There were and there remain two extremes of opinion about Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, as well as a large number of intermediate positions. At one end of the scale are those who judge him a competent if somewhat pedestrian professional soldier who usually managed by good fortune to decline battle unless the odds were overwhelmingly in his favour, a general apt to forfeit the fruits of victory by excessive caution; an unimaginative commander with a very inflated view of his own talents and achievements, who was as conceited as he was uncharitable; an ill-mannered egocentric with a strong streak of unkindness. At the other extreme stands 'Monty' - idiosyncratic, strong-willed, decisive, unique of his era; the man who gave the British Eighth Army - and through it the whole British Army - restored confidence in itself and in its leaders in the autumn of 1942; the man who irrevocably turned the wretched tide of failure and disappointment by winning the battles of Alam Halfa and El Alamein, so that thereafter defeat was unthinkable, victory only a matter of time; the man who led the Allied armies to triumph in Normandy and chased the Germans back to the Reich and to ultimate surrender on Lüneburg Heath; the man who stood head and shoulders above his peers as one who really understood war and knew how to win. Monty, master of the battlefield.
LRB 22 December 1983 | PDF Download