World War II produced its share of unique and unforgettable commanding officers. The Americans covered the spectrum with the melodramatic Douglas MacArthur, the diplomatic Dwight D. Eisenhower, the explosive George Patton, and the avuncular Omar Bradley. The Soviets soldiered on under the stolid but brilliant Georgy Zhukov, while the German army produced the courtly, even chivalrous Erwin Rommel. The English had Bernard Law Montgomery.
Montgomery, undeniably brilliant, indisputably professional and a master of the military art, could be simultaneously short-sighted, rude, and insubordinate. Hamilton’s earlier, three-volume study of Montgomery probed all of these contradictions with outstanding style and research in great and fascinating detail. In his single-volume condensation, MONTY, he concentrate on Montgomery’s performance during World War II.
Montgomery was brilliant in rescuing the British from defeat by Rommel in North Africa, although, as readers now know, he was immensely aided by the “Ultra” secret that the British could decrypt German codes, and thus reveal many of their plans to commanders such as Montgomery. His uneasy relations during the Sicilian campaign with General George Patton presaged difficulties to come, which flowered during the difficult days of Normandy, when Montgomery’s breakout plan seemed hopelessly stalled. Yet, literally within hours of his probable dismissal, the Allied forces pushed past the Germans as Montgomery had predicted, and the turning point of the war had been reached.
It was then that Montgomery seems to have shifted his own fronts, considering the Allied high command, including Supreme Commander Eisenhower, to be in their own bumbling, incompetent, benighted fashion as great a danger as the German army. Hamilton, although clearly appreciating Montgomery’s considerable talents, is a fair and judicious biographer who does not conceal or gloss over his subject’s less attractive traits—and those Montgomery had in plenty.
In the end, however, those faults were outweighed by one great thing: When it came to doing what he did, which was leading men into battle and through to victory, few generals on either side could match Montgomery, and none surpassed him. The mixed nature of the man who possessed such leadership, and placed it to such mixed use for the Allied cause, is ably and compellingly told in Nigel Hamilton’s MONTY.