Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
Teaser Image

Montgomery, Sir Bernard Law (First Viscount Montgomery of Alamein) (1887–1976)

Title: Sir Bernard Law Montgomery
Button: Click to display an enlarged version of the image.
British army field marshal who was instrumental in the planning and execution of key engagements in North Africa and Europe. Whether considered a latter-day Marlborough or Wellington or "the most overrated general of World War II," Bernard Law Montgomery remains the most controversial senior Allied commander of World War II. Montgomery was born in Kennington, London, on 17 November 1887. His father became the Anglican bishop of Tasmania, but the family returned to Britain when Montgomery was 13. He attended Saint Paul's day school, Hammersmith, and entered the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, in 1907. The next year, Montgomery was commissioned into the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Montgomery served in India, and in World War I, he fought on the Western Front and was wounded in the First Battle of Ypres in 1914. He was then posted to a training assignment in England but returned to the front to fight as a major in the 1916 Battle of the Somme. Montgomery ended the war as a division staff officer. Following occupation duty in Germany after the war, he graduated from the Staff College at Camberely in 1921 and returned there as an instructor five years later. In 1929, Montgomery rewrote the infantry training manual. He then served in the Middle East, commanded a regiment, and was chief instructor at the Quetta Staff College from 1934 to 1937. Between 1937 and 1938, he commanded 1st Brigade. He then took charge of the 3rd Infantry Division, which he led in France as part of the British Expeditionary Force after the start of World War II. He distinguished himself in the British retreat to Dunkerque in May and June 1940, and in July, he took charge of V Corps in Britain, protecting the English south coast.

In April 1941, Montgomery assumed command of XII Corps, which held the crucial Kent area in England. Montgomery established himself as a thorough professional soldier and had no time or patience for the amateur traditions observed by many of his colleagues. Playwright George Bernard Shaw called him "that intensely compacted hank of steel wire." He was also very much the maverick.

Montgomery helped plan the disastrous Dieppe raid of August 1942 but left to command the First Army in the planned Allied invasion of North Africa. On 13 August, following the death of General W. H. E. Gott, he took command of Eighth Army in Egypt, repulsing Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's attack at Alam Halfa between August and September 1942.

Montgomery rebuilt Eighth Army's morale. Known for his concern for his men's welfare, he was also deliberate as a commander. In the Battle of El Alamein in October and November 1942, his superior forces defeated and drove west German and Italian forces under Rommel. His less-than-rapid advance allowed the bulk of the Axis forces to escape. Montgomery was made a full general that November.

Following the Axis surrender in the Battle of Tunis of May 1943, Montgomery played an active role in planning Operation husky, the invasion of Sicily, and he led Eighth Army in the invasions of both Sicily in July and Italy in September. He returned to Britain to assist in planning Operation overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy, then temporarily commanded its land forces in the landing until General Dwight Eisenhower moved his headquarters to France in September.

Promoted to field marshal in September 1944, Montgomery commanded the British 21st Army Group. He sought to finish the war by the end of the year with a daring invasion of Germany across the Rhine at Arnhem in Operation market-garden, a surprise from the conservative Montgomery. The plan, however, failed that same month. Montgomery's forces defended the north shoulder in the German Ardennes Offensive (the Battle of the Bulge) in December. At a later press conference, "Monty" gave the impression that he had saved the day for the Americans in the Ardennes, necessitating a statement by British Prime Minister Winston L. S. Churchill that the battle had basically been an American show. Montgomery then directed the drive into northern Germany.

Following the war, Montgomery commanded British occupation troops in Germany between May 1945 and June 1946. From 1946 to 1948, he was chief of the Imperial General Staff. He next served as chairman of the Western European commanders in chief from 1948 to 1951 and commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in Europe and deputy supreme commander between 1951 and 1958. He retired in September 1958. A prolific writer, he personally drafted his memoirs that same year. Montgomery died at Isington Mill, Hampshire, England, on 24 March 1976.

Colin F. Baxter and Spencer C. Tucker


Further Reading
Baxter, Colin F. Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1887–1976. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.; Chalfont, Alun. Montgomery of Alamein. New York: Atheneum, 1976.; Hamilton, Nigel. Monty. 3 vols. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981–1986.; Lewin, Ronald. Montgomery as a Military Commander. New York: Stein and Day, 1972.; Montgomery, Bernard L. The Memoirs of Field-Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, K.G. Cleveland, OH: World Publishing, 1958.
 

©2011 ABC-CLIO. All rights reserved.

  About the Author/Editor
  Introduction
  Essays
  A
  B
  C
  D
  E
  F
  G
  H
  I
  J
  K
  L
  M
  N
  O
  P
  Q
  R
  S
  T
  U
  V
  W
  X
  Y
  Z
  Documents Prior to 1938
  1939 Documents
  1940 Documents
  1941 Documents
  1942 Documents
  1943 Documents
  1944 Documents
  1945 Documents
  Images
ABC-cLIO Footer