Skip to main content

Bernard Law Montgomery

Bernard Law Montgomery

The English field marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (1887-1976), was an outstanding commander and hero of the British people during World War II.

Bernard Montgomery was born on Nov. 17, 1887. He went to St. Paul's School in London and entered the army in 1908. He fought in France during World War I and was mentioned in dispatches for gallantry in action.

After the usual staff and command assignments, Montgomery was a major general in command of the 3d Division in 1939. The division moved to France with the British Expeditionary Force in that year for the so-called Phony War. Montgomery participated in the withdrawal to Dunkirk in the spring of 1940. In England he became head of the 5th Corps in 1940, of the 12th Corps in 1941, and of the South East Command in 1942. In July 1942 he was appointed commander of the British 8th Army in Egypt, a position that marked the beginning of his rise to fame.

Northern Africa and Italy

Now a lieutenant general, Montgomery reorganized the 8th Army, gave the officers and men confidence in themselves and in eventual victory, and set about to defeat his opponent, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. When Rommel attacked at Alam Halfa on August 31, Montgomery won a defensive battle. On October 23 at the Battle of El Alamein, Montgomery gained an offensive victory. His defeat of the Italo-German army prompted an Axis retreat out of Egypt to the Mareth Line positions in southern Tunisia, 1,500 miles away. Although Montgomery pursued Rommel, he was unable to trap him.

Montgomery was a full general before the end of 1942 and was knighted on November 10 of that year. In February 1943 his 8th Army came under Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's Supreme Allied Command and directly under Gen. Sir Harold Alexander, the Allied ground force commander. In March, Montgomery took part in the final Anglo-American offensive in Tunisia, which swept the Axis forces entirely out of North Africa by May.

It was largely Montgomery's plan, one of concentrated rather than dispersed landings, that dictated the invasion of Sicily on July 10, 1943. While Gen. George Patton's U.S. 7th Army landed on the southern coast of Sicily, Montgomery put his 8th Army ashore on the eastern face. Montgomery then tried to drive up the eastern coast to Messina, but his army was blocked at Catania, and American forces reached Messina first.

Montgomery led his army across the Strait of Messina on Sept. 3, 1943, to the Italian mainland. He moved to the Taranto and Bari areas of the eastern coast, where his forces captured the Foggia airfields by October 1.

The 8th Army moved across the Biferno River and captured Termoli after a complicated and brilliant operation that utilized an amphibious landing together with a direct pressure force. But bad weather and difficult terrain, plus obstinate German resistance, prevented rapid progress, and by the end of 1943 Montgomery's army was immobile at the Sangro River.

Invasion of Normandy

At that time Montgomery was assigned to the United Kingdom, where he took command of the British and Canadian forces scheduled to participate in the cross-Channel attack. In addition to being 21st Army Group commander, he was named the Allied ground forces commander for the invasion of Normandy. On June 6, 1944, D-day, he directed the British 2d Army and the U.S. 1st Army, which crossed the Channel.

Montgomery's generalship came under criticism during the first 2 months of the European campaign because of his alleged caution and slowness. He was to have captured Caen on D-day, but he took it only on the forty-second day of the campaign. His Goodwood attack also became the subject of much controversy. Yet Montgomery virtually destroyed two German field armies in the Argentan-Falaise pocket, closed on August 19, and he propelled the four Allied armies across the Seine River in a pursuit that came to an end only at the Siegfried Line.

Montgomery relinquished his command of the Allied ground forces to Eisenhower on Sept. 1, 1944, a change contemplated long before the invasion. He was promoted to field marshal on the same day. He started the discussion now known as the broad-front versus narrow-front strategy. Finally, Eisenhower gave Montgomery permission to launch Operation Market-Garden, a combined air-ground attack planned to get British forces across the lower Rhine River in Holland. The airborne drop was successful, but the ground attack failed, and the hope of driving directly to Berlin and bringing the war to a quick end vanished.

The winter fighting was bitter. It came to a climax on Dec. 16, 1944, when the Germans launched their Ardennes counteroffensive and created the Battle of the Bulge. Eisenhower put Montgomery in command of all the troops on the northern shoulder of the Bulge.

Montgomery crossed the Rhine River late in March 1945, helped encircle and reduce the industrial Ruhr, and swept across the northern German plain to the Elbe River. He commanded the British occupation forces and the Army of the Rhine (1945-1946), then was chief of the imperial general staff (1946-1948). He was chairman of the Western Europe Commanders in Chief Committee (1948-1951) and deputy supreme Allied commander, Europe (1951-1958). He retired in 1958 and wrote his memoirs. He died on March 24, 1976, in Alton, Hampshire.

Further Reading

Montgomery's own books include El Alamein to the River Sangro (1948), Normandy to the Baltic (1948), Memoirs (1958), The Path to Leadership (1961), and A History of Warfare (1968). A life study of Montgomery is Alan Moorehead, Montgomery: A Biography (1967). The best histories of Montgomery's campaigns are in Sir Francis de Guingand, Operation Victory (1947); Winston Churchill, Closing the Ring (1951); Chester Wilmot, The Struggle for Europe (1952); Sir Arthur Bryant, The Turn of the Tide (1957); and Alan Moorehead, The March to Tunis: The North African War, 1940-1943 (1967). A view of Montgomery less favorable than the popular one is offered by Reginald William Thompson in Churchill and the Montgomery Myth (1968) and Montgomery, the Field Marshal: The Campaign in Northwest Europe, 1944/45 (1970). See also Martin Blumenson, Breakout and Pursuit (1961) and Salerno to Cassino (1969). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bernard Law Montgomery." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bernard Law Montgomery." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bernard-law-montgomery

"Bernard Law Montgomery." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved May 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bernard-law-montgomery

Montgomery, Bernard Law

Montgomery, Bernard Law (1887–1976).British field marshal. One of the best‐known and controversial commanders of World War II, Montgomery—or Monty as he was better known—commanded Allied armies in two of the decisive battles of the war, El Alamein and Normandy. A Sandhurst graduate, he entered the British army in 1908, and served with distinction in World War I. Between the wars Montgomery was among the few army officers who grasped the need for new ideas, new equipment and new techniques. He was an unorthodox individualist.

In August 1942, with the legendary Gen. Erwin Rommel almost at the gates of Cairo and the oil fields of the Middle East, the almost unknown Montgomery took command of the British Eighth Army and defeated the Axis forces at the Battle of El Alamein, the foundation of Monty's fame, October 23–November 4, 1942.

A small, wiry man with hawk‐like features, a neatly‐trimmed moustache, and a jaunty black beret, he was boastful and blunt. Critics have called him an egomaniac, overrated, and worse. His “finest hour” came both before and during the invasion of Normandy in which he commanded all Allied ground forces from June to August 1944. He became the lightning rod for criticism when temporary stalemate followed D‐Day. Relations with Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower soured; exuding infallibility, Montgomery was his own worst enemy, and the myth took root that he had failed in Normandy. In practice, his generalship displayed far greater flexibility than he ever acknowledged. Original intention or not, Montgomery succeeded in keeping German armored divisions tied down on the British and Canadian front, thus assisting the American breakout on the right flank in July.

Differences continued to mar Monty's relationship with Ike following the Allied victory in Normandy, with the newly created field marshal advocating a single, con centrated blow to end the war in 1944, and the Supreme Commander's decision to adopt a broad‐broad strategy. In September 1944, Montgomery launched Operation Market‐Garden, the largest airborne and glider operation in history. The attempt to seize a bridgehead over the Rhine at Arnhem failed.

In the Battle of the Bulge, Eisenhower placed all American troops north of the German thrust under Montgomery's command, a courageous decision that was contrary to the advice of Gen. Omar N. Bradley. Fighting desperately to stop the German counteroffensive, subordinate American commanders welcomed Montgomery's arrival. At a press conference after the battle, Monty praised the fighting qualities of the American soldier, but left the impression he had saved the American high command from disaster. He noted in his Memoirs, “I should have held my tongue.” Britain hailed Montgomery as another Wellington and he was made viscount of Alamein in 1946. He served as deputy commander of NATO forces, 1951–58.
[See also France, Liberation of; Germany, Battle for; Italy, Invasion and Conquest of; Sicily, Invasion of; World War II: Military and Diplomatic Course.]

Bibliography

Nigel Hamilton , Monty, 3 vols., 1981–86.
Carlo D’Este , Decision in Normandy, 1983.
Richard Overy , Why The Allies Won, 1996.

Colin F. Baxter

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Montgomery, Bernard Law." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Montgomery, Bernard Law." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/montgomery-bernard-law

"Montgomery, Bernard Law." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved May 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/montgomery-bernard-law

Montgomery, Bernard

Montgomery, Bernard (1887–1976). General and then field marshal (August 1944), Montgomery was the most controversial general of the Second World War. Arrogant, confident, and self-centred, he did not endear himself to equals or superiors, but ‘Monty’ won the confidence of subordinates and ordinary soldiers. After capable service in France and Belgium in 1939–40 and in southern England, he rose to fame as commander-in-chief, 8th Army, in north Africa in 1942. With stronger forces and unequalled knowledge of his enemy's weaknesses, he directed the victory of El Alamein, forcing Italian and German withdrawal back to Tunisia. He was criticized for failure to cut off the retreating enemy. In Sicily and the south of Italy, he was alleged to show indifference to the needs of formations not under his command. The climax of his career was the command of ground forces in the attack on Normandy in 1944 until September. He aroused controversy after D-Day when his progress in capturing Caen was thought perilously slow. Montgomery undermined his reputation, then and since, by insisting that in battle everything followed his ‘master plan’, including the enemy. He showed high qualities in making cautious, ‘balanced’ provision for the unexpected: he claimed, however, that for him nothing was unexpected. After Eisenhower took over command, Montgomery continued to insist that he should control active operations. He delayed the clearance of the approaches to Antwerp for his unsuccessful Arnhem gamble. His boastfulness after the battle of the Bulge, when he was given temporary command, helped to reduce his influence in 1945. He became a viscount.

R. A. C. Parker

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Montgomery, Bernard." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Montgomery, Bernard." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/montgomery-bernard

"Montgomery, Bernard." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved May 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/montgomery-bernard

Montgomery, Bernard Law, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

Montgomery, Bernard Law, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (1887–1976) British general. As commander of the British 8th Army in World War II, he defeated Rommel and the Afrika Korps at El Alamein (1942). He led the invasion of Sicily and Italy. ‘Monty’ helped to plan the Normandy landings (1944), and, under the overall command of General Eisenhower, led the Allies in the initial stages. He was Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (1951–58).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Montgomery, Bernard Law, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Montgomery, Bernard Law, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/montgomery-bernard-law-1st-viscount-montgomery-alamein

"Montgomery, Bernard Law, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved May 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/montgomery-bernard-law-1st-viscount-montgomery-alamein