Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, widely known as Monty, was the foremost British commander of the Second World War. Popular with his troops, he was less liked by politicians and allies, due to his outspoken approach. Despite these difficulties, he made a huge contribution to the Allied war effort.
An Eccentric Start
Bernard Law Montgomery was born in 1887. Educated at St Paul’s School, he went on from there to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst.
Montgomery was not among the leading lights of his class. Demoted for setting fire to a fellow cadet, he managed to graduate, but not high enough in his class to take a coveted post in the British Indian army. Instead, he was commissioned into the Royal Warwick Regiment.
The First World War
Throughout World War One, Montgomery served as an infantry officer. He was severely wounded at the First Battle of Ypres, progressed up to the position of divisional chief of staff, and by the time the war ended he was a lieutenant-colonel.
The Great War had a huge impact on Montgomery, shaping his opinions in two key ways. Firstly, the devastating losses of battles such as the Somme made him determined never to use the senseless tactics that turned men into cannon fodder, an approach he referred to as “mismanaged butchery”. Secondly, he came to the conclusion that military command required the serious commitment of life-long study. He would take his work, and his study of his profession, incredibly seriously.
Between the Wars
During the inter-war years, Montgomery watched the British army suffer from neglect. He believed that the troops were poorly equipped, poorly trained and poorly led. The army, in his view, lacked the doctrines necessary to fight a modern war.
His wife’s early death led him to commit himself ever more firmly to his professional life. Despite his vocal dissent in a nation and profession more comfortable with calm conformity, by 1939 Montgomery had reached the rank of major-general.
The early days of Second World War would vindicate Montgomery, both in his views on the state of the army and in the disciplined effort he had put into training the men under him. The 3rd Division, which he commanded, was in the vanguard of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France, where they proved their competence. Though he fought brilliantly, Montgomery was caught up within a wider disaster, as France fell and the BEF retreated. He was one of the last senior officers out of Dunkirk.
Having been proven correct, Montgomery was given increasingly senior positions commanding Britain’s defences. He may have been undiplomatic in nature, but he had been proven right and in a time of war that was far more important.
Continues on Page 2