Few Allied military leaders were as controversial as Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery. Though he played an integral role in several key Allied victories in North Africa and Europe, many of his fellow Allied officers disliked Montgomery because of his tendency to hog the spotlight and take credit for the contributions of others. Nonetheless, no one can question his combat and strategic skills.
Figure 8-5 British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery watches his tanks advance during battle in North Africa, November 1942.
Photo courtesy of the National Archives (208-PU-1338LL-3)
Montgomery was born in London on November 17, 1887, the son of a Protestant minister. He attended the Royal Military College and entered the British army in 1908. Montgomery showed great aptitude for leadership when he served as an infantry captain on the French front during World War I. He was wounded during an infantry attack at Ypres in October 1914 and spent the rest of the war as a staff officer. Military life suited Montgomery, who quickly decided to make a career of it. After the war, he rose as a commander and became well known as an instructor of military tactics and strategy.
In 1940, Montgomery led the British Third Division into the battle of France during Germany's conquest of France and the Low Countries, and he was one of the thousands evacuated at Dunkirk. He was later promoted to major general, and in 1942 he was appointed commander of the British Eighth Army in Africa. Two months later, he initiated an offensive at El Alamein, Egypt, that successfully drove the German-Italian forces led by Erwin Rommel all the way back to Libya. A year later, he again defeated Rommel at the Battle of the Mareth Line in southern Tunisia.
After his return to Europe, Montgomery was named commander in chief of the British armies on the western front. He served under Dwight Eisenhower, who was supreme commander of the Allied forces, from December 1943 to August 1944, when he was promoted to field marshal in command of British and Canadian troops. He ably participated in the invasion of Sicily and the Italian campaign, and helped contain the 1944 German counteroffensive in the Ardennes known as the Battle of the Bulge, though he irritated his fellow Allied commanders by taking much of the credit during a press briefing.
After the war, Montgomery was made viscount and named chief of the imperial general staff. He was deputy supreme commander of NATO forces from 1951 to 1958. Montgomery did some writing after his retirement, including his memoirs, which were published in 1958. He died at his estate in Alton, Hampshire, on March 25, 1976.