know the result in France. It was not because fantastic Blitzkrieg idea but because those mobiles, those logistics, those raw material, those supplies, that air cover - winning with measurement.

    People - don't fall in love with Blizkrieg too much.

    1. Dear Anonymous - Nov 12,

      Blitzkreig is a much misunderstood thing, and that dreadful book 'the Blitzkreig Myth' doesn't help.

      Blitzkreig is where an army with superior logistics and manoeuvrability, and complete dominance of the air or sea communications needed to make this literally 'stunning' to the enemy, breaks through a fairly immobile and certainly demoralised opponent.

      blitzkrieg worked for the Germans in Poland and France and Yugolsavia/Greece and Russia and North Africa (at the start), when these conditions held. It failed for them in North Africa and Russia and Italy and France when these conditions didn't hold.

      Similarly it worked for the Japanese in Philippines and Malaya and East Indies in 1942, and for the Allies in Burma and Philippiines and China etc in 1944-5.

      It also worked for the Russians in Belorrussia and Poland and Germany in 1944-5, and would have worked for Montgomery and Patton too if Eisenhower hadn't been a WWI chateau general, or if a competent land forces commander with actual combat experience had been available.

      Certainly the Israeli army has demonstrated repeatedly that Blitzkreig is more skill and application, and less technology or circumstance. The Falklands, the various Desert War efforts, and even recent French activity in West Africa, fundamentally reinforce how Blitzkreig works with the right circumstances.

      The Allies had them after the German army BROKE at Falaise. That is why they advanced so far so fast. They lost their advantage BECAUSE of the broad front strategy and Eisenhowers meandering interest and reallocations.

      Or at least that is as fair an argument as 'only a broad front could have worked'.

      (I love stirring the pot!)

  17. Good article. Yes, Patton was an average US general of achieving nothing special whatsoever, apart from assaulting a sick man in a hospital bed. When real historian look at this man they are miffed at why he has such high regard in the US. He is a creation of the US propaganda system and Hollywood kept it going post WW2.

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  19. I would rate Patton better than that, in certain circumstances he was the right commander. He had the drive that others lacked. However, the relative sitzkrieg of the Metz campaign (due to supply and abysmnal weather) rather showed up his bad side.

  20. I love this blog being a history buff.
    Being educated in the USA and eventually realizing that what they teach students here is not what really happened history wise i have taken it upon myself to look at history from a world view.
    Now i know why i got in trouble in history class because I was always arguing with my teacher. Being raised by parents born in Europe.
    I always try and look at opinions as a pendulum most are influenced by where they were educated swinging way towards one side and others way towards the other that being said.
    Nigel from everything I have read swings way far towards the British side of history defending monty to the point your opinion on this is far to bias to have any creditable value, no disrespect intended the facts are the facts in your opinion.
    I would love to see you change that and use that same passion and argue the same about Patton, since i see that is what you love to do reading the bottom of the blog. Then i think everyone who reads this can understand why you have the stance you feel so passionate about. I will put together an argument later on after further research about this topic which i find is very complex as far as I'm concerned.
    Monty vs. Patton the men the myth
    And all the other major players in
    WWII I'm pretty sure we can have hundreds of different opinions about who should of ,could of or did during this horrible world conflict thanks for letting me contribute i will come up with a argument later but i love this banter

  21. Dear John Feb 13,

    hey, don't under-rate the value of good propaganda. Patton had as desperate a need to rebuild US morale after taking over at Kesserine as Montgomery did 8th Army after taking that over. Their response was perfect.

    The issue was when they started believing their own propaganda...

    Dear unknown Feb 18,

    Correct. He was pretty good at pursuit, possibly as good as Rommel. but he definitely needed mentoring by a good solid senior to get him over his little problems.

    Interesting question as to whether working under Monty in North Africa and Sicily might have improved him? Probably they were too different for that to work. (Alex was of little value obviously... Perhaps Brooke or Wavell...)

    Dear Jim April 10,

    you are correct about swings in fashion. Early 20C British history is as embarrassingly pompous as late 20C American history. And I get a distinct feeling early 21C Americna history is going to be as dismissive of the good things America has contributed to the world in that time (judging by the current US isolationist moves in the Presidential race) as late 20C British stuff was.

    Interestingly some of the counter-revisionism coming out against the British crap of the last 50 years is looking as simplistic as some of the American crap of the last 50 years was. I can see that in 20 years time I will be reversed, and busy trying to laud American reality over what is being claimed by American revisionists, and trying to downplay British reality over what is being claimed by British counter-revisionists.

    that doesn't actually make me pro- or anti anybody. Just pissed off about bad history.

    (And yes, that does mean that I go over the top with my sarcasm, in both directions, so if you want to rad it that way I think you could definitely say I sway too far to make my points... but that's my role as agent provocateur... Enjoy.)

    1. Ugh, I guess the pendulum does swing both ways after all. Sorry I'm late to the party.

  22. Monty gets way too much credit for 2nd El Alamein. It was a battle he could not possibly have lost without being utterly incompetent, and even then possibly not. Once Auchinlek stopped Rommel in the first battle, even Fredendall could have blocked the way in the second.

    If you swap Rommel and Montgomery after the First Battle of El Alamein, the Afrika Korps doesn't survive to get back to Tunisia.

  23. I think your what if? about a Monty/Patton partnership in Normandy is tantalising, with a great cut-through quality.

    As a quick side note(being an Aussie)I often wonder how effective would a formation such as the 9th division have been in Normandy?, had we not, of course, had our hands full fighting the Japanese.

    The 9th were crucial to the success of second Alamein under Monty, although the 50th Highlanders, alongside the Aussies at El Alamein, are said to have had a poor showing in Normandy.

    I'm sure the bocage country would have been quite alien to most Australians, especially after the desert. But, I just wonder what a difference a battle hardened all-volunteer formation such as the 9th might have had in June/July 1944 France.

    Again, apologies for the digression, and thanks for such a great blog!.

  24. Sorry...meant 51st Highland division, and was citing Antony Beevor in "D-Day".

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  26. What a load of bullshit. Montgomery was a useless general. Vainglorious, boastful (without valid reason) and self-serving. In Air Chief Marshall Tedder's (No.2 to Eisenhower)"..a little fellow of average ability who has had such a build up that he thinks he is Napoleon ... he is not" Tedder's comments came following Montgomery's failure to follow up and destroy the German Afrika Corp after El Alemein. Nothing Montgomery did (or did not do, particularly his failure to Caen for six weeks having promised to take it on the first day of D-Day) caused Tedder to revise his low opinion of Montgomery.

  27. This page has been a great read. No doubt some serious students of the war, and an excellent debate. Wish I could be in a room with all of you guys to debate it further. I'll give my opinions too, although I tend to stick to the process and results as opposed to personality conflicts: 1. Monty wasn't perfect, but history paints him as a great General ( and I'm American. ) based on this alone: he turned the tide of the war for the British at their lowest ebb, and all the Allies benefited greatly from this. With the sting of the horror of 1916 and the Somme fresh in the minds of the British people, Monty was the right man at the right time. No bloodletting for inches of ground, he was all about flank and maneuver. Ego? Yes, he didn't always play nice, but many successful people don't. I give him a pass at Market Garden because sometimes you have to plan well and be lucky to win campaigns: he wasn't lucky at Arnhem. If it worked, the war is most likely over months sooner. Bottom line: Monty seized his opportunity, and the British needed a leader like him. 2. Patton: the tip of the spear for the American Command. There is a reason he was put in place to clean up after the disaster at Kasserine. But deep flaws too. The great What If for me is-- what if the Allies had really turned him loose in NW Europe in summer of 44? He likely smashes through Metz before the Germans can set up. But the broad front approach was filled with political gears, and Patton did not play that game well. I think the Germans speak for how effective he was as a commander: the German units that needed to refit after Patton mauled them in the Falaise gap were moved away from his sector and up to Holland ( Monty's sector ). And the Ardennes were picked by Hitler for a December counteroffensive in part to steer clear of hitting Patton head on. ( Yes, a soft spot in the Allied lines was the target, soft in part because Third Army was a hundred miles to the south. ) Again his personality rubbed others wrong, including his superiors. His profane personal style included openly taking shots at his boss. No matter how talented you are, whether in the US Army or business in the personal sector, you have to play the game. Final thought: I knew a vet since deceased ( RIP and much respect, my friend. ) who served as a tanker in Third Army: he loved George S. Patton for one reason: they were convinced he would end the war faster and get them home. To his dying day he loved Patton, and wore his Third Army insignia with pride. 3. Eisenhower: the right man diplomatically for handling the largest coalition ever assembled at the time, which is a great skill that helps you win, but not a great tactical mind. The fuel shortage fiascos that slowed the Allies down in the summer of 1944, and the Ardennes surprise in December of that year don't reflect well on his leadership ( or Bradley's, who is, in my opinion, the most overrated US Commander. ) Eisenhower could straddle the worlds of intercontinental diplomacy and DC politics, as well as juggle the challenges of his Army in the field. That's worth a lot: perhaps his greatest skill was managing two dynamic talents ( and egos ) like Monty and Patton to achieve final victory over a dangerous enemy. Thanks for the great read, enjoyed all the arguments!