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Montgomery at Caen

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  • Montgomery at Caen

    Military historians have long argued over the performance of Montgomery during the weeks that followed Operation Overlord. The key to the area, and the main obstacle to Montgomery's advance, was the city of Caen. Montgomery had expected to be able to take the city very rapidly, and thereby gain maneuver room that was vital to protecting the bridgehaed. To the southeast of the city was the important objective of Bourguebus Ridge.

    After four weeks of fighting the British were neither able to secure Caen nor Bourguebus Ridge. Montgomery tried to outflank Caen, but strong German armored units inflicted heavy casualties and halted those attempts. Montgomery's solution was a head-on attack straight through Caen, then onward with Operation Goodwood. Are historians too harsh on Monty, or was he overly cautious?

  • #2
    I don't think he was overly cautious. Maybe inept or just facing too much opposition, but I don't know about too cautious.
    "Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."

    – Associate Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Olmstead vs. United States.


    • #3
      Pro-Montgomery historians say that Montgomery succesfully drawed in most German armored formations so that Americans could make a decisive breakthrough. There's some evidence of such planning, but if it was really his original intention...that's another question.
      “To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed…” -1984 about the Big Lie


      • #4
        With the manpower issues facing the Commonwealth armies in the fifth straight year of war, Monty would have been justified in taking a cautious approach with casualties.

        The reason historians deal harshly with Monty is because he always portrayed a very confident outlook preceding his attacks. The expectation was that the "next attack" would result in the long awaited breakthrough. When expectations were continually dashed, many of Monty's superior (including Churchill) had real second thought about the wisdom of allowing Monty to retain his command.

        The confidence preceding an attack is fine for the troops in the front, but his superior needed to be told the truth.
        Scientists have announced they've discovered a cure for apathy. However no one has shown the slightest bit of interest !!


        • #5
          I think the Sheik's right here. The original plan was for the British to seize Caen and make the breakthrough there, but there were a whole series of failed offensives. However, it did mean that the bulk of the German armour ended up facing the British and Canadians which allowed the US forces to break out in the west. That certainly wasn't the original intention though.

          It's always interested me that Montgomery was, and is, widely regarded as a cautious, careful general, yet he designed and oversaw the failed Market-Garden offensive, one of the most imaginative and ambitious plans ever tried by the Western Allies.


          • #6
            The battles of attrition in and around Caen, remind me of the great trench battles at the height of the First World War. While the Allies launched massive offensives to break the enemy line, few reserves were available to exploit that break. Had Monty broken the German line at Caen, would it have resulted in a general German withdraw? Would Ike have fed in the follow-on US forces to exploit the rout, rather than using them in the breakout on the US sector?

            How much of the failure of the Caen operations are the result of poor generalship on the part of Monty, and how much can be blamed on green Allied divisions facing battle hardened German veterans? During Goodwood, of the 3 Armoured Divisions committed, two (11th and Guards British) were inexperienced, with the Guards seeing its first action.

            Later, in Operation Totalize (the breakout towards Falaise), two more Armoured Divisions (4th Canadian and 1st Polish) quickly bogged down, being fed into the battle completely raw against veteran German divisions.

            I think there are many factors involved, not just the desicions of a single person.


            • #7
              You guys seem to forget one thing, its that the british faced the cream of the german army in the West at that time, that is, up to 7 panzer divisions (Lehr, 2., 21., 1.SS, 2.SS, 9.SS, 10.SS, 12.SS) and three heavy panzer battalions (101, 102, 503), on a front no larger than 40km from Bayeux to the Bavent woods, the left half of it being heavily bocaged.
              It has often been said that the british officer corps was overly cautious in battle, and didnt adapt itself to the modern tactics of the time invented by the germans, it is certainly true, but considering the oppostion they faced, and the fact that most of the british divisions fielded in Normandy had very little combat experience, their performance isnt too bad, they just played the less rewarding role, they were the shield, and the americans the sword.


              • #8
                On a side note:
                If Monty was to be criticized about his conduct of the battle of Normandy, then it must be for his failure to close the Falaise pocket quickly, allowing the best german units to slip away.


                • #9
                  Montgomery didn't do himself any favors with the press either. During Operation Goodwood he actually told the press that a major breakthrough had occured and that the Germans were really being licked. At that very same moment the German gunners were educating the British armored forces in the lessons of modern warfare. The British armor suffered very heavy losses trying to get near Bourguebus Ridge, but it was defended by crack troops with support from Tiger tanks (the 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion). This was where Obest Hans von Luck gained his repututation. He took control of a small group of Luftwaffe 88s in Cagny and nearly brought the whole assault to a standstill.

                  On a related note, the 11th wasn't quite inexperienced. It was commanded by Major General G.P.B 'Pip' Roberts, and generally considered the best British division to fight in Northwest Europe. The 11th received an exceptional degree of training that set it apart from the other units. Also, a high proportion of its officers came from 6th and 7th Armored Divisions. The division was well led, had crushing air support, and held the initiative from the opening moments of the battle. This may be a case where nearly everyone underestimated just how good the Wehrmacht really was. Most of the soldiers were under the impression that after the terrific bombardment that took place, the only thing left to do would be to mop up the remains. No one was expecting the Germans to offer organized resistance, let alone actually halt the attack in its opening hours.


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