Bernard Montgomery

Bernard Montgomery

Bernard Montgomery, the son of a bishop, was born in London on 17th November 1887. He was educated at St Paul's School and Sandhurst Military Academy. He later recalled: "In 1907 entrance to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, was by competitive examination. There was first a qualifying examination in which it was necessary to show a certain minimum standard of mental ability; the competitive examination followed a year or so later. These two hurdles were negotiated without difficulty, and in the competitive examination my place was 72 out of some 170 vacancies." After graduating in 1908 joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

Montgomery served in India before being sent to France at the beginning of the First World War. He was seriously wounded when he was shot in the chest in October 1914: "My life was saved that day by a soldier of my platoon. I had fallen in the open and lay still hoping to avoid further attention from the Germans. But a soldier ran to me and began to put a field dressing on my wound; he was shot through the head by a sniper and collapsed on top of me. The sniper continued to fire at us and I got a second wound in the knee; the soldier received many bullets intended for me. No further attempt was made by my platoon to rescue us; indeed, it was presumed we were both dead. When it was dark the stretcher-bearers came to carry us in; the soldier was dead and I was in a bad way."

After a long spell in a military hospital, Montgomery returned to the Western Front in 1916 and by 1918 was chief of staff of the 47th London Division. In his autobiography Montgomery argued that: " The higher staffs were out of touch with the regimental officers and with the troops. The former lived in comfort, which became greater as the distance of their headquarters behind the lines increased. There was no harm in this provided there was touch and sympathy between the staff and the troops. This was often lacking. The frightful casualties appalled me."

Montgomery remained in the British Army and in 1926 became an instructor at Camberley. Promoted to the rank of major general he was sent to command British forces Palestine in October, 1938. On the outbreak of the Second World War Montgomery was sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force. He led the 2nd Corps but was forced to retreat to Dunkirk during Germany's Western Offensive and arrived back in England on 1st June, 1940. Montgomery was placed in command of the 5th Corps (July 1940-April 1941), the 12th Corps (April 1941-December 1941) and the South-Eastern Army (December 1941-August 1942).

In July 1942 Erwin Rommel and the Deutsches Afrika Korps were only 113km (70 miles) from Alexandria. The situation was so serious that Winston Churchill made the long journey to Egypt to discover for himself what needed to be done. Churchill decided to make changes to the command structure. General Harold Alexander was placed in charge of British land forces in the Middle East and Montgomery was chosen to become commander of the Eighth Army.

On 30th August, 1942, Erwin Rommel attacked at Alam el Halfa but was repulsed by the Eighth Army. Montgomery responded to this attack by ordering his troops to reinforce the defensive line from the coast to the impassable Qattara Depression. Montgomery was now able to make sure that Rommel and the German Army was unable to make any further advances into Egypt. Rommel reported that he was ill and was evacuated. Doctors reported that he was "suffering from chronic stomach and intestinal catarrh, nasal diphtheria and considerable circulation trouble."

Over the next six weeks Montgomery began to stockpile vast quantities of weapons and ammunition to make sure that by the time he attacked he possessed overwhelming firepower. By the middle of October the Eighth Army totalled 195,000 men, 1,351 tanks and 1,900 pieces of artillery. This included large numbers of recently delivered Sherman M4 and Grant M3 tanks.

On 23rd October, 1942, Montgomery launched Operation Lightfoot with the largest artillery bombardment since the First World War. The attack came at the worst time for the Deutsches Afrika Korps as Erwin Rommel was on sick leave in Austria. His replacement, General George Stumme, died of a heart-attack the day after the 900 gun bombardment of the German lines. Stume was replaced by General Ritter von Thoma and Adolf Hitler phoned Rommel on 24th October: "Rommel, there is bad news from Africa. The situation looks very black. No one seems to know what has happened to Stumme. Do you feel well enough to go back and would you be willing to go?"

When Erwin Rommel returned he launched a counterattack at Kidney Depression (27th October). Montgomery now returned to the offensive and the 9th Australian Division created a salient in the enemy positions. Winston Churchill was disappointed by the Eighth Army's lack of success and accused Montgomery of fighting a "half-hearted" battle. Montgomery ignored these criticisms and instead made plans for a new offensive, Operation Supercharge.

On 1st November 1942, Montgomery launched an attack on the Deutsches Afrika Korps at Kidney Ridge. After initially resisting the attack, Rommel decided he no longer had the resources to hold his line and on the 3rd November he ordered his troops to withdraw. However, Adolf Hitler overruled his commander and the Germans were told to stand and fight.

The next day Montgomery ordered his men forward. The Eighth Army broke through the German lines and Erwin Rommel, in danger of being surrounded, was forced to retreat. Those soldiers on foot, including large numbers of Italian soldiers, were unable to move fast enough and were taken prisoner. For a while it looked like the the British would cut off Rommel's army but a sudden rain storm on 6th November turned the desert into a quagmire and the chasing army was slowed down. Rommel, now with only twenty tanks left, managed to get to Sollum on the Egypt-Libya border. On 8th November Rommel learned of the Allied invasion of Morocco and Algeria that was under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. His depleted army now faced a war on two front.

The British Army recaptured Tobruk on 12th November, 1942. During the El Alamein campaign half of Rommel's 100,000 man army was killed, wounded or taken prisoner. He also lost over 450 tanks and 1,000 guns. The British and Commonwealth forces suffered 13,500 casualties and 500 of their tanks were damaged. However, of these, 350 were repaired and were able to take part in future battles. Winston Churchill was convinced that the battle of El Alamein marked the turning point in the war and ordered the ringing of church bells all over Britain. As he said later: "Before Alamein we never had a victory, after Alamein we never had a defeat."

Montgomery and the Eighth Army continued to move forward and captured Tripoli on 23rd January, 1943. Rommel was unable to mount a successful counterattack and on 9th March he was replaced by Jurgen von Arnium as commander in chief of Axis forces in Africa. This change failed to halt the Allied advance in Africa and on 11th May, 1943, the Axis forces surrendered Tunisia.

At the Casablanca Conference held in January 1943, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to launch an invasion of Sicily. It was hoped that if the island was taken Italy might withdraw from the war. It was also argued that a successful invasion would force Adolf Hitler to send troops from the Eastern Front and help to relieve pressure on the Red Army in the Soviet Union.

The operation was placed under the supreme command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. General Harold Alexander was commander of ground operations and his 15th Army Group included Montgomery (8th Army) and General George Patton (US 7th Army). Admiral Andrew Cunningham was in charge of naval operations and Air Marshal Arthur Tedder was air commander.

On 10th July 1943, the 8th Army landed at five points on the south-eastern tip of the island and the US 7th Army at three beaches to the west of the British forces. The Allied troops met little opposition and Patton and his troops quickly took Gela, Licata and Vittoria. The British landings were also unopposed and Syracuse was taken on the the same day. This was followed by Palazzolo (11th July), Augusta (13th July) and Vizzini (14th July), whereas the US troops took the Biscani airfield and Niscemi (14th July).

General George Patton now moved to the west of the island and General Omar Bradley headed north and the German Army was forced to retreat to behind the Simeto River. Patton took Palermo on 22nd July cutting off 50,000 Italian troops in the west of the island. Patton now turned east along the northern coast of the island towards the port of Messina.

Meanwhile Montgomery and the 8th Army were being held up by German forces under Field Marshal Albrecht Kesselring. The Allies carried out several amphibious assaults attempted to cut off the Germans but they were unable to stop the evacuation across the Messina Straits to the Italian mainland. This included 40,000 German and 60,000 Italian troops, as well as 10,000 German vehicles and 47 tanks.

On 17th August 1943, General George Patton and his troops marched into Messina. The capture of Sicily made it possible to clear the way for Allied shipping in the Mediterranean. It also helped to undermine the power of Benito Mussolini and Victor Emmanuel III forced him to resign.

Montgomery, as commander of the 8th Army, led the invasion of Italy on 3rd September, 1943. When he landed at Reggio he experienced little resistance and later that day British warships landed the 1st Parachute Division at Taranto. Six days later the US 6th Corps arrived at Salerno. These troops faced a heavy bombardment from German troops and the beachhead was not secured until 20th September.

The German Army fought ferociously in southern Italy and the Allied armies made only slow progress as the moved north towards Rome. The 5th Army took Naples on 1st October and later that day the 8th Army captured the Foggia airfields.

General Bernard Montgomery (1944)
General Bernard Montgomery (1943)

In December 1943, Montgomery was appointed head of the 2nd Army and commander of all ground forces in the proposed invasion of Europe. Montgomery believed he was better qualified than General Dwight Eisenhower to have been given overall control of Operation Overlord. However, as the United States provided most of the men, material and logistical support, Winston Churchill was unable to get the decision changed.

Soon after the D-Day invasion Montgomery ptoposed Operation Market-Garden. The combined ground and airborne attack was designed to gain crossings over the large Dutch rivers, the Mass, Waal and Neder Rijn, to aid the armoured advance of the British 2nd Army. On 17th September 1944, three divisions of the 1st Allied Airbourne Corps landed in Holland. At the same time the British 30th Corps advanced from the Meuse-Escaut Canal. The bridges at Nijmegen and Eindhoven were taken but a German counter-attack created problems at Arnhem. Of the 9,000 Allied troops at Arnhem, only 2,000 were left when they were ordered to withdraw across the Rhine on 25th September.

After the failure of Operation Market-Garden Montgomery began to question the strategy developed by Eisenhower and as a result of comments made at a press conference he gave on 7th January, 1945, he was severely rebuked by Winston Churchill and General Alan Brooke, the head of the British Army.

Although he came close to being sacked Montgomery was allowed to remain in Europe and the end of the war was appointed Commander in Chief of the British Army of Occupation.

In 1946 Montgomery was granted a peerage and he took the title Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. He also served under General Dwight Eisenhower as deputy supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe.

Montgomery wrote several books on his war experiences includingEl Alamein to the River Sangro(1948), The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery (1958), An Approach to Sanity (1959), The Path to Leadership (1961), Normandy to the Baltic (1968) and A Consise History of Warfare (1972) .

Bernard Montgomery died on 25th March 1976.

Primary Sources

(1) Bernard Montgomery, The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery (1958)

In 1907 entrance to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, was by competitive examination. There was first a qualifying examination in which it was necessary to show a certain minimum standard of mental ability; the competitive examination followed a year or so later. These two hurdles were negotiated without difficulty, and in the competitive examination my place was 72 out of some 170 vacancies. I was astonished to find later that a large number of my fellow cadets had found it necessary to leave school early and go to a crammer in order to ensure success in the competitive entrance examination.

In those days the Army did not attract the best brains in the country. Army life was expensive and it was not possible to live on one's pay. It was generally considered that a private income or allowance of at

least £100 a year was necessary, even in one of the so-called less fashionable County regiments. In the cavalry, and in the more fashionable infantry regiments, an income of up to £300 or £400 was demanded before one was accepted. These financial matters were not known to me when I decided on the Army as my career; nobody had explained them to me or to my parents. I learned them at Sandhurst when it became necessary to consider the regiment of one's choice, and this was not until about halfway through the course at the college.

The fees at Sandhurst were £150 a year for the son of a civilian and this included board and lodging, and all necessary expenses. But additional pocket money was essential and after some discussion my parents agreed to allow me £2 a month; tills was also to continue in the holidays, making my personal income £24 a year.

(2) On 13th October 1916, Lieutenant Bernard Montgomery was shot in the chest at Meteren. He wrote about what happened in his autobiography, The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery

My life was saved that day by a soldier of my platoon. I had fallen in the open and lay still hoping to avoid further attention from the Germans. But a soldier ran to me and began to put a field dressing on my wound; he was shot through the head by a sniper and collapsed on top of me. The sniper continued to fire at us and I got a second wound in the knee; the soldier received many bullets intended for me. No further attempt was made by my platoon to rescue us; indeed, it was presumed we were both dead. When it was dark the stretcher-bearers came to carry us in; the soldier was dead and I was in a bad way. I was taken back to the Advanced dressing Station; the doctors reckoned I could not live and, as the station was shortly to move, a grave was dug for me. But when the time came to move I was still alive; so I was put in a motor ambulance and sent back to a hospital.

(3) Lieutenant Bernard Montgomery was highly critical of his senior officers on the Western Front during the First World War.

The higher staffs were out of touch with the regimental officers and with the troops. The former lived in comfort, which became greater as the distance of their headquarters behind the lines increased. There was no harm in this provided there was touch and sympathy between the staff and the troops. This was often lacking.

The frightful casualties appalled me. The so-called "good fighting generals" of the war appeared to me to be those who had a complete disregard for human life. There were of course exceptions and I suppose one was Plumer; I had only once seen him and I had never spoken to him.

There is a story of Sir Douglas Haig's Chief of Staff who was to return to England after the heavy fighting during the winter of 1917-18 on the Passchendaele front. Before leaving he said he would like to visit the Passchendaele Ridge and see the country. When he saw the mud and the ghastly conditions under which the soldiers had fought and died, he was horrified and said: "Do you mean to tell me that the soldiers had to fight under such conditions?" And when he was told that it was so, he said: "Why was I never told about this before?"

(4) Arthur Harris met Bernard Montgomery while he was at the Army Staff College in 1927. He wrote about him in his memoirs, Bomber Offensive (1947)

I had the greatest admiration for his precision of statement and lucidity as a lecturer and also for what I, as an airman, considered his ability and breadth of view as a soldier. But he appeared to me to be regarded with grave suspicion for holding what I understood were heretical, though they seemed to me very reasonable, views about the conduct of future war. As a stranger in a strange land I kept my own counsel, but I left the course with a very definite impression that in Monty we certainly had a soldier who knew his onions, no matter what the "high-ups" in the army might officially think of the smell.

I always pride-myself that Monty, who is only too willing to learn anything new and learns at speed, got his first real understanding of air co-operation from me, during his very short term of office in Palestine in 1939. It was short, because he was taken desperately ill not long after his arrival in the country and left for home on a stretcher. Knowing that more serious war was close upon us, I thought with dismay that we

were to lose a man whom I considered to be one of our best generals. But whatever bug it was that bit Monty on that occasion - and it bit him so hard that we never expected him to reach home - he got the better of it.

(5) As commander of a machine-gun battalion, Brian Horrocks met Bernard Montgomery for the first time while serving in France in 1940. He later wrote about the meeting in his autobiography A Full Life (1960)

I hadn't been there two hours when I was told that the divisional commander. General Montgomery, was in his car on the road and wanted to see me. Monty had obviously come up at once to cast an eye over his new divisional machine-gun commander. This was my first meeting with him. I saw a small, alert figure with piercing eyes sitting in the back of his car - the man under whom I was to fight all my battles during the war, and who was to have more influence on my life than anyone before or since.

I knew him well by reputation. He was probably the most discussed general in the British Army before the war, and-except with those who had served under him - not a popular figure. Regular armies in all countries tend to produce a standard type of officer, but Monty, somehow or other, didn't fit into the British

pattern. His methods of training and command were unorthodox, always a deadly crime in military circles. He was known to be ruthlessly efficient, but somewhat of a showman. I had been told sympathetically that I wouldn't last long under his command, and, to be honest, I would rather have served under any other divisional commander.

(6) Bernard Montgomery met Claude Auchinleck just before he was replaced by Harold Alexander in August 1942.

Auchinleck took me into his map-room and shut the door; we were alone. He asked me if I knew he was to go. I said that I did. He then explained to me his plan of operations; this was based on the fact that at all costs the Eighth Army was to be preserved "in being" and must not be destroyed in battle. If Rommel attacked in strength, as was expected soon, the Eighth Army would fall back on the Delta; if Cairo and the Delta could not be held, the army would retreat southwards up the Nile, and another possibility was a withdrawal to Palestine.

I listened in amazement to his exposition of his plans. I asked one or two questions, but I quickly saw that he resented any question directed to immediate changes of policy about which he had already made up his mind. So I remained silent.

(7) General Dwight D. Eisenhower, diary entry (11th June, 1943)

General Montgomery is a very able, dynamic type of army commander. I personally think that the only thing he needs is a strong immediate commander. He loves the limelight but in seeking it, it is possible that he does so only because of the effect upon his own soldiers, who are certainly devoted to him. I have great confidence in him as a combat commander. He is intelligent, a good talker, and has a flare for showmanship. Like all other senior British officers, he has been most loyal - personally and officially - and has shown no disposition whatsoever to overstep the bounds imposed by allied unity of command.

(8) In Italy in 1943 Bernard Montgomery commented on the importance of air support during modern battles.

I believe that the first and great principle of war is that you must first win your air battle before you fight your land and sea battle. If you examine the conduct of the campaign from Alamein through Tunisia, Sicily and Italy you will find I have never fought a land battle until the air battle has been won. We never had to bother about the enemy air, because we won the air battle first.

The second great principle is that Army plus Air has to be so knitted that the two together from one entity. If you do that, the resultant military effort will be so great that nothing will be able to stand against it.

The third principle is that the Air Force command. I hold that it is quite wrong for the soldier to want to exercise command over the air striking forces. The handling of an Air Force is a life-study, and therefore the air part must be kept under Air Force command.

The Desert Air Force and the Eighth Army are one. We do not understand the meaning of "army cooperation". When you are one entity you cannot cooperate. If you knit together the power of the Army on the land and the power of the Air in the sky, then nothing will stand against you and you will never lose a battle.

(9) Brian Horrocks fought in the British Army during the Desert War. In his autobiography he compared the merits of Bernard Montgomery and Erwin Rommel.

One of the most fascinating studies of the last war was the contrast between these two great commanders, Montgomery and Rommel, each in his own way an outstanding general, yet utterly and absolutely different in almost every respect. Rommel was probably the best armoured corps commander produced by either side. Utterly fearless, full of drive and initiative, he was always up in front where the battle was fiercest. If his opponent made a mistake, Rommel was on to it like a flash, and he never hesitated to take personal command of a regiment or battalion if he thought fit. On one occasion he was found lifting mines with his own hands. His popularity with the soldiers was immense, but a great many officers resented his interference with their commands.

All this reads like the copybook general but, in point of fact, this is not the best way to control a swift-moving, modern battle. Very often at a critical moment no one could find Rommel, because he was conducting personally some battalion attack. He tended to become so involved in some minor action that he failed to appreciate the general picture of the battlefield.

Monty was not such a dashing, romantic figure as his opponent; nor would you find him leading a forlorn hope in person, for the simple reason that if he was in command forlorn hopes did not occur. He had an extraordinary capacity for putting his finger straight on the essentials of any problem, and of being able to explain them simply and clearly. He planned all his battles most carefully - and then put them out of his mind every night. I believe he was awakened in the night only half a dozen times during the whole war.

Their handling of the battle of Alam Haifa makes the contrast clear. Having made the best possible plan to win the battle, yet at the same time to husband his resources, Monty dismissed Alam Haifa entirely from his mind and concentrated on the next one.

While Rommel was leading his troops in person against strongly-held defensive positions on the Alam Halfa ridge, Montgomery was planning the battle of Alamein. That was the difference between the two.

(10) Denis Falvey, A Well-Known Excellence (2002)

The Eighth Army viewed the arrival of a new commander with some scepticism. We did not have much faith in generals in the summer of 1942. Montgomery was on trial, and he knew it. He was a brilliant exponent of the art of leadership, and understood soldiers' psychology. So, his showmanship was a means to an end. Hitherto, the army commander had been a remote figure; some might not even know his name, but all had heard of Rommel! Montgomery intended not only to win the battle, but to win over his army. Nothing succeeds like success.

Much has been written about the remarkable effect Montgomery had on the troops, his appearance in peculiar hats, and so on. This was superficial. We judged him on results and his manner of achievement. Many of the troops never saw him: our first encounter was months later at Tripoli. Yet the signs of a new grip on affairs was palpable, as Churchill noticed. There was the first of those special messages to the troops. These were printed on sheets, some 11 inches by 8 inches, and were widely circulated. The first gave the gist of the famous address to the staff. We were going to fight where we stood. There would be no withdrawal, no surrender. We had to do our duty so long as we had breath in our bodies.

(11) Bernard Montgomery was criticized by some American commanders during the Normandy Campaign.

Eisenhower complained that Dempsey was leaving all the fighting to the Americans. His attention was drawn to my basic strategy, i.e. to fight hard on my left and draw Germans on to that flank whilst I pushed with my right. It was pointed out that he had approved this strategy and that it was being carried out; the bulk of the German armour had continuously been kept on the British front. Eisenhower could not refute these arguments. He then asked why it was we could not launch major offensives on each army front simultaneously - as the Russians did. It was pointed out to him that the German density in Normandy was about 2.5 times that of the Russian front, and our superiority in strength was only in the nature of some 25 per cent as compared to the 300 per cent Russian superiority on the eastern front. We clearly were not in a position to launch an all-out offensive along the whole front; such a procedure would be exactly what the Germans would like and would not be in accord with our agreed strategy. We had already (on the 25th July) launched the break-out operation on the right flank. It was an all-out offensive; it was gathering momentum rapidly. The British Second Army was fighting to keep the Germans occupied on the left flank. Our strategy was at last about to reap its full reward. What was the trouble?

(12) Wilhelm von Thoma fought against Bernard Montgomery in the Desert War. After the war he was interviewed by Basil Liddell Hart for his book The Other Side of the Hill (1948)

I thought he (Montgomery) was very cautious, considering his immensely superior strength, but he is the only Field-Marshal in this war who won all his battles. In modem mobile warfare the tactics are not the main thing. The decisive factor is the organization of one's resources to maintain the momentum.

(13) Bernard Montgomery wrote about Dwight Eisenhower in his autobiography, The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery (1958)

I would not class Ike as a great soldier in the true sense of the word. He might have become one if he had ever the experience of exercising direct command of a division, corps, and army - which unfortunately for him did not come his way. But he was a great Supreme Commander - a military statesman. I know of no other person who could have welded the allied forces into such a fine fighting machine in the way he did, and kept a balance among the many conflicting and disturbing elements which threatened at times to wreck the ship.

Where does his strength lie? He has a good brain and is very intelligent. But his real strength lies in his human qualities; he is a very great human being. He has the power of drawing the hearts of men towards him as a magnet attracts the bits of metal. He merely has to smile at you, and you trust him at once. He is the very incarnation of sincerity. He has great common sense. People and nations gave him their confidence.

(14) Bernard Montgomery wrote about Operation Market Garden in his autobiography, The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery (1958)

Operation Market Garden was duly launched on the 17th September 1944. It has been described by many writers. I will not go over it all again. We did not, as everyone knows, capture that final bridgehead north of Arnhem. As a result we could not position the Second Army north of the Neder Rijn at Arnem, and thus place it in a suitable position to be able to develop operations against the north face of the Ruhr. But the possession of the crossings over the Meuse at Grave, and over the Lower Rhine (or Waal as it is called in Holland) at Nijmegen, were to prove of immense value later on; we had liberated a large part of Holland; we had the stepping stone we needed for the successful battles of the Rhineland that were to follow. Without these successes we would not have been able to cross the Rhine in strength in March 1945 - but we did not get our final bridgehead, and that must be admitted.

There were many reasons why we did not gain complete success at Arnhem. The following in my view were the main ones.

First. The operation was not regarded at Supreme Headquarters as the spearhead of a major Allied movement on the northern flank designed to isolate, and finally to occupy, the Ruhr - the one objective in the West which the Germans could not afford to lose. There is no doubt in my mind that Elsenhower always wanted to give priority to the northern thrust and to scale down the southern one. He ordered this to be done, and he thought that it was being done. It was not being done.

Second. The airborne forces at Arnhem were dropped too far away from the vital objective - the bridge. It was some hours before they reached it. I take the blame for this mistake. I should have ordered Second Army and 1st Airborne Corps to arrange that at least one complete Parachute Brigade was dropped quite close to the bridge, so that it could have been captured in a matter of minutes and its defence soundly organised with time to spare. I did not do so.

Third. The weather. This turned against us after the first day and we could not carry out much of the later airborne programme. But weather is always an uncertain factor, in war and in peace. This uncertainty we all accepted. It could only have been offset, and the operation made a certainty, by allotting additional resources to the project, so that it became an Allied and not merely a British project.

Fourth. The and S.S. Panzer Corps was refitting in the Arnhem. area, having limped up there after its mauling in Normandy. We knew it was there. But we were wrong in supposing that it could not fight effectively; its battle state was far beyond our expectation. It was quickly brought into action against the 1st Airborne Division.

(15) In his autobiography, Memoirs: 1940-1945, General Harold Alexander, wrote about the abilities of General Bernard Montgomery.

Montgomery is a first-class trainer and leader of troops on the battlefield, with a fine tactical sense. He knows how to win the loyalty of his men and has a great flair for raising morale. He rightly boasted that, after the battle of Alamein, he never suffered a defeat; and the truth is that he never intended to run the risk of a defeat; that is one reason why he was cautious and reluctant to take chances. There is, however, much to be said for his attitude when we consider that, up to October 1942, we had not won a single major battle since the start of the war - except Archie Wavell's operations against the Italians and some local victories against the Axis forces in the Western Desert.

Yet I can't disguise that he was not an easy man to deal with; for example, administrative orders issued by my staff were sometimes objected to - in other words Monty wanted to have complete independence of command and to do what he liked. Still, no serious difficulties arose over these very minor disturbances, he was always reasonable when tackled.

(16) Mohamed Heikal, former Egyptian foreign minister, The Guardian (7th March, 2003)

On the afternoon of May 9, 1967, the field marshal, having just completed an exhausting tour of his front via helicopter, army vehicles and at least two hours on foot, invited us all to a quiet cup of tea on the beach. I think it was meant as a gesture to make up for the strain of the day, as well as for a momentary flash of dismay. He had spotted the steel rigging of a recently discovered oil well standing precisely on the spot of his command post and remarked acerbically that no one had the right to change the terrain of his battle as he recalled it and as it went down in history. I had tried to tell him that oil discoveries were vital to the Egyptian people, but I do not believe he was convinced.

On the beach, in front of the villa where he was staying, Montgomery appeared to make a conscious effort to show us another side of his personality, and started to hold forth. We were an audience of six - the four generals, Hamilton and myself - and he was now in top form. He spoke at length on his German adversary, saying: "Poor Rommel. He was starving for fuel for his tanks, and little did he know that entire fields of oil were sleeping beneath the layers of earth over which they were rolling." He recalled that Winston Churchill, in his zeal for a victory in the desert war, nearly, "drove his commanders around the bend with his pressures on them".

Eventually, the conversation turned to the idea of war. Montgomery outlined, very explicitly, his four essential prerequisites for going to war. In light of their bearing on the situation today, I would like to focus attention on them. He said that there must exist:

a) A clear objective that is desirable to realise nationally.

b) The means and the will to realise this objective militarily.

c) The ability to ground the recourse to force legally.

d) The ability to defend that course of action at home and abroad, morally.

I was struck to have heard these four points from a professional soldier, and replied that 50 per cent of the factors he mentioned could be said to concern strategy and 50 per cent ethics.

That, Monty answered, was because, "Victory in war requires, even more than arms, that the people who are making war believe in what they are doing to the degree that they will be prepared to sacrifice themselves and that others accept its legal and moral legitimacy to the extent that will guarantee their support."