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Throw another log on the fire: Montgomery vs Patton

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  • Throw another log on the fire: Montgomery vs Patton

    I was rereading a bit of Carlo D'Este's Decision in Normandy and I found it interesting that churchill gave Eisenhower authority to remove any British commander that he felt needed to be replaced. He was specifically referring to Montgomery after the disappointment of the attack to capture Bourgebous Ridge and Caen during Operation Goodwood. It seems likely that Churchill would have replaced Montgomery himself if he had been in Eisenhower's shoes.

    On the other hand Patton was relieved of his command. Twice. However, neither of these was related to his performance as a combat commander or tactician. These were because of his political flubs, although it must be said that slapping a soldier was a display of poor leadership in a field hospital.

    Is Patton overrated as a brilliant tactician? Does Montgomery take too much heat for being cautious? There seems to be a lot of differing opinions on this one, but there does seem to be a general consensus of opinion that these two were among the best commanders from each country. Both made some pretty big errors during their time in command. They also has some great victories. Who was the better leader I wonder...
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    GameSquad.com

  • #2
    I recently read that book and came away HATING Montgomery. However, I have to admit I haven't read other sources specifically about ol Monty so I can't speak for its validity. However, much of this book focuses on Monty, his inept leadership, failures to Capture Caen, his overly optimistic battleplans, his refusal to allow the Falaise Pocket to be shut, and worst of all his purported attempts to re-write his own story to make himself look better after the war.

    Personally a commander who just sits around until he has such numerical superiority that he CAN'T lose is not a very good one in my book. Really I don't know where his reputation comes from?

    I think Patton was just the opposite and could do a lot more with a lot less and he obviously didn't give a hoot about what anyone else thought of him. His record of victory speaks for itself.
    Our forefathers died to give us freedom, not free stuff.

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    • #3
      i think that eisenhower was too bright of a man to allow an inept commander to retain his post when the stakes were so high. i read a lot about montgomery and believe he is like most great generals - right more often than wrong...but wrong plenty enough to allow critics the room to second guess...when they really have nowhere near the full story. montgomery faced SS armor at normandy...the americans did not.
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      • #4
        Originally posted by Siberian HEAT

        Personally a commander who just sits around until he has such numerical superiority that he CAN'T lose is not a very good one in my book. Really I don't know where his reputation comes from?
        I recall the late Stephen Ambrose once saying, "we had to tolerate Monty. He was the only hero The British really had."

        I think Montgomery was overly cautious, which led to indecisive behavior. After routing the Germans at El Alamein, Monty appeared sluggish in pursuing Rommel's Afrika Korps. Though I feel chasing Rommel would have a bad ideal considering the British situation, Monty never provided any real reason for his decision.

        On the Falaise Pocket debate, I think the failure to close the escape route was an US-UK mistake. Eisenhower and Bradley both supported the decision not to close the pocket. Eisenhower was concerned with fuel. And maybe to some degree, both along with Montgomery, thought the Germans were pretty much finished. So trapping the remaining troops was not as important. Patton was right, and everyone else was wrong.

        Montgomery was a "condition oriented" commander. He needed alot of time to think, and make decisions. The enemy had to do their part and cooperate to some degree with his plans. When this didn't occur, Montgomery had a more difficult time, and sometimes came up short. (Operation MARKET GARDEN is a good example of this.) Unlike Patton, decision making was not automatic. He needed time to think.

        IHMO, Monty was a good commander. No matter the failure of his decisions, he did manage to turn what was a last stand into a great victory. Monty reached the decisive point before Rommel at El Alamein, and won the battle. His ego, and horrible personality didn't make Monty a favorite among the Americans, but those shortcomings should not detract from the success he did have.
        "As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."-Christopher Dawson - The Judgement of Nations, 1942

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        • #5
          I feel that two things are always overlooked when people judge Monty:

          1. He was loved by his troops
          2. The British had manpower problems even before El Alamein.

          As for Monty's failures in Normandy, the British weren't the only ones to suffer heavily in the Normandy battles. He also faced the majority of the German armour, and with mostly green divisions. The British were short on infantry replacements, which I feel explains much of their caution. People say Monty only attacked when he had massive numerical superiority. Couldn't the same be said of all Allied commanders, simply because the Allies in general had massive numerical superiority? Why not take advantage of that superiority?

          I don't think it's fair to compare Patton and Monty, because Patton rarely fought in the circumstances that Monty had to fight in, and vice versa.

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          • #6
            Ironically, Monty at his best was also his biggest failure--Arnhem and the failed stroke to bring the war in the west to a quick close. It was bold, innovative and almost worked.

            In comparison, Patton was almost always on the offensive, or at the Bulge on the counter-offensive. He was stopped more than not by logistics rather than German resistance. My view remains uncolored (I hope) by the fact the my Great Uncle, a Lt. Col. and Silver Star winner (when it meant something), commanded tanks under Patton in France and beyond.
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            • #7
              Martin Schenkel made some good points. Maybe the constant manpower concerns caused Monty to be more cautious. Yet, I still believe he could have taken Caen on D-Day. He chose not to for whatever reasons, and it turned out to be a mistake.

              Montgomery preferred to take ground of his choosing, then pull enemy reserves in to be destroyed by airpower and artillery. When they were mauled enough, Monty then attacked. This kind of tactic is slow and depends on the enemy falling into the trap. he proposed this kind of strategy for the Battle of the Bulge I believe. However, American commanders, desiring an immediate counterattack won the debate. While Montgomery's tactic was probably less casualty intensive, it was also too slow for the rapidly deteriorating Allied situation in December 1944.

              Although if I'm not mistaken, Monty had to deal with the bulk of the German Army.

              Monty needed his conditions to be met. He had a more difficult time adapting to dynamic warfare. Again, it's not a slant on the great British commander. Sometimes this is okay, and sometimes it isn't.

              Besides, Monty did beat Rommel. That in itself, IMHO, should say alot about his abilities as commander. Like I said earlier, Montgomery was a conditional commander.
              "As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."-Christopher Dawson - The Judgement of Nations, 1942

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Deltapooh
                Yet, I still believe he could have taken Caen on D-Day. He chose not to for whatever reasons, and it turned out to be a mistake.
                I don't really think it was a matter of choice. Caen was the objective for the first day, but the British/Canadians were held up by the Germans, so it wasn't like the troops suddenly stopped and dug in short of Caen. The 21st Panzer managed some counter-attacks during the first day, so perhaps if the British/Canadians had rushed into Caen, they might have been over-extended when the 12th SS Panzer arrived over the next few days (as it was, the 12th SS nearly did break the line). Then people would be saying Monty gambled too much, and should've been more cautious. It's a catch-22.

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                • #9
                  In retrospect you are correct. Caen did seem like a tall order for Monty on the first day. After I posted, the question poped up in my head. "If the British did take Caen on day one, could they have held it?" My answer was probably not. A serious defeat early on could have endangered the beach head.
                  "As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."-Christopher Dawson - The Judgement of Nations, 1942

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Deltapooh

                    Besides, Monty did beat Rommel. That in itself, IMHO, should say alot about his abilities as commander. Like I said earlier, Montgomery was a conditional commander.
                    No disrespect to Monty, but is there anyone who truly believes that he would have won that campaign if Rommel had been on anything even approaching equal footing?
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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Maddog


                      No disrespect to Monty, but is there anyone who truly believes that he would have won that campaign if Rommel had been on anything even approaching equal footing?
                      According to Rommel, it was a combination of allied air supremacy, diametrically opposite supply situations, and the fact the Axis supply net was gutted that insured the Axis could not have won at Alamein. Rommel tried to punch through before the Alamein line could form up completely, but even that was too late and the attempt failed (Monty wasn't there yet). I think Monty was on the scene the second time Rommel tried to punch through...and instead of forcing Rommel back on his heels he was content to let him retreat and begin the "big build up." To his credit, Rommel even agrees that Monty acted properly. He knew the allied supply/reinforcements would soon crush the Axis...and even my grandma could have led the bludgeoning attack of superior numbers on the Axis lines when the hammer finally fell. At one point, Axis guns were so low on supply Rommel estimated a 500-1 ratio in large calibre shells being used between the two sides.

                      It was fortunate timing for Monty that he was the one that got to lead the counterstroke...after other Brit generals had suffered so many defeats (and a few victories).

                      I am not a total Monty basher, I think his Market-Garden plan had marks of brilliance.
                      Our forefathers died to give us freedom, not free stuff.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Maddog

                        No disrespect to Monty, but is there anyone who truly believes that he would have won that campaign if Rommel had been on anything even approaching equal footing?
                        That's kind of pushing it. Could the US have won so easily in 1991, if it didn't exploit airpower and mobility? Battles are not won by going pound for pound with your opponent. You do whatever you can to achieve the advantage then use it to beat the crap out of your enemy. Whether or not everything went wrong for Rommel is irrelavent. Monty was smart enough to capitalize on the situation to achieve victory. It's war, not boxing

                        I'm not saying Monty was the best commander in history. He was not the Duke of Wellington or anything. However, he was an effective commander who achieved victory when presented with the right conditions. He had a difficult time making those conditions, but was intelligent enough to identify when he had the advantage.
                        "As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."-Christopher Dawson - The Judgement of Nations, 1942

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                        • #13
                          Interesting note.....

                          Hello,

                          As usual, you make some good points, but I believe the true mark of a great commander is not about having a numerical superiority in achieving the objectives.

                          Monty was not a great commander, he simply luckied out, in my humble opinion. Duke of Wellington also luckied out. He had numbers on his side in defeating Napoleon at Waterloo. However, I believe Monty was a competent general just as Norman S. (no way, I'm not going to spell his last name!) in Gulf War was a competent one, nothing more or less than that.

                          Have anybody notice that the people tend to remember the generals who were great, but failed in their objectives? Like Rommel, who was a great one, but ultimately lost in African campaign, Lee who was probably one of the best generals the world has ever seen, but lost the Civil War, Napoleon was the
                          most infamous 19th century European general who lost an opportunity to control the continential Europe, and Hannibal Barca.

                          Nobody seems to know more about Scipio Africanus, Grant, Nelson, and other victorious generals. Could it be simply the case of having numerical superiority in resources and manpower that resulted in ultimate victories for each of these victorious generals who were more or less capable military leaders? Grant and Sherman ushered the Union Army into modern warfare, and Scipio Africanus had manpower on his side.

                          Just making an observation, that's all!

                          Dan
                          Major James Holden, Georgia Badgers Militia of Rainbow Regiment, American Civil War

                          "Aim small, miss small."

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                          • #14
                            The Duke of Wellington succeeded at Waterloo for more reasons than just numbers. History is littered with instances where one force has defeated a numerically superior opponent. It's the lack of manpower that usually inspires commanders to be so innovative. Rommel, Lee, Hannibal, etc all realized that attrition was not going to lead to success. So they turned to skillful maneuvering.

                            The Duke of Wellington simply out thought Napolean at Waterloo. Monty, out thought Rommel. Whether it was just for a moment, or throughout the battle, their timely decisions decided victory or defeat.

                            Originally posted by Cheetah772

                            However, I believe Monty was a competent general just as Norman S. (no way, I'm not going to spell his last name!) in Gulf War was a competent one, nothing more or less than that.
                            I can't agree with you more. You are the first person I can recall who concluded Schwarzkopf was not a great commander. "The Hell Mary Play" was not innovative, or new. Furthermore Schwarzkopf failed to properly analyze the Iraqi military though he had very good intelligence suggesting what would occur. Although, I do not fault him completely for this mistake. Had he held the Marine attack and allowed VIIth Corps to get a head start, and the Iraqis resisted instead of retreated, the Marines could not have succeeded in their mission.

                            Greatness is achieved by overcoming adversity. Hannibal, Lee, Patton, Montgomery, Washington, The Duke of Wellington, Phillip of Macedonia, extra, all achieved success when the odds said failure was the more likely outcome.

                            I think one should also consider the impact on history these commander's had. El Alamein marked a turning point in WWII. The German advance was halted in the West. Hannibal's double envelopment, Lee's modernized maneuver warfare tactic, etc all impacted how commanders fight and win.

                            Monty didn't just show up at El Alamein and lucked out for a victory. He used tactics, and terrain to achieve success. Monty analyzed the Germans and devised a plan to defeat them. His orders helped achieved success.

                            So while Monty was the greatest, his decisions helped alter history at a decisive moment. That mean's something.
                            "As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."-Christopher Dawson - The Judgement of Nations, 1942

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                            • #15
                              I understand the underlying point you're trying to make, but I dispute your conclusions.

                              War is as much about intelligence and logistics as it is about tactics and raw military might. It's virtually impossible to devise any situation in which Rommel could have achieved a long term victory in North Africa. The British had virtually undisputed control of both the sea and air during large portions of that campaign, thus they were able to deny Rommel anything like the level of S2 and logistics that they themselves enjoyed. The lack of timely intelligence (other than what he gathered for himself) and a crushing disparity in logistics, when coupled with the overall balance of brute military strength, leads directly to a situation in which anything less than a complete British victory would be blatant incompetence on the part of the allied commander. My point is that Rommel, despite every possible disadvantage, was able to best the British for a very long time. The odds need not have been "even" for him to win.

                              It's equally difficult to devise any scenario in which Montgomery, outnumbered and facing the same intelligence and logistics shortcomings that Rommel faced, could possibly hold his force together for more than a month or so. Rommel would have so completely humbled him it wouldn't have been funny. Thank goodness that didn't happen! Montgomery was an extremely cautious and methodical leader. There is nothing wrong with that as long as one has the luxury of time and quantitative superiority. The only operation in which he showed a true willingness to take risks and exercise bold leadership was Market Garden, and in that case it seems obvious in hindsight that the plan was hopelessly optimistic and even dangerous. This further reinforces the argument that Montgomery was wholly unfamiliar will risk taking and bold leadership. He was under tremendous criticism for Caen, Operation Goodwood, and the Falaise Gap. He had every reason to believe that he might be replaced if he didn't start to perform and he desperately needed a way to demonstrate that he could just as bold and daring as other allied commanders, namely Patton who he intensely disliked.

                              The Market Garden plan was considered irresponsible by some senior commanders and there were some who voiced open criticism of it prior to the start of the operation. Within hours the plan was exposed as fatally flawed but it was too late to turn back. Both of the American airborne divisions suffered heavily, but it was the British 1st Airborne that bore the brunt of the plan's failings. Exactly what the critics had feared would happen, happened. The logistics routes and axis of advance were impossible to maintain while the lightly armed paratroopers were no match for the Germans once they understood the basic outline of what the Allies were attempting. The end result: two divisions badly disorganized and mauled while a third was effectively destroyed. The operation failed to achieve any of its main strategic goals and wasted a lot of time and logistics in the process. I give Monty credit for dreaming up such a plan, but it must be said that this "boldness" was more a result of his desperation to redeem himself in the eyes of the Allied command than it was anything else.

                              Operation Goodwood was another notorious example of Monty's slow and methodical command style working against the Allied cause. The situation around Caen was critical, but still going basically in the Allies' favor. What was required was a senior commander who could quickly assess the tactical situation and rapidly devise a plan to maximize both firepower and space. This commander would need to be very flexible to a fluid situation and able to alter his posture to meet unexpected enemy operations. Montgomery simply wasn't up to this. His set-piece mentality was totally unsuitable to this climate and time and again the Germans were able to capitalize on it. What saved the British here was the overwhelming Allied air supremacy, combined with the generally excellent quality of the British army at the small unit level.

                              Eisenhower, ordinarily a supporter of Montgomery, was livid over Goodwood. He felt that the British commander had deliberately misled him about his real intentions and also that Montgomery wasn't agressive enough. On 21st July he sent a letter:

                              "Then, a few days ago, when Armored Divisions of Second Army, assisted by tremendous air attack, broke through the enemy's forward lines, I was extremely hopeful and optimistic. I thought that at last we had him and were going to roll him up. That did not come about." Eisenhower reminded Montgomery that "the recent adances near Caen have partially eliminated the necessity for a defensive attitude, so I feel that you should insist that Dempsey keep up the strength of his attack. Right now we have the ground and air strengh and the stores to support major assaults by both armies simultaneously...The enemy has no immediate available major reserves. We do not need to fear, at this moment, a great counter offensive." The letter concluded with a sharp admonition that "eventually the American ground strength will necessarily be much greater than the British. But while we have equality in size we must go forward shoulder to shoulder, with honors and sacrifices equally shared."


                              Eisenhower was enraged that Montgomery had used seven thousand tons of bombs to gain seven miles and that "the Allies could hardly hope to go through France paying a price of a thousand tons of bombs per mile." For their part, the air chiefs viewed Goodwood as the clearest example yet that Montgomery was unwilling or unable to take risks.
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                              GameSquad.com

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