signed and dated "CUNEO 1944"
This portrait was painted while Cuneo was serving as an official war artist . During the Second World War, Cuneo was war artist for the Illustrated London News in France in 1940, served briefly with the Royal Engineers, portraying underground activities in occupied Europe (the subject of a one-man exhibition) in 1941, and then served as an official war artist, producing propaganda paintings for the Ministry of Information, the political intelligence department of the Foreign Office, and the War Artists' Advisory Committee. He also illustrated the book How to Draw Tanks.
Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery, [known as Monty], first Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (1887–1976), army officer, was born on 17 November 1887 in St Mark's vicarage, Kennington Oval, London, third son and fourth of the nine children of the Revd Henry Hutchinson Montgomery (1847–1932) and his wife, Maud Farrar (1865–1949).
The Montgomerys, staunch protestants, came from Moville, near Londonderry, where the Revd Henry Montgomery, in the same year as Bernard's birth, inherited New Park, the extensive property of his father, Sir Robert Montgomery, former deputy commissioner of the Punjab during the Indian mutiny, and later its lieutenant-governor. Bernard's mother, Maud, was a Farrar: third daughter of the celebrated English educator and cleric, Dean F. W. Farrar (author of Eric, or, Little by Little), and his wife, Lucy, from whom Maud inherited looks and fecundity. (The Farrars had ten children, Maud nine.)
Maud Farrar had become engaged to Henry Montgomery, her father's former curate, at fourteen and had married him at age sixteen in 1881. Sexually ignorant and often lonely (her husband looked after a parish of 14,000 souls), she bore five children in the following eight years. In 1889, as an infant turning two, Bernard Montgomery travelled with his parents and four siblings to Tasmania, of which territory his father had been promoted Anglican bishop. Save for one spell in England in 1897, Bernard spent the next twelve years in Tasmania, living at Bishopscourt, the bishop's residence in Hobart, overlooking the Derwent estuary. The house had a private chapel and a private schoolroom in the garden, where the children were taught by tutors shipped from England. They were not beaten by the tutors, however, but by their mother.
Maud had always been proud; in Hobart, in the absence of her husband, who was often away for six months of the year doing missionary work, she became a martinet of fearsome obstinacy and wilfulness. Being mother to nine of her own children as well as quasi-mother to the children of numerous relatives parked with the Montgomerys, she became crime-and-punishment obsessed. ‘The Rule was all. Sin had to be closely watched … Little by little the rules grew up until every corner of the day was organized and disciplined’ (Moorehead, 26). The effect on Bernard was profound. ‘Certainly I can say that my own childhood was unhappy’ he wrote in his memoirs (p. 17), after her death. His claim that he had begun to know ‘fear early in life, much too early’ (ibid.) was contested by his youngest brother, Brian (Field Marshal in the Family, 111), but it helps explain the tortured psyche of the ‘colonial’ Australian boy (the colony of Tasmania became a constituent state of Australia in 1901) who became the ‘black sheep’ of the family. Having ‘taken his beating’ from his mother in her bedroom, he would ‘come down again, still in control of himself but with a trembling lip’—a clash of wills that left him ‘lonely and unhappy’ (Moorehead, 28)—solaced only by his kind but domestically ineffectual father, who was allowed 10s. a week by Maud out of his episcopal earnings. Certainly Bernard's early relationship with his mother, and his repeated confrontations with her, would be replicated throughout a lifetime of scrapes and clashes with authority that characterized his controversial career.
In 1901 Bishop Montgomery was rewarded for his evangelical and missionary zeal by being made secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and the family moved back to London. His boys Donald and Bernard were sent to St Paul's School in Hammersmith—in 1944 to become Montgomery's headquarters during the preparations for the D-day landings in the Second World War.
Freed from Maud's tyrannous upbringing, the fourteen-year-old Bernard chose the school's army class in direct opposition to the wishes of his parents, who had hoped he might settle down and become a priest. Instead he threw himself into competitive sports and ignored his studies. His brother Donald went to Cambridge as a scholar, while Bernard, standing 5 feet 7 inches with piercing blue-grey eyes and a somewhat foxy nose, passed into the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, without distinction but without difficulty also, in autumn 1906 (72nd out of 170). As a cadet Montgomery showed outstanding powers of leadership and was quickly promoted with a view to his becoming colour-sergeant of his company, but he deliberately set fire to the backside of a fellow cadet in an armed fight with pokers. He was reduced to the ranks; only the timely intercession of his mother—terrified of another scandal in the family (her brothers had been arraigned for acts of homosexuality)—saved him from being expelled. He was made to stay a third term, and though attempting to reform, did not pass out high enough (thirty-sixth) to get into the coveted Indian army, where an officer could live on his pay. Instead Montgomery joined a county regiment (Royal Warwickshire) with a battalion in India, claiming foreign service supplement.
For four years (1908–13) Montgomery learned to know and despise the arcane traditions of regimental messes and the Indian army. ‘An expression heard frequently was that so-and-so was a “good mixer”’, he later recalled. ‘A good mixer of drinks, I came to believe. … Overall, by the time I left India in 1913, I was glad that fate had decided against my passing high enough out of Sandhurst to be elected for the Indian army’ (Montgomery, Memoirs, 29). Montgomery's scorn for all products of the Indian army was typical of the prejudices that came to rule his life as much as they did his mother's. In the event it was the First World War that changed Montgomery from a bumptious, querulous infantry subaltern, constantly at odds with authority, into a decorated company commander, outstanding staff officer—and trainer of men.
The 1st battalion Royal Warwickshire regiment (RWR) was thrown into the tail end of the retreat from Mons on 26 August 1914, at Le Cateau, where half the men were killed or captured, and the battalion commander cashiered for offering to surrender to the Germans. It was an inauspicious start to modern warfare. Montgomery himself evaded capture by hiding by day with a party of survivors, and retreating by night between the British and German lines. Thrown back into action at Meteren during Joffre's allied counter-offensive on the Marne on 13 October 1914, Montgomery was shot by a sniper through the right lung, and a grave was dug for him. He survived, however, was awarded the DSO for gallant leadership, and in February 1915 became a brigade major in Lancashire (112th, redesignated 104th ‘Bantams’), helping to prepare Kitchener's New Army of volunteers for war. His gifts of courage, energy, confidence, and analytical clarity then earned him steady promotion as an operations staff officer during the bloody battles of the Somme, Arras, and Ypres. ‘The Germans have lost enormously and they can't afford to’, he wrote in March 1916 to his mother—whose respect, if not her love, he hoped to win—before the tragic battle of the Somme (Hamilton,Monty, 1.103). He still did not question, at this stage in his professional career, the gruesome casualties that ensued, or the British high command. Even in the following spring he shared the confidence of the British commander-in-chief, General Sir Douglas Haig, that the battle of Arras would be successful. ‘The Hindenburg line is very strong, too strong to attack frontally. So we broke through at the North end of it and are rolling it up sideways’, he wrote as the number two operations staff officer (GSO2) at 33rd division (ibid., 1.120). In the event there was no breakthrough, Haig squandering a further 120,000 men as casualties, without positive result.
After promotion to GSO2 of 9th corps in July 1917, however, Montgomery came under a New Army commander, General Sir Herbert Plumer. Montgomery was placed in charge of the 9th corps battle-training programme. By his issuing a sixty-page training manual, arranging preliminary rehearsal of all troops behind the lines, and integrating artillery and engineer support, the infantry were able to achieve their tactical objectives (Polygon Wood, Menin Road, and Broodseinde) with a minimum of casualties. After Sir Douglas Haig's vast and futile casualties on the Somme and at Arras, Plumer's offensive operations were salutary in their tactical achievements—though Haig thereupon insisted, against the advice of his corps commanders, on a do-or-die battle for the Passchendaele Ridge, which resulted in further gruesome losses.
Watching the doomed Canadians undertake this battle Montgomery finally saw where the generals had gone wrong. As he wrote of his brother Donald's corps, on 8 November 1917, the Canadian soldiers were ‘magnificent’ at ‘straightforward fighting’, but ‘they forget that the whole art of war is to gain your objective with as little loss as possible’ (Hamilton,Monty, 1.129). This was the art that Montgomery would perfect, and which made him the outstanding British field commander of the twentieth century.
After serving throughout spring 1918 on the western front in the battles of the Lys and Chemin-des-Dames, confronting the Ludendorff offensive, Montgomery was again promoted, becoming on 16 July chief-of-staff of a division, the 47th (London), as a temporary lieutenant-colonel, aged thirty.
The allies having resumed the offensive on the western front, Montgomery was able to translate the crucial lessons of modern continental war into a series of outstanding training pamphlets and instruction manuals. Having been dismissed contemptuously by his English teachers at school, he began to realize that he possessed a remarkable ability to see through the fog of war: to pick out the essentials of twentieth-century combat, and to articulate those essentials in a way that amateur soldiers—volunteers and conscripts—could immediately understand. By a process of simplification, repetition, and sharpness of intellect he managed to dramatize complex aspects of modern battle—the co-operation of all arms, from engineers to artillerymen, cooks to machine-gunners—and render them transparent. He became, in effect, a brilliant teacher of combat, in the midst of combat. Critics were later incensed at his bravado, boastfulness, and egomania, but for a democratic country waging a second world war with inferior equipment and disastrous separation of arms, it was an education of immense significance.
With the withdrawal of the German armies and the armistice agreed on 11 November 1918, Montgomery was posted to the British army of the Rhine in Cologne on 24 March 1919, and from September to November of that year commanded the 17th battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. He was desperate, however, to go to the army's Staff College in Camberley, and distraught when not chosen for the one-year course of 1920. During a tennis game with Field Marshal Sir William Robertson, the commander-in-chief of the British army of occupation (a post Montgomery was to hold twenty-five years later), the 31-year-old temporary lieutenant-colonel made sufficient impression that he was added to the list. He could not contain himself once there, and became ‘a bloody menace’, as his brother Brian recorded (B. Montgomery, 17), leading a group of younger officers demanding radical changes in military thinking. It became a punishment to have to sit beside him at breakfast. As Montgomery himself later admitted, ‘I was critical and intolerant; I had yet to learn that uninformed criticism is valueless’ (B. L. Montgomery, 38).
The inter-war years informed Montgomery. On graduation from the Staff College in December 1920 he was posted to Cork, Ireland, as a brigade major of the 17th infantry brigade during the troubles—an experience of martial law and guerrilla warfare that caused Montgomery to rethink many of his attitudes. He was himself protestant and half-Irish; the family seat was still at Moville, just outside the six counties; his own first cousin Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Montgomery was assassinated by the IRA in Dublin—yet Montgomery came away from the Irish struggle for independence (in which he was the chief staff officer responsible for the operations of nine battalions) with the conviction that Sinn Féin was right. He had run the brigade with such exemplary efficiency that his divisional commander, Major-General Sir Peter Strickland, noted in his diary that ‘We had a perfect organization and had “them” beat’ when the Truce was declared on 11 July 1921. ‘A short time more’ Strickland claimed (Hamilton, Monty, 1.158–9), would have sufficed to complete the smashing of the IRA, but Montgomery did not agree. As he wrote shortly afterwards to one of his intelligence officers, A. E. Percival (who was to surrender Singapore to the Japanese in the Second World War), ‘My own view is that to win a war of that sort you must be ruthless; Oliver Cromwell, or the Germans, would have settled it in a very short time’—but as a twentieth century democracy, Britain could not behave in such a militaristic way. ‘I consider that Lloyd George was right. … The only way therefore was to give them some form of self-government and let them squash the rebellion themselves’ (ibid., 1.160).
Given his later reputation for ruthlessness and high-toryism (pro-apartheid, anti-European Common Market), this may seem inconsistent, but it provides a measure of Montgomery's quirky realism and willingness to adopt unpopular stances when convinced of a moral cause. In a class-divided, imperialist post-war Britain he remained a superlative staff officer and soldier (he even issued a book of his own orders as brigade major to help officers arriving in Ireland), yet also a Christian with a deep social conscience and interest in the welfare of ordinary people. His later popularity with his men as an army and army group commander contrasted markedly with the distant generals of the First World War—a popularity that was often ascribed to a gift for public relations (Ralph Ingersoll, Top Secret, 1946; Correlli Barnett, The Desert Generals, 1960; and J. Ellis, Brute Force, 1990); in truth it derived from something much deeper, namely a primary loyalty to his own men, a questioning moral conscience, and ruthless realism. After the carnage of the First World War, he reasoned, men could no longer be expected to fight for a cause that was not explained to them, and which could not be seen to be just. This was the challenge to modern high command—and another twenty years elapsed before Montgomery deployed the weapon of PR to meet it.
In the meantime he concentrated on gaining experience, and teaching ‘masterclasses’ for younger officers hoping to enter the Staff College. The Geddes ‘axe’ required a drastic reduction in British military spending; Montgomery was posted in 1923 as GSO2 to a territorial division (49th) in Yorkshire, where he first met Lieutenant Francis de Guingand—later to become his most famous chief of staff. Scorning the conventional importance attached to drill in Britain's part-time army, he concentrated on the winter training of individual leaders, using sand-tables to rehearse tactical approaches to combat, which could then be tried out in summer camps and manoeuvres. He saw Britain's army as a single body of men, though divided into regular and territorial categories. Fascinated by the challenge of teaching ‘spare time’ soldiers, he told Basil Liddell Hart in 1924: ‘Personally, I take my hat off to those in category 2 every time’ (Hamilton, Monty, 1.173)—for it would be the territorials, he knew, who would have to win a future war on the continent.
Montgomery's reputation spread, and after a brief spell back with his battalion as a company commander, Major (brevet Lieutenant-Colonel) B. L. Montgomery was made in January 1926 an instructor at the Staff College, Camberley, where he taught alongside Alan Brooke, later his corps commander and chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), and Bernard Paget, who would later precede him at the twenty-first army group.
Montgomery had calculated that by 1934 he ought to get one of the two battalion commands in his regiment, and had recognized that his chances would be immeasurably improved if he married. In the spring of 1925 he had already begun a campaign to win the affections of a beautiful girl whom he met in Dinard, on a golfing holiday with his battalion colonel. Loath to waste time, the innocent 37-year-old Major Montgomery proposed to the innocent 17-year-old music student, Betty Anderson, at the end of his first dance with her, giving rise to a reckless series of proposals which Betty turned down, to the disappointment of her parents who saw Montgomery as a man with a future. Betty recalled:
He never discussed books or anything at all. It just seemed his whole mind was geared on how he was going to win this [next] war and, I mean, I never thought there'dbe a war, I wasn't thinking of wars—I mean one didn't. (Hamilton, Man Behind the Legend, 42)
Undaunted, Montgomery pursued Betty the following winter to Lenk in Switzerland. Dressing as Napoleon for the fancy dress ball he again proposed to her. Rejected, the emperor finally accepted defeat, saying ‘I shall wash you out of my life. You're the first thing I've not conquered’ (ibid.).
Better luck met Montgomery's next romantic campaign. Resuming his didactic imperative he began to teach the children in the winter sports party to ski, and befriended the widowed mother of two of them, a second Betty, whose Olympic-athlete husband, Waldo Carver, had been killed at Gallipoli. This Betty, née Hobart, was his own age, not beautiful, but intelligent and artistic and loved by all who knew her. She had studied at the Slade under Henry Tonks, and had a wide circle of bohemian friends in Chelsea. Winter friendship deepened, and after another trip to Lenk the following Christmas, Montgomery proposed to her and was accepted. The confirmed bachelor, virginal and devoted heart-and-soul to soldiering, had finally found love.
Betty's brother Patrick Hobart was a colonel in the army, a pioneer of mechanization and modern armoured warfare. Betty was thus well-versed in matters military and was not put off by Montgomery's dedication to his art, while determined to introduce her shy husband to other arts, as well as artists such as her best friends Gwen and Alan Herbert. The change did nothing but good for Montgomery, who found Alan Herbert's novel, The Secret War, to be ‘the best story of front-line war I have read’ (Hamilton, Monty, 1.199).
Marital happiness allowed Montgomery to make peace with his mother, and with the more vindictive as well as reckless parts of his nature. His love for Betty was so whole-hearted that even sceptical observers, alarmed at the way he took charge even of the family's laundry, found themselves touched—as when, after Betty gave birth to a son and heir in August 1928, Montgomery would move a china rabbit to one or other side of the shelf above the bed to remind his wife with which breast to begin her next feed. They did everything together, and when Montgomery was given command of the 1st battalion RWR in January 1931—three years before he had reckoned—it seemed as if fate were compensating for his lonely and unhappy childhood in a remarkable way.
Betty travelled with her husband for the following six years, while the battalion was stationed in Palestine (1931), Egypt (Alexandria, 1931–3), and India (Poona, 1933–4), followed by another spell for Montgomery as a teacher, this time as chief instructor of the Staff College). Often resented by his superiors for his arrogance and dictatorial ways (such as setting up a battalion brothel, regularly inspected by his own battalion medical officer, for the ‘horizontal refreshment’ of his soldiers who were not permitted to take their wives abroad), Montgomery's genius for training and his marriage to Betty ensured him a charmed life until one day in 1937 when, promoted to command of 9th infantry brigade in England and taking part in (and taking over) the all-important summer manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain, he insisted on Betty's going on a holiday with their nine-year-old son David, while their Portsmouth garrison house was redecorated. On the beach at Burnham-on-Sea, Betty was bitten by an insect. The wound became infected and before she could be moved to the military hospital at Portsmouth her leg had to be amputated, and she died in his arms on 19 October 1937 of post-operative septicaemia.
Montgomery, heartbroken, shut himself away, refusing to allow any member of the family to attend her funeral, or share his grief. He had always taken his punishment as a child—and could not bear the idea of being seen to break down and weep uncontrollably, as he now did. ‘It was the only time during our long friendship that I ever saw him less than in control of himself’, recalled his brigade major, F. Simpson—the only witness, together with a staff captain, of the funeral (Hamilton, Monty, 1.276).
The following night, however, having insisted on driving back to Portsmouth alone, Montgomery pulled himself together, and ordered his brigade major to have ‘all the papers on my desk at 9 a.m. and we'll get down to work’ (Hamilton, Monty, 1.279). Montgomery devoted the remainder of his life to a demonstration of the art of high command in the field. He had spent years perfecting the art of training: of inspiring, instructing, and guiding younger officers towards the goal of professional warfare: warfare in which officers must become masters of modern weaponry, co-operation between all arms, the organization of large forces, and tactical manoeuvre. Night fighting became his speciality, as well as close air support. In the spring of 1938 he organized an amphibious combined operations landing exercise, supported by bomber aircraft and naval cruisers and destroyers, that would bear a remarkable likeness to the D-day landings six years later—an initiative witnessed by the new commander-in-chief, southern command, General Wavell. Although Wavell said nothing (typically), he was impressed—and when calls came for Montgomery to be sacked over the unauthorized leasing of government property to a fairground operator at Easter—the proceeds going into the garrison welfare fund—Wavell was able to fend them off and obtain promotion for his protégé, as commander of 8th division in Palestine for a year, from 1938 to 1939, to be followed by command of the famed 3rd (Iron) division at home.
Montgomery's command in northern Palestine, exercised in tandem with Major-General Richard O'Connor who commanded 9th division in the south, began in December 1938 and was ruthlessly effective. After visiting the whole of his divisional area he decided that the Arab revolt against the British mandate was different from his earlier experience in Ireland. This was not a ‘national movement’ and most Palestinian Arabs, he claimed, would be content to remain under British rule ‘so long as Jewish immigration is limited to a fixed total (say of 500,000)’ (Hamilton, Monty, 1.292). The Arab ‘gangs’ were therefore hunted down and largely destroyed, ensuring relative peace in Palestine as world war loomed. No one foresaw the immigration pressures that would result from the holocaust, however—and it would be Montgomery's distressing job, nine years later, as head of the British army, to order the evacuation of British troops from a Palestine exploding into civil war, as Arabs fought against a Jewish population that had grown beyond all hope of peaceful co-existence.
In the meantime, having quashed Arab unrest, Montgomery became restless to get back to England and start retraining the 3rd division, which had become, he felt, lethargic and unfit for modern combat under its ‘useless’ commander, General Denis (Podge) Bernard. It was at this moment, however, that Montgomery was struck down by an illness so crippling (fever, pleurisy, and physical collapse), that it was assumed by all that he would never serve again in the field. Whether it was tuberculosis, as suspected, was unclear, for he could not—or perhaps would not—bring up enough sputum to be tested. Instead he was airlifted to Egypt and sent home on the SS Ranchi in July 1939, accompanied by his sister Winsome who watched as he recovered, it seemed, by sheer willpower, insisting he be carried onto the deck by his male nurses and taking longer walks each day. By the time the ship docked at Tilbury, Montgomery was able to walk unassisted. At the medical board at the Military Hospital, Millbank, on 14 July he was pronounced completely free of infection—‘causal organism unknown’ (Hamilton, Monty, 1.311).
Determined to take over his new division, Montgomery attempted a quasi-coup—as he would in the desert prior to Alamein—by travelling to Portsmouth in August 1939, setting up headquarters in a hotel, and running the 3rd division in the absence of its commander, General Bernard, who was fishing in Ireland, regardless of the rising tension in Danzig and Poland. As all appointments were then frozen by part-mobilization, Montgomery was ordered to join a pool of unemployed major-generals. General Bernard, it was understood, would take 3rd division to France as part of the British expeditionary force (BEF) as soon as war was declared.
Montgomery's protests bore fruit, and after a certain amount of string-pulling at the request of the 2nd corps commander, General Alan Brooke, General Bernard was sent abroad to Bermuda as governor, and Montgomery took official command of 3rd division. Though farcical, it was a historic turnabout, for 3rd division's extraordinary performance in the retreat to Dunkirk, nine months later, helped save the BEF: a masterly performance planned, rehearsed, and conducted by Montgomery, that would eventually go down in the military annals of the Second World War—for instead of training the 3rd division to conduct offensive operations, Montgomery predicted an allied catastrophe, as in 1914, and was determined, this time, that his division would not be found wanting. Once war was declared and the BEF had taken up its positions along the Franco-Belgian border, on the left flank of the French army, Montgomery concocted a unique series of exercises in retreat—instead of offence—which were carried out through the winter of 1939–40. These full-scale rehearsals, involving fighting by day and withdrawing by night, were conducted backwards into France during the ‘phoney war’, using rivers and waterways as defensive lines, exercising the intimate co-operation of artillery and motorized infantry, and employing leap-frogging techniques, all in the face of vociferous local French protests.
The British commander-in-chief, Lord Gort, who had never commanded a unit higher than a brigade in the field, chose to remain almost throughout this period at his BEF headquarters, as distant from his troops as French or Haig, his predecessors in the First World War. How the BEF would fight if the Germans invaded Belgium remained a mystery to him as to his subordinates, and he contented himself with boots-and-polish inspections, interesting himself in Montgomery's command of 3rd division only when a scandal brewed over the issuing of a highly explicit divisional warning about venereal disease.
Montgomery's training techniques were thus wholly ignored by the BEF commander, yet inspired the men of 3rd division—who, once the Germans invaded Belgium and the Netherlands on 10 May 1940, performed their advance to the Dyle and subsequent withdrawal to Dunkirk with a professionalism that astounded even Brooke, the corps commander.
By contrast Gort's failure as a higher commander was tragically exposed—his BEF headquarters totally unrehearsed in movement or communications exercises. As a result Gort was relieved of his command, while Brooke was made commander-in-chief southern command, then commander-in-chief, home forces. Montgomery had managed to bring his entire division home with only nominal casualties and succeeded Brooke as 2nd corps commander for a few days on the beach at Dunkirk. When he marched into the War Office in Whitehall on his return, saying that the BEF had never been properly commanded, indeed had not been commanded at all, his criticisms aroused the deepest enmity in the corridors of military power. Despite his superlative performance in Belgium and France he was only created CB and relegated to divisional command. Although he was soon promoted to command 5th corps, he fell out with General Auchinleck, the outgoing commander and now commander-in-chief southern command, concerning Auchinleck's static beach-defence strategy. A lasting feud began between the two generals, culminating in Montgomery's promotion, two years later, to command of Eighth Army in Egypt, following the defeats of the two army commanders appointed by Auchinleck, as commander-in-chief Middle East, in the struggle against Rommel.
Auchinleck, having had to take command of Eighth Army himself after the British rout at Gazala, was fully cognizant of the need for a new field commander, if the allies were to hold on to Egypt and the Suez Canal. Having managed to stabilize the position at Alamein, only 60 miles west of Alexandria, Auchinleck planned to appoint his chief staff officer in Cairo, General Corbett, as his third appointee to command Eighth Army. However, Churchill, after flying out to Egypt early in August 1942 and making a personal tour of the Alamein front with the new CIGS, General Brooke, was impressed neither by Auchinleck's field headquarters, nor by Auchinleck's selection of field commander. Brooke recommended Montgomery, but Churchill—who discouraged egos as large as his own—disliked Montgomery. By contrast he had heard good things from Anthony Eden, the minister of war, about General William Henry Ewart Gott, a young corps commander already serving in Eighth Army, but a soldier exhausted by the 1400-mile retreat before Rommel's axis army. Tired by Churchill's working hours and methods, Brooke gave way, and after a personal interview Gott was appointed by Churchill to command Eighth Army, while General Auchinleck was sacked and replaced as commander-in-chief Middle East, by General Harold Alexander. (Auchinleck was offered the Persia–Iraq command, which he refused.)
In one of the strange fortunes of war Gott was killed flying back to Cairo for a bath on 7 August 1942 and Brooke, relieved, was finally able to persuade a reluctant Churchill to summon Montgomery later that night.
Montgomery's peremptory assumption of command of Eighth Army was deeply resented by Auchinleck and his departing entourage, but became, for the men of Eighth Army, one of the miracles of the desert war. Seizing command two days earlier than authorized by Auchinleck (13 August 1942), ordering up immediate reinforcements from Cairo against Auchinleck's wishes, instructing the vital heights of Alam Halfa to be defended in strength, joining army and air headquarters together in a single operating unit, and instructing all contingency plans for retreat to be destroyed, Montgomery's edict that Eighth Army would stand and die where it stood told everything. ‘No Withdrawal and No Surrender’ became the army's buzzword, as the new, white-kneed, evangelical commander toured the units of his army, acquiring multiple cap badges for his Australian bush hat as he did, and spreading a new gospel of victory.
By the time Churchill had returned to the desert on 19 August 1942, the ‘complete change in atmosphere’ was so marked that Churchill could hardly credit the transformation. Brooke was equally surprised. ‘I knew my Monty pretty well by then’, he wrote later, ‘but I must confess I was dumbfounded by the situation facing him, the rapidity with which he had grasped the essentials, the clarity of his plans, and above all, his unbounded self-confidence—a self-confidence with which he inspired all those that he came into contact with’ (Bryant, The Turn of the Tide, 478).
Montgomery's lack of subsequent magnanimity towards General Auchinleck later served to obscure his historic transformation of a beaten body of men into the legendary Eighth Army that fought its way from Alamein to Tunisia between August 1942 and May 1943. Had Betty lived, Montgomery's egoism might perhaps have been less bombastic, his comments on others less scandalously quotable. Yet at the time his messianic vitality and vanity were, as his later chief of intelligence, E. T. Williams, put it, ‘Eighth Army's dynamo’ (Hamilton,Monty, 2.173). Above all, Montgomery understood soldiers' hearts and minds, thousands of miles from home, in a ‘citizen army’. Such men looked to their commander for leadership—leadership that was not a matter of suavity, but of man-management and clear command. The men of Eighth Army wanted to know what they were required to do in order to defeat Rommel, as the enemy was known; Montgomery gave them an immediate answer.
For two years, in relative obscurity outside the confines of his general's posts in England (5th corps, 12th corps, south-east army) Montgomery had laid down the principles of successful combat by a democratic nation in modern war against a professional enemy—and had relentlessly rehearsed his units and formations in a series of exercises from sand-tables to manoeuvres. These exercises had culminated in Exercise Tiger in May 1942, involving 100,000 troops in the Kent–Sussex area, co-ordinating infantry, armour, artillery, and air forces. In flying out to the desert Montgomery felt he had rehearsed to his satisfaction the problems of tactical co-operation between all arms, and of mobile command and communications in modern battle conditions on a significant scale. His faith in himself thus rested upon a professionalism in the organization and command of large bodies of men unequalled by any British commander in home forces. All he needed was army command in the field of battle, against a skilled adversary, to prove himself.
Churchill's satisfaction with the new spirit pervading Eighth Army proved well placed. ULTRA decryptions of German high-grade signals had confirmed Montgomery's instantaneous orders to defend in depth the Alam Halfa Ridge, which Rommel hoped to encircle. In the battle of Alam Halfa, which began on 31 August 1942, Rommel's attempt to smash through the British front line with 234 tanks and encircle the Eighth Army was dealt a fatal blow by secret minefields, concealed hull-down Grant tanks (known as ‘Egypt's last hope’) at Alam Halfa, and close air support by RAF bombers and fighter bombers. The German Afrika Korps commander was wounded, the commander of 21 Panzer division killed, and it was all Rommel could do to extract his Panzerarmee Afrika from potential annihilation. The threat to Egypt—and by extension, a German pincer movement to seize the Persian oilfields from north and south—had been lifted. Eighth Army rejoiced in its well-earned defensive victory.
It was now Eighth Army's turn to mount an offensive: the battle of Alamein, which in many people's view marked the turning of the tide. Here Montgomery's skills in organization and training were to be tried in one of the decisive battles of the Second World War. Not only did the Martuba airfields need to be recaptured in order to provide air protection for the crucial convoy resupplying Malta in November, but the planned allied invasion of French north-west Africa, operation Torch, was predicated upon British victory in the Egyptian desert—making it possible to evict axis forces in north Africa between the two.
The British had never won a major offensive battle against the Germans in the Second World War; nor had the Russians. Blunting Rommel's attempt to seize Cairo and the Suez Canal, then breaking through the German–Italian defences at Alamein, therefore, had a psychological and morale-raising significance that exceeded even its strategic importance. Working on the lines of Exercise Tiger, Montgomery insisted the Eighth Army undergo a massive retraining programme, both to assimilate the new Sherman tanks pouring into Suez from America, and to retrain the men in night fighting. Ignoring Churchill's impatience—based upon ULTRA evidence of massive German minefields that would become more difficult to penetrate with each day's delay—Montgomery laid down his plan of battle, revised it when rumours of timidity among the British tank commanders reached his ears—and visited every single unit that would be participating in the offensive. By 23 October, when the largest British artillery barrage of the Second World War commenced, Montgomery was confident he would win—but by a ruthless battle of tactical surprise and then gradual mutual attrition, rather than by manoeuvre. He forecast the number not only of days of battle—twelve—but even of British casualties: 13,500, almost to the man. His long experience in the First World War was paying off.
Montgomery's conduct of the battle—his imperturbability at his forward command headquarters (Tac headquarters) and his daily display of confidence—inspired his subordinates, but not Whitehall. By early November, when news that Montgomery was withdrawing tanks from the battle leaked back to London, Eden began to scare the prime minister, and fears grew that the battle would end in stalemate—an alarming prospect in relation to the Torch invasion of Morocco and Algeria, set for 8 November and relying on Vichy French compliance as the Anglo-American forces landed.
Montgomery's faith in his men was rewarded, however. The tanks had been pulled out in order to deliver a powerful coup de grâce, once the Australian, New Zealand, and highland infantry had crumbled the German forces opposing them in the break-in sector in the north. By 2 November, Rommel was signalling to Berlin that he wished to retreat. Hitler, recognizing the immense significance which defeat would have on other German forces in Africa, Europe, and Russia, intervened and ordered a ‘victory or death’ stand. It did no good—and was largely ignored as German motorized units fled, leaving more than 30,000 axis infantry (mostly Italian, but including the commander of the Afrika Korps, General von Thoma) to surrender as Eighth Army's forces broke beyond the battlefield and threatened to cut off Rommel's retreat. ‘I wish I were just a newspaper vendor in Berlin’ Rommel told his aide-de-camp (Irving, 221).
Montgomery, by contrast, became Sir Bernard Montgomery (KCB), as well as a full general. Churchill ordered the ringing of church bells across England as news of his victory spread throughout the world. Montgomery's caution, during the subsequent advance across open desert, disappointed many younger staff and armoured officers in north Africa and England, and the codebreakers at Bletchley Park became incensed at the apparent caution of the Eighth Army at a time when Rommel was down to eleven tanks. The Germans were, however, withdrawing onto their own lines of communication and stores—while the British line of communication became daily longer until it stretched over 1000 miles. ‘I thought he was very cautious considering his immensely superior strength’, von Thoma remarked in retrospect, adding, though, that the ‘decisive factor is the organization of one's resources—to maintain the momentum’ (Liddell Hart, 173). This momentum Montgomery maintained throughout the north African campaign, refusing to take unwarranted risks and conducting a methodical advance that, if it did not impress the pundits, gave the western world the sense that the tide of war had really turned: that Britain had at last learned how to deploy its resources, and would win not occasional battles, but, inexorably, the necessary campaigns that would end in Hitler's defeat. Thus Montgomery kept the initiative, applying superior strength as and when it suited him, bouncing Rommel out of each successive axis position.
The difficult situation facing the allies under Eisenhower in north-west Africa meanwhile presented a vivid contrast. When, fresh from his triumphant check to the American forces at Kasserine, where the ‘green’ Americans suffered 10,000 casualties, Rommel attacked an overstretched Eighth Army at Medenine on 6 March 1943 Montgomery was completely unfazed. Forewarned by air reconnaissance and ULTRA of the general German intention, Montgomery raced up more tanks and artillery to face the largest concentration of German armour ever assembled in north Africa (three Panzer divisions) and fought one of the best one-day defensive battles of the Second World War—having disposed his forces in such a way that he could face attack from any direction. ‘The Marshal has made a balls of it’, he calmly observed of Rommel during the morning of 6 March. ‘I shall write letters’ (N. Hamilton,Master of the Battlefield: Monty's War Years, 1942–1944, 1984, 169).
At Mareth (20–27 March 1943), however, Montgomery encountered fiercer frontal opposition than he had anticipated, and was forced to switch his major effort into an outflanking inland pincer under Lieutenant-General Horrocks, backed by low-flying RAF fighter-bomber support, pioneered by the young Air-Vice-Marshal Harry Broadhurst: a spectacular demonstration of British blitzkrieg, and a harbinger of what allied ground forces could achieve when working in real tandem with co-operative airmen.
This campaign, demonstrating the battle-winning ingredients of morale, intimate co-operation of all arms including the air weapon, first-class logistical back-up and clear-cut orders, would be Montgomery's legacy to modern field command, ending in a brilliant infantry attack at the Wadi Akarit, and—once the advance came to a halt before the difficult Enfidaville position—a switch of Eighth Army armoured divisions to Eisenhower's field deputy, General Alexander, for his First Army assault on Tunis, which fell on 12 May 1943.
Montgomery's achievement, then, was to refashion a dispirited and defeated Eighth Army, and make it the most victorious allied army of the war in north Africa, legendary in its morale to the point that there was virtually no sickness or absenteeism; everyone wanted to fight. This was no mean accomplishment, after years of British failure, extending from Norway, Dunkirk, Crete, Burma, and Singapore to Tripoli and Tobruk. Nevertheless Montgomery's strengths would also prove to be his weaknesses, once Eighth Army had to co-operate with American forces in the invasions of Sicily and the Italian mainland. Ironically Montgomery sided with the American view about the soft Italian ‘underbelly’—that it would be better to make the axis powers defend a vast Mediterranean coastline from possible allied attack than commit the allies to arduous campaigns in easily defended mountainous countries. Better, he reasoned, to invade France in a cross-channel operation—the so-called Second Front—that would compress and ultimately crush German forces between Soviet and Western offensives. Neither Alan Brooke, the CIGS, nor Churchill agreed, however, and Montgomery was required to conduct a series of amphibious assaults and land campaigns in the Mediterranean that did little to win the war, and often threatened—as at Salerno and later Anzio—to lose it.
Montgomery's exasperation at the strategic bungles of 1943 was compounded by his frustration with the lack of clear planning and professionalism at Eisenhower's and Alexander's headquarters. Montgomery felt he had proved a master of the art of modern war by absolute concentration upon essentials, and focusing of all arms on specific tactical tasks. He was thus an enemy of the opportunism and muddle that had for so long characterized allied operations and failures—and the mixture of Churchill's wild projects and dispersion of allied effort in the Mediterranean proved an ominous rehearsal for the great strategic and tactical controversies that would arise in France in the late summer of 1944.
Although Montgomery managed to recast plans for the invasion of Sicily, which was conquered in five weeks (10 July–17 August), inter-allied tensions grew as Americans—Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, and Clark—took umbrage at Montgomery's know-all attitudes and boastfulness. Eager to make their own marks on military history, they resented him, while accepting his remarkable skills as a general. The Italian mainland campaign, from 3 September 1943, was thus a shambles, under Eisenhower's overall direction and General Alexander's fifteenth army group command in the field. There was little or no co-ordination of British and American efforts, and when Montgomery, having laboriously slogged from Reggio in the southern tip of Italy to the River Sangro, above the latitude of Rome, was recalled to England on 23 December 1943 to lead the D-day landings, he was delighted to leave what he considered, not without justice, ‘a dog's breakfast’.
There followed Montgomery's greatest contribution to the Second World War, and arguably the greatest military achievement of the twentieth century. Not for nine centuries had any attempt at an opposed landing across the English Channel proved successful, despite attempts by a fleet of Spanish warships in the sixteenth century, and recurrent French and German threats during the Napoleonic wars and in the first and second world wars. On taking over the D-day landings as land forces commander-in-chief, Montgomery became, for the first time, an army group commander (twenty-first army group), responsible for 2 million British, American, Canadian, Polish, Free French, and other allied troops who would land on the French coast, bring the German armies in the West to battle, and, it was hoped, defeat them.
This Montgomery achieved, over the ensuing eight weeks. Ruthlessly reviewing and recasting the Normandy invasion plan within the first days of his arrival in Britain, Montgomery insisted on a vastly increased assault landing astride the Carentan estuary, supported by parachute divisions, and he laid down a proposed ninety-day battle, once the troops were ashore, with the British and Canadian armies forming a left shoulder, pivoting on Caen, while the two American armies (First and Third) wheeled through the bocage on the British right, seizing the ports of Cherbourg and St Malo, and forming a southern flank along the Loire. As in all his previous commands he insisted upon strenuous training and rehearsal by all forces participating in the assault—not only the troops, but also the commanders. Thus, at two great presentations of plans at his St Paul's School headquarters on 7 April and 15 May 1944, Montgomery set out his strategy and the anticipated response of the enemy—commanded by his old desert adversary, Field Marshal Rommel.
In this way Montgomery's clarity, energy, confidence, professionalism, and lifetime's experience in the training of others transformed an operation of war in which the planners, working since 1942, had little confidence, into an invasion project that could not, in the hearts and minds of those participating in the landings, fail. Keeping the peace between warring airmen, naval commanders, and the anxious British and American chiefs of staff, Eisenhower spread a mantle of bonhomie as supreme commander that was invaluable in such a multi-national undertaking, but he left the entire planning and direction of the land forces to Montgomery. Both Eisenhower and his chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Bedell Smith, privately acknowledged to the American military correspondent, Drew Middleton, after the war, that D-day would have failed without Montgomery's personal command. ‘No one else could have got us across the Channel and into Normandy … Whatever they say about him, he got us there’ (Hamilton, Monty, 3.946–7).
Despite stormy weather and fierce opposition on the American Omaha beach, the D-day landings on 6 June 1944 proved more successful than could have been hoped, with more than 156,000 soldiers ashore by nightfall. Montgomery embarked for the beaches at 9.30 p.m., but his destroyer got lost in the night and went aground the next day: prelude to two-and-a-half months of bitter fighting in Normandy, and continual sniping from England, as air commanders, having been promised French airfields from which to operate, were compelled to fly their forces from Britain. Fear of stalemate—exactly as during the long battle at Alamein—tested everyone's patience; at one point in July 1944 it was thought Churchill was flying to Montgomery's Tac headquarters to sack him, at the request of Eisenhower—who, like the air commanders, remained quartered in England throughout the battle, watching from the sidelines.
To his credit Montgomery never showed the least signs of wavering or dissatisfaction with the slow unfolding of his ninety-day strategy. By the last week in July he was certain of victory, and once Hitler ordered a counter-offensive at Mortain—which was easily defeated by US First Army—the parallel with Alamein became obvious. The break-out of Patton's US Third Army to the Loire, as envisaged in Montgomery's planning before D-day, became the coup de grâce. By the end of August the Germans had lost, by British calculations, over 450,000 casualties, by American in excess of 500,000. The survivors were fleeing back towards Germany, and the only question left was: by which route should the allies end the war?
Montgomery's command in Normandy had ensured German defeat; equally, it had exposed almost insurmountable personality problems in the allied command hierarchy. Montgomery had always treated Eisenhower as a likeable but innocent schoolboy; Bradley, Hodges, and Patton had served with remarkable success under his British command, and he felt proud of them. Now that the United States was providing the bulk of reinforcements and matériel, however, Anglo-American rivalry threatened to vitiate the rewards of the great allied victory in Normandy—and did. For this Montgomery drew much of the blame. Though he happily flew to see his British, American, Canadian, and other subordinates in his little Miles Messenger to discuss the operational situation and to give orders, he refused to go back to Eisenhower's rear headquarters, arguing that it was the duty of a supreme commander to visit his front-line commanders. The truth was, he hated to discuss issues in any sort of committee or group of which he was not the boss, or where the boss was vague or incompetent. Unfortunately he saw Eisenhower as the latter (‘His ignorance as to how to run a war is absolute and complete; he has all the popular cries, but nothing else’ he commented at the height of the battle of Normandy; Hamilton, Monty, 2.791). Montgomery behaved, in other words, like the ruthless tactical field commander he was, ignoring and ignorant of the wider world. As Brooke noted of Montgomery, ‘He is probably the finest tactical general we have had since Wellington. But’, Brooke added with a shake of his head, ‘on some of his strategy, and especially on his relations with the Americans, he is almost a disaster’ (Hamilton, Monty, 2.799).
It was precisely such disaster that now overshadowed the allies at the very moment of their triumph in late August and early September 1944, as allied troops liberated Paris and reached the docksides of Antwerp. Montgomery was made a field marshal in the field; it seemed as if the war in the West would, in the wake of his great victory in Normandy, be won by Christmas. Instead Eisenhower took over from Montgomery as land force commander, split the allied advance into separated thrusts, and the allied advance towards Germany petered out in a series of reverses from Metz to Arnhem that left little hope of the western allies beating Soviet troops to Berlin.
Arnhem, the so-called ‘bridge too far’, was Montgomery's only defeat in the Second World War—a nightmare attempt between 17 and 25 September 1944 to outflank the Ruhr by aerialcoup de main, before the German front could stabilize. Planned in haste and poorly supported, despite heart-breaking courage on the part of the airborne troops, it symbolized the end of allied initiative. Montgomery was ordered to take the approaches to Antwerp and forget the Rhine, and the war in the West settled down into a broad-front strategy which the western allies could not ultimately lose, given their greater industrial potential and the resolve of the Soviets in the East. Yet on 16 December 1944 they very nearly did, as Hitler launched a secret force of twenty-eight divisions straight through the Americans' weakest sector in the Ardennes, threatening to seize Antwerp and cut off the British and Canadian armies as they had once cut off the British at Dunkirk.
Pride would dictate that no American could ever accord Montgomery the laurels due to him in cauterizing the German onslaught, yet the battle of the Ardennes (or Bulge) was in many respects the greatest example of his army group generalship in defence in the war and a brilliant counterpoint to his offensive battle in Normandy. Eisenhower, the nominal land forces commander, panicked and was virtually imprisoned at his headquarters at Versailles in fear of German assassination parties working behind the allied lines; Bradley, the American Twelfth Army group commander, was similarly incarcerated at his headquarters in Luxembourg. It was thus left to Montgomery, on 20 December 1944, to take official command of all four allied armies from Givet to the channel, leaving Bradley with only Patton's US Third Army to direct. By dint of personal visits to all divisional, corps, and army field commanders, and by using his unique stable of ‘gallopers’ or liaison officers operating in jeeps and Auster aircraft every day as personal emissaries to all fighting headquarters under his command, Montgomery ended the American rout, created a strategic reserve, and brought the German offensive involving two Panzer armies to a halt before it reached the Meuse.
For this one great defensive battle alone, Montgomery would and perhaps should have gone down in history, but it was not to be. Once he had restored allied order out of chaos, American amour propre demanded retaliation in the form of an immediate counter-offensive victory. Loath to sacrifice more men than necessary in the strategically irrelevant forests of the Ardennes, Montgomery refused to do more than force the Germans back by air, tank, and artillery bombardment, saving his infantry for the more crucial battles necessary in order to reach and cross the Rhine. For this, for an interview on Christmas day 1944 in which he made Bradley eat humble pie, for insisting that Eisenhower hand back to him the role of land forces commander, as well as for an unwise press conference on 6 January 1945 in which he congratulated himself on saving the Americans in the battle of the Bulge, Montgomery became the bête noire of patriotic Americans at Eisenhower's, Bradley's, and Patton's headquarters, and elsewhere. Far from according Montgomery overall allied field command, a chastened Eisenhower rewarded him by threatening the allied chiefs of staff with resignation, and restoring one of Montgomery's two American armies (US First) to Bradley's command immediately after the battle. Moreover when, having crossed the Rhine on 24 March 1945, Montgomery seemed poised to race to Berlin with the armoured troops of General Simpson's US Ninth Army, Eisenhower transferred that army too to Bradley's command—and halted it on the Elbe, allowing the Russians to capture the whole of Berlin.
Montgomery, reduced to commanding the British and Canadian armies, made do with the task of sealing off the Danish peninsula at Wismar, east of Lübeck, on 2 May 1945, before the Soviets got there. Two days later, however, he received the unconditional surrender, on Lüneburg Heath, of all German armed forces in Holland, north-west Germany, and Denmark. This was not Berlin, but beneath the canvas of the special tent that had been erected, reminiscent of Eighth Army headquarters in the desert, it had an appropriately campaign-style quality wholly different from the general German surrender to Eisenhower at Rheims three days afterwards. Montgomery had summoned the BBC, which recorded the historic moment. ‘His lips were firm, and as he finished signing’, one war reporter described, ‘he sighed faintly, sat back and removed his tortoiseshell rims, relaxed. “That concludes the surrender” he said. The tent flaps were let down and we walked away over the brown heather’ (Hamilton, Monty, 3.513). The war, for Montgomery and the British, was over.
Fighting from Egypt to the Baltic, Montgomery had made mistakes, exhibited great dislike of opportunism and dispersal of effort, and had upset his allied colleagues and superiors on many occasions. Above all, he had attempted to call the military tune at a time when the British contribution to the allied armies amounted to only 13 divisions compared with 72 American; as Bradley's staff complained in the aftermath of their catastrophe in the Ardennes, he had become in American eyes simply too big for his boots. ‘You may be great to serve under, difficult to serve alongside, but you sure are hell to serve over!’, Lieutenant-General Bedell Smith, Eisenhower's chief of staff, once remarked to Montgomery in exasperation (Hamilton, Monty, 2.xxv). Yet he had made an incalculable contribution to winning the war. By dedication and supreme professionalism he had developed what he saw as the art of war to its highest point: minimizing the loss of human life in achieving allied objectives. He was justly revered by his men—ordinary soldiers as much as officers—because he cared about them in deed as well as word. No sooner had he won the battle of Medenine than he was writing to Brooke to urge the repatriation of long-serving soldiers. ‘When a man hasn't seen his wife and family for 6 years, he has some grounds for a grievance’ (Hamilton, Monty, 2.178). Even before Alamein, in home forces, he had declared the most important people in the army to be ‘the Nursing Sisters and the Padres—the Sisters because they tell the men they matter to us—and the Padres because they tell the men they matter to God. And it is the men who matter’ (Smyth, 232). Identifiable everywhere by his black beret with two badges and universally known as Monty, his raising of public morale, especially in whistle-stop speeches given at crucial munitions factories in Britain before D-day, made him as popular as the tiring prime minister—indeed by autumn 1944, according to Alan Brooke, a visibly ailing Churchill became almost paranoid about Montgomery ‘filling the Mall’ with worshipping crowds if he went to Buckingham Palace to receive his field marshal's baton (Bryant,Triumph in the West, 301).
In the context of post-war Europe and Britain's retreat from empire, however, Montgomery's battle-winning qualities were of little use, while his lack of diplomacy became a grave failing. As CIGS from 1946 to 1948, raised to the peerage as a viscount in the new year's honours of 1946, Lord Montgomery proved a dictatorial but ineffective successor to Brooke—not least because he could not bring himself to sit in the same room as his fellow chief of staff, Air Marshal Lord Tedder, the head of the RAF, who had intrigued against him throughout the Normandy campaign and as Eisenhower's deputy thereafter. In 1948 Montgomery even attempted to stop Attlee, the prime minister, from appointing General Sir William Slim as his successor as CIGS, lest Slim outshine him—which Slim promptly did.
Dispatched to France as supreme commander or chairman of the western union's commanders-in-chief committee, successor organization to the wartime Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), and charged with presenting a credible European defence organization in the event of war with the Soviet Union, Montgomery found himself entirely unable to handle his French subordinate, Marshal de Lattre de Tassigny, and equally unable to pledge Britain to a continental defence commitment. Although he became an awe-inspiring inspector-general of European military forces, and mounted memorable exercises and manoeuvres, he found politicking in a post-war world simply beyond his capabilities, indeed began to yearn for Eisenhower's help in creating an American-led NATO force in Europe. Eisenhower obliged in 1951, and Montgomery—despite all their wartime disagreements—became his grateful number two, as deputy supreme commander, allied powers in Europe. This he remained until his retirement in 1958, after fifty years' service in the British army.
There followed publication of Montgomery's controversial and best-selling Memoirs, in which he attempted, like Churchill, to win the war all over again. Although riveting in its self-portrayal and its clarity of presentation, it was thought self-serving and lacking in magnanimity, quite apart from the lèse-majesté in a post-war period, of criticizing a serving president of the United States (by poor leadership in the field of battle, Monty claimed, Eisenhower had unnecessarily prolonged the Second World War by a year). In America, Montgomery was never really forgiven, and his reputation plummeted, as it did in England among historians tired of hearing his boastful banalities in the House of Lords on homosexuality, or of reading his articles applauding apartheid in South Africa and the glories of Chinese socialism under Mao Zedong. He died at his home, Isington Mill, Alton, Hampshire, on 24 March 1976. So low had his stock fallen that Sir Michael Howard, the regius professor of history at Oxford, writing in The Times, could see it as ‘doubtful whether he will be regarded by posterity as one of the great captains of history, or even as one of the truly outstanding figures of the Second World War’ (The Times, 25 March 1976).
‘The rats will get at me’, Montgomery had always predicted—and in historiographical terms they did. Gradually, however, retrospective outrage at his vanity diminished. As more documents emerged from the archives, it became clearer how much the western democracies owed to Montgomery's leadership and professionalism in the Second World War, however arrogant the man. Fame had turned his head, reigniting his childhood insecurities; he had not even attended his mother's funeral in 1949, claiming he was ‘too busy’. Without his beloved Betty he had become, in the sophisticated world of politics and diplomacy, even of normal human relations, a failure; but in the grim business of total war in the twentieth century he had proved himself, in the eyes of many, the greatest British field commander since the Iron Duke, and had left a legacy of professionalism (training, rehearsal, clarity of orders, first-class planning, and the co-operation of all arms) that still marks and inspires his country's army. As General Sir David Fraser wrote in his history of the Second World War, in 1983, Montgomery had ‘dominated the collective consciousness of the British Army’. His achievement, Fraser felt, ‘was to keep iron control of operations: to inspire with confidence all those who served under his command; and to make sure that his soldiers were never puzzled, frustrated or unsure of victory’ (Fraser, 395–6). For a leader of millions in a modern democracy, charged to pit his troops against the combined forces of the Third Reich, it was a fitting epitaph.
Montgomery's state funeral took place in St George's Chapel, Windsor, and he was buried under a simple granite gravestone in Binstead churchyard, near Alton, Hampshire, close to the converted mill at Isington where he lived in retirement for the last eighteen years of his life.
Nigel Hamilton DNB
Terence Tenison Cuneo, (1907–1996), painter, was born on 1 November 1907 at 215 Uxbridge Road, Hammersmith, London, the only child of Cyrus Cincinato Cuneo (d. 1916/17), artist, and his wife, Nellie Marion (Nell), née Tenison, also an artist and a relative of the poet Tennyson. His father was born in the United States, of Italian descent, and was related to Garibaldi; he studied under Whistler and was a successful magazine illustrator in London until his death, from blood poisoning, when Terence Cuneo was nine.
Cuneo was educated at St Michael's College, Dawlish, and at Sutton Valence School, Kent. He then studied at Chelsea Polytechnic and the Slade School of Fine Art before following in his father's footsteps as a commercial illustrator, working for magazines such as the Boy's Own Paper, The Magnet, and the Christian Herald. In 1931 he joined the London Sketch Club, at one of whose meetings he met his future wife, Catherine Mayfield Monro (1908/9–1979), younger daughter of Edwin George Monro, army major and company director. They married on 28 September 1934 and had two daughters, Linda (b. 1937) and Carole (b. 1941).
During the Second World War, Cuneo was war artist for the Illustrated London News in France in 1940, served briefly with the Royal Engineers, portraying underground activities in occupied Europe (the subject of a one-man exhibition) in 1941, and then served as an official war artist, producing propaganda paintings for the Ministry of Information, the political intelligence department of the Foreign Office, and the War Artists' Advisory Committee. He also illustrated the book How to Draw Tanks.
After the war the publicity manager of the London and North Eastern Railway commissioned Cuneo's first poster design, Giants Refreshed, showing locomotives in Doncaster railway works. This was the beginning of a railway poster career that lasted for the next half century. Cuneo designed the set of stamps commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Great Western Railway in 1985, and had a train named after him in 1990. His largest painting (20 ft × 10 ft), commissioned by the Science Museum in 1967, was of the concourse of Waterloo Station.
Cuneo was official artist at Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953, and his painting, The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey, was presented to the queen by her lords lieutenant in 1955. His paintings covering numerous other state and royal functions range from King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at the Middle Temple Banquet (1950) to The Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Banquet, Guildhall (1969). Cuneo was a renowned portrait painter also. Among his subjects were Edward Heath (1971), Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (1972), King Hussein of Jordan (1980), and Colonel H. Jones VC (1984). He painted the queen on numerous occasions; his portraits H. M. the Queen as Colonel-in-Chief, Grenadier Guards (1963) and H. M. the Queen as Patron of the Kennel Club (1975) were particularly admired. He held one-man exhibitions at RWS Galleries, London, in 1954 and 1958, at the Sladmore Gallery, London, in 1971, 1972, and 1974, and at the Mall Galleries, London, in 1988. He was appointed OBE in 1987 and CVO in 1994, and was president of the Industrial Painters Group and the Society of Equestrian Artists.
Cuneo ‘was immensely conservative as an artist, to a point that would make Sir Alfred Munnings look like some mad revolutionary tearaway’ (The Times); nevertheless his works were enduringly popular. He was renowned for putting a mouse in his paintings; this first appeared in 1953 and subsequently in most of his paintings. His autobiography was entitled The Mouse and his Master (1977). He was an insatiable traveller and had a mischievous sense of humour. He painted almost until his death; his last, unfinished, painting was of the channel tunnel. He died, a millionaire, at Arbrook House, Copsem Lane, Esher, Surrey, on 3 January 1996, of bronchopneumonia and heart failure, and was cremated in Leatherhead on 17 January. A memorial service was held at St Martin-in-the-Fields on 17 April. He was survived by his daughter Carole, his wife, Catherine, and daughter Linda having predeceased him. A retrospective exhibition of his railway art was held at the National Railway Museum in York in January 1997.
Beverley Cole DNB