|Born||17 Nov 1887|
|Died||24 Mar 1976|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Bernard Law Montgomery was born in Kennington, London, England, United Kingdom to Anglo-Irish Anglican priest Reverend Henry Montgomery and Maud Montgomery, née Farrar. Montgomery's father inherited his father Sir Robert Montgomery's estate of New Park at Moville in County Donegal, Ireland, United Kingdom soon after Montgomery's birth, along with a £13,000 mortgage on the property, which drove them to the edge of financial trouble. In 1889, Montgomery's father was made the Bishop of Tasmania, taking him away from home regularly as he traveled across the globe; meanwhile, his mother ignored her children much of the time. This developed him into a rebellious child. "I was a dreadful little boy", he recalled, "I don't suppose anybody would put up with my sort of behaviour these days." In 1901, the family returned to London as his father became secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Montgomery attended St. Paul's School, and then went on to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, England. At the latter, he was nearly expelled for setting fire to a fellow cadet during a fight with pokers. He completed his studies in 1908 and joined the 1st Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and with that unit he served in India until 1913.
During WW1, Montgomery was deployed to France with his comrades of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. On 13 Oct 1914, during the First Battle of Ypres, he was shot by a sniper at the village of Meteren in the Netherlands. With the bullet passing through his right lung, the wound was so critical that a grave was dug in preparation for his death, but he recovered. After recovery, he was promoted to the rank of brigade major in 1915 to lead training efforts. In early 1916, he returned to the front as an operations staff officer during the battles of the Somme, Arras, and Passchendaele. As a general staff officer, he participated in the battles of the Lys and Chemin-des-Dames before the war ended.
Immediately following WW1, Montgomery commanded a battalion of the British Army of the Rhine in Germany. Upon his return to the United Kingdom, his rank was reverted to his regular rank of captain. In early 1920, he attended courses at the Staff College at Camberley, England. Later that year, he was promoted to the rank of brigade major to command the 17th Infantry Brigade at County Cork, Ireland, United Kingdom. He advocated fighting the war against the Irish rebels ruthlessly. "[I]t never bothered me a bit how many houses were burnt.... My own view is that to win a war of this sort, you must be ruthless", he wrote fellow officer Arthur Percival in a personal correspondence during this time. However, in light of modern conduct of war, he conceded that allowing the formation of a sovereign Irish nation was the only possible conclusion to the war.
In 1923, Montgomery was posted to the Territorial 49th Division. In 1925, he returned to the 1st Royal Warwickshire Regiment as a company commander. Shortly after, he became an instructor at the Staff College at the rank of major. In 1931, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and was posted to Palestine, Egypt, and India. While in India, he was an instructor at the Indian Army Staff College in Quetta, India at the rank of colonel. He was promoted to the rank of major general while serving in Palestine. He became the commanding officer of the 9th Infantry Brigade in 1937 at the rank of brigadier.
In 1937, Montgomery's wife Elizabeth received an inspect bite in the arm which became seriously infected and required amputation; she contracted septicemia following the amputation and passed away in his arms. He dealt with his sorrow by occupying himself with work. They had been married since 1927, and had a son, David, who was born in Aug 1928. Elizabeth was the sister of a fellow officer Percy Hobart.
In 1938, Montgomery organized an amphibious landing exercise that impressed the new commander-in-chief of Southern Command General Archibald Wavell. He was promoted to the rank of major general and was given command of the 8th Infantry Division in Palestine. At that position, he was credited in quashing the Arab revolt. In Jul 1939, he was sent back to England to command the 3rd Infantry Division.
The United Kingdom entered WW2 on 3 Sep 1939 when it declared war on Germany. The 3rd Infantry Division was deployed to Belgium as part of the British Expeditionary Force. Realizing that the British and the French had little intention to invade Germany, Montgomery predicted a defeat should Germany decide to invade France, and trained his troops for tactical retreat, which paid off when the men of the 3rd Infantry Division effectively fell back toward the French coast. During Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of British and French troops to the United Kingdom, he assumed command of the II Corps as Alan Brooke, the previous commanding officer, became the acting commander of the British Expeditionary Force. Upon his return to the United Kingdom in Jun 1940, he openly criticized the British Expeditionary Force leadership for the defeat, and was briefly relegated to divisional command, but was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath. In Jul 1940, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and was placed in command of V Corps. In Apr 1941, he became the commanding officer of XII Corps. In 1942, he was a member of the team that planned out the Dieppe Raid which suffered disastrous results. He never took direct blame of the failure as Louis Mountbatten took on the role as the scapegoat.
In 1942, William Gott was selected as a field commander in North Africa, but he was killed during a crash. Alan Brooke persuaded Prime Minister Winston Churchill to select Montgomery as the replacement. He took command on 13 Aug, and immediately instituted a series of changes, including the creation of a mobile British armored corps and a set of new procedures for improved combined operations with the Royal Air Force. Also among the first things he performed was the destruction of all plans for falling back in the case of a strong Axis offensive. "I have cancelled the plan for withdrawal," he told his officers at his first staff meeting. "If we are attacked, then there will be no retreat. If we cannot stay here alive, then we will stay here dead." On 31 Aug 1942, he successfully repelled Rommel's attack against Alam el Halfa by successfully predicting the high ground as a likely target and prepared its defenses before the attack commenced. Some officers criticized for Montgomery's lack of aggressiveness for not counter-attacking when the Axis forces backed off in defeat, but the victory nevertheless began to build his reputation as an able commander. Montgomery later argued that his troops were not ready to go on an offensive at that time. He would only launch his men on an offensive when he was sure that victory was certain, and that victory would have to be decisive.
In the next month, Montgomery started to receive great quantities of supplies from the United States, including large numbers of tanks. In Oct 1942, Montgomery decided that he was ready to launch Operation Lightfoot. On 23 Oct, the two forces engaged at the Battle of El Alamein, and 12 days later Montgomery achieved his decisive victory, capturing 30,000 Axis prisoners. For this victory, he was knighted and promoted to the rank of general. He continued to use his superior firepower to put pressure against the Axis forces, pushing the Axis lines back time after time, leading to the end of the Desert War. In North Africa, Montgomery showed his capabilities in leadership, careful planning, and willingness to cooperate with the Royal Air Force. He was awarded the Legion of Merit by the United States for his Desert War victory. "Before Alamein we never had a victory," said Winston Churchill later, "after Alamein we never had a defeat."
To the men, Montgomery became the officer who defeated the dreaded Erwin Rommel. His popularity was gained not only through victories, but also his efforts to win the hearts of his men. He made sure that he was visible to the front line soldiers, speaking to them as much as possible. On one of the visits, he visited an armor unit, and spoke with the crew of a tank; one of the tankers gave him a black beret of the Royal Tank Regiment, which he wore for the remainder of the war, becoming part of his signature look. Some of his methods for troop support were unorthodox, however, such as setting up a brothel in Tripoli, Libya to satisfy the men's sexual needs. It received approval from the men who needed this type of service, but it also added distance between Montgomery and the other officers who found brothels immoral and unacceptable.
Montgomery was next placed in command of the Eighth Army for the invasion of Sicily, Italy. From the onset, his leadership style and battlefield tactics conflicted with those of his American counterpart George Patton. The conflict grew into a personal rivalry between Patton and Montgomery in which Patton moved his troops into territory originally assigned to Montgomery, complaining that Montgomery's troops were advancing too slowly while boasting victories for engagements that should had been fought by the British. After the completion of the Sicily invasion, Montgomery and the Eighth Army were deployed to southern Italy, moving north along the eastern side of the Allied front along the Adriatic coast. He fought a series of tough battles against well-entrenched German forces, and he was once again criticized for moving too slowly. He blamed the lack of coordination between ground and air forces in Italy, as well as political opportunism exhibited by some Allied commanders. He was transferred out of Italy on 23 Dec 1943 for the upcoming cross-Channel invasion.
Upon his return to England, Montgomery was given the 21st Army Group which encompassed all Allied ground forces that would take part in Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy, France. He had wished for the responsibility of overall Allied command, but was unable to secure the position due to politics since the United States contributed greatly to the campaign in both men and materiel. While commanding the British elements closely near the French city of Caen, his troops were bogged down, and were not able to take the city until Jul 1944; he originally set the goal for the British and Canadian troops to conquer Caen within days of the landing. This delay gave his political opponents such as Omar Bradley and George Patton opportunities to further criticize him. Nevertheless, once Caen was captured, he was able to use it as a pivot point that eventually led to the major German defeat at the Falaise Pocket. Once the Allied forces secured their footing in France, Montgomery found himself still unable to obtain the position of the Supreme Allied Commander, again for political reasons, as the overwhelming majority of Allied personnel in Europe were American. To appease him, Churchill offered him the title of field marshal.
Montgomery offered Eisenhower his suggestion for an aggressive assault against Germany. He proposed to Dwight Eisenhower a thrust into the Netherlands to control several key bridges in preparation for a subsequent armor assault across Germany's flat northern plains. Accepted by Eisenhower, Operation Market Garden was launched, but it met a complete failure with heavy loss of lives. Eisenhower, disappointed with the defeat, transferred Montgomery from the front lines to become the commander-in-chief of British occupation forces, but he stressed that Montgomery's skills were not to be doubted. "Those critics of Montgomery who assert that he sometimes failed to attain the maximum must at least admit that he never once sustained a major defeat", said Dwight Eisenhower. Addressing the criticism that Montgomery lacked aggressiveness, Eisenhower responded that "caution and timidity are not synonymous, just as boldness and rashness are not!" These words of Eisenhower's were rather generous considering Montgomery's attitude toward Eisenhower bordered on insubordination. During a one-on-one planning session for Market Garden between Montgomery and Eisenhower, Montgomery lectured Eisenhower as if Eisenhower was a child. Eisenhower waited until Montgomery paused for breath, and interrupted; "Steady Monty," Eisenhower said. "You cannot talk to me like this. I am your boss." Montgomery, his ego suddenly deflated, mumbled his apologies; "Sorry, Ike".
When the Germans embarked on the Ardennes offensive on 16 Dec 1944, known as the Battle of the Bulge to the Western Allies, the US 1st Army was split in two groups by the Germans. While Bradley maintained communications with the southern group, he lost touch with the northern group. Montgomery was the nearest Allied officer to the northern units of the US 1st Army, so he absorbed the American units into his command. German General Hasso von Manteuffel of the 5th Panzer Army praised his opponent's quick decision, noting that
As the Germans began to lose their initiative, Eisenhower ordered Montgomery to go on an offensive on 1 Jan 1945 in an attempt to envelope the German forces. On the grounds that his men were not prepared to march through a snowstorm, he delayed his attack for two days, by which point the bulk of the German forces escaped what could had been a pocket.
During the Allied advance to the Rhine River, Montgomery's careful planning directly led to the low casualty rates among his units. His 21st Army Group was ordered to swing north to take Hamburg, Germany and to seal the base of the Danish peninsula to block a potential Russian westward advance beyond Berlin. On 4 May 1945, in a tent in the region of Lüneburg Heath in Lower Saxony, Germany, he accepted the surrender of German forces in northern Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands.
After WW2, Montgomery served as Eisenhower's Deputy Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe. In 1946, he was made 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. Between 1946 and 1948, he was Chief of the Imperial General Staff. In 1949, his mother passed away; he did not attend her funeral, claiming that his work schedule would not allow his attendance. As the Chairman of the Western European Union's commanders-in-chief committee, he achieved little as he could not agree with his French land forces chief. In 1951, Montgomery once again became Eisenhower's deputy, this time at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; his NATO tenure were generally well-regarded in terms of his achievements, but characteristic of his career, he continued to make political opponents. After Eisenhower's departure from NATO, Montgomery continued to serve under successors Matthew Ridgway and Al Gruenther until he retired in 1958 at the age of 71. He wrote and published several books based on his memoirs; El Alamein was published in 1948, The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery in 1958, and Normandy to the Baltic in 1968. He harshly accused Eisenhower and other Allied officers of poor leadership during WW2, which ended some friendships and created some enemies. Perhaps it was because of his lack of political tactfulness that he was among the few in his peers who were never raised to an earldom.
Montgomery passed away in 1976 at his home in Alton, Hampshire, England. After a funeral ceremony at St. George's Chapel in Windsor, England, he was interred in the Holy Cross Churchyard in Binsted, England.
Sources: the Crusade in Europe, the Fall of Berlin, Jewish Virtual Library, Spartacus Educational, Wikipedia.
Bernard Montgomery Timeline
|17 Nov 1887||Bernard Montgomery was born in Kennington, London, England, United Kingdom.|
|11 Jul 1940||Bernard Montgomery was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath.|
|7 Aug 1942||General Bernard Law Montgomery took command of the British Eighth Army in North Africa after the original choice commander, William Gott, was killed.|
|11 Nov 1942||Bernard Montgomery was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath.|
|10 Aug 1943||Bernard Montgomery was awarded the title of Chief Commander of the Legion of Merit of the United States.|
|31 Dec 1943||General Montgomery left his beloved British 8th Army in Italy to take up his role in the planning of the summer invasion of Europe in which he would command all land forces.|
|3 Jan 1944||General Montgomery was ordered home to take command of British troops in the Allied Expeditionary Force.|
|7 Apr 1944||Bernard Montgomery briefed his generals regarding the invasion of France, predicting the city of Caen would be captured on the first day of the invasion.|
|20 Jun 1944||Bernard Montgomery was awarded the title of Grand Commander of the Order of King George I of Greece.|
|1 Sep 1944||Montgomery was promoted to the rank of field marshal.|
|10 Sep 1944||Bernard Montgomery received a visit from Dwight Eisenhower at Brussels, Belgium during which Montgomery criticized Eisenhower's broad front strategy and demanded his army group to be the sole offensive force as current strategy placed the other two army groups in poor positions to launch attacks into Germany. Eisenhower responded "[s]teady Monty, you can't talk to me like that. I'm your boss."|
|31 Oct 1944||Bernard Montgomery was awarded the Virtuti Militari V Class of Poland.|
|25 Mar 1945||British General Montgomery issued a non-fraternization order as British troops entered Germany.|
|3 May 1945||A German delegation met with British Field Marshal Montgomery on Luneberg Heath, outside Hamburg, Germany, offering the surrender of all their forces in northwestern Germany - A total of more than one million men.|
|22 May 1945||Field Marshall Montgomery was designated as commander of British occupation troops, as well as a British member of the Allied Control Commission in Germany.|
|5 Jun 1945||Field Marshal Montgomery and General Eisenhower were awarded the Order of Victory, the Soviet Union's highest award.|
|2 Aug 1945||Bernard Montgomery was awarded the Order of the Elephant of Denmark.|
|16 Jan 1947||Bernard Montgomery was awarded the Order of Suvorov 1st Class of the Soviet Union and the Grand Cross of the Order of the Dutch Lion of the Netherlands.|
|24 Mar 1976||Bernard Montgomery passed away in Alton, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom.|
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Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, 16 Mar 1945