Known as “Monty” to his soldiers, Bernard Law Montgomery compiled a long list of accomplishments during half a century in the British army Montgomery graduated from the Royal Military Academy in 1908 and was commissioned as an infantry lieutenant. He served in France and Belgium during World War I and received the Distinguished Service Order after he was wounded.
Montgomery rose to major general and was in command of a division in British-held Palestine at the start of World War II. He was immediately transferred to France, where he evacuated the Third Division out of Dunkirk in 1940. He began a program of intensive training for his men, aimed at turning them into troops that could meet and defeat their German counterparts.
In August 1942, Prime Minister Winston Churchill selected Montgomery to take com¬ mand of the British troops in Africa. Taking charge after Britain’s loss of Tobruk to General Erwin Rommel of Germany (see no. 94), Montgomery remained on the defensive at first. He built up a formidable strike force in Egypt. After Rommel’s attacks failed to penetrate the British perimeter, Montgomery went on the offensive. The resulting Battle of El Alamein (October 1942) was the first major loss in the field inflicted on the Germans during the war. Montgomery’s meticulous preparation and execution in North Africa earned him a knighthood and promotion to full general.
Montgomery led the British troops in the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943. He was selected as the ground commander of the European invasion force, but the posi¬ tion of supreme commander went to General Dwight D. Eisenhower of the U.S.
The British, American, Canadian and Australian units that landed in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944, made slow progress at first. Feelings of resentment grew between Montgomery and some of the allied com¬ manders, notably General George Patton of the U.S. (see no. 91). Montgomery’s planning went awry at the Battle of Arnhem in September, where 6,000 airborne troops were lost. Having been criticized for this, Montgomery spared no opportunity to chas¬ tise the Americans for their initial defeats in the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944).
Montgomery was raised to field marshal (1944) and when the war ended he became chief of the Imperial General Staff. He later served as deputy to Eisenhower at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). What had begun as a friendly rivalry between the two men escalated over the years into a bitter invective, as each lambasted the other in his memoirs of the war years. Certainly the great¬ est British general of the 20th century, Montgomery lacked the tact and subtlety for positions that required close coordination with allied forces.