Jump to content

Bernard Montgomery instead of Douglas Haig?


 Share

Recommended Posts

Any Monty experts here? The thread over in Military Art with Monty's bust made me have a fleeting thought... What would the British effort on the Western Front had been like if Monty had been in command instead of Haig?

Any thoughts anyone?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Monty was known for husbanding his men and resources till he had a substantial advantage over his immediate opponents so... Would he have waited until there was evidence the bombardment had done its work and suppressed the German machine guns and artillery? Perhaps. Used the rolling barrage to better effect? Probably. A different battle, I think. Though perhaps not much different ultimate outcome, just less murderous for the British.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Peter, thanks for jumping in... I'm out of my league here, but it is a question that has been coming back to me over the last few days.

I offer two words: Cambrai and tanks.

How about this: "One respected commentator, a former junior officer, said that "Cambrai was a highly speculative gamble which I find inexplicable, so out of character is it with the rest of Haig's career, not because it was inventive but because it was haphazard, not thought through" and that it was a "harum-scarum affair, ill-planned and feebly directed, yet in military history it stands as the most significant battle of the First World War". [Charles Carrington, Soldier from the wars returning (London: Hutchinson & Co, 1965), pp.205-6]"

So, if it was haphazard, yet significant... Would Montgomery's more deliberate approach made Cambrai even more significant?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am not a fan of Montgomery, so my opinions might be biased. As Peter notes, Monty's caution and preference for building overwhelming superiority before acting were hallmarks of his style. But once he had this advantage, he tended to spend it on unimaginative tactical plans which essentially involved direct assaults on the enemy defensive lines. His thinking seemed utterly conventional by World War I standards.

Still, I don't think most Allied commanders by mid- to late-war failed to appreciate the problems they faced. They just lacked the means to overcome them. It was more of a technical issue than a leadership one. I think the main problem with the rolling barrage was that the fires had to be preplanned in great detail, and the estimates very conservative, to avoid shelling you own troops. So as the advancing infantry struggled through the twisted terrain, they watched the artillery fire roll forward further away from them, and from the Germans coming out of their dugouts. The solutions here were more technical - especially tactical radios to allow the infantry to coordinate fire with the artillery during the battle as they advanced beyond their wired communications, rather than relying on preplanned fires - and were not sufficiently advanced by war's end. Tanks, too, were a technical solution to this problem, allowing fire support weapons to move forward with the infantry over terrain rendered impassable to horse-drawn artillery. Of course, tanks were also seen as a replacement for the horse for the cavalry, allowing them also to cross terrain the horse could not, and get into the enemy rear. This artillery/infantry vs. cavalry rivalry would affect tank development into World War II.

So whoever was in command, I think the problem still remained, that with sufficient force you could breach the enemy lines, but the Allies still lacked the means to exploit the breach.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dave, your comments regarding fires "preplanned in great detail" and the lack of adequate communication with the advancing infantry to adjust the plan as necessary are very interesting. I need to think about this and do some more reading, but the thought that in WWI that there were different arms...operating independently but in parallel, vice truly combined arms operations (which many of us late 20th Century "warriors" almost take for granted) is worthy of further discussion. While technology, particularly in communications, was not advanced, I still think it innovative thinking could have overcome the technical inadequacies. The fact that Monty fell into old habits of "unimaginative tactical plans" perhaps answers my original question .Monty certainly was a product of his previous experience. Perhaps this is why he and Patton seemed such opposites.

Innovations in warfare are not only technological, they are also how commanders utilize the assets at hand. You can have the greatest weapon at hand, but if the commander doesn't understand how to employ it... It's useless.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Having just read a few bits and bobs about Monty for the helmet, I'm not convinced he would have been any improvement over Haig. In fact I think it would have been a lot worse for Britain.

Monty never had to handle the politics, as he always had a screen between him and them. He wasn't the best at being diplomatic (that bet with Gen Smith over the B17 for one example) and he never commanded as great amount of men as Haig.

He was well respected by his men and had a few great lines. On his promotion in Africa he remarked that "After having an easy war, things have now got much more difficult." A colleague is supposed to have told him to cheer up – at which point Montgomery said "I'm not talking about me, I'm talking about Rommel!" and "I have cancelled the plan for withdrawal", he told his officers at the first meeting he held with them in the desert. "If we are attacked, then there will be no retreat. If we cannot stay here alive, then we will stay here dead.

Monty ensured he had overwhelming resources before he attacked at El Alamein and were the Afrikakorps only then running on fumes? He was in charge of the land forces on D Day but the D+3 Caen never happened. Market Garden, a whole Airborne Div lost?

Haig commanded a whole army of 60+ Divisions, I think Monty only ever commanded 11.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Haig commanded a whole army of 60+ Divisions, I think Monty only ever commanded 11.

I'm not sure of the complete OOB, since the situation was fluid, but I think Monty's largest command was during the Battle of the Bulge, when he commanded his own 21st Army Group as well as American forces on the north side of the German salient, much to Bradley's chagrin. There he had most of four field armies (1st Canadian, 2nd British, 9th US, 1st US) under his command. I don't know the total number of divisions, but there were also a lot of separate brigades in the Anglo-Canadian force structure.

From June 6th 1944, though, Monty was the/a principal ground commander reporting directly to the overall theater commander in Western Europe, so in that sense he was Haig's equivalent.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dave

Yes sorry you are correct, I was thinking that El Alamein was his biggest command. 21st Army Group was bigger (I went and looked) but still nowhere near the size of Haig's command of somewhere close to 4,000,000 men. I think Monty was disappointed not to get overall command (is this when he got his Field Marshal promotion from Churchill?) but the right choice was made in that Dwight bloke.

Haig reported directly to the politicians rather than to another commander. Haig also had to deal with a complete change in stance when the PM changed from Asquith to Lloyd George. I don't think Monty would have handled the political needs.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

  • Blog Comments

    • As a theology student my professor, a much published former Naval chaplain, set us an essay, saying that if we could answer that successfully we would be guaranteed  a good degree "Which of the gospel writers was the biggest liar, discuss."   I got a good mark, but  don't want to be burned for heresy.   P
    • As my father used to say: "Tain't so much Pappy's a liar - he just remembers big."  
    • Brian: First, let me say that I always enjoy reading your blog and your "spot on" comments.  Another fine topic with such a broad expansion into so many different facets.  I had watched this a week or two ago and when reading your blog, it reminded me of this great quote.   There is a great video on the origins of "Who was Murphy in Murphy's Law"   Anyway, about mid way through this video, there is this great quote and I think it sums it up quite well to your statem
    • I've received word from the Curator that she has permission to re-open this summer.   We're already making plans for a November event at the Museum.   Michael
    • I recall I did the same on hot days at Old Fort York back in 1973-74 - wool uniforms, and at 90F they would let you take your backpack off.   Michael
×
×
  • Create New...