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Bernard Montgomery

 

He saw action in the First World War as a junior officer of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. At Meteren, near the Belgian border at Bailleul, he was shot through the right lung by a sniper, during the First Battle of Ypres. He returned to the Western Front as a general staff officer and took part in the Battle of Arras in April/May 1917. He also took part in the Battle of Passchendaele in late 1917 before finishing the war as chief of staff of the 47th (2nd London) Division.

During the Second World War he commanded the British Eighth Army from August 1942 in the Western Desert until the final Allied victory in Tunisia in May 1943. This command included the Second Battle of El Alamein. He subsequently commanded the British Eighth Army during the Allied invasion of Sicily and the Allied invasion of Italy. He was in command of all Allied ground forces during Operation Overlord from the initial landings until after the Battle of Normandy. He then continued in command of the 21st Army Group for the rest of the campaign in North West Europe. The failed airborne attempt to bridge the Rhine at Arnhem in Holland was with 21st Army Group personnel, however was successful with a subsequent Allied Rhine crossing. When German armoured forces attacked American lines in the Battle of the Bulge forcing them to retreat, Montgomery was given command of the US First Army and the US Ninth Army, stopping the German advance and sending them into reverse. On 4 May 1945 he took the German surrender at Luneburg Heath in Northern Germany.

After the First World War Montgomery commanded the 17th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, a battalion in the British Army of the Rhine, before reverting to his substantive rank of captain (brevet major) in November 1919. He had not at first been selected for the Staff College in Camberley, Surrey (his only hope of ever achieving high command). But at a tennis party in Cologne, he was able to persuade the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the British Army of Occupation, Field Marshal Sir William Robertson, to add his name to the list.

In 1925, in his first known courtship of a woman, Montgomery, then in his late thirties, proposed to a 17-year-old girl, Miss Betty Anderson. His approach included drawing diagrams in the sand of how he would deploy his tanks and infantry in a future war, a contingency which seemed very remote at that time. She respected his ambition and single-mindedness, but declined his proposal of marriage.

Montgomery was determined that the Army, Navy and Air Forces should fight their battles in a unified, focused manner according to a detailed plan. He ordered immediate reinforcement of the vital heights of Alam Halfa, just behind his own lines, expecting the German commander, Erwin Rommel, to attack with the heights as his objective, something that Rommel soon did. Montgomery ordered all contingency plans for retreat to be destroyed. "I have cancelled the plan for withdrawal. If we are attacked, then there will be no retreat. If we cannot stay here alive, then we will stay here dead", he told his officers at the first meeting he held with them in the desert, though, in fact, Auchinleck had no plans to withdraw from the strong defensive position he had chosen and established at El Alamein.

During late 1943, Montgomery continued to command the Eighth Army during the landings on the mainland of Italy itself, beginning with Operation Baytown. In conjunction with the Anglo-American landings at Salerno (near Naples) by Lieutenant General Mark Clark's US Fifth Army and seaborne landings by British paratroops in the heel of Italy (including the key port of Taranto, where they disembarked without resistance directly into the port), Montgomery led the Eighth Army up the toe of Italy. Montgomery abhorred the lack of coordination, the dispersion of effort, the strategic muddle and lack of opportunism he saw in the Allied effort in Italy and was glad to leave the "dog's breakfast" on 23 December 1943.

On 3 September 1944 Hitler ordered the 15th German Army, which had been stationed in the Pas de Calais region and was withdrawing north into the Low Countries to hold the mouth of the river Scheldt to deprive the Allies of the use of Antwerp. Thanks to ULTRA, Montgomery was aware of Hitler's order by 5 September. Starting that same day, SHAEF's naval commander, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay had urged Montgomery to make clearing the mouth of the Schedlt his number one priority, arguing that as long as the mouth of the Scheldt was in German hands, it was impossible for the Royal Navy to clear the mines in the river, and as the Scheldt was mined, the port of Antwerp was useless. Alone among the senior commanders, only Ramsay saw opening Antwerp as crucial.

Missouri Civil War Museum


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