Montgomery and Market Garden

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The three leading figures, left to right: Lieutenant-General Horrocks, Field marshal Montgomery, and Major-General ‘Tiny’ Barber, 15th Scottish Division.

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Operation Market Garden – Allied Plan

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As the north-west Europe campaign progressed, Monty’s TAC HQ moved first from Creullet to Blay, then he shifted his TAC in early August to the Forêt de Cerisy, where he entertained an incongruous visitor. This was the Independent Member of Parliament A. P. Herbert, known chiefly to Bernard for being a close friend of his late wife. Since Betty’s death in 1937, Monty had shut out any hint of the happy family life they had enjoyed for ten years (later in life, Monty would snap at the historian Basil Liddell Hart to ‘never mention her name again’). Here was proof that Bernard’s mourning was buried but not forgotten. In July 1944, Monty was not even at home to Churchill, yet in August – in the midst of a challenging campaign – he invited the eccentric backbencher over for a few days, and even sent his personal Dakota to collect him. Even more remarkably ‘APH’, who turned up on 9 August in a naval petty officer’s uniform, was allowed to smoke his pipe. Herbert was enchanted by Monty’s TAC HQ amidst the ferns and tall trees, regarding it as straight from the pages of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Perhaps his visit and the surroundings were Monty’s conscious antidotes to the stress or tension of the Normandy battle.1 On the 19th the TAC moved again to Condé-sur-Noireau, overlooking the village of Proussy, where the next day diarist Oliver Harvey visited Monty with Anthony Eden.

[Monty’s HQ] was on the side of the road on a sloping hill looking across a wide valley. Here were the general’s caravan and two or three tents … we went into dinner in another open tent. 8 of us, AE[den] and I on each side of M[onty], de G[uingand], Dawnay and ADC.2 The Gen. sat up like a little bird with his head on one side, sharp as a needle and with very bright eyes. He was in most genial mood and kept putting questions to AE, such as ‘what are the statesmen going to do when the soldiers have done?’ ‘Is there going to be an election?’ and ‘What are you going to do with Germany?’

Although Monty had little understanding of politics, he at least was looking ahead and framing the right questions, for, in truth, Eden’s colleagues had yet to agree policy on any of Monty’s three questions. Harvey, in the same entry, concluded: ‘I daresay he is pretty ruthless with his generals … I told AE … [that] M would have great influence after the war and I felt AE could probably guide him. M is a bit naïf in political matters.’

Whatever Monty’s predilections about receiving visitors in the field, he was increasingly obliged to entertain the great and the good. From 11–16 October, King George VI again stayed with Bernard, this time when the TAC HQ was camped in a central Eindhoven park, but both Monty and his monarch spent most of the time at MAIN, now suitably ensconced at the Residence Palace in Brussels. From TAC, the King visited troops and presented more medals. Two days later, Monty’s long-suffering Chief of Staff, Major General Freddie de Guingand, was knighted (he received a KBE) at Main HQ.

As the weather grew colder, Monty sent home for warm clothing, acknowledging that the war was likely to drag on through autumn and winter into 1945; after Eindhoven, he abandoned his caravans (for the first time since June) and lived indoors. Major Anthony Powell visited Monty’s TAC HQ in November with his gaggle of foreign liaison officers, whom Bernard inspected. They posed for photographs and were briefed by Monty. Powell transferred this event into his 1968 novel The Military Philosophers, where he presented this penetrating sketch, which echoed the actor Clifton-James’s opinion of Monty’s extraordinary self-control:

the Field Marshal’s outward personality offered … willpower, not so much natural, as developed to altogether exceptional lengths … It was an immense, wiry, calculated, insistent hardness, rather than a force like champagne bursting from the bottle … their synthesis seemed to offer dependability in utter self-reliance and resilience … The eyes were deepset and icy cold … oddly sustained by the voice. It was essentially an army voice, but precise, controlled, almost mincing, when not uttering some awful warning.

With the end of the Normandy campaign Monty was forced to disband 59th (Staffordshire) Division, and redistribute its infantry, as he had run so short of manpower. The supply of reinforcements from Britain had dried up, and henceforth the 21st Army Group would have to plunder the field army. By the year’s end, 50th Northumberland Division was also broken up, and artillery, sappers and pioneers were being re-roled as infantry. Britain raised forty-eight divisions during the Second World War, the Americans ninety and Canadians five, yet because of the Normandy casualties, each nation was running out of men, having to furnish personnel for the Mediterranean and Pacific theatres as well. Knowing he had a finite supply of troops, Monty squirrelled away eight armoured brigades (1,400 tanks), six Royal Artillery brigades (700 guns) and six Royal Engineer groups to provide a firepower reserve equivalent to six additional divisions. As he knew he was likely to run short of manpower, Monty used firepower to compensate for the lack of men: his ‘metal not flesh’ approach was also to offset personal fears associated with the First World War casualties he and his contemporaries had witnessed. The ‘Shadow of the Somme’ always hung over Monty and his generation: he, his five corps commanders, and all but one of his seventeen divisional commanders had seen service in the trenches – and strove to avoid the bloodletting of that war. It is ironic therefore that Normandy became a campaign as attritional as Passchendaele. In some ways, Monty’s attempts (in vain as it turned out) to avoid attrition in Normandy probably prolonged the battle and increased the casualties.

Once out of Normandy, it transpired there was no agreed Allied policy for how to advance into Germany, which evolved into a slanging match between Monty, favouring a narrow thrust (led by himself), and Eisenhower, advocating a broad (and multinational) front. Britain and America had approved, and never changed, Eisenhower’s basic broad-front war strategy, but Monty continuously badgered him to abandon this policy and attack with a single, overpowering rapier-like thrust into Germany. Finally, Ike agreed to let Monty try his single-thrust theory and approved his plan to drive sixty miles straight through Holland and enter Germany via an airborne carpet of paratroopers.

The outcome was Operation Market Garden of 17–25 September. Eisenhower halted the advance elsewhere whilst Monty attacked; the scheme was very ambitious and, for many reasons, failed. Of the operation, Montgomery stated:

In my – prejudiced – view, if the operation had been properly backed from its inception, and given the aircraft, ground forces, and administrative resources necessary for the job – it would have succeeded in spite of my mistakes, or the adverse weather, or the presence of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps in the Arnhem area. I remain Market Garden’s unrepentant advocate.

While Omar Bradley later praised Monty for the general idea of the thrust to Arnhem:

Had the pious teetotalling Montgomery wobbled into SHAEF with a hangover, I could not have been more astonished than I was by the daring venture he proposed. For in contrast to the conservative tactics Montgomery ordinarily chose, the Arnhem attack was to be made over a sixty-mile carpet of airborne troops. Although I never reconciled myself to the venture, I nevertheless freely concede that Monty’s plan for Arnhem was one of the most imaginative of the war.

Market Garden would always remain a thorn in Monty’s side: when he described the operation as ‘ninety percent successful’, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands observed: ‘My country can never again afford the luxury of another Montgomery success.’ After Arnhem, Montgomery antagonised the Free Polish Parachute Brigade, led by the (admittedly) prickly Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski, by making them a scapegoat for Market Garden’s failure. In a monstrously unjust slur on their fighting skills, he wrote to Brooke, reporting (incorrectly) that the Poles had fought ‘very badly and the men showed no keenness to fight’, declaring he did not want them under his command and suggesting they be sent to join General Anders’ Polish Corps in Italy. The fact that he wanted to palm them off on another theatre supports the contention that the Free Poles were fine fighters, and that Monty’s intemperance was founded – yet again – on a clash of personalities. This, at a time when he was critically short of manpower.

By contrast, when TAC was at Eindhoven, Monty was uncharacteristically sympathetic in welcoming the defeated Major General ‘Roy’ Urquhart, whose 1st Airborne Division had just been crushed at Arnhem, losing 8,000 casualties. Urquhart later recalled he was given one of Monty’s caravans to rest in – a privilege hitherto reserved only for the King or Churchill – and that Monty’s debrief was gentle; he later ensured that decorations were set aside for the deserving in German POW camps, and that ‘a moving congratulatory letter be passed to all survivors’. Whilst TAC was in an earlier location, near Leopoldburg, Monty’s signals staff discovered that freak atmospherics gave them direct reception of the division’s battle in Arnhem – and sometimes a better tactical picture of the unfolding disaster that was Market Garden than Urquhart himself possessed in the midst of the battle. Monty’s behaviour after Market Garden may have heralded a personal change of mood, as well as revised expectations of the north-west European campaign, for whilst there were all the characteristic flashes of arrogance and impatience (with the Poles), humility seems to have come to the fore in his dealings with Urquhart. From 14 July 1944, with the establishment of Bradley’s 12th US Army Group (US First and Third Armies), Monty had had to face up to the loss of his position as overall Ground Commander and reversion to command of (merely) 21st Army Group. Compensation was arranged on 1 September 1944 in the form of a field marshal’s baton. Ostensibly, this was in recognition of his generalship to date, but as Oliver Harvey, Eden’s Private Secretary, noted in his diary that same evening, the promotion was also:

some consolation for having the command of the whole force taken from him in the middle of the rout [after Falaise]. Eisenhower and the press have published explanations of this decision which could not be more laboured or unconvincing. The truth is that Americans in an election year must be commanded by an American general so that it can be an American victory.

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