Field-Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, who died in Marrakesh in March 1981 aged 96, retained to the end a touching faith that History would eventually vindicate him in the controversial aspects of his career. Almost alone among the Army commanders who survived the war, he took no part in the post-war battle of the memoirs, nor indeed was he particularly willing to disclose his private sentiments to interviewers. This reticence derived from a dignified, stoical disposition and if there was an underlying bitterness it was extremely well concealed. History, however, is made by historians and, in the short run at any rate, cannot be relied upon to provide totally objective judgments. Field-Marshal Montgomery, despite his low opinion of academics, was well aware that the muse can be overpowered and seduced. In his Memoirs and self-adulatory campaign narratives, Montgomery enhanced his own undeniably great achievements by denigrating Auchinleck's generalship and by exaggerating the poor condition of the Eighth Army when he assumed command in August 1942. Montgomery's version of the take-over from Auchinleck and the transformation that rapidly followed has, in broad terms, recently received a powerful boost from Nigel Hamilton's lengthy coverage of these events, buttressed by the recollections of numerous participants.
LRB 4 March 1982 | PDF Download